View Full Version : Tasting question
If I want to compare a few bourbons, is it wise to do side by side comparisons, or should I stick with one brand a night?
Unless your memory is better than mine, I would suggest doing a couple at a time. Too many tend to run together and cause a lapse in cognitive thinking. If you stay with two and use the tasting notes on this site as a starting point and not get too confused you can sort out your preferences in short order. Trying too many too quick can also lead to misjudging good bourbons by judging them on one tasting. What you have eaten or drank before the test can make a world of difference too. Now all this is my humble opinion and truthfully I hold each bourbon on its own merit rather than compare it to others. My road may be a bit costly for some though in that I taste em as I buy em. Some haven't made the second go around yet, but they will. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif
When I was in my exploration phase, I did mostly individual tastings. But nowadays my bourbon agenda is a little different, with the goal being to 'thin out the herd' a little, so I find myself doing a lot more side-by-side comparisons. Interestingly enough, I've found quite a few bourbons which on their own are quite nice don't stand up well to competition. YMMV, of course!
Thanks guys, if you're doing comparisons, should I use water as a palate cleanser? I feel like I should use something since bourbon is so strong.
I always use water. so many bourbons...such little time... http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif
Water seems to work well...also those unsalted oyster crackers seem to do a good palate washout. (I know those are very popular for wine tasting at least).
I love to do side by sides. I started with bourbons that were clearly different. Wheaters vs Ryes, High Proof vs low, Aged vs young, premium vs "bottom shelf". My challenge: Could I tell the difference? As my ability to descriminate improves, my side by sides get to products that are closer in style and I kid myself into thinking that I can tell really close products apart. ('94 EWSB vs '93 EWSB) Sometimes, I really think I can, others I wonder if I can even tell the brand.
I tried lining up 3 or more bourbons, but it was sensory confusion. This same thing happens at tastings. Too many parameters, dulling of the taste buds, inability to clear that rye bite between samples.
I always sample three ways, neat, w/water and on ice.
That's me, YMMV.
I love to do side by sides, too. And like you, I like to sample neat, with water, and with ice. At big tastings, it's often hard to spend the kinda time I like, especially at something like a whiskey festival where there's much more swallowing going on than spitting. I prefer to do the side by side contemplations in the peace and quiet of home (or office if I'm at work).
I do bourbon blind taste tests with friends, using a side-by-side technique. We use a score sheet that has the following values:
Color - 2 points.
Bouquet (Smell) - 3 points.
Flavor (Taste) - 5 points.
Finish (Aftertaste) - 5 points.
This makes a maximum of 15 points per bourbon.
Each taster gets a handout that indicates, or describes, the preferred bourbon attributes that should generate the maximum points within each taste test.
I won't go into the minutia, here, but, we usually taste 5 to 8 bourbons, with water chasers between each tasting.
Lately, we have been scoring all the bourbons for color, first. Then we score each for bouquet. Lastly, we score each bourbon for flavor and finish, together.
This seems to work well for us. A neutral party pours the bourbons and marks them with numbers (we use playing cards for the numbers). The same number goes under each bourbon-filled glass (for each taster) and also the bottle the bourbon came from.
Once all the scores have been tallied, we compare the numbers on the score sheets to the numbers under the bourbon bottles. This puts a bourbon brand, age and proof "face" on each set of scores.
This is where the fun begins. We see that our favorite bourbon was not the one scored highest. Sometimes it is scored the lowest! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/banghead.gif
The remainder of the evening is spent discussing the results and finishing the bourbon. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/yum.gif
Tough life, but, someone's got to do it! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif
I'm curious -- How do you rate the color?
I've tasted good bourbons in many different shades.
Is it by how dark it is? Degree of brown/red? Or just a personal preference for the appearance of the liquid?
I had the same question. Unless it is just ugly, or some goofy non-whiskey color, what difference does the color make?
Rather than 'color' think 'appearance.' You want the whiskey to be clear and bright, not cloudy. For bourbon, you want the color to be rich, not pale, and reddish, not yellowish. Color imperfections can be a sign of aging imperfections or of some failure in processing prior to bottling (though this is rare). The appearace stage is also when you observe the whiskey's 'legs.'
Color is a strange thing... there have been studies in Scotland showing
that if you set two glasses of the same whisk(e)y in front of someone,
but put a little food coloring in one of them, and people will have
very different reactions.
