PDA

View Full Version : How To Get Started.



cowdery
08-07-2010, 13:17
I just started a thread over in the general section about rating whiskey (http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?t=14400). I'm starting this thread here because a lot of people who are new to bourbon don't know where to start. Some turn to books, magazines or web sites like this one for recommendations. But it can be confusing.

I've often felt, for example, that newcomers do themselves no favors by trying to find a consensus 'best' bourbon or other whiskey. The products enthusiasts rave about tend to be atypical products that are hard to appreciate if you are still learning the basics.

My recommendation for a beginner is to work your way through the leading brands from the major producers -- Jim Beam white, Jack Daniel's No. 7, Evan Williams black, Wild Turkey 101.

Compare them to each other, get to know them.

Taste them the right way. Start your journey by developing your tasting technique. I recommend tasting everything both neat and diluted with room temperature water.

Remember that smelling is a crucial part of tasting.

For the next round, pick the two or three of the first group that you liked best and figure out what that producer's step-up is. If you like Wild Turkey 101, you might want to step up to Russell's Reserve, Rare Breed or Kentucky Spirit. Which one? It doesn't really matter, though budget might play a role as Kentucky Spirit costs twice as much as Russell's Reserve.

After that you should be able to fly solo.

Most of all, resist the lure of short cuts. They're a waste of time because they don't work. You don't become a bourbon connoisseur just because you drank a bottle of Pappy 23. That's probably the hardest thing to get across to a young person so I'll repeat it, because they love it when you do that. :) Short cuts don't work.

Okay, vets. What are your tips for beginners?

OscarV
08-07-2010, 13:51
Good advice Chuck. When I got serious about bourbon I went out and bought a bottle of Blanton's, Elijah Craig 18yo, Rock Hill Farms, Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit and Knob Creek.
All I ever had prior to that was Jim Beam and Maker's Mark.
And I gotta say I was confused and I thought I wasted my money and I'll probably won't drink bourbon again.
Then I stepped down to Evan Williams, Very Old Barton, IWHarper and Wild Turkey 101 and I drank them almost exclusively on the rocks and I started to get it.
It took a while to understand the flavors and yes you are right smelling it is a big help in tasting.
So to sum up, start out with "simple" bourbons and leave the "complex" stuff alone until you become more experienced and then you will truly appreciate it.

Joshua
08-07-2010, 15:36
I agree Chuck. Starting at the base and moving up, both in quality and proof is something I would recommend as well. You really can't drink things like Stagg and WLW, or even OGD114 very easily at first... and surely can't appreciate them.

I burned through a bottle of SW ORVW 10/90, and it was great but I didn't really understand fully what I was drinking. Looking back, I feel like an absolute idiot for drinking that like a mad man before I really know /why/ it was so good.

I really suggest getting a few basics (but I would go beam black over white) at once, then spend some nights having a 1oz pour from a few types, then another night where you focus on one bourbon.... then when you start to understand the differences in distilleries and super-general profiles, start going to the same distillery... and then different types of the same label.

Say, for Buffalo Trace... grab BT, Weller SR, and Ancient Age (or ETL if the price is good) You can see if you like the BT low rye, the Weller's wheated mashbill, or the Ancient Age high rye. Then expand there, say if you like the high rye mashbill look into ETL, Blanton's, etc.

ILLfarmboy
08-07-2010, 18:28
I
I really suggest getting a few basics (but I would go beam black over white) at once, then spend some nights having a 1oz pour from a few types, then another night where you focus on one bourbon.... then when you start to understand the differences in distilleries and super-general profiles, start going to the same distillery... and then different types of the same label.

Say, for Buffalo Trace... grab BT, Weller SR, and Ancient Age (or ETL if the price is good) You can see if you like the BT low rye, the Weller's wheated mashbill, or the Ancient Age high rye. Then expand there, say if you like the high rye mashbill look into ETL, Blanton's, etc.

I agree with that sentiment. Starting too low on the shelf could be as counterproductive as trying to appreciate extra aged or over-proof bottlings right out of the gate.

I'd start a neophyte out on some of the better value brands that most of us usually agree on.

Bourbon Boiler
08-07-2010, 19:22
I think another variable is if they are new to whiskey, or just new to bourbon.

