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View Full Version : "smooth" bourbon and an argument with my father...



felthove
11-04-2008, 09:30
My father has always enjoyed american whisky and bourbon but never really began experimenting with quality bourbon until I got the itch a year or so ago. I given him several nice bottles or suggested purchases based upon my perception of his tastes and he's enjoyed many of them.

He has a buddy that's about his same age and experience level (neither read about bourbon, the styles, mashbills, the history, etc. -- it's just a purely visceral experience/reaction when they drink someting).

Last night while watching the Steelers beat the Redskins :cool: I mentioned to him that I've noticed that he and his friend typically render an opinion on a bourbon based primarily on one factor: how "smooth" it is. The result is that higher proof bourbons often aren't smooth enough for their taste (and thus they don't care for them). I was arguing that flavor profile and complexity are the real hallmarks of good bourbon and whether it's "smooth" or not isn't really a quality characteristic but one of stylistic choice (at least in the standard to premium market we're drawing from).

He was taking offense to this position and saying that some people cannot use big words to describe flavors and in the end his enjoyment comes down to how smooth the bourbon is when he assesses how well he likes it.

I, being a bit of a dick, told him the ultimate "smooth" beverage is water and he should just drink that instead if that's his main concern. As an aside I am aware that we could solve his frequent dislike of high proof bourbons by adding a little water...

Coming from a wine and beer background before bourbon I am accustomed to certain beverages having some kind of standard flavor profile or archetype, and smoothness is not always an important or even desirable characteristic. Some beverages should be loaded with tannin or highly hoppy and bitter.

How do you feel about bourbon and how "smoothness" plays into enjoyment of this "frontier" beverage?

ILLfarmboy
11-04-2008, 09:42
I guess I’m a dick too, as many on this board would likely attest to, because even before reading on I thought the same thing. Want smooth…drink water……Want smooth with a buzz? Drink vodka and water.

Gillman
11-04-2008, 09:45
An interesting question, aspects of which are explored here from time to time.

I am not sure what smooth means to people who use the expression favorably. It may mean no "bite" (therefore, e.g., no high alcohol hit as you say even though high proof whiskeys were always considered superior); it may mean no abrasive tastes such as a young bourbon might have (but not always - Maker's isn't very old but hardly abrasive); it may mean absence of "unusual" flavors (e.g., tequila's, say); it may mean absence of assertive flavors of any kind. I think for some people it means all of these and this is why vodka is the no. 1 spirit in the land.

For others, it means some of the above, and e.g., they might enjoy, say, Seagram 7 Crown over a bourbon because of its milder taste (although consumed neat it has a fair amount of rye character). So these persons still appreciate whisky character but not too much, one might say.

I like a smooth drink too but I'd use the term to mean something with a soft, silky mouthfeel but with a pronounced (but good) flavour. CC 20 would qualify, say, in contradistinction to regular CC I guess. If you compared the two side by side I'd say CC 20 is smoother in a good way. George Stagg isn't really smooth by any definition but it shouldn't be, it has a ton of taste and that is its purpose. I supposed you could smooth it down by letting the proof down to about 90 but then it isn't Geo Stagg! So in this sense I'd say that some bourbons aren't and should not be smooth, same deal for WT 101, say. If too smooth they would not mix well, either, so bourbons particularly apt for mixing should be excluded I think from the smooth class yet they are essential to the spirits market and prized by their fans no less than the smooth bourbons are by theirs.

I don't know if this helps but I have always been intrigued by the term. It is the popcorn of the spirits promotion world by which I mean it is the best and most irresistable term for marketers and many consumers when assessing spirits quality, just as popcorn is the best snack to sell in a movie theatre. No one has invented a better term than smooth to define what quality drink means for many and no one ever will, I think.

Gary

ACDetroit
11-04-2008, 10:05
I guess I’m a dick too, as many on this board would likely attest to

"I don't Care who ya R that's funny":slappin::slappin::slappin::slappin:


Felthove - I am with you 100% on this, some of the bourbon hounds and I had a tasting in February of this year and the host my dentist invited a bunch of his...lets just call them drinking buddies (not bourbon drinkers). Much to my surprise several of them were Canadian Whiskey drinkers and compare everything we poured that night to Crown, Seagram's and CC. The common response was not as "smooth" as the afore mentioned brands. Maybe he should switch to Canadian whiskey? Or as you and Brad stated just stick with water...or Kool-Aid if he really wants to kick it up a knotch!

