A Bourbon cheat sheet

First of all, if you haven’t seen the site Liquor.com, and if you’re not subscribing to their daily email newsletter, you should go see it and subscribe now. It’s all about cocktails and spirits, and you’ll see many familiar names go by in the bylines: David Wondrich, Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders, Jim Meehan of PDT, H. Joseph Ehrmann of Elixir, and many more. The website is still relatively new and not quite all there yet, but the newsletter is particularly nice; it’s a great little boozy tidbit in your mailbox every day.

To entice you (and as a useful li’l list for us all), here’s an excerpt from a recent non-byline Liquor.com post about how to choose a Bourbon based on ones you already like, with the help of Knob Creek’s “whiskey professor,” Bernie Lubbers:

From how long the spirit ages to the proof, there are a number of key factors that contribute to the flavor of bourbon. But today we’re focusing on the most basic: the three grains used to make the whiskey. While all bourbons must be at least 51 percent corn and usually contain some barley, the third grain can vary from brand to brand. Using that so-called “flavoring grain,” Lubbers divides the whole bourbon category into three main groups. “I try to find the common dominator,” he says.

There’s the “traditional bourbon recipe,” which calls for about 70 percent corn and then roughly equal amounts of rye and barley. [...] Then there’s the spicy “high-rye recipe,” which includes a higher percentage of, you guessed it, rye. [...] The last group is the “traditional wheat recipe,” which, according to Lubbers, has a “sweeter and softer” taste since it’s made from corn, barley and wheat.

While the bourbons in each group will taste different, there’s a good chance that if you like one you’ll like the rest. With Lubbers’ assistance we created a cheat sheet that breaks down the most popular brands into these three categories. Now it’s time to go back to the liquor store.

TRADITIONAL BOURBON RECIPE:
Baker’s
Booker’s
Elijah Craig
Evan Williams
Jim Beam
Jim Beam Black
Knob Creek
Old Crow
Wild Turkey

HIGH-RYE RECIPE:
Basil Hayden’s
Buffalo Trace
Bulleit
Eagle Rare
Four Roses
George T. Stagg
Old Forester
Old Grand-Dad
Woodford Reserve

TRADITIONAL WHEAT RECIPE:
Maker’s Mark
Old Fitzgerald
Rebel Yell
Van Winkle
W.L. Weller

This was nicely enlightening, and I was unsurprised to see most of my favorite Bourbons in the high-rye category, being the lover of rye that I am. I was also pleased to see Old Forester in there, which was my first Bourbon — it was the only one Dad kept in his bar when I was a kid. (That, and the super-mild blended Seagram’s V.O. were the two whiskies he kept around.)

Then again, I really love Booker’s, which is in the “traditional” category; that beautiful caramelly sweetness with nuts and vanilla (and the ass-kicking proof) really does it for me. I’m also a fan of Maker’s, which we still keep around primarily for sipping; Buffalo Trace has replaced it as our default mixing Bourbon at home.

I never was that much of a fan of Jim Beam, but after trying Evan Williams over the past couple of years I’d like to try to keep some of that around. I’ve never tried Baker’s at all, so we’ll have to add that to the list.

I’m always happy to buy more Bourbon!

(Oh, and subscribe to the liquor.com newsletter! *nudge*)