Jefferson’s Reserve

jefferson                                                             Jefferson’s, like a whole lot of other Bourbon bottlers, (talking about you High West) buy the distilled white dog product from a distillery. They then age it, blend it, etc, so the end product is different than another bottler who bought the same juice. We have reviewed their Very Small Batch, which we were not very kind to, and their Chef’s Collaboration, which we really liked. Today were are sampling Jefferson’s Reserve, Very Old, Very Small Batch, Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

Jefferson’s Reserve is a blend of 4 Bourbons, comes bottled at 90.2 proof in a corked elegant looking bottle. Pretty easy to find and sells for around $45 for 750ml. Though it says Very Old on the label, we couldn’t actually nail down how old it really is. It seems they took a 15 year old Bourbon and then blended it with 3 others. We could not determine the age on those other Bourbons.

Side note, when Trey Zoeller, one of the founders, was asked about the name he replied “I had no marketing budget. I simply wanted a recognizable face associated with history and tradition.”


Ron:  Wow! A big mellow nose with delightful aromas with no alcohol smell. Oak, leather, brown sugar, fruit, molasses, and grain are the first scents to arise. These are followed by honey and a slight bit of caramel. When I added ice I got a citrus aroma.

Todd.   First thought? Nice. This has a smooth almost lively aroma with fruit, leather and cocoa dominating. Secondary scents were cedar, vanilla and citrus. With a bit of a melted cube I picked up a very strong smell of caramel.

Ron:    Lively?


Ron:   Nice, nice, nice! A sweet mellow taste with most of the stuff I got on the nose. Molasses, leather, oak and fruit lead the way. Right behind came citrus and honey with slight tastes of tobacco and caramel rounding it all out.

Todd:   Sweet tastes of leather and and tobacco upfront. This is followed by slight tastes of citrus, cedar, and barley. Very good.


Ron:   Medium long to long and getting the molasses running through all 3 categories.

Todd:   Long and spicy with a hint of vanilla.


Ron:   Great brown water!

Todd:   Very good bottle even thought I was a little disappointed in the taste after that great nose.

Nose     4.5 out of 5

Taste     8.25 out of 10

Finish     4.5 out of 5

Total score         17.25 out of 20 Barrels.

Jefferson’s Reserve is a very good Bourbon and should be a staple in your cabinet. The price, since being a little on the high side,  probably doesn’t make this your everyday go to Bourbon. But for a special pour with a special friend, Jefferson’s Reserve does quite nicely.

Short Reviews of Some Bottom Shelf Dwellers

We decided to roll several reviews into one. These will be shorter and in a different format from our normal reviews. All of the following Whiskey’s Or Whisky’s are more or less on the very cheap end of the price spectrum, and generally not to our liking. By cheap, we mean around $10 for the 750ml and some times in the low teens for the 1.75ml. We decided to review them anyways because they are well known names,  some of which you will probably recognize, and are pretty popular.

We are not against inexpensive spirits, those who follow our blog know that we are fans of JTS Brown, and Heaven Hill Old Style. Both go for just over $10. For a few dollars more there is Rebel Yell and Evan Williams.

Most of these are not Bourbons. That means they can have additives and don’t have to follow any of the Bourbon rules.


Neither of us had ever tried this, even in our misspent youth. The bottle says it is 80% neutral grain spirit and 20% 2 year old Whiskey. So essentially a flavored vodka. 8 Star is 80 proof and widely available.

8 star has a nose of paint/lacquer. Very very sweet taste, sickeningly sweet, probably because of additives. No finish. It is so sweet you could probably mix with a diet Coke and have it taste like the regular cola.


The front label says “100% Blended American Whiskey”, that sounds a lot better than saying it is 70% neutral spirits mixed with 30% Whiskey. CE is bottled at 80 proof and pretty easy to find.

We both got slight whiffs of Rye but not much else on the nose. Reminded us in some ways of a Canadian Whisky. The taste was not much different, a little Rye but not much else. Not a real pleasant drink.


A blended Canadian Whisky that has no age statement.

Strange nose of ethanol, sweetness and a rotten caramel like smell. Not good. Very sweet taste, too much so with a terrible taste of varnish. No finish. We both threw this out, couldn’t even finish 3/4 of an oz.


Early Times has a somewhat strange slogan, ” For a Taste worth the Wait”. We say strange because we would be surprised if it has been aged for more than a year. It is 80 proof and found just about everywhere.

We both had to strain just to get a nose of plastic, musty medicine and a slight cooked vegetable smell. The taste was surprisingly hot considering it is only 80 proof. Flat with no character that reminded us of drinking vodka with a tablespoon of sugar. No finish to speak of, if possible maybe even more sweetness.


J W Dant is by far the best of the super cheap. A Kentucky Straight Bourbon, which means it is at least 4 years old and it is 100 proof so you are getting less water and more bang for your buck. Plus, J W takes us back to our youth and some found memories.

