Popular Bourbon Whiskey Brands Reviewed and Rated

Bourbon Whiskey Brands
Bourbon Whiskey Brands

Whiskey or Bourbon?

Before I get to the four mentioned bourbon whiskey brands, I would like to explain how I got here. All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. This is important because distilleries in Colorado seem to be popping up everywhere. Most of what I’ve had in Colorado is not bourbon whiskey brands. In the past year, I’ve visited Leopold Bros and Stranahan here in Colorado. I became curious what the buzz was all about. The whiskey I tasted at the two aforementioned places didn’t seem all that special to me and are horrendously expensive compared to smooth, refined Kentucky bourbon. Of course, the big difference is that I was comparing these whiskies to bourbon which they are not. When it comes to smoothness and immediate enjoyment, bourbon seems to give a higher bang-for-the-buck. So, I wanted to explore a little bit with actual Colorado bourbon just to see how it compares to other bourbons in the same price range. This is no easy task but as I just mentioned, Colorado whiskey is expensive! In the process, I became curious about some of these other types of whiskey. I did some research on Proof66.com which is an excellent primer for learning about the different types of whiskey. I will not bore you with the education on what makes it what it is because they can do that much better than me. Besides bourbon, there is blended whiskey, single malt whiskey, Irish whisky, rye whiskey, and single malt scotch whisky just to name a few. So, I picked up a bottle or two from three of these categories in this past month.  I will get to these other types of whiskies later. For now, I would like to compare and review a few of the bourbons that I’ve tried most recently. These are my own bourbon reviews. You can rate each of them, yourself, at the end of the article.

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Knob Creek Bourbon

Knob Creek BourbonKnob Creek Bourbon single-batch is one of the better, mainstream bourbons I’ve ever tried. When the weather gets colder, I begin to enjoy sweeter, heavier whiskys like Bourbon.  Knob Creek makes a much more expensive, high-quality, single-barrel bourbon that I was anxious to try, but my liquor store didn’t carry it. I decided to give the regular, small-batch a try. There are a few notable characteristics of this particular whiskey.

Knob-Creek Whiskey Facts

  • Aged 9 Years
  • 100-Proof (50% Alcohol)
  • Hand Bottled in Limited Quantities
  • Made in the Heart of Kentucky
  • Frothy When Shaken

Based on those facts, you’d expect to pay a little more for Knob Creek and that is certainly the case. I paid $26.00 for a 750ML bottle which is more than double the price of my every-day, Ezra Brooks Bourbon in the 1.75 Liter. Oh well, it’s always worth trying something better just to have that benchmark comparison. And, with Knob Creek whiskey, there really is no comparison to Ezra Brooks – it is far superior in every respect.

Knob Creek Tasting Notes

  • Exceptionally Smooth
  • Strong, Kentucky Bourbon Flabor
  • Buttery, with Hints of Apple
  • Smells as good as it Tastes
  • Frothy, when Shaken

The Ezra Brooks is only 80-proof and the minute I switched from that to the Knob Creek, I could taste and feel the extra kick of alcohol. In fact, I think this whiskey tastes best if you tame it down a bit with a splash or two of water. A bourbon this good, however, should definitely not be mixed with anything other than water. So, how can you make a good mixed drink with anything but water? This gave me a couple of Knob Creek recipe ideas.

Knob Creek Recipes

Knob Creek Manhattan

Knob Creek ManhattanNothing but Knob Creek Bourbon and a couple splashes of water, shaken vigorously in a stainless steel shaker, then poured straight up in a martini glass. Serve with a cherry as garnish. Manhattans are one of my very favorite drinks. You certainly can’t make a knob-creek Manhattan better by adding the usual sweet vermouth to it, so don’t dare even try.  The Knob Creek whiskey makes a very smooth Manhattan – and tasty.

Knob Creek Old Fashioned Cocktail

Knob Creek Old Fashioned CocktailOnce again, purely Knob Creek Bourbon, a little water and shaken with ice. Sound familiar? This time, pour straight into an old-fashioned cocktail glass. Please forgive the Cutty Sark glass. Note, the appetizing frothy head at the top of the glass? Knob Creek has a rich, golden ale appearance. Old Fashioned cocktails are normally topped off with a splash of club soda which gives them that ‘frothy’ effect. No need for club soda, bitters, sugar, or anything else when you make an old-fashioned with Knob Creek whiskey. Always drink Knob creek neat.

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75 South Whiskey

75 South Whiskey

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75 South is a lower-shelf, blended whiskey. I picked up a 1.75 Liter bottle of this at a Safeway store in Tucson, Arizona while my wife was shopping for wine for Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll be honest, when I checked out of the store, I still wasn’t sure if I was holding a bottle of bourbon or scotch. The label didn’t exactly go out of its way to explain what this brownish liquor was, either. The bottle simply read, Blended Whiskey.   At $10.99 for a 1.75 Liter bottle, I figured it was a bargain whatever it was and I can drink either bourbon or scotch so the 75 South was worth sampling. The label, 75 South, sort of hinted to me that it tastes a little bit more like something from Kentucky than say, Scotland. There is a section of Interstate 75 South that runs through Tennessee,Kentucky,Georgia and Florida. Does that geography have something to do with its name? The whiskey looked a little darker in color which also made me think of the richer, darker taste of bourbon. I tend to gravitate more towards heavier whisky in the colder months of the season, so I wouldn’t mind having a bottle of bourbon on hand.

