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CoMobourbon
04-20-2012, 18:02
So as a student and teacher of English, I love language. Accordingly, I realize that much of the delicious mystery and vitality of words consists in their wonderful ambiguity and slipperyness - and I would never want to subject them to the cloroform and dissection that is precise and systematic definition. Truly, there is nothing outside context, and if we tried to reduce words to absolutely fixed specimens, we would lose much of the real thing.

But I still think it is really interesting, not to mention really useful, for amatuers and (I would speculate) experts alike to talk about bourbon tasting language. Many of you who hated English class may knee-jerk-recoil from the idea, but I think it could be really fun.

So here are some conventions of semantics, right or wrong, I have picked up in reviews, labels, and SB conversations.

1.) Dry and Sweet work on a binary gradient or spectrum that looks something like this:

-----Dry------------------Balanced---------------------Sweet----- (True?)

2.) Likewise, Oily and Watery look something like this spectrum

------Oily--------------(Medium? Balanced?)-----------Watery-----(True?)

3.) Oily and Watery describe the polarities of mouthfeel.
4.) Mouthfeel = immediately physical texture or consistency of the liquid (NOT the flavor itself), which just happens to be measured by feeling it in your mouth.
5.) Astringent = unmediated alcohol taste

Now here are some terms and ideas that I sort of understand in context but am generally confused about:

1.) Does "body" really just mean "mouthfeel", or does it have more to do with flavor? The whole "thin" to "medium" to "full" gradient seems to indicate texture, but really I have no clear idea what the hell people are talking about when they say their whiskey has a "medium body."
2.) What does "Hot" mean, exactly? It seems to mean "astringent", but constant references to mitigating "heat" with icecubes have planted the idea in my head that the sensation of actual, non-metaphorical temperature might somehow be involved.
3.) "The finish": wtf is going on with this? It seems to me that "finish" refers to nothing more or less than the taste/feeling of whiskey after it has left the palate and entered the gullet, but descriptions of it seem to elevate it into a transcendent metaphysical phenomenon. It's as if people drinking a good pour taste real whiskey on the palate but then are somehow magically transported to Never Ever Land in the finish.

So am I pulling this out of my ass? How wrong or right am I?

And what other slippery or confusing semantic conventions did I forget?

ebo
04-20-2012, 18:28
I'll leave this to the people with "educated" palates to discuss. All I know is, if I like it, I drink it.:cool:

tommyj1986
04-20-2012, 19:01
So as a student and teacher of English, I love language. Accordingly, I realize that much of the delicious mystery and vitality of words consists in their wonderful ambiguity and slipperyness - and I would never want to subject them to the cloroform and dissection that is precise and systematic definition. Truly, there is nothing outside context, and if we tried to reduce words to absolutely fixed specimens, we would lose much of the real thing.

But I still think it is really interesting, not to mention really useful, for amatuers and (I would speculate) experts alike to talk about bourbon tasting language. Many of you who hated English class may knee-jerk-recoil from the idea, but I think it could be really fun.

So here are some conventions of semantics, right or wrong, I have picked up in reviews, labels, and SB conversations.

1.) Dry and Sweet work on a binary gradient or spectrum that looks something like this:

-----Dry------------------Balanced---------------------Sweet----- (True?)

2.) Likewise, Oily and Watery look something like this spectrum

------Oily--------------(Medium? Balanced?)-----------Watery-----(True?)

3.) Oily and Watery describe the polarities of mouthfeel.
4.) Mouthfeel = immediately physical texture or consistency of the liquid (NOT the flavor itself), which just happens to be measured by feeling it in your mouth.
5.) Astringent = unmediated alcohol taste

Now here are some terms and ideas that I sort of understand in context but am generally confused about:

1.) Does "body" really just mean "mouthfeel", or does it have more to do with flavor? The whole "thin" to "medium" to "full" gradient seems to indicate texture, but really I have no clear idea what the hell people are talking about when they say their whiskey has a "medium body."
2.) What does "Hot" mean, exactly? It seems to mean "astringent", but constant references to mitigating "heat" with icecubes have planted the idea in my head that the sensation of actual, non-metaphorical temperature might somehow be involved.
3.) "The finish": wtf is going on with this? It seems to me that "finish" refers to nothing more or less than the taste/feeling of whiskey after it has left the palate and entered the gullet, but descriptions of it seem to elevate it into a transcendent metaphysical phenomenon. It's as if people drinking a good pour taste real whiskey on the palate but then are somehow magically transported to Never Ever Land in the finish.

So am I pulling this out of my ass? How wrong or right am I?

And what other slippery or confusing semantic conventions did I forget?

Interesting stuff, I don't think I've ever seen these types of terms fully defined for whiskey (bourbon for sure).

