Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #2 Blind Taste Experiment


On July 25, we sat down with a group of our closest friends and family members to blind taste the six bourbons created from Buffalo Trace's Mash Bill #2.  The mission was to simply identify which brands were the most pleasant to swirl, smell, taste, and swallow, irrespective of marketing, labels, and preconceived notions.

We've previously reviewed Mash Bill #1, which is widely available in its raw form, and many of the bourbons created from the Mash Bill #1 recipe.  Mash Bill #2 is not available in its rawness, so we haven't had an opportunity to directly compare the recipes "in the buff."  While the specific percentages are unknown to us, MB #2 is believed to be higher in rye than MB #1.  MB #1 is somewhere in the 8%-10% rye range and MB #2 is probably 12%-15% rye.


The bourbons included in our MB #2 taste test range in age from as young as 6 years to as old as 14 years.  All but one (AAA 10 Star) are single barrel releases, which makes our experiment much less than scientific.  The price range, however, is black and white.  AAA 10 Star will run you less than $20 whereas Hancock's MSRP is $70 and secondary market prices for Elmer T. Lee can creep into the $100-$200 range.  Below are links to our individual reviews on each bourbon, drafted over the course of several months:

Just another night

The Test

The lovely Mrs. B of Lexington, KY set up the blind test.  She selected Glencairn glasses and poured left to right.  The directions were to evaluate and take notes of each bourbon's color, aroma, flavor, and finish.  We each assigned an overall ranking for each pour (i.e. 1 through 6, from "favorite" to "least favorite"). 

Each taster was also asked to attempt to identify one bourbon.  Could Will, who sips on Rock Hill Farms day and night, pick it out of the crowd?  Could John, a John J. Bowman appreciator, find JJB in the mix?  

Check out our blind taste rankings of MB #2 bourbons below and how they compare to ratings around the whiskey world.


- Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star has a strong showing.

Whiskey Lately and author Clay Risen gave Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star 1.5/5 and 2/5 respectively.  We assigned it a "C" in a March 2015 review.  However, Jim Murray gave AAA 10 Star a 94.5/100, his top ranked bourbon in the MB #2 family. Apparently, Mr. Murray is the expert he claims to be; in our blind test, AAA 10 Star performed well, receiving an average ranking of 3.0 - middle of the pack.

- John J. Bowman wins the night.

Drink Distiller gave John J. Bowman Single Barrel a low rating.  We're not exactly sure why, though it's possible that they sipped on a bottle from an "off" barrel.  All others seem to appreciate JJB very much.  It won our night with an average ranking of 1.6.  It undoubtedly has the richest color, the most pleasant nose, and the best finish.  If you didn't know, John J. Bowman is distilled twice at Buffalo Trace and then shipped to Fredericksburg, VA where it is distilled for a third time in A. Smith Bowman's copper pot still named "Mary."  It's then aged for approximately 10 years in uprights barrels.  The VA climate is similar to that of KY's, but has a slightly more radical temperature variation between seasons.  

- Blanton's, Rock Hill Farms, Elmer T. Lee, and Hancock's are all solid bourbons, but they are less exciting when you don't know what's what.

What sets those four apart is alcohol content.  RHF bites back.  Blanton's has pop.  ETL and Hancock's are silky smooth but did not stand out.  Sipping six bourbons blind was fun, but admittedly difficult.  For future blind tests, we'll limit ourselves to four at a time to avoid sensory overload.