Ah, Maker's Mark. What more can I say? You were one of the first bourbons I ever had. The first of many to be paired with a cigar and gently cradled in an icy glass on an old porch overlooking the lake. And you quickly became a go-to sipper whenever you went on sale.
But now... I think you've been replaced.
Not to worry though. I'm staying in the family. In fact, my new favorite corn whisky is your (barely) older brother. Maker's 46, despite it's steep price hike when compared to Maker's Mark ($47.99 vs. $24.99), is nothing more than their standard whisky aged for a few extra weeks with seared french oak staves. These staves add to the smooth, vanilla flavors of the whisky, and the searing caramelizes the sugars in the wood, increasing the sweetness and removing all trace of bitterness.
If I could make one bourbon related wish come true, it would be to taste all the different blends and varieties side-by-side. While I'm waiting for that to happen... I did manage to do a double tasting of Bulleit and Four Roses. These are widely available bourbons that you can usually find in the $15-25 range (for the lower price, you'll have to wait for a sale), and both are quite drinkable. I'll write up my tasting notes at the end of this post, but first, a little about each bourbon:
"How can a $10 whiskey be this good?" That was my first thought upon taking a sip of this golden nectar, which was quickly followed by a second: "Why have I never tried this before?" Dipping below $17 with any liquor is always a little questionable, whether it's whiskey, vodka, tequila or something else, but occasionally you find a gem. And Rebel Yell bourbon is in that category.
Exploring the dark depths of my liquor cabinet this weekend, I made the happy discovery that I had two similar-but-different bottles of Evan Williams Kentucky Bourbon hiding in the shadows behind a nearly empty bottle of dry vermouth and a forgotten bottle of Amaretto that I still haven't figured out how to use.
Evan Williams (or Evan Williams black label) is a middle shelf whiskey most people are familiar with. As a straight Kentucky bourbon, it's aged a minimum of four years and is produced at the Heaven Hill distillery in Louisville, along with a number of other recognizable brands like Heaven Hill and Elijah Craig. Although some version of "Since 1783" appears on every bottle of Evan Williams, whiskey historians (yes, that is a job) have pointed out that it has not been operating continuously that entire time, and a more accurate date might be somewhere in the early 1900s. Because of it's affordable price point and (relatively) smooth flavor, Evan Williams black label is the second best selling bourbon in the world, following only the value priced Jim Beam.
About the brewery: Sonoma's aim is to make better cider and elevate the craft. And with The Anvil, they've done it. The brewery is located in Healdsburg, CA, in the heart of Sonoma County, just north of San Francisco. Their ciders are available on tap in select markets, but the bottles can be found in 25 states. Oh, and did I mention that everything they do is organic?
Sonoma Organic Cider: The Anvil
Nose: Sassafras and Jack Daniels.
Taste: Tennessee whiskey in a cider body. The crunchy, hollow texture usually found in a cider is gone- it is overwhelmed and filled by the bourbon notes, followed by Sassafras and a mild sweetness. I tried this alongside a Blackthorn cider; Anvil is darker and heavier, more like a Scottish ale.
Recommendation: Buy and try! This is not the typical cider for cider lovers only. If you like bourbon, if you like bourbon aged beers, you will like this cider.