View Full Version : Non-bourbon tastes found in Bourbon
Last night I was enjoying a pour of BT with a bit more water than I usually do. A new taste came rushing to me... COCONUT. I've never tasted that before, and it wasn't fleeting... the experience was reproduceable.
This got me to thinking... we all know of the familiar bourbon flavours (vanilla, oak, citrus, smoke, leather, etc.) but I'd be interested in hearing some of the unusual flavours that you've encountered while enjoying your favourite pour. I'll start with a couple of my experiences:
Buffalo Trace (mixed 4 parts BT with 1 part distilled water) = Coconut.
Wathens (mixed with just a splash of water) = Chocolate
I get menthol from some bourbons, not a taste I'd associate normally with said drink.
I got a distinct MINTY taste from a bottle of Old Overholt Rye. I struggled at first to put a finger on it, but then once I did, it was clear as a bell. Not the DOMINANT taste, mind you, but it was there.
I got a distinct MINTY taste from a bottle of Old Overholt Rye.
I've never had Overholt, but have you ever had Saz 18yo!? It just SCREAMS mint! Actually, in the rye department, it's so minty that I prefer the more bourbon-like ORVW 13yo.
To me, the rye bourbons all seem to have a menthol/minty component which I've always called the "small grain" (ie. rye) influence.
Chris Morris, master distiller at Brown-Forman, divides the bourbon taste spectrum into quadrants: floral, fruity, candy and herbal. I'm not sure how to account for things like smoke and old leather in that, or maybe I'm remembering the whole thing wrong. On the candy side, nugat is something I taste from time to time, and definitely caramel. Mint is characteristic of products with a lot of rye in them, as are other spices such as black pepper. On the fruit side, sometimes you get citrus and other times dark fruits like figs.
Teasing out these different flavors is one of the most fun parts of the bourbon experience.
I've come across molasses, caramel and brown sugar, mostly in the wheated bourbons. I've also noticed mint here and there, but am not observant enough to note a trend as to what type drink -- probably rye or rye-heavy bourbon, according to others here. I also occasionally get figs and/or dried apricots in some of the more complex bourbons, like single-barrel products.
Chuck mentioned black pepper a few posts ago. That happens to be a distinct aroma/flavor I have frequently encountered when drinking Old Charter 12 yr. old (The Classic '90'). I've never experienced it in any other bourbon. It doesn't overwhelm, but it provides a nice spicy dimension to the mix.
Personally I would describe black pepper as a rare characteristic for bourbons. But other forum members may have encountered it in other bourbons besides Old Charter.
I have been experiencing the flavors of melons in some of my bourbons lately. In particular while tasting 4 Roses yellow label and with EWSB '93. Actually I think I have always tasted those flavors, but only recently have I been able to put my finger on what they really were.
Also, Last night I was having a nice pour of Buffalo Trace and I was overwhelmed with a chocolaty flavor. So much so that upon hearing about it Leslie insisted on a glass. She was not impressed, saying that it just, "tasted like bourbon" http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/frown.gif
If you hold out until the finish, Blanton's has a crisp, clean, almost by-itself blast of pumpkin pie spice. I get it almost every tasting.
I am totally jealous of everyone who can find the subtle tastes and identify them. I guess there have been too many pots of three alarm chile and BYFO (burn your face off) hot wings http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/hot.gif across my buds. While I can definitely tell the difference between different pours, sadly all I can judge for the moment is whether I like it or not. My nose can find all the elements described, but I guess I need to keep on developing my taste buds. As the axiom says, if at first you don't succeed.....
I wouldn't worry too much about not being able to pick up on every nuiance dane... We all pick up different things, and thats if we can pick up on anything at all. What matters the most is you know what you like. I know one Master Distiller who doesn't even bother with big long winded notes because it is all so interperative. That being said, people should still not be afraid to give their opinions on certain pours in our tastings forum. It's fun to read the differences everyone finds in various pours... No matter how limited one's tasting vocabulary/abilities may be. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
Don't be discouraged. It takes some doing. My original training in careful tasting was with wine and I thought I never would be able to do it, same thing when I became more interested in whiskey, but it comes with time and patience. The good news is that mainly what it takes is more drinking.
Not that I am an expert by any means, for thefirst several years of drinking bourbon, I never really paid attention to the details, just enjoyed the stuff. Only the past few years, since I have slowed down a bit, have I taken the interest in really assessing what it is I am drinknig and getting into the "Zen" of bourbon. Looking at others tasting notes helped me to read waht others have tasted and then test myself to see if I taste it or if I taste something else or nothing at all. It just began to broaden my view of what bourbon is and how to truly enjoy it!
