February 3, 2011

Early Times 354 Bourbon

Photo by Bill Dowd
In the 1950s, Early Times was the No. 1-selling bourbon. In 1983, it switched to a Kentucky Whisky (spelled in the Scottish manner without an "e"). Now it has returned to its roots with this new bourbon overseen by Brown-Forman Master Distiller Chris Morris.

From the first glance at the retro bottle design to the first sip, this expression is evocative of the old days, as is the number in the name (354 is the distillery permit number).

A deep amber color, immediately spicy on the nose with elements of ripe fruit and mature oak. I'm reminded of dried apricots and raisins on the tongue, along with a warmth and the signature caramel and vanilla of a good bourbon. The finish is long and warm with a touch of apple.

Early Times is making much of "a national, independent blind preference taste test in which Early Times 354 was preferred to Jim Beam White Label by male, Jim Beam drinkers ages 25-55."

Given modern drinking sensibilities that tend toward somewhat sweet liquors, that's not terribly surprising. Early Times has a bit more of a honeyed taste than JB White Label. In trying each in a standard Manhattan cocktail, I found them to be two distinctly different drinks -- both enjoyable, but each with its own special taste profile.

Suggested retail price: $15.99 for the 750ml bottle.

Go to Dowd's Spirits Notebook.

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