I have this favorite little honey-hole I head to whenever I’m visiting family in the Lexington area. It’s not a big, commercial store – rather – a small little liquor store. It’s here where I can find some unique finds as well as items that just aren’t available elsewhere. It was here where I saw an old name with a unique twist – Early Times Bottled in Bond Bourbon.
A forgotten name
For many years, Early Times was the spotlight of the Kentucky Derby and featured in its Mint Juleps. While Early Times was featured up until 2015 in the mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby, it wasn’t quite bourbon… For many years, about 20% of the barrels utilized in producing Early Times are used bourbon barrels. By definition, bourbon must be at least 51% corn (the rest is usually a mix of malted barley, rye, or wheat), the mash must be distilled at 160 proof or less, and put into a newly charred barrel (typically white oak) at 125 proof or less.
The Early Times brand shut down during Prohibition but picked up after its repeal. It returned after Prohibition, featuring its sweeter, milder, and less spicy profile (see mashbill below). In 1953, Early Times was the bestselling bourbon in America – yes, you heard that right. By the early 1980’s, Brown-Forman decided to trim costs and utilize used, rather than new barrels. Hence, for some time, it has been a “whiskey” and not a “bourbon”. For a while, you could find Early Times 354 Bourbon, but even that was discontinued by 2014 (though I swear I just saw some at a local college campus liquor store). Fast forward to the 2017 release of a bottled-in-bond rendition.
Early Times Bottled-in-Bond means that it is complies with the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. Bottled-in-Bond indicates that the spirit is a product of one single distillation season (January-June or July-December), by a single distiller, at a single distillery. Further, it must be aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least 4 years. When bottled, it must be at 100 proof (50% alcohol by volume). Lastly, the bottled product must list the distillery where it was distilled and bottled. By definition, bourbon is a unique product of the United States.
Released in 2017, this may not be readily available on your local shelves. Currently, distribution is limited to Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Oregon. You may find Early Times Straight Bourbon product – 354 Bourbon – aged at least 2 years. The bottled-in-bond bourbon has a bit more maturation to it. I found this bottle for around $22 in Kentucky. The mash bill for this product is 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: Medium amber
Nose: There is some ethanol present, but when swirled gently, you’ll catch vanilla, sweet maple syrup, sweet corn, and oak. Overall, very pleasant and nicely balanced.
Palate: There is more sweet corn, vanilla, and caramel notes, followed by fruit and oak. This has a nice, medium “chew” to it and feels creamy and smooth on the tongue.
Finish: Medium in length, smooth and lingering, with a sweet maple, caramel, spice and more oak.
Overall: This is a nice find. In today’s $40 (or more!) craft finds, this holds its own. And, its unique enough from parent Brown-Forman’s Old Forester 100 or Old Forester 1897 to be worthy of a try. It’s a great step-up from the Early Times whiskey (only 80 proof). While the latter has a similar profile, it has a lower proof and mouthfeel. I think you’ll find this one a little sweeter, with more oak than its siblings at Brown-Forman.