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TBoner
02-14-2007, 18:48
I've been pondering proof lately. More specifically, I've been considering what the perfect proof might be.

I know, I know, there are different proofs that are suited to different taste profiles, ages of whiskey, times of day or year, etc. And I know there have been interesting discussions of why various proofs exist in the past (though those threads are closed now). But I still think there are some interesting things to hash out here.

First, it's my understanding that our 100 proof is basically the result of a corruption and/or misinterpretation of the old Sykes system, under which 57 percent alcohol was considered 100 proof. The only common bottling I could think of that comes in at 57% is OGD114, which I consider a terrific pour at a terrific proof. That said, some truly great bourbons are never or rarely at 114-proof (specifically, it seems WT enters the barrel at about 110 most of the time), so I'd hesitate to use 114 as any kind of magic number (not to mention the fact that the Sykes system was in place mostly for tax purposes as I understand it).

Second, I will say that I tend to enjoy most of my bourbon at 100/101, and nearly every "favorite" I have (WT 101, Knob Creek, OGDBIB) is at this proof. This could be attributable to several factors, though, that are unrelated to proof. 100-proofs tend to be bonds and/or small-batch, for instance. And nearly every company that has a 101-proof has a lower-shelf bourbon at a lower proof, meaning their better whiskey's going into the 101.

Also, I will acknowledge that I love Stagg, Booker's, etc. In other words, I'm not opposed to high-barrel-proof (though I will add three drops of water to open up the nose) whiskey. I think this stuff has its place, but it's certainly not the sort of thing I'd drink as often as it's 100-proof brethren (Knob Creek for instance).

Clearly, Julian Van Winkle seems to have an affinity for 107-proof, and who am I to argue? ORVW, PVW, Weller 107, et al. are terrific at 107, as is Baker's from Beam. And there is something perfectly warming on an autumn day about nearly every 107-proof whiskey I can think of.

Now, I recognize that all of the above doesn't really account for factors such as age relative to proof (consider the superiority of Weller 107 to Weller SR at the same age) or barrel selection.

But I guess what I'm getting at is that there does seem to be some sort of common thread here. I rarely have an 80-proof bourbon I'd want to pour with regularity, occasionally an 86-proofer, but find most bourbon isn't really balanced with respect to mouthfeel or flavor profile below 90-proof. Even at 90-proof, there aren't too many whiskeys that take much age before the wood dominates, though there are more examples than maybe there used to be. Between 90 and 100 proof, there are some terrific pours. But for me, the sweet spot is about 100(/101) proof. Whether this is due to other factors besides proof or not, I obviously can't say for sure, but I'd say probably not.

There are other oddball proofs, too, such as Fighting Cock at 103 and some of the "point-proofs" (Thedford at 94.2, etc.), and clearly bottlers are choosing barrel or batch profile with a bottling proof in mind to balance the flavors, but in the end, 100-proof seems right to me: enough dancing on the tongue and complexity to balance even the sweetest whiskey, but allowing the true flavor of the bourbon to come through without being overshadowed by alcohol.

What do you guys think? Is there a perfect proof? What if you had to choose a proof at which to drink?

Jazzhead
02-14-2007, 19:20
Great post, TBoner! I find myself to be much the same as you - most of my favorites are 100/101 proof. You're right - the alcohol doesn't overpower, but obviously it's warmth and kick are there. And the flavor of the whiskey is undiminished, if not enhanced. A 100 proof spirit tastes creamier than an 80 proof pour, if that's the right word, a more substantial mouth feel.

I've never cared for the hi-test stuff. 107 is about my limit, and there have been some bourbons at that proof that I have never grown to like, like Wellers Antique, even as I enjoy their 90 - 100 proof stablemates. OGD 114 is actually more drinkable than the proof suggests, a testament to the quality of the product. But it's not an everyday pour - the OGD BIB is. Stagg? Bookers? Never tried 'em, to be honest; I'd certainly have to cut them, which seems like such a shame.

86 is a good proof. Easy drinking, but not too easy. I love Old Forester at this proof. I keep an open bottle of both the 86 and the 100 at all times. :)

ggilbertva
02-14-2007, 19:47
Funny...I was just discussing this very subject with my brother about two weeks ago. Years ago (like 20), WT 80 was my stable drink mixed with Coke. Now my bourbons range in proof from 90 to 140. For whatever reason, I now never cut my bourbon....always neat. I have noticed some of you like to cut your bourbon with a couple drops of water to "open it up" but I would suspect this doesn't really change the proof. I agree with you that my sweet spot for proof tends to hover around 90-100. There are times though that Stagg or WLW neat hit the spot. I checked most of my open bottles and they all range somewhere between 90 and 100 proof (Wathens 94; Lot B 90; Old Pogue 91).

