|Proof:||80 (40% ABV)|
Aside from the shared name and distillery, Early Times in Japan is a different product from Early
Times in the U.S.
In the U.S., Early Times is not actually bourbon, it's "Kentucky Whiskey." To be a bourbon, whiskey must be aged for at least two years in new charred oak barrels. Because 20% of Early Times comes from used cooperage, it does not meet the requirements for bourbon, but can still be called "whiskey." Under the TTB regulations, "whiskey" is anything distilled from grain that comes off the still at less than 190 proof that is stored in oak barrels (new or used) for any amount of time.
Used cooperage is not inherently worse, it just doesn't produce bourbon. Scotch, for example, is aged in used cooperage. Recently, Early Times 354, named for the DSP number of Early Times distillery and which does meet the requirements for bourbon, has been released in the U.S.
While Wikipedia states that Early Times sold outside the United States is the same product as sold inside the United States, but that, because TTB regulations do not apply to exports, it is able to marketed as bourbon, this is not true of the Early Times sold in Japan. Many Japanese sources (including Asahi, the distributor of Early Times in Japan) specifically state that the Early Times sold in Japan comes from whiskey aged in new charred (rather than used) oak barrels.
There are two expressions of Early Times in Japan: Yellow Label and Brown Label.
Early Times Yellow Label is the traditional Early Times that used to be available in the United States. Early Times Brown Label is a bottling specifically for the Japanese market that was first released in 1996. I have reviewed Early Times Yellow Label here.
Asahi describes the Yellow Label as "a classic bourbon that continues to uphold tradition" with a "light flavor, sweet aroma and nice finish." Asahi also plays up the "charcoal filtered" aspect, but, as all bourbon is charcoal filtered, this isn't a real selling point.
Asahi describes the Brown Label as having a "profoundly complex flavor and a round finish suited to the Japanese palate." It is also described as a full-bodied bourbon with an oaky nose that still retains a florid and delicate flavor. Asahi also touts that the Brown Label is "double filtered," though it provides no additional information as to the type of filtering.
The Japanese website for Early Times used to state that the Yellow Label is the Early Times mashbill (72/11/10) and that the Brown Label is the Old Forester masbhill (72/18/10). I don't know if this is still true, but, based on tasting both, I would believe it.
The nose is not complicated. It has notes of apples & honey, baked apple, caramel and a little banana. The flavor is rather sweet with notes of pancake syrup (not pure maple syrup) and banana. It has a thick syrupy mouth feel that is surprising for a young 80 proof bourbon. I think Asahi was right on with the "full bodied" description. The finish is dry and woody with some acetone toward the end.
Verdict: It's a simple and straight forward bourbon with no serious flaws, but nothing outstanding either.