As far as 'dry-sweet' I think there is a straight scale. I'm not sure that there is a oily-watery is the same, I've also experienced creamy which I don't know how that would fit on that scale.

Heat for me is how well the alcohol content balances with the whiskey. Certain whiskies even with high alcohol don't 'taste' high alcohol to me, where as other whiskies that have lower alcohol content seem to be hot. Ethanol does similar things to your nose (smell-buds?) that bright lights do to your retina's, bright lights aren't 'hot' but temporarily burning your retinas from looking at the sun or bright lights does give me a sense of heat, similar to out of balance ethanol.

Astringency is the puckering sensation you get (makes you salivate), it isn't so much from ethanol as the tannins extracted from wood. At least thats my limited understanding.

For finish, I personally interpret that as aftertaste. At least for me, certain tastes come out more after the swallow. Also I've had some whiskeys taste better in the mouth, or taste better in the after taste, also how long the after taste stays present would change my opinion of the finish.

Again I'm no expert and still relatively new to this, but thats my understanding of these things.

sku
04-20-2012, 19:14
For me, finish is more than a palate sensation. It's also the sensation you get in the nose. Drink a sip of whiskey, swallow and then exhale through your nose. There is a distinct aroma/flavor that can be distinct from the nose or palate. I find this particularly apparent in peated malts, but you can get it in any whiskey really.

jersey12
04-20-2012, 19:17
I'll leave this to the people with "educated" palates to discuss. All I know is, if I like it, I drink it.:cool:

Totally agree. Maybe as I taste more and more, I'll be able to better comment on other members' tasting notes

CoMobourbon
04-20-2012, 19:54
Totally agree. Maybe as I taste more and more, I'll be able to better comment on other members' tasting notes


I'll leave this to the people with "educated" palates to discuss. All I know is, if I like it, I drink it.:cool:

Aww man. You guys are no fun.

No, but in all seriousness, I totally get it. In fact, that's at the core of what I am trying to say with all of these questions.

Whiskey is, and is supposed to be, a mysterious subjective experience (i.e. "All I know is, if I like it, I drink it"), and that is awesome. It's just amazing, then, that somehow we are able to talk about whiskey with each other. If whiskey began and ended with totally isolated personal taste, there would be no SB.com. But somehow this site exists and even thrives. We are able to build a website and a conversation about whiskey because, somehow, we are able to put the mystic richness of whiskey experience into a code that, though imperfect, works - and works beautifully. Even self-declared mindless tasters (like you guys, ebo and jersey) know this; why else would you be on this site unless you thought that you could meaningfully communicate about and compare whiskey experiences? How else could you ever trust anything that anybody says on this site?

Like I said, I am a dork for language, but this stuff fascinates me to no end.

CoMobourbon
04-20-2012, 20:09
Interesting stuff, I don't think I've ever seen these types of terms fully defined for whiskey (bourbon for sure).

As far as 'dry-sweet' I think there is a straight scale. I'm not sure that there is a oily-watery is the same, I've also experienced creamy which I don't know how that would fit on that scale.

Heat for me is how well the alcohol content balances with the whiskey. Certain whiskies even with high alcohol don't 'taste' high alcohol to me, where as other whiskies that have lower alcohol content seem to be hot. Ethanol does similar things to your nose (smell-buds?) that bright lights do to your retina's, bright lights aren't 'hot' but temporarily burning your retinas from looking at the sun or bright lights does give me a sense of heat, similar to out of balance ethanol.

Astringency is the puckering sensation you get (makes you salivate), it isn't so much from ethanol as the tannins extracted from wood. At least thats my limited understanding.

For finish, I personally interpret that as aftertaste. At least for me, certain tastes come out more after the swallow. Also I've had some whiskeys taste better in the mouth, or taste better in the after taste, also how long the after taste stays present would change my opinion of the finish.

Again I'm no expert and still relatively new to this, but thats my understanding of these things.

Nice insights. Especially where you seem to confirm my guesses about the meaning of "heat" and "finish." Damn we are smart.

And your explanation of astringency absolutely set off a lightbulb in my head. As though I had known this but had just needed to hear you say it for me. Though still convinced that "heat" relates to astringency, I feel like your 'bitterness-of-unmanaged-tannins' formula expands my idea of the word.



For me, finish is more than a palate sensation. It's also the sensation you get in the nose. Drink a sip of whiskey, swallow and then exhale through your nose. There is a distinct aroma/flavor that can be distinct from the nose or palate. I find this particularly apparent in peated malts, but you can get it in any whiskey really.

This is why we need this site. Never in the next 1000 years would I have noticed this nose sensation as a discrete aspect of finish, but now I can't not notice it.

Tucker
04-20-2012, 20:11
I've been drinking bourbon for over 30 years and I'm still developing my palate.

