by Jonathan Rosenberg
I’m relatively new to drinking whiskey like a beverage, as opposed to as a succession of quickly-imbibed stepping stones on a path towards drunkenness. In December 2007, a friend gifted me a bottle of Knob Creek when I announced the start of a six-month campaign to be a writer. A real honest -to-god paid writer. It was a gamble (and it ended up not paying off, not then anyway) – but this friend got me this bourbon because bourbon, he said, “is a writer’s drink.” I liked that. It fit snugly into my Romantic notions of writerhood: The aloof poet, the unconscious traveler, the dude passed out back stage at a Guided By Voices show. Mere brew would not do! (I honestly did not mean for that last sentence to rhyme Johnny Cochran style.)
The Knob Creek was tasty; it whetted my appetite for sure. I pushed through the burn (for some reason I used to be fond of announcing, “butterscotch bullet!” with each sip, as a way to mask my whiskey-virgin whiny-girledness.) By the end of the bottle I knew that I had discovered a new thing to spend $25 on at least once a month. And I knew I liked bourbon specifically – its sweetness, its copper color. But I didn’t really know where to go next. The local Bevmo (a wonderland of alcoholic-awesomeness for my East Coast buddies who are unaware…) had just shelves and shelves of this stuff. I had heard of Jim Beam, and Jack Daniels (okay, technically not a bourbon), and never particularly liked them. But this Knob Creek was different. It was complex, soulful. Were their other treasures waiting to be unearthed?
The first bourbon I discovered entirely on my own, separate from any friend’s recommendation, was Bulleit. I was immediately attracted to the bottle- a sort of canteen-looking thing, like a relic from a bygone time. The subheading “Frontier Whiskey” furthered this Old West image- I liked their marketing department already. And then there was that color, that glorious orange, like a glass of Oktoberfest beer. Bulleit is certainly the most orange of any bourbon I’ve experienced. And something about that, its suggestion of Autumnal warmth perhaps, really appeals to me. I remember loving this bourbon right off the bat, and it quickly became my go-to. Particularly since Trader Joe’s, at least in LA, sells it for $19.99. Always.
So what’s it taste like? Don’t fret dear reader, I’ve got the bottle in front of me this very moment. Let’s explore, shall we? The smell is of cinnamon and honey and pumpkin, sweet things, and I want to say prune, but then again I typically want to say prune. The taste is unique, to my tongue, for a bourbon. There’s almost a cotton-candy sweetness at first bite- followed by the vaguest hint of fire jolly rancher. The burn is spicy but not too harsh, like good buffalo wings. And then there’s that glorious aftertaste: the second after the drink goes down there’s this lingering something that I have only ever found in Bulleit. It’s the sort of special flavor that can bring to mind old memories in a flash, like Proust and his Madeleine, or the guy from Blues Traveler and his chili.
Now, I’ve since had better bourbons with more interesting flavors, liquid symphonies and blissful maelstroms, but I will always have a soft spot for this, my first discovery and still one of my favorites. If there was a rating system on Whiskey Goldmine, I’d give it 9 out of 10 Whiskey Goldmine Units (WGUs)!