Ezra Brooks 90 proof might be the best budget bourbon sleeper I’ve tried to date. Bottles continue trekking up in price, leaving the sub-$20 bourbon market increasingly scarce as far as worthwhile contenders go. So to see a reasonable priced and proofed bourbon not only provide a competent drinking experience is nothing short of refreshing. What’s more is that I found the 90 proof Ezra to be more enjoyable than its older, allegedly barrel strength iteration.
The Ezra brand has also grown a bit since my first go with it. In addition to barrel picks bottled between 113-120 proof, Lux Row (who owns Ezra Brooks) introduced a 99 proof expression in 2021. As with other current Ezra Brooks bottlings, this is sourced from an undisclosed Kentucky distillery (all but confirmed to be Heaven Hill) and undergoes a charcoal filtration process prior to bottling. The asking price for a bottle? About $25, effectively putting it in competition with the likes of Knob Creek Small Batch, Wild Turkey 101, and Elijah Craig, to name a few. My interest in this bottle was minimal, but after finding it on discount for $15, I decided to give it a chance. How did it fare?
Nose: Light, woody, and nutty upfront. Dry roasted peanuts and chocolate quickly work their way into the mix, along with an underlying creaminess. Leans a bit into an old, dusty (and recently emptied) spice cabinet personality.
Palate: Creamy, which becomes more obvious over time. Chocolate-forward with a little vanilla, peanut, and nutmeg. Some light brown sugar with a dusting of cinnamon and sweet pepper.
Finish: Further creaminess turns the nuttiness into sweet peanut butter while the light brown sugar pops up here and there. I get a dry, pervading vanilla bean note as well.
Just as I suspected. Ezra Brooks 99 fits the bill for a tried-and-true, by-the-numbers, run-of-the-mill bourbon. If that sounds completely unexciting, that’s because it is. The only potentially distinguishing note is that creamy, chocolatey presence. I tend to pick this up in more dessert-y drams, so to find it in a whiskey with a lighter and otherwise more standard profile is marginally interesting. I’d surmise that the charcoal filtering process has a hand to play in this facet. However, the final impact it has on the entire experience is more subtle than anything, resulting in a dram that straddles the line between average and above average.
Introducing a slightly elevated Ezra bottling when compared to the standard 90 proofer sounds reasonable enough. This goes doubly so when said bottle is available and geared towards the more budget-minded crowd. And as far as checking a small list of boxes for them, this is a win. Beyond the aforementioned chocolate cream note, Ezra 99’s most enticing aspects are its proof and price. A sub-$30 bourbon with a respectable proof point providing a barely above average dram practically screams cocktail bottle. Ezra 99 easily fits the bill here. It’s not particularly note-worthy when paired with other ingredients, but that just means it’s a fair baseline.
I’m sensing a pattern.
Everything about this Lux Row offering is good but not great. Given the price, it hangs well enough against other bourbons of decent quality, but also faces stiff competition from the bottles mentioned in this review’s second paragraph. Such comparisons may not seem fair to the amusingly proofed Ezra, given my sentiments boil down to “simply good.” For some folks, that will be enough to add Ezra 99 to their rotation. I, however, like to find whiskeys that offer something more, namely when compared to other options. And when it comes down to it, I struggle to think of what Ezra 99 brings out that its competitors don’t.