Bourbon recommendations for a SoCo fan
December 3, 2012 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Calling all bourbon and whisky fans! I like Southern Comfort....what else should I try?

I know next to nothing about bourbon or whisky, but I'd like to expand my drinking range and try something new. My whisky-loving friend says Glenmorangie or Balvenie, but that I may not like them if I prefer bourbon! What would the drinkers of Metafilter recommend?
posted by cardamine to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
southern comfort is sweet to my memory ... you might try Drambuie
posted by jannw at 7:11 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My brother used to drink Southern Comfort until my father's relentless reminder that it was a "ladies drink" finally forced him over to Jack Daniels which he drinks to this day. It's one of the few things which he freely admits dad was right about.
posted by three blind mice at 7:16 AM on December 3, 2012

Wild Turkey, Yukon Jack
posted by bebrave! at 7:16 AM on December 3, 2012

Well, I assume that you know SoCo is not bourbon or any kind of whiskey. I tend to think of it as an attempt at an Old Fashioned in a bottle.

First, bourbon is a kind of whiskey. What your friend recommended are scotch whiskeys, and I think both of the whiskeys he recommended are quite good. I also like Macallan and Laphroaig, the latter of which is an Islay scotch that has a peaty taste that many scotch drinkers would not think of as tasting like "scotch". I think you should try these.

I love all sorts of whiskey but am partial to bourbon. Mainstays of my liquor cabinet are Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, Maker's Mark, and Booker's. Believe it or not, the Kirkland brand bourbon at Costco is quite nice. It is distilled by Jim Beam and seems to be to be a bit higher proof version of Knob Creek; for $20 for a liter bottle, it is hard to beat that price/value ratio.

Jack Daniels is not bourbon but Tennessee whiskey. I am not the biggest fan in the world, but it is quite popular.

If you like SoCo, you might try making an Old Fashioned with your bourbon.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:16 AM on December 3, 2012 [12 favorites]

I think you definitely want bourbon, and you want a decent one (the edges will be a little more rounded-off, so to speak). Maker's Mark is pretty standard, and always a solid bet.

Maybe start with whiskey/bourbon sours (made from scratch) and gradually back off the sour mix? Or old fashioneds, if you are okay with bitters. Non-traditional OFs can be sweetened up with maraschino juice if you like.

Orr... did you see this question?
posted by supercres at 7:17 AM on December 3, 2012

Bulleit Bourbon* is a distinctively sweet bourbon with strong notes of caramelized sugar, buttery toffee, and floral vanilla. I like it as a (more expensive) sweeter-to-sip upgrade from Maker's Mark.

*owned by Ketel One but distilled by Four Roses if I'm not mistaken
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:24 AM on December 3, 2012 [9 favorites]

Knob Creek is very nice, and Maker's Mark is generally an acceptable second, around my house. If you feel like moving over into single-malt, try Macallan.
posted by jferg at 7:32 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the transition from SoCo to actual bourbon is going to be sharp. It's been a while since I had SoCo thanks to an ill-advised adventure with it in college*, but I remember it tasting like it was much lower proof than it actually was, bourbon won't be that way.

If you like SoCo, you like sweet, so I'd recommend Marker's Mark; it's good, not outrageously expensive, and sweeter than most bourbons I've had (it's sweeter than say Knob Creek or Jim Beam). For bourbon at least, I found that paying extra was worth it when I was just starting out drinking it. I'm perfectly happy with Beam now, but it was rough when I wasn't used to it.

For non-bourbon whiskeys, Jack Daniels is sweet, a lot like a bourbon even if it technically isn't. It also the advantage that it can be found pretty much everywhere without any problem. They also make a Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey which is whiskey blended with a honey liqueur and is supposed to be sweet and quite tasty. If you want to go outside the US, I find Jameson to be fairly sweet and very drinkable. It is also pretty ubiquitous. If you want to keep with sweet, stay away from rye which is spicier and not particularly sweet.

