Every location is subject to the woes of whiskey distribution. Some go bonkers when they find any version of Weller (even at markup), others can walk into gas stations any day of the week and buy a case. As a Floridian, I’m at a point where inconsistent availability and pricing are just predictable certainties. Doesn’t make them any less annoying, but it does make them more manageable.
Yet one of the toughest ones for me to get past is the complete absence of an alleged value nugget known as Early Times Bottled in Bond. Where the standard Early Times expression has failed to inspire anything other than disdain or apathy, the bonded variant has generated plenty of discussion online. At an MSRP of about $25 per liter, many have claimed it a top choice as far as value-minded bourbon goes. Struggling to find more limited Buffalo Trace expressions is one thing, but never finding something like Early Times is just a bit more puzzling. And go figure, Sazerac (who own Buffalo Trace) now own the former Brown-Forman brand.
Fortunately, I was recently sent a sample of Early Times Bottled in Bond from someone who has easy access to it, so I’ll find out for myself if I’m missing out.
Nose: Darker brown sugars, vanilla extract, some oak mustiness backing it all up. Hints of maple and cinnamon sugar. Walnut, orange, and dates. Less impressive the more I smell, but it remains pleasant.
Palate: Oak, dark brown sugar, some sweet tobacco and leather. Decently full mouthfeel. Dried cherry, some vanilla extract, and a hint of semi-sweet chocolate. The oak/barrel char balance is spot-on.
Finish: Short-medium. The oak, brown sugar, and vanilla remain consistent. Just long enough to sit and enjoy, but short enough to be easily crushable.
This makes me sad. Were Early Times Bottled in Bond available in my area, it’d be high on my daily drinker contender list. The fact something this solid can be had in certain markets for well under $30 makes it a no-brainer. Just about everything I look for in an inexpensive bourbon is present here: the oak, vanilla, and brown sugar notes stand out with spot-on balancing; the sweetness is fully intact without being overkill; the proof is just right for mixing and cocktails; I could go on. To me, this is like a superior Old Forester 100, just less sweet and more rounded out.
Ultimately, I have to make an exception for one of my verdicts on this bourbon. I normally reserve the Daily Drinker designation for stuff that can be reliably found in either my area, or most locations. Outside of Daily Drinker, however, I have a tough time thinking of a verdict to assign this expression. Obtaining Early Times Bottled in Bond isn’t necessarily a problem for me, since I can order it online for around $40 after shipping and tax. However, at that point the value proposition is effectively compromised, making something like Old Forester 1897 look like a superior option. I wish Brown-Forman had held onto this brand and expanded its reach instead of selling it, especially to Sazerac of all companies.
FYI, Early Times Bottled In Bond is not NAS. Being Bottled In Bond means it has to be at least four years old.
Technically any whiskey that doesn’t explicitly tell you its age is NAS. The legal requirement for bonded whiskey is four years, but there are bonded whiskeys with age statements.