This test came about because some Wild Turkey 8yr 101 from a 70's era ceramic decanter showed marked improvement in taste after it was poured through a wine aerator. I was curious if the aerator would help all the old Bourbons from ceramic decanters that so often seem old and heavy to open up and show more of their flavors. Also I wondered if a more recently bottled old Bourbon that I loved would show any improvement.
So I recently hosted a blind test that compared 4 Bourbons neat and the same Bourbons poured through the aerator.
The Bourbons were;
Old Crow from '68 chess set ceramic decanters
Jim Beam 176 month from a 70's era ceramic decanter
Old Grand Dad BiB from an '81 glass handle
and Black Maple Hill 21yr barrel 2
I asked everyone to rank by order of preference and to note flavors because I wanted to see if the aerated juice scored consistently higher than the non aerated pour or if it showed more flavors.
Everyone thought 4 pours stood out with three people agreeing on the 4 and one person had his preferences nearly the reverse of everyone else's. In all 4 cases the top four were much preferred over the bottom 4 and in all 4 cases they the top 4 had 2 aerated pours. It is interesting to note that while some similarities were noticed absolutely no one in the test picked up that there were only 4 Bourbons and that all were duplicates except for the aeration.
So what we got out of the test is that the aerator CAN improve some old Bourbons significantly and probably speeds opening up - but isn't necessarily an improvement for all of them. I would use it for Bourbons that just weren't working for me but if I like what's in my glass the aerator probably won't make me like it more.
After telling a friend about this test he said "oh yeah, if I have old juice that won't open up I shake up the bottle real hard, works real good." Duh That probably accomplishes the same thing and just saved me the cost of an aerator.