*Comprehensive list of drinking games one should not play with a Solo cup full of SoCo:
All of them
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:38 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

W.L. Weller and Sons bourbon. Very round edges due to being malted with wheat rather than rye, and a very nice bourbony taste.
posted by txmon at 7:39 AM on December 3, 2012

Honestly, if you're a Southern Comfort fan, moving straight over to single-malts would probably be a pretty jarring experience. I think your first move should be into an actual bourbon, since there will be familiar flavors for you to hold-on to. Maker's Mark would be a great place to start, as it's a very flavorful bourbon.

Once you've acquired a taste for bourbon, then moving into single-malts will be much easier. Perhaps starting with a Speyside or Lowlands whisky.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:40 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did love me some Jack Daniels when it came to whiskey (that is, of course, when I did drink, which I don't anymore), and Southern Comfort came a close second. When it came to Bourbon, I went for Wild Turkey. But I've never been able to afford the pricey stuff, so those always stood well for me.
posted by patheral at 7:41 AM on December 3, 2012

If you like Southern Comfort, you will probably enjoy something that's naturally a little sweeter than most bourbon whisky. I would try Irish Whiskey - we like Jameson's and Michael Collins. Bourbon has a sourness to it (which I like very much, mind you) but Irish Whiskeys are a little sweeter and smoother, without that sour background.

And then there are single malts - that's a whole nother world to discover. Your friends are right to start you in the direction of Glenmorangie and Balvenie. Those are both light and sweet and are a great place to start exploring single malt scotch.
posted by agentmitten at 7:50 AM on December 3, 2012

SoCo to straight whiskey of any sort is going to smack you in the mouth because Southern Comfort is not a whiskey, it's a whiskey-flavored liqueur.

Seconding the idea of moving from SoCo to some sort of mixed drink (even bourbon and coke) and gradually backing off the mixer.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:51 AM on December 3, 2012

I believe Southern Comfort is a bourbon-based liqueur. On that basis, I would second Yukon Jack... it's been many years but I recall it being a similarly sweet concoction... probably Canadian whiskey-based.

As for straight Bourbon, definitely Maker's Mark. It's very smooth and fairly sweet. As for single-malt Scotch whisky, I think Glenfiddich makes a good introduction; it's also smooth and relatively sweet for Scotch, with some fruit-like notes.

If you have access to a decent bar and bartender, try a proper Manhattan made with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters.
posted by usonian at 7:52 AM on December 3, 2012

For Bourbon here is my regular go to list sorted by price point.

Blantons (~$50)
Woodford Reserve (~$35)
Bulleit (~$25)
Wild Turkey (~$18)
Ezra Brooks (~$10)

It really is a fun world to get into an explore. Makers Mark is usually my go to Bar Bourbon. Most places have it. Ask them what else they have!

I also like:

Knob Creek, Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, and 1792.

I've been seeing a lot of flavored bourbons pop up. (Caramel the other day) but I cannot recommend that.
posted by PlutoniumX at 8:03 AM on December 3, 2012

Ask your friend to let you taste their scotch before you invest in a bottle. I liked bourbon and Irish whiskey long before I killed enough tastebuds to enjoy scotch. :) I'd start by trying bourbons.

Evan Williams is an inexpensive bourbon that's pretty smooth and good in mixed drinks (and not bad straight). This is often a well bourbon at bars. I also like Bulleit, and Buffalo Trace is a friend's favorite. If you want to start with mixed drinks, whiskey and lemonade is a better bet than something with bottled sour mix.

For Irish whiskey, I like Power's when I can get it - I think it's a bit sweeter than Jameson, which is the standard Irish whisky stateside.
posted by momus_window at 8:06 AM on December 3, 2012

I drank Southern Comfort all the time in college (my friends even had a cocktail involving Southern Comfort that was named after me). I can't drink the stuff anymore as I find it too sweet, but for what it's worth my favorites are now:

Bulleit (both the bourbon and the rye - I'm leaning more towards the rye these days)
Eagle Rare

If I'm at a bar that doesn't have either of those (although they all seem to have Bulleit these days), I'll go with Maker's Mark.

