View Full Version : Defining "Objectively Good Bourbon"

03-24-2002, 16:47
I'm intrigued by Ryan's notion of an "objectively good bourbon". I'm inclined to agree that a "good" bourbon is possessed of certain qualities; qualities that are concrete and tangible. Shall we have a crack at defining these qualities? Sort of an RFC for quality bourbon?

P.S. Ryan, I looked it up in my Creole-English dictionary, and "straightbourbonvivant" translates to "quiche eater". Le yuck!


Jim Butler

03-25-2002, 08:29
I'm up for giving it a shot, but it'd help to have input from those with more technical knowledge of the distilling process than me.

For starters, I'd say an objectively good bourbon should not have obvious fusel oil aroma, indicating that the distiller took too wide a cut. I'd also say that overt astringency has no place in good bourbon.

Beyond that, it's tough to say. It's safer to say what shouldn't be in good bourbon than what should, since when you start talking about what should be in good bourbon you start moving too much into the subjective, taste-based areas. That said, I would imagine there are things that should be in a good bourbon, but can't come up with them yet beyond knowing when a bourbon just tastes "right."

And as for the quiche eating, I'd have thought the "straight" part of "straightbourbon vivant" would've precluded that.


Ken Weber
03-27-2002, 11:47
Interesting topic! One of the many tasks on my plate is to research all the positive taste attributes of the highest quality brands as well as the nasty taste attributes of the less than highest quality brands. Positive attributes include leather, molasses, caramel, tobacco, candied fruit, etc. Negative tastes include rubber, old tires, oil, burned, woody etc. Even these attributes are very subjective. The terms well balanced oak, smooth, mellow, etc. are even more subjective.

Once I have these flavor descriptors classified as + or -, we will then try to determine which chemicals in the whiskey are responsible for them. If we can then increase the + and decrease the -, we should have a superior whiskey (kind of takes all of the romance out of it). Anyway, this is very theoretical and may not even be remotely feasible. It will be interesting to follow this thread. Also, please know that we will be producing three experimental whiskies this year as a result of inquiries from Straighbourbon people. Who knows, maybe together we will create the world's greatest bourbon (now I fell like Dr. Frankenstien)!


PS. Jim, I am traveling for several weeks and I need your address via private message. Thanks.

03-27-2002, 15:04
Wow, Please tell me that we will be able to get a taste of these three 'experimental' whiskies somehow... That sounds pretty interesting...

03-27-2002, 16:46
Other negatives:

- chemical
- solvent
- medicinal
- astringent
- sooty

Other positives:

- anise/licorice
- spice/spicy
- earthy
- toffee
- nougat

I agree that "smooth" is probably the most overused and least useful word in the tasting lexicon.

I think we can also have some fun with this, i.e., "Top Ten Words You Don't Want Associated with Your Bourbon"

10. outhouse
9. fertilizer
8. gym class
7. asphalt
6. hot glue
5. old vinyl
4. dry cleaning
3. burnt hair
2. spackle

And the number 1 word you don't want associated with your bourbon:

1. tuna

<A target="_blank" HREF=http://cowdery.home.netcom.com>--Chuck Cowdery</A>

03-27-2002, 22:33
Ken, It was great seeing you at the WOW Expo in SF. I wish I had recognized you earlier so we could have had a longer chat.

I don't characterize all the taste attributes as positive or negative. Too my taste, even some of the most positive notes become negative when too strong. Likewise, some negative notes can become quite inviting either when properly offset by "opposite" notes or smoothed out by other similar, but more favorable ones.

Ken Weber
03-28-2002, 07:30
I was speaking with Elmer about what makes a good whiskey. If anyone should know it is him. He said a good whiskey tastes good! No candied fruit, no butterscotch, no tobacco. He said that bourbon doesn't include those things so why do people keep attributing them to it? He is much more general in his terminology. Whiskey is sweet (caramel, corn sweetness, vanilla); it is earthy (deep rich flavor, good barrel aging character, mellow); it has a rich nose, good mouth feel (warm, but not hot or woody), and a nice, lingering aftertaste.
I run into Jimmy over at Wild Turkey all of the time. I am going to ask him for his input. With this all being said, I still would like to hear from the folks in cyberland.
Finally, as to our experimental barrels. Give me about 5-6 years and we will sample these together at the mansion during our annual Bourbon Fest tasting event.


03-28-2002, 19:01
Hear, hear, Ken. I am greatly confused by descriptions of bourbon with words such as pears, anise, blackberries, etc. I can, however, connect with words such as maple, caramel, vanilla, woody, smoky, etc.

On the other hand, I was sampling a small (1/2 oz or so) drink of straight Blanton's the other night and I could have sworn I tasted orange peel. Maybe I am getting nutty, too.

Thanks, Tim

03-29-2002, 07:26
What happens is that you pick up tastes that remind you of other tastes, like orange peel. The presense in whiskey of flavors that defy direct description is a measure of its complexity. My reservation about such terminology is that it may be too subjective, i.e., you and I might use very different words to describe the same taste, based on our vocabulary and past experience more than anything else.

<A target="_blank" HREF=http://cowdery.home.netcom.com>--Chuck Cowdery</A>

04-06-2002, 07:57
Elmer's logic is certainly great. And while as Chuck says people do associate with other tastes, not only is that subjective but it is sometimes not very accurate as it relies on memory.

Marcin Miller of Whiskey magazine suggested to me once having some of those associated flavors around for comparison. I've tried that with vanilla. (1) who wants to sit and drink sips of vanilla with their bourbon (2) so we end up sniffing the vanilla but the olfactory (or smell) senses are different than taste.

I have compared tastings from well-known authors that used the words "vanilla" and "cherry" associated with a paricular bourbon to real taste of cherry or vanilla and that bourbon. I could not find it in that bourbon. (BUt it did make for an interesting evening)

So I am glad Elmer weighed in on this one.

Thanks, Ken

and happy travels

Greg Kitzmiller

04-20-2002, 11:08
Hey (C)

Put your answer after jbutler's post. Press the small letter on the top right hand corner.

Bettye Jo