A decent nose with a touch of caramel. Very hot and somewhat rough on the tongue with a bit of the caramel we got on the nose. With some effort we got a little bit of a fruit taste. Not much finish, just a little sweetness, definitely better with some water.


Kessler says it is an American Blended Whiskey, which sounds like a blend of different Whiskies. No, it is 72.5% neutral grain spirit, again think vodka, with 27.5% Whiskey.  Bottled at 80 proof and sold almost everywhere. We will put to the test their motto  “Smooth as Silk”.

The aroma was not as terrible as expected, getting a little grain, alcohol and a slight medicinal smell. Not much flavor , maybe a little grain and definitely some sweetness. It is smooth but hell, so is water. No real finish except a little more sweetness. Not the greatest stuff but it beats the Canadian cheap stuff.


Seagram’s 7 Crown American Whiskey, most of us probably remember ordering a “7 & 7” sometime in our lives. It seemed cool to order that drink, and as our memories serve, wasn’t all that bad. How will it taste without the 7 Up?

Seagram’s 7 is bottled at 80 proof and sells for around $13 for the 750ml, making it a little more expensive than the others on this list.

Decent nose, though nothing extraordinary. A little caramel, maybe a little vanilla and a slight bit of cocoa. Fairly smooth neat with some of the tastes we got on the nose along with a hint of Rye. Finish was short to medium with not much going on. All and all, not a bad drink. Probably best used as a mixer with a soda, 7 Up anyone?


A blended Canadian Whisky that is 3 years old and bottled at 80 proof. Like Seagram’s, Windsor sells for a couple of dollars more than the others.

A nose of paint, varnish and some Rye. Sounds strange but is smells Canadian. A “flat” taste of the same things we got on the nose with a little bitterness thrown in. Medium to short finish with no character.  Use as a mixer only.

Pappy Van Winkle 15

pappy                                                             Today we review the myth, the cult, the legend and what is probably the most talked about Bourbon in history, Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve. There are 3 that carry that name, they are the 15 year, 20 year and the 23 year old, all sharing the same mash bill. We are rating the 15 year old, which in our mind is not only the best deal for the money but possible the best tasting of the Trio. To us, Bourbons aged longer than 15 to 18 years start to take on too much of the wood character and can have too much of a musty smell and taste.

The 15 yr, as well as the other 2, come in a tall bottle with a picture of Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle Sr. smoking a cigar on the label. It is bottled at 107 proof and is extremely hard to find. A note on the price,  If you can find it or know a liquor store owner who doesn’t like to jack his customers, the manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) would have it selling between $110 and $130 for the 750 ml bottle. We have come across stores easily charging triple that. Online it sells for over a $1000. Be aware, there is a huge market for empty Pappy bottles. Why? So they can be refilled with cheaper Bourbon and sold as Pappy.


Ron:  Not all aromas upfront, this Bourbon requires a little patience. Having said that there is a lot on the nose. Oak, toffee and leather are followed by a toasty sweetness with hints of cedar. I also got an ever so slight whiff of anise.

Todd:  Agree, somewhat subtle but ultimately a fantastic nose. A little hot smelling with an almost overwhelming aroma of caramel upfront. Behind that but still strong was dark fruit and vanilla. Behind even that I picked up brown sugar, apricot, oak, honey, cocoa and a musty scent. Strange, the oak was way down the list even though the juice was in the barrel for 15 years.


Ron:   Slightly hot with a big tobacco taste up front followed by toffee, caramel, that toasty sweetness that I got on the nose, and vanilla that I didn’t get on the nose. A small melted ice cube brought out tastes of cinnamon, brown sugar and an ever-so-slight, musty taste.

Todd:   Hot but I could actually drink it neat. Having said that I got more flavors once a cube had melted. Like the nose, caramel dominated the taste. After that came hints of leather, malt, grain and the same mustiness that I got on the nose.


Ron:   The tobacco continued in a long, warm, caramel finish.

Todd:  Long sweet finish with a touch of mint.


Ron:  Not quite sure it is worth what people are paying for it, but I must say this is an excellent Bourbon. I will always attempt to keep a bottle in my cabinet, if not for notoriety, for friends who truly appreciate Bourbon that have never had the opportunity to try it.

Todd:  Really loved drinking this and want to thank Ron for sharing his bottle with me. I believe the nose, while as mentioned before was somewhat subtle, is maybe the best I have ever come across. Oh yeah, the taste was pretty damn good as well.

Nose    4.75 out of 5

Taste    9.25 out of 10

Finish   4.5 out of 5

Total score     18. 5 out of 20 Barrels

We both really really enjoyed drinking Van Winkle 15 year. One of the best noses out there with great complex taste and a long finish make for one hell of a Bourbon.

But we also have to be honest with ourselves, did the hype get to us? Maybe a little. Also, if the bottle didn’t say Pappy Van Winkle, but said something like Joe Smith’s Bourbon and was still over $120, how would we have rated it? Just being honest, probably not as high.