I drank a lot of Canadian Whiskey and a little scotch before I found bourbon. Maybe I'm giving myself too much credit, but I think it helped that I was used to similar proof and a few of the same flavors. I think I made the jump off the bottom shelf quickly because of this. (I'm still not close to the top shelf.)

If someone was brand new to whiskey, including a Canadian blend or an Irish might not be a bad idea - just to distinguish bourbon itself.

Josh
08-07-2010, 19:50
I would recommend getting together with other bourbon enthusiasts and raiding their stashes when you can. I remember not long after joining SB.com, Tony (ACDetroit) invited me to a get together at a friend's place not far from where I live. It was a real eye-opener. Loads of great things, including my first tastes of a Four Roses Single Barrel which became my favorite whiskey on the planet. I had some of my first BTAC and Weller Centennial at another get together. Jeff (skunk) gave me my first taste of Old Forester BiB, which is now one of my favorite dusties. Going to the Gazebo at one of the KBF events is the ultimate expression of that sort of thing, of course.

I learned a lot about what is out there and what a I like and don't like and what delivers and what is overrated and overpriced. And about how generous bourbon folks are.:grin:

TNbourbon
08-07-2010, 20:08
Here's something akin to what I did: buy and taste -- as Chuck advises, both neat and with water (avoid 'mixing' except for after-tasting pleasure) -- everything bourbon you can buy in 200ml bottles. That'll cover most of the basics, and a few of the second-tier products.
Chances are, you'll like them all to different degrees, but you'll soon enough notice a trend -- for example, toward wheaters or rye-recipe, or whiskeys from a particular producer.
Only after you're pretty sure you know what you like (or don't like) in general, start buying higher-priced and longer-lasting (aka, bigger) bottles. Now you're on your way! :toast:

kickert
08-07-2010, 20:58
I usually tell newbies to get a taste for rye vs. wheat. That is the easiest distinction to make and once they get used to that, it is easier to pick up the other subtleties. So start with something like WL Weller Special reserve to catch the sweet wheat notes and compare that to Bulleit or 1792 on the rye side. Both very distinct pours and quite enjoyable. If you can't tell a difference between those, then don't even bother trying to explore more options.

Once you get that down then try looking at distillery specific flavors.

I would also encourage mixing 2:1 bourbon to water early on to be able to get past the burn and slowly learn to drink it with less and less water.

dmarkle
08-08-2010, 08:54
I usually tell newbies to get a taste for rye vs. wheat. That is the easiest distinction to make and once they get used to that, it is easier to pick up the other subtleties. So start with something like WL Weller Special reserve to catch the sweet wheat notes and compare that to Bulleit or 1792 on the rye side. Both very distinct pours and quite enjoyable. If you can't tell a difference between those, then don't even bother trying to explore more options.

I completely agree here. I started my friends off on this -- we did a bit of a comparison between wheat and rye bourbon, and it was really fun and educational. I used some markedly different whiskeys -- Maker's and I think Eagle Rare.

As an aside, I was ruined early on. When I first started drinking whiskey, some friends gave me a bottle of Macallan 25. It was good, but completely wasted on me, not to mention my friends. I totally couldn't appreciate what it truly was. Now it's all gone and I wish I still had some :(.

But I do disagree that one should start at the bottom. I think starting in the "middle" would be a better place. MM, ER, etc... The first bourbon I ever had which even made me interested was Knob Creek. From there, I started looking more seriously at what it was all about... When I was in college, I thought Jim Beam white was all there was to bourbon, and just was not interested in the whole category of whiskey because I disliked it so much.

Special Reserve
08-08-2010, 09:11
Another interesting thread!

The problem with starting on the bottom is you may never get beyond that shelf. Starting on the top does not work for most people as the appreciation/cost ratio is prohibitive.

IMO, mid-shelf products are the best starting point.

bourbon-n00b
08-08-2010, 11:36
For me, starting at the bottom worked pretty well so far (I'm still on the journey). I didn't spend a tom of time there and I had enough experience with other liquors that I knew I wasn't going to be totally put off. Beginning and learning about cheaper stuff first allowed me to really see what you gain (and sometimes what you don't) as you step up the price ladder.

I don't think you can appreciate what's good and why until you know about what's not so good

Trace Tippler
08-08-2010, 13:49
This is a great sticky!

