“This is the most popular bourbon we sell,” said the clerk at my local BevMo. I guess I had “sucker” written on my face since I bought the bottle without reading the notes on the Eagle Rare. However, the review notes don’t always tell an accurate story of a particular bourbon — as I found out last time — so, in a roundabout way, I reasoned that I would just go with the clerk’s recommendation and see what’s what.
I must say, the Eagle Rare bottle was different for a bourbon. Some bourbon bottles, like my beloved Woodford, or Jeff Giles’ longtime steady, Knob Creek, look like containers cartoon hillbillies keep their “tonic” in. Eagle Rare, however, is bottled in a container that could easily house wine. It’s also wrapped in thin, grayish tissue paper that’s sealed with a silver sticker that makes it so very … yuppie. But I didn’t care. It’s not the bottle that makes the bourbon, it’s what’s inside.
Eagle Rare has a fine amber color that evokes a sense of quality. I couldn’t discern any characteristic aromas like bananas, vanilla, or even a hint of cinnamon. Rather, it was surprisingly devoid of distinguishing smells. Maybe, I thought, the taste would reveal layers of flavor that were lacking when I attempted to breathed in the nonexistent scents.
The start was pleasant. There were hints of bananas and a rather smooth, velvety feel in my mouth (or should I say palate). It was the finish that was the most surprising … and not in a good way. What was the most pronounced taste? Wet socks. That’s right — that dank, somewhat moldy taste that screams: “I stepped in a fucking puddle!” Initially I thought that my palate was somehow tainted from eating food that didn’t pair well with the Eagle Rare. So, drank a glass of water, waited a bit, and had another drink. Guess what? Yeah, wet socks. Great — and in full disclosure to the FTC, I BOUGHT THIS BOTTLE WITH MY HARD EARNED PAY — now I was stuck with a bottle of wet sock and I was out about $38.00. But all was not lost. I was able to mask the foul taste by, yes, making cocktails with the Eagle Rare. Now, my bourbon cocktail of choice is a Manhattan, but even making Manhattans (well, good Manhattans) is not a cake walk. You have to have good sweet vermouth for starters. Second, you don’t want to do what a lot of flashy bartenders do: shake the hell out of the drinks for far too long. The shards of ice bury the flavors of the liquors, and if you add Angostura bitters (which you should), you might end up putting too many dashes that will throw the whole concoction out of whack. So, if you really want the flavors of the bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters and cherry to stand out, I submit that you don’t shake, but rather stir the combo over ice for a good 30-40 seconds and serve in a chilled glass. Eagle Rare, I’m happy to report, makes for a good Manhattan. Not great, mind you — but good. There was no wet sock taste, the good flavors of the bourbon stood out and, overall, I was quite pleased with it. I’m pretty adamant about drinking bourbon straight. However, there are times when you have to bend those rules, and for me, drinking Eagle Rare was one of those times. If you’re a fan of astringent tastes (and there are people who do like it), this is a bourbon for you. Me? Well, I think I tipped my hand long ago with Woodford Reserve. However, I gotta say (and this will be a tease for the next column), I think I’ve found me a beautiful mistress.
Two and a half tumblers.