Unlike bourbon, scotch is allowed to have coloring added to it, which is a
somewhat controversial thing among the high end drinkers. Personally,
the best scotches I've had were all pale or light yellow... but I still
like to see a dark color for psychological reasons!
It all depends on how you define "enjoyment" of whiskey. If you're
talking about just taste/aroma, then color is irrelevant. But I personally
like a handsome looking glass bottle with a dignified label: it adds to
the enjoyment. Similarly, I like a good coloration in the whiskey.
My favorite food science story is a study where people were fed steak
in a room with colored lights. They loved it and rated it superb. The
colored lights were turned off, and the white lights were turned on,
revealing that the steak was blue. The participants got sick and vomited!
It was just food coloring, but it really effected them.
A similar thing is true of other foods, like butter (naturally white) and many cheeses (naturally whitish, especially cheddar). People think the colorized versions are the more natural ones!
Pepsi's unfortunate experiment with the much-maligned "Crystal Pepsi" showed quite clearly (pardon the pun) that people are pretty attached to that caramel coloring.
As far as the blue steak and similar experiments, I wonder if this punches some kind of reflexive instinct against eating spoiled food. The change in color flips a switch in the brain that says, "It's spoiled! Puke it up!" http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif
When it comes to whisk(e)y, I have to say that a good color, especially the coppery reds of fine bourbon, are indeed part of the enjoyment. I would look upon any whisk(e)y that poured out clear as gin with some suspicion, and might not be as open-minded about enjoying it as I would if it were darker.
This begs the question.
Where is the appeal of high end Gin and Vodka?
Clear is better. Implied crisp and clean.
The opposite appears to be true for bourbon
Depth of color implies flavor and aroma.
The power of suggestion.
Is it an accident that most blends are in brown tinted glass and most high end bourbons in clear glass?
I think not.
The tasting of bourbon (and other drinks, for that matter) are very subjective. I, personally, like a slightly darker bourbon color, but not too dark. Clarity is of utmost importance. A cloudy bourbon would not be too appealing.
Other tasters, in my blind taste test sessions, rate the bourbons on how they feel about them, at that moment in time. They are also comparing all the bourbons together. If all the bourbons were either dark or light, the individual bourbon color would be relative to the rest of the bourbons in the group. Hence, a slightly darker bourbon, in the same group as lighter-in-color bourbons, would appear darker, even if it were a naturally light-colored bourbon, itself.
My mind tends to associate a light bourbon color with a younger bourbon, although this is not necessarily true. Psychologically, this is my thinking. Hence, the darker the bourbon, the more I think it is older. Too dark of a bourbon, to me, means that it is very old and possibly too oaky for my taste. Again, this is not necessarily true of older bourbons, but how I think about the color of bourbon. Too dark a bourbon also reminds me of maple syrup and I think of sweetness instead of flavor.
I hope this answers your question. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif
A cloudy bourbon would not be too appealing.
This is an unfortunate tendency, especially among American consumers.
Scotch drinkers are rapidly growing to appreciate whisky that is "unchillfiltered". Chillfiltering is a process whereby the whisky is brought at or near freezing and "impurities" that cause the whisky to cloud are removed. Unfortunately, these "impurities" are evidently part of the taste and appeal, and do not even appear unless water or ice is added. You can find a small but growing number of options for un-chilfiltered expressions from various distilleries, and these often have more character and taste.
I'm not sure if bourbon goes through a similar process, but if it does, I hope that we are eventually given the option to buy the original undisturbed product. Those of us who drink it neat will still get the unclouded, clear coloring and perhaps an even finer tasting whiskey.
I agree that if you don't drink most bourbons neat, i.e. add ice or water, the bourbon will become a little less clear... although not really cloudy. I don't mind that, too much.
Many bourbons have such a wonderful color that I love to view the contents of the glass for awhile, just before taking in its aroma, hoping the two are a perfect match! If the taste is comparable, what a bonus! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/yum.gif
The worst problem I have come across is when a glass that was washed and then wiped out with a cotton or paper cloth, gets lint inside, thus causing particles in the bourbon. I can't stand that! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/banghead.gif
There are some threads on these forums that discuss chill filtering of bourbon, ad nauseum. The general consensus seemed to be that it is generally only done to low proof bourbons. Thus, the good high proof bourbons are usually free of this process.
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