View Full Version : Efficiently discovering a preferred taste profile

02-20-2004, 23:06
Greetings, all. This is my maiden voyage. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif

I'm a relatively recent member, and a newcomer to the joys of straight bourbon whiskey (I also have a significant taste for that scottish also-ran http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif). I tend to immerse myself in new interests, and so I am fascinated by every aspect of the experience, from the lore and politics of the industry, to the processes involved in production, to the presentation and tasting nuances of the various bottlings.

My current objective is to identify the basic bourbon taste profile that suits me most, without wasting too much of my limited cash. I have been investigating the bourbon world by reading about various bourbons, distilleries, history, personalities, and tasting notes. In the process I have devised a plan http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/rolleyes.gif to sample the major bourbon offerings available in a cost-effective attempt to narrow my field of concentration to a relatively limited range of bourbons that I am likely to prefer.

My current choices and rationale so far are as follows:

-Elijah Craig 12yo
In theory, I should be able to form my basic opinion of Heaven Hill offerings with this. While there may be no reason to ignore, for example, Evan Williams Single Barrel because of a less-than-enthusiastic experience with EC-12, I figure if I really hate EC I should probably focus on a different distillery to begin with.

-Knob Creek
Same idea here. If I like KC, then other Beam bottlings bear closer scrutiny, otherwise I should probably look elsewhere for something I'll like right away.

-Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve
Again, my guess is that this is the best representative of mainstream WT brew. Granted, Rare Breed or Kentucky Spirit may be better, but I don't want to risk my budget on potential exceptions until I know what I like in general.

-W.L. Weller 12yo
My impression is that this is the quintessential wheated bourbon, which should inform me about that as well as whether to pursue the rest of the Weller and Van Winkle line.

What I would like to know is what everybody thinks of my plan and choices so far, given my stated goal. If you think my goal itself is misguided, tell me why. I'd also like to know what other choices anyone might recommend in the same vein.

I have already come to recognize that people have different tastes, and that what some may love I may hate, and vice-versa. I also understand that even my own tastes my vary from time to time, and may grow more discerning as my tasting experience grows. Finally, I realize that any given bottling may vary somewhat from example to example, especially when dealing with single-barrel expressions.

Here's what I've actually tried so far:

-Maker's Mark
Unlike some, my impressions of MM were generally good. Not great, but good. I found MM to be light, balanced, sweet, and very approachable. The kind of thing I might choose for a general table whisky. I did not find it demanding, sophisticated, complex, or particularly cost-effective (~$28/liter in my neck of the woods).

-Old Rip Van Winkle 12yo
This was a very confusing experience, given the reputation of this bottling. I am convinced at this
point that my taste buds are simply inexperienced or irregular, or that I encountered a poor bottle. I found this stuff entirely too medicinal, and I lived with the whole bottle before I formed a complete opinion. It did seem to improve a bit toward the second half, but honestly I was glad when it was over. I know I should try another, perhaps after more experience with other bourbons, but as of now I just don't care for it.

You may note that I have not yet tried anything with rye in the mash bill (that's right, isn't it?), so I may prefer non-wheated bourbons.

Finally, I would like to say that this forum has been quite indispensable in my quest for information on the character of various bourbons and distilleries. What impresses me so much is not just that it is the best bourbon forum around, but that it is the best forum of any kind I have been exposed to. Part of this impression is that the user interface just happens to suit my personal style, but the real asset of this forum is its members. Most of the regular posters conduct themselves as knowledgeable, helpful, unassuming individuals with an honest passion for whisky and whisky culture. They contribute what seems to me to be an incredible amount of information, pictures, debate, etc. and clearly enjoy doing so. For my part, I enjoy lurking (and learning) here immensely. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/bowdown.gif

02-21-2004, 07:32

I really don't think you need any help. You are definitely on the right track. The only advice I could give - don't give up on a distillery because of one bottling. The other thing you might try -buy all the different bourbons you can find in the minature bottles (50ml) and that way you will have a chance to try a lot of them and it will only cost you a fraction of the big bottles.