TNbourbon
02-14-2007, 21:22
...I know, I know, there are different proofs that are suited to different taste profiles, ages of whiskey...

I think you've pretty much hit on -- or, at least, hinted at -- a proper answer. Every whiskey has its own ideal proof. You can also add such factors as barrel-entry proof, distillation proof, grain profile, barrel char, etc.
I think younger bourbons fare better at lower proofs and older ones can survive a variety of proofs. The added flavor complexity of the older ones lends itself to more 'taster's choice', and thus most barrel-proof offerings seem to be at least 7-8 years old. Each taster can reduce (or not) the whiskey to match his/her palate.

ILLfarmboy
02-14-2007, 22:32
Perfect proof? Hmm. If I had to make a blanket statement I'd say 100 to 110 with the provision that all bourbon was made like Wild Turkey; relitively low proof off the still and a barreling proof around 110.

I enjoy Booker's and Stagg and almost always sip them neat. But I have often wondered would they taste better (and be easier drinkin') had the distillation and barrel entry proof been lower? Also, I have always wondered if the reason WT bottling are consistently so damn good is precisely because of the lower distillation and barreling proofs. WT doesn't sell any lesser whiskey under other labels (cats and dogs). Do they?

BT is the only 90 proofer (bourbon/rye) I drink with any regularity. I like it just fine but have often wished it was available in a 100 proof version.

BourbonJoe
02-15-2007, 05:51
My ideal lower limit is 90 and my ideal upper limit is 110. I like most bourbons and ryes that fall in this range. There are exceptions, of course.
Joe :usflag:

Ken Weber
02-15-2007, 09:00
Guys,
Please consider what the whiskey will be used for when determining the perfect proof. If it is made especially to be mixed (Jack & Coke), why make it more than 80 proof? The Coke will dominate anyway. If you want more of the whiskey taste, just add a little more whiskey. This in my opinion was the rationale used to justify the proof reduction of JD.

At Buffalo Trace, we believe that some bourbons taste better at specific proofs. 90 proof has always been a favorite, while 80 proof may work for a cheaper well bourbon (AA). Wild Turkey 101 was a marketing notion to separate it from other 100 proofs. The 107 proof Weller arose from the fact that it was as close to barrel proof as the folks at SW could consistently make. Booker's was a pioneer in the high proof, which I believe they knew would not generate a huge volume following. Stagg is also a mutant!

Most of the SBers really appreciate fine bourbon and appreciate the higher proofs, however, most consumers do not like the taste of alcohol and they just want to enjoy the "bourbon" taste. To many of them, bourbon and coke is the perfect way to enjoy it.

Ken

Big Chipper
02-15-2007, 09:38
I find 107 proof to be just about right...:grin:

miller542
02-15-2007, 09:48
somewhere between 90 and 100 proof


That'd be my vote. Allows for variation by type, not too weak, not too strong, plenty of flavor, can be mixed or taken straight. Sure, there are some that are pretty good at higher proofs, but 90 to 100 proof is where it's at!

BobA
02-15-2007, 09:57
I have few favorites under 100 proof. I agree that lower proof can be limiting. A favorite is OC 12. It's a good pour and I think its profile suits warm weather well, but at 90, I never drink it over ice. It just gets too thin.

But yeah, some are just perfect at a different offered proof. As Jazzhead noted, OGD 114 is easy drinking neat at a proof you wouldn't expect.

Bob

jeff
02-15-2007, 10:50
why make it more than 80 proof? The Coke will dominate anyway. If you want more of the whiskey taste, just add a little more whiskey.

That's an angle I hadn't considered. Lowering the proof is not only a tax savings, but people are encouraged to use more product...Brilliant!

ILLfarmboy
02-15-2007, 11:37
Guys,
Please consider what the whiskey will be used for when determining the perfect proof. If it is made especially to be mixed (Jack & Coke), why make it more than 80 proof? The Coke will dominate anyway. If you want more of the whiskey taste, just add a little more whiskey. This in my opinion was the rationale used to justify the proof reduction of JD.

