One of the most prominent whiskey critics in the world — Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible — has crowned a hard-to-find North American whiskey as the best in the world for a third year in a row.
This time, the honors go to a Kentucky bourbon called E.H. Taylor Four Grain — officially known as “Buffalo Trace’s Colonel E.H. Taylor 4 Grain Bottled in Bond Aged 12.” But don’t expect a taste anytime soon. Four Grain has been sold out nationwide for months, and your liquor store won’t have a new batch for at least a year.
Murray is such a powerful voice in the spirits world, he is known for singlehandedly causing shortages. Two years ago, he picked Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye and workers at the distillery went on strike because the owners wanted to ramp up production. Last year he picked Booker’s Rye, which sold out, and effectively doubled the after-market value in a night.
He’s one of the most controversial (and talented) whiskey critics on the market, so even when the internet throws a fit over one of his picks, his position is usually well-defended.
Four Grain’s shtick (if you can call it that after it’s won this kind of distinction) is a bit of insider bourbon politics. Typically bourbon is made with three grains. First you have corn, which composes at least 51 percent of the recipe and lends sweetness and a mellow character to the final whiskey. Second you have malted barley, which is primarily in the mix to help the fermentation process along, but happens to add an earthy, smoky character in some cases.
The third grain is where recipes diverge. Some use wheat, which imparts a mellow, complex character. Some use rye, which adds a spicier depth to your final product. Four Roses, Jim Beam, and Heaven Hill are big rye proponents; Larceny, Maker’s Mark and Pappy Van Winkle are well-known wheated bourbons.
Using both is hard, and honestly it can be like throwing too many toppings on a sandwich. You’re not going to taste everything and at some point it can be a waste. But Four Grain manages to pull it off. In our review earlier this year, we found it to have a nice balance of rye and wheat. Apparently, it’s award-winningly perfect.
Though it originally retailed for $70, we’ve seen it for a couple hundred or more on secondary markets. Buffalo Trace promises more will be released next year.
In the meantime, second place went to an amazing Irish whiskey: Redbreast 21. You’ll have better luck finding that one this year, and we suggest you do.