I doubt I'd be able to definitively differentiate even half of these...

http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/announcement.php?f=10&a=6

CoMobourbon
04-20-2012, 20:18
Another rough semantic territory that I just thought of: the usage of "spice" or "spiciness". Overwhelmingly I hear the term in close conjuction with rye - often as "rye spice" - but at the same time I have caught the term used to describe high proof wheaters like BTAC WLW in its various iterations. Such wheaters of course have high alcohol content but no rye. So which is it? Is "spice" another way of talking about the burn of alchohol (rendering it as a pleasant feeling), or does it just work as a key flavor of rye? Both, somehow?

tommyj1986
04-20-2012, 20:21
Another rough semantic territory that I just thought of: the usage of "spice" or "spiciness". Overwhelmingly I hear the term in close conjuction with rye - often as "rye spice" - but at the same time I have caught the term used to describe high proof wheaters like BTAC WLW in its various iterations. Such wheaters of course have high alcohol content but no rye. So which is it? Is "spice" another way of talking about the burn of alchohol (rendering it as a pleasant feeling), or does it just work as a key flavor of rye? Both, somehow?

Again, for me, spice in rye is more of peppery spice, like black pepper, so sensation and flavor. But I have experienced just the tingly sensation of spice without, or very little, of the flavor in wheated bourbons.

CoMobourbon
04-20-2012, 20:41
I've been drinking bourbon for over 30 years and I'm still developing my palate.

I doubt I'd be able to definitively differentiate even half of these...

http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/announcement.php?f=10&a=6

Right?!?

This is really a much broader category of bourbon language that I have not yet addressed. I would not presume to question whether or not people taste these things just because I can't - all power to you if you can - but rather wonder what people mean when they say they taste these things. What does it even mean to say that you can taste "black currant" in your whiskey? No cynicism here, just genuine interest.

Let me explain myself by analogy. You know those yellow 'bannana popsicles' or yellow 'banana' Laffy Taffys that you either ate as a kid or bought for your kids? There was little to no correspondence between the taste of those artifically flavored popsicles and the taste of any actual bananna. In fact, because scientists cooked up the artifical 'banana' flavor in some lab, it doesn't really compare to any real flavor at all. But we all agree that those popsicles taste like banana. We all agree to use the word 'banana' to describe an otherwise unidentifiable flavor - even though we know on some level that it doesn't really taste like bannana. This convention usage helps us place something that otherwise would remain totally undefined/meaningless and expands our ideas about flavors in general. We know more about what things taste like because we agree to use this term.

Does this framework describe how whiskey tasting works? When people describe the presense of "black currant" in their whiskey, does that mean that they are just trying to give definition to a wonderful but undefinable taste? Are they using common terms to explain to someone what is really just a bewildering mystery? OR, does the fermented wood-aged grain water REALLY taste like the juice of a black currant?

Obviously I am a little skeptical about the option #2. I also recognize that my own views skew the way I go about answering the question. I would be genuinely interested in the insights of anybody who could shed some light on the question and cure me of my skepticism. Especially if that person has more experience than me (re: pretty much all of you).

tommyj1986
04-20-2012, 20:54
Let me explain myself by analogy. You know those yellow 'bannana popsicles' or yellow 'banana' Laffy Taffys that you either ate as a kid or bought for your kids? There was little to no correspondence between the taste of those artifically flavored popsicles and the taste of any actual bananna. In fact, because scientists cooked up the artifical 'banana' flavor in some lab, it doesn't really compare to any real flavor at all. But we all agree that those popsicles taste like banana. We all agree to use the word 'banana' to describe an otherwise unidentifiable flavor - even though we know on some level that it doesn't really taste like bannana. This convention usage helps us place something that otherwise would remain totally undefined/meaningless and expands our ideas about flavors in general. We know more about what things taste like because we agree to use this term.


It is funny that you mention fake banana taste, because I actually really enjoy it. My wife just finished her masters in enology and a lot of her research and course work was on various phenolics and tannins. Chemicals that taste like things. Fake banana taste is a chemical called isoamyl acetate [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isoamyl_acetate ], it occurs naturally in bananas (in lower amounts) but can also be created by yeasts in fermentation (wheat beers tend to have a lot it). Basically many of the flavors described on a flavor chart are associated with different phenols or tannins or another thing I can't remember the name of. Another example is vanilla, its flavor is from vanillin. Which we can isolate in vanilla beans, but also occurs naturally in high amounts in American white oak.

