By Richard Thomas
One side-effect of the Brown-Forman vs. Diageo clash in Tennessee was the focus it brought to super cheap whiskey brand Early Times. Diageo’s whiskey law proposal included a provision that would have allowed it to make used barrel whiskey and call it “Tennessee whiskey,” and the only product of note on the market that bears a resemblance is the Brown-Forman-made Early Times.
Early Times is billed as “Kentucky Whisky” for good reason, because under the law it does not qualify as any type of bourbon. New oak barrel aging is required to earn that title, and Early Times is aged for a minimum of three years in used barrels. The whiskey is bottled at 40% abv.
The “used barrel” part is instantly obvious in the glass, as Early Times has a thin, semi-translucent amber appearance that is just a shadow of what bourbon aged three years-plus in new oak would have. With an appearance like that, the nose came as a surprise: fragrantly corn sweet with a nice current of vanilla with a touch of rye spice.
On the palate, the whiskey has surprising weight. The flavor balances corn sweetness, dry oak and rye spice, and caramel and vanilla surprisingly well. That said, the whiskey is rather flat, despite having all the core elements, and is tinged with a bit of a mineral spirits bite.
The bottom line is that Early Times isn’t great, but it certainly isn’t the rotgut it is sometimes made out to be. The stuff is actually a decent product, is simple enough that ice doesn’t ruin it, and is a big winner when you consider it’s low, low price point (see below).
Early Times typically retails for $12 or $13 for a 750ml bottle.