View Full Version : The dreaded blind taste test.
All bourbon drinkers should do this twice a year.
Take 2 bottom rung bourbons(Jim Beam, Early Times etc...), 2 mid rung, 2 premium and 2 single batch and have someone that you can trust pour number them in a shot glass 1-8 in a random manner while you are in another room. Have them jot the brands down by number ( a must)
Take a tasting of each and do not try and guess, but rank them in order of preference, then you can guess which brand is which.
2 things you will be shocked to find. 1. Your favorite bourbon isn't really your favorite. 2. You will make major mistakes in guessing the brands. You'll probably get 50% correct.
Why? Because enjoying a brand is 70% non-taste values. Bottle shape, label, brand imagery, price position, name are much more important than taste. Your mind anchors toward these associations which lead to a better bourbon experience
Many of the average brands do better in taste tests because they actually taste better. Low Complexity and short finishes are what people really like. Don't believe me?
What is the number 1 selling ice cream flavor? Vanilla,
number 2 is Chocolate. Not Blackberry-Butterscotch Chip.
I'm a victim myself of this and even though Bookers is my favorite, I know that I'm anchoring all the trappings that come with the brand. I like how it makes me feel. However, I'm a marketing professional who knows a lot of the tricks.
Do you have the guts to take the test?
The results will leave you puzzled, if you are honest with the results (and no practicing).I bet no one will get all 8 correct and very few will name their alledged favorite as the brand they pick #1 blindly.
I found this thread and saw there were no replies!!!!
What Thors Hammer says makes some sense.
I do blind taste tests with friends and he is right... nobody can pick out their favorite brand of bourbon!
Is this why there were no replies? Because everyone is afraid to admit that the enjoyment of bourbon is about a lot of factors, not just taste? Is this why people buy different brands and profess to like certain brands, over all others?
In other words, maybe nobody is an expert! I asked Fred Noe if he only drank bourbon. He said "No, I like Scotch once in a while." He also admitted that bourbon brands are a matter of preference, not necessarily taste.
I would like to start a thread about blind bourbon tasting in the near future.
Tonight is not the night for that, however.
Until then, how about replying to Thors Hammer's comments... http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/rolleyes.gif
I didn't reply to this particular thread but did attend a blind tasting recently. The bourbons and Tennesse tasted were Rowan's Creek, EC 18 years old, EC 12 years old, Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniels, and Birthday Bourbon. I scored the EC 18 first, and then in order, Rowan's Creek, Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Birthday Bourbon, EC 12, Jack. I guessed correctly only the Jack and the Buffalo Trace. I was a little surprised at the lower standing of Birthday Bourbon and EC 12. However each bottle of these varies and when tasting these two after in sight of the labels I felt they were not as good as previous samples. My pick of EC 18 and Rowan's Creek as the top choices showed my liking for rich bourbons of character. Sometimes I find older bourbons a bit woody but again these samples were very good and so it did not surprise me I picked them as 1 and 2. My selection of the Trace, Woodford and and Birthday Bourbon as next in line made sense because these are very good mid-shelf products. They scored fairly close in points as well, I should add. Putting Jack last was no surprise because it does not offer much complexity. So with one or two surprises, I felt the showing did indicate my basic likes and dislikes. I agree it is a good exercise to do this. Sometimes a whiskey will taste "different" when tasted blind, e.g., the Trace had an interesting "spearmint" flavour which I think was the rye component which I had not "noticed" previously. I also agree that to an extent, bottle shape and labels can affect perception. Yet this tasting did not show any results dramatically different from what I would state if the labels had all been in view.
Ok, I'll speak up here.
nobody can pick out their favorite brand of bourbon!
