Very confusing for us entusiast that entered the whisky world via single malts. Opposed to malt whisky bourbon whiskey is recipe based as well as distillery based.
Chuck Cowdery made a very good guest blog on John Hansell's website about the american definitions of whiskey of which I will quote
For a product to be labeled “bourbon whiskey” it has to meet tighter requirements. The mash must be at least 51% corn, the distillation proof has to be less than 160° proof (80% ABV), the barrel entry proof has to be less than 125° proof (62.5% ABV), and the oak containers have to be new and charred, but there is still no minimum age specified.and
That brings us to “straight bourbon whiskey,” which has to comply with all of the above plus spend at least two years in wood. Why the word “straight” was chosen to mean “aged in wood for at least two years” I cannot explain.The majority of distilleries making bourbon on a large scale is located in Kentucky. The fact that bourbon is recipe and brand based sometimes has the effect that it's not obvious where a particular bourbon is produced, I guess that some bourbons might even be vattings from several distilleries? (Jim Beam's are!). Some distillery based brands do exist thou, I can mention Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve, Makers Mark, Wild Turkey. Some brands aren't obviously connected to a distillery, I can mention Sazerac, George T Stagg, Pappy van Winkle, and some brands have changed distillery of origin, some even more than once.
Everybody acquainted with scottish single malts know Diageo and their series : Classic malts of Scotland
When Diageo were still United Distillers they were also (trying to) operate in USA. They acquired a range of distilleries and companies, mainly Schenley which had George T Stagg (distillery) and Bernheim amongst others. United Distillers also acquainted Stitzel-Weller, Glenmore and others.
They kept some brand names, and sold of others (Sazerac to name one), after a few years they closed all their distilleries and continued with the new Bernheim only, which were eventually sold to Heaven Hill, which ended Diageo's adventure as distiller in Kentucky. But not as a company selling bourbon. They kept some brand names and do now source their casks from other companies
In the 90's they releases their bourbon pendant to the classic malts, The Bourbon Heritage Collection
This miniature set is a gift from S´tan, thanks a lot
Writing about bourbons is harder than writing about single malts for me. I am not a very experienced bourbon drinker. It's mainly about toffee and wood for me. But I have to say I enjoyed these drams,
1. George Dickel, Special Barrel Reserve 10yo 43%
Tennessee Bourbon ?
George Dickel uses Tennessee Whiskey is label, but I guess they could label their whiskey bourbon if they wanted to..they just don't.
Loads of sweet toffee, the wood impact is gentle. Easy drinkable. Toffee is the dominating flavour. The spirit is gentle and this is the most smooth, toffee custard caramel american whiskey I ever had. Yum Yum
2. Very Special Old Fitzgerald 12yo 45%
Woody like an old scotch, very drinkable, slight toffee in the finish where the wood gentles. Wood is the dominating flavour, with strong toffee. Juice
3. Centennial W.L. Weller 10yo 50%
Nose is a bit solvent like. Dominating flavour is floor coatings. But still a lot of toffee. Is this the higher ABV coming through ?
The WL Weller and Old Fitzgerald should be bourbons with wheat as secondary grains, now on to a couple with rye as secondary grain
4 I. W. Harper 15yo 40%
DSP-1, whatever that is
Aaaah, what a wonderful nose. This have some rye in the recipe and the result is a more spicy bourbon. Bourbons with a rye component becomes me very well. Rye is to bourbons what peat is to scotch, wise men have said. The nose is rye-spicy, and the spicyness follows over on the palate. This is like a very very good old grain. Where do you get stuff like this today S'tan ?..and did I say the nose was terrific ?
5. Old Charter Proprietor's Reserve 13yo 45%
Old Charter Distillery
The rye in this is slightly less dominent and it doesn't come through as delicate as in the I W Harper. The wood is more dominant and I also get some dark liqourice
All 5 of this had the similarity that I felt I was drinking juice and not hard liquor. They were just so sipping friendly. I really liked them. Rye versus wheat is spice versus toffee for me. I like them both, but to me rye is the new black. I must be a peathead :-)
As I understand it on S'tan, the 4 Kentucky Bourbons were all made in distilleries that doesn't exist any more. George Dickel is still running
And these bottlings where around 30$ for full sizes...