On August 25th, 2012, an illustrious panel of experts convened at Derby Gras Resort & Spa to participate in a blind tasting of four non-premium and one premium American whiskies. The five whiskies were decanted into wine bottles by the Pretty Little Wife to ensure that even I was flying blind.
The first whiskey we tasted was McAfee’s Benchmark, a straight bourbon whiskey made in Kentucky by the Sazerac company, owners of Buffalo Trace. The panelists agreed that it had a fairly light bronze color with descriptions ranging from “apricot” to “apple juice”. Patrick – our Scotch expert – got notes of charcoal and smoke on the nose while Black Belt Kurt reported that it just smelled like “rubbing alcohol.” The general consensus was that the taste was light with hints of citrus and sweetness. According to Mike, the finish was tingly with a hint of cherry. Most of the panel felt that the bourbon was smooth and easy to drink, but not particularly exciting.
The second whiskey was Jim Beam white label. Everyone noted the slightly darker color and reported a much stronger nose. Several of the tasting panel reported smelling peanut and pecan. The nutty notes were prominent in the flavor, along with char and dried apple. A couple of the panel felt the flavor was unpleasant including Marathon Kurt, who described it as “old bike tires.” The general consensus was that the Beam finished hotter than the Benchmark, which pleased some of the tasters and left others hurting. Ben wrote down that the finish had strong notes of “regret.”
Whiskey number three was Brown Forman’s Early Times Kentucky Whiskey, which doesn’t meet all the legal qualifications to be labeled a bourbon in the United States. The color was very similar to Jim Beam, being a darker shade of light amber. The panel was all over the map on the nose with reports of honey, vanilla, cherry, vinegar, and industrial chemicals. One panelist felt that it had no significant flavor while others reported that it was slightly sweet but too boozy. Almost all of the tasters felt that the finish was hot, sharp, and “cheap.”
The fourth whiskey turned out to be the “premium” of the bunch: Four Roses Single Barrel. It was the darkest of the four so far. Patrick got notes of leather and honey on the nose, while several of the other panelists reported vanilla, caramel, and toffee. In his notes on the taste, Bernard wrote that it was “rich” and “GOOD.” More than one panelist reported tasting leather (“in a good way”). My own notes show that I tasted “citrus & spice.” Cinnamon, ginger, and pleasant heat were common descriptions of the finish.
The last whiskey of the day was Evan Williams black label from Heaven Hill. Roughly the same color as the Beam and Early Times, the nose was weak. I picked up cherries and char in the taste while Patrick listed charcoal and grain. Most of the panel reported that it was sweet, but not pleasant. One taster described the finish as “smooth and uneventful” while Ben described it as “a gentle violation.”
In the end, about half the panel preferred the Four Roses and the other half favored Jim Beam. Benchmark and Early Times seem to be the middle of the pack, with most of the panel feeling that they were acceptable choices and probably not half bad for the price. Evan Williams was disliked by nearly everyone.