As a general rule, most people would be wise not to expect great things from any liquor that comes in a big-ass plastic jug with a handle for easy carrying. Especially when said jug is about twenty bucks. That's not pretension: that's reality.

That said, most people's first experience with Ancient Age tends to be the same: they see the jug, wince a little as it's poured for them, and then brace themselves for the apocalypse as they take a sip. And then: "Hey, you know, this isn't nearly as bad as I was expecting."

Let it be said that Ancient Age does not taste like garbage. I've noticed in a lot of high-end whiskey bars, Ancient Age usually pulls yeoman duty as a well bourbon, and even sees inclusion on "call" spirit lists for folks too gun-shy to order something like Woodford Reserve or Knob Creek. At about $8 a pour, Ancient Age always seems like a relative bargain, even though the markup on the cheap stuff is huuuuuuuuge. But that's consumer psychology for you. 

...But let’s not kid ourselves: Ancient Age isn’t a bourbon that’s considered great by any measure.

On one hand, it's not surprising that Ancient Age is capable, since it's essentially a budget version of Buffalo Trace. Comparing apples to apples when it comes to bourbons from the same distillery, Ancient Age is 80 proof in comparison to Buffalo Trace's 90, and spends about three years in a barrel in comparison to the (rumored) 8 to 10-year maturation of its bigger brother. While three years is, in fact, the minimum amount of time you can age a bourbon as per US law, even that short amount of time will give a spirit some teeth when you put it in virgin oak.

The good: Ancient Age is a decent enough bourbon to pour for moments that don't require a tremendous amount of critical reflection. It has a light body that delivers enough wood and corn, and there's just a kiss of rye that comes through on the development. As it sits in the mouth, it achieves that prototypical bourbon quality of balancing sweetness with the sourness of oak. Ancient Age is best in its development, where it actually tends to mellow out. If bourbon always strikes you as being brash and over-oaked, this might be something to try at some point, if only to form an opinion about.

But let's not kid ourselves, Ancient Age isn't great by any measure. The nose is pretty aggressive, with a lot of ethanol and burlap mustiness tending to dominate. Granted, most people aren't going to savor the bouquet of a three-year-old bourbon they bought at a drugstore, but the taste itself has some clear negatives. The arrival of Ancient Age is pretty much bog stock aggressive corn funk, and while (again) the development is nice, the finish is bitter, sour, and biting. For those who normally drink ALL of their bourbon as a shot to be thrown back like a cowboy, be warned: all you'll taste will be the arrival and the finish. Which is to say, all of the drawbacks with none of the benefits.

All in all, Ancient Age does make for a very capable mixer. The lower proof and generally mellower nature of the spirit would lend well to whiskey cocktails combining liqueurs or citrus, for example: I usually find that bourbon steps on a lot of more delicate components, but I made a few drinks with Ancient Age (mostly whiskey sour variants) and liked the results. However, if you want something to enjoy purely on its own, there are better, mellower options for those who really want to back away from the funk of bourbon, and far more complex and flavorful examples out there for not that much more spend.   

Nose: Liquor and dust, but surprisingly some peaches and vanilla cream as well.
Taste: An angry arrival followed by a surprisingly mellow development. Moderate oak, sweet cream, and buttery, toasted corn generally sit and chill out as you swirl the spirit around the mouth.
Finish: Swallow and it's time to get off the ride. Bitter, bracing, and sour.
Misc: 40% ABV, aged a minimum of three years. Distilled at Buffalo Trace.
Price: $20 for a big 'ol jug.
Overall Rating

I've had worse.