View Full Version : Mixing Bourbons

01-19-2005, 12:40
I've noticed from several posters that there seems to be a small (but accepted) practice of mixing several different bourbons together. I believe the last one I read mixed wheated bourbons with ryes or maybe it was a Van Winkle. Regardless, this is not something I ever really considered. Of course I wouldn't put anyone down for their method of enjoying our favorite libation. I just wanted to see what others thought of this practice. Would it be something you would try, or are you adamantly against it, and why? Also from those who do, what some of the best/most interesting combinations you have come up with. Or even some of the worst to avoid.

01-19-2005, 13:00
I have no problems with doing this, but I haven't done it, and don't intend to in the foreseeable future. I'm new enough to bourbon that I'm still trying to experience the bourbon the way the master distiller or bottler intended it to taste. I would imagine that I might take to vatting after I have experienced most of the bourbons out there and am looking for something new.

01-19-2005, 13:25
The only times I mix bourbons is when I have 2 or 3 bottles with not enough in either bottle for a full pour. Otherwise I want to taste each bourbon seperately.
Fred http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/drink.gif

01-19-2005, 14:32
I feel the same way as wrbriggs. I'm still learning the language of describing what I get out of any given bottle, let along the combined effects of multiple bottles intermingled. I'm not even sure what I'd be trying to do with such experimentation. Also, my wallet isn't really deep enough to sacrifice good bourbon in the name of science, even if that science might be ultimately worthwhile. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif

01-19-2005, 14:36
Without any disrespect to recent devotees, one should only mingle with a good knowledge of the characters and constituents of the base whiskies. This is, after all, what the experts do. Elmer Lee does it (choosing whiskies of different ages and tastes), Jim Rutledge of Four Roses does it (choosing whiskies not just of different ages but made from different mashbills and yeasts), the Kulsveens and other merchants do it (possibly choosing whiskies of different origin), everyone in the business does it; and you can, too, but you don't have to, and I wouldn't advise it unless you are confident you understand the palette of whiskies available at present. In saying this, I am endeavoring to be honest and frank but in no way superior-sounding and I hope it doesn't come across that way.


N.B. You don't need many whiskies in your bar to do this, two or three will often suffice. And, if your experiment goes awry, it will make (I guarantee it http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif) a very good Manhattan Cocktail.

01-19-2005, 15:36
I'm going to post a somewhat dissenting opinion (it doesn't look like anybody's done that yet!)

I don't mix bourbons. It's not that I consider it sacrilegious or anything, I just don't feel the need or see the point. Put simply, I don't ever remember going to my bar with an 'itch' that a prefabricated bourbon couldn't 'scratch'.

Sure, I'm sure you can have some pleasant surprises and "happy accidents" with such experimenting, but why bother?

01-19-2005, 15:40
To expand the range of palates out there and - maybe - improve on them.

(Another) Gary

01-19-2005, 16:43
I believe the last one I read mixed wheated bourbons with ryes

Just this weekend I went to fill my flask prior to camping. I had a couple bottles that were near the end and figured I might as well vat them to get rid of the space they were taking up in the cabinet.

I ended up with a mixture that was ~75% EWSB 1993 and the remainder Virginia Gentleman. It was surprisingly tasty.

01-19-2005, 17:22
I don't mix bourbons. It's not that I consider it sacrilegious or anything, I just don't feel the need or see the point. Put simply, I don't ever remember going to my bar with an 'itch' that a prefabricated bourbon couldn't 'scratch'.

I think I fall into this Gary's camp for the most part. The only exception on my part is more alchemy than science. I will sometimes vat the dregs of bottom to middle shelf selections just to see what happens. The last go round included four very low end bottles we hadn't touched literally for years - Echo Spring, Colonel's Pride, Old 1889 and Old Crow. Oddly, the vatting, while still very young and somewhat harsh tasting, was certainly better than any individual component. But that was blind mixing, not scientific calculation.

Hmmm...maybe the magic is in the empty ceramic George Dickel jug I used. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif

01-19-2005, 20:13
As we all know, Gary Gillman is quite a mixmaster and very inquisitive. He also is what I picture as one of Chuck's Bourbon County Reader's "supertaster". He picks up a lot of subtle hints that I certainly don't have the talent to do (yet hopefully). Having met Gary at the Sampler last year and reading his posts here, I hatched a diabolical plan to confuse and befuddle his taste buds by mixing an ounce to ounce and a half of every bourbon in my collection in a used mason jar. I even labelled it. Dr Bourbonstein's Monster appeared at the KBF but unfortunately not before Gary had departed. Several of the BIG GUNS here had a taste and I was impressed that Jeff tasted a hint of oregano in the mixture. It seems the jar and lid I used was from a spagetti sauce bottled locally. Still most found it not unappealing once past the smell but Jim and Chuck found it very vulgar and "downright nasty". So much for my experiments in vatting. I'll stick with my favorites to tickle my still developing taste buds. Unfortunately Gary did not get to partake but I fear The Monster may rear it's head at the Sampler again.

