During my last visit to the Navy Exchange, I noticed the "Military Special" bourbon and scotch. I enjoy my spirit drinks from time to time so I decided it would be interesting to learn more about the product and what makes it so “special”. Brands like this are usually made by a major distributor but labeled differently and sold at a discounted price in order not to lower the value of the actual brand.
Military Special is Kentucky straight Bourbon made by Barton Distillery and can be found at any local Military Exchange PX of military US bases all around the world. This bourbon is aged for four years and 80-proof bottled. More importantly, it’s sold to active duty and retired service members below the market rate.
The Barton 1792 Distillery was founded in 1879 by Ben Mattingly in Bardstown, Kentucky. Fun fact: Bardstown is called "The Bourbon Capital of the World." The town is also the home for other three big production facilities: Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, and Maker's Mark.
The Barton 1792 Distillery facility is massive: 51 individual structures, 29 storage rick-houses, and hundreds of acres. The rick-houses could hold up to 2,000,000 barrels of Bourbon (around 530 million bottles).
If you’re interesting on an online tour of the Distillery here is a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVZ-cSODERc&feature=emb_title
As stated above, "Military Special" is only available on a base and service members get great deals for a bottle. The label specifies its straight bourbon whiskey, meaning its real bourbon and not a flavored neutral spirit. Surfing the internet, I found all types of reviews. It appears people are skeptical at the beginning because of the price. Here are some examples:
“I tried it neat. My first impression was the light mahogany color. It smelled a bit "hot" but there was plenty of woodsiness, corn, grains, a bit of caramel, and spice. All in all, a pretty "basic" smell.
As I tasted it, I expected to be repulsed. Surprise, it was decent! The initial taste was oak, corn, and sweetness, transitioning into a bit of caramel and vanilla. It was the definition of "thin" as the tastes weren't that prominent and they didn't last long at all. I don't recall anything in particular about the "feel."
It reminded me a bit of Old Bardstown black label, but with less taste, feel, and finish. If I had to guess, I would say that "Military Special" is sourced from the same place as Old Bardstown with the better juice going in the Old Bardstown bottles.”
“Many people "poo poo" bourbons at this price point. I'm a disciple of the "there is no bad straight bourbon" philosophy ... I can appreciate a young 2 or 3 year old bourbon ... and recognize that a 4 year old value priced bourbon is what it is ... a great value at $16 for 1.75L.”
“So I was pleasantly surprised when this cheap hooch had a nose full of cherry and fruit notes, a taste that was pleasantly sweet, and a lingering aftertaste of caramel and oak. It ain’t Maker’s 46 or Blanton’s, but it tastes better than a few bottles that cost more than twice as much. So, I can see why people would call it a good value.”
Obviously, we all have different tastes and we’re looking for different qualities when we want to enjoy a good bourbon. 1792 is aged far longer than the Military Special brand and has a better quality but it comes with a higher price. I love good bourbon and have bottles that cost $20 and some above $75. Price is all about quality and marketing. Sometimes your paying for a great taste but others you are just paying a high price for an average drink because of a great marketing department.
I will say if you're going to mix your bourbon with soda then you are wasting your money if you go above average pricing. Military Special is actually an average bourbon at below average price. I would love to hear other opinions and how much you liked or disliked the Military Special. If you haven’t tried it, and are looking for an affordable bourbon, give it a try! You may be pleasantly surprised, and your pocket will not be harshly punished for it.