To what Cowdery said, "Start your journey by developing your tasting technique," I would add that making it an actual standard technique is most helpful. For instance as already mentioned, taste some neat and with a bit of water. To that I'd add things like using the same kind of glass or glasses, nosing and sipping the same way, etc. There are as many ways to taste alcohol as their are kinds of alcohol but it seems the thing to do is find a way that is agreeable and stick with it. Use the same methods to taste different things helps to make the results less dependent on random factors.

A great thing to do would be to watch a professional tea, wine or spirits taster at work, noting how the method doesn't vary. I'm sure YouTube would be a good place to find stuff like this.

Cordially,
Trace T.

StraightBoston
08-08-2010, 19:19
Here's something akin to what I did: buy and taste -- as Chuck advises, both neat and with water (avoid 'mixing' except for after-tasting pleasure) -- everything bourbon you can buy in 200ml bottles. That'll cover most of the basics, and a few of the second-tier products.
Chances are, you'll like them all to different degrees, but you'll soon enough notice a trend -- for example, toward wheaters or rye-recipe, or whiskeys from a particular producer.
Only after you're pretty sure you know what you like (or don't like) in general, start buying higher-priced and longer-lasting (aka, bigger) bottles. Now you're on your way! :toast:

Spoken as someone from the bourbon heartland!

Unfortunately, Tim, those of us in the bourbon wilderness are lucky to see anything but JD and JBW in a half-pint flask. I remember being in awe of the 200 ml selection in a shop in Manchester, TN last year -- more variety than you could find in the entire state of Massachusetts!

StraightBoston
08-08-2010, 19:24
To Chuck's question, I've been acting as "bourbon guide" to a friend of mine by setting him up with 3- and 4-bottle flights of 50mls drawn from my collection.

Similar to what Chuck proposed, we've been trying to zero in on distillery "house styles" head-to-head, then following up with age or proof verticals within the ones he likes. I separated wheaters from rye-recipe for this round.

His breakthrough bourbon was Hancock's after a steady college diet of Jack and Turkey (kind of like my discovery of Blanton's after Makers and Rebel Yell.) We're trying to find something in between as his new go-to.

warehouseman
01-14-2011, 20:23
why include JD in a bourbon discusion

GOCOUGS2002
01-14-2011, 21:04
why include JD in a bourbon discusion

I think the spirit of the thread is helping people on their initial journey into the world of whiskey as a whole. I wouldn't restrict it to just Bourbon as straight rye, wheat and corn whiskey's are good ways to prepare your taste buds for the intricacies of Bourbon.

Heck someone even mentioned Scotch in a post above...we will try anything once:lol:

wadewood
01-15-2011, 09:03
In general, I find that most are not used to drinking any spirit at 80 proof or above. Tasting anything at this proof when you are not used to it will lead to bad results. So, I first teach a person to take very small sips. I also will dilute with water down to whatever proof the person can tolerate. It's like the first time you drank a beer or wine as a kid/teenager - you probably did not like it. I think that is why shots/jello shots are so popular. People get the alcohol without tasting it. Some of my friends don't understand why I never do shots of any kind; I try to explain I like the taste and want to enjoy what I'm drinking.

The better advise would be to have then start drinking a vodka at 30-40 proof and over a month gradually increase proof to 80. Then introduce them to bourbon.

squire
01-15-2011, 23:20
I agree that mid shelf should be the baseline. Once grounded there a new enthusiast can move up or down with a sense of knowing what to look for.

Hawg73
03-08-2011, 06:34
Spoken as someone from the bourbon heartland!

Unfortunately, Tim, those of us in the bourbon wilderness are lucky to see anything but JD and JBW in a half-pint flask. I remember being in awe of the 200 ml selection in a shop in Manchester, TN last year -- more variety than you could find in the entire state of Massachusetts!I don't know how far Julio's in Westborough, MA is from you. But it is well worth the trip.

Hawg73
03-08-2011, 06:37
I'm not young :( but young in the bourbon world. These were some very helpful tips. Thank you. I have also found using a GC glass to taste bourbon has helped me tremendously with smell and taste. Just a thought.