The whiskeys your friend recommended, as discussed by many above, are scotch whiskeys. While I find them delicious, they are differently so and I think that liking SoCo is no guarantee that you'll like scotch (especially Laphroaig, which is the devil's drink as far as I'm concerned - blech.)
posted by wuzandfuzz at 8:23 AM on December 3, 2012

Maker's mark is sweet and smooth. Knob Creek is less sweet, also smooth. I haven't had Rebel Yell in years, but I think you might like it. Southern Comfort is very sweet, and, depending on the variety, has a relatively low alcohol content. Try adding a squeeze/wedge of lemon and a sugar cube to bourbon on the rocks, and then learn to drink it without the sugar and lemon. Scotch whiskey is smoky, so I'd acclimate to bourbon 1st, and re-consider Scotch in a few years.
posted by theora55 at 8:29 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm going to recommend a different route. Southern Comfort may not be a whiskey, but it was once, and it infused to have whiskey flavoring now. But what makes it distinct is its fruit and spice notes.

There are a lot of flavored and spiced alcohols out there, and this may be what you enjoy. Especially good is Pimms, which is a flavored gin-type drink (so flavored that it is not recognizable as gin), and is used in making the magnificent Pimms Cup. There are also a variety of spiced rums -- for my tastes, Cruzan 9 Spice is the best, and I am also partial to Sailor Jerry's, which has some cherry notes.

You might also explore fruit brandies. Applejack is made from apples, and is about as solidly an American drink as ever made -- I expect it will enjoy a renaissance sooner or later. Poire Williams is a pear brandy, which will be impossible to miss, and there is an entire pear in the bottle. Kirschwasser is a cherry brandy. If you want to be bold, try Slivovitz, a plum brandy that is the national drink of Serbia. But watch out -- that stuff not only grows hair on your chest, but then sets fire to the hair.

A number of liqueurs are spiced and delicious. The coffee-flavored Kahlua is perhaps the most famous, as it is the constituent ingredient in Lebowski's White Russian. Let me recommend an Irish twist on that cocktail, the awesomely named Iron Butterly. Simply use Irish Cream instead of regular cream. Surprise! It's now twice as alcoholic, and has whiskey in it!

I'm extremely partial to Bénédictine, and herbal liqueur made by monks. It's a bit on the sweet side, though, so it is often cut with brandy, a drink called (and sold as) B&B. Mix the latter in a glass with half a decent bourbon (named above), splash in some bitters, and add an orange wedge and you have an utterly splendid savory cocktail called The McQueen that is so dangerously alcoholic that you may wake the next days discovering you have accidentally invaded and set fire to Whitehaven. Drink with caution.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:30 AM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Glenmorangie is a great, accessible Scotch, but there's no reason to believe you would like Scotch whisky based upon liking SoCo.In fact, I'm not sure you should be moving to whiskeys at all. SoCo is sickly-sweet, and even sweeter bourbons like Maker's Mark are going to be quite a transition.

I think you might want to take a look at brandy first. If you like that, maybe whiskey is worth a shot.

If you do want to try bourbon, first I would try an Old Fashioned. (Though I prefer rye whiskey.) If you like that, maybe try a Manhattan, (though this is properly a rye drink, it's usually made with bourbon these days.)

I wouldn't take a look at scotch until you've acquired a taste for whiskey in general.
posted by spaltavian at 8:38 AM on December 3, 2012

As many others have said, Southern Comfort is going to taste like bourbon + sugar. Luckily, there is a name for that - or rather, for bourbon + sugar + a dash of bitters - that's an old fashioned, and you should be able to order one in any bar. Bourbon smells sweet all by itself - it's the vanilla from the new oak barrels - but the 1/2 teaspoon of sugar in an old fashioned smooths it out & makes the taste less, er, surprising. Scotch is always aged in used barrels, and gets its flavor from the use of malted barley + sometimes from the practice of smoking the malt over peat fires. My late brother-in-law claimed that the only reason Scotch is drinkable at all is because they age it in old bourbon barrels. I'm not sure exactly how Irish is produced but it also lacks the strong sweet/vanilla note of bourbon.