02-21-2004, 08:44
Several points:
1) You've made some fine choices to begin with, but I'd caution against drawing broadly painted impressions of distilleries based on a single offering. Even within a single producer's menu, the differences are just too great. Use Buffalo Trace, for example: AAA 10yo is highly regarded -- and rightly so -- on this forum, but it's an entirely different experience than the Van Winkles (wheat) or Old Charter (rye), both also produced there. Other examples are plentiful.
2)As for Van Winkle 12yo SR Lot B: I know just how you feel. I didn't care for my first sip, either, but found it grew on me. Van Winkle 10/90 was the same. Didn't like it -- now it's the open bottle sitting on my bar. Impressions change. There certainly are some bourbons you'll never like, but don't count any out after one try.
3)Rye and wheat are very different, but also the same in that they are bourbons. That's both obvious and non-sensical at the same time, I realize, but (see point #1 above), it's best to avoid broad strokes. There are so many different bourbons because they are intricately nuanced -- so, yes, while wheat is wheat and rye is rye, it's certainly possible to like (or dislike) examples of both. But, with so many bottlings available, you'll find some you won't want to be without, too, just like all of us at SB.com have.

02-21-2004, 16:01
Yeah, I agree with your suggestion on the sampler bottles. However, in my area (small town you never heard of in NW Arkansas), I have found it difficult to locate anything I want to try smaller than 750ml (the small sizes seem to be reserved for other product types). I do have access to one good liquor store with a reasonable selection of bourbons, but I haven't felt like my patronage was sufficient to justify asking for them to order lots of things they don't usually stock, especially small bottles at low prices. The nearest city likely to have a better selection is a bit far away to frequent. Can you get the 50ml sizes online? I haven't really looked. Are there any mainstream bourbons you know of that are not available in the smaller sizes?

02-21-2004, 16:23
I guess what I'm hoping to do is try to figure out what "broad strokes" there might be for me, if any (such as whether I tend to prefer wheat or rye). My guess is that my taster is not quite prepared to appreciate the subtleties between similar bottlings, so I figured if I picked out an acknowledged good example of each major type and tried them, I could find what appealed to me most right now and start there. Presumably as I explore outward from this initial comfort zone, I can begin to better appreciate the differences and nuances in other distilleries/bottlings and eventually discover my complete preference range.

I think my initial impression of ORVW 12y has made me cautious about simply tasting at random. On the other hand, it is possible I am analyzing too much and tasting too little, and only repeated exposure to any given bottling will allow me to appreciate it. Unfortunately, my budget is relatively small, and I want to try some of the more expensive choices as well (i.e. Blanton's), which tends to limit how much repeated exposure I can devote to a given bottling, at least in the short term. Long term, I don't plan to rule out anything I haven't tried several times.

So, given what you've said, are there any particular bourbons you would suggest as being fairly representative or in the center range of a particular group? Conversely, are there any other bourbons you can think of that differ sufficiently from their distillery brethren as to call for special consideration?

Thanks for your advice.

02-21-2004, 16:45
Having already said my piece about 'broad strokes', I'll just offer:

WHEAT: W.L. Weller Special Reserve (7yo) is a decent bourbon for around $15 and, I think, readily available. If either the Weller Antique 107 (around $20) or Weller $12 ($20-$22) is available, go for them either instead of or addition to the SR. I like even Rebel Yell ($10-$12), originally a sibling of the Weller's bottlings, though now produced elsewhere. Not sophisticated, surely, but it tastes good. And ain't that the bottom line?
RYE: Jim Beam Black ($15-$20; if the older 7yo, 90-proof is available, prefer it -- otherwise the current 8yo, 86-proof is very good), what some here refer to as "the poor man's Booker's". It's the same mash bill and approximate age as Booker's, bottled differently. And, it'll be available virtually anywhere -- it's on the basic Beam menu.

02-21-2004, 16:52
Welcome , Timberwolf. It seems you really have a handle on this, You can proceed and I think it will be a short ,but pleasant and meaningful trip around the block. You could for instance use Beam Black in place of Knob Creek, if you like it you will like KC better. Same with using Evan Williams 7 year in place of EC12 you would net enough savings to get a bottle of Old Forester. A representative Bourbon , loaded with Rye Spiceyness.
VanWinkle 10/107 If that seems no better than the 12 lot B, then back burner that for a bit.

