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Tony Sachs

Tony Sachs

Posted: March 4, 2011 12:29 PM

My Oh My! Three New Bourbons (And A Rye)!

I could make up some reasons why March is the best time of year to drink whiskey. It's nice to have a bourbon while watching Kentucky play during March Madness? An Old Fashioned is a great way to celebrate the first day of spring? A rye Manhattan is just what small business owners need after they've finished filing their corporate tax returns on March 15?

All of the above are true, but really, any time is a good time to drink whiskey. And since several new brands have hit the market in the last couple of months, there's yet another excuse to sip the amber nectar -- research. If you don't have the time, money or inclination to tear yourself away from your tried-and-true favorites, I've selflessly researched a bunch of them myself. Hey, it's the least I can do for fellow whiskey lovers.

Here are four of the more exciting whiskeys (three bourbons and a rye, to be precise) that are new to the shelves of your local booze emporium.

Early Times 354 Bourbon
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EARLY TIMES 354 BOURBON (40% alcohol by volume, aged at least 4 years, suggested retail price $16). Early Times has been around since Jack Beam (Jim Beam's uncle) started the distillery in the 1860s. In the 1950s its bourbon was, according to their website, the best seller in the world. For the last thirty years, however, Early Times has been a bourbon-free distillery. Now they've re-entered the market with a splash with their 354 bourbon, which refers to the number of the distillery's federal permit, the oldest in Kentucky.

I have no idea how it tastes compared to the vintage stuff. Regardless, I like it a lot. It's a great starter bourbon if you're just getting your feet wet, as it were. It's very sweet, with a lush, almost syrupy mouth feel; there's lots of vanilla, honey and caramel notes along with an interesting touch of candied orange peel. It's quite mild, with hardly any alcoholic burn on the finish. Add a little water or an ice cube and it opens up a bit, revealing a more refined nature. I find it goes great in a Perfect Manhattan (where equal proportions of sweet and dry vermouth are used; a standard Manhattan only uses sweet vermouth). You can buy better bourbons, but you'll have a hard time finding a better one for 354's suggested retail price of $15.99. A heck of a value.
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There are plenty of new whiskeys on tap for the coming months (wait, can a whiskey be "on tap"?). I've had a chance to try two. May promises the release of Jim Beam's Devil's Cut bourbon. Apparently, the folks at Beam have figured out how to remove the bourbon that's been absorbed by the oak barrels in which it rests during the aging process. No idea how they do it, but I can tell you this -- it tastes mighty woody, and quite smoky for a bourbon as well. Interesting stuff.

And the folks at Ransom Spirits (helmed by mad genius distiller Tad Seestedt) are working on a new whiskey, wisely dubbed Ransom Whiskey, based on a mashbill for Irish whiskey dating back to 1871. It's an interesting mix of barley, rye, and a little bit of oat, which you won't encounter much in whiskey nowadays. The mix is delicious and, thanks to the oats, quite unlike anything I've had before. The whiskey hasn't finished aging (it's only been in the barrel for a few months), but even at this tender age you can tell it's going to be special.

Have you tried any exciting new bourbons, ryes, or any other spirits that strike your fancy? Had a sneak preview of upcoming editions? Disagree with the reviews here? Chime in at the "Comments" section -- your two cents are encouraged.


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