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I started my whisky journey like many others; Jack and Jim. These were the bottles I typically took to parties and poker nights and I loved it. My parents on the other hand were much fonder of Scotch. As such, my whisky journey progressed to Scotch and in my naïve mind, I was upgrading my taste by moving to Single Malt and the premium offerings of Scotland and Ireland.
Jump forward 6 years and Bourbon was still the mixing drink for me. I always had a bottle of Four Roses or Buffalo Trace in the house, but that was for Manhattans. Rarely would I pour a glass of this stuff to drink neat or over ice. Why would I waste my time on this when Scotch was so superior?
I always considered Bourbon to be ‘in your face’, especially compared to some of the aged Single Malts I was drinking from Scotland. I trained in wine before jumping to the spirits industry and my wine journey was much the same. I developed a love for the subtle nuances and gentle aromas of European wine and lacked interest in ‘new world’ wines. Australian Shiraz was just a fruit bomb and the Chardonnays too 'oaky'. Fast forward a few years, I married an Aussie and found myself living in Australia. I’ve since discovered the many great wines that surround me. Full of flavour, balance, poise. I misjudged Australian wine just like I did American whiskey. Bring value for money into the equation and I’ve seriously overlooked the category.
If, like me, you need a few lightbulb moments; here are three Bourbons that changed my mind once and for all!
Buffalo Trace has always been my go-to, but Weller was the whiskey that made me fall in love with Bourbon. The addition of wheat in the mash bill instead of rye creates a sweeter, softer mash bill that makes this an easy whiskey to transition from Scotch to.
William Larue Weller’s is one of the great names in Bourbon’s history and we have a lot to thank him for. His slogan was “Honest Whiskey at an Honest Price”.
It is not one of those big hitters that’s all caramel and burnt sugar. Instead there is a soft sweetness and delicate fruitiness to it. It is certainly not the cheapest in the list, but it lives up to the name of ‘baby Pappy’ which comes at a much higher price. For those seeking a sub $100 option in Australia, look out for Weller Special Reserve which is just as delicious.
Elijah Craig is another great legend of Bourbon, although the reasons for why are a little lost in history. Credited as pioneering the charring of oak barrels prior to ageing, the reason for which has somewhat been lost in history. One such story cites a fire in the mill which charred the casks and transformed the flavour of the whiskey inside. Whatever the real story might be, the end result has shaped the way we make Bourbon to this day.
The Small Batch replaced the 12 year old a few years back, much to the chagrin of its fans, however the change created a softer, sweeter style of whisky in my opinion. Now aged roughly eight to twelve years old, this whiskey is packed with toasted hazelnuts, vanilla and coconut, backed up with plenty of dark fruits.
I first came across the Michter’s range when I was working in the UK. The name itself comes from an amalgamation of his sons’ names Michael and Peter. The history of the brand dates to the 1750’s when John Schenk first started distilling. The distillery was sold and the name changed to Bomberger’s, after its new owner. Fast forward to post prohibition and Lou Forman purchased the site and renamed it Michter’s.
Whilst the original site itself no longer exists, the brand was bought back to life and their range is a great selection of hard hitting, fruit driven whiskies. Their Small Batch Bourbon is the heaviest of my selection but it has great balance to it. Stone fruits and vanilla sit alongside dried raisin and sultana with a lovely peppery kick to finish it off. AM
Editors Note: Andrew Milne is a legend of the whisky industry starting his journey in the UK working with all stars like the Whisky Exchange and now working with spirits at Australian Distributor SouthTrade owned by Sazerac Group. Suffice to say he knows a couple of things about whisk(e)y.