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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Sep 1999
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    Chicago
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    12,564

    How To Get Started.

    I just started a thread over in the general section about rating whiskey. I'm starting this thread here because a lot of people who are new to bourbon don't know where to start. Some turn to books, magazines or web sites like this one for recommendations. But it can be confusing.

    I've often felt, for example, that newcomers do themselves no favors by trying to find a consensus 'best' bourbon or other whiskey. The products enthusiasts rave about tend to be atypical products that are hard to appreciate if you are still learning the basics.

    My recommendation for a beginner is to work your way through the leading brands from the major producers -- Jim Beam white, Jack Daniel's No. 7, Evan Williams black, Wild Turkey 101.

    Compare them to each other, get to know them.

    Taste them the right way. Start your journey by developing your tasting technique. I recommend tasting everything both neat and diluted with room temperature water.

    Remember that smelling is a crucial part of tasting.

    For the next round, pick the two or three of the first group that you liked best and figure out what that producer's step-up is. If you like Wild Turkey 101, you might want to step up to Russell's Reserve, Rare Breed or Kentucky Spirit. Which one? It doesn't really matter, though budget might play a role as Kentucky Spirit costs twice as much as Russell's Reserve.

    After that you should be able to fly solo.

    Most of all, resist the lure of short cuts. They're a waste of time because they don't work. You don't become a bourbon connoisseur just because you drank a bottle of Pappy 23. That's probably the hardest thing to get across to a young person so I'll repeat it, because they love it when you do that. Short cuts don't work.

    Okay, vets. What are your tips for beginners?
    Last edited by cowdery; 08-07-2010 at 13:26.

  2. #2
    Guru
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    7,442

    Re: How To Get Started.

    Good advice Chuck. When I got serious about bourbon I went out and bought a bottle of Blanton's, Elijah Craig 18yo, Rock Hill Farms, Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit and Knob Creek.
    All I ever had prior to that was Jim Beam and Maker's Mark.
    And I gotta say I was confused and I thought I wasted my money and I'll probably won't drink bourbon again.
    Then I stepped down to Evan Williams, Very Old Barton, IWHarper and Wild Turkey 101 and I drank them almost exclusively on the rocks and I started to get it.
    It took a while to understand the flavors and yes you are right smelling it is a big help in tasting.
    So to sum up, start out with "simple" bourbons and leave the "complex" stuff alone until you become more experienced and then you will truly appreciate it.
    ovh

  3. #3
    Enthusiast
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    Apr 2009
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    Re: How To Get Started.

    I agree Chuck. Starting at the base and moving up, both in quality and proof is something I would recommend as well. You really can't drink things like Stagg and WLW, or even OGD114 very easily at first... and surely can't appreciate them.

    I burned through a bottle of SW ORVW 10/90, and it was great but I didn't really understand fully what I was drinking. Looking back, I feel like an absolute idiot for drinking that like a mad man before I really know /why/ it was so good.

    I really suggest getting a few basics (but I would go beam black over white) at once, then spend some nights having a 1oz pour from a few types, then another night where you focus on one bourbon.... then when you start to understand the differences in distilleries and super-general profiles, start going to the same distillery... and then different types of the same label.

    Say, for Buffalo Trace... grab BT, Weller SR, and Ancient Age (or ETL if the price is good) You can see if you like the BT low rye, the Weller's wheated mashbill, or the Ancient Age high rye. Then expand there, say if you like the high rye mashbill look into ETL, Blanton's, etc.
    "So long as the presence of death lurks with anyone who goes through the simple act of swallowing, I will make mine whiskey"

  4. #4
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    Re: How To Get Started.

    Quote Originally Posted by Joshua View Post
    I
    I really suggest getting a few basics (but I would go beam black over white) at once, then spend some nights having a 1oz pour from a few types, then another night where you focus on one bourbon.... then when you start to understand the differences in distilleries and super-general profiles, start going to the same distillery... and then different types of the same label.

    Say, for Buffalo Trace... grab BT, Weller SR, and Ancient Age (or ETL if the price is good) You can see if you like the BT low rye, the Weller's wheated mashbill, or the Ancient Age high rye. Then expand there, say if you like the high rye mashbill look into ETL, Blanton's, etc.
    I agree with that sentiment. Starting too low on the shelf could be as counterproductive as trying to appreciate extra aged or over-proof bottlings right out of the gate.

    I'd start a neophyte out on some of the better value brands that most of us usually agree on.
    Last edited by ILLfarmboy; 08-07-2010 at 18:31.

