View Full Version : What makes a bad bourbon?

06-07-2005, 15:37
People have talked about what makes a good bourbon, but not much on what makes a bad one.

Is it from being too greedy in the distillation process?
Is it from cutting corners making the mash?
Is it from sticking the barrels somewhere unpleasant?
Is it just lack of age?
Is it just by accident?
Something else?

(P.S.: By bad I mean having a terrible flavor, not being bland. You can make a bland bourbon by just using a high distillation proof and cutting it with a lot of water before and after the barrel.)

06-08-2005, 13:20
I'm not sure I ever had a "Bad" Bourbon. Sure, some are better than others but I never really ran across one I wouldn't drink, or buy, for that matter. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/usflag.gif

06-08-2005, 13:38
I have had a couple of bourbons I won't identify by name since both are still available. One is a price brand. It had a raw flavour that was shellac-like, or say like damp cardboard, very hard to drink unless mixed with cola or ginger ale and even then.. The other one is a merchant's bottling and it has to my mind a strong congeneric taste, almost a chemical taste from the secondary products which probably wouldn't age out (because this bourbon was 10 or 12 years old). Apart from that, in terms of the current range of bourbons available, most are quite good; some are very good; a few are not great but not undrinkable. I am not a fan of Jim Beam White Label, for example, in that bracket I'd much rather buy Wild Turkey or Ancient Age or Very Old Barton.


06-08-2005, 16:10
Live and learn!!! Thanks for your reply Gary.
Joe http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/usflag.gif

06-08-2005, 17:59
The main point , to me anyway, is no sets out to make a bad one, it just happens in the course of things. Sometimes the bourbon gods are smiling on a barrel or bunch of them and all goes well, other times it all stacks up to make an inferior drink. They may set out to give the boys and girls in marketing a nice cheap run,funny how that's what makes them happiest, But they don't look at each other and say "let's see how bad we can *#@% it up today"! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif

Hedmans Brorsa
06-09-2005, 08:24
Earlier versions of Four Roses standard bottling started out with an unpleasant metallic harshness which when flavour development set in was drowned by an enormous sweetness. It is much better nowadays.

Overall, I have to say that Im pretty impressed with the quality of bourbon. JB white, JD, Kentucky Gentleman and the aforementioned FR stomp all over the opposition when it comes to everyday whiskies.

06-09-2005, 10:52
I don't like JB white label at all but I'm not sure it's a bad bourbon. Not too fond of Old Crow either (will drink it though). Those two are my bottom two. Think they're just a bit young and raw.

Apart from those two, I've not met a Bourbon I didn't like.

06-11-2005, 21:41
But they don't look at each other and say "let's see how bad we can *#@% it up today"!

Well that's a promising sign. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif Not all spirit makers are like that, sadly. (And it doesn't explain Georgia Moon, either. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif)

Well then I was just wondering what sorta things could go wrong in bourbon making that would force a company to sell it as a lower-end brand, or if they even discriminated that way at all. Here's my reasoning:

Take Evan Williams Single Barrel vs. Evan Williams 1783. Tasting them side by side my theory is that before the 10 years are up, nobody knows which is going to go into the ome and which is going to go into the other. They wait it out, and after the 10 years, the choice barrels turn into single barrel, and the second tier go to the other high profile Heaven Hill 10 year old bottlings, and then the ones that are just good go to the 1783, because barrel aging is so unpredictable sometimes.

Bourbon distillers seem like thrifty folks, so I'd assume that the same thing happens with their regular younger bottlings. Like the stuff that's good goes in their standard bottles, and the stuff that's not quite so hot but still theoretically drinkable goes in their low-end bottlings, instead of just getting thrown out. Like maybe an infection got in the mash and the white dog has funky flavors that they're not sure will age out. Or they didn't cut the tails at the right time, so some weird off flavors seeped in.

But I really don't know anything about any of this, maybe nobody really does make bad bourbon, so I thought I'd ask the knowlegable folks here what their opinion on the matter was. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif

06-18-2005, 20:22
Can't really say there is a "bad" bourbon. Just some not as "good" as others.

The bottom of the "barrel" (... a little joke.) for me is Old Whiskey River. I just don't like it... but it still could be used for a mixer!

06-19-2005, 15:48
There's another thing I don't understand, and your post sorta made me think of it. There's the theory of Quality Control and it really seems involved, the notion being that samples are taken all along a barrels aging cycle, and everything goes to plan, it becomes brand "X" bourbon. The romantic little story goes on that samples are taken before the dump and if it matches the profile then it goes in the tank. So far, so good. What I can't account for is standing in a dump room and watching the barrels come off the truck, get the bungs drilled out and dumped in the trough. My point is, I don't think they check every barrel.

06-19-2005, 15:57
I've wondered the same thing, Bobby. And then I hear stories such as Elmer T. Lee always going back to the same warehouses and floors to select his brand's bourbon, or that Blanton's always is first stored, then comes from, Warehouse Whatever-It-Is. So, I assume there is some sort of "sniff" test or something done to make sure a barrel/batch isn't going to spoil the whole 'marriage' of barrels, but I suspect they pretty much know what they're getting by a combination of mashbill, age and warehouse location without tasting it.

06-19-2005, 16:02
It's not the single barrels or something like a Stagg or Bookers that I question, it's the everyday run of the house brand that involves a dump of hundreds of barrels, etc. I think I read somewhere that they mingle around 150 barrels for a batch of Bookers, that's some serious tonnage to me, but then to go from that to an unending run of the house brand is mind boggling.

06-19-2005, 16:07
I was under the impression that only wee bits of batches were sampled. Thus only a few barrels of one day's run would be sampled. As the years progressed the batches would continue to be monitored until fit to drink. Most barrels would never be touched.

06-19-2005, 16:13
Bobby, I too am thinking of the standard brands -- something along the lines of, for example: 100 barrels from Warehouse X, Floor 42 plus 250 barrels from Warehouse Q, Floor 63 will get the correct taste profile for Brand J. Then they taste and fine tune with older, newer, sweeter, drier to round it out. Just guesswork, granted, but I can't see them tasting every barrel in a 1,000-barrel dump, either.

06-19-2005, 17:32
The law of averages says that the higher the number of barrels dumped, the more consistant the taste should be as better quality barrels should offset lesser quality barrels, sweeter barrels should offset harsher barrels and woodier barrels should offset cornier (?) barrels. The more you add, the closer you get to the midpoint one way or another. It would probably take more than one truly rancid barrel to impact the taste of hundreds mingled together.

06-19-2005, 17:41
instead of just getting thrown out.

No Bourbon ever gets thrown out http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif...There are remedies and answers to everything.

Bettye Jo

06-19-2005, 20:39
Which begs the question, what do you all do when you get a poor bottle?

06-20-2005, 05:04
what do you all do when you get a poor bottle?

Serve it to the wife in mixed drinks http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif

"Honey, you'll like this Old Crow, it's a classic!" http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/70358-devil.gif

06-20-2005, 10:29
Yep, all the bad stuff goes into mixed drinks at parties.

The trouble is that you get a reputation for knowing something about whisk(e)y, which makes it hard to show up at a party with a plastic jug of Old Crow. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif

06-20-2005, 18:59
I drink it, anyway. Its too expensive to pour out. I guess 35 years of sampling has helped me learn to avoid the truly horrible bottlings, too.


06-20-2005, 21:28
I'm with Tim, I drink it but not because of the expense but because one drink of "less good" bourbon is forgettable, a whole bottle burns itself directly into the lobes.