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Early Time 354 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Early Time 354
Kentucky Straight
Bourbon Whiskey


By Robert Plotkin

Whiskey aficionados have been awaiting the introduction of Early Time 354 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey for almost 30 years. Early Times is the second oldest, continually produced Kentucky whiskey, but the famous brand technically isn’t bourbon. In this new release, master distiller Chris Morris has created an instant classic, a character-laden bourbon made in the Early Times house style. That the whiskey is being marketed with a modest price tag makes this even better news.

Early Times Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey was first produced in 1860. The distillery gained distinction for mashing grain in small tubs, boiling the beer and distilling its whiskey in copper stills over open fires. By 1950, Early Times had become the bestselling bourbon in the world. However, changing consumer preferences prompted brand owner Brown-Forman to change Early Times in 1983 by aging about 20% of the whiskey in used barrels. Since bourbon must only be aged in new American oak barrels, the brand was no longer bourbon, at which time the the spelling of whiskey was changed to "whisky."

The brand has returned to its bourbon roots with Early Times 354. It’s crafted with a mash bill of corn, rye and barley and mineral rich, limestone-filtered spring water. The mash is fermentation with a proprietary strain of yeast belonging only to Early Times. The whiskey is aged entirely in charred American white oak barrels and bottled at 80 proof. The number in the whiskey’s name refers to the Early Times Distillery’s original federal permit, which was "Permit No. 354."

This is a tremendously appealing bourbon and an ideal entree to the joys of everyday sippin’ whiskey. The rich amber colored Early Times 354 has a velvety textured body and a generous semisweet bouquet of fruit, vanilla, caramel and toasted oak. The smooth and gentle entry bathes the palate with spicy, fruity and slightly smoky flavors. Its warm lingering finish is laced with notes of butterscotch, vanilla and pepper.

As delicious as Early Times 354 is sipped neat, the whiskey may even be better when featured in such classics as the Manhattan and Old Fashioned. The bourbon’s bakery-like aromatics and long-lasting palate make it a franchise player behind the bar. That it’s also reasonably priced is a bonus.

Early Times Bourbon, welcome back! Your timing is impeccable. Bottoms up!