Back to Basics: Booze (Finally)

May 1, 2009

I made mention of it earlier in one of my responses (to Lenny, I believe), but I’ve just gotten back into bourbon. For those not in the know, bourbon is American whiskey. Real bourbon comes from a little place called Bourbon County, Kentucky, but the term “bourbon” (some designate it with a little b, others just don’t care) refers to just about any whiskey made in America. Jack Daniel’s, for example, is distilled in Tennessee and is still called bourbon whiskey. (And not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s whiskey with an e. Whisky is something else entirely, either Irish like Jameson or Scotch like Johnnie Walker.)

I won’t go into all the details of bourbon production, but I will tell you that there are a lot of great bourbons out there beyond the crud that you can get in vats at any liquor store in the country. (I reflexively cringed, Rookie, when you made mention of SoCo.) I have several stellar examples in my liquor cabinet now: Pappy Van Winkle 25-year old is otherworldly, Eagle Rare Single Barrel is divine, Buffalo Trace is complex and thought-provoking, and so on. But the one I want to talk to you about today is Bulleit Bourbon.

Bulleit comes in a glass jar without much in the way of a label. Everything you need to know is raised in the glass — not etched, mind you, but literally cast as part of the bottle, the old-fashioned way. The bottle itself is unremarkable. It’s got a plastic-topped replaceable cork, is shallow and broad-shouldered like a gigantic flask, and does nothing to draw the eye. You can pick one up for the modest price of $25 or $30 per 750 mL bottle. Not that you would — chances are you’d never even see it on the shelf next to all of the more recognizable and attractive bottles out there.

But I did buy that bottle. As a self-described booze connoisseur, I figured it would be good to get back to basics. That said, I had really never tasted a no-frills bourbon before. “No frills” generally means “cheap” and “almost undrinkable,” if not “classless” or “intended for mass consumption.” That is the way of things now: can you name for me a no-frills kind of alcoholic beverage that is both cheap and pleasing to the connoisseur? Forget alcohol; can you say that about any product these days?

Bulleit manages to be bourbon without being fancy, and simple without being of poor quality. It’s just damn good. Not the smoothest, not the tastiest, not in any respect the best bourbon that I’ve ever had (Pappy 25 gets that honor). No; it’s just damned good. And there are so few things that are damned good in any price range that I was absolutely stunned the first time Bulleit touched my lips.

So I’ll put the question out there to the rest of you: when was the last time you paid short money for something mind-bendingly good? Do such things even exist anymore? Aside from Bulleit, I mean.

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7 Responses to “Back to Basics: Booze (Finally)”

  1. theundefeatedrookiesensation said

    I’ve never been able to bring myself to bite the Bulleit on that bottle, if you’ll forgive my pun. I happy to be quite a fan of bourbon myself, as I sit her with a tumbler of Maker’s Mark at my side. My bottle’s almost empty though, so perhaps I’ll finally let myself give Bulleit a shot on your recommendation.

    And as for your question, you can debate all you want, but there is no greater value on this planet than Taco Bell’s 89 cent Cheesy Double Beef Burrito. Certainly not one of the finer things in life, but it’s basically a meal and it costs less than a dollar.

    • thebeerphilosopher said

      You and your damned tacos, man… You need help.

    • thebeerphilosopher said

      Oh, and I think killing a bottle of Maker’s Mark before the Kentucky Derby is a sin. I’m not 100% sure about that, but I think it was on that third tablet that Moses dropped.

  2. Notelrac said

    “Whisky” is what I do to eggs, just before I make an omelet out of them.

    Last weekend I paid $8 to see Knowing. I’m still dwelling on it, far longer than I expected. Certainly longer than if I go to see Wolverine this weekend…

    • lenny25 said

      Besides the point, but that was quite the movie. Not at all what I was expecting…but it worth recomending to friends, thats for sure.

  3. theundefeatedrookiesensation said

    OK, bought my bottle. Agreed. I came close to buying a bottle of Bulleit about three months back, but I opted instead for the similarly priced Ridgemont Reserve, figuring that I already like Woodford Reserve so much that anything with “Reserve” in the name must be good. Also, very heavy and fancy bottle. I almost immediately regretted that decision, and now I regret it even more.

    I can’t afford the 200-300 that a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle any older than 20 years would cost me. For at least a year, that’s been in my top ten things I’d do if I came into some money, believe me. That you have a bottle in your cabinet makes me insanely jealous. For what I can afford, though, Bulleit has replaced Woodford as the best that I can do, and so for the suggestion I thank you, booze snob to fellow booze snob.

  4. lenny25 said

    You people make me want to go out and try this (not that I drink professor, I swear…)

    However, as to your question, there appear to be very few things out there today that are priced according to quality. Luckily, all is not lost, as long as you are willing to go looking for it. There are still some (a very small some, but some just the same) places that price things for the consumer, not for the profit. It’s generally those good old fashion, corner stores that are fighting to stay afloat as the chain stores take over. I happen to live in a town with a lovely country store like this, one which has been open and has changed very little, since the 1800’s. In this store, you can still get candy for 5 cents apiece, you can buy bakery items for under a dollar and the wine that they make and bottle right there in the back of the store is as cheap as 5 dollars a bottle. Now, I don’t know how you feel about wine, philosopher, but I’d say this is something that you need to add to your list of things to try. If I could drink, I would recommend the Strawberry Wine…

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