By Richard Thomas
Among straight bourbon whiskeys standards, few brands have quite the same reputation for low cost and reliability as Ancient Age. The brand has been around since after the Second World War, and for a long time the bourbon was the entry-level whiskey and big bulk seller of the George T. Stagg Distillery, now known as Buffalo Trace. Indeed, Stagg was sometimes referred to as the Ancient Age Distillery. Back when I was a college student working in a bowling alley, a handful of the Ancient Age workers formed a distillery team for one of the league nights.
Basic Ancient Age is a young straight bourbon bottled at 80 proof, and although there is no aging statement the contents are roughly three years old. That youth is plain to the eye, since the coloring is a pale amber, something like gold with a little copper mixed in.
Keeping all that in mind, the nose is surprisingly rich and floral, thick with corn sweetness and orange zest, with a teaspoon of vanilla added in for good measure. From a sniffing point of view, this is actually quite a good bourbon.
On the palate, Ancient Age veers back to expectation. The whiskey offers the core bourbon flavors — corny sweet, a little spice, caramel, vanilla — with a touch of dry woodiness, but the texture is much too thin to progress beyond. Following that young and thin line, the finish is nice and warm, but otherwise undistinguished.
The price tag is where Ancient Age has always been a winner. Unremarkable it might be, but a fifth (750 ml) is routinely available for $13 or less. Even the one liter bottles rarely run more than $17, and the most expensive I have ever seen a 1.75 liter bottle go for with my own eyes is $20.