Trader Joe’s Bourbon Review

Trader Joe's Bourbon Review

The first thing you need to know about the Trader Joe’s bourbon is that they didn’t actually distill it. There isn’t a Trader Joe’s distillery hanging out in Kentucky where you can have a whiskey tasting accompanied by peanut butter filled pretzels and sesame coated cashews. This is a private labeling of another distillery’s work and that distillery is the one and only Buffalo Trace.

Before you go running on down to TJ’s thinking you got yourself one hell of a bargain on some quality BT juice you need to hold your horses and hear the rest of the story. While the distiller is Buffalo Trace it doesn’t come from the same distillery that makes the Buffalo Trace we know and love. It comes from their Barton 1792 Distillery which makes their other bourbons like Ten High, Very Old Barton and 1792 Ridgemont Reserve.

The first thing I noticed when opening the bottle is how sweet this bourbon is and how much the rye sticks out. It’s beyond the typical sweetness of bourbon (brought on by corn and newly charred oak) and almost borders on dessert territory which initially I kinda liked, but quickly became cloying and was accompanied by a creeping stringency. This isn’t a bourbon I could drink all night at a get-together and it definitely couldn’t be a daily drinker for me either.

Overall I’d say that at it’s price it’s not too bad and you could definitely do a lot worse. It’s not terrible neat, it’s a little better on the rocks, decent in cocktails and if you like to cook with bourbon as much as I do it’s absolutely fantastic for that. I’ve used it in many dishes and the sweetness works really well in sauces, glazes, batters or in a brown sugar bourbon sauce for ice cream. You could definitely do worse for $15, but for only $5 more you can also do a whole lot better.

If you’ve tried the Trader Joe’s Bourbon I’d love to hear your thoughts or tasting notes in the comments below.

Trader Joe’s Bourbon Review

ABV: 45%
Price: $15
Distiller: Buffalo Trace (Barton 1792 Distillery)

Golden brown with a touch of red

Caramel comes shooting out of the glass followed by some mildly oaky toffee and a bit of orange peel like citrus. There is some vanilla in there, but it’s feint and competes with rye, some tropical fruit, molasses, banana bread and an astringency that gets stronger with time.

Again the sugary sweet caramel is bold upfront and followed by a healthy dose of bourbon spice. A bit of cinnamon, something akin to kettle corn and a mild oakiness play tag with a light bit of vanilla. There is some astringency creeping around in there that adds an odd element to the whole flavor.

A bit dry but remarkably smooth.

Caramel quickly fades to a woody dark fruit and dill finish that is very short lived.

SCORE: 83/100

Josh Peters

Josh Peters

I read about, think about, write about, and drink whisk(e)y. In short, it's my passion.
Josh Peters

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33 Responses to Trader Joe’s Bourbon Review

  1. Just starting to develop an appreciation for bourbon. I was thrilled to find out that Trader Joes was from Buffalo Trace. I’m still experimenting in the $15 – 26,27 dollar 750ml range before I spend on a Eagles Rare or something else with more age that I can find. W.L Weller special reserve, Buffalo Trace, Old Bardstown, Evan Williams white label, Wild Turkey 101, Bulleit, are some I’ve been tasting lately. Trader Joes can definitely hang with all of these but yeah, it is kinda peppery and rough. too hot sip on like Wild Turkey. I think I’ll keep drinking W.L. Weller and a ice cube but keep a bottle of Trader Joes around and some rootbeer for guests.

    • Hi Ernie,

      Thanks for the comment. the Weller stuff is great and I’ll be doing all 3 (107, Reserve ad 12 yr) next week and you can never go wrong wit WT101. It’s one of my favorites. Love hearing about people just getting into bourbon and trying things out. Sounds like you’ve got a nice tasting game plan going on there. Cheers.

  2. Great breakdown for this bourbon — more attention than it deserves, if I may be honest. To my palette, that aftertaste builds to unpleasant proportions in very short order. My expectations weren’t high for a $15 bottle of rough bourbon, but the next time I want an economy bottle, I’ll stick to Overholt or Old Grand-Dad.

    • I’m not sure what else they have right now since they cycle through what they carry so often, but I’ve seen Wild Turkey 101 for $20. I’m going there on Sat and I’ll see what they’re currently carrying.

      • I thought it was pretty good for the price, and I have drunk many different bourbons for a long time. If you want to spend a couple more dollars, Old Forester is hard to beat for the well bourbon in the home bar, and Old Fo Signature for maybe five more dollars outshines many bourbons that cost 10-15 dollars more.

  3. I disagree. I have spent much more on much worse. I think the TJ is remarkabke, especially for the price. This joins Four Roses Small Batch as my “always on hands.”

  4. Bourbon tasters are like kids liking ice cream. All have different favorites. Never let cost determine what bourbon that you like best. always let it be taste. Just keep trying different ones and settle on the one that YOU like best. It will not always be the most expensive and probably will fall in the middle price range. Proof has a lot to do with how one perceives bourbon………amen.

