Whisky Advocate

Review: Early Times 354 Bourbon

January 11th, 2011

With all my favorable bourbon reviews the past few days, I wanted to make sure you didn’t think I was on some sort of “happy” pills. But in all fairness to Early Times, this bourbon was meant to be more of a value play rather than a blockbuster whiskey.


Early Times 354 Bourbon, 40%, $16

Sweet corn, along with caramel, vanilla, and more subtle ripe summer fruits (on the nose and palate). Light, slightly brash finish. Rather sweet, somewhat youthful tasting, straight-forward, and unpretentious. Not something I would be drinking neat, but it does fare better on the rocks. (The ice and cold water cut through and calm the sweetness.) I think a little more aging would add some depth, and balance some of the sweetness with more oak spice.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 79

29 Responses to “Review: Early Times 354 Bourbon”

  1. Rick Duff says:

    Does it have the traditional Early Times Popcorn type flavour?
    Early Times was always a good Whiskey to get your wife/girlfriend that doesn’t like whiskey to try.
    For that price point I’m likely to stay away.. to many other good whiskeys close in price, including their own Old Forester.

  2. lawschooldrunk says:

    What’s wrong with being on happy pills when there is so much whisky over which to be happy?

  3. Perry Woods says:

    Early Times is a little too sweet for my taste but it is not bad as a mixer. My wife has never liked whiskey until I introduce her to Early Times mixed with Dr. Pepper. For me it was like drinking a bottle of syrup. I much rather spend the extra 30 to 35 dollars on Black Maple Hill or Woodford Reserved or even Willet over ice. I love the small batch or selected barrel Burbons. I am so happy that I just found this blog because there are so many bourbon’s out there and in Louisiana our wholesalers just wants to carry what has the highest turn over for profit. So if y’all know of some off the wall small batch bourbon’s that are good please let me know and how to get them! Thanks

  4. JWC says:

    I was looking forward to your formal review and knew better but was still hoping that the bourbon would be a bit better. I guess the old $16 is the new $30. Still some good value bourbons out there (WT 101 is probably my favorite out of that group) but with the trend towards premium (greater profit) bourbons, it appears that the distilleries are producing lower quality product on the less expensive side. It wasn’t too long ago that Eagle Rare 10 101 was going for less than $20. Makes you realize what a deal the EWSB is.

  5. Thomas Mckenzie says:

    I bought a bottle. No gripes from me. I think it is a very good everyday drinking bourbon. Which I would imagine is exactly what they were aiming for. Save you higher end stuff for the weekend.

    • John Hansell says:

      Keeping it in the Brown-Forman family, I’d rather make Old Forester Signature my everyday drinking bourbon. (Or, going outside the family, drink Evan Williams, which is about $12 here in PA.)

      • Rick Duff says:

        Old Forester used to be my everyday drinking bourbon.. then they started raising the price on it.. it’s now 80% more than 5 years ago (at least.) I switched to Elijah Craig 12 Year Old as my every day bourbon.. runs around $20 and is superb… although I’m scared to say it too loud otherwise it will jump to $30.

        • Scribe says:

          I love the Elijah Craig *and* the Evan Williams…this year tried the Old Forester birthday bourbon. Love it — but, won’t buy again because the “bloated” bottle design takes up two spaces in my liquor cabinet, real estate I could use for a little more variety!

          • Rick Duff says:

            Boy.. I agree on the Birthday bourbon. Nice bottle but it takes up too much room on the shelf.
            Evan Williams is great too.. but most of the stuff from Heaven Hills is… and usually fairly priced.

  6. Thomas Mckenzie says:

    Nothing wrong with evan williams at all. I think evan williams 1783 is also a best value.

    • sam k says:

      1783 is a personal favorite value bottle for me too, but, alas, it’s another one that’s been cut by the PLCB gods. They definitely know what’s best for me as a whiskey consumer, though!

      • Ethan Smith says:

        I couldn’t believe that when I got my list of new products. Did you see OGD 114 didn’t make it either? Absurd! And they’re cutting Wild Turkey Rye! You can bet the PLCB won’t carry even the ET354, and if they do, it sure as heck won’t be $17!!!