We are not saying there is necessarily anything better at that price, but just be aware you are paying a premium for the notoriety and name. But, with a name like Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve, maybe it’s worth it.


J. T. S. Brown

j-t-s-brown-bottled-in-bond-bourbon                                                                                           J. T. S. Brown, Bottle in Bond, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey has long been a favorite low end go to bottle of ours. Decent juice for a 2nd (or 3rd?) drink. Named after John Thompson Street Brown Jr. who ran a liquor business that eventually became Brown-Forman.

JTSB sells for around $11 for the 750ml, is 100 proof, comes in a standard looking bottle and can be found in lots of places but not all. It is aged at least 4 years.

While we mentioned above that it is a fav of ours, we have never sat down and reviewed or rated it. We are both interested in how it will score.

On a side note, JTSB is the drink of ‘Fast Eddie’ Felson from the books The Hustler and The Color of Money as well as the films of the same name starring Paul Newman.


Ron:  Big nose with brown sugar, honey and caramel dominating. This gives away to vanilla, tobacco and a slight leathery scent.

Todd:  Bread, corn, and old leather stand out. Behind that is some brown sugar, honey and a yeasty aroma. Odd, it doesn’t smell like it is 100 proof. Also, I didn’t think the nose was a big as Ron stated.


Ron:  A little too hot neat but could still pick out the caramel and vanilla that I got on the nose. Also picked up tastes of oak and pepper. With some melted ice I got tobacco and a nutty taste.

Todd:   I couldn’t on the nose, but I can definitely tell it is 100 proof on the tongue. I really didn’t get the traditional flavors that Ron got. Bread, grain and yeast, which I guess could all be the same thing, stand out the most. I also got a little cedar, some spice and a slight musty taste.


Ron:  Medium to long with a nice warm spicy end.

Todd:  Agree, medium to long, but I got more of a brown sugar sweetness. I did get the nice warmth.


Ron:   As you can surmise from above, I like this stuff. More complex than the price would have you believe, and at 100 proof has some decent heat.

Todd:  Well as you can tell from above, I also like this stuff, but not as much as my friend Ron. It seems to taste better as a 2nd or 3rd pour.

Nose   4.25 out of 5

Taste    7.5 out of 10

Finish   3.75 out of 10

Total score     15.5 out of 20 Barrels

We believe JTSB Bourbon to be a sleeper. It’s label is old school and nondescript.  Since it’s price point puts it on the bottom shelf it is easily overlooked. At that price point it also makes a good mixer.

While we wouldn’t necessarily pour a glass of J. T. S. Brown for ourselves, or our friends who really appreciate Bourbon, as a first drink,  it does make for a real good 2nd, 3rd, 4th…

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel

wtrussell_sreserve01                                           We here at Talking Bourbon are generally fans of juice from Wild Turkey, including the standard Russel’s Reserve which we reviewed a few months back. Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is the same Whiskey that is in Russell’s Reserve which is also the same as Wild Turkey 101. RR is just aged for 10 years compared to the 6 or so for the 101, and the RR Single Barrel is just that, bottled from a single barrel without any blending. We have mentioned before that they blend Bourbons to get a certain taste profile, to assure some measure of consistency. While they still look for a certain taste profile in the single barrels, there will be some differences between bottles from different barrels.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is bottled at 110 proof in the same somewhat short bottle that all the Russell’s lines are sold in. It sells for around $50 to $55 and can be a little hard to find.

One note on finding or buying it. They have changed the label. The bottle is the same size and same color label as the regular Russell’s Reserve, so it is easy to over look the words Single Barrel in the bottom part of the label.


Todd:   A really nice nose of all the traditional aromas I look for in a Bourbon. Oak, caramel, brown sugar and leather were the prominent scents. A little less forward was vanilla, spice, toffee and honey. Interestingly, I lost most of the aromas when my ice melted.

Ron:   Somewhat of a hot smell with caramel and spice upfront followed by oak, almonds and a hint of mint and brown sugar. I actually picked up a bread aroma once my ice had melted.


Todd:   Hot neat but expected that at 110 proof. The spicy Rye and caramel really come through. Also got tastes of oak, and tobacco.

Ron:  Yeah, I agree, little too hot neat. Once the ice had melted a bit I picked up some spiciness as well as grain and caramel. Also came away with something I can only describe as a clean taste.


Todd:  Medium long to long with sweet brown sugar and a bit of mint.

Ron:  Medium long with a nice warm caramel finish. Also picked up that slight bit of mint.


Todd:  Very nice Bourbon but probably a little over priced.

Ron:  Really good but falls a bit short relative to it’s price point.

Nose     4.5 out of 5

Taste     8.25 out of 10

Finish    4.25 out of 5

Total score     17 out of 20 Barrels

While we both enjoyed RRSB, we didn’t find it that much different or better than the standard Russell’s Reserve. The juice in the bottle was aged for 10 years in both cases, $20 seems a little high just to make sure your particular juice came out of only one barrel.

Still, if you feel like splurging, there are some worse things to spend your money on than Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel.