View Full Version : Will the taste of a certain mfg. bourbon change over time?
OK, this question has to do with how a batch is qualified by the distiller and the benchmarks it's compared with prior to bottling.
Over time the benchmarks (standards if you will) that they use to compare a latest vatting with as well as the people doing the tasting change. People get old and retire, the standards by which they compare a batch could run out or change over the years.
Will there be a taste change, over time, (many years) in a particular product due to the factors cited above? OR, will it be that we all get older and quit drinking or die so there is no way to tell.
The distillers have "samples" of products dating way back. These are used to ensure the taste profile stays the same or at least so they can compare.
To expand a bit, they all have rooms full of samples, identical flask-type bottles. No product labels, just white labels with the product, date and other specifications printed on it. Sometimes just a reference number written on the bottle in grease pencil or Sharpie. They're either 375 ml or 500 ml. They draw reference samples all the time, from new make to aging samples to bottling batch samples. As for standard itself, the "this is exactly what it should taste like" sample, they have a lot of that, because every time they make up a new batch to bottle, the tasting panel tastes it in comparison to the reference sample.
So personal memories shouldn't matter. The Master Distiller's vote counts for a little more than the individual members of the panel, but at bottling time it's basically the Master Distiller trying to satisfy the panel, i.e., match the reference. That's how it's done.
For something like Jim Beam white or Jack Black, they are pretty good at keeping that very consistent. With smaller brands, especially ones with extra age, it can be more difficult. If you're bottling a batch of Elijah Craig, for example, you only have so many barrels of 12+ year-old whiskey from which to choose.
It's even harder for non-distiller producers, because they usually have an even smaller universe of barrels from which to choose. Sometimes it's just easier to create a new expression than to try to match the profile of a current one.
I think that Chuck's example ensures that this month's Jim Beam White tastes like last month's, or even last year's, but it's definitely the case that the tastes of everything have varied when measured over decades.
The obvious reasons are changes in distillery (e.g. Weller from S-W to Bernheim to BT) but even within a distillery there have been changes to improve manufacturing efficiency: use of enzymes, or changes to distillation or barrel (or bottling) proof, and assuredly changes to raw materials -- water and barrel sources. As discussed on several recent threads here, Jim Beam even up to the 80s was better than today's White Label.
Yesterday's "mainstream" whiskies -- Beam, Old Grand Dad, Old Taylor, Old Forester, Wild Turkey, etc. -- seem to me almost invariably richer, fruitier and more complex than their counterparts today. I'd like to think it's a misplaced longing for the "good old days", but I've done enough blind tastings between dusties and new product to believe that it's a result of nostalgia. (There are exceptions -- today's Four Roses seems superior to the pre-blend version of the 50s and 60s; the Yellow Label is even better than the export-only version of just a few years ago!)
On the plus side, there is a much better selection of specialty and longer-aged bourbon available these days -- while I suspect that Booker's, the BTAC, OFBB or EC18 would have been much tastier in the 60s and early 70s, nobody was making them back then!
(All of this is the opinion of a consumer -- other folks here know much, much more about the realities inside the distilleries and I hope they weigh in!)
Maybe, sort of.
In this case, the hype and reality are pretty close. A product like Old Forester, or Jim Beam White, or Jack Daniel's Black, which has been made at the same distillery for many decades (in the case of Beam and Daniel's, since the 40s, since the 50s for Forester) should have changed very little.
One factor you have to consider in terms or your tasting, however, is that through the 80s and into the 90s, there was a glut and most producers were bottling a significantly older product than their standard. One side would say that what the consumer was getting then was a temporary bonus, not a new standard. The contrary argument would say that consistency should have been maintained at any cost.
Brands that have changed distilleries and producers have absolutely changed, though the current producers probably would argue that the only changes have been for the better.
I always chuckle a bit when folks speak of the "good old days (aka GOD's)" and the products available then. Clearly bourbon is far more consistent than most "products" but even here I think we have a bit of GOD's.
Several years back a group of cigar "guys" looked at the history of Havana cigars to determine why the cigars of the 60's and 70's were better then current offerings. As they looked at articles and publications from the past they found a very consistent pattern that suggested regardless of the time frame Havana cigar smokers seemed to always long for the cigars of years past. While they felt the cigars of the 60's were outstanding, the 60's generation of Havana smokers longed for the cigars of the 30's/40's.
The upside of the GOD's "romance" is that we now all have the chance to acquire the products that 20 years from now folks will wax poetically about.....
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