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And the Valley Drinks: Buffalo Trace Bourbon

They say a man does not live on bread alone…

Billy Gomila

So between the ridiculous cold snap hitting Baton Rouge America, and the season premiere of Justified tonight, I thought I'd change up our drinking post a bit and bring in one of my go-to spirits: Buffalo Trace Bourbon.

My dad introduced it to me in my college years (the man has single-handedly spoiled me on booze), and it's become a favorite of mine for a number of reasons. It's a smooth drink that needs no compliment but a little ice, and it's a fantastic value in that you can typically find it for right at around $20-22 for a fifth. It's a little pricier than Jim Beam, but it's fantastic for the price. Easily as good as Maker's Mark and a couple of the other pricier bourbons. It's a step below the Woodford Reserves or the Basil Haydens of the world, but it's also markedly cheaper.

Speaking of bourbon, for any uninitiated, here's exactly what differentiates a bourbon whiskey from other whiskeys, like scotches, Jack Daniels, Crown Royal, etc... Bourbon is any whiskey that is made in the U.S. (many think Kentucky specifically, but that's only true if its identified as "Kentucky Bourbon"), made from between 51 and 79 percent corn and aged in barrels for a minimum of two years. The barrels are white oak fired on the inside and charred, which is what gives the bourbon its color and distinct sweetness. It is never distilled over 160 proof, and nothing is added to the barrel other than water. The distinct flavors of different bourbons comes from the different mashes that distillers use.

Buffalo Trace is an eight-year-old, 80-proof bourbon, distilled in Franklin County, Kentucky -- although it is owned by the Sazerac Company out of nearby Metairie. From their website (which has some great videos on the distilling & aging process):

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is distilled, aged and bottled at the most award-winning distillery in the world. Made from the finest corn, rye and barley malt, this whiskey ages in new oak barrels for years in century old warehouses until the peak of maturity. The taste is rich and complex, with hints of vanilla, toffee and candied fruit. The smooth finish lingers on the palate. This will never change.

Review: They're not kidding on the hint of vanilla, and that's one of the first flavors you detect. It really gives you a smooth opening, which again, is why mixers really aren't necessary for this bourbon. The back end has a subtle, almost polite burn to it that really avoids the harshness you can get from cheaper liquors. I don't know about candied fruit or toffee, but there's a careful subtlety to the middle of the flavor, with just a hint of the charred oak. Admittedly, I prefer some of the oaky-er bourbons, like Woodford, but you really can't beat Buffalo Trace for the price.

I haven't totally decided how to rate this part of the series, because 1-5 feels a bit restricting, especially with price constraints involved. Any suggestions?