Every year since 2019, my bourbon group (Bourbon Fellowship) has done a bottled-in-bond bracket challenge. I would select eight bottled-in-bond bourbons then randomly pair them off into an 8 “team” bracket. The group would do a side-by-side tasting of each pair after which, the group would discuss each match-up and vote on which one they liked best. The winners of each match-up would move on to the Final Four. The four would go through the same side-by-side tastings to select the two to face off for the right to be crowned Bottled-in-Bond Bracket Challenge Champion of the year.
Each year would be a different selection of bottled-in-bond bourbons with the exception of the prior year’s winner. That whiskey would be in the following year’s challenge for an opportunity to defend its crown. Through 2022, we have not had a back-to-back winner.
Over the years we have had 36 different bottled-in-bond whiskeys in the tastings. Last year we added a couple of non-bourbons to the mix (Rittenhouse rye and Stumpy’s wheat whiskey). This year we added even more diversity to the mix as you’ll see later.
The inaugural champion was New Riff bourbon. In 2020, despite a COVID-delay, Bourbon Fellowship named Wilderness Trail High Rye bourbon the winner. Old Forester 1897 won the title in 2021 and 2022 the championship went to a surprising old-school bourbon Very Old Barton.
This year’s first round match-ups are:
A vs. B: Barker’s Mill (MB Roland) vs. Mellow Corn
C vs. D: Old Clifty Apply Brandy (Spirits of French Lick) vs. Bardstown Bourbon Co.
E vs. F: Very Old Barton vs. Watershed
G vs. H: New Riff Bourbon with malted rye vs. Jack Daniel’s Bonded
One of the goals in the bottles selected was variety. Most of the spirits in the lineup were new to everybody in the group.
In Round One, Mello Corn and Bardstown Bourbon Co. moved on in the right side of the bracket. While, Very Old Barton and Jack Daniel’s Bonded got through to the second round.
Round two saw Bardstown Bourbon Co and Very Old Barton advancing to the finals. Everyone commented that it was a coin-flip decision between these two finalists, but in the end Very Old Barton was preferred by 7 of our 8 tasters.
In what I would call a bit of an upset, Very Old Barton defended its title as Bourbon Fellowship Bottled-in-Bond Bracket Champion.
What is unfortunate is that for the last few years, Very Old Barton is being labeled as “certified” and not “bottled-in-bond”. What we had in the group the past two years was bottled-in-bond, but what is currently being put on the shelves no longer has that designation.
This is just one way to have fun tastings with your bourbon friends and introduce them to some new and unique options. It’s a wide whiskey landscape out there. Enjoy the exploration.