Robmo
03-08-2011, 08:48
I'm just a novice, or an "advanced beginner" at best. The first bourbon I had was I.W. Harper and I thought it was awful, more or less. Just based on that experience I was determined to find a better bourbon. I did a lot of research on the internet (I couldn't ask friends because almost no one knew anything about bourbon) to find something better.

I figured out I should try Blanton's. So I tried that and W.L. Weller Centennial and bought a whole lot of other bourbons either in bars or in liquor stores, in mini-bottles or pints whenever possible. (Including ryes and scotch and J.D....what the hell it's all whiskey, right?) I'm still buying and trying, probably always will be.

I appreciate all the advice about how to go about things systematically, but that isn't always possible. You're in a bar and you order something you've never tried before, and that's your experience of that particular whiskey. You form an opinion based on that experience. It's an entirely human thing to do.

The process of finding out what you like and don't like should be--or at least can be-- chaotic and random and haphazard. Systematic tasting may have its place but don't discount the beauty of random experimentation. :grin:

I do agree that it's good to use some lower-shelf stuff as a basis for comparison. I try to keep the I.W. Harper in my liquor cabinet even though I don't like it just so I can remind myself from time to time what drove me to seek out something better.

Luna56
03-10-2011, 10:23
I agree, Rob. Overthinking it is a mistake in my opinion. Let your natural curiosity be your guide.

I also feel that there's nothing wrong with finding one you like and sticking with it for awhile. You'll get to appreciate nuances in a deeper way and when you do branch off to other brands you'll ideally have a better comparative sense.

Above all, just enjoy it and appreciate that bourbon is one of the best things in the world. It's one of the very best things made in America too.

Cheers!

Parkersback
03-10-2011, 18:27
Good words, Luna.

Luna56
03-11-2011, 09:08
Well, thanks!

Cheers!

redneckmatt
06-02-2011, 18:38
I started with Evan Williams single barrel, not knowing anything about Bourbon at all. Bought it as it was on special and wasn't bottom shelf. It was ok, but it seemed to me to leave a scent of butter in my nose. Always neat - water destroyed the flavor. On a recommendation I picked up some Knob Creek... well now that stuff was dang near incredible. Currently I have some Woodford Reserve.

Wish I had seen this thread beforehand, but I guess I'm lucky my tastes hit something good with Knob Creek. I know these are some of the lower proof bourbons - I'm working that intentionally. Now to find a decent set of glasses...

dmarkle
06-02-2011, 18:55
Wish I had seen this thread beforehand, but I guess I'm lucky my tastes hit something good with Knob Creek. I know these are some of the lower proof bourbons - I'm working that intentionally. Now to find a decent set of glasses...

I wouldn't call Knob a "low proof" bourbon. When I hear that term, I think of 80 proof budget bourbon. If you like the Knob Creek, try the Single Barrel expression of it -- IMO it's quite an improvement on "regular" Knob, or at least the bottle I tried. Remember that if the proof is too high for you, knock it down with water as needed -- that's basically all the distillery does on their end anyway. As far as glasses, I don't know how you can go wrong with the Glencairn, bought from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Glencarin-Crystal-Whiskey-Glass-Set/dp/B001EXF3BS/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1307066083&sr=8-3

kickert
06-02-2011, 19:34
I made up a bourbon tasting list for a friend. Here is what I gave him.

1. - Learn Wheat Vs. Rye Vs. Ryed Bourbon

Ritt BIB (with some water) - Rye
Very Old Barton 90 (or EC12, AAA10, 4RSmB from below) - Ryed Bourbon
Weller SR - Wheat


2. - Learn Distillery Profiles

Elijah Craig 12 - Heaven Hill
Ancient Ancient Age 10 (or Old Charter 10) - Buffalo Trace
Knob Creek (with some water) - Beam
4 Roses Small Batch - Four Roses
Wild Turkey 101 (with some water) - Wild Turkey
Woodford Reserve - Brown Foreman


3. - Taste an Old Bourbon and a High Proof Bourbon

Elijah Craig 18
Old Grand Dad 114


4. - Some Personal Favorites

Elmer T Lee
Weller 12
Evan Williams Single Barrel

mosugoji64
06-02-2011, 21:57
That's a great list! Doing direct comparisons like this is fun, but I think I would have to break this up over several evenings. Taking a friend through all of this in one evening would likely see both of you unconscious before you could finish!


