The Early Times brand goes back over a century in its history. Throughout that time, it has evolved depending on whiskey consumption in the United States. It was during the early 1980s that Brown Forman (owners of the brand up until 2020) needed to either cut production costs or sell more products
Since bourbon was selling so slowly, Brown Forman decided to cut costs on Early Times by changing it from a bourbon to a whiskey. This involved tinkering with the final batched product so that it would now have 20% whiskey (bourbon mashbill aged in used barrels) and 80% bourbon. It would be aged around 3 years. From that point forward, Early Times would be relegated to the bottom shelf of liquor stores worldwide.
In 2017, Brown Forman gifted the bourbon world with a bit of good news that reversed the trend of disappearing age statements and lower proof points. They released a Bottled-In-Bond version of Early Times. This time, no used-barrel distillate was used and the BiB statement indicated that this bourbon was at least 4 years old.
Early Times BiB would be made from the same mash bill that Early Times, King of Kentucky and modern Michter’s US1 bourbon all use which is 79% corn, 11% rye and 10% malted barley. This unique mashbill makes for a different drinking experience from Old Forester and Woodford Reserve products and has less of a rye influence.
Bottled in only 1 Liter bottles for a price that was under $25, enthusiasts were cautiously skeptical that the fantastic value, beautiful bottle design and well aged and proofed liquid inside was worth it. I had to grab a bottle for myself. So what did I think?
Nose: Warm notes of cinnamon-sprinkled pie crust come first. In fact, the whole nose if very “baking-spice forward.” Scents of ground coffee beans (the flavored kind) and some toffee are also found. The nose is overall much more mellow than I would’ve anticipated and lacked any sort of fruit character.
Palate: For a nose that lacked fruit notes, the palate makes up for it. Flavors of freeze dried berries, sour cherries and fresh pomegranate are all unique and delicious. Slightly bitter dark chocolate squares couple with grainy bursts of ethanol.
The mouthfeel is very overall with a thick coating and velvety texture. The oak is a bit softer and there is a very faint amount of banana lurking in the background.
Finish: The finish evokes some memories of a Buffalo Trace mashbill #1 bourbon with notes of Cherry Cordials and oak spice. Some cinnamon is found along with warm cornbread. Toasted nuts and a bit of caramelized banana are the last flavors I find in this moderately long finish.
The flavors that are here are very nicely done. In fact, the whole dram has a lot of things going for it, yet seems somewhat muted in intensity. Throughout my session, I continually thought to myself just how old this “feels” but then I’d catch some grainy notes or some ethanol and it would bring me back down to Earth. All-in-all, this is really enjoyable and under-rated.
Although Early Times BiB is closely related to Old Forester products, differences do exist. I personally enjoyed this bottle much more than Old Forester 1897 BiB, which is more than double the price when you account for the volume discrepancies. Old Forester products tend to have a wood taste that borders on being almost artificial. Early Times BiB avoids that by being a bit softer overall in oak and other flavors. However, it does have moments where its youth shows with occasional grainy notes.
I highly recommend this bottle to anyone looking for a great bottom shelf bottle that is one of the most attractively labeled one to boot. It’ll be interesting to see how much changes when Sazerac begins to roll out with their interpretation of this in the next few years.
1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)
2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it
3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)
4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)
5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)
6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)
7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)
8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)
9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)
10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)
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