Bourbon time! While I’ve stumbled into the occasional bourbon over the years, I’ve never felt experienced enough to talk about them in any meaningful way. To remedy this, I recently made a point of trying all the entry-level bourbons available in SA, along with some of the top-shelf stuff. I am ready. Ready, like Scotch, to bestow upon them bewildering and unhelpful scores.
Buffalo Trace has a mash bill of corn, malt and rye and is bottled at a somewhat-standard-for-America 45% ABV (yes please!) And like all straight bourbons, it’s blissfully natural colour and aged for at least 2 years. (Although in this case it’s at least 4 years old because, confusingly, any bourbon aged under 4 years has to state this on the bottle… which means any bourbon without an age statement is therefore at least 4 years old. I know.)
Buffalo Trace was my first ever bourbon – and I remember being pleasantly surprised. High time to crack open another bottle!
Caramel! Rich, reddish amber.
This is going to sound overused over the next couple of months, but all bourbons have some common smells and tastes thanks to extremely tight production standards (restrictions?) throughout the country. That is those brand new, charred American oak barrels give you a faceful of caramel, rich oak and a slight smoke. From here, different mash bills, maturation times, bottling strengths and other minor factors (filtering, water sources) play their part in separating good whiskey from great whiskey.
Buffalo Trace is no exception – toffee sweet, mildy smoky and ultra woody. In addition there’s a strong floral quality (grassy?) and an astringent cleaning-spirits smell presumably thanks to its low age and highish ABV.
Sweet vanilla, toffee and a mild fruitiness – candy apples. That grassiness is fairly unique, and I must admit I’m not wild about it… A little aniseed. And a light soapy quality that also bleeds through, but nothing terribly disturbing.
Lengthy, syrupy, but tough at 45%. That aniseed sits on the tongue, which may be a matter of taste…
Unfortunately, while it handles water like a champ (as most bourbons do) that floral stuff is really put centre stage – less fruit, caramel and vanilla. Water makes it easy as hell to drink, but the flowery quality is not to my taste. If I drank it quickly I’d prefer it with ice, otherwise – neat!
This is the American equivalent of Bain’s, a baseline, uncomplicated whiskey that hits all the right notes comfortably and without much extravagance. Honestly, it’s not quite as delicious as I remember – I think my expanded bourbon horizons have a lot to do with that – but it remains a very pleasant, easy drinking shot of sweet caramel goodness. Not my favourite straight bourbon by a long shot, but despite a few subjective hiccups it’s great value and a solid gateway to the world of bourbon!