I made up a bourbon tasting list for a friend. Here is what I gave him.

1. - Learn Wheat Vs. Rye Vs. Ryed Bourbon

Ritt BIB (with some water) - Rye
Very Old Barton 90 (or EC12, AAA10, 4RSmB from below) - Ryed Bourbon
Weller SR - Wheat


2. - Learn Distillery Profiles

Elijah Craig 12 - Heaven Hill
Ancient Ancient Age 10 (or Old Charter 10) - Buffalo Trace
Knob Creek (with some water) - Beam
4 Roses Small Batch - Four Roses
Wild Turkey 101 (with some water) - Wild Turkey
Woodford Reserve - Brown Foreman


3. - Taste an Old Bourbon and a High Proof Bourbon

Elijah Craig 18
Old Grand Dad 114


4. - Some Personal Favorites

Elmer T Lee
Weller 12
Evan Williams Single Barrel

kickert
06-03-2011, 06:03
That's a great list! Doing direct comparisons like this is fun, but I think I would have to break this up over several evenings. Taking a friend through all of this in one evening would likely see both of you unconscious before you could finish!

Oh, this wasn't an evening tasting list.

My friend wanted to build his bourbon library but had only had a couple bottles and could never discern a difference. So, I made this as a purchase list for him to build his library from. Most of them are mid-shelf to upper-lower shelf bourbons so it won't cost him an arm and a leg. I wouldn't consider these best of the best (hence my last category), but all of them are enjoyable pours and I felt like he would learn a lot by being able to compare these.

I expect it to take him at least a year to work his way through this. But, the point was to give him variety so he could "learn bourbon" rather than giving him a couple that would be his favorites.

sailor22
06-03-2011, 09:00
It might be helpful to differentiate between between beginning Bourbon drinkers and beginning Whiskey drinkers. Also how dedicated (geeky) are they likely to be.


A beginning Whiskey drinker who really wants to experiment and learn would do well to start with pours that are delicious but not too challenging. Some of the bottom shelf Bourbon can be hot, thin and is better suited to mixing than sipping. For me pours like Weller 12, ET Lee, Blantons, EC12, 18 and VW LotB kept me coming back every night for another taste even if I didn't fully appreciate them at the time. It isn't the most structured or considered method but it kept me enthusiastic about Bourbon. If a beginner gets as geeky as a lot of us have he will begin to branch out and do his tasting down and up the shelves on his own as long as the first ones he tried didn't put him off.


Experienced Scotch and Irish drinkers experimenting with Bourbon will already have a sipping technique they are comfortable with and won't be put off by a little burn. They also have some experience in shushing out subtle flavors but anything TOO BIG will overwhelm them because of the pours they are used to. You want to convince them that Bourbon or Rye is worthy of a serious try. Proceed directly to the top shelf. Share some of your Saz18, Pappy 20 or perhaps LotB, pour it neat and suggest they nose it quite awhile then take very small sips to start. Watch their eyes get big in surprise at the richness and complexity that Bourbon and Rye can offer, it's not the hot nasty monster they remember from College. They don't have to pretend they enjoy sipping Iodine and band aids any more and you have a new best friend who badgers you constantly for recommendations.

marna
06-04-2011, 15:20
@Kickert: Thanks for the tasting list (I'm a newbie). I've saved it as "Kickert's Newbie Tasting Guide", right next to your ratio file. Good stuff.
Marna

kickert
06-04-2011, 17:23
@Kickert: Thanks for the tasting list (I'm a newbie). I've saved it as "Kickert's Newbie Tasting Guide", right next to your ratio file. Good stuff.
Marna

Hope it is helpful! As for the ratio document, I am pretty sure that could be filed under "too nerdy to be useful"

thezenone
06-08-2011, 11:14
I would also say to a beginner, don't disregard a bourbon based on one tasting. One day a bottle might taste pedestrian to your palate, but another day it might be darn tasty. There are many things that affect your palate so don't be too hasty to dismiss something after one tasting!

sku
06-08-2011, 11:45
Here's a list I just posted on my blog that I use for novice tastings when I'm asked for recommendations. I'd certainly be interested in feedback.

