Very Old Barton Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Review

Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra)

First of all, let’s just all agree right away that at four to six years old, this Very Old Barton is not very old at all. Granted, “very old” is a pretty damn relative term. A six year old banana, for example, would widely be considered “very old”, whereas a six year old Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra)  would widely be considered a young toddler. As a completely unrelated aside, I just learned that the name Galápagos is derived from the old Spanish, galápago, meaning (possibly)…”tortoise”. Therefore, a Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is basically a Tortoise’s Tortoise, with, I’m assuming, the implication being that among Tortoises, the Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is the loftiest breed of tortoise you could ever want to meet. Given that a Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) can weigh up to 550 lbs.(!) and live to be 170 years old, I think we can also all agree the name is apt.

VOB-green 86As I was saying, Very Old Barton Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey…is not very old. Even by whisk(e)y standards, it’s not very old. Very old bourbon is, what the hell, let’s say 20 years old or more. Six year old bourbon is still in the horribly awkward stage where you date all the wrong people, commit completely to a philosophy, or author, or band which, 10 years down the road, you’ll wince at the memory of. This isn’t to say six year old bourbon isn’t good, it can be very, very good…it’s just not “very old”. Plus, these days, we don’t even know how old Very Old Barton is. Sure, by law, it’s gotta be at least two years old, but past that, it’s not an exact science. It used to say “6 years old” on the bottle, but, in late 2013 (I think), in a stroke of marketing genius, Buffalo Trace, removed the “years” and the “old” part of “6 years old” and just left a rather ambiguous “6” up there on the neck of the bottle. If you need more background on the subject, I’ll refer you to the always excellent Sku’s Recent Eats who looked into the move a bit more completely 

Six hand crafted what?

Why the fuck would you do away with the age statement on a bottle of whisk(e)y, yet decide to keep the number of that former age statement on the label of the bottle? I understand opting for a non-age statement version, it eases supply demands, and makes things more flexible for a company. I don’t really care for the idea, but I understand it. But to change a brand’s age yet decide to keep the most prominent indicator of that age on the label is sneaky at best, definitely shameful, nefarious at worst, and just a little asshole-ish in general. So, just in case you’re fondling a bottle of Very Old Barton, just know that the “6” on the bottle’s neck is only an indicator of Sazerac’s/Buffalo Trace’s great desire to more or less fool you into thinking you’re buying something you’re really not.

Ok, with all that hot-headed wind-baggery out of the way, we can finally take a look the actual bourbon inside a bottle of Very Old Barton. Distilled at the Barton 1792 Distillery (formerly known as Old Tom), and aged for approximately four to six years, Very Old Barton comes in a variety of alcohol-by-volume guises: an 80 proof, the 86 proof we’re looking at here, a 90 proof and a bottled-in-bond 100 proof.

The Nose:  A nice, straightforward, “bourbon” nose. Carmel corn and baked apple are responsible for much of the sweetness, with a little orange juice thrown in for good measure. Balanced nicely by some vanilla bean, cinnamon & sugar toast, and damp, sawn oak. Subtler notes of coconut creme, Christmas spice, and burnt toffee in the background.

The Palate:  A bit punchier than the nose with early brown sugar and orange sweetness, and quite a bit more vanilla. A bit of boiled sweet corn makes an appearance as well. While the rye is still very subtle, it’s more present on the palate than the nose. Slightly edgy oak leads to spicier notes of cinnamon, clove, and black pepper.

The Finish:  The finish grows a little minty hot and quickly tannic and drying with oaky cinnamon and clove and briefly lingering hints of that boiled sweet corn.

Thoughts:  Very Old Barton has a reputation of being a unheralded yet excellent value bourbon, and I’d say I have to agree with that. There’s nothing earth-shattering happening here, it’s a fairly straightforward, high-corn-mashbill bourbon, but it progresses nicely and is fairly well-balanced. There are some sharp edges to it, but I found it much smoother than expected. The quite dry, somewhat spirit-y finish comes out of nowhere a bit, but overall, this is a terrific bourbon for the money. Usually found for around $12-$16, I think I’d even have to say this just edges out my usual go-to cheap bourbon, Evan Williams.