Maker's Mark is certainly a good bourbon to start with. To make an old fashioned, just mix about 1/2 a teaspoon of sugar with an equal amount of water, add bourbon & a dash of angostura bitters, and top with a twist of orange peel. If you don't have (or like) bitters, just skip them.
posted by mr vino at 8:53 AM on December 3, 2012

Nthing Maker's Mark, it's on the sweeter side and is a go to for lovers of good liquor of that style.

Someone mentioned Applejack, I always feel required to warn people that while it is often delicious I've always heard/read that wood alcohols are a large part of what causes people to be hungover, after dehydration of course. This is why hard apple cider or, worse, scrumpy (distilled cider) or, worst-est of all, applejack (cider distilled via freezing the H20 portion of the mix and subsequent ice removal) is so well known to be a headache inducing, but delicious, libation. I can testify that the hombrew cider I made was a notch above anything else I've fermented in regard to aftereffects as well, not to mention the few times I've dove into a few pints of Strongbow at the bar or at home.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:11 AM on December 3, 2012

A new bourbon that showed up recently at my local store is Larceny. I have tried it and it's quite nice, at a reasonable $22.95.
posted by Fleebnork at 9:31 AM on December 3, 2012

Another vote for Bulleit and Woodford Reserve. But quit listing your American prices, you guys...I cry.
posted by Beardman at 9:54 AM on December 3, 2012

As someone who doesn't really like whiskey (and can't stand single-malt), I recommend Maker's Mark. It's sweet and smooth.
posted by radioamy at 10:16 AM on December 3, 2012

If you can find it, you might try Maker's 46 which is a relatively new variant of Maker's Mark and it is quite good.

Also, along the lines of trying other spirits that have sweetness to them, I recommend Tuaca on the rocks. It is brandy that has citrus and vanilla added to it.
posted by mmascolino at 10:29 AM on December 3, 2012

My friends and I did a taste test of cheap bourbons. This was in Ohio about two years ago. I dug up my notes from the event, here they are:
"(my ranking in parentheses; the division between bourbons labelled 'worst' and 'best' marks the division between bourbons I'd drink again and those I wouldn't):

Ancient Ancient Age (worst): generic sweet nose. very alcoholy at first. like a bad scotch.
Benchmark Bourbon (tied for third worst): milder. more firebally. less complex. less burny, more alcoholy.
Evan Williams Black (tied for fourth best): sweeter, but not sickly. a little medicinal. tough bite at finish. no substance at first.
Ezra Brooks (tied for third worst): cinnamon nose. not harsh. not much going on...tastes a little spoiled
Old Ezra 101 (second best): more complex nose. smooth at first.
Old Forester (second worst): bad sweetness. cough syurp nose. jolly rancher. very different. burny bad-like the beam.
Old Grandad (sixth best): rancid nose. innocuous. less sweet. like a milder Dewars.
Jim Beam White Label (tied for fourth best): syrupy, medicinal. atomic fireball.
Rebel Yell (third best): molasses scent! smooth-little bite. not as complex as some others
Very Old Barton (best): bubblegum nose. smooth. like a makers mark.
Old Crow (fifth worst): little nose. bubblegum. mild. alcoholy.

There's a big gap between the Very Old Barton, Old Ezra 101, and Rebel Yell, and everything else, IMO. Those are the ones I'd recommend."

I agree with the first commenter that if you like Southern Comfort, you'll probably like Drambuie.
posted by Kwine at 11:03 AM on December 3, 2012

If you're looking for a sipping bourbon my go to is Rowan's Creek. Its not sweet but it has a nice spice and very mellow, not a lot of Oak like you'd get from a scotch or other long aged bourbons. (The same distiller makes a cousin named Noah's Mill which is longer aged, its a very good bourbon and more traditional bourbon lovers will like the smoke and age on it better - but I like the smoothness of Rowan's better)

My backup to Rowan's if I'm at a bar which doesn't serve it is Basil Hayden, then Dickel, then Makers.

My tastes lean to mellower bourbons.

