The state of American whiskey in 2019 is a weird place. The demand for allocated bottles has been in a fever pitch and seems to have no end in sight. Even worse, the list of whiskeys that are now considered allocated has become a sad state of affairs. A quick look the recent influx of posts on /r/whiskyporn that are treating bourbons like Weller Special Reserve and Blanton's as coveted major scores has anyone that's been around a while thinking we've hit rock bottom yet despite that sentiment the WTFs just keep coming.
But for all the silly shit that is happening in the whiskey scene, there are some bright spots, and one of those is that we are in a golden age of well aged, high proof, decently priced, not impossible to find bourbons and ryes. There are so many more good high proof options today than there were 6-7 years ago and even with the crazy demand, most of them are not that hard to come by. So with that in mind, I thought it would be fun to compare three popular options against each other, all of which I was able to find at retail just by walking into a shop, no special favors required.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C918
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Aged 12 years; 65.7% ABV; $75
Nose: Woody and sweet, just like what you should expect from a twelve year old cask strength bourbon.
Taste: Lots of lush sweet caramel up front and some rye spice bite in the backend. The ever increasing peanut note I am getting in Heaven Hill these days is there in the form of peanut butter marshmallow smores. The finish lingers for quite a while with an oak laden sweet spice punch. There is plenty of wood depth there but there are also twangs of a younger, green wood taste that I sometimes get in this product's younger brother, Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond.
Thoughts: This is good but if I am going off memory it is far from the most complex ECBP I've ever had. The touch of green wood is the biggest detractor here for me, I don't recall ever getting that in the older ones. It's probably just me but I feel like these just aren't as good as the releases from 2-3 years ago. Still a very solid high proof bourbon and if found a retail is a buy on sight for me.
Knob Creek Single Barrel "The Green Monstah" Selected by Barrels & Brews
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Aged 15 years 1 month (label is incorrect); 60% ABV; $50
Nose: A remarkable balance of a ton of wood and just as much sweetness. Very, very good.
Taste: Sweet nutty flavors like peanut brittle with lots and lots of oak. It's a bit dry but there is a lot of flavor to make up for that without being bitter. The finish rides out with dark cocoa sweet vibes and touches of rye spice but again it's super oaky and yet just as sweet. Not much to say other than it's a flavor bomb.
Thoughts: I've had mixed results with these older aged Knob Creek Single Barrels but this one is a home run for me. I did a bottle split of Booker's 30th with a friend and this is easily better for me and probably the best Knob Creek Single Barrel I've had yet. The Barrels & Brews guys have been doing a hell of a job with their selections and this one is no different.
Stagg Jr Batch #10
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; No Age Statement; 63.20% ABV; $50
Nose: A sweeter, fruitier nose than the other two which make sense given the likely age of 9ish years. Cherries, peaches, stone fruits, and woody caramel.
Taste: A balanced, classic taste of bourbon with an equal combo of fruit, sweet, and oak. Sugary salted fruit pie crust comes to mind for the sweet notes along with just enough wood depth to balance things out.
Thoughts: This is a completely different vibe than the ECBP and KCSiB which makes sense since it the youngest in the bunch. That's not necessarily a bad thing here though as it's able to showcase more dimensions that just being an oak bomb. This isn't as good as Batch 9 which I still think is the best release of Stagg Jr yet but this is a quality product that I think as time goes by is slowly but surely chipping away at ECBP as the most consistent best bang for your buck high proof bourbon. At retail, these are a buy on sight for me all day long.
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.