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View Full Version : The Mind and Bourbon (or the Power of Suggestion)



jinenjo
05-10-2007, 02:00
This is just a thought I've been playing around with and would like to hear anyone's thinking on this phenomenon of the power of suggestion.

I've only had occasional opportunities where I've tasted rare whiskies and more moderate amounts of times to taste premium bottles (currently available). For me there seems to be a great deal of mental influence when it comes to tasting the above examples.

In other words I sometimes find it hard to separate the hype and excitement of tasting a bourbon or rye that carries with it a certain allure due to its limited availability, high praise, or expensive stature. I haven't really created the opportunity to go back to a particular whiskey and do a blind tasting to see if the results are the same or similar.

Additionally, the setting has also contributed to a favorable whiskey memory. This last point, however, does add an element that is less about the sheer tasting experience.

One of my most cherished tasting moments was with a mini of Four Roses Rye blend I got off eBay. It was from the '40s or so and I found it to be amazing. But why is this so? Was it really some of the best stuff I've tasted or was it the idea that it was from before my time?

So I'm just curious to hear if anyone has played around with this idea in a more controlled manner, or if you can share a similar time with a "rare" pour.

Ultimately, none of this truly matters. The end result for the taster is in the memory or present experience of the meaning attached to the whiskey. Someone did once say that the mind is the most errogenous of all human organs. Perhaps this is true of gustation.

ggilbertva
05-10-2007, 05:27
Guilty! I've certainly made purchases based on the power of suggestion, or the fact that if a particular bourbon has limited or short term availability, but to be honest, most of those purchases were the correct ones. I know this is probably heresy, but my only regret as it pertains to high end bourbon vs. money spent was the 16 year gold foil Hirsch...and that purchase was pretty much based on the experience of others. Also, I think there is a certain allure to an older bourbon and the taste expectation. For instance, I tasted a '59 Old Forester BIB recently and went into the tasting with a certain expectation. We all try to keep an open mind, but for me, I do have certain expectations when trying varying bourbons. Maybe I'm still immature in my bourbon adventure but my expectations are influenced by the age and price of the bourbon I'm tasting.

Now, to the aspect of "the power of suggestion".....sure, I allow suggestion to influence my decisions but only to a certain extent and the source of that suggestion is important. SB members with a fine tuned palate will certainly get my attention when talking about a certain whiskey but it ultimately comes down to my own subjective taste. To your point, the setting, environment, mood, food, etc., all influence the tasting experience. The power of suggestion is evident in almost everything we do or buy....food, cars, clothing, vacations, etc.

Jazzhead
05-10-2007, 06:32
Gilbert is quite correct - the power of suggestion influences how we perceive and enjoy any number of things, including bourbon. But usually the merit of the product, regardless of price, image, etc. dictates whether a second bottle will be purchased. I've bought a number of superpremium bourbons, so I can say I've tried 'em, but relatively few have struck me as worth the price premium to purchase a second bottle. The best thing about bourbon (as compared to scotch) is that the quality of the product often has little relation to price. Dickel no.12, OF BIB, Wild Turkey and Weller 12 yo are tried and true, and cost $20 a bottle or less. But you know, perhaps my affinity for these brands is also influenced by suggestion - perhaps I like the self-image of preferring the cheaper brands over those who "overspend" for "overhyped" pours. And even a cheapo like me can be a bourbon snob - I haven't bought a bottle of Evan Williams since they removed the age statement. Does that make any rational sense?

But enjoyment of bourbon isn't supposed to be a rational exercise. Regardless of the image and self-image issues at play, one thing's for certain - I enjoy what I drink and I drink what I enjoy.

Joeluka
05-10-2007, 11:23
The best thing to do, is to conduct a blind tasting. Have 3 to 5 different whiskeys and see if you can detect the "hype" from the mundane. This always helps me pick out the truly great stuff. This is how I bunker my whiskeys. If a SB.com popular brand in a blind tasting is chosen in the top 2, by me of course, I then will bunker away and add to the SB.com hype. ( Not too much though, it seems SB.com's seal of approval makes it real hard to then find that bottling.:bigeyes: )

Stu
05-10-2007, 12:19
As to the FR Rye, I recently had one small sip from a mini bottle from 1942 and I will echo your comment about amazing.

I've purchased several bottles of expensive whisky and cognac, many of which I have repurchased (or would if I could find them) and several of which have been a big disappointment. Fortunately (thanks to Tim) I did not have to pay for the biggest disappointment (Woodford Reserve four grain). A few years ago, in a store in a small town in New Mexico I found two dusty bottles at the same price, a Laphroaig 30 year old and a Bowmore 25 year old. I purchased them both. I wouldn't want to have to name my favorite distillery in the world, but if I had to list my top 10 favorites, Laphroaig would definitely be among them and Bowmore would not. Yet I would gladly buy another bottle of the Bowmore, but not the Laphroaig. I have since learned that that was the only distillery bottling of Laphroaig from sherry casks. 30 years in sherry removed the Laphroaig characteristics. I've had 3 different Glenfarclases that were aged 30 years in sherry and they still tasted like Glenfarclas (only better).