Have fun.
Tony

fishnbowljoe
11-04-2008, 14:59
To me, I guess it's the old adage, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I can understand, and appreciate this scenario from both sides. I use the word,
"smooth" quite a bit when describing different bourbons to my friends. I also try to instill in my friends, that flavor and smoothness can be one and the same, or at completely different ends of the spectrum. The only time I kinda' become a bit of a "dick" is when I give a taste of something new to my JD drinking, bowling buddies, and they say it tastes awful. Especially when I know it's way beyond comparison to Jack.:lol:

Smooth, bitter, mellow, harsh, full bodied, full flavored, easy on the taste buds, maybe it's got a bit of a "kick". All these description's are in there somewhere. Some people just have a better sense of taste than others, and are better able to put it in words. Some like me, can tell the difference in tastes, but have a hard time describing it.

Anyway, give your dad a break. We're all in this together. Doesn't even matter how much. We're all doing our best. It's all good.:grin: Joe

sailor22
11-04-2008, 15:58
I'm thinking smooth typically refers to an absebnce of burn in the throat or that hot alcohol sensation in the nose. Either of those sensation will overwhelm a casual or first time drinker and prevent them from tasting anything.

Drinking Bourbon isn't just about taste but it is about the experience - I'm thinking the burn and heat is part of that. But I can tell you that for a delicate palate (my wife!) it can overwhelm any of the subtle flavors in the whiskey. Canadian blended drinkers are content with a less complex flavor set in exchange for "smooth" - it sort of becomes a Bourbon flavored vodka drink.

I would suggest after a few blended whiskies neet try upping the bet a bit with something like Van Winkle Lot B and see what your dad thinks. After that try something like E.T. Lee with some water to get the proof down to about 80 or 85 and see if he catches on. He may not - Canadian Blended is a big seller for a reason.

pepcycle
11-04-2008, 17:31
"Smooth" is the only positive adjective that non-whiskey drinkers have at their disposal for description of whiskey.

If you know nothing about whiskey and don't want to insult your host, the neutral response is "Really Smooth"

Gets them off the hook of having to describe any other character or flavor.

Smooth vs Not.

Its all they have in their arsenal for discussion and when I get that response, I don't go any further. Usually, the party is relieved that I don't pursue it.

Smooth is perfectly acceptable in a list of characteristics, but not as the ONLY one.
:smiley_acbt: :smiley_acbt:

ILLfarmboy
11-04-2008, 17:55
"Smooth" is the only positive adjective that non-whiskey drinkers have at their disposal for description of whiskey.

If you know nothing about whiskey and don't want to insult your host, the neutral response is "Really Smooth"

Gets them off the hook of having to describe any other character or flavor.

Smooth vs Not.

Its all they have in their arsenal for discussion and when I get that response, I don't go any further. Usually, the party is relieved that I don't pursue it.

Smooth is perfectly acceptable in a list of characteristics, but not as the ONLY one.
:smiley_acbt: :smiley_acbt:

This is precisely why when introducing new whiskey drinkers to the joys of good whiskey I always tell them what to look for when tasting. Sometimes all the neophyte has to go on is what he has seen on TV and in the movies. Never a good source of information, and not just about whiskey.

Gillman
11-05-2008, 01:49
What I've found is people who have a set of criteria to taste in one area, whether it be wine, coffees, malt whisky, beer, are usually good subjects to analyze bourbon and they will go beyond the confines of adjectives such as smooth.

But on the other hand, I think many people like the stronger taste of a bourbon or malt scotch but will use the adjective to describe their preferred type of these flavors if they lack a specialised knowledge of the drink. So e.g., someone might say Lot B is smooth as opposed to Old Crow.

I think any taster, if willing to try something different, is open to learning a fuller vocabulary for bourbon whiskey.

Gary

cas
11-05-2008, 06:43
To me, I guess it's the old adage, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Joe

I thought it was the beerholder...!
Craig