In my long, sordid, and thus far unsuccessful quest to get my hands on a bottle of the much-lauded, oft-discussed “VOB BIB” (That’s Very Old Barton: Bottled-in-Bond), I present three VOBs that are not BIB. Rather than bore my adoring fans with three sequential weeks of reviews of what’s essentially the exact same bourbon at slightly different strengths, I thought I’d dump them all at once. So, please enjoy Very Old Barton: 86 proof, 90 proof, and 100 proof. (There’s an 80 proof as well, but I only have these three.)
Before you ask “Why not just order a bottle of the BIB online?” I need to outline the parameters of my quest. VOB BIB has long been called the holy grail of cheap bourbon, the most bang-for-your-buck in the category. Unfortunately, it’s only available in a limited number of states, mostly on the east coast. Ordering a bottle online would, I figure, defeat the entire purpose of cheap bourbon. I can’t enjoy a $15 bourbon if I paid $20 to have it shipped here, and it would certainly negatively color my review. Every time I venture to the east coast (thus far Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and Louisiana) I seek out a bottle. I have thus far come up empty-handed. Barton bourbon is actually available on the west coast at a higher price, under a different brand name, and from a different formulation: 1792 Ridgemont Reserve. It’s good, but it’s not what I’m here for. Oddly, the Sazerac website no longer contains any mention of Very Old Barton. Is that the whiskey industry equivalent to being Photoshopped out of the family reunion photo? Weird, that.
First in the series, we have Very Old Barton 86 Proof. The whiskey is all from the Barton distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky which is owned by Sazerac (Buffalo Trace), and was renamed to the Barton 1792 Distillery in 2009. Very Old Barton (which is not old, and certainly not Very Old) used to have a “6 years old” age statement on the bottle, which was changed to a lonely misleading “6” on the neck, and then dropped altogether. The company claims VOB is still 6 years old “on average”, whatever that means. For now, assume it’s somewhat south of that number, between 4 and 6 is likely. As for the mash bill, if it has the same bill as the Bottled-in-Bond then it’s 75% corn, 15% rye, and 10% malted barley. The whiskey is bottled at 43% ABV (86 proof) and is Kentucky Straight Bourbon.
Nose: Delicately fruity, with fruit punch, orange juice, cherry syrup, and bubble gum. Sharp nose tickle despite the low ABV, but no young or ‘off’ aromas.
Palate: Medium bodied. Very mild tongue burn. Tannic and slightly bitter (already) up front. Fruit punch and bubblegum again, but also bitter aromatic compounds (Angostura bitters) and anise.
Finish: Medium-long. Less tannic than expected – only slightly mouth-drying. Drier now, and quite bitter as those aromatic bitters flavors continue through the finish. No evolution.
With Water: A few drops of water amp up the bubblegum note and increase the nose tickle. The body seems thinner. This doesn’t benefit from the addition of water.
Overall: A very stable, capable, workhorse bourbon. There isn’t any of the dense robust oakiness that one usually associates with bourbon, but it’s also not too dry or too cloyingly sweet. There’s more bitterness than I like in a bourbon, but the fruit notes and the lack of off-flavors make this far better than a $12 whiskey has any right to be. Don’t get me wrong, this is still bottom-shelf bourbon that couldn’t compete with the likes of Eagle Rare 10 or other $30+ bourbons, but it is shockingly good for this price bracket.
I like this just fine, which is way more than I’ve ever said about a sub-$15 whiskey. This would work equally well as a house bourbon on a budget for both casual sipping or cocktails. Next up: VOB 90 Proof.