What follows is a stupid-simple question, but I think it could clear up a lot for relative newcomers to the bourbon scene like me.
What, generally, is the relationship between the intensity of distinctive woody flavors in a whiskey and the time that whiskey has spent in a barrel? I have always assumed that it was a simple direct relationship (more age = more wood taste), but is it possible that it is more complicated than that?
When I say 'distinctive woody flavors', I mean flavors like vanilla oak or green bark astringency. I understand that most whiskey taste comes from the interaction between distillate and oak, but I am talking specifically about those flavors that evoke the wood itself. So not the fruitiness or sugary sweetness or other tastes which may have something to do with the barrel but do not taste particularly like wood.
This question, for the record, stems from my recent experience with a bottle of EC 12, which has been my oldest bourbon to date. Expecting strong oaky strains - and bracing myself for possible bitter astringency - I found that a rich, fat, mildly hot, and somewhat fruity (apple/pear?) sweetness predominated. The wood presented itself only in a softly oaky vanilla warmth that supported the general sweetness. My EWB (4ish years?), on the other hand, shows much more woodiness - astringency, in its case. The EC 12 was good, in short, but it totally defied my expectations about its woodiness.
This experience, in turn, seems to parallel my experiences with Basil Hayden 8 year and OGD 114 (again, 4ish years?) . I like both, especially the latter, but I could not help but notice a more distinct/intense woody aspect to the Old Grand Dad. Again, this experience totally belied my common sense expectations about age and wood.
What is going on here? Is it possible - and this is my new assumption in the works - that woody flavors peak at a certain stage in the aging of any given whiskey and then become more moderate? I mean, I have heard of over-aging as causing intensely woody (sometimes bitterly astringent) flavor profiles, but my limited experience to date seems to suggest otherwise.
*(All of this takes all other factors like mashbill and toasting and what-have-you as constant, by the way. I could see, for example, how WT's aggressive toasting could produce the flavor profile that it does.)