As far as tasting these chemicals, each persons sensitivity varies, and the levels of these chemicals also dictate whether or not we can sense them. Many of them are detectable in the parts per million or some in parts per billion.

tommyj1986
04-20-2012, 21:01
In case you are curious, here is a link to (not my wife's) food science thesis, titled AROMA CHARACTERIZATION OF AMERICAN RYE WHISKEY BY CHEMICAL AND SENSORY ASSAYS, http://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/16713/1_Lahne_Jacob.pdf?sequence=2

It isn't light reading, but its a neat resource.

mrviognier
04-20-2012, 21:14
Having studied English at the University of Georgia (oxymoronic, I know), and having some background in professional tasting, here is my two cents:


1.) Dry and Sweet work on a binary gradient or spectrum that looks something like this:

-----Dry------------------Balanced---------------------Sweet----- (True?)

No. In your construct, "Balanced" is halfway between Dry & Sweet. A whiskey can be dry (or sweet), and still be balanced. "Dry" and "Sweet" are descriptors of both flavors and (to a lesser extent) mouthfeel. "Balanced", to me, describes a product which harmonious in its characteristics...nothing sticks out like a sore thumb.

2.) Likewise, Oily and Watery look something like this spectrum

------Oily--------------(Medium? Balanced?)-----------Watery-----(True?)

Similar to #1, if you get my meaning.

3.) Oily and Watery describe the polarities of mouthfeel.

Yes and no. I prefer "Thin" and "Unctuous". Something can be oily and still be thin.

4.) Mouthfeel = immediately physical texture or consistency of the liquid (NOT the flavor itself), which just happens to be measured by feeling it in your mouth.
5.) Astringent = unmediated alcohol taste

1.) Does "body" really just mean "mouthfeel", or does it have more to do with flavor? The whole "thin" to "medium" to "full" gradient seems to indicate texture, but really I have no clear idea what the hell people are talking about when they say their whiskey has a "medium body."

"Mouthfeel" takes into consideration textural elements, while "Body" is more concerned about weight.

2.) What does "Hot" mean, exactly? It seems to mean "astringent", but constant references to mitigating "heat" with icecubes have planted the idea in my head that the sensation of actual, non-metaphorical temperature might somehow be involved.

"Heat" is the noticeable presence of alcohol, where it is out of balance with the other factors. "Astringency" is not at all descriptive of alcohol. It is present due one of many factors (or even a combination of many)...barrel tannin, acidity, pH.

3.) "The finish": wtf is going on with this? It seems to me that "finish" refers to nothing more or less than the taste/feeling of whiskey after it has left the palate and entered the gullet, but descriptions of it seem to elevate it into a transcendent metaphysical phenomenon. It's as if people drinking a good pour taste real whiskey on the palate but then are somehow magically transported to Never Ever Land in the finish.

Finish does have a lot to do with post-consumption. Retro-nasal, back-of-the-palate impressions are important.

So am I pulling this out of my ass? How wrong or right am I?

No...but I do think that you might be over-thinking it. :grin:

CoMobourbon
04-20-2012, 21:33
It is funny that you mention fake banana taste, because I actually really enjoy it. My wife just finished her masters in enology and a lot of her research and course work was on various phenolics and tannins. Chemicals that taste like things. Fake banana taste is a chemical called isoamyl acetate [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isoamyl_acetate ], it occurs naturally in bananas (in lower amounts) but can also be created by yeasts in fermentation (wheat beers tend to have a lot it). Basically many of the flavors described on a flavor chart are associated with different phenols or tannins or another thing I can't remember the name of. Another example is vanilla, its flavor is from vanillin. Which we can isolate in vanilla beans, but also occurs naturally in high amounts in American white oak.

As far as tasting these chemicals, each persons sensitivity varies, and the levels of these chemicals also dictate whether or not we can sense them. Many of them are detectable in the parts per million or some in parts per billion.

Interesting. So, 'bannana' and 'vanilla' (and hell, maybe even 'black currant') are not just arbrary linguistic constructs but rather physical derivatives of the real referents - of real banana taste and real vanilla taste (via the chemicals you mentioned). Objectively, there is somthing more to bourbon tastes than the juxtapositon of a term onto a totally unique and thus indescribale sensation. Bourbons with 'notes of vanilla' maybe really do taste like vanilla. I'll be damned.

But to be honest, I am chastened but not quite converted. I see your point but am still convinced that the scope of linguistic and cultural construction in bourbon drinking is far larger than the scope of the chemicals' objective effect on flavor. Without hope of proving this very speculative proposition, I would suggest that these chemicals act as physical references points that somtimes ground the essentially social and cultural construction of taste but do not define or predeomnate it. That while these chemicals provide an imporant starting point for flavor, the meaning of that flavor, once subjected to the processes of verbalization, takes on a life of its own.

onewman
04-20-2012, 21:41
Maybe I've had one to many tonight, but I think that you hit the nail on the head when you ask if you were pulling this out of your ass. Taste is subjective and while you may be trying to quantifying it based on your frame of reference from your mastery of the English language, not everyone shares the same point of reference. Until we all share the same understanding and semantics that you do, I think that this subject is moot. That said, I do appreciate others descriptions of what they taste and enjoy out of their whiskey.

tommyj1986
04-20-2012, 21:42
I see your point but am still convinced that the scope of linguistic and cultural construction in bourbon drinking is far larger than the scope of the chemicals' objective effect on flavor. Without hope of proving this very speculative proposition, I would suggest that these chemicals act as physical references points that somtimes ground the essentially social and cultural construction of taste but do define or predeomnate it. That while these chemicals provide an imporant starting point for flavor, the meaning of that flavor, once subjected to the processes of verbalization, takes on a life of its own.