75 South Tasting Notes

This is a cheap, blended whiskey so don’t expect me to be overly descriptive. The nose of 75 South definitely suggests bourbon flavor. It is caramel-like with a hint of oak wood and sherry. The front of it tastes like bourbon; maybe a little thinner and with just a hint of maple. I expected the 75 South to have an awfully short-lived and harsh finish, but that wasn’t the case. To be sure, it has a thinner palate than Jim Beam or Maker’s Mark, but it not entirely unsmooth. For the price, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy 75 South for mixing or sipping on the rocks. I rarely like cheap whiskeys unless it’s scotch for mixing Rob Roys, 75 South is actually a bourbon like whiskey that I can enjoy by itself.

75 South Final Rating: 79

On a scale of 1-100, I’d give 75 South whiskey a 79. Prior to this short write-up, I read another, less favorable review which had 75-South rated at 67 out of 100. I don’t understand such a harsh rating on a blended whisky that is not harsh at all. For only $2.00 more, I’d rather drink Ezra Brooks, but 75 South is not a bad tasting whiskey at all.

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Ezra Brooks Bourbon

Unique Bourbon Glasses

Ezra Brooks Bourbon
The Review

Ezra Brooks Bourbon
Bourbon Review

Ezra Brooks Bourbon

Ezra Brooks Bourbon is Cheap on Price, but Expensive on Taste

While, I am really more of a scotch drinker, Bourbon is a whiskey I enjoy during the colder months. There is something about the cold, dark evenings that sometimes put me in the mood for the darker, sweeter, heavier bourbon flavor. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine had me do a blind taste test of three different bourbons: Ezra Brooks (Green Label), Jack Daniels, and Evan Williams. I rated the Evan Williams last, and a close draw between the Ezra (green) and Jack Daniels. My friend exclaimed that Ezra Brooks was his favorite. He preferred it over the more expensive Jack Daniels. I had to agree that it tasted good enough that I wouldn’t spend the extra money on Jack either. So, Ezra Bourbon has kind of become my household standard for Bourbon. I’ve always considered the more expensive Bulleit Bourbon to be a very good brand, so I decided to do a little bourbon review and comparison.

Bourbon Bulleit History

bulleit bourbon review
bulleit burbon

There is some interesting history behind Bulleit that makes it worth mentioning in this bourbon review. Bulleit Bourbon was actually invented by a Frenchman who developed a liking for Bourbon after moving from France to New Orleans, than Kentucky (Bourbon-Land). Being from France, Augustus Bulleit developed a recipe which was a little different than popular bourbons. His recipe contained a higher percentage of rye. This could explain some of what I describe in Bulleit’s taste and characteristics below. The other interesting thing is that the maker of Bulleit bourbon vanished in the 1860s. With no family or close friends nearby to take over the recipe, Bulleit Bourbon was no longer made for well over 100 years. In the late 1980’s, a great, great grand-son of Augustus, Tom Bulleit decided to get his hands on the recipe and re-invent his father’s famous bourbon recipe. I’ll never forget the commercials when Bulleit was introduced back in the U.S about 10 years ago. Thinking it was an odd, unfamiliar name to me, I decided to look up a bit of this fascinating history which made me eager to try it. I liked it, but not being much of a bourbon connoisseur, I decided I would stick with the cheaper, reputable brands for my winter bourbon cravings. About 10 years later, I was sold on Ezra Brooks. Now, 10 years later, I thought it would be fun to try Bulleit  again and compare it to my standby favorite house brand, Ezra.

Bulleit Bourbon vs. Ezra Brooks

I poured the two in a glass, neat; and set them next to each other. Similar in color; the Ezra is a little more brown-colored while Bulleit slightly more amber-gold. The Ezra Brooks is an impressive, clean tasting bourbon. It doesn’t have that cheap, plastic-type taste that I’ve noticed with some of the other bargain-priced bourbon. The taste is dark, rich and syrupy, almost a little like brown sugar and walnuts. The finish is surprisingly smooth for a bourbon that sells for $13-$14.00 in a 1.75 Liter Bottle. There really isn’t anything too complex about it’s flavor. The Bulleit didn’t knock me off my feet when I sipped it for the first time. It was similar to the Ezra Brooks in smoothness and front-flavor. The difference is that the Bulleit became more distinguished as I continued to taste it. It is a little spicier, and begins to round out with tastes of vanilla, caramel, walnut and maybe even a little fruity smokiness. Without a doubt, the Bulleit has a more complex taste and longer finish than the Ezra Brooks. Bulleit is definitely worthy of it’s pricier cost.

Bourbon Conclusion

I rate both Ezra Brooks and Bulleit Bourbon very high, but for different reasons. Because I am not a bourbon drinker, the pricier, but more sophisticated tasting Bulleit doesn’t really intrigue me enough that I would pay more than twice as much for it. On the other hand, if I were a bourbon connoisseur, I can imagine that I might prefer complexities; like the hint of smoke, fruit and longer lasting flavor of Bulleit to the clean, brief finish of Ezra Brooks. If you like to keep Bourbon in your liquor cabinet for a quick warm-up on a cold winter night or for mixing drinks, you’re going to have a hard time finding a better value than Ezra Brooks bourbon for $12.99. I will stick with the Ezra Brooks Bourbon, for now.

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