Very Old Barton Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky, bourbon, OB ~2014

43% abv

Score:  80

*As a completely unrelated aside, I usually like to include my own pics of bottles when I can, but in this case, the label was quite askew in one direction and the actual bottle was misshapen and leaned a bit in the other direction. I tried taking pictures of it, but to be honest, the pics looked so off, they made me a little sick-to-my-stomach to even look at ’em…so that’s why there’s the standard promo shot instead. Though why I’m worried about bottle shots making anyone nauseous and also including pictures of wanton tortoise sex with abandon admittedly seems a little inconsistent. 


33 thoughts on “Very Old Barton Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Review

  1. And I thought I was a curmudgeon! You make me look easy going. I like that about you!

    Not Very Old Barton sounds lovely. May have to seek this out. Always good to have reasonably priced, good quality bourbon on hand.

    1. I’m really less of a curmudgeon and more of a soft-hearted, disdainful, somewhat baleful mild misanthrope.

      But yeah, when it comes to really cheap bourbon, this is one of the good ones

    1. Because you’re not looking in the stores that have the 90 proof VOB in stock! Seriously, though, I share your pain and I have no idea. I’m always on the lookout for the bottled in bond version but never see it, nor the 90. Actually, lately, I don’t even remember seeing any VOB on the shelves. Sorry I can’t be of more help, good luck!

  2. This is a great, very funny write-up. You’ve got a gift. And you’re correct about the shadiness of leaving the “6” on the neck labels. They did the same crap with Old Charter, sadly. You also nailed the Bourbon, itself. I go for Evan Williams Bottled in Bond at about the same price but love VOB in all version except for the 80 Proof, which is passable but no more. But I’ll drink it, have drunk it and will again soon, no doubt and God willing.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Josh, I appreciate it.

      I just picked up a bottle of Evan W’s BiB, haven’t seen it in these parts before. Review to come…sometime this year.

      1. Evan Williams Bonded. You can spend a lot more money and not get more bourbon. Barton Bonded is my daily driver. I’m fortunate that I can get it with a ten minute drive. Growing up in the bourbon country of KY, I’d far rather a bourbon that’s been made the same way for 100 years than some fashion boutique bourbon that’s been made since Wednesday, I don’t care what the rating is.

    2. We all realize things just aren’t like they used to be . I’m like you folks- if the hootch is X number of years aged, it should be on the jug. But let’s also realize there are a whole lot of folks that buy bourbon by their “ snob” factor. IE- it’s this old, it’s this , proof, it’s cured in, and all this crap. They wouldn’t know a good tasting bourbon from rot gut. Why, because the don’t know that each palate is different, and only 2 drops of good water can totally change how the bourbon tastes to you. And in reality, that’s all that counts. I just poured me double shot over ice, the first sip had a very slight bite. Now after a little bit of ice melt it’s pure heaven. For the price this Old Barton is pretty damn good. I have perhaps spilled more bourbon in my 77 years than most folks have seen. Bottom line, if you enjoy the taste who really cares how old they claim it is. So enjoy & God Bless. As long as it’s good American “stuff” & not imported. We all should be happy

  3. I tried a bottle about two years ago, I was pleasantly surprised, I was sold on 12 year old Wellers, I think for the price, my choice will and has been, very old Barton’s, I could care less how old it is, I buy it by the case when I can find a case, keep up the good work, send some free samples of the 90 or 100 proof , I would love to try it. Thanks. Larry j. Baimbridge Sr.

  4. I found 750ml bottles of 86 proof VOB for $5.46. I bought all that was left, which was only three. Ancient Age is my ‘go to’ cheap Bourbon but this works…

  5. Great review! I have no idea was Christmas spice is (but guess it’s a blend of nutmeg, coriander, etc. – the stuff in Christmas cookies), and my palate is nowhere near as sensitive as yours apparently is (and my descriptive adjectives nowhere near as varied). I, too, bemoan the despicable trend in the bourbon industry to jettison age statement. Elijah Craig, my go to bourbon (albeit twice the price of VOB), no longer says 12 yr old anywhere on the bottle (first Heaven Hill put it on the back, and then it disappeared completely). The bourbon craze monster generates too much demand, and all the distillers (and non-distilling “craft” marketers) are out to make hay while the sun shines. After 2 decades of bourbon drinking (and collecting — yes, I’ve got some 20 yr old PVW), I’m shifting my focus to those under-rated cheapo Bourbons, esp., BIB, and I hope you’ll continue to point the way!

