View Full Version : Bourbon Comparison – Quality, Taste and Cost

03-19-2002, 14:14
There have been several threads posted in the last year that identified what each of us thought were bourbons that we believed carried the traits of high quality, great taste, and were reasonably priced. It has been interesting reading all the diverse opinions. While one person may love a specific bourbon, the next person would prefer something altogether different. Cost also is a relative concept. The definition of a “reasonable cost” is significantly different for an every day pour than it is compared with a “super-premium” selection. Many of the readers of this forum do not seem to mind to pay extra if they feel the bourbon is worth it. These discussions interest me in the sense of trying to figure out at what point does one feel the more expensive bourbon is worth the additional cost. I understand that this is subjective, but anyway I tried to look at my own experiences analytically. So I spent a couple of hours last Sunday reviewing twenty-five bourbons that I had sampled in the last year. I then rated each of the bourbons based on quality/taste and cost. I then created a value rating that combined both of these factors with the quality/taste ranking being weighted higher than the cost rating. Jim Beam Black was found to have the best quality/cost value rating of the bourbons I sampled. Now this does not mean it was the very highest high quality bourbon in my sample. I actually had eight bourbons ranked higher and five other bourbons with the same ranking. However, when you combined its high quality/taste ranking of 94 with its relatively low cost ranking of 97.3 it was the best value of the twenty-five bourbons in my sample. What does this mean? Not much. It was just some fun on a Sunday afternoon. My results are below.

Bourbon Comparison - Quality, Taste and Cost
Updated March 17, 2002


Jim Beam Black……...……..$0.72….94……97.3….95.3
George Dickel #12…..……..$0.83….94……96.9….95.1
Wild Turkey 101…….…….….$0.95….94……96.4….95.0
Maker's Mark…………..….…..$0.96….94……96.4….94.9
Wild Turkey Rare Breed…….$1.81….96……93.2….94.9
OR Van Winkle 10 yr…….…..$1.51…95……94.3….94.7
Old Charter Proprietor's.......$2.31…97……91.3….94.7
WT Kentucky Spirit………... .$2.48….97……90.6….94.5
Blanton's Single-Barrel…….…$3.09…97……88.3….93.5
Elmer T. Lee S-B............…...$1.54…93……94.2….93.5
Knob Creek……………...….…....$1.19…92……95.5….93.4
Elijah Craig S-B 18 yr………..$2.17….94……91.8….93.1
Booker's Bourbon…….………..$2.85…95……89.3…..92.7
Jefferson's Reserve…….…..…$3.26….96……87.7….92.7
Elijah Craig 12 yr…………...…$0.91….90……96.6….92.6
Buffalo Trace………….……......$1.22….90……95.4….92.2
Jim Beam White…….………....$0.53…88……98.0….92.0
Woodford Reserve…………...…$1.78…90……93.3….91.3
Pappy Van Winkle FR.……..….$5.93…99……77.6….90.4
Baker's Bourbon……………......$2.30…89……91.3….89.9
Evan Williams S-B '90......…$1.35…85……94.9….89.0
Evan Williams….....………….…$0.47…81……98.2…..87.9
Old Forester 100…....…………..$0.89…81……96.6….87.3
Jack Daniels Old No. 7 ..…….$1.15….80……95.7….86.3
Basil Hayden's……………....…..$2.08…82……92.2….86.1

cost per drink: cost of one shot (1.5 oz; 44.5 ml)
taste rating: ratings based on scale 1-100
cost rating: ratings based on scale 1-100
value rating: ratings based on scale 1-100 (best value)

03-20-2002, 04:37
That's pretty interesting Todd. Did you use your own taste ratings or did you use another source?

Linn Spencer

Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

03-20-2002, 19:03

The scale and starting point for arriving at my quality/taste rating was a book by Gary and Mardee Regan called “The Bourbon Companion”. It was one of the first books on the subject that I had read once I had acquired my interest in bourbon. I initially used it as a kind of hit list on what bourbons to try. I would highly recommend this excellent book as a knowledgble reference to most of the major brands of bourbon and Tennessee whiskeys. I say a starting point since I adjusted most of their rating based on my personal preferences. I believe of the twenty-five bourbons in my sample only two ended up with the same rating. I also considered other resources that I had read recently such as Jim Murray’s “The Complete Guide to Whiskey“ and of course information that can be found right here at on straightbourbon.com. In my sample my top ranked bourbon in this category at 99 was Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve while the bourbon with the lowest ranking at 80 was Jack Daniels #7 (Black Label). Note, however, that in my opinion all of the bourbons in my sample are decent bourbons. I mean Jack Daniels is definitely not my favorite but it still very drinkable. I really haven’t spent time trying to evaluate the bottom shelf stuff.

My cost rating was much more objective. I used Jim Beam White as my baseline cost. Each bourbon’s cost ranking was based on its cost compared with Jim Beam White. It had the highest cost ranking at 98 while the bourbon with my highest taste ranking, Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve, also had the lowest cost ranking of 77.6 due to its cost of $100 a bottle.

