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Sunday, April 26, 2015

If I had a Benjamin for Bourbon …

After being asked to participate in the multi-blogger post “If I had a Benjamin” to spend on Bourbon or other American Whiskey, I thought it would be fun and easy.  I’d find the perfect balance between cost and taste for optimal “value,” and I’d deftly maneuver around the deceptive brands and marketing scams, resulting in a stockpile of great Bourbon at economic prices.  It turns out that this exercise is easier said than done, but still fun.

The participating bloggers got to pick their scenario for their $100 purchase – like for a milestone birthday, a week at the beach, or “the only Bourbons you’ll ever drink again” – so we should end up with a wide array of purchases.  I would definitely have vastly different selections for each of those scenarios.

I’m a “best buy for the money” guy at heart who looks at the relationship between cost and overall quality and experience, meaning that I appreciate the rationale of an expensive gift shop bottle of Willett Family Estate 22 year-old wheated Bourbon being a better value buy than a $9.00 bottom shelf bottle.  It also means that Weller Special Reserve and Four Roses Yellow Label are a better value than many brands that cost $40.00 or more.  It’s a highly subjective process.

To put my value theory to the test, for my scenario, I imagined the old “if you were stranded on a desert island” setup.  I don’t know how long I’ll be stranded, so I need to make my $100 go as far as possible, without making matters worse by buying eleven bottles of Ten High.  Plus, I wouldn’t leave the island a Bourbon enthusiast after all of that swill, and at 80 proof, it wouldn’t even be useful for starting a bonfire to signal for help…

The scenario was difficult from the outset because price inflation eats up the Benjamin.  In the past few years most brands have been raising prices by at least 5% yearly, if not more.  Plus, every bottle in contention seemed to be a few dollars higher than I remembered, which I’m chalking up to bad timing of Kentucky Derby pricing.  I’d get out for about $90 at another time of the year.

It was also difficult because one of our rules is that our choices must be reasonably available at retail.  That means no retail-priced Four Roses Limited Edition or Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, but also no brands that I used to highly recommend and that were once readily available and reasonably priced (Elmer T. Lee, W. L. Weller 12 year, or now even Old Weller Antique 107 proof).

But have no fear, there are still plenty of options to make my math work and to keep me happy on the island.  In fact, once I had a few Bourbon drinks to clear my head, I came up with at least ten bottles priced from the mid-teens to mid-$30’s in my local market.  I prefer most of these ten over many brands that retail for $40.00 or more, so I just monkeyed with my ten until I hit $100. 

Elijah Craig 12 Year Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey:

Four Roses Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey:

W.L. Weller Special Reserve Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey:


$ 100.00

This list gives me the flexibility of enjoying bourbon cocktails (I’m assuming that there will be lush gardens on the island), drinking on ice, or drinking neat.  I tried to go for higher proof, there’s a nice mix of high-rye and low-rye, and I’ve got some decent age.  I would have loved to have included Old Weller Antique or W. L. Weller 12 year, but I couldn’t pick them under our rules since they’re no longer regularly on the shelf, so I went with the 90 proof sibling to make sure that I had a wheated mash bill represented. 

I picked Elijah Craig 12-year because for me it has replaced Weller 12 and Elmer T. Lee as an inexpensive restaurant pour or a casual pour at home.  It has a great nose, balanced flavors of caramel, oak and light fruit, and a nice finish.  I wish that I could have selected a Barrel Proof version of Elijah Craig to bring with me to the Island, but at the standard 94 proof and usually about $28.00, this is one of the best buys in Bourbon.

The Four Roses Single Barrel was also a no-brainer.  I looked for room in my budget for Four Roses Small Batch or even Four Roses Yellow Label, which is one of the best price performers on the market, and I’ve never found it to be batchy or inconsistent.  Still, Four Roses Single Barrel with its standard OBSV recipe (containing a whopping 35% rye) and 100 proof will keep me happy on the island.  I was extremely tempted to bring a private barrel bottle of OBSK or OESK plus two bottles of Yellow Label to the island, but I decided to go for variety.

Old Grand-Dad is one of my favorite inexpensive Bottled in Bond Bourbons.  It uses Beam’s high-rye mash bill (27% rye), but it’s very different from the Four Roses Single Barrel.  It is robust for its age and balances spice with brown sugar, butterscotch and a hint of orange citrus.  I might have substituted Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond for Old Grand-Dad, but I’m still not over the age statement removal and the misleading numeral 6 that remains on the neck of the bottle.  I was also tempted to use Four Roses Yellow Label as my last pick, but I went for variety and proof.

Now I just need to find an island with the right barware, an ice-maker, a relaxing hammock strung between palm trees, and cruise-ship rescue after about two weeks.

Thanks to Bill at Modern Thirst for organizing “If I had a Benjamin” and for inviting me.  I also want to give a special thanks to Eric W. at Springhurst Liquor Barn for his help and for humoring me as I paced around the Bourbon section with my calculator and camera.

Finally, here are links to the complete list of participating bloggers; be sure to check out their selections too:



  1. Nice bourbon daydream. Might've gone FR Small Batch and Old Grand Dad 114 myself, but wouldn't complain with the list, as is.

    1. That would have been a great combo and would still hit the $100 target! That goes to show that there are a lot of ways to get plenty of good Bourbon for $100.

  2. well, adjusting for a) me not being in the US, so the last two are not available, but they would make my list. I would only change the craig for eagle rare. FRSB is quickly becoming my fave.

    on a side note, is it hard to get in your part of the world? suddenly, after only being available for about 3 months, it is gone here in AB, Canada. I hit 6 liquor stores, and found one bottle. and the three that I know had it, all "had it ordered"


    1. Thanks Rick ... that's a shame that Weller Special Reserve and Old Grand-Dad BIB don't make it to you. It's hard to find better Bourbon under $20. Eagle Rare was definitely a contender, making it to the top 10 in my deliberations. As for Four Roses Single Barrel, we still have plenty here. The problem is that last year I could find it on sale for $26.99, and now regular price is up to $38 at some stores. Buy it when you can, my friend.


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