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[Photo: Maggie Hoffman]

Am I the only person who reads the Fearless Flyer? You know, the old-timey newsletter Trader Joe's sends out to remind you to buy peanut butter-filled pretzels (those things are dangerous) and 'Juicy, Sweet Pineapple Tidbits'? It's great breakfast-time reading, I swear.

It was in the Fearless Flyer that I found out that Trader Joe's has a house-brand bourbon, and since I was sadly lacking in funds to fly Will Gordon somewhere where Trader Joe's is allowed to sell liquor, the task of tasting it fell to me.

As with all TJ's products, there's a bit of smoke and mirrors about where this stuff comes from, but I did a little poking around. The label mentions Bourbon Square Distilling Co., but according to my contact at Buffalo Trace, this bourbon is distilled at the Barton 1792 Distillery, which is owned by the Sazerac Company. (Sazerac also owns Buffalo Trace.) It should probably be noted that the Barton 1792 Distillery is in Nelson County, so the bourbon isn't exactly made in Bourbon County as the Fearless Flyer claims. The bourbon is aged for a minimum of 2 years in charred white oak barrels. It sells for $14.99 for a 750ml bottle, which is darn cheap. It's 45% ABV.

We tried the Trader Joe's bourbon against Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Bulleit Bourbon (both 45% ABV, both around $25.) TJ's bourbon has a sweet, fruity scent, a bit like caramel apples with some bubblegum thrown in. (Buffalo Trace lacks that bubblegum note, sticking with the caramel apples.)

The Trader Joe's bourbon offers a kick of spicy rye flavor, but it's wrapped in char and bitterness that keeps it from going down smoothly. You could certainly sip this slightly-rough spirit in spiked cider or in any number of cocktails, but it's not the smoothest sipping bourbon you can find. (By contrast, the Buffalo Trace felt smooth and sweet, with its flavors much more integrated. The Bulleit's a bit less vanilla-laced, but even-textured, and with a little rye spice that feels fresh and doesn't overpower.)

Though $15 is a great price for bourbon, this isn't a bottle we're likely to consume that quickly. Have you tried Trader Joe's bourbon? What did you think?

About the Author: Maggie Hoffman is the editor of Serious Eats: Drinks. She lives in San Francisco. You can follow her on Twitter @maggiejane.

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