For me, most of what 'hooch & Hammer say is true. We have played this game. I can most likely tell the difference between a wheat or rye mashbill and attempt to judge the age (give or take 5 years... http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif). Even tho I grew up with Bourbon, I can't discern the flavors, etc. that some on this board can. I know what I like, but I'm still learning nuances. Basically, I just know whether to swallow or spit... http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smirk.gif
However, I can tell you that I have witnessed at least 3 people on this board (past & present) pick up a glass of Bourbon without knowing what was in it, and correctly identify the distillery and/or label. Once you see it done, you realize you are in the presence of a master... http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/bowdown.gif
Made me want to study harder,
FYI, there was a very similar thread that generated several replies, including mine (http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/showthreaded.php?Cat=&Board=Tasting&Number=9807&Fo rum=All_Forums&Words=knob%20creek%20van%20winkle%2 0rye%20morefield&Match=And&Searchpage=0&Limit=25&O ld=allposts&Main=9722&Search=true#Post9807). As you can see, I found the whole experience too disturbing to repeat. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/crazy.gif
I haven't tried it, but I don't doubt your predicted results for a moment.
Marketing is both an art and science, and it's hard to escape its influence, even when you're alert. The first post I made among this community expressed my desire to get past the "marketing crap", and identify true value.
I hate walking into a store to buy something when I don't know in advance exactly what I want, and why. As soon as I am standing in front of a broad display of similar products, without any REAL information or experience, I realize I am at the mercy of packaging, price-point, and brand name familiarity. I hate finding myself in that position; I feel like I am not in control. There IS power in a name, and everyone who has ever done business knows it.
When I was on a beer kick a while ago, I developed a simple goal: learn to really TASTE beer, and then try them all. I may not have tried them ALL, but I tried a good many, and the result was that I know what I like in a beer. I am doing the same thing with bourbon now, but still, the non-taste factors are difficult to unravel. I realized, consciously, last night, as I hefted the Buffalo Trace bottle in my hand, that I did, in fact, like the bottle and the lable. "Nice presentation," I thought. Contemporary art design, earthy colors, and an Old-West theme. And a cork. I had paid enough for it to think that I bought a decent bottle of whiskey, yet I did not think the price to be prohibitive. Somehow, inexplicably, (because human beings are not rational creatures,) it becomes difficult to divorce the non-taste elements from the total product experience.
When I hear a Sc--ch snob say that he doesn't drink blended whisky, it makes me want to do a blind test with him, and see if his palate is really as discerning as he thinks it is.
I've read about blind tobacco/cigar tests, too, which yield similar results. Divorce the brand image from the product, and leave the consumer with taste alone, and the results can be surprising.
Excellent thread. This is a fascinating topic, to me.
Some people say they shouldn't be held to recall, blind, a bourbon (or whatever) they ought to know well. Some professional tasters say that they will not always guess the brand because they have such a huge memory of tastes to choose from. This is not (entirely!) disingenuous. If the profiles or parts of them are in your head for fifty whiskeys you will not get a bulls-eye everytime. And, of course many bourbons are similar to each other; the taste spectrum, as mentioned many times on these boards, is relatively narrow, so it is easy to confuse brands even when one knows the brands being blind-tasted. I could see, say, Rowan Creek being mistaken for ORVW 13 year old rye.
But here is another point: when I see that imagery you mentioned of the Buffalo Trace bottle, i.e., when as almost always I see the bottle I am drinking from, it reminds me of what the bourbon tastes like. Even now I can say it: a nutty/chocolately taste (kind of the bourbon counterpart to Dalmore Cigar Single Malt), complex, nutmeg, tangy, too. So I have been "signalled", or rather reminded, of what to expect. Absent this signalling, it is harder to place those flavours for the reasons earlier mentioned. However, clearly, the more unique a flavour is, the easier it is spot blind. Jack Daniel's is very distinctive in this regard, it has a pungent, easily recognisable taste.
Do I think something tastes good because it is dressed up in an expensive-looking get up? I don't think so. I think Johnnie Walker Blue Label is pretty poor stuff for the price. I wouldn't buy it for half the money, in fact. I would buy the JW Gold because it is a much more assertive, interesting drink of blended scotch whisky; that it is less than half the price of JW Blue is a bonus.