My value rating was an attempt to take into consideration each bourbon’s quality, taste and cost. It combined the two rankings with the quality/taste ranking being weighed 60%-40% with the cost ranking.

I know it’s a bit much but I work with numbers all day so sometimes I tend to want to quantify other things in my life. Now when can I start my next sample?


03-20-2002, 19:32
1) While the breadth and depth of their knowledge of bourbon is impressive, the Regans would rank somewhere below my cats on the list of beings whose palates I would trust with opinions of bourbon; their tasting notes on and relatively low opinion of the Old Foresters being but one example of what I mean.

2) You say you haven't spent time getting to know the bottom shelf stuff. This is a mistake. Some good to excellent bourbons wind up at or near the bottom shelf, including Kentucky Tavern, Very Old Barton, Bourbon DeLuxe and Four Roses Yellow Label.


03-21-2002, 04:55
Way to go Todd! I'm glad you used your own judgement to adjust the ratings and not just blindly plugging in someone elses numbers. I would suggest getting as many ratings for each bouron as you can find and average them together and then weigh that against your opinion.

I use the price per pants method. If a four pants bourbon costs forty bucks then that's only ten smackers per pair of pants. That's quite a bargin. There are many three pants bourbons at fifteen dollars or less. A nice pair of pants for a fiver. Now how can you beat that? http://www.straightbourbon.com/images/icons/laugh.gif

I will encourage you to start your next sample right away. Compare all single barrel bourbons using your method. I'm looking forward to viewing your data. http://www.straightbourbon.com/images/icons/wink.gif

Damn Todd you make science fun!

Pants Away!

Linn Spencer

Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

03-21-2002, 15:59
Well I guess I would fall back on something of heard Linn say several times before that there really isn’t a right or wrong answer when it comes to bourbon. A good bourbon is one that you enjoy. Some bourbons you are going to like more than others and a bourbon you think is great someone else may think it is a waste of money.

There are so many brands out there you obviously cannot try them all. It is fun when you do find a new one you enjoy. This is where reading different opinions on this forum or a reference like Regan’s book has been helpful if you are deciding to try a new bourbon. You have a little more to go than what the bottle looks like. But, after you buy it the only important points are do you like it or not and do you think it was worth what you paid for it.


03-22-2002, 11:30
Forbes wrote: "There are so many brands out there you obviously cannot try them all."

Hey, hey, don't trash my life's mission like that. I believe I can try them all and I believe I will try them all. Some members of this forum are proud of their bourbon collections. I'm proud of my collection of empty bottles.

<A target="_blank" HREF=http://cowdery.home.netcom.com>--Chuck Cowdery</A>

03-22-2002, 12:19

I stand corrected.


03-22-2002, 20:16
I don't buy that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to bourbon, or that a good bourbon is one that you enjoy. There are established desirable flavors for bourbon (and Scotch and Canadian and any other kind of whisk(e)y one could name) as well as established flavors that indicate anything from use of lesser ingredients/barrels/portion of the cut up to something going wrong somewhere in the distilling process. For instance, there are bourbons out there that exhibit some nasty fusel oil aromas and flavors, indicating, objectively, that those are not good bourbons, regardless of whether someone likes it. In addition, distillers consciously create different quality levels of bourbons, and will admit -- though perhaps not readily or publicly -- that some are created to be better than others. This kind of "all bourbons are good if somebody likes them" Barneyism is not only inaccurate, it stifles discussion leading to deeper understanding of the finer points of bourbon.

And as for not being able to try all brands of bourbon, well, that sounds like a dare to me. I think I've had about every bourbon out there right now, but I'd love to be proven wrong.


03-22-2002, 20:34
Same with me here far away from Kentucky.
I wish I can try all still selling brands,and if lucky enough try some brands that have already vanished.I too is proud of my collection of empty bottles and jugs,the problem is storage.
Here is a list at my bar,http://www.salscafe.com/menu.html
If anybody ever comes nearby your always welcome!
I still hope I can save enough and go to the Festible this year with some Japan sold only bottles for the drinkers here.


03-23-2002, 07:51
Now believe me I have no wish to “stifle discussion” but on the other hand I do not appreciate with the implication I’m stupid because I may enjoy a bourbon you do not. Perhaps my “palate” is not near as sophisticated as yours but again that my loss isn’t it. All I can say is that I drink bourbon for my own personal enjoyment not as an academic exercise. As I stated before I do look for and respect the opinions of others on this subject. I may buy my first bottle based on someone else’s opinion. However, the second bottle I buy will be based on what I thought of it.


03-23-2002, 10:32
http://www.straightbourbon.com/images/icons/mad.gif <font color=red> BASTAGE!!!! </font color=red>

Stotzi you DAMN Nazi! What are you??? The bourbon Taliban?!
I'll not have you thrash my friend about like that. Todd and his wife were at the bourbon festival last year. I know them and they are GOOD people.

Where the hell were you?!

You've been off this forum for well over a year now and now you show back up only to trash a newcommer that I met in Bardstown? How smart does that make you?

You have good knowledge and good tasting ability, and you could contribute to this forum in a good way.

Why attack people you don't even know?

I would have liked to have welcomed you back, but I can't. Not like this. Not now.

I quash elitisim wherever I find it. No matter how ugly.

Linn Spencer

Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

03-23-2002, 14:04
Whatever. It was worth it to hear Linn accused of "Barneyism." Linn is always one to appreciate a good barb and that is a fine one.

It isn't hard to find the middle ground here. While no one is defending bad whiskey, the designation of one whiskey or another as "the best" is too subjective to be supportable. There are a lot of good whiskies and reasonable people can differ as to which they enjoy most (a matter of taste) without succumbing to Barneyism.

<A target="_blank" HREF=http://cowdery.home.netcom.com>--Chuck Cowdery</A><P ID="edit"><FONT SIZE=-1>Edited by cowdery on Sat Mar 23 13:08:52 2002 (server time).</FONT></P>

03-23-2002, 17:45
I'ts great to have so many good whiskys to choose from and also good that everyone has a different take on what they like the best. we should appreciate everyones views and take into consideration that this is one of very few forums on the web where postings are made sometimes under the influence of our most beloved bourbons. please excuse my writing ability. life is good--den

03-24-2002, 00:28
My post was nothing like a thrashing of either Todd's intellect or person. It was a challenge of two widely -- and I think erroneously -- held beliefs that if someone likes something it has to be good; and that there is no right or wrong in bourbon, only relativism. I can't support my position any further than I did in my previous post, and I don't think I need to do so. Go back and read it again without taking it as a personal attack and, if you choose, address those points and not some imagined slight on another straightbourbonvivant.

As for where I've been, I've been down here in New Orleans for nearly a year. I still check in and read the forum often, but given my time constraints these days and the fact that y'all are at least as knowledgable as I am about the topic at hand and seem to have things here well under control, I rarely feel the need to post at all. That said, I have been working on starting a USENET group -- alt.drinks.american-whiskey -- that should come into existence as soon as I figure out how to post a CMSG from my newsserver.


03-24-2002, 01:00

Nowhere did I imply you were stupid. Nowhere did I imply you liked a bourbon I did not. Hell, nowhere did I even imply that my palate was sophisticated; if anything, the more I taste and the more technical and historical knowledge of bourbon I gather, the less sophisticated I feel my palate is. Chalk it up to an unfortunate synergy of my writing style and the inherent limitation of the text-only medium if you want, but my post was not meant as a personal attack in any way, and I apologize if it came off like that. I, too, drink bourbon for my own enjoyment (a little too much enjoyment sometimes, as in this most recent Mardi Gras day which included my consumption of 750ml of Wild Turkey 101 before 9:00 a.m., a mistake which I will not be repeating anytime soon, at least not without better medical insurance than I currently have), but for some -- including me -- there comes a point at which the hobby takes a certain academic turn out of necessity, both to deepen understanding and maintain interest. Part of this academic influence includes questioning assumptions and trying to look at bourbon through a more objective eye. It is through this academic approach that I -- me, personally -- came to believe, for reasons previously stated, that there are indeed objectively good bourbons, objectively bad bourbons, and objective reasons why some bourbons are better than others. Note that this does not mean that I like all good bourbons or dislike all bad bourbons, nor does it mean that one can objectively identity a "best bourbon" or rank all bourbons from best to worst. I hope this clears up any confusion, and do think this would be an interesting topic to discuss further here.


03-24-2002, 10:48
I have a hard enough time deciding for myself which bourbon i like best (like those 'if you could only have one bourbon on a desert island' questions...) If you were to ask me 18 months ago, i would have named some bourbons that at the time i thought were phenomenal, but now i have not touched in months. I think some of it is what mood you are in, and some is just tastes changing with time... It is nice to be at a point that we have a nice selection of bourbons to choose from... The funny thing is that what i find myself wanting the most is not the most expensive stuff either... (don't get me wrong, I love the Pappy Van Winkle 20 year, but I often find myself going for Rare Breed or the 15 year Van Winkle)

03-24-2002, 17:31
After lurking on this topic for the past couple of days, I tend to agree with Ryan. Just the fact that large percentages of tasters seem to agree that, say, Woodford Reserve is very good and all serious tasters agree that current bottles of Old Crow are bad, would seem to indicate that there is something objectively good about WR and that something is objectively bad about OC.

However, there is still a lot of room for subjectivity, as well. For instance, I have bottles of Baker's and Knob Creek. I much prefer the KC, while other knowledgeable tasters prefer Baker's. Both of these are objectively good bourbons, but since they are different, personal preference is involved.


03-25-2002, 23:26
Have you tried any or all of the Cadenhead bottlings of bourbon?

03-26-2002, 19:50
I tried one, a "Frankfort" 10 YO that was pretty good if a little austere and heavy on the vanilla (not surprising considering the distillery). IIRC, there's a Heaven Hill one as well, no? You tried it? Any good? Haven't had that one, and since none are, to my knowledge, imported into the US I may have to hit up my Dutch connection to send some over.