The idea of this list is that if you are a novice bourbon drinker, tasting these whiskeys will give you a good sense of the variety and range of styles of American whiskey. Once you have tried all of these, you will be ready for the big-time. In addition, they are all whiskeys I feel comfortable recommending (i.e. I generally like them).

Since the list is intended for novices in the LA area, the two qualifications for the list are that all of the whiskeys be (1) fairly easy to find in a good Los Angeles area liquor store (although some are obviously easier to find than others); and (2) fairly affordable (although, obviously there is a range and the idea was not to only list the absolute cheapest bottles or expressions). I also tried to mix it up between styles and distilleries.

The list certainly reflects my biases. You won't find many Beam products or any Jack Daniels but lots of Buffalo Trace. Rye is arguably over-represented, but I love my rye. Of course, there are some great bourbons that I left off. I wasn't going to list every expression of a given whiskey, so for instance, I limited myself to one Weller. And while Very Old Barton BIB is great and would easily belong on such a list, you can't get it in California, so it's not on the list. I also excluded special releases that change from year to year (such as Parker's Heritage, Buffalo Trace Experimental, etc.).

Bookerís Bourbon ($50)
Buffalo Trace Bourbon ($20)
Eagle Rare 10 Bourbon ($25)
Elijah Craig 12 Bourbon ($20)
Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon ($40)
High West Rendezvous Rye ($50)
George Dickel #12 Tennessee Whiskey ($18)
George T. Stagg Bourbon ($75)
Makerís Mark Bourbon ($23)
Old Grand-Dad 114 Bourbon ($23)
Old Potrero Rye ($70)
Sazerac Rye ($27)
Ridgemont Reserve 1792 Bourbon ($36)
Rittenhouse 100 Rye ($20)
Wild Turkey 101 Rye ($20)
Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon ($43)
William Larue Weller Bourbon ($75)
Woodford Reserve Bourbon ($25)

peterlake
03-03-2012, 21:44
Hi all, I've been drinking bourbon for a few years now, but more from a "Yeah, I'm bad ass with a nice glass of neat whiskey in his hand," perspective and not so much a thoughtful, actually enjoying individual whiskeys for what they are perspective. I'm working on reforming, trying lots of different bourbons at various price points, mash bills, etc. But I wonder, how do I know when I'm ready to move up? When is my pallet at a point where that bottle of Pappy 23 isn't a waste? I know it's a subjective question, but I'd be interested to hear ya'lls thoughts on the matter.

Neat
03-04-2012, 07:48
Hi all, I've been drinking bourbon for a few years now, but more from a "Yeah, I'm bad ass with a nice glass of neat whiskey in his hand," perspective and not so much a thoughtful, actually enjoying individual whiskeys for what they are perspective. I'm working on reforming, trying lots of different bourbons at various price points, mash bills, etc. But I wonder, how do I know when I'm ready to move up? When is my pallet at a point where that bottle of Pappy 23 isn't a waste? I know it's a subjective question, but I'd be interested to hear ya'lls thoughts on the matter.

"thoughtful, actually enjoying individual whiskeys for what they are perspective. I'm working on reforming, trying lots of different bourbons at various price points, mash bills, etc."

just my opinion - there are certainly much better qualified people. when you can start telling the difference between the different bourbons and appreciating those differences, you are "ready". however, you may then realize that the pappy 23 IS a waste!:slappin:

awachatz
03-04-2012, 19:36
Hi all, I've been drinking bourbon for a few years now, but more from a "Yeah, I'm bad ass with a nice glass of neat whiskey in his hand," perspective and not so much a thoughtful, actually enjoying individual whiskeys for what they are perspective. I'm working on reforming, trying lots of different bourbons at various price points, mash bills, etc. But I wonder, how do I know when I'm ready to move up? When is my pallet at a point where that bottle of Pappy 23 isn't a waste? I know it's a subjective question, but I'd be interested to hear ya'lls thoughts on the matter.

Welcome Travis.

Regarding your question, I just opened my first bottle of PVW23 recently and I still much not be ready. I have had much better bourbons that did not cost me $250. My recommendation is try as many different bourbons as you can. Everyone's pallet is different. I started out only enjoying lower proof bourbons, not my tastes are completely different. I find barrel strength bourbons to be my favorite. Try some wheaters and some high rye bourbons. Let me know if you want any suggestions.