People know what's good, you can't hide quality. People here know Evan Williams 7 year old bourbon is great value for the money. Doesn't matter that the packaging is not lush. Contrarily, I think some of the Jim Beam small batch line up is just average (Knob Creek and Booker's are good but the rest just okay by me) even though some of their packaging is alluring and "classy" (e.g., for Baker's). I agree if one does not know one's way around a consumer product one often goes by packaging/media advertising. But as you also pointed out, for things we care about we do take the time to learn about the product category. And so pick what is best, not just what is presented as best.
I found one person who picked his favorite bourbon without hesitation, after trying seven bourbons in a blind taste test. That bourbon was... drum roll please... Maker's Mark.
The score was so high against the rest of the bourbons that it actually was unbelievable!!!! I had to hand it to him. He did know HIS bourbon.
Interestingly, a good friend of mine, who introduced me to premium bourbons, has exactly opposite bourbon likes, compared to mine. Bourbons that I like, he hates (scores low in blind taste tests) and those he likes, I hate. I like less wood (oak) and he likes a lot of wood in his bourbon, and do on.
I believe this is one of the reasons that there are so many bourbons on the market. Everyone likes something different and buys what he or she likes! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/drink.gif
I like to wow my friends and local bartenders with this trick. When I try this I pick the right bourbon 80% of the time or more (depending on how much I've had to drink and eat).
It's really quite easy. That is--as long as you are in a bar with a small selection.
The easiest bar I've found to attempt this trick at serves:
Give me a random pour when I don't know the stock it's coming from--I'll be wrong 100 times out of 10.
I've done something similar with vodka for my wife and her friend.
We started with:
I was convinced she/they would pick Smirnoff in the absence of marketing cues, but they surprised me and had the same lists with the exception of the top two:
Ketel One (Grey Goose)
Grey Goose (Ketel One)
I was definately happy to see Absolute at the bottom though, take that Marketers...
I'm a little afraid of a blind taste test. Someone might slip in JD, and I might lose control of my senses and say I like it--Then I'd never hear the end of it!
I think vodka is overpriced (compared to bourbon). However, I am glad to see these results. I just bought a bottle of Stoliichnaya, since I refuse to buy Grey Goose (because it is French!) Ketel One is something I will consider in the future. You should be glad that I do not have any Absolute brands! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/stickpoke.gif
I recently bought a bottle of Stoli myself, but more because I think they had the best idea for holiday packaging (which is mainly why I bought it instead of another brand). The gift set if you can find it has a tray you fill with water and place bottle and all in the freezer and hours later, voila, you have little ice shot glasses to drink ice cold Stoli with. I also like shiny objects and beads LOL
To me it really doesn't matter if I can tell different brands on a blind taste test. It is important that if you like something that you try and learn about it. Bourbon is very evocative. You drink it and you slide back in time and savor all of the flavors and the history as well as the marketing efforts. I like to take 3 small drinks,each from a diferent brand. It is so much fun to taste the differences. When you sip them sequentially you can quickly learn one brand from another ,but introduce another one and you have to start all over again to place them on the flavor specturm. I don't know if I am getting any smarter,but I am having a great time.
I missed the holiday packaging. Do they give you little pot holders or tongs, to grab hold of the ice shot glasses? http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif
That's what I do! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif Although, I just savor the flavors and try not to dwell too much on brands, differences, etc. I then tend to gravitate towards my favorites and leave the others to my fellow bourbon drinkers, who seem to like bourbons that are completely opposite to my tastes. This works out very well! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif
Actually the instructions were to take the container out of the freezer and let it set for five minutes and the shot glasses would pop right out. I haven't tried it yet, but I did try popping them out right out of the freezer and it was like watching a bear cub try to mate with a football. My idea was to mass produce the things and keep a whole shelf in the freezer full of them for summer bar-b-q's. I finally gave up and had completely forgotten to try again. Maybe if I run water over the form....
That's a funny story!!!! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif
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