86 proof. It’s an interesting number that most whiskies are proofed at if they’re somewhere between 80 and 90. But why “86?” I recently was listening to an interview by one of Willett’s presidents who explained that back in the day, most whiskey was bottled at a minimum of 86 proof.
It wasn’t until the bourbon industry’s decline in the 70’s and 80’s that bourbon companies began toying with the idea to take the proof down to the lowest allowed, 80 proof.
It was an effort to make their products even lighter to appeal to drinkers who jumped on board to the current trend of lighter, clearer spirits.
Yes, 80 proof bourbons exist in our marketplace today, but most distillers that take their products serious, yet still want to bottle at the minimum proof for their flavors not to get completely washed away, still stick with 86 proof. Enter Longbranch and Evan Williams Single Barrel.
Longbranch, which will forever be attached to Matthew McConaughey, is the first Wild Turkey product that uses what is essentially the Lincoln County Process of filtering the distillate through charcoal (this time it’s mesquite instead of 100% sugar maple like Tennessee Whiskey).
Wait a minute… Matthew McConaughey? Wild Turkey? Lincoln? This stuff writes itself! Anyway, the LCP strips out many congeners from the whiskey and leaves a slightly smoky taste.
It’s said to be aged for 8 years, even though no age statement is printed on the label. It is bottled at 86 proof and can be found on the shelves for around $30 to $40 depending on location.
Evan Williams Single Barrel is basically Evan Williams Black Label, but in single barrel form and with an age statement written on the back.
Back in the day, these used to be at least 10 years old, but the bourbon boom has reduced the average age of these barrels down to around 7.5 years old. It’s also bottled at 86.6 proof and can be found for around $20 on the shelf.
So how do these two compare? I decided to pit them against each other in a semi-blind tasting to find out. I sampled them both neat and from a Glencairn.
Blind Glass #1
Nose: Scents of a freshly unwrapped Payday candy bar are most dominant. There’s also a nice vanilla type scent, much like crème brulee. I wasn’t expecting much fruit with either whiskey, yet I get some golden raisin scents with this one.
Palate: Caramel chews is the dominant taste here with a light vanilla cake taste not too far behind. The peanut taste is very muted, but still present. The palate overall is sweet and light without too much complexity.
Finish: The finish shows off some of that caramel taste from the nose and palate, but with a bit of a “burnt” touch.” There’s some honey roasted peanut butter and a dash of black pepper. I also find a little bit of drying oak as the dram goes on.
Blind Glass #2
Nose: Light, sweet smoke wafts in, easily giving away what brand is in this glass. Surprisingly, I’m getting hints of peaches and dates, two scents I definitely did not see coming with either bourbon. There’s also the standard vanilla and caramel scents that are easily detectable.
Palate: The palate starts out with a smoky character that is present along with every other flavor I taste. It is very similar to the aftertaste of BBQ. There’s light brown sugar and vanilla cupcakes to keep the whole dram sweet as a drying wood note balances it all out. Finally, I’m noticing and absence of much, if any, spices. The palate is very pedestrian as far as heat and spice go, which would be welcomed by a novice drinker.
Finish: Smoky flavor continues and the finish actually turns somewhat spicy like a bit of chipotle pepper slow burning sensation. It’s not a lot of spice, but I’ll categorize it as almost a “sweet heat.”
Glass #1: Evan Williams Single Barrel
Glass #2: Longbranch
The smoke effect on the nose and palate easily gave away that Glass #2 was the Longbranch. However, this one took home the gold by having that little extra “something” with the smoky notes.
The charcoal filtering has probably removed some congeners that could’ve made for a deeper experience, but honestly I thought this was a comparison that was up to Evan Williams to lose.
Ultimately, the EWBiB failed to impress me with any sort of memorable trait which is why it was beat. I have never seen the allure to this whiskey anyway, when Elijah Craig can be had for almost the same price and at 8 proof points higher (and is realistically aged longer than a typical EW bottle).
The Longbranch is a fascinating sip that becomes even more so when you start to ask yourself “I wonder what this would taste like at barrel proof?”
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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