  5. #5
    Disciple
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    Jun 2010
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    Northern Indiana
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    1,661

    Re: How To Get Started.

    I think another variable is if they are new to whiskey, or just new to bourbon.

    I drank a lot of Canadian Whiskey and a little scotch before I found bourbon. Maybe I'm giving myself too much credit, but I think it helped that I was used to similar proof and a few of the same flavors. I think I made the jump off the bottom shelf quickly because of this. (I'm still not close to the top shelf.)

    If someone was brand new to whiskey, including a Canadian blend or an Irish might not be a bad idea - just to distinguish bourbon itself.

  6. #6
    Guru
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    Jun 2008
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    Metro Detroit
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    5,145

    Re: How To Get Started.

    I would recommend getting together with other bourbon enthusiasts and raiding their stashes when you can. I remember not long after joining SB.com, Tony (ACDetroit) invited me to a get together at a friend's place not far from where I live. It was a real eye-opener. Loads of great things, including my first tastes of a Four Roses Single Barrel which became my favorite whiskey on the planet. I had some of my first BTAC and Weller Centennial at another get together. Jeff (skunk) gave me my first taste of Old Forester BiB, which is now one of my favorite dusties. Going to the Gazebo at one of the KBF events is the ultimate expression of that sort of thing, of course.

    I learned a lot about what is out there and what a I like and don't like and what delivers and what is overrated and overpriced. And about how generous bourbon folks are.
    bibamus, moriendum est
    Sipology Blog

  7. #7

    Re: How To Get Started.

    Here's something akin to what I did: buy and taste -- as Chuck advises, both neat and with water (avoid 'mixing' except for after-tasting pleasure) -- everything bourbon you can buy in 200ml bottles. That'll cover most of the basics, and a few of the second-tier products.
    Chances are, you'll like them all to different degrees, but you'll soon enough notice a trend -- for example, toward wheaters or rye-recipe, or whiskeys from a particular producer.
    Only after you're pretty sure you know what you like (or don't like) in general, start buying higher-priced and longer-lasting (aka, bigger) bottles. Now you're on your way!

  8. #8
    Virtuoso
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    Re: How To Get Started.

    I usually tell newbies to get a taste for rye vs. wheat. That is the easiest distinction to make and once they get used to that, it is easier to pick up the other subtleties. So start with something like WL Weller Special reserve to catch the sweet wheat notes and compare that to Bulleit or 1792 on the rye side. Both very distinct pours and quite enjoyable. If you can't tell a difference between those, then don't even bother trying to explore more options.

    Once you get that down then try looking at distillery specific flavors.

    I would also encourage mixing 2:1 bourbon to water early on to be able to get past the burn and slowly learn to drink it with less and less water.
    Hope is subversive, for it limits the grandiose pretensions of the present by calling into existence the possibility of something better.

  9. #9
    Enthusiast
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    Jun 2010
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    Re: How To Get Started.

    Quote Originally Posted by kickert View Post
    I usually tell newbies to get a taste for rye vs. wheat. That is the easiest distinction to make and once they get used to that, it is easier to pick up the other subtleties. So start with something like WL Weller Special reserve to catch the sweet wheat notes and compare that to Bulleit or 1792 on the rye side. Both very distinct pours and quite enjoyable. If you can't tell a difference between those, then don't even bother trying to explore more options.
    I completely agree here. I started my friends off on this -- we did a bit of a comparison between wheat and rye bourbon, and it was really fun and educational. I used some markedly different whiskeys -- Maker's and I think Eagle Rare.

    As an aside, I was ruined early on. When I first started drinking whiskey, some friends gave me a bottle of Macallan 25. It was good, but completely wasted on me, not to mention my friends. I totally couldn't appreciate what it truly was. Now it's all gone and I wish I still had some .

    But I do disagree that one should start at the bottom. I think starting in the "middle" would be a better place. MM, ER, etc... The first bourbon I ever had which even made me interested was Knob Creek. From there, I started looking more seriously at what it was all about... When I was in college, I thought Jim Beam white was all there was to bourbon, and just was not interested in the whole category of whiskey because I disliked it so much.

  10. #10
    Guru
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    Mar 2005
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    Re: How To Get Started.

    Another interesting thread!

    The problem with starting on the bottom is you may never get beyond that shelf. Starting on the top does not work for most people as the appreciation/cost ratio is prohibitive.

    IMO, mid-shelf products are the best starting point.

 

 

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