Sippin’ whiskey

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the occasional sample of good bourbons with a splash of water and no ice. These are ‘sipping bourbons,’ not ‘mixing bourbons’ (Jack Daniel’s, George Dickel and Jim Beam all come to mind as mixing bourbons) and they can get pricey — but they’re less than a lot of single-malt Scotches and one of them is a terrific bargain.

In fact, let’s start with that one first. I’ve written about it before: Elijah Craig 12-year-old. It may be the best buy in sipping bourbons today. It runs in the same price range as a bottle of Jack, but is aged much longer, is seriously strong (94 proof) and has a really complex taste. I like vanilla/caramel/licorice flavors in my sipping bourbons and this one certainly has that, along with a fairly obvious alcohol burn and that charred-oak edge that a lot of sipping bourbons have. It matches or surpasses bourbons that are twice its price.

Next, there’s the bourbon I got as a Christmas present: Woodford Reserve. I’ll say right away that it is the best sipping bourbon I’ve tasted. It’s wonderfully smooth, and it’s full of the aforementioned caramel flavor that I like so much. With a little bit of water, it has surprisingly little burn but keeps a lot of depth and complexity. It’s a great late-night music-listening or book-reading drink. It fetches a premium price — in this area of Northern Virginia, it runs about $35 for 750ml.

Finally, there’s Russell’s Reserve. It’s a 10-year-old, small-batch bourbon made by the distillers of Wild Turkey. It is very smooth and it has gotten some good reviews, but I don’t find it very complex or interesting. Hit it with a little water and it goes flat for me, although there is a peppery little burn to it. I think the Elijah Craig is superior to the Russell’s and it’s about half the price. The Russell’s would probably be best straight up, but I just don’t like my bourbon neat.

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