I agree, even though we can isolate specific tastes by identifying the appropriate compound, that doesn't give you the whole picture. If I asked someone to describe a sunset, they might be able to do an ok to amazing job of it, and we use our eyes almost all of our waking hours. We describe what we see much more frequently than we describe what we taste. Even the most amazing writer will never fully be able to describe that sunset. The old saying 'a picture is worth a 1000 words' comes to mind.

Individual tastes of chemicals varies and who knows if I see the color blue the same way you do, some of these things are basically impossible to describe.

On a side note this goes a long way for me hating scores for things like whiskey. Don't get me wrong I respect and value reviewers, but they are like authors, each describing the whiskey the way they perceive it. In my opinion tasting notes will never be able to 100% accurately describe a whiskey. If we can't describe with all the words in our vocabulary, how are we going to be able to give it a number between 1 - 100.

AaronWF
04-20-2012, 21:52
1.) Dry and Sweet work on a binary gradient or spectrum that looks something like this:

-----Dry------------------Balanced---------------------Sweet----- (True?)

2.) Likewise, Oily and Watery look something like this spectrum

------Oily--------------(Medium? Balanced?)-----------Watery-----(True?)

3.) Oily and Watery describe the polarities of mouthfeel.
4.) Mouthfeel = immediately physical texture or consistency of the liquid (NOT the flavor itself), which just happens to be measured by feeling it in your mouth.
5.) Astringent = unmediated alcohol taste


No. In your construct, "Balanced" is halfway between Dry & Sweet. A whiskey can be dry (or sweet), and still be balanced. "Dry" and "Sweet" are descriptors of both flavors and (to a lesser extent) mouthfeel. "Balanced", to me, describes a product which harmonious in its characteristics...nothing sticks out like a sore thumb.

Love the discussion. One of my great joys is flexing my mind to associate the sensual experience of drinking whiskey with words. It brings creativity to drinking, and vice versa.

I think that balanced exists independently from the two gradients you have set up, and is more of a product of the two spectrums. It's another dimension, like a triangle. Have you seen the attached pic?

I think viscous works better than oily, and I think it should be on the right side with watery on the left.

Taste is not a simple sense; smell comes into it, as well as touch when you're putting matter in your mouth. Putting something in your mouth is a very intimate action, so that affects the taste as well. Part of the mysticism of whiskey comes from the wide confluence of physical sensation with physiological; it's a very concrete action, something you can't really be in denial about. (Whether too much is another matter.)

You might also consider nose its own gradient, but I'm not sure what the ends would be. I'll keep sniffing and see if I can come up with it...


Another example is vanilla, its flavor is from vanillin. Which we can isolate in vanilla beans, but also occurs naturally in high amounts in American white oak.

That's makes perfect sense and I've never seen it stated so plainly!

tommyj1986
04-20-2012, 21:59
I think that balanced exists independently from the two gradients you have set up, and is more of a product of the two spectrums. It's another dimension, like a triangle. Have you seen the attached pic?


I like flavor maps, and I was thinking of posting one, I'm attaching a flavor wheel. These are used by different reviewers or tasters, often wine, here is one for scotch. I don't think bourbon is lucky enough to have a flavor map or tasting wheel.

CoMobourbon
04-20-2012, 22:06
I agree, even though we can isolate specific tastes by identifying the appropriate compound, that doesn't give you the whole picture. If I asked someone to describe a sunset, they might be able to do an ok to amazing job of it, and we use our eyes almost all of our waking hours. We describe what we see much more frequently than we describe what we taste. Even the most amazing writer will never fully be able to describe that sunset. The old saying 'a picture is worth a 1000 words' comes to mind.

Individual tastes of chemicals varies and who knows if I see the color blue the same way you do, some of these things are basically impossible to describe.

On a side note this goes a long way for me hating scores for things like whiskey. Don't get me wrong I respect and value reviewers, but they are like authors, each describing the whiskey the way they perceive it. In my opinion tasting notes will never be able to 100% accurately describe a whiskey. If we can't describe with all the words in our vocabulary, how are we going to be able to give it a number between 1 - 100.

