What exactly constitutes an “early time”? 4:30am is an awfully early time, years of getting up for far-away bike races gave me a deep dread of the alarm going off at that hour (and a half). 3:00am still seems like the middle of the night for some reason, whereas 4:30am somehow qualifies as the morning and is simply a repulsive time to wake up, especially with a bunch of dudes sifting through garish lycra outfits. Also, there’s the Paleolithic age, THAT’S an early time. Homo Sapiens finally got their act together and took over from the less tall Homo Habillis who never really stood a chance owing to their propensity to always undercook a pot roast. Mildly sophisticated tools emerged then as did the seeds of agriculture and rudimentary attempts at art and religion. The Paleolithic was definitely an earlier time than, say, 1860 when Early Times Kentucky Whisky was first made.
Early Times survived Prohibition (Happy Repeal Day on December 5th!) by being one of the 5 distillers that were allowed to make “medicinal” whiskey. They were bought in 1923 by the Brown-Forman Company who continues to own the brand to this day along with whiskies like Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve among others. Oddly enough, if you buy Early Times outside of the U.S., you’re technically buying a bourbon because all the spirit has been aged in new charred oak. Here in the states, where we consider Bourbon to be “America’s Spirit”, Early Times matures a fifth of the spirit in used charred oak barrels meaning it can’t be called bourbon and instead is just plain old Kentucky Whisky (yes, whisky…they don’t use the “E”). I have no idea why they wouldn’t sell Early Times as bourbon in the states, probably a $$$ thing. We’re patriotic here in the USA only as long as it’s financially beneficial, after that, we blame the government.
As with all Bargain Bin Friday booze, the wording on the label can be nearly as scary as what’s inside. This one’s no exception with the tagline on the front reading “Aged in oak for a taste worth the wait.” If you’re wondering about how long the wait is, the back says, “matured for at least thirty-six months in re-used cooperage.” Ahhhh…nothing speaks more to the romance of whisky than the phrase, “re-used cooperage.” I suppose that sounds better than saying something like, “stored in old barrels for three years”, but if they’re going to have me wait thirty-six months for something, the least they could do is come up with a more evocative way of letting me know what I’m in for.
The Nose: Initially, this reminded me of the way any kind of booze smells the morning after drinking too much booze…so, in a way, I guess, Early Times smells like a hangover at first. However, after giving it a few moments and letting some of the alcohol dissipate, it ends up smelling like…more alcohol. There are some vanilla, fruit and orange zest notes here, but they’re pretty mundane. It’s fairly grainy in a sharp, rough kind of way and surprisingly has a hint of a worn leather armchair which I suppose makes sense since the solvent-y furniture polish notes are the ones that stand out the most.
The Palate: The times do start early, but they’re not the best of times. Right away there’s sugar-water mixed with sharp, fairly harsh grain. I’m guessing they use a fair amount (relative, of course) of rye here because it has that bitter spiciness, but there’s just no complexity whatsoever. Really, with the exception of the sugar-sweet, cringing green-ness of this, it seems almost impressively empty. After a few palate-dulling sips, this stuff slides down the throat in a way-too-easy way that’s making me feel a little cheap and used.
The Finish: Mercifully, there’s not much of one. That wince-y rye sharpness lingers a bit longer than I wanted it to.
Thoughts: I have to say, I always feel bad about scathingly “reviewing” a whisky that comes in a plastic bottle, but then I remember that the distillery is the one that put the stuff in a plastic bottle in the first place, and if they can’t be bothered to dump their wares in glass, then I can’t be bothered to try to enjoy a whisky that’s just not that enjoyable in the first place. Early Times is neither early nor times, it’s just cheap whisky. I can’t bring myself to give it my I’m-so-clever low score of 66.6 because it isn’t as horrible as that vile family of spirits, at the same time, this stuff just isn’t worth it, it’s way too simple. Much like the Mesolithic age, another early time, Early Times, compared to a few other cheap whiskies, just doesn’t have that much to offer.