At the End of the Trail: Wilderness Trail

It was to be the 2nd Annual Bourbon Fellowship Bottled in Bond Blind Tasting Bracket (BFBIBBTB).  It was to be the first Thursday of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  It was…not to be.

The basketball tournament was cancelled.  Bourbon Fellowship was cancelled.  The whole stinkin’ world was cancelled. Everyone had a blast with this blind tasting event the first time we did it last year.  So when the world became less of a “cancelled” place we rescheduled BFBIBBTB a few months later.  Just like last year, there were some surprises along the way.

First Round Pairings & Results

The eight Bourbons selected for the blind tasting had to: (a) be a Bourbon, (b) be Bottled-in-Bond, and (c) not have been in last year’s bracket, with the exception of the champ, New Riff. (For last year’s bracket and results, click here).

There were no other criteria for inclusion other than what I thought would be interesting.  Here were the first round match-ups.  You can judge how interesting they are:

  • Match-up 1: (A) Heaven Hill 7 year vs. (B) Heaven Hill 6 year
  • Match-up 2: (C ) A.D. Laws vs. (D) Old Grand Dad
  • Match-up 3: (E) Wilderness Trail Wheated vs. (F) Wilderness Trail High Rye
  • Match-up 4: (G) New Riff vs. (H) Evan Williams

When we got started, we had eight participants.   What are the odds of anything ending in a tie?  Pretty good, as it turned out.

Heaven Hill vs. Heaven Hill

After the group completed their tasting of these two products – one new (expensive and difficult to find) and the other old (a discontinued bargain) – it was a tie.  Four preferred 7 year and four cast their lot for 6 year.  So, I re-poured the samples and let the participants re-taste and re-vote.  In the second go-around, the 7 year walloped the 6-year by a count of 7-1.  Everyone commented that it was a coin flip decision for them; it just happened that more of the coins landed on 7 than 6.  To me, this says that there is a marginal difference between the quality and taste of the two products. 

A.D. Laws vs Old Grand Dad

I like to throw something into blind tastings that the participants haven’t had before.  The A.D. Laws certainly fit that bill, but faced a wily veteran in Old Grand Dad.  We ended up with a 4-4 tie on this one, too.  I was beginning to think the guys were planning it that way just to get more Bourbon!

In the re-taste / re-vote one person changed their choice and A.D. Laws would advance.  A.D. Laws was easily the most divisive Bourbon of the night and maybe the most divisive Bourbon our group has ever shared.  This is a four-grain, bottled-in-bond (60% corn / 20% heirloom wheat / 10% heirloom rye / 10% malted barley) and it has very distinct chocolate notes on the palate.  It was definitely a love-it-or-hate-it whiskey.  It got just enough love to move on in the bracket.

Wilderness Trail Wheated vs. Wilderness Trail High Rye

I couldn’t decide which Wilderness Trail product to include in the bracket, so I went with both.  There was a clear consensus of opinion on this one.  The High Rye was the top choice by a 6-2 count.  Comments from the group certainly gave a lot of love to its wheated brother, but the high rye was the decisive winner and would advance.

New Riff vs. Evan Williams

They say repeating a championship is more difficult than winning the championship in the first place.  It’s true in sports.  It’s true in Bourbon. Last year’s champ, New Riff, went down to one of the most underrated Bourbons on the planet: Evan Williams bottled-in-bond. EW won by a 5-3 margin.  Take heart, New Riff.  No one can take last year’s title away from you.

Final Four

Heaven Hill 7 year vs. A.D. Laws

By the time we started the Final Four, a late-comer joined the group (so…no more ties).  The five tasters who stood by A.D. Laws in the first round, stayed by A.D. Laws in the Final Four.  Heaven Hill’s 7 year fell 5-4 to A.D. Laws.

Wilderness Trail High Rye vs. Evan Williams

The experienced bottom-shelfer could not get past the young stud.  Evan Williams could only muster two votes as Wilderness Trail garnered seven and moved on to the Finals.

Finals

A.D. Laws vs. Wilderness Trail High Rye

All good runs come to an end.  Cinderella turned into a pumpkin…or something like that.  The unlikely journey to the BFBIBBTB Finals is over.  The loyal following gathered by A.D. Laws couldn’t survive the momentum of Wilderness Trail.  By a score of 7-2, Wilderness Trail High Rye claimed the crown of 2020 Bottled in Bond champ. 

Both Wilderness Trail bottled-in-bond products are very good and their cask strength rye may be my favorite of anything they produce.  In a very short time, it seems Wilderness Trail has become synonymous with quality whiskey.  There are a small handful of distilleries that are on a considerable roll right now (despite COVID-19) and Wilderness Trail is certainly one of those.  In a very short time, Shane Baker and Pat Heist have made their brand into one that truly moves the needle.  Congratulations to Wilderness Trail High Rye Bourbon, deserving of the title: Best Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon for 2020.