    1. Thanks, Dan! Yeah, the disappearing age statement thing is frsutrating. It’s been happening for years in the Scotch world and, like you said, thanks to the bourbon craze, we’re starting to see it more and more in the bourbon world. There are still some great values out there, but sadly, I think those are gaining in popularity, too. As an example, Old Grand-Dad BIB recently got a makeover and went up in price. I guess we gotta grab ’em while we can!


  6. What a Christmas gift this write up was. I just poured myself a glass of not Very Old Barton BIB and figured I’d read a bit about it while sipping. The tasting notes were fun to read while trying to tease out each nuance you point out. On top of that, turtle porn!!! Can an article get better? I submit that it cannot!

  7. Thank you
    First time trying it and it is fairly good
    More than that need to thank you for making me smile/laugh

    My go to whiskey is Tomatin but this ‘very old whatever’ is surprising

    1. You’re most welcome! It was fun writing that one so it’s always nice to hear that someone has fun reading it. At the moment, there are still some crazy good values in bourbon, though they’re getting rarer (not as rare as in the Scotch world, tho’.) VOBarton is definitely one of those inexpensive gems.


  8. My usual bargain bourbon is Old Grand Dad. As a working (and occasionally starving) writer, it’s well within my “Today wasn’t payday but what the hell” budget. Having tried Henry McKenna, which is cheaper than OGD and rightly deserves to be, Grandpappy hasn’t been dethroned yet.

    I just picked up a bottle of what I will now refer to as Not Very Old Barton Bottled In Bond, and we’ll see how it fairs against the greybeard.

    1. I love OGD Bottled in Bond, but I haven’t tried the lower proof version in a long, long time. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts comparing the two.

      I wish I could find the Barton Bottled in Bond in these parts, I’d love to do a head-to-head with Old Grand Dad.

      Thanks for the comment,


  9. Just got a bottle today, opened it with hesitation but I was pleased and surprised. Not bad for the price a definite re-purchase.

    1. Glad you liked it, and glad you could find it! It’s no Pappy Van Winkle, but it’s also no secret that this one is a great value. I hardly ever see it on the shelves lately.


  10. Just bumped into two bottles on the shelf at the Kings ABC store here in Virginia… …like a kid in a candy store I noticed something out of place and ventured a question to the two young men tending the cash register – they said it was a rare breed in the VA. stores and many folks have commented on the grand experience and re-purchase with pride… …so I bought two.

    …excellent product for the price – on par with its bite.

    smooth and mellow… …I would give it a point or two myself, but I only drink every day.

  11. Nice review….I like VOB when I’m being budget conscious. I have been made fun of for drinking it, but it’s a “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it” kind of thing. The price is off putting to some, but low price doesn’t always mean it’s junk, obviously.

  12. Thank you! I think those that are making fun of you for drinking VOB are either just jealous, or are people that think a $50 bottle of vodka is really something special. Screw them. What’s off-putting to me is the inevitable disappearance of all these low-price, high-quality bourbons. The industry is phasing them out, that’s for sure.

    Thanks for the comment, cheers!

    1. I have had the 6 year VOB BIB and the current bottle I have is the NAS version. It’s been such a long time between offerings that I don’t really remember the differences. I also currently have a bottle of the 86 proof because I couldn’t find a 750 of the 90 proof at the time. It’s decent, but in a flash of brilliance, I thought, “why not just buy the 100 proof bonded version and add a little water if I want something softer?” Anyway, a couple days ago, at a local store, I noticed they still have four handles of the BIB with the big “6” on the neck. A quick google search looking for info on when they dropped the 6 lead me to your article. Looks like they stopped that at the end of ’13? So those bottles have been sitting around for a bit. That may be one of my next cheap whiskey grabs, marketing trickery and all. We visited the Barton Distillery a few months back and it was by far one of my favorite tours to date. You don’t really get to see much inside the distillery, but the tour was free because it isn’t on the trail, so maybe that’s why I enjoyed it over a few of the others I’ve paid for. Funny write up. Great review. Definitely a drink that people shouldn’t be overlooking, if they indeed are, due to location on the shelf. Cheers.

      1. Damn, awesome find! Hope you pick up a jug or four. And thanks for the tip on the tour. Giving Barton a visit has honestly never been on my radar, I’ll have to re-think that.

        Thanks for the comment, Mike.


  13. Can’t see having a shot of expensive bourbon with a 32 oz can of Milwaukees Best. VOB seems like a good match though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.