Early Times isn’t exactly a brand with a lot of cache in the whiskey world. Even in comparison with some of the other bottom-shelf stalwarts, its flagship product—which can’t legally be called bourbon, because some of it is aged in used barrels—remains an extreme value pick for mixing, and one that finished in the lower half of our bottom-shelf bourbon blind tasting. Put simply, if you’re a regular Early Times consumer, we assume you’re using it for cheap mixed drinks.
From now on, however, you’ll have to clarify—are we talking about “Early Times Kentucky Whisky”? Or the new Early Times Bottled-in-Bond? Because the latter is an entirely different beast—a legitimate bottled in bond bourbon, which meets all the requirements that label entails. This is at least four years old, made from a mash bill of 79% corn, 11% rye and 10% malted barley, aged entirely in newly charred barrels and bottled at 100 proof. Essentially, it’s the all-grown-up version of Early Times. That makes it an interesting novelty, and one I was curious to try. Its $25 price tag for each 1L bottle, equivalent to $18.75 per 750 ml bottle, could likewise potentially make this one of the better value plays on the market today.
Of note is the fact that this does indeed come from Brown-Forman’s Shively, KY distillery, which has often been called the Early Times distillery in the past, despite the fact that it has also produced other Brown-Forman brands like Old Forester and Woodford Reserve. The Early Times mashbill, however, is indeed distinct, being lower in rye than the 18% cited for Old Forester or Early Times.
There’s not a lot else that needs to be said here—we know what bottled-in-bond bourbon means, and we’ve tasted no shortage of examples in the past. Let’s see how Early Times example stacks up.
On the nose, this certainly presents a classic bourbon bouquet on first pass. I get peanut brittle and nougat, with slight brown sugar, hints of rye spice, sawdust, mint and no shortage of ethanol. This is slightly boozy on the nose, and still feels perhaps a tad on the young side, but it’s certainly far more exciting than the brand’s flagship “Kentucky whisky.”
On the palate, this goes in a bit different direction than I was expecting from the nose. There’s flashes of caramel corn, clove and mint, and a touch of butterscotch, but the wood presents itself more assertively than I would have expected, which gives this bourbon a curiously dry profile and finish. It’s really fairly oaky, with an unusual tropical fruitiness that pops up in the mid-palate—something like lychee—before it turns slightly bitter on a wood-forward finish, with prickly heat from the 100 proof.
All in all, this left me scratching my head a bit, especially in the lack of richness present in my sample. We’re left with a serviceable value bourbon, which stands up decently against its sub-$20 (adjusted to 750 ml bottles) competitors, but my personal taste would be more likely to lead me in the direction of a bottled-in-bond Very Old Barton, or Evan Williams BiB, or Brown-Forman’s own 100-proof Old Forester Signature, with its bigger rye presence, rather than this Early Times release. Perhaps this will resonate more with the fans of low-rye bourbon in the audience, and it seems to have found some fans among the whiskey literati, but for me this is just okay. Thankfully, at its price point that’s really all it needs to be.
Distillery: Early Times Distillery (Brown-Forman)
City: Shively, KY
Style: Bottled-in-bond bourbon
ABV: 50% (100 proof)
Availability: 1L bottles, $25 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.