Totally. The whole numerical ratings system has its use, but we bestow on it totally undue authority. Also I think the numbers promise an objectification of the whiskey quality/flavor that they just can't keep. That kind of pseudo-objectification discredits the real objectification of taste that studying the chemicals can, in some limited way, actually achieve.

CoMobourbon
04-20-2012, 22:50
No. In your construct, "Balanced" is halfway between Dry & Sweet. A whiskey can be dry (or sweet), and still be balanced. "Dry" and "Sweet" are descriptors of both flavors and (to a lesser extent) mouthfeel. "Balanced", to me, describes a product which harmonious in its characteristics...nothing sticks out like a sore thumb.

5.) Astringent = unmediated alcohol taste

1.) Does "body" really just mean "mouthfeel", or does it have more to do with flavor? The whole "thin" to "medium" to "full" gradient seems to indicate texture, but really I have no clear idea what the hell people are talking about when they say their whiskey has a "medium body."

"Mouthfeel" takes into consideration textural elements, while "Body" is more concerned about weight.

2.) What does "Hot" mean, exactly? It seems to mean "astringent", but constant references to mitigating "heat" with icecubes have planted the idea in my head that the sensation of actual, non-metaphorical temperature might somehow be involved.

"Heat" is the noticeable presence of alcohol, where it is out of balance with the other factors. "Astringency" is not at all descriptive of alcohol. It is present due one of many factors (or even a combination of many)...barrel tannin, acidity, pH.

So am I pulling this out of my ass? How wrong or right am I?

No...but I do think that you might be over-thinking it. :grin:

Well, I thought you made some nice distinctions there, but University of Georgia? All incoherent rambling.

I kid. Besides the very useful correction about body (another 'of course' moment in which the articluation of the idea drew sharp lines around knowledge I think I already had), you fixed two pretty basic problems in my own personal bourbon language chart. First, the use of the term "balanced" in both charts was just intellecually lazy and you were clearly right to shoot it down. Inserting balance into a scheme for sweetness is like grabbing the nearest orange and tossing it into an apple contest. Second, you finally pointed out for me the one really rotten plank throwing off the whole structure of my bourbon language: the astringency = unmediated alchohol taste premise. Tearing out that misconception clears up a lot for me. But it still leaves me wondering a little bit; if both unsupported alcohol and astringency both involve bitter tastes (albeit fairly different bitter tastes), then how accurately can we differentiate between the two at the sublime moment of whiskey to palate or whiskey vapors to nasal receptors? And how much does it matter? (pretty accurately, and it matters some, but to what degree in each case?)

And I am not completely sure that I am overthinking the role of language in bourbon drinking. I think that there is no godly reason for fermented wood-aged grain water to be instrinsically tasty; rather, we make it good by saying that it's good. To even get to the moment of blissful taste, we must use the vehicle of language - otherwise, the absurd reality of the fermented wood-aged grain water would hit us full in the face.

Now, to a large extent, that vehicle of language probably drives itself and needs no attention from me. So yeah, yeah, of course I am overthinking it at least somewhat. I do persist in thinking, however, that knowing how that bourban language vehicle works will help me better get to my whiskey enjoyment destination. (Cheers for the cheesiest and flimsiest metaphor ever!)

CoMobourbon
04-20-2012, 23:06
I think that balanced exists independently from the two gradients you have set up, and is more of a product of the two spectrums. It's another dimension, like a triangle. Have you seen the attached pic?

I think viscous works better than oily, and I think it should be on the right side with watery on the left.

Taste is not a simple sense; smell comes into it, as well as touch when you're putting matter in your mouth. Putting something in your mouth is a very intimate action, so that affects the taste as well. Part of the mysticism of whiskey comes from the wide confluence of physical sensation with physiological; it's a very concrete action, something you can't really be in denial about. (Whether too much is another matter.)

You might also consider nose its own gradient, but I'm not sure what the ends would be. I'll keep sniffing and see if I can come up with it...

First of all, I unreservedly admit the intellectual laziness in just throwing in balance, a category of its own, into other schemes. Apples and oranges, oranges and apples.

And I totally agree on the addition of categories like nose spectrums to my very much non-comprehensive list of schemes. Good luck on defining the boundaries of these schemes for nose, though; I feel like while there are some patterns governing nose (scent?), that whole linguistic realm is much more fluid and much less stable than the domain of palate taste or even finish. Here more than anywhere, I would think, neat little term constructs like gradients will be difficult to apply. (Of course, scent is closley related to taste, but to the extent that we try to seperate nose from palatte, we find a much more spontaneous and less codified diction.) But really, keep on keeping on.

Good stuff, good stuff.

Young Blacksmith
04-21-2012, 07:43
'bannana' and 'vanilla' (and hell, maybe even 'black currant') are ... physical derivatives of ... real banana taste and real vanilla taste.
..... these chemicals act as physical references points that sometimes ground the ... taste ...

