We've talked about Bourbon and rye and even American single malts, but Early Times is something different, slightly. A Brown-Forman product, Early Times labels itself as Kentucky Whiskey, but what does that mean and what differentiates it from Bourbon?
You'll find the answer in the small print. On the side of the bottle, there is a notation: "Matured at least thirty-six months in reused cooperage." Bourbon, as you may recall, must be aged in new oak barrels. Because Early Times reuses barrels, it cannot be called Bourbon. Instead, Brown-Forman has chosen to label it Kentucky Whiskey.
While Bourbon must legally be aged in new barrels, there is nothing inherently wrong with reusing barrels. Nearly all single malt Scotch is aged in used barrels, many of them Bourbon barrels, since the single use rule for Bourbon makes Kentucky's distillers a good source of barrels. Indeed, some Scotch distilleries reuse barrels multiple times. It's not necessarily a bad thing to create a corn-based whiskey aged in used barrels; it's just not Bourbon.
Early Times Kentucky Whiskey, (Brown-Forman) 3 years old, 40% alcohol ($10)
The nose has some banana, honey and rubbing alcohol (mmm, flavored rubbing alcohol). The initial taste is a bit nicer than that with some corn and fruit, a very light taste; going down it's a bit on the harsh side. The finish is light and quick. A touch of water brings out the wood, but it's a flat wooden taste at the expense of the nicer notes.
I wouldn't say that this an objectionable whiskey, but there's not much too it.