The Well Bourbon Taste-Off – Part 2

As a result of all the responses we got to our first taste-off of cheap bourbons, we decided we needed to do a second test.

First off, we included all the bourbons from our initial tasting and added two more at the behest of our readers: Old Crow and Benchmark #8. In addition, we invited some friends over so we wouldn’t be relying on our taste buds alone.

Just as before, Jim Beam White Label was our high-end control. We didn’t want anything that cost more than Beam, and the idea was to find something cheaper that was at least as drinkable. If you recall, it was Evan Williams Black Label that won the first round–not surprising since it is the second most expensive (next to Jim Beam) and aged a good bit longer than Beam is. In a preliminary tasting before our guests arrived, we decided both Old Crow and Benchmark were comparable to Evan Williams. But we also wanted to make sure we weren’t full of it, so the real tastings were done blind. Neither we or or guests knew what we were drinking (Jen did the pouring and did not participate), but everyone knew what the possibilities were.

Prices below are based on a 750 ml bottle purchased at a state liquor store in Alabama.

The Contenders:

  • Evan Williams Green Label – aged 3 years, 80 proof, $8.49
  • Old Crow – aged 3 years, 80 proof, $11.99 (for a 1-liter bottle, doesn’t come in a 750 ml).
  • Benchmark #8 – aged 4 years, 80 proof, $9.99
  • Ancient Age – aged 3 years, 80 proof, $11.49
  • Old Grand Dad – aged 4 years, 80 proof, $11.99
  • Virgin Bourbon – aged 7 years, 101 proof, $11.99
  • Evan Williams Black Label – aged 5-7 years, 86 proof, $12.49
  • Jim Beam White Label – aged 4 years, 80 proof, $15.99

The Play by Play: 

Ancient Age. At least two guest tasters found it smooth with hints of caramel to the extent that they guessed it was the more expensive Jim Beam. In their defense, it was a cold, rainy night, and this first impression probably had more to do with warming them from the chill than how the whiskey actually tasted. The remainder of the panel (who had been inside for longer than the other two) pegged it as “cheap tasting” on the front end, though the caramel flavor has a nice linger to it.

Virgin 101. Everyone recognized this was the higher proof option because of the extra bite it carried. “More taste for a shorter time,” said one panelist.

Jim Beam White Label. This made a better showing than in our previous tasting. People honed in one the notes of vanilla.  Someone said it tasted like “Sitting by the fire.” Another called it “Smooth and creamy.” We still think it is overrated though.

Old Crow. One of our friends on Facebook gave this quite a sales pitch, calling it “a straight up friend to a friend in need.” Most of our panel seemed to agree on this and detected spiciness that they liked a lot. One associated it with “summertime.” The outlier on the panel said it was too sweet for them and also had “a fair amount of burn.”

Evan Williams Green Label. One of our panel members detected a “strong lingering in the middle mouth.” Another said, “robust and strong, just like my granddaddy.”

Evan Williams Black Label. This was the bourbon that came out on top in our first tasting. Though a panelist called this “smooth and strong,” it did not stand out as much as it had previously.

Benchmark #8. One of our Facebook friends lobbied hard for this to be included, and we agree that it’s a very good, though quite mild, choice for the price. One panelist said this tasted “familiar” and another characterized it as “weirdly nostalgic.” We were struck by its lack of intensity compared to the others in the tasting.

Old Grandad. We had mixed results on this last one. It could be that tasting fatigue had set in. One panelist tasted a lot of wood. Another said it was bitter and had an aftertaste that made her “face scrunch up.”

After our guests left, we continued some blind tastings on our own to try and come up with some consistent results. Our final decision, after considering all our guest panelists’ comments and our own extensive experiments is that Old Crow is the best for the money. It wasn’t everybody’s favorite, but we have to agree with our friend who said, “Old Crow is not for frolicking, it’s a working bourbon. The bird on the bottle says, ‘If this is the type of stuff you’re going to sign on for, then the enclosed is what you need to drink.'”