Review: Early Times Kentucky Whisky and 354 Bourbon

Review: Early Times Kentucky Whisky and 354 Bourbon

Early Times is one of the biggest names in inexpensive whiskey… and now it’s trying to creep upmarket. Today we look at the (only) ET that’s been on sale since the 1980s, and the new Early Times 354 Bourbon, which debuts this month.

Early Times Kentucky Whisky – Note carefully, it’s not “Bourbon.” It’s “Kentucky Whisky.” (It’s not even “Whiskey,” mind you.) Why not Bourbon? Because although it spends a minimum of 3 years in barrel, not all of the barrels are new (which is required by law): About 20 percent are old barrels used for real Bourbons. The result is accelerated aging (as the Bourbon trapped in the barrels mixes with the new spirit added to them) but less wood flavor infused. The result is a simple and young whiskey, one with a big, boozy nose. This eventually fades to reveal a very sweet body, filled with caramel notes and touches of nutmeg and cinnamon. There’s something here that makes it clear that this is not indeed Bourbon — there’s not enough wood and the body doesn’t have enough heft to it. It’s like the Diet Coke of the Bourbon world. Close to the real thing, but not quite. Still, for a mixer it can work. In fact, the Early Times Mint Julep is the official drink of Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day. Don’t tell the fans it ain’t Bourbon. 80 proof. B- / $12 [BUY IT NOW FROM TOTAL WINE]

Early Times 354 Bourbon – This, on the other hand, is bourbon. Early Times hasn’t sold a true Bourbon since the 1980s, and it’s taken until now for it to bring one back to the market. The result is 354, a premium spirit in upscale packaging that adheres fully to the rules for Kentucky Bourbonmaking. The results are an improvement over the standard-grade ET. It’s aged just four years, leaving it very young, but more complicated. Again, big caramel and moderate cinnamon notes are a hallmark, and 354, while still 80 proof, has considerably more bite and less sweetness to it. You know you’re drinking old school whiskey when you sip 354, which offers a lot of wood — almost charcoal — character in the finish. Early Times 354 would be forgettable in the end, were it not for the price: A paltry $16 per bottle. Arguably worth the upgrade if you’re feeling four dollars fancier. 80 proof. B / $16

Early Times 354 Bourbon




Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.


  1. Damocles on February 10, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    I don’t know. Four dollars fancier is asking quite a lot. I’m not sure I can afford to be that fancy. (sarcasm)

  2. cange on February 10, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    The “four dollars fancier” was already sarcasm. I figured a good Greek like you, Damocles, would know sarcasm (originally Greek) when you encounter it. As for the whiskies, I think they’re both a half-grade better than they’re rated here.

  3. Harry on January 26, 2014 at 9:04 am

    I remember back in england in 1961 we use to get a40 once bottle on base get on the train to liverpool , by the time we got there we were ready to go . it was good . havent seen it for a while asked a bar tender last weekend if she evar heard of early times she said i was wondering if it was still around.. now i know.

  4. Carl Baker on February 18, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    My favorite by far. What’s up with the merch?

  5. Patrick wade on December 13, 2015 at 9:56 am

    There are Early Times moments, then there are Early Times 354 moments but then there are Makers Mark Times , all good here.

  6. E Ray Harmon on April 28, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    I have been drinking ET since 1965. I laugh at people whom have to have X brand of Burbon. Then I give them a glass of ET, usually sets the deal. What Null failed to tell you is that outside the US, ET is a Burbon, and ET is in fact the #4 selling Burbon in the world. It is the #1 selling Whiskey in the US.

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