Tax day hurts, so I’m hitting the bottom shelf for this review. At least I picked a brand that has gotten high praise despite its price, shelf placement and limited distribution.
Very Old Barton – or “VOB” – is distilled at the Barton 1792 Distillery, in Bardstown Kentucky (f/k/a the Tom Moore Distillery). The VOB brand comes in several different varieties, including an 80 proof, 86 proof, 90 proof and 100 proof Bottled in Bond. For the three that I compared, both 86-proof versions cost $8.83 on sale (regular price $9.99) and the BIB version cost $11.99. I wanted to see if a bottle containing the age statement was distinguishable from the NAS version, and whether either variety was materially different from the BIB version.
Along with its praise, though, VOB (and its owner, Sazerac, and its other distillery, Buffalo Trace) has received a healthy dose of well-deserved criticism for how it removed the 6-year age statement. See Sku's Jan. 27, 2014 post -- "Sazerac's Funny Numbers" as one great example. Removing an age statement is one thing, but the necks of VOB continue to carry a deceptively prominent numeral 6, just without the smallish font words “aged” and “years” on either side.
Medium amber for all three.
The nose has a little honey and fruit sweetness, with the BIB version having more of the tell-tale smell of higher proof, but black pepper and rye were the dominant scents for all three. Overall it’s a light nose. The nose of the BIB version held up better to ice.
VOB has even less sweetness than the nose might indicate. It’s not a powerhouse, but the rye and pepper spice has a nice bite, and it rounds out with toffee and corn flavors, while still overall being dry. There was a very slight medicinal quality too, which detracted from the other flavors, but it went away with an ice cube (which also brought out some of the fruit). These are very solid classic bourbons.
The finish was medium in length for each, with predominate notes of black pepper and oak, and it was dryer than the taste. Ice gave the finish a sweeter taste for each.
Many people have sung the praises of VOB as a hidden gem on the bottom shelf. While I’m surprised at its cost, and while it no doubt is one of the top “value bourbons,” I think that it doesn’t rank any higher than mid-shelf. I’d buy it over a few brands in the $20-$30 price range, but it can’t touch my favorites. Every time that I had a favorable impression of the nose, taste or finish, it followed in my mind with “for the price.” Additionally, while the 86 proof 6-Year and NAS versions are virtually indistinguishable now, I suspect that Sazerac won’t be able to keep up with the relative quality of the profile, and upcoming releases will taste younger and less balanced. The 100 proof BIB version was only distinguishable by the clearly higher alcohol content, and given the choice between the two, I’d pick the 86 proof because I prefer it neat. If you prefer ice or a splash of water, definitely go with the BIB version.
When you’re broke on tax day, or for any other occasion where you’re looking to spend only $10.00, VOB probably can’t be beat (which helps the score on the Sipp’n Corn Scale). If you’re looking for other great values for just a few more dollars, try Old Grand-Dad BIB and Four Roses “Yellow Label.”
Scores on The Sipp’n Corn Scale
Very Old Barton NAS: 2.5
Very Old Barton 6-Year: 3.0 (bonus points for age statement)
Very Old Barton 6-Year BIB: 2.5
The Sipp’n Corn Scale™:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent bourbon. Worth the price and I’m sure to always have it in my bar.
5 – Wow. I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.