01-19-2005, 20:25
I'm of mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I just like to enjoy Elmer Lee, Jimmy Russell, Parker and Craig Beam and Gary Gayheart's (et al) handiwork -- I do not presume to have the faintest idea how they go about their business so wonderfully.
On the other hand, after an interesting, informative and prodding discussion with Gary (Gillman) at the Festival, I was intrigued by the idea of vatting, and have tried it a couple of times in a limited way, with mixed success. I am especially intrigued by Gary's rationale for vatting a wheater with a rye bourbon (preview of Woodford Reserve's 4-grainer?).
I'm not likely to try it with Stagg or Pappy or something already uniquely interesting. But, when I'm down to the dregs of VOB and Weller Special Reserve, for example, I'm likely to try it yet again.

01-19-2005, 20:38
I confess that I, too, though presented with the opportunity to spin that Mason jar lid, did not taste of Dane's Dr. Bourbonstein. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif

Only a few dozen single branded bottlings stood in my way. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif

The announced Return of Dr. Bourbonstein does, however, sound too good to pass up. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/laugh.gif Bring it on, Dane!

01-20-2005, 02:05
I look forward to sampling this very special vatting, I think. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif Dr. Bourbonstein's Missouri Special Vatting is starting to remind me of a tongue-in-cheek, annual tasting that takes place at a Portland, Oregon brewpub. Beer writer Fred Eckhardt, the Dean of U.S. beer writers, attends and chronicles it every year in All About Beer (see www.allaboutbeer.com (http://www.allaboutbeer.com), possibly some of his earlier articles on that subject are archived there). I think it is some type of commemorative or charity event. The idea is to mix, well, almost anything (palatable) in a large vat and taste whereof as the mixture evolves over the evening. From the articles Fred has written it sounds like a unique, off-beat and certainly good-humored event. It has the wacky element which the far West seems to encourage. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif The constituents of the vat have included - at the same time - the brewery's aged strong ale and other diverse beers, fruit and grape wines, blended scotch and the region's noted coffee. I think a Mars bar got in there once and, well, you get the idea. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif

I believe in vatting pure whiskies, preferably straight whiskies. I mean, corn is corn, water is water, oak is (more or less) oak, and even if (which can be a good thing) yeast is not yeast I see the elements in a vatting matching themselves to produce something not dissimilar greatly (in the basic taste) to each viewed separately. I do believe though that in some cases adding GNS - vodka, basically - or aged near-GNS (e.g. Canadian whisky) can enhance certain vattings. This then becomes something like an American blended whiskey, which is built with similar (and some different) elements. I must say I did not practise vatting until relatively recently, after I felt comfortable I "knew" the palates of the base whiskies I was using. Also, I have been reading about and sampling whiskies for some 30 years.

I don't have a large inventory of whiskies at any one time. Right now I have (unvatted) only about five or six bourbons. "Vatting" can be done, too, in the glass, thus with little wastage if the result is not liked. I have suggested before that mingling and blending (e.g., how specifically it is decided what to put in a combination and the proportions) are not fully understood outside highly professional circles, but I feel I have figured out aspects from practical experience. Also, I am not sure it is all that complicated. 19th century blending manuals basically explain it. But again as I go on in this area I am tending to restrict vattings to two or three straight whiskeys, maybe with a touch of flavoring. E.g., recently I used Southern Comfort lightly to flavor and sweeten a three bourbon mixture. What is this other than making a cocktail? Nothing very strange, really. And considering the kinds of diverse liquors and other ingredients that go into many cocktails, mine are relatively tame.


01-20-2005, 06:25
A few months ago aftering spending the day splitting and stacking wood for the winter, I sat down to relax and my wife brought me a generous glass full. I took a sip and could not figure out what I was drinking. After another sip I asked if she had mixed some bourbons together. She had, she figured I would not be able to tell the difference and she finished off some almost empty bottles.

Now if somebody would have asked me if I could tell similar Bourbons apart, my answer would have been "maybe". But now I have a little more trust in my tastebuds. And I like to experiment a little.


