Maker: Brown-Forman, Shively, Kentucky, USA
Style: High corn bonded bourbon
Age: At least four years old
Proof: 100 (50% ABV)
Michigan state minimum: $21/ 1 liter
Appearance: Medium copper.
Nose: Roasted corn, cayenne, Mexican oregano, leather.
Palate: Jalapeño, caramel. Gets a little fruity with water. Blueberry, blackberry, watermelon.
Finish: Grape soda, alcohol. Caramel comes out with water.
Mixed: I tried it in an old-fashioned, Manhattan, boulevardier, with Benedictine and with amaretto. Worked well in all of them, even though it didn’t really stand out. That’s not necessarily bad, though. Sometimes the base spirit is best as a, uh, base.
Parting words: Early Times is one of the oldest American whiskey brands still in existence. It was founded in 1860 by Jack Beam (uncle to Jim). Despite the name (an early example of marketing by nostalgia), Jack’s distillery was a throughly modern operation strategically located next to a rail line (the Louisville & Nashville railroad) near Bardstown. After Jack’s death in 1915, his nephew John Shaunty took over. After John’s death in 1922, a man named S.L. Guthrie bought the distillery and sold the Early Times brand to Brown-Forman. Brown-Forman has owned it since then. They even built a new distillery dedicated to the brand (their best seller at the time) in 1955. It’s still in operation today and is home to ET, Old Forester and Cooper’s Craft.
Jack had a colorful family. His final wife, Anna Figg Brown, was much younger than he and lived into the 1960s. After John Shaunty’s death, his widow took up with a con man who robbed her and left her stranded in Atlantic City. S.L. Guthrie had to drive there to pick her up and take her home. All this according to Sam Cecil’s The Evolution of the Bourbon Industry in Kentucky (1999).
At any rate, Early Times spent several years as America’s best-selling bourbon in the mid twentieth century and hung around at number two even after it was overaken tby Jim Beam. Early Times’ slide began when in 1983, as a cost cutting measure, B-F changed ET from a bourbon to “Kentucky Whisky”, a mix of bourbon with whiskey aged in used barrels, in the US. It remained a straight bourbon overseas. The brand still sells with “price sensitive” consumers, but has not regained its former widespread popularity. Back in 2011 Brown-Forman tried to jumpstart Early Times by releasing a new straight bourbon version called Early Times 354. It was not good. My video (!) review of it is here.
Luckily, B-F decided to give ET another chance and released this new bonded version with a beautiful retro label earlier this year. It’s a hit, with me, anyway. It’s sweet, as it and other high corn bourbons tend to be (e.g. Eagle Rare, Elmer T. Lee) but it has enough oak and spice to keep it from becoming boring. It mixes well, but I think it is at its best with one or two ice cubes and maybe a dash or two of bitters.
Price-wise, ET BiB is in a great place. If it were a standard 750 ml bottle, it would be $15.75. That would make it the cheapest bonded bourbon available in Michigan, less than Old Grand Dad ($28), sibling Old Forester Signature ($25, not technically a BiB, but close), Jim Beam ($22), and Evan Williams White Label ($18). All are fine products but Early Times Bottled-in-Bond is as good as any of those and none of them can deliver the same value. Brown-Forman has hit it out of the park again. Early Times Bottled-in-Bond is highly recommended.
What’s next for B-F? I’m hoping an ET with a double digit age statement. Get on it, George.