While Kentucky’s Heaven Hill Distillery produces its fair share of coveted top shelf bourbons, it puts out even more quality bottom shelf bottlings, many of which carry the desirable bottled-in-bond label. Not surprisingly, three of Drinkacker’s Top 10 Bourbons Under $20 are Heaven Hill juice, including the Heaven Hill “White Label,” a six-year-old bottled-in-bond that took top honors. Unfortunately, the distillery earlier this year pulled that bourbon to free up stock for the rest of its impressive lower shelf, bottled-in-bond collection which includes J.T.S. Brown, J.W. Dant, and T.W. Samuels. Most of those are hard to find outside of Kentucky, so they make for ideal and affordable souvenirs from the Bluegrass State.
Despite being no stranger to Heaven Hill’s broad portfolio, I hadn’t yet explored the T.W. Samuels label. It’s available at 86 proof, as well, but for a few dollars more, I haven’t found a whiskey from Heaven Hill that isn’t much improved at 100 proof and with a little more age on it. So how does the bonded T.W. Samuels stack up against its other siblings from Bardstown?
The nose is representative of many other Heaven Hill bourbons in this category with classic caramel corn, cinnamon sugar, a little mint and a slight earthiness. For a bottom-shelfer, this one has considerable body. The palate showcases classic bourbon notes: toffee, chewy caramel, burnt sugar, along with more youthful notes of sharp oak and a vegetal sweetness. None of those flavors are necessarily big or rich, but they are all remarkably balanced. And the finish goes on for far longer than a bourbon this price should. When compared against our standard bearer for affordable bourbon, the dearly departed, age-stated “White Label,” there are plenty of similarities, although the flavor isn’t quite as bold. Still, if we lost that bottle to gain more bargain gems like this one, the bourbon world may have come out ahead. Consider this one a clear contender for our next Top 10 Under $20 list.
A- / $19 (1.75 liters) / heavenhill.com