Budget Bourbon at Char No. 4

Char No. 4, the Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn bar and restaurant that specializes in whiskey and pork, is one of my favorite places to drink: the whiskey selection is stunning, the atmosphere is relaxed, and the bartender is knowledgeable. Char makes it easy to sample a variety of brands and styles without breaking the bank—or getting too hammered.

Last night I sat with a friend and ordered a succession of three one-ounce pours. The first was a rye: Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old ($38 a bottle at stores). It’s a small batch rye from Austin Nichols, the distillery better know for Wild Turkey. It’s a spicy rye with a nice bite to it. I liked it, but I didn’t love it the way I immediately loved Templeton Rye or some of the High West ryes. I opted for rye rather than bourbon because I haven’t really been enjoying bourbon’s sweet caramel and tobacco characteristics lately as much as I have the signature spice and butterscotch notes of a good rye.

But for my second glass, I thought I’d try some new bourbons. The bartender had a few good suggestions and I chose Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel bourbon (about $29 a bottle at liquor stores). There’s a good amount of rye in the mashbill (though of course it’s still at least 51% corn), so our bartender thought it would make a nice transition from the Russell’s Reserve. He was right, and I found that I liked it a little better than the rye. (As you can see in the photo, my friend David tried the Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel bourbon.)

But it was my third choice that really grabbed me: Evan Williams Single Barrel. The distillery comes out with a new vintage every year—in January they released what had gone into barrels in 2002. This was the smoothest bourbon I’d tasted in a long time. It drank much better than it should have for the price. It reminded me of a cologne that has so many intricately blended notes that they become indistinguishable from each other. Or like an orchestra in which no single instrument stands out. Part of this probably comes from aging ten years in oak; longer aging tends to smooth out rough edges. I noticed this in Eagle Rare 10 year old bourbon, too.

What’s remarkable about this Evan Williams bourbon (and the Eagle Rare) is the quality for the price. The former sells for under $30 and the latter for just over. I love Maker’s Mark, which typically sells for about $30 around here, but it just doesn’t taste this smooth to me.

Prices seem to vary from store to store and region to region. Astor Wines & Spirits sells one they say was hand-picked by them for $24.99. Drink Up NY has their own special bottling for $28.99. A friend back in the Twin Cities told me via Twitter that he sees it for $23, sometimes on sale for less.

I’m always looking for great booze bargains (see my post on the fabulous $12 Mellow Corn), and this is one of them. I’m eager to compare this to my standard house bourbon, Jim Beam white label, and to the delicious Four Roses Small Batch ($32 a bottle) I have in my cabinet.

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One Response to Budget Bourbon at Char No. 4

  1. Old Grand Dad is my inexpensive Bourbon stand-by, but these look like great ones to try and/or revisit. Thanks for the list!

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