Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Old Crow Reserve

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.


Hey, it's snowing on April Fools' Day and isn't that funny or ironic or appropriate or some other thing besides terrible? No, it isn't, and the next person who tells me different is going to have to watch me punch myself in the face. I know what you're thinking: "Why would I mind if you punched yourself in the face? If anything, I think I might enjoy the spectacle. I've never seen a man punch his own face and furthermore it might serve as a democratizing corrective to your tyrannical handsomeness." Those are good points, but trust me, you don't want to make me punch my own face. It will be super awkward. Messy, too. I'm a bleeder. So let's just agree to agree that snow in April is stupid.

Now that I've talked you off that violent ledge, let's get to the crux of the matter, which is the new bike that I don't own yet due to the snow. Baseball season, for my intents and purposes, starts today when the Red Sox play the Rangers at 4:00; the bike shop is right next to the draft beer-and-big TV shop, and I'd planned to stake a stool at 3:30 and then run next door to buy a pretty and expensive and brand-new bicycle to crash on the way home.

Alas, it was a plan too righteous for this crooked, crumbling world, so now I'm stuck ringing in the new baseball season at home with my busted old bike and my young old lady and my trusty Old Crow and also—and this is where it gets good—my new Old Crow Reserve.

As previously discussed, my favorite discount bourbon is the very tried and relatively true Old Crow. The label says it's "The Original Sour Mash." I don't know what that means—and please, I'm begging you not to tell me; I've got to clear out brain space for a new season's worth of baseball statistics—but I know the formula has worked well enough to water me and my kind since 1835. But that didn't stop current Crow-owner Fortune Brands (producer of Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, and every other damn thing) from taking a short step toward the middle shelf with last year's introduction of Old Crow Reserve.

I prefer natural body parts on people and natural casings on hot dogs, but other than that I'm not what you'd call a purist in most matters. This is why I'm in favor of keeping the designated hitter in baseball. The original rules of the game required pitchers to hit, which would be fine if they didn't all suck at it. Every major league pitcher was the best hitter on his high school team, yet somehow they become incapable of putting the ball in play once they sign their first contract. Infuriating. Hence, the DH.

So is Old Crow Reserve likewise an improvement on an already excellent product?

For an extra two bucks ($12.99 per 750ml versus $10.99 for classic Crow), you get a 6-proof boost from the standard 80, a badass black pinstriped label, and an extra year of oak aging. I can't remember the last time I worked through a bottle of 80-proof and thought, "Man, if only that had been 8 percent stronger, I wouldn't be so sober right now." The regular Old Crow gets me where I'm going, which is usually the 7-11 sandwich case at 3:00 a.m., and the last thing I need is further impairment that could nudge me over to the rolling-meat section. The fancier label is also irrelevant, especially in the strolling months when I drink most of my whiskey out of repurposed Big Gulp cups. That means the fourth year of barrel-aging is the Reserve's only chance to meaningfully distinguish itself from standard Old Crow.

My favorite bourbon when someone else is paying is Eagle Rare, and I prefer the 10-year to the 17. I realize that's a whole different ballgame, but it's a reminder that age isn't the sole determinant of a booze's beauty.

And Old Crow is a reminder that if age isn't the only factor, it's still a mighty big one: I tried to taste them blind, but the Reserve exposed itself right away with its assertive smell, which foreshadowed a taste that is just about the best-case scenario: like a bolder Old Crow that still knows its place, which is to say it's proud bottom-shelf royalty rather than an overly ambitious knock-off of the good stuff.

The Reserve has the quick and sweet caramel character of classic Old Crow, augmented with cinnamon and something darker and almost fruity. Most reviews call Old Crow Reserve good for mixing, but in my house it's considered great for drinking.