At Buffalo Trace, we believe that some bourbons taste better at specific proofs. 90 proof has always been a favorite, while 80 proof may work for a cheaper well bourbon (AA). Wild Turkey 101 was a marketing notion to separate it from other 100 proofs. The 107 proof Weller arose from the fact that it was as close to barrel proof as the folks at SW could consistently make. Booker's was a pioneer in the high proof, which I believe they knew would not generate a huge volume following. Stagg is also a mutant!

Most of the SBers really appreciate fine bourbon and appreciate the higher proofs, however, most consumers do not like the taste of alcohol and they just want to enjoy the "bourbon" taste. To many of them, bourbon and coke is the perfect way to enjoy it.

Ken

Over the years I've drank a lot of JD neat, with water and with Coke And I have to say I prefered the higher 90 proof for mixing with Coke. Using 80 proof to mix with water Is no big deal. Hell, for that purpose 60 proof Jack would do just fine. But with all due respect the same can't be said of mixing with Coke; adding more whiskey to make up for the loss of whiskey flavor will dilute the Coke syrup. I've tested this myself using 80 proof JD and single brl. adjusting the the proportions to arive at the same ABV. Maybe it is wishfull thinking but I'm sure I can tell the difference. Brown Forman lost a lot of my buisness and respect when they dropped the proof a second time down to 80. Frankly, I had hoped it would suffer the same fate as "new Coke". I stopped buying Skippy peanut butter in '97 when they changed the formula (adding more sugar). I switched to natural peanut butter, I'm that type of consumer!

Your point about some bourbons tasting better at diferent proof points is well taken. BT is one of my favorite summertime drams to have with a nice fat ribeye (cooked out on the grill). aditionaly, in situations like these something south of 100 proof is sometimes exactly what I want.

nor02lei
02-15-2007, 14:31
I do agree with those ho claim different bourbons taste better at different proofs. However I do prefer a majority in the 100-107 ranges. When it comes to rye it’s a different story. I do prefer most/all of them at a slightly lower proof around 95. Tennessee is as far as I know only sold between 80-100. I do prefer it at 90-100. JD silver select at 100 proof with I really like is very punchy in the stile so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it would be less good at a higher proof.

Leif

nor02lei
02-15-2007, 14:42
Guys,
Please consider what the whiskey will be used for when determining the perfect proof. If it is made especially to be mixed (Jack & Coke), why make it more than 80 proof? The Coke will dominate anyway. If you want more of the whiskey taste, just add a little more whiskey. This in my opinion was the rationale used to justify the proof reduction of JD.

Ken

I guess you may be right in this Ken. Personally I do consider this 2 step watering massacre a big shame. Even if the 80 proof is drinkable its far far from its real self.

Leif

jburlowski
02-15-2007, 17:09
There are other oddball proofs, too, such as Fighting Cock at 103 and some of the "point-proofs" (Thedford at 94.2, etc).....


My favorite "oddball proof" is Hancocks President's Reserve at 88.9.

Ken, how did you come up with that one? Was 90 too high?

TBoner
02-15-2007, 19:36
I think you've pretty much hit on -- or, at least, hinted at -- a proper answer. Every whiskey has its own ideal proof. You can also add such factors as barrel-entry proof, distillation proof, grain profile, barrel char, etc.
I think younger bourbons fare better at lower proofs and older ones can survive a variety of proofs. The added flavor complexity of the older ones lends itself to more 'taster's choice', and thus most barrel-proof offerings seem to be at least 7-8 years old. Each taster can reduce (or not) the whiskey to match his/her palate.

I agree that age variations with proof are important parts of the equation, but I'm not sure it's totally linear. For instance, Booker's is theoretically relatively young to be poured at barrel proof (some batches are 6 years and change), but it rarely seems that way to me when I drink it. And I know it's a rye, but WT Rye is great at 101 proof, despite the fact that I can't imagine it's much more than 4-6 years old.

Ken, I get what you're saying about what the whiskey will be used for, but I guess I was really directing my post at the notion of drinking neat or largely unadorned.

And, for what it's worth, I'd be interested to taste bonded BT.

mythrenegade
02-15-2007, 20:52
I like my bourbon on the rocks. I can drink it neat, but I find that I most enjoy the experience when it is in a nice glass with exactly three cubes of ice.

As such, I like it high proof. I wish every bourbon was available in a barrel proof (around 125 proof or so, depending on the barrel). I would love to try Eagle Rare 10yo at barrel proof, ditto Elijah Craig 18yo. Unfortunately, Booker's is the only bourbon I have had that is barrel proof. It's not my favorite either, but it's the flavor that gives EC18, ER10 and Blanton's the edge over Booker's, not the proof.

