Review: Ancient Age Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky (Sazerac)

Age: NAS

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

With a bourbon this young and this cheap, I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to a more upscale sipping-quality brand.  So I’m reviewing it like I review a vodka or a gin, neat and in a couple classic mixed drinks.

Bourbon & Coke

Ancient Age is passable in Coke, but there’s an unpleasant bitter note that comes through.  Fine in a pinch, I suppose, but there are much better alternatives, like Evan Williams, Old Ezra 101 and even Beam White Label.

Manhattan

AA fairs better in a Manhattan.  It is a little overwhelmed by the sweet vermouth, but does the job.  The bitter note fades into the background and maybe even complements the vermouth.  The bitterness comes back a little bit in the finish, but overall, it makes a drinkable manhattan.

Neat

The nose is light and sweet. There’s a hint of wood, probably the origin of the bitter note above.  Not much on the palate, delicately sweet and watery.  Maybe some
raw corn taste, but that fades as it sits in a glass.  The finish is a little hot, but quick and a little elusive touch of wood.  The light sweetness lingers for a while before vanishing entirely.

Parting Words

Even for the price, there’s not a lot going on here.  You’d be better off spending a bit more money for the older Ancient Ancient Age 10 star or ever better yet, the Ancient
Ancient Age 10 year old bourbon (primarily available in Kentucky).  The 10 y/o is, in my opinion, the second best bargain in the world of bourbon.  Other bourbons made with the same recipe include Rock Hill Farms, Blanton’s and Elmer T. Lee.

Head to Head: Buffaloed

More private bottlings, this time, Buffalo Trace.  These two are from Binny’s beverage depot in Chicago, and Kahn’s Fine Wines in Indianapolis respectively.  Both do numerous private bottlings.  Binny’s are almost always excellent.  Kahn’s are frequently very good but some are pretty indistinguishable from the standard offering.  But without further ado…

1)      Kahn’s

2)      Binny’s (purchased mid October 2010)

Color

1)      Light copper

2)      Slighly Darker.  More like a dark amber

Nose

1)      Assertive alcohol, wood, char

2)      Slightly more mellow, creamy caramel, bit of clove

On the palate

1)      Sweet caramel, toasted marshmallows, bit of oak

2)      Silky, sweet, much less char, sophisticated

Finish

1)      Lingering marshmallow, a bit of barrel char, low, long burn

2)      Dark caramel, sweetness, tiny hint of that marshmallow, very long, sensual finish

Parting words

I was surprised at the outcome of this tasting.  In the end, I think I preferred the Kahn’s bottle.  It was a great balance of sweetness and spice.  The Binny’s bottle was too dry.  According to my pal at Binny’s, they created their own Buffalo Trace small batch with barrels they selected from BT themselves.  It’s yummy, don’t get me wrong, I just think some of those barrels were too old and dry.

Head to Head: Oh Weller

On trips to Chicago, Binny’s Beverage Depot is always on my itinerary.  Not only do have a friend who works at the South Loop Store, and the store have a great selection, but they always have some great private barrel selections, be they bourbon, Scotch or something else.

Binny’s barrels of Weller 12 y/o (a wheat bourbon made at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY) are always very, very good, so I always pick up a bottle for myself and usually one for somebody else too.  A few weeks ago I picked up a bottle of the latest edition and since I happened to have a little bit left from my previous visit, I seized the opportunity and did a head to head.

Binny’s Weller 12 head to head

1)      Binny’s Weller 12, purchased 3/2009

2)      Binny’s Weller 12, purchased 10/2010

Color

1)      Copper

2)      Same color, but maybe slightly darker

Nose

1)      Granny Smith apple, lavender, a bit of alcohol.

2)      Peanut Butter, fresh roasted peanuts, wood.

On the Palate

1)      Silky, tart, a touch floral

2)      Same silkiness, but woodier and drier.  Much drier.

Finish

1)      Tangy, fills the cheeks, then some slow burn and slight sweetness

2)      Raspberry jam, then fading and slightly sweet and woody.

Parting Words:

I was surprised at the difference between these two bourbons.  Most suprising were the floral aromas and flavors, particularly lavender in the 2009 edition.  This is a characteristic that is most closely associated with high-rye bourbons like Four Roses Single Barrel, not wheat bourbons (which contain no rye at all) which are usually dominated by vanilla and sweet caramel flavors. 

The powers that be at Binny’s have done an excellent job in selecting barrels with distictive profiles that bring out different aspects of this rich and complex (and affordable) bourbon.