“Above all, the listener should be able to understand the poem or the song, not be forced to unravel a complicated, self-indulgent puzzle. Offer your art up to the whole world, not just an elite few.” – Lucinda Williams
I think about this quote when I finish a poem that leaves me feeling like I was just trying to decipher code between spies. It’s an issue I rarely discuss at parties, for fear of the beret-buzzkill lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce, “Well, you just didn’t get it!” That’s a line inevitably followed by a droning deluge which amounts to “you’d have understood the work if you were in the cool kids club.”
I understand some scratchings require a certain amount of wherewithal or experience to understand. However, no matter what you are reading, you owe the author nothing. An artist should be reaching out to you, not the other way around.
In life, there are already enough barriers to entry, let alone the ones we impose on each other. Does boarding up a creation so that only a few can peer in make it any better? I’d wager very few entrepreneurs started up with the idea of making something exclusively for the pinky-raised, snout-in-the-sky upper-crusties. In fact, most creatives I’ve met tell me their projects started with the thought: “This expresses who I am, and I want to share it with you.”
Wouldn’t it be nice to find such earnest sentiment in whiskey? Unfortunately, it is much easier to encounter the barriers. High prices, scarcity, allocations, elitism, bigotry, bottle-flipping… It’s an ugly list, and it keeps getting longer.
While it is difficult to dodge all the wards of the whiskey world, entry level bourbon has fewer obstacles. Sure, none of them are as cheap as they used to be. What is? Nonetheless, labels like Four Roses, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Evan Williams, etc., are still affordable for the majority of drinkers, and can be found in most stores in the States. They remain a common ground between spirit nerds and the whiskey friend not yet met.
Because of this, when people ask me for a whiskey recommendation, I often turn to one of the lesser known cheap bourbons. A favorite I often point to is Ezra Brooks 90 proof. Ezra Brooks has a history much like many other American whiskey brands. It’s a name, that once established, got gobbled up by bigger fish. Ezra Brooks was created by Frank Silverman in 1957. The brand was bought by Luxco in 1993. Then, just this past year, MGP bought Luxco (at this point known as Lux Row).
In short, the brand hasn’t stayed in anyone’s hands particularly long. Despite that, the quality of their flagship whiskey has remained stable. While it may look like a Jack Daniel’s imitation, it manages to stay in the $15 to $20 bracket and offers a rich and well-rounded whiskey. So, when I saw that Lux Row had added a seven year barrel strength whiskey to the Ezra Brooks lineup, I was eager to buy a bottle.
Old Ezra 7 Year Barrel Strength – Review
Mash bill of 78% Corn, 12% Malted Barley, 10% Rye. Bottled at barrel strength (58.5% ABV). On the shelf for $65.
Colour: Pale brown.
On the nose:Because of the high percentage of alcohol, the aroma is a bit like a caricature portrait you get while on holiday. Certain traits are embellished and overshadow everything else. Invasive aromas of freshly cut wood, paint thinner, and pickle brine. After parting these clouds there’s also black pepper, salted caramel, and whiffs of charred wood. From the aroma alone, this whiskey has wood coming out of its ears.
In the mouth: No surprise, the alcohol is front and center in the beginning. Though, if you let the whiskey aerate the sting mellows. There’s a streak of caramel and toffee that runs through the whole palate. Though the overall experience remains dry, you encounter flavors like black pepper, white pepper, and bitter tannin along the way. Adding water brings out more sweetness and some powdery chocolate notes.
Whoever said “less is more” never imparted that wisdom to anyone in charge of this whiskey. Alcohol and wood, two of the most generous contributors to a whiskey’s profile, have been overused here. It’s like someone loosened the cap on a salt shaker.
When adding water, I started with just a couple of drops. This had little impact. I kept adding more and more water until I could taste a little less wood. I eventually found a sweet spot where all the elements were better proportioned.
A fellow spirits geek and friend of mine firmly believes all spirits should be bottled at full strength. His argument is that every drinker can then calibrate the drink to their own personal preferences. While I can understand his side, do we really want to break out the beakers and water droppers every time we open a bottle? Many drinkers don’t equip themselves with such things because sipping whisky isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a laboratory experiment. Whiskey is food, and when a dish comes out of a kitchen I want it to be an expression of the person who cooked it. I want them to share a bit of themselves.
I have had plenty of whiskies that really shined without any dilution. Foolhardy, I’d add some water to a glass. After the first sip, I’d know that it was much better without me messing around with it. I hope this type of trial is done every time a new whiskey is finalized. However, it really is a hope, and not a likely reality. The realist in me thinks that Lux Row simply wanted to offer a cask strength iteration to Ezra Brooks fans.
Variety, (for the most part) is good. Consumers like wider selections from products they enjoy. But what good is variety if you end up paying more for less? At $65, I wouldn’t purchase this again. I’d much rather get 3 bottles of Ezra Brooks 90 proof instead.
The high alcohol and heavy wood influence really define this whiskey. While it might be intended as another avenue for people to enjoy the Ezra Brooks style, to me, it seems like another barrier. The core flavors are boarded up, and only those with the stamina for lots of alcohol and lumber are able to peer in.
While I agree with you on your point of “no need to bottle everything at barrel proof”, I kinda see where your friend is coming from with his point of “everything should be sold at barrel proof”.
For every whisky, there should be a certain ABV where you will enjoy it most. For me, it tends to be in the high 40s or low 50s most of the time.
You can dilute a whisky but there is no practical way for you to increase the proof.
So when buying a bottle at 40% or even 46%, there is a worry that the bottle has been diluted past its ideal ABV and you’re not drinking it at the ideal strength.
So the most surefire way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to bottle it at barrel proof and have the drinker dilute it to his liking.
But I agree with you that sometimes, you want to just pour out a dram, and drink it and enjoy it without having to worry about how much water you have to add to it to make it taste good.
It’ll be nice if there is a classification called “Distiller’s Proof” or something, which means that the distiller is bottling it at a proof that the master blender deems it’s best tasting at.
Excellent points you bring up, Sam. I share the same belief/philosophy of wanting to pop the cork and not mess with a scientific experiment to get the ideal drinking proof. Yeah I’ll dilute if I must, but it’s not something that I really enjoy our have the time for at this point in my life. KC does bring up an excellent point of a “Distillers Proof”. I’d be on board with that.
As for the bourbon, I was able to pick up a “new” (post-sale) bottle of this at the “old” (pre-bourbon of the year recognition) price of around $35. Haven’t opened it yet but even at the price I paid I’ll likely have to dampen my expectations even more. Cool looking presentation though!
I was an avid whiskey nerd and now I no longer drink it at all. However I still check in with this site with some frequency because of the quality articles and content beyond the bottle of liquor.
I wanted to thoughtfully (and briefly) disagree with you on the “An artist should be reaching out to you, not the other way around” sentiment you shared.
While it is true that I may not owe any given random artist any of my attention nor time, I must also recognize that their work is potentially written for others than myself. I should not be upset if, for example, a black woman writes a story on her experiences and I can’t relate all too well, whether that be through narrative or the more stylistic.
Just because a piece wasn’t made for you does not mean that it was exclusionary. Sometimes it is valuable to have pieces designed for a specific kind of consumption rather than base, broad public consumption.
How can one piece of art mean the world to everyone? It’s far more tenable for something to mean something to most, and all to a few.