  7. JD says:

    Good discussion. I love bourbon and I *really* like what you can get in a low-cost “everyday” bottle. It just appeals to the value-conscious (or cheapskate) part of me. Dollar for dollar, the American whiskies seem to have a real edge on the Scots. Sure there’s bad cheap bourbons, but once you find the good ones you’re set. Is there a $12 Scotch whisky that can even hold a candle to the Evan Williams? Maybe when you move up the scale it levels out a bit. But while I’m a big fan of (say) Highland Park 15YO, I’m not sure it holds its own against the comparably-priced BTAC Stagg or Weller (though at least the HP is easier to find…).

    I always thought of myself as a “whisk(e)y” fan with no particular favorite type, but over the past year or two I’ve found bourbons and ryes crowding out almost everything else I drink. There’s no question that value plays a part in that trend… But it’s more than that. I’m just starting to prefer American whiskey. Any more, it seems like I have to convince myself to break out the Scotch instead of just reaching for the Eagle Rare, Wild Turkey Rye, or Elijah Craig. I wonder if my tastes will switch back in another year or so?

    Sorry if this is heading off topic. It’s too bad the Early Times 354 didn’t merit a higher rating… I’ll try it for myself soon.

    • Erik M says:

      You make a good point JD. I too have found myself reaching for more bourbons and dark rums lately for pretty much the same reason: it’s generally less expensive for the same result. I tend to buy a lot of different bottles because I’m still trying to find which distilleries I really love as opposed to just something I’d drink now and then. I won’t deny that the Scots distill some seriously delicious whisky, but sometimes it’s hard to justify coughing up the extra money for it.

      It was only within the last month that I discovered Elijah Craig 12 and I absolutely love it for the value!

  8. Vince says:

    I’m sorry to see this didnt get a higher score John but I am glad you took the time to review it. I will still probably pick up a bottle to try. Evan Williams is a terrific bourbon at a great value. Even their Single Barrels are fantastic (for about $25). I thought the 2000 was a classic and I am really looking forward to your review of the 2001 John!
    I also agree that Old Forester Signature and Wild Turkey 101 are great everyday bourbons. I’ll throw in Four Roses to the mix as well!

  9. John Hansell says:

    This isn’t a bad whiskey. Average-plus is where I would put it. That’s what a rating in the high 70s means.

    • Texas says:

      Wasn’t the intent of the original Early Times to recall the olden days of bourbon? If they are still aiming at that, a young bourbon would fit the bill perfectly right? If I understand correctly all of these 7, 8 year old bourbons are a relatively recent development (compared to the period of time that bourbon has been around).

      • sam k says:

        Good point, Tex, and that may be true for the very early days, but there were plenty of ten year old whiskeys around before Prohibition.

  10. Josh West says:

    I like the bottle design. Its very old fashioned, which goes with the whiskey’s name and brand image. Looks like a bottle you’d find at a more modern apothecary. Kinda cool!

  11. It sounds like the main thing ET354 did was remind you what a great value OF Signature is.

    • John Hansell says:

      Actually Chuck, I didn’t even think about OF Signature until Thomas McKenzie brought up the “every day drinking” point in @5 above. I DID, however, compare ET354 to a couple other value plays, like Evan Williams, before I completed my review.

    • Texas says:

      I have heard good things about OF Signature, but I have never seen it anywhere in Houston including Spec’s. All I have ever seen is the standard OF, the Repeal, and the Birthday.

  12. sam k says:

    Does this spell the end for the non-bourbon version of Early Times ? (I hope so!)

  13. rob says:

    no liquor should be drunk neat. adding a dash of water actually opens up the flavors of the beverage, improving its taste.

    • John Hansell says:

      Art, while, what you say is generally true, it really is an individual preference on how to drink a whisky. If you bought it, then you have the right to drink it any way you want. That’s how we feel about it.

  14. Mike says:

    Good Bourbon for the price. Definitely not as bad as the regular Early Times! A little “pop-corny”, but that’s part of it’s texture. I say it’s on a level with the “old faithfuls” Jim and Evan, our favorite mid shelf bourbons. A good everyday bourbon. Bring out the good shit when the times are right. Don’t pass up the best. Treat yourself a little better than Early Times 354 occasionally.

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