I was recently scouring the bottom (aka “bargain”) shelf bourbons when this interesting bottle caught my eye. The bottled-in-bond label indicated this might be worth a try. When I dug a little more, I saw a bottle straight out of the movies.
No ice, no glass
If you’re like me, you’re like “Where did this come from”?
You might have caught a mention in The Hustler – a 1961 movie starring Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats and Paul Newman as Eddie Felson. Midway through the movie, you can hear the line – “Preacher – get me some bourbon. JTS Brown. No ice; no glass.”
But who was JTS Brown? John Thompson Street Brown – known as J.T.S. was part of the original “Brown” that later became “Brown-Forman”. JTS was born in 1826. Working with his father in the mercantile business, he moved to Louisville, KY at the age of 26. It was there that he began his trade in the wholesale liquor business. As his business expanded, JTS and his half-brother George Garvin Brown began operating at 322 Main Street in “The ‘Ville” – front and center in Whiskey Row. Later, the company grew to become J.T.S. Brown and Bro. By 1874, the siblings parted ways, with George focusing on higher quality whiskeys and J.T.S. focusing on more mass-appeal spirits.
George’s business continued to grow into the Brown-Forman Brand. J.T.S. and his sons continued working the trade, Operations moved closer to Lawrenceburg, and in 1904, Emily Brown, wife of J.T.S. passed away, followed a year later by the demise of J.T.S. The story goes that he was on his way home from a liquor store when he was struck by a streetcar … which if you have to go, is how we’d all want it … Not being hit by a streetcar, but on the way home from the liquor store.
The sons of J.T.S. continued the business until Prohibition forced the shutdown. In 1932 when son Davis passed away, his widow, Agnes, began managing her stake in the business. Agnes is credited with the first woman to have operated a distillery – particularly of note as this was an all-male industry until this time. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Heaven Hill ended up with the brand and still produces it today, in both an 80-proof and a bottled-in-bond version.
The bottle hearkens from a by-gone era, with J.T.S. and sons featured on a gold, black and burgundy label. A plain white label on the back notes the distiller as Heaven Hill, Louisville, KY (at the former Bernheim Distillery – Heaven Hill’s main production facility, before being carted off to Bardstown for aging and bottling. J.T.S. likely shares a common mash bill with much of Heaven Hill’s traditional bourbon lines – 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% barley.
The bottle carries no age statement but does indicate it is bottled-in-bond, indicating it is been aged and bottled according to the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. The bourbon must be the product of one distillation season, by a single distiller, at a single location. It must be aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least 4 years and bottled at 100 proof. The label must identify the distillery where it was distilled. Only spirits produced in the U.S. may be bonded.
Eye: Medium copper
Nose: Grains and light spice.
Palate: Tingling spice on the forefront, followed by vanilla and caramel with vanilla and trace of light mint, followed by more baking spices.
Finish: Medium-short in length with a warm, lingering spicy finish. I was expecting to catch a lot of oaky dryness, but that was not the case.
Overall: This was pretty pleasant. While it’s not likely to garner gold medals, in today’s “arms race” in the bourbon industry to ratchet up prices, it’s nice to still catch a four-year-old bourbon, bottled at a higher proof, that’s found on the bottom (err bargain) shelf around $15 that’s worth drinking and isn’t paint thinner.
Overall, this was a pleasant surprise. This isn’t fancy, but if you’re looking for an everyday drinker that is solid neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail, Eddie may have summed it up: Preacher – get me some bourbon. JTS Brown. No ice; no glass.”