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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Charter 101

I was in Kentucky earlier in the week, and as I always do when in Bardstown, I stopped by Toddy's Liquors to pick up stuff I can't get in Pennsylvania. I got a standard bottling of Four Roses (my favorite hot weather, throw in a handful of ice, sip and smile, bourbon), a bottle of Jim Beam Rye (last batch with the old sunflower yellow label, the clerk said; "You might not want to drink that one." As if.), some Russell's Reserve Rye, a Very Old Barton and a Heaven Hill bottled in bond (for my buddy Sam Komlenic), and a bottle of a new bourbon, Charter 101.

A confession: I've been delinquent on what we'll call...legacy bottlings and labels. Old Charter, I.W. Harper, J.W. Dant, T.W. Samuels....I haven't had many of them. I'm trying to remedy that, though, and when I saw the bottle of 101, it was a weird way of doing new and old at the same time: this is a new release, at a new proof. Besides, I'd just been at Buffalo Trace the day before, talking about Charter with the folks there, and I wanted to see if it really was good or if they were just talking (mind, I really like the whiskeys from the Trace).

I came home Wednesday, worked Thursday and Friday, and knocked off about 6:15 Friday. Went and picked up some hoagies for me and the kids (Cathy was out with some friends), lit a fire out back, and thought of the Charter. I popped three cubes of crisply cold ice in that glass, poured in about an inch and a half of liquor, and got down to it, right there on the deck.

No need for more suspense: this is good bourbon. I liked it from the first sweet, mellow sip, a rich taste of barrel-enhanced corn, just a hint of wood spice, and rolling vanilla. There's nothing terribly complex about it, no notes of blackberries or mint or leather, and a very simple label (with no age statement). This is not a contemplative bourbon, and I wouldn't hesitate to use it in a cocktail or a highball. I don't know that I'd reach for it in the heat, but on a cool June evening, it sure hit me in a real good place. I found myself thinking of what Angela Traver at Buffalo Trace had said Tuesday afternoon as we were gossiping about bourbon stuff: "I'm just drinking a lot of Charter 101 lately. It's what I pick up." Yup.

Even if I can't find it at Toddy's price of $19.99 for this 101 proof 750 ml, I can see I'm going to have to find another -- closer -- source for more of this. I sense Christmas present purchases coming on; wonder what kind of price I can get on a case?


Anonymous said...

What are you thoughts on ice?
I saw a show with a Scot telling someone that ice will burn Scotch. I'm not a Scotch drinker but like bourbon. He said only add water and it will bring out the flavors. Well I tried something new for my recent b-day and bought a 12 yr old Ezra B bourbon and tried that out. I think he's right. Ice holds back the experience. But I still prefer the H20 on the chill side.

Anonymous said...

Lew, I don't know whether you got a bottle of the Heaven Hill BIB for yourself, but it's an excellent pour at an affordable price (at least that's what you led me to believe). Many thanks for the third-party shopping experience!

As regards the ice/water note from anonymous above, I've never quite understood why whiskey that's diluted by the consumer in the glass could "bring out the flavors" (or aromas). The whiskey has already been diluted at the distillery. Wouldn't that bring out whatever characteristics the distiller wanted his buyer to experience? Most scotch is sold at an already heavily-diluted 80 proof. I want to thin it even more to experience the product at its fullest?

There's a reason I'm attracted bourbon: it's a high-powered, full -flavored spirit. The last thing I want to do is dilute it. I even prefer higher-proof bourbons (I don't buy 80 proof products on principle), and it has gone against my grain to dilute even George Stagg or Thomas Handy. Yes, diluting them does create a different product, but is that what I REALLY want?

Not really!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I never got to the ice part of this. I love bourbon on ice in hot weather! At first it's really cold bourbon which transforms into a milder drink, then into pretty much water for a chaser! Too bad its ten thirty in the morning, or I'd have one now! Oh, what the hell....

Lew Bryson said...

Damn. I had a fairly lengthy reply on the ice issue, and Blogger lost it. Water often does bring out aromas you don't get at full bottled strength...but not always, and too much water can collapse a delicate whiskey. Be careful. Ice and bourbon is, I think, a different proposition from ice and scotch. I'll do one, but not the other.

Sam, they bottle at 80 proof for a number of reasons, but the optimal aromas often come out at a lower proof...but then it doesn't always taste its best. People drink/taste/experience whiskey for different reasons at different times. But as most of the bourbon distillers will tell you, they don't care how you drink it, as long as you enjoy it (and, presumably, keep buying it!).

Glad you liked the HH BiB. It was quite affordable, but I didn't get myself one. I thought six bottles was enough.

Anonymous said...

Lew, are they just changing the label of the Beam Rye or is it something else altogether?

Lew Bryson said...

Far as I know, it's just a label change.

Kevin said...

Have you ever tried the marble cubes? I see them advertised but never really think that I would use them.

I like my bourbon on ice for the exact reason that sam k. said.

Jay said...

That is a cool glass - what is it?

Lew Bryson said...

It is a nice glass, isn't it? Stone Brewing made them for their Double Bastard Ale, but it works real nice for whiskey, too.

I've seen 'em but...I'd feel silly using them, even if they did work!

Anonymous said...

The Charter 101 is a really great bourbon, almost too easy to drink.
I just bought my third 750ml since it hit the store shelves in TN a few weeks ago. Hats off to Buffalo Trace for this one, only $19.99 in TN

Jack Mc

Herbert Brant said...

I just tried my first bottle of Charter 101. I usually go for the stronger proofs because of the intensity of flavor. (Love Bacardi 151). The Charter 101 just made my list. VERY flavorful; no complexity or bite. I'll be buying a lot more of this one.

Lew Bryson said...

How about it, Herb: just a real nice drinking whiskey that makes friends on the first sip.

Anonymous said...

I'm enjoying it now for the first time. As a Old Charter enthusiast, I received two fifths (750 ml) for Christmas. I am having mine with coke (gasps from the crowd) and am going slow to try to keep it from sneaking up on me. Two thumbs up in Missouri!

Anonymous said...

Quit putzing around and get some Charter 10 Year Old......the real stuff. Charter 8 YO has been a "go to" whiskey for years....too bad we can't get it in PA.

I'll just tease you with this...try and find some Charter 13YO (hasn't been bottled for several years)...SUPREME!!

Anonymous said...

The 10yo and 12yo Charter are now all gone now thanks to BT distillery. Buffalo Trace is good, don't get me wrong but, not the same. How does the Old Charter 101 compare to the old Charter 10yo? I picked up a bottle tonight because it is new her in Arkansas. Just like to know how it compares? Any help would be much appreciated.