“People who are frugal understand the value of a dollar and make informed and thoughtful decisions. People who are cheap try to spend as little money as possible.” – Frank Sonnenberg
In most things outside of whiskey, I sit precariously on the line between frugal and cheap. When preparing for financial decisions like home repair or car maintenance – or any costly purchase, really – I struggle with the balance of spending my hard-earned money or my precious free time. These are common struggles, I think. I’d argue, though, that the difference between frugality and cheapness makes itself most apparent with your opinion on generic brand grocery items.
In my experience, often the generic brand of something is a perfectly fine substitute. I, like many others, grew up on Kroger and Wal-Mart brand versions of most items at home and never knew the difference. I buy generic and off-brand consumables of all types, and rarely do I see a demonstrable difference that makes me reconsider paying more for brand recognition. To me, buying off-brand is a strong exercise in frugality.
My wife, on the other hand, sees this slightly differently. She grew up in a home that had to use generic and off-brand items to save money. To her, being able to afford the brand name products is a position she’s grateful for. While she has no problem opting for the generic brand of anything, she recognizes that the brand name version often comes with a difference in quality; a difference that she is happy to pay to get.
How does this relate to whiskey? Does the brand behind the label matter, or is the level of quality out there right now generally good enough to trust whatever bottles are on the shelf? With legislation to ensure safety and certainty of the products we’re buying, we no longer live in an age of whiskey rectifiers adding unsafe chemicals to pass off as bourbon.
On the other hand, it’s human nature to be suspicious of products, brands, and companies about which you know nothing. Even with my penchant for buying generic, I trust that the generic brand is from a reputable company. I don’t have the same confidence in a new (to me) distillery or producer, so I rarely buy a bottle of whiskey I’ve never heard of.
I do, however, occasionally receive whiskey as a gift from friends or family thinking of me (which I love, so I hope they keep doing that). Today’s review will be of a bourbon I received as a gift: Bank Street Bourbon.
This bottle took me by complete surprise. Knowing how many craft spirits distilleries are out there (over 2,000), my first guess was that this was from a small distiller or independent bottler. However, there is no discernible company or brand name other than a small section on the back label connecting this brand to Regent Distillers Products Company out of Scobeyville, New Jersey. A quick internet search revealed no distillery by that name, nor a business location, or even a website.
I often do a quick search when I see a new bottle on the shelf in a store. Had I been holding this in my hand debating a purchase, I would have stopped here and walked away. Why buy a bottle with no information about it?
As a gift, however, I had no reason to keep looking. A little more digging tied this brand to Laird & Company, a company mostly known for their apple brandy products. Perusing their website, Bank Street Bourbon isn’t even listed as one of their offerings. They do, however, have a line called Banker’s Club, which seems suspiciously similar.
After talking with my friend, this bottle was something he grabbed for me off the shelf at Total Wine. He’s not a whiskey guy, so my guess is that he found a price point he was comfortable spending and grabbed the first decent-looking bottle he could find. The Total Wine website lists this product at $34.99 where I live, so I’ll base my review on that price point.
Based on only what I can tell from the label, Bank Street Bourbon is 80 proof, at least five years old, and Kentucky straight bourbon. That last characteristic tells us it isn’t MGP juice, so I’ll be curious what flavor profile this has and what, if anything, I can tell about the mash bill.
I’m genuinely curious how this is going to turn out. Will I reconsider my stance on an unknown bourbon? Can I find good value in the whiskey equivalent of a generic brand product? Let’s find out!
Bank Street Bourbon – Review
Color: Burnished, yellow-y copper
On the nose: Immediately, I sense little to no fruit or anything to suggest that this might have wheat as the secondary grain. Initial notes are generic notes of corn and rye, but not a whole lot going on here honestly. It’s not flat or odorless; rather, nothing in particular rises to the top as a standout note. Sitting with it for a while, notes of evergreen and peanuts waft in and out of existence.
Normally, I would end my notes here, but more discernible notes continued to pop up during tasting. Maybe the heat from my hand warmed up the whiskey enough to spark a change? Regardless, a new round of olfactory interaction: bread, cherry, and cola. With even more time, sugary sweetness presents itself and sticks around. Things suddenly got very interesting, but the balance seems off to my (untrained) nose. As the glass begins to empty, floral and a sort of nutty, malty nose remains.
In the mouth: My goodness, what a letdown. All of the wild beauty of the nose just fades into what I can only describe as a loose, empty palate experience. The thinness of this bourbon at the legally required minimum proof is downright disappointing. The most prominent notes are medicinal cherry with flat undertones of oak and not much else. Slight bready note that tries to hold on to some of the grain notes from before, but largely it’s all gone. Honestly, there’s nothing astringent or particularly off-putting about it, but nothing interesting either. The finish is fairly short, but not bad.
Overall, this feels like a very good comparison to Basil Hayden; I think it’s a tad better. Bank Street Bourbon is smooth, very easy to sip on, and has an attractive appeal on the nose. However, the taste falls so far short in comparison that I personally won’t buy a bottle of it. I’d think it a great value at a slightly lower price, but even at roughly $35, I won’t caution anyone to stay away from it. I’m bullish on the score, but it was a hard decision not to go a point higher; the definitions here are what made the final decision for me.