Many thoughts here this morning, but I really like the ones I quoted (butchered) above.

Essentially it's your sense memory that allows you to taste or smell these items in something else. If you've never tasted black currants alone, how would you remember that while tasting a pour? Likewise rum, butterscotch, vanilla, etc.

Grape Fruit Stripe gum was one. I shared a bottle of Old Forester 100 proof with StraightNoChaser and we both tasted it, but I couldn't define it. Once he did though, it was prevalent. It's probably been 25-30 years since I've tasted Grape Fruit Stripe gum, but the memory was still there in the back of the brain somewhere, lodged, and once pulled out again was amazing to perceive.

When someone posts a tasting note, and it's not something I've pulled from the senses before, I go back and taste/smell/feel the pour and see if I can pull the same things, compare, and sometimes contrast to what I get. And then other times I enjoy just sitting and enjoying my whiskey without trying to define things, let the brain wander to other thoughts, lubricated by the alcohol.

The main tasting for me is nice, but its the finish that really solidifies if I will purchase a whiskey again. If it lingers for a bit, letting me enjoy the bourbon for longer after a sip, that's when I get my contentment.

CoMobourbon
04-21-2012, 09:03
Essentially it's your sense memory that allows you to taste or smell these items in something else. If you've never tasted black currants alone, how would you remember that while tasting a pour? Likewise rum, butterscotch, vanilla, etc.

Grape Fruit Stripe gum was one. I shared a bottle of Old Forester 100 proof with StraightNoChaser and we both tasted it, but I couldn't define it. Once he did though, it was prevalent. It's probably been 25-30 years since I've tasted Grape Fruit Stripe gum, but the memory was still there in the back of the brain somewhere, lodged, and once pulled out again was amazing to perceive.
__________________________________________________ ___________

And then other times I enjoy just sitting and enjoying my whiskey without trying to define things, let the brain wander to other thoughts, lubricated by the alcohol.

Sorry, but as my posts demonstrate, I can't identify at all with letting my mind wander. All metal, all the time.

No, but I actually do subsribe to this approach. I always pay pretty close attention to the first couple sips but then let myself drift in and out of bourbon consiousness. IMHO, there is nothing like that sensation of being pulled back into the bourbon flavor after preoccupying oneself with other (less important) thoughts.

And I think your taste memory argument makes sense. But, for better or worse (correct me if I put too many words in your mouth), it seems premised on the notion that these flavors are fixed constants that we try (imperfectly) to remember. So your bourbon in question really did taste like Grape Fruit Stripe gum.

I am not so sure that I would come down on this side of the fence. If this whole discussion comes down to a discussion of whether bourbon tastes like Grape Fruit Stripe gum or tastes *like* Grape Fruit Stripe gum (whether they truly taste the same or whether the taste memory just supports an anology about the flavor, which is really not same at all), I would tend to go with the latter. In other words, I think that all the objective physiological/neurological bells and whistles of taste memory have something to do with it, they account for only a vey small part of the subjective taste experience. Taste memory, I would argue, provides a valuable prompt or template for the process by which you pretty much make taste up and then verbalize it.

mrviognier
04-21-2012, 09:49
And I think your taste memory argument makes sense. But, for better or worse (correct me if I put too many words in your mouth), it seems premised on the notion that these flavors are fixed constants that we try (imperfectly) to remember. So your bourbon in question really did taste like Grape Fruit Stripe gum.

I think y'all are trying to instill precision in an environment that is inherently imprecise. And thank goodness it is.

The beauty of whiskey appreciation is partially due to the fact that drinking whiskey recalls so many experiences...both sensory and lifetime. I think that in trying to pin down the whys and hows with empirical assuredness detracts - at least for me - from the entire experience.

Whiskey appreciation - like whiskey making - is better when practiced as an art than a science.

SMOWK
04-21-2012, 09:56
Only by drinking bourbon with friends, talking about it, and coming to some sort of agreement, or disagreement, can you really start to understand and "get" what flavors you, and your friends, like, and agree to disagree on.

Lots of times I have been enlightened by a simple explanation of a flavor/aroma I was looking to put my finger on. Once you find it, it becomes like an old friend when you come across it in the future.

Dryness, while hard to explain, I know it when I taste it.

T Comp
04-21-2012, 11:59
I think y'all are trying to instill precision in an environment that is inherently imprecise. And thank goodness it is.

The beauty of whiskey appreciation is partially due to the fact that drinking whiskey recalls so many experiences...both sensory and lifetime. I think that in trying to pin down the whys and hows with empirical assuredness detracts - at least for me - from the entire experience.

Whiskey appreciation - like whiskey making - is better when practiced as an art than a science.


Only by drinking bourbon with friends, talking about it, and coming to some sort of agreement, or disagreement, can you really start to understand and "get" what flavors you, and your friends, like, and agree to disagree on.