Another point that you made, I refer to as the snob factor. If any of the SB.comers that I have met come to my house, I would gladly break out my finest bourbons (or malts if they desired) because they enjoy their whiskey as I do, neat, or at most lightly dusted. However if someone comes to my house and asks for bourbon and coke, they ain't gonna get my PVW or a single barrel! I have a bottle of Very Old Barton that cost about $17 for 1.75 liter. I enjoy drinking it straight and I'll pour it into a cola for a friend. At a former residence in another State, I had a friend that drank nothing but Chivas and coke. I had an empty Chivas 18 year old bottle that I refilled with Passport. On more than one occasion he commented on how much better the drink tasted at my house than in a bar. He attributed it to the 6 years age difference. I left without telling him that the difference was that I poured more generously than his friendly bartender and he could actually get a little Scotch flavor.

You are also right about the setting and the company making a difference in the enjoyment. Enjoying whiskey is much like enjoying food. The atmosphere and the company make the drink or meal much more enjoyable.

kbuzbee
05-10-2007, 12:38
A few years ago, in a store in a small town in New Mexico I found two dusty bottles at the same price, a Laphroaig 30 year old and a Bowmore 25 year old. I purchased them both. I wouldn't want to have to name my favorite distillery in the world, but if I had to list my top 10 favorites, Laphroaig would definitely be among them and Bowmore would not. Yet I would gladly buy another bottle of the Bowmore, but not the Laphroaig.

One of the joys of Laphroaig is it's "in your face" nature. IMO anything more than 10 years really eats into that. I'll always select one of the 10yos over anything else they offer (and this is the ONLY spirit I find this to be true of!) CS is fantastic, 1/4 cask is good and the base 10yo is simply wonderful. It might be the sherry but honestly, I think it's just the time in wood.

To topic, yes, I find the mind is a powerful thing when it comes to tasting.

Ken

jburlowski
05-10-2007, 15:46
I agree with both your points. I find that the setting has the most lasting impact. Some bourbons, which are perhaps good but not great, have a special place in my heart (and palette) becuase of the memories I have about experiencing them on a special occasion with special people.

cowdery
05-10-2007, 18:15
This is the sort of thing I'm always harping on, to the point of irritation with some people. I believe a great many folks like what they think they are supposed to like and adore what they think they are supposed to adore. Add to that not wanting to be embarassed (even just to yourself) about spending $$$$ on something that tastes like crap. Some of it is the embarassment thing, but mostly it is not having enough self-confidence to make up your own mind and believe your own taste buds. I think that most of the people here have come around to this same view, even if they didn't start out there, and it is one of our overall messages to the newbies. There are no right and wrong answers, you don't always get what you pay for, and trust yourself and your own taste buds.

doubleblank
05-10-2007, 19:33
As to the influence of location and company, there is a saying among wine drinkers......

That locally made "plonk" will taste great when sitting in a beautiful bistro, looking at the sunset, talking with your love, eating the local cuisine.....but take that bottle home and enjoy it with your cooking. No way.

Place, company and food has a lot to do with the enjoyment of a drink.

Randy

ILLfarmboy
05-10-2007, 20:00
... I believe a great many folks like what they think they are supposed to like and adore what they think they are supposed to adore. ...... but mostly it is not having enough self-confidence to make up your own mind and believe your own taste buds...

A common human failing that has consequences far beyond "food and beverage" choice. Sometimes it takes someone who doesn't mind being contrariwise to get others to express their true opinions. Don't believe me? The next time you're in a room full of people talking bad about a politician or a political party stand up and defend that politician/political party (even if you happen to agree with what is being said). I'll bet you'll find others will speak out against "majority opinion", once you do.

cowdery
05-11-2007, 17:22
As to the influence of location and company, there is a saying among wine drinkers......

That locally made "plonk" will taste great when sitting in a beautiful bistro, looking at the sunset, talking with your love, eating the local cuisine.....but take that bottle home and enjoy it with your cooking. No way.

Place, company and food has a lot to do with the enjoyment of a drink.

Randy

The punchline for that is that wine often "doesn't travel well."

I was enjoying the local white wine on the island of Rhodes and when I asked if it was available in the U.S., the producer himself cautioned me that it might not taste so wonderful at home.

Edward_call_me_Ed
05-11-2007, 20:12
Set and Setting are so important. That includes your whole history of associations with the tastes and smells involved.

I like the Peat Monsters from Islay very much. In part it is because the tarry smoky note reminds me of summers spent at my maternal grandmother's house. It was by the railroad tracks and they was the smell of oil and creosote in the background all the time. I was totally happy when I was there and Laphroig or Ardbeg bring some of that back.

That works both ways, my wife can't stand whiskey of any type because she got really sick on it in several times in college. She didn't really like is much in the first place. And she was probably drinking the cheapest stuff available, as college students are wont to do. Now all whiskey smells like puke to her.

That isn't to say it is all in your head. I haven't done many blind tastings, not in the true sense of the word anyway. But, I have poured myself something, put the glass down for a while, maybe while typing a post here, and then picked up the glass and had a sip and gone, "Wow! This is Great! Uhh, what did I pour?" I then went back to the collection to remember what it was and, "Ah! That's why it is so good!" Not a scientific study, but you see what I mean.

Ed

jinenjo
05-11-2007, 23:21
I was enjoying the local white wine on the island of Rhodes and when I asked if it was available in the U.S., the producer himself cautioned me that it might not taste so wonderful at home.

That's so great, and so honest for him to say that! :lol: