Buffalo Trace Bourbon Tasting:
Guest Feature by Natalie York
Arriving at TwoRuba, a very swanky bar by London Bridge, for a Bourbon tasting masterclass with Buffalo Trace I’ll admit I didn’t know my Scotch from my Bourbon from my Tennessee whiskey. The whiskey family had always seemed a little intimidating and macho, like mountain climbing or wrestling bears, which has put me off ordering it in the past. But Bourbon does have a sort of “Mad Men”-y kind of glamour to it and I thought, what the hell, I’ll give it a go!
I couldn’t have had better teachers than the guys from Buffalo Trace. They’ve survived the literally cut-throat world of selling Bourbon whiskey for over 200 years now, starting off as rough and ready moonshine distillers in the Wild West, surviving floods, fires, tornadoes and even Prohibition! In fact they positively thrived during Prohibition as they muscled out their competitors to be named one of only five distilleries to be allowed to continue (out of several hundred) to supply so-called “medical whisky…” to those smart enough to go to their doctor with a stubbed toe or general feeling of malaise and request it.
As we kicked off the evening I sat at a table with five glasses of bourbon already set out so you could see the variation of colour, which ran like an awesome, alcoholic rainbow from crystal clear to dark brown. We started off with the clear one, called “White Dog”, looking innocently like a glass of water provided to clear our palettes I was surprised when our guide warned us that this in fact was phenomenally potent, un-aged Moonshine, similar to what the company would have originally produced. This, we were assured, did not taste how Bourbon was supposed to taste and was provided only to demonstrate the importance of ageing on the flavour of the whiskey. “You won’t like it” our guide said, “don’t expect to like it, but it’s worth trying”. I didn’t like it. It was so phenomenally strong (over 60%) that it seemed to evaporate as soon as it hit your tongue. I have never tried paint stripper but I’m pretty confident the two could be interchanged without anyone noticing. Still, point absolutely made, you need to age Bourbon! That’s all that’s done to it, which is pretty amazing, no added flavours or spices, the only thing needed to turn what is essentially white spirit into yummy, sweet, complex Bourbon is time spent in a wooden barrel.
The next one we tried was evidence of just what a difference eight years makes. This was “Buffalo Trace”, their namesake and flagship blend, so what you’d find in most bars and restaurants. This was completely different from “White Dog” with an edge of toffee and burnt sugar and citrusy notes of candied peel. I’d be very happy to sit and drink some by the fireside, it’s got a sort of Christmassy feel to it, or just use it to whip up a quick Sour. After that we tried “Eagle Rare”, a ten year old bourbon you wouldn’t want to put in a cocktail as the rich and complex flavours and aromas easily deserve to stand on their own two feet. This tasted more like a Scotch than a Bourbon (see, I’m learning the difference!) with its drier notes and fiery undertone, I really enjoyed it and took more time over it than the Buffalo Trace, which was easier to sip quickly, really getting into the intricate blend of liquorice-y flavours. Next we tried “Ridgemont Reserve 1792”. This is not actually a Buffalo Trace whisky but it is owned by the same company and was provided to give an example of a rye rather than corn based Bourbon. This resulted in a dry, weighty taste that still had enough delicacy to give a slight hint of stone fruits on the top notes. It was a really lovely Bourbon, not as complex as the “Eagle Rare” but a little more rounded. And finally we rounded off with the “George T. Stagg Jr.”, an uncut, unfiltered Bourbon aged for nine years with no added water. This was an utterly gorgeous whiskey, very powerful and punchy but still enjoyably drinkable with a rich, nutty flavour, again definitely one to enjoy on its own rather than in a cocktail.
And that was it! Five fascinating bourbon’s later everyone in the room was in a very good mood… As an evening for £20 it is great value as you get cocktails and canapés from TwoRuba’s excellent bar alongside a fascinating insight into the history and production of bourbon and a taste of such a wide range of examples. I had a great time and would definitely feel more confident about ordering bourbon in a bar, although I might steer clear of the White Dog!