By: David Mayne
Type: American Whiskey
(labelled as Bourbon in export markets, and as Kentucky Whisky within the U.S.)
A Kentucky whiskey not bearing the prestigious title of “Bourbon” you ask? What the hell, right?!
Early Times is a brand of Kentucky whiskey from, you guessed it, Kentucky. When whiskey drinkers go to the store to buy the liquid gold known as whiskey, choices must be made, and it’s not always about the price tag. American Bourbon vs. Scotch Whiskey is the age-old argument, and while both shores have battle-hardened contenders with their own strengths and weaknesses, nothing beats Kentucky Straight Bourbon whiskey in my opinion.
You’ll get your Scotch snobs who swear on the Glenlivet or Highland brands, just as there are those who adore all things Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark or Jack Daniels. Whiskey, given the brand, can empty your wallet faster than a Vegas slot machine. If you are, however, willing to take a ride on the middle-shelf and below roller coaster of various blends, Canadians, and other penny-pinching fire-waters, there are a few gems to be found without breaking the bank!
First and foremost, let us get this out-of-the-way, and for the uneducated, prepare for an American whiskey lesson. (I’m not a Scotch drinker, by trade, so we’ll burn that bridge another day)
The world ’round, REAL Bourbon whiskey is legally defined by a few very important requirements, first and foremost, that it be made IN the United States. While any country can technically make and label their whiskey as “bourbon”, the following requirements that make true bourbon what it is may or may not be adhered to as they are, by law, in the United States. The following is from Wikipedia concerning Bourbon requirements:
The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits state that bourbon made for U.S. consumption must be:
- made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn
- aged in new, charred-oak barrels
- distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume)
- entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume)
- bottled (like other whiskeys) at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume)
Bourbon has no minimum specified duration for its aging period, but it must be aged at least briefly. Bourbons labeled as “straight” (like Maker’s), on the other hand, must adhere to the above requirements AS WELL as having been aged for a minimum of two years with no added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits.
So let’s talk Early Times. Look, when you feel like some whiskey and don’t want to take out a second on the house to buy some, most grocery stores oblige with weekly sales on everything from Evan Williams, Jim Beam, Fighting Cock, and the sauce in question: Early Times.
As mentioned earlier, before the bourbon tangent, Early Times is labeled as simply “Kentucky Whisky” (minus the “e”) with the “Bourbon” title omitted for not meeting just one requirement according to the law. Unlike official bourbons, Early Times is aged in used barrels as opposed to new barrels required under federal mandate for the title of “bourbon”. From 1923 to 1953, Early Times was also the best-selling whiskey in the United States, and even today continues to be sold in over 40 countries, standing firm as one of the top 4 selling whiskeys in the world. As of 2010, a new variation of Early Times also became available, labeled Early Times 354, which meets all of the requirements to finally be called “bourbon”.
Taste-wise, Early Times is average. While it’s not sub-par like most of those bargain Canadian blends that pass themselves off as whiskey and leave your head feeling like it got punched by Mike Tyson, Early Times is decent over ice and easily satisfies a whiskey craving when low on the top shelf supply. For it’s price range ($10 to $20 depending on sales), Early Times is a good buy. Evan Williams, a similarly priced Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey (which I’ve fooled people into thinking was Jack during blind taste-tests) is superior, in my opinion, and for around $5 to $10 more, I’d stretch for Evan over ET, especially considering Jack is close to triple the price per volume. That said, if you find yourself with a hankering for some cheap but decent whiskey, Early Times won’t let you down.
Taste – 6 – Not the best bottom shelfer, but certainly not the worst…Canada holds those titles.
Drinkability – 7 – A few drinks over ice are easy-going down, and the typical battery acid flavor of cheapo-sauce is impressively absent.
Value – 9 – For around $15 bucks you can get a 1.75L and your off to the races!
Sipper – 8 – Over ice, Early Times is good times!
Shooter – 2 – While other, more refined whiskeys can be shot without gagging, Early Times wasn’t meant to be a shooter, so be warned.