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A Taste of Bourbon

October 07, 1998

Tasting Bourbon, like tasting coffee, requires attention to subtle detail, so it's helpful to taste quite different styles side by side.

*Prospector Joe's (90 proof): A house brand sold by Trader Joe's markets, a standard-quality Bourbon aged the minimum four years. Mild caramel-vanilla aroma, an apple-like quality.

*Wild Turkey Rye (101 proof): This is a rye whiskey, not a Bourbon, made from a "mash bill" that's at least 51% rye, rather than corn. However, it's produced and aged as Bourbon in every other way. The rye makes it mouth-filling, dense, a little astringent, with a brooding spicy aroma on top of the usual caramel, closer in style to Scotch than Bourbon ever is.

*Rebel Yell (80 proof): A Bourbon made with wheat in place of the traditional 10% or 15% rye. Lacking rye, it's smoother, closer to a rather oaky Armagnac, but with a sweet caramel nose and a hint of leather.

*Maker's Mark (90 proof): Another wheat Bourbon, with a particularly clean, honeyed nose; distinct vanilla aroma. The whole effect is one of elegance.

*Eagle Rare (101 proof): This Bourbon is 10 years old and has developed a very sweet, round, mouth-filling flavor, aromatic with caramel and peaches. Vastly better than the cheap bottle would lead you to expect but rather hard to find.

*Woodford Reserve (90.4 proof): A smooth, well-balanced 6-year-old Bourbon with a rich caramel nose with coconut and some mint and citrus notes.

*Wild Turkey Rare Breed batch WT-01-97 (108 proof): A blend of 6- through 12-year-old barrels. Sweet, complex nose: caramel, vanilla, chocolate, tobacco and plums. Because of the high proof, hits the mouth with a bang.

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