BTW homemade French Vanilla ice cream with a shot of Rowan's in the batch is phenomenal.
posted by bitdamaged at 11:21 AM on December 3, 2012

I really like Devil's Cut from Jim Beam. It's sweet and a little smoky.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 12:24 PM on December 3, 2012

I live in Kentucky, and have access to a bewildering variety of bourbon whiskeys. I generally incline slightly sweet in my tastes, so I hope they're useful. My preferences, that having been said, are: Blanton's for top-shelf, Four Roses Single Barrel or Buffalo Trace for mid-shelf, and Very Old Barton for the bottom-shelf. I actually have to give some props to VOB, and if you've got access to it and it's priced comparably to what it is here, it's a very good place to start: sweet, with some heavy vanilla notes, and very drinkable for its price point.

I have not actually ever had Booker's (I tend to get my bourbon by the bottle, not the glass, and I've never made that investment), but I'm told it's one of the sweetest.

Another mid-shelf suggestion for a newbie might be Four Roses Small Batch. I'm unenamored of it and found it lacking in character, but characterless might not be a bad thing when first trying to feel one's way around bourbon.
posted by jackbishop at 12:44 PM on December 3, 2012

My entrance to bourbon and scotch were via classic cocktails that feature those two spirits. If I were you, I'd start with Manhattans and Old-Fashioneds made with Maker's Mark (bourbon). From there, I'd branch out into sipping on straight bourbon served on the rocks, and then onto single-malt scotch served neat. Like another commenter mentioned above, I'm a huge fan of Laphroiag (single-malt scotch), but I think I might spit the stuff out and start gagging if it was the first whisky I sampled after being a SoCo drinker. You gotta ease your way into it.

I envy you. There's a whole world of interestingness awaiting you if you really get into whiskys.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 1:01 PM on December 3, 2012

Jack Daniels now makes a honeyed whiskey called tennessee honey
Drambuie as others have said is honeyed scotch
Dalwhinnie has as much honey-note as any single malt scotch

any of these three would be a good place to start, but you can doctor whiskey to your taste just as easily.

Bourbon, an oak aged spirit, tends to be bold enough to accept a sweet note without ending up being too cloying, which is why many classic bourbon cocktails include simple syrup.

buy a nice inexpensive bourbon and make some simple syrup (i like to add vanilla)...balance with a dash of bitters and you have a fine smooth drink, just a littel on the sweet side.
posted by OHenryPacey at 4:27 PM on December 3, 2012

I am a fan of Jim Beam Black. It's a "premium" bourbon, in that it's aged 8 years - that helps take off some of the bourbon "bite" that might shock a little when moving from Southern Comfort. Where I live it's about $22 a fifth. It's has a vanillaey (sp?) sweetness up front, with the warm oak-and-charcoal finish that I associate with bourbon. It's not flashy or expensive, but I find it very enjoyable.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:29 PM on December 3, 2012

I am a fan of Jim Beam Black

Beam Black is a nice less-expensive alternative to Knob Creek, that hits a lot of the same flavor notes. (Incidentally, Knob Creek is a small batch made by Jim Beam)
posted by Fleebnork at 4:51 PM on December 3, 2012

Expensive stuff that you should try in a bar first:

Black Maple Hill
Pappy Van Winkle (great but not worth the hassle of hunting down a bottle IMHO)

Try these after the above recommendations, once you have a feel for more bourbons.
posted by benzenedream at 10:35 PM on December 3, 2012

I drank SoCo and Dewar's (not together!) for years before moving to Kentucky Whiskeys and bourbons.

I used to drink Beam white label and Maker's exclusively, Wild Turkey on random occasions. Alas, I became a beer snob and now I spend most of my money on the little 12 and 22 oz bottles.

I currently drink Early Times and Early Times 354. The 354 is excellent for price; it's the Early Times that is actually bourbon. Slightly sweet but still oaky; smooth with little, if any, bite.

Firefly also makes an iced tea bourbon (to complement all of their flavored vodkas), and in the summer it is quite refreshing.

But, for the jump, I reccomend Maker's, Bulleitt, and Early Times 354; all smooth and enjoyable. You will not enjoy Wild Turkey, or anything on the bottom shelf.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 11:54 AM on December 4, 2012

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