Russells Reserve is the good one from WT in my opinion( The 12 year is but is scarce and expensive) Certainly Rare Breed should follow. Kentucky Spirit for some reason can have a wide variation between bottles. I wouldn't be concerned about it at all for now.

A bargain bourbon is Ezra Brooks 7 year 101proof if available.

Old Granddad has the highest percentage of rye for a bourbon so if you want to go to the extreme there, Old Granddad it the ticket.

As you say not all of us like the same thing, I think you will find your way around in short order with your plan. In fact it may serve us all well to call this a " Test Pattern" and to recommend it to those coming in to the Bourbon journey.Again, an excellent plan.

02-22-2004, 06:28
I agree with all the postings that have replied to your original post.

For example, don't try one bottling to represent a distillery! I tried that and found that the same distillery bottles many bourbons for a reason. They all have a different taste... that's why there isn't just one brand of bourbon.

You said you were using Knob Creek as an example of Jim Beam premium bourbons. Of the four Jim Beam premium bourbons, Knob Creek, for me, is the third from the top choice. Basil Hayden is my least favorite. Bakers and Bookers are about tied as favorites, with Bookers only slightly better. There is a big price difference and I may not by Bookers, again, for that reason. Remember, this is my opinion and others on the forum will disagree with me. That is what makes horse races!

Bottom line... you have to choose for yourself. Nobody else can. How do you know what will be the best bourbon for your tastes until you try a lot of bourbons? If you buy a bourbon you don't like, they become well bourbons, instead of top shelf bourbons. When you mix bourbon with Coke for some of your friends, you want the cheap or tasteless stuff in the Coke, not the good stuff!

Just give a lot of bourbons a try, based on your budget and keep reading these postings. We will have you confused in no time! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif

02-22-2004, 16:54
I had thought of using some of the more inexpensive examples (i.e. Beam Black or EW7), but my original thought was that I should try examples that were perceived to be of somewhat better quality in order not to be put off of a given grouping by my inability to appreciate a minor example. Of course, I realize some of these lower priced expressions may be quite good if chosen well, so I may indeed go that route for some choices, since it would enable me to sample more types.

Thanks for all the tips, folks. I'll report back as I try each choice and let you know what an inexperienced taster thinks, including my rationale for each choice and what conclusion (albeit temporary) I may draw. It'll be a unique perspective if nothing else. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/skep.gif

02-22-2004, 20:49
Welcome to Straightbourbon.com! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif

While I agree with others that you definitely shouldn't judge a distillery by a single bottling, I think you have made some sound choices to begin with. You'll either love or hate EC12yo, as seems the case with the members here. If you don't like it, be sure to give the EWSB's a try. If you like Maker's you're sure to enjoy Weller 12yo, one of my favorites regardless of price. Knob Creek is another love it or leave it bourbon. Frankly I leave it most of the time, but many here really like it. I would suggest trying Rare Breed over Russell's Reserve. It will cost you about $10 more, but is far superior IMHO. Whatever you decide, you're sure to find many bourbons that will suit your tastes. Let us know how it all turns out! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif

BTW, I moved this thread to the general board, as we aren't discussing specific taste profiles here. Not to worry though, you'll be there soon enough! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif

02-23-2004, 15:38
The bottles you decided to try are good choices. Most here would consider them superior, yet they are moderately priced. You could even go a little cheaper on the Beam and substitute Jim Beam black label for the Knob Creek.

As others have cautioned you, though, don't expect that just because you like one bottling from a particular distillery you will like others. It's amazing how much variation a distillery can get, even if they only make one mashbill.

Probably the best thing you can do is take advantage of the vast tasting experience of the people on this board. If you find something you like, post something like this, "I tried Old Washboard 6-year-old, 93 proof and really liked it. Can you recommend anything similar?"

No guarantees, of course. As someone here used to say, "your mileage may vary," but that may be a better way to reach your objective than to find something you like and then randomly try other products of that distillery.

