Bottoms Up

While running for College Council co-presidents last year, we prided ourselves on trying to “revitalize the social scene” here at Williams. Though we graciously accepted defeat in public, we were privately crushed – months and months of campaigning were all for naught. We had been at the Red Herring doing some last minute campaigning and preparing for our victory address when we heard the unfortunate news, and quickly ordered a round of bourbon whiskey. And that’s when, in a revelatory moment that rivaled Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment or Al Gore’s discovery of the Internet, we realized that we could still help the college social scene, but in a different, more specific and even better way than being co-presidents: writing Bottoms Up.

Now, we’re not saying that you need to drink to have fun, but if you do choose to imbibe, we can give you the information you need to make the appropriate purchases. We figured we’d begin the year by tasting and reporting on the spirit that inspired us from the beginning: bourbon whiskey.

Did you know September is congressionally recognized as National Bourbon Heritage Month? Wow, bet you didn’t, but now you can celebrate all month long! We could bore you with the details of the distillation process, but suffice it to say that bourbon is made mostly of fermented corn and sits in charred oak casks for at least two years before it makes it down your gullet and warms your belly during lonely Winter Study nights when it’s too cold to leave your dorm (except to catch a ride to the Spirit Shoppe, of course). For today’s issue, we’ll focus on our four favorite labels: Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek.

(Note: Study performed under blind taste-test conditions.)

Jim Beam whiskey often gets a bum wrap. People see the reduced price and assume that it’s a poor man’s bourbon. Oh, how wrong they are! The people over in Clermont, Ky. know what they’re doing. Sipping Mr. Beam’s creation, “spiciness” is the term that immediately popped into our heads. Mr. Koven, after his first taste, involuntarily exclaimed: “Well heck! That’s spicier than a Brooklyn hottie.” Koven has never been to Brooklyn, but we still think the metaphor is apt. Try swishing the Beam inside your mouth. It burns the tongue slightly, quite similar to the first spoonful of a fresh vat of soup from Greylock dining hall. The sour aftertaste hints at the elevated pH level of the spirit, caused by its alcohol content (we sampled the 86 proof over the 80 proof on this one folks. Trust us, it’s worth it). In the end, Jim Beam is loud and fast from the get-go. If you drink the right amount, it may cause you to lose your shirt faster than a freshman guy at a hot First Fridays in Goodrich. In any case, with prominent sponsors such as Kid Rock and the Williams Men’s Rugby Football Club, it is hard to consider this bourbon as anything other than the perfect purchase for whiskey beginners on a tight budget.

Even though Jack Daniels is made with sour mash, the taste is anything but sour. In fact, the most prominent feature of this whiskey is its smokiness. Its smell is surprisingly neutral, as well as its taste. It settles in the stomach nicely, and is incredibly smooth compared to the other three whiskeys we sampled. We both agreed that Jack Daniels was our favorite of the group – fun for the whole family, we’d say.

Even though its smell is reminiscent of a dorm right before a huge party that is about to be broken up by Williams security, Maker’s Mark is the sweetest and easiest to take down of the four whiskeys we sampled. Don’t let the initial sweetness fool you though, for the burning sensation is right on its way. Nevertheless, it is a smooth burn and it goes down like water, so that it leaves the taster giddier than a freshman on the first day of Winter Study. All in all, this whiskey finishes you off with a relaxed feeling in the throat and a sigh of relief.

Now, for those who are strong of heart and stomach, there is Knob Creek. This batch is the most potent of the four. At 100 proof, it is the most alcoholic, and you can really feel it. It is dark and it is also thick. If you have ever tried to walk on the frozen Green River in February and fallen through (which we have), that is the closest possible sensation to taking down a shot of Knob Creek. Your insides tighten and your throat closes after ingesting this whiskey. It is a painful, but also a refreshing and exhilarating experience – not for the faint of heart. Work your way up to this one folks. Just remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.