PS. I turned out pretty good, Jim Beam Black, Jack Daniels, WT 101 was the mix.

01-20-2005, 07:24
While I don't engage in this practice myself I always read Gary's posts about it with interest. He is correct that blending is a significant art and practiced in bourbon making to some extent, a fact which surprises some people. What Gary does is more like what bourbon distillers do than what blenders of other spirits typically do, in that he combines whiskies with different qualities but usually comparable in terms of aging and such. With Canadian whiskey, blended scotch whiskey, Cognac and other brandies, and the better rums, it's a little different. Essentially, one starts with a base, either a young spirit or, as in the case of Canada, one specifically made to have little individual character. To that one adds small amounts of flavoring spirits, which in some cases might even be considered unpalatable on their own, but which add the qualities the blender seeks.

All of this, from Gary's way to what I described, can be done at home for fun if not profit. You can even duplicate an American blended whiskey by starting with vodka.

01-20-2005, 18:38
I feel pretty much the same way. If someone wants to mingle there bourbons, its fine with me, but I have no interest in it for myself. There is enough variety just trying all the various bottlings available off the shelf.


01-21-2005, 04:17
"Leave um Be" is our motto.......They've taken centuries to develop what I'd describe as "Perfection" in a pour.....
Why change that? As we are always looking for that better or different pour(hard to do), We just keep on tryin more...

01-21-2005, 13:29
While reading these posts, I have noticed that a most people are not necessarilly mixing/vatting for the flavor profiles, etc. but to polish off near empty bottles. As a semi-experienced whisky drinker, I too have run into that problem. Instead of vatting for drinking, I came up with a couple of other solutions to the problem. One solution is I save the small amounts and mix them to make a bourbon based marinade for steaks. (Recipe available to anyone who would like it.) My other approach, while not exactly novel seems to work out well, I simply get a bigger glass. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/yum.gif

02-03-2005, 20:21
A few years ago I began vatting different bottles of bourbon in an effort to mix a 'thin' bottle I had on hand with a 'spicy' bourbon hoping get a sum that tasted greater than the parts. The two mixed together tasted pretty good but needed a bit more oomph. So I added with a bit of this, a shot of that (including some Old Overholt at Gary's suggestion) until the result suited me...then I wrote down the formula and mixed it in quantity. Rebottled it and gave bottles of it away at Christmas time. It's proven to be a BIG hit, and I still get requests every year for another bottle of 'my whiskey'. I think it's fun, and my friends and I appreciate the taste of the end result...I know what I like when it comes to bourbon, and the taste I get from this suits ME just fine for an 'everyday pour'. Pretty easy on the pocketbook, too, since I pick up the ingredients in 1.75L bottles on sale all year and store 'em til I mix up a batch. I think the last time I did the math I was paying ~ $8.50-$9 per 750ml by the time I'd mixed everything up. The basic formula is on here somewhere if you're interested. Hey, a guy could think of a worse hobby if he applied himself.

02-06-2005, 16:32
Sounds like you got some good results.

More and more I am doing such experiments. I find many whiskies too, "monochrome", even the best. I find a combination of three or four, even up to five, produces often a pleasing result because you can balance the tastes.

I made a blend of straight whiskies recently which is just superb that I may bring to Sampler Gazebo, as follows:

3 parts Bulleit
3 parts Rebel Yell
1 part ORVW 10 year old
1 part Knob Creek
dash Lot 40 (a well-flavored Canadian rye, if I had Overholt I'd have used that, or Beam or WT rye, I wanted a youngish rye).

The result is soft yet rich, rounded, with a long aftertaste. Perfect for neat sipping, which is how I like it.

This is the blending of straight whiskies (I consider Lot 40 a straight whiskey more or less). At one time this was an honourable way to sell straight whiskey. The category has died out from what I can see (although mingling at distilleries is the same kind of idea). But it can be done at home. I know we have talked before about the merits or demerits and don't want to go over old ground, but I thought some people would be interested to see how I'll put one together.


03-02-2005, 05:52
Interesting thread.
I have made only one attempt at vatting. It wasn't really to see if I could make a nice blend but to confirm a theory. I had a bottle of Maker's Mark Red, my second, and found I didn't really like it. I didn't dislike it either, it just didn't do it for me. Then I read that Maker's Mark is a wheatie and I wondered if I was missing the rye. I mixed a little Wild Turkey Rye with a larger slosh of Maker's Mark and tasted it. It wasn't better that Maker's by itself really, but it did confirm my hunch that what I was missing was the rye.