Lots of times I have been enlightened by a simple explanation of a flavor/aroma I was looking to put my finger on. Once you find it, it becomes like an old friend when you come across it in the future.

Dryness, while hard to explain, I know it when I taste it.

I'd say these words express, without semantics, what I'm thinking on this subject too :cool:. Oh and OWA at 107 = hot (but still excellent) and most cask strength 4Rs = not hot (but still excellent)...so back to semantics at least on excellent :grin:.

CoMobourbon
04-21-2012, 13:15
In other words, I think that while all the objective physiological/neurological bells and whistles of taste memory have something to do with it, they account for only a vey small part of the subjective taste experience. Taste memory, I would argue, provides a valuable prompt or template for the process by which you pretty much make taste up and then verbalize it.



The beauty of whiskey appreciation is partially due to the fact that drinking whiskey recalls so many experiences...both sensory and lifetime. I think that in trying to pin down the whys and hows with empirical assuredness detracts - at least for me - from the entire experience.

Whiskey appreciation - like whiskey making - is better when practiced as an art than a science.


Only by drinking bourbon with friends, talking about it, and coming to some sort of agreement, or disagreement, can you really start to understand and "get" what flavors...

Lots of times I have been enlightened by a simple explanation of a flavor/aroma I was looking to put my finger on. Once you find it, it becomes like an old friend when you come across it in the future.

Dryness, while hard to explain, I know it when I taste it.


I'd say these words express, without semantics, what I'm thinking on this subject too :cool:. Oh and OWA at 107 = hot (but still excellent) and most cask strength 4Rs = not hot (but still excellent)...so back to semantics at least on excellent :grin:.

So no intention to be confrontational at all (I will break down and use tons of smilies to demonstrate my mood :cool: :cool: :cool: :cool: :cool: :cool: :cool::grin: :grin: :grin: :grin: :grin: :grin: ), but I think we are all missing my point here and making me into some kind of scientific geek strawman . If you read any one of my posts in this thread, you will see that I agree with mrviognier's main point - that scientific pinning down plays only a very small role in defining our taste experiences, which are and are supposed to be mysterious, subjective, existential, artistic etc. If we could quantify bourbon taste with "precision", bourbon would be less good, and this site would have no reason to exist. To the extent to which I suggested otherwise, I was entertaining counter-arguments of respectable bourbon drinkers (like tommy and young blacksmith) with whom I did not completely agree.

What I think deserves attention, though, is the language with which we manage that subjective experience. Just because we accept that something is mysterious and subjective does not mean that we consent to putting in a black box. This whole freaking website is a testament to our ability to take these wonderful mysterious experiences and express them in a language that, though anything but scientific and objective, is at least coherent and meaningful. For example, I can use the term "dry" to translate the experience of a mysterious taste into a description (not a definition) that other people can on some level find useful, interesting, or even beautiful. And, as I said in my first post, while these terms are best put together in the context of a fluid conversation, I would suggest that it is a little refreshing to sometimes think about these subjectively constructed terms that we use (without, of course, trying to pin them down too "precisely").

Also, I think the way we talk about bourbon has subtle but profound effect on our enjoyment of the juice. If there is one major point in which I disagree with the posts above, it would be the underlying notion that subjective = individual. I think that whiskey HAS to be some combination of personal indescribable experience and social experience.

And frankly, though I not sure that you guys would admit it, I think your posts show that you guys agree with my call to appreciate bourbon language. You claim to discount semantics but in the same breath make very interesting contributions to a discussion of semantics. I think saying things like 'hot is not necessarily bad' is really valuable, T Comp. And you very clearly recognize the value of talking about taste with friends in context. Why not then talk about the words that we use in a discussion no more scientific or objective than our use of those words in the first place?

CoMobourbon
04-21-2012, 15:01
Only by drinking bourbon with friends, talking about it, and coming to some sort of agreement, or disagreement, can you really start to understand and "get" what flavors you, and your friends, like, and agree to disagree on.

Lots of times I have been enlightened by a simple explanation of a flavor/aroma I was looking to put my finger on. Once you find it, it becomes like an old friend when you come across it in the future.

Dryness, while hard to explain, I know it when I taste it.

Totally agree (whether you meant to agree with me or not). Maybe I was a little careless when I lumped your post in with the others.

So let's do that on a larger scale. No science, just semantics. What does 'hot' or 'dry' or 'spicy' or 'sweet' or 'oily' or 'balanced' mean / taste like to you?

For example, for me, an inexperienced drinker, spiciness has nothing to do with palate and everything to do with the finish. It is that slightly prickly tingling burning, combined with a slightly prickly taste, that sticks on the roof of my mouth in the finish. I don't necessarily get more of it in rye whiskey's than I do in wheaters.