Maybe if more people cry out for undiluted bourbon, we will get some!

Joel

CrispyCritter
02-15-2007, 20:55
In general, my favorites tend to be in the 90-108 proof range, but there are notable exceptions like AAA 10 year (80), JB Black (86), OGD 114, not to mention Stagg, Larue, and Handy - and the high-proof Scotches like A'Bunadh as well.

Ubertaster
02-16-2007, 07:14
I don't use an ice cube or water on anything under the OGD 114 so I guess anything under that would be my perfect proof. At 80 or 86 proof they seem a little thin but the better ones [AAA etc.] are still quite enjoyable.

bj

tmas
02-16-2007, 10:46
If I had to pick one I'd go for 107 Proof. The ORVW 107s, the Weller Antique 107, and Baker's being about perfect for neat drinking. Of course, I really enjoy the burners when I'm up for them, like Booker's. Come to think of it, I have to get my hands on some other Barrel Strength bottlings. Guess I'll have to special order them as I haven't seen them around these parts, although, I bet Lenell's has them. Off to Brooklyn! Tom V

ratcheer
02-16-2007, 16:55
100 or 101.

Tim

drew_kulsveen
02-16-2007, 17:04
The perfect proof? I say there is no perfect proof. Everybodys' palate is different.

Gillman
02-16-2007, 17:07
As is every whiskey.

Gary

brian12069
02-17-2007, 06:26
I would say 100+ on up to about 114. Some of my favorite bourbon is in this proof range. The higher proof for me tends to give me a more full bodied, richer flavor. ORVW 107 15 yr, OGD 114...some of the best.

tgriff
02-17-2007, 14:31
i have been enjoying 100-107 proof bourbons lately. but i am not sure if it is the proof as much as the fact that many posts on this forum have educated me about what quality bourbons to buy. i have just been drinking better bourbon...

Rughi
02-20-2007, 19:46
I think of the perfect proof to be a resultant of a process, not a goal in itself.

At the core, all the interesting things in whiskey are the components that are neither water nor ethanol. Distilling higher than desired just to add water at the end of the process dilutes the good stuff twice - once with ethanol and once with water.

I think 107 and 114 were perfect proofs at one time for Weller and OGD.
I understand Weller was 107 proof because that was a reliable number that got as close to barrel proof as their process let them get without getting too high for some dumpings to reach. Same for OGD at 114 proof (it had "barrel proof" on the label at one time - although I would guess it probably required a bit of water to land at 114 each time).

I'm not sure that Stagg is a perfect proof, however, as I wonder if it wouldn't be a better product if it weren't run out so high from the still.

Roger "Don't still me up just to water me down" Hodges

ILLfarmboy
02-20-2007, 20:54
I think of the perfect proof to be a resultant of a process, not a goal in itself.

At the core, all the interesting things in whiskey are the components that are neither water nor ethanol. Distilling higher than desired just to add water at the end of the process dilutes the good stuff twice - once with ethanol and once with water.

Well put. Let's hope these new "craft distillers" exhibit this attitude. I, for one, would like to see a return to lower distillation/barreling proofs combined with bottling proof choices north of 100 but lower than the big bruisers like stagg et al.

Edward_call_me_Ed
02-20-2007, 22:21
If I had to pick one proof I would be awake nights for weeks trying to figure out what to say.

In general, I like a 90-95 proof as an everyday thing. Nothing wrong with 100 or 101 though. I would find it hard to choose between these two camps. 86 proof is a little low, but I don't really mind bourbon at that proof. 80 is just too low. OGD is best at 114 proof even though it is fine bourbon at 100 proof. Booker's at 126 proof is great. I don't need any water with it either. The 2006 Hasmat Stagg I had to leave at my parent's house was wonderful straight up, too. Last night I had a pour of Blanton's SFTB. This bottle weights in at 131.6 proof, I wish I had the whole barrel.

I guess the perfect proof for me is around 130. I can always add my own water. I can't take it out. For example, I will probably cut my remaining bottle of Handy Saz to 100 or less since I like that particular whiskey in that range better than I like it at barrel proof.

The only problem is that if all I had was 130 proof whiskey I probably wouldn't add water often enough and, let's face it, really high proof whiskey isn't the best thing for your health.

Ed