Bourbon 101

Local expert weighs in: top picks for cheap, underrated bourbons

So it's really just a lot of branding. Yes. And you'll see on bottles, "X Y Z distillery". Half of those don't really exist as a distillery. They're just company names, label names.

Can bourbon drinkers really taste any difference in a small-batch or single-barrel bourbon? You can't taste a whiskey and go, "I know this is a small batch." Someone's bullshitting you if they say the can. Single barrel's the same thing. They do mix barrels to make most of the bourbons, that's where the term 'single barrel' came from, which is just picking one barrel.

The notion of doing the small batch, single barrel has brought more attention to bourbon and allowed it to compete more in the market with Scotch. If you think you're drinking something special, you think it tastes better.

The bourbon selection at Lenell's
photo: Corina Zappia
The bourbon selection at Lenell's

What are some cheaper, underrated bourbons? G&W is like $11 for a liter bottle. Great bourbon, we use it for making cocktails quite a bit. Has a lot of spicy bite to it, probably has a lot of rye in the mash bill. It's being bottled in New Jersey; who knows exactly where the whiskey is coming from.

Very Old Barton is a six-year, 80 proof whiskey—rocks. Very, very smooth. We've turned a lot of people onto it. I love when people come in and are like, "I'm having a party, here's what I was thinking," and I'm like, "Hey, why don't you grab three or four bottles of the $11 liters and have a bourbon tasting." People respect that. [There's also] Bellows, which is made by Jim Beam. Very light, young whiskey. It's like $11, $11.50 for a liter." I tell people not to overlook the inexpensive bourbons. They're young, that's all. Four years old, typically.

Is it difficult to sell the pricier bourbons when personally you enjoy the cheap stuff as well? No, I mean, you definitely get more complexity with something that's got a little more age to it. Also, the whiskeys that a lot of times are going into these inexpensive bottles, they're not necessarily the best barrels coming out of the warehouses. So no, it's not hard to sell something with a little more price on it. But the beauty of bourbon is that you can get a fabulous bourbon without having to spend a fortune on it.

How do you prefer to drink your bourbon? Any way I can get it.

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