02-23-2004, 16:57
Thanks for the welcome and advice, jeff. As for WTRB, I may indeed try it first as the various reviews I have read of it have my mouth watering. Chances are, if I like it I will *really* like it. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/drinking.gif The bottle design is one of my favorites, too.

I really wasn't sure whether to start this thread in the general area or the tasting area, so thanks for cleaning up after me. As I report on each of my choices associated with this initial "test pattern", should I simply add to this thread or start a new thread for each one in the tasting forum?

02-23-2004, 17:08
Yeah, I had not counted on a wide variation in distillery output, but several have cautioned about this so I will be careful about drawing my conclusions. I expect to eventually get around to trying most of the different bottlings at some point after this initial foray anyhow.

Your suggestion about consulting the board to find similar bottlings to those I end up liking seems like a pretty good one. As I cover each choice I try I will probably solicit comments in this area even if I don't prefer that choice right away. That way I should be able to start identifying related groupings as I go.

BTW, I enjoyed looking around your personal web site - lots of interesting information. You seem like a good person to ask: How does one go about getting a job tasting whisky for a living? http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif

02-23-2004, 17:09
As I report on each of my choices associated with this initial "test pattern", should I simply add to this thread or start a new thread for each one in the tasting forum?

My advice is if you are going to go 'all out' and actually write up tasting notes using a template, such as the one I'll post at the end of this, go right ahead and make a whole new post in the tastings forum. If you are going to just give your impressions briefly on a selected pour in a paragraph or something like that, youy can search and see if there have been tasting notes done it it already and just add to an existing thread. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif

Here's that template:

<preamble -- whatever opening remarks you would like to make introducing this bottling>

Name: <The product label, including any age statement>

Info: <Batch No., Bottle No., etc...>

Distillery: <Distillery info>

Cost: <What you paid, and where>

Proof: <Bottling’s proof statement>

Bottle: <Description of shape/type of bottle>

Color: <Description of the physical attributes of the liquid itself>

Body: <Thin, thick, how it cllings to glass, mouthfeel, etc>

Nose: <Olfactory impressions>

Taste: <Description of the initial taste impression>

Finish: <Description of the lingering taste impression>

Overall: <Overall impression of this bottling>

02-23-2004, 17:21
Thanks, I believe I will use the template and create a post for each choice I try. I feel a little silly offering my inexperienced opinion (especially since I may have to drink my words later on if I change my mind) but I want to go through the exercise as part of my learning process. I doubt I'll be detecting any sophisticated flavors (uh, lessee, I think it tasted a bit like corn), but I don't think I can make much progress without a serious attempt. Maybe this way I can gauge my degree of palate sensitivity improvement (if any) as I gain experience.

02-23-2004, 17:28
I wouldn't worry a bit, just give it your best shot! Heck, I didn't post tasting notes the first year or more I was here... I just did one some time back and had fun doing it and try every now and then. My palate is no where near Jeff's or others on here, but nonetheless, no one will fault anyone for trying. Everyone perceives different things in a pour so just have fun! I await to hear your impressions http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif

02-23-2004, 17:30
This may help Talking about Tasting (http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/showflat.php?Cat=&Board=Tasting&Number=2707&fpart= &PHPSESSID=) No point in reinventing the wheel if it's not nessesary. This is an Old post here at SB.com that I have marked as a favorite thread( From the "My Home" page). It has some good reference material. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif

02-23-2004, 17:37
That is almost exactly what I do when I'm trying to describe a bourbon in a tasting. I find that I discover more about a bourbon on day two than on day one. I need a little time for the excitement of a new bottle, as well as marketing hype to wear off. Sometimes it just takes a day or two to put a finger on what exactly that strange or different flavor is. Basically the more you try, the better you become at identifying specific flavors and aromas.

02-23-2004, 17:45
I think it shows that you do. Sometimes I get excited about covering as much ground as possible and forget to take the time and spend it with one expression, to get as much out as possible.

02-23-2004, 22:21
This may help Talking about Tasting (http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/showflat.php?Cat=&Board=Tasting&Number=2707&fpart= &PHPSESSID=)...

Thanks! I had not come across this yet; it should help a great deal.