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View Full Version : Why the low ABV hate?



Zanaspus
12-14-2011, 08:01
Having very recently gotten into the sipping whiskey neat concept, there is one thing that puzzles me. Tasters, not just bourbon tasters seem to take off points for 40% ABV whisk(e)ys. The bourbon folk tend to say thin, the scotch people say unsatisfying, and the rum lovers just want to get drunker.

The thing is, I tend to dilute higher ABV's and enjoy them more for it. I find that dialing back some of the "heat" allows me to capture more subtleties on both the nose and the palette. The finish may suffer a bit from doing it, but that's why I start neat and add water.

So my question is; am I just a wimp who likes to do girlie-man things, or as one tastes more and more do we become desensitized to alcohol smells and tastes?

chefnash51
12-14-2011, 08:27
I thought 80 was the official tasting proof by "professionals"? For the same reasons you noted why you like your drinks @ 80 proof.

sku
12-14-2011, 09:50
You are most definitely not a wimp (at least not for putting water in your whiskey). As you suggest, you may find that as you taste more, you are less sensitive to the alcohol. To a wine or beer drinker, 40% can taste like firewater. As you taste, your palate will become acclamated to higher proof, but that doesn't mean you won't want to add water from time to time.

As to why many of us prefer higher strength, everyone's palate is different and everyone has different sensitivities to alcohol. When something is cask strength, each person can drink it to their taste, whether that's neat or lower proof with added water.

But while you can lower the proof of a cask strength whiskey, you of course, can't raise it in a low proof whiskey. With a 40% bottle, the distillery or bottler is making the choice for you. For many of us, myself included, 40% is too low in many cases and tends to make the whiskey taste diluted. I'd rather have something too high in abv that I can dilute to my tastes if I wish then something that tastes watery and diluted.

bourbon-n00b
12-14-2011, 10:27
In addition to the muted taste, I kinda cop an attitude when I see something released at 40%. Makes me feel, for right or wrong, that the producer is cheaping out on me by giving me a product that just meets the minimum strength and no more.

I can't help but see it as being a financially-motivated decision. Maybe there are some valid, non-fiscal benefits to 80 proof, but I don't know of any.

bourbonv
12-14-2011, 10:41
The lower the proof the filtering needed to prevent "flocking". The more filtering done, the more flavor removed. The whiskey is going to have more flavor at higher proof, so like Pappy Van Winkle said, just add your own water if you like lower proof. You will get more flavor from your drink and more drinks from the bottle.

Mike Veach

Brisko
12-14-2011, 10:56
Two ideas:

One, I have heard that bottling at higher proof retains more flavor, even if you bring it down to 80 proof when drinking it. (Wasn't this Pappy's argument for selling high proofs?) I have no idea if this is actually true. I guess we could do a blind tasting with OWA 107 and WSR (which BT claims are the same bourbon, just different proof offerings) and see if they taste the same when brought down to the same proof.

Two, I often like to add a small splash of water to whatever I'm drinking. It tends to open up bring out the aromas. But at 80 proof, any additional water tends to kill the palate. Ditto if you like to use an ice cube or two.

A third idea-- A lot of Single Malt Scotches seem to do really well at 46%. A lot seem weak at 40% and sometimes even at 43%. Other than cask strength, 46% seems to be the sweet spot. With bourbon, I find I really enjoy them at 100 proof with a splash (or neat). Anything below 90 proof doesn't really do it for me. Anything above 110 proof and I will probably cut it to at least 100 proof. But that's just my preference, everyone is different of course. At least with high proof you have lots of options.

Finally, a general question: if you're looking at two similar products, do you choose based on proof, or based on age? For me proof wins almost every time. Examples: WTRB over WTRR; OGD 114 or BiB over Basil Hayden's; etc. I'm sure there are a lot of other examples, too.

Josh
12-14-2011, 11:14
For me the attraction of high-proof whiskey is that, in most cases, I'm getting more for my money. The barrel-proof whiskeys I tend to hate on, Handy for instance, are ones that are not a value purchase. I don't find it to be that much better than the standard Saz when diluted. That's all very subjective though.

As far as tasting goes, many master distillers, blenders, etc will dilute down to as low as 40 proof to taste. If you watch Ralfy's videos, the man practically drowns his Malts. 2x Bourbon Taster of the Year Doubleblank won both of those awards by tasting with with a lot of ice. Personally, if I drink anything higher than 98 proof neat, I get heartburn really really bad. Yet a lot of people claim that they routinely sip Stagg and WLW neat.

Bottom line, drink it how you like to drink it.

creighton
12-14-2011, 11:18
i would agree with sku.

as a newb, it has not taken long for me to step up to the higher proofs. i add a small splash but really enjoy it more than anything i've had at 80 proof.

as a reference, i started with a bottle of vob bib. at first i didn't care for it without ice and a splash of water. after half the bottle, i tend to drink it neat more often than not. taste much better in my opinion.

Brisko
12-14-2011, 11:18
As far as tasting goes, many master distillers, blenders, etc will dilute down to as low as 40 proof to taste.

I think the blenders' standard practice in Scotland is even lower, like 20% for nosing.

