A sign that a craft distillery has “made it” in the big leagues is when they finally release a bottled-in-bond product. Up until that point, most craft distillery’s whiskies have probably not yet turned 4 years old. Age matters a lot in both perception and taste and putting that “Bottled In Bond” wording on the bottle is viewed as a mark of assurance to the customer.
So when Starlight Distillery began to roll out with a bottled-in-bond release of their bourbon in 2020, it was a sign to all of the holdouts that Starlight had made it and that their products should be taken seriously.
Around the same time as I got this bottle last year, Sazerac started to expand their lineup of Benchmark labels. Sazerac looked to change Benchmark’s status from bottom-shelf dweller to the next shelf up. The one bottle that intrigued me the most was the Benchmark “Bonded” label. Whatever age Benchmark was before (my guess is 3 years old), the consumer would now know it was at least 4 years old.
Buffalo Trace products are typically chill filtered if they’re not bottled at barrel proof whereas Starlight’s whiskies typically aren’t. That’s just one of the many differences that separate these two, but I wanted to put them up against each other in a semi-blind shootout to see if the newcomer had what it took to hang with a mass-produced Bottled-In-Bond from the bottom shelf. So let’s dive in. I sampled these semi-blind and in a Glencairn.
Palate: The mouthfeel comes off as somewhat thin but the flavors are pleasant. Cherries, oranges and vanilla give some depth while a hint of brown sugar, caramel sauce and butterscotch bring forth sweetness. There are no offputting or young flavors.
Finish: A bit of barrel char and tobacco juice linger for a while as the citrus notes and cherry fade away. There is a slight menthol cooling note that also is present. I’m surprised by the amount of tannins I can detect for a 4 year old product.
Final Thoughts: This is a very competent and predictable whiskey. Nothing is out of place and there are no frills. Anyone would enjoy sipping on this.
Nose: A more complex nose than Glass #1. Instead of oak, the wood is lighter and more fragrant like cedarwood. Fruits abound with scents of dried figs, plums and cherry. The nose also has a great “baked goods” scent with cinnamon, strudel and toasted brown sugar.
Palate: The palate starts off somewhat flat compared to Glass #1. Whereas the first glass had bright flavors with a thin mouthfeel, this glass tastes much older and heavier. Flavors of flat Birch Beer soda and dark red fruits are identifiable first.
Some of the baking notes from the nose also shine through with cinnamon, clove, and a hint of vanilla. All of these flavors are fantastic, but slightly muted. There are dark, tannic notes of leather and tobacco leaf that lean towards “earthy” and make it taste much more aged than it is.
Finish: Seasoned and charred oak smother most other flavors once the sip is complete. This is followed by a dry leather and tobacco leaf note. It’s very intense and draws immediate comparison to some very old MGP bourbon that I’ve tasted in the past.
Fruit is barely noticeable on the end but the ones I can pick up on resemble black cherries and toasted orange peel. The finish is missing out on some sweetness, but the strong effects of the other flavors somewhat make up for it.
Final Thoughts: The depth of this one shocked me with how old it came off. If there is one flaw, it’s the palate was kind of flat and holds it back a bit. Overall, it’s bold and rich and very much the opposite of Glass #1.
Glass #1: Benchmark Bonded
Glass #2: Starlight Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
Winner: Starlight Bottled-in-Bond!
From the first sip of glass 1, I had suspected I was drinking a Buffalo Trace distilled product. The cherries and vanilla are too identifiable to not take notice. The completely different character of Glass #2 cemented that thought as the dark and heavy notes that are so typical of pot still distillation came through.
The Starlight BiB wins this battle by virtue of having the richer, bolder and more luxurious profile. I could see a new bourbon drinker gravitating towards the easier drinking and lighter Benchmark, but if you really want to submerse yourself in flavor country, then Starlight Bottled-in-Bond is the way to go.
And if you desire a little more proof or sweetness, then I suggest looking into Starlight’s own Oloroso Sherry finished bourbon to help you find what you’re looking for. Either way, Starlight is proving that they are ready to compete with the big boys.
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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