Oh, the things you find under a fine layer of dust on a bottom shelf … This bottle had caught my eye before and was similar to the Early Times Bottled-in-Bond introduced in 2017. I wondered what the story was behind this one.
Discontinued nearly as soon as introduced
Full disclosure – this one is going to be a tough find. Launched in 2011, just three short years later, Brown-Forman discontinued this Early Times 354 Bourbon expression of its Early Times whiskey line. The “354” is in reference to the Early Times Distillery federal permit, with roots to its establishment in 1860.
As shared before, Early Times was once the spotlight of the Kentucky Derby, and for many years and was featured in its Mint Juleps. Beginning in 2015, Early Times was replaced with the relaunched Old Forester bourbon for the signature derby drink.
According to parent Brown-Forman, “many were not interested in a premium expression of the Early Times brand.” Further, rapid demand in Japan and Russia forced a reallocation of corporate resources. Early Times had once been truly a “bourbon”, but during lean years in the 1980’s about 20% of the barrels used in producing Early Times were used (as opposed to new) bourbon barrels.
At one point in the marketing of this product, a blind taste test indicated that early Times 354 was preferred to Jim Beam White Label by male, Jim beam drinkers between the ages of 25 and 55. Well, I fit that … Let see about this disappearing brand.
Early Times 354 is bottled at 80-proof. I secured this bottle for around $17 at a local college campus liquor store. The mash bill for this bourbon is a hefty 79% corn, 11% rye and 10% malted barley – slightly sweeter and less spicy than its cousin, Old Forester (70% corn, 18% rye, and 12% malted barley).
Eye: The attached tag indicated “deep amber”. That looks about right; I concur.
Nose: The attached tag indicates “spicy with sweet fruit, fresh oak and delicate corn notes underscored by a layer of vanilla and caramel”. Wow! That’s a lot for 80-proof and $17. I’m not catching the spice or fruit, but there are layers of vanilla and caramel sweetness from the high-corn mash bill. Overall – like many of the Brown-Forman lineup – a great nose!
Palate: Per the tag – “a lively entry with spice, caramel and villa that melt into a mixture of fresh and dried fruit notes.” I pick up some fruit notes – light citrus and ripe pears with vanilla and oak.
Finish: Medium-to-short in length, with vanilla leading to a dry oaky spice.
Overall: An interesting find! Glad I was able to taste this before it completely disappeared. This is a shadow of its big brother Early Times Bottled-in-Bond – don’t hesitate to snatch up this BiB expression. ET 354 is sweet and light. If you were expecting something different, you’ll be disappointed. This is an easy drinker and for the price point is a pleasant find. It would be interesting to match this up to a similar Heaven Hill find and see which one has a bit more character.