So be patient, enjoy your pours and don't worry your brain will put the flavors to you taste buds prbably when you least expect it.
I was at a Riedel Crystal wine tasting. We tasted the same wines from a series of glasses and recorded the change in flavor. I, unfortunately, found little hard evidence that a particular Chardonnay tasted different when sampled from modestly different glassware. The "expert" informed me that there are three types of Palates, non-tasters, tasters and supertasters. It goes back to when their brains were wired as children and how "sensitive' their brains were to signals from their tastebuds. (I'm thinkin', Yeah right!!) She provided evidence that certain people can detect Parts Per Million Quantities of certain flavors in a neutral medium (water, dilute alcohol etc)and segregate them in mixtures. Others cannot. Most are in-between. Where am I? She said, "Do you like spicy food over subtle? Can you tolerate candy, like fudge?" If the answer is yes, you're probably and non-taster. If you detect subtle off flavors in bland foods, like oatmeal and can name it, you're probably a supertaster. The good news is that you can train your palate to maximize your abilities. The bad news is you can't go beyond your "wired or genetic" capability. I guess I'm never gonna taste that hint of wild yellow currants in that Riesling. It could all be http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/bs.gif, but it made sense at the time
I think it might go beyond neural "hard-wiring", Pepcycle. I was recently at some friends' house for a dinner party, and was shown a kit that was picked up at a science fair. It included some little reinforcement o-rings (that you would use on punched paper,) and some dye, and a card with information on it. You're supposed to put the o-ring on the tongue, and die the tastebuds with the dye, and then count how many are in the circle. Those with a bud-count above a certain threshhold are the "supertasters", those below, the "non-tasters," and then the average group in the middle.
BUT we all know, also, that a BIG part of tasting bourbon, or anything else, for that matter, is in the nose. If I understand it right, the tastebuds only register the four primary tastes, (sweet, sour, bitter, salty,) with everything else that makes up "taste" being registered on the olfactory unit. Basically we are smelling what is in our mouth at the same time that the tastebuds are being stimulated. Perhaps people have varying amounts of receptors in their nose, also?
I prefer (very) spicy food, and I enjoy bold flavors like black coffee and pipe smoke. (And bourbon.) But I think I can pick up on some degree of subtlety, also. My wife thinks I'm fussy, in fact, but I'm not. (She's just a non-taster; perhaps even a negative taster.) I'm sure, however, that some people will detect nuances that I never will.
When I first started smoking a pipe, I was then like I am now with bourbon, searching out every blend, paying a LOT of attention to what leaf lent what flavor to the smoke, and basically studying my experience. And while I don't regret learning about what I enjoy, things have changed. Now I can stuff a pipe with something I already know I like, and smoke it without thinking about it all, and frankly, I have discovered that the most enjoyable smoke you will ever have is the one you're not even thinking about. I'll probably get that way with bourbon, too, eventually. Tasting notes are fun, but I don't think whiskey was ever meant to be an acedemic excercise. The people who invented bourbon, (bless them,) weren't drinking the refined products that we have today, but they enjoyed it anyway. And that's OK.
Bottoms up. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
Personally, I think we all taste the different flavor elements in our drinks -- my original experience, too, as with wines -- but the hard part is identifying them. It seems quite possible to me that the ability to identify is related to diet -- for example, if I maintain a bland, invariable diet, I don't experience many of the flavors I find in other foods (and drinks), so I won't be able to pick out what they are. Also, I suspect we've all noticed that we like different bourbons better one time than another, or we 'discover' a flavor element we hadn't noticed before in a familiar drink. It's kinda like the difference between liking a Monet and being able to paint a Monet. You don't have to be artist to enjoy art.
I agree that the number and types of tastebuds and olfactory receptors are a big factor. I had never heard of non-taster, taster and supertasters before. I agree with your enjoyment versus academic study assertion.
Sometimes I'm in an investigative mood and dig into the flavors and try to pick the beverage apart analytically. Other times, I reach for something I know and just enjoy. Isn't great that we have the opportunity and means to do that. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif
There are several "educational" kits geared more for the wine trade that contain pure essences/aromas that allow one to taste or smell something in its pure form and not as part of a mixture. Some of these kits have over 50 different pure elements. I toyed around with one at a wine class many years ago and these things do help you identify what you are tasting and smelling. But I dont think I'll be shelling out $100 to $500 for one of these kits so I can identify the honeysuckle in my next bourbon....I'll spend it on real world lab samples like ORVW10/107. If you're curious about these kits, you can find them online at any wine accessory site.
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