  5. Recommended by 2 TJ workers that saw me checking it out. I’m all in for sweet notes. I got sweet start that fades to a thin slightly dry high alcohol or astringency as you say. Nothing to write home about I guess. Drinkable. I like the “plain jane ” bottle

  6. In my not-so-humble opinion, this Trader Joe’s Bourbon is extremely mediocre, even for the price point. Far too rough to be enjoyed neat, and as another reviewer mentioned, the aftertaste does build to intolerable proportions very quickly. I can drink many $15-20 bourbons neat, all night… but not this one. I found myself chasing it to kill the aftertaste… not what I’m after in a bourbon. It is officially relegated to the mixer collection. Sorry Trader Joe’s, I love your groceries. Sorry Buffalo Trace, you do good work. But this bourbon leaves a lot to be desired. I’ll take a $12 bottle of Jim Beam white label over this one any day, or spend an extra ten bucks for Bulleit or Makers Mark. In short, skip this one and move on.

  7. I left a glass of neat TJ bourbon out over night and it _settled_: brown stuff at the bottom. Clear, foul tasting stuff floating above. I have never seen another whiskey do this. Makes me wonder, is this really bourbon?
    Could someone else try to replicate my experiment: Pour one shot into a small glass and let sit for 24 hours. Does it separate?

    • Odd that it would do that in your glass, but not in the bottle. Nonetheless I’m pouring a glass right now and setting it on top of my liquor cabinet. Will check tomorrow when I get home from work.

  8. Just want to say that I love the blog, and have been telling some buddies of mine that are bourbon drinkers (most of them are) about it. Nothing but good things to say. Anyways, as my blantons bottle is down to its last 1-2 drinks and I don’t want it to be ‘gone’, I’m sipping on some TJ bourbon as I write this. I agree with your review, though I feel it’s really solid for the price. It’s true that another 5-7 bucks gets you into another tier of bourbon, but it’s very easy to drink and it’s were my wife shops, so what the hell. Its a good house bourbon. Anyways, keep up the good work.

    • Hey Scott,

      Thanks, I really appreciate it! I know exactly how you feel getting to the end of a bottle you really like. It’s hard to let go because you don’t want the experience to end. TJ’s is a definitely a decent drinker for the price, no doubt and even when I’m cooking with it I pour myself a glass to sip 🙂

      Cheers man!

  9. I bought my first bottle of TJ’s bourbon today. Poured a couple fingers in a glencarin and let it breath. Same notes as you described including my first couple sips. I generally like to try newbies neat. Then I added about a 1/4 tsp of water. . .WOW did that ever open up this drink. Much better on the nose and a little better ‘legs’ in the glass. . . .and the finish went to my toes! I generally enjoy higher proof bourbons with a touch of water. This one is as nice as VOB and 1792. Thanks for the post. I’ve subscribed to your news letter and am looking forward to more well written notes!

  10. Thanks for writing this review. TJ’s Bourbon made it into my local store here in KC very recently here (and google brought me to your site)…that, or I’ve just not seen it / it’s been sold out whenever I happen into the liquor department. I found it interesting they’ve contracted to have their own bourbon and also overdue. I’m still enthused to try it, but it sounds to me like it compares to their house brands of beer – ambitious expectations, but a somewhat disappointing execution that leaves the drinker wanting.

    I’m wondering how this compares to say, Costco’s house bourbon that’s also made by Buffalo Trace from what I understand. It’s $5 more at $20/750ml. I find Costco’s to be a very competent mixer, but not a sipper for me.

    My favorite sipping bourbon at the moment is Jefferson’s Small Batch. Also like Maker’s Mark 46 and Four Roses Small Batch is also pretty tasty.

    I’m curious if anyone was able to replicate the experiment of not_TJ above, leaving a glass overnight and seeing separation the next day. Josh, what were your results?

    • Hey Steve,

      I didn’t get any separation, just the typical oxidization that happens when you leave whisky out that long. I haven’t had the Costco stuff yet, but you’re not the first person to ask how the Costco brands compare to the TJ’s brands so maybe I need to pick some of them up and see.

  11. It’s interesting to read your review. As a relatively new to bourbons, I had basically the same thoughts, especially the rye taste. I wasn’t a big fan. However that’s not why I find it interesting.

    After tasting it, I put the bottle at the back of my liquor cabinet only to use it for company and parties (they wouldn’t tell the difference).
    Recently I decided to do a blind taste test between: 4 roses small batch, 4 roses single barrel, woodfords reserve, and I threw in the TJs bourbon just for kicks. My thinking is that I’d immediately know what the TJs one is, and that’s the baseline for anything you consider a bourbon.

    I tasted all of them neat and eliminated one right away as least favorite and ranked the rest. Guess which one I liked the most. Haha. I couldn’t believe it, TJs. It’s actually amazing what the mind can do when knowing what’s on the label. FYI, I immediately eliminated the Woodfords reserve. I’m. It saying anyone with experience would find the same result, and this is all opinion, but I urge you to try it I. A BLIND taste test. I’m blown away.
    I’m not sure what to do now.

  12. My wife was sweet enough to pick up a bottle of TJ’s for me. As I’ve read all the posts, it makes me wonder about the consistency of the different batches. I do enjoy Basil Hayden and Makers Mark, but even find that sometimes the tastes can be a tad off on Makers, consistency-wise. It leads me to believe, that the lesser priced bourbons might be more apt to have slightly different tastes. I’ll never forget when a friend of mine brought over a bottle of Jack Daniels, and left it behind. My taste for JD, at that point had waned, but that particular bottle tasted really good…and my wife noticed it as well. Maybe I’m stating something obvious here, but regardless, I’ll try another bottle of TJ’s and hope it tastes like this one….

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