Zanaspus
12-14-2011, 11:44
The lower the proof the filtering needed to prevent "flocking". The more filtering done, the more flavor removed. The whiskey is going to have more flavor at higher proof, so like Pappy Van Winkle said, just add your own water if you like lower proof. You will get more flavor from your drink and more drinks from the bottle.

Mike Veach

I like that answer. Good ol' Pappy.

Josh
12-14-2011, 11:59
I think the blenders' standard practice in Scotland is even lower, like 20% for nosing.

20% ABV = 40 proof (American). Or did you mean 20 proof?

Brisko
12-14-2011, 14:05
20% ABV = 40 proof (American). Or did you mean 20 proof?

Whoops!

:blush:

/need more coffee.

Rughi
12-14-2011, 14:28
I think the blenders' standard practice in Scotland is even lower, like 20% for nosing.

One hears this often. I think many distilleries do sensory analysis in the 40 proof to 60 proof. They're trying to optimize most of all their ability to detect flaws and pull bad barrels out of a vatting. Also, to avoid dulling their senses as long as possible. Tweaking a vatting to stay on profile is a different question, which I'd like to discuss with people in the QC lab. I wonder if this is done heavily watered as well.

I drink to optimize my enjoyment, and I usually enjoy 100 proof better than 60 proof. Sometimes quite a bit higher. When I taste to choose a barrel, I like to present the samples at whatever proof they will be bottled.

Roger

Brisko
12-14-2011, 15:16
One hears this often. I think many distilleries do sensory analysis in the 40 proof to 60 proof. They're trying to optimize most of all their ability to detect flaws and pull bad barrels out of a vatting. Also, to avoid dulling their senses as long as possible. Tweaking a vatting to stay on profile is a different question, which I'd like to discuss with people in the QC lab. I wonder if this is done heavily watered as well.

I drink to optimize my enjoyment, and I usually enjoy 100 proof better than 60 proof. Sometimes quite a bit higher. When I taste to choose a barrel, I like to present the samples at whatever proof they will be bottled.

Roger

I've done some side-by-side nosings on my own and 20% is really great for getting the most out of the aroma. But it's not much fun to drink at that strength.

ILLfarmboy
12-15-2011, 22:48
One hears this often. I think many distilleries do sensory analysis in the 40 proof to 60 proof. They're trying to optimize most of all their ability to detect flaws and pull bad barrels out of a vatting. Also, to avoid dulling their senses as long as possible.

Roger

Excellent point.

I suppose one could compare testing at 40 proof to food tasting at whatever the optimal temperature for human taste buds is. For quality control it might be best to taste the food lukewarm, but who really wants to eat lukewarm soup?

I like whiskey best neat, and generally speaking I like it best at 100 to 110 proof. Though, I drink Stagg and Handy at barrel proof. Stagg is more of a challenge but if you take small sips and space those sips out you'll be fine.

At higher proofs you get more of that vapor carryover into your sinuses. And that can be a good thing. I enjoy it, within reason. Especially if I pair a bourbon with food. Dilute ORVW 10/107 down to 50 proof, take a sip, swallow, take a bite of dark chocolate, and when you still have a bit of chocolate residue in your mouth take another sip. Now do the same with it at 107. You will notice how much more intense the chocolate tastes.

Andre28
12-16-2011, 03:24
How is it that Beam gets away with its white label at 37%?

Josh
12-16-2011, 04:57
How is it that Beam gets away with its white label at 37%?

Lemme guess, you're in Australia?

Pieface
12-16-2011, 05:41
Lemme guess, you're in Australia?

That's Orstray-ya to you Yankee :lol:

Most bourbon 80 proofers taste watery. Scotch not so much but it's hard to find an 80pf bourbon with 12 odd years under it's belt. Scotch is often light at 80pf.

Light and watery are different characters to me. Not sure how to relate that.

Andre28
12-16-2011, 21:59
Lemme guess, you're in Australia?

ha, is Beam 80 proof stateside?

Josh
12-17-2011, 05:11
ha, is Beam 80 proof stateside?

Yup it is. In the US 80 proof is the legal minimum. If a whiskey is lower than that it has to be labeled as "diluted". Some states don't allow liquor over a certain proof to be sold in grocery stores, so the diluted versions are produced for sale there.

sailor22
12-17-2011, 06:32
That's Orstray-ya to you Yankee

And all this time I thought it was Oz.

gblick
12-17-2011, 15:54
Yup it is. In the US 80 proof is the legal minimum. If a whiskey is lower than that it has to be labeled as "diluted". Some states don't allow liquor over a certain proof to be sold in grocery stores, so the diluted versions are produced for sale there.And some states don't allow liquor sales at all in grocery stores. :hot:

macdeffe
12-18-2011, 06:16
I prefer full strength whisk(e)ys because I find it enviromental irresponsible to transport water around the globe

Steffen

Flyfish
12-18-2011, 07:57
As to why many of us prefer higher strength, everyone's palate is different and everyone has different sensitivities to alcohol. When something is cask strength, each person can drink it to their taste, whether that's neat or lower proof with added water. But while you can lower the proof of a cask strength whiskey, you of course, can't raise it in a low proof whiskey.


And, of course, we have all heard of the lady who returned her bottle of WT 101 because she had intended to buy WT 80. :grin: