Been reading/lurking for a couple months to learn a bit, and figured it was high time to stop being the silent guy in the corner. I've always liked whiskey in general, but didn't know a whole lot about what was actually out there beyond having a general idea that bourbon, rye, scotch, irish whiskey, and Jack Daniels were all different things. So I did what I always do in these situations and started reading all about it on the internets. Then I went out with the mission of trying as many bourbons and ryes as I could find over the last month, to see what I liked and how it fit in with what I'd read about.
I have a bizarrely stocked bar because I've picked up lots of random things over the years and don't often drink at home. When I decided to start learning, I had a bottle of Jack and one of those airline bottle sized samplers of the Beam small batch bourbons in amongst the ridiculous stuff. I'd opened the Beam mini-bottles maybe ten years ago for a sip but they'd been sitting there ever since. So I started there (I know Jack pretty well by now). Then I started buying stuff and ordering things in bars that I hadn't tasted recently.
From the Beam sampler, I thought the Booker's was the clear standout -- it had a really nice maple/caramel thing going on, and although it was clearly the strongest of the bunch, it was pretty drinkable. The Basil Hayden's was my next favorite, with some interesting spices going on, although it felt a little slighter that the Booker's. The Knob Creek was good but unremarkable, and the Baker's didn't leave much of an impression on me.
Here's what I've added to my bar since then:
Booker's -- didn't have the same intense maple up front that I liked so much from my old bottle, but still lots of caramel and still packs a punch.
BT -- hey, it's BT, you all know what it tastes like. I thought it was solid.
OWA 107 -- I expected to like this a lot based on reading tasting notes, and it's a store-selected barrel that I'd heard great things about, but it's probably my least favorite of my purchases. Don't get me wrong, it's fine, but I don't love it neat.
GTS -- while I'd planned to stick to low and mid shelf stuff while I found my footing, I didn't want to pass this up when I saw it on a shelf. Wow, is this stuff potent. Easily my favorite pour. It demands your attention because there's so much going on, and it fills your whole face with an amazing flavor that lingers forever.
Whistlepig -- I like this a lot, although I found it to be almost obnoxiously spicy at first. It makes amazing sazeracs, although I feel like it's a little expensive for cocktails.
HW Double Rye -- a much smoother/less spicy rye, I find this extremely easy to drink neat.
I've sampled a bunch of others by the pour, including Bulleit rye (which I liked a lot -- nice spices, pretty easy drinkability), EC12 (I enjoyed the big hit of caramel up front, would enjoy more of this), Rock Hill Farms (didn't do much for me), Woodford Reserve (ditto), Maker's 46 (nice, but not my favorite), and THH (loved this -- big, big flavor, and easy to drink).
I'm starting to think that I strongly prefer cask strength whiskey and big flavors, and that I like most ryes better than most bourbons, but the GTS is definitely my favorite so far. I have a lot more ground to cover, including many of the staples out there, so this may change. I thought I'd be really into wheaters, but the few I've had haven't done a whole lot for me (but maybe I just need to try a great wheater).
I'm definitely open to suggestions for what to target next (besides the obvious goal of trying all of the major staples out there for reference), and I'm hoping to pick up a bottle of THH if there are any left floating around -- at $9, it was one of the cheaper pours from my San Francisco trip, but definitely the best. Thankfully, Chicago is a great place to buy whiskey, although I don't get out of the house as much as I used to.
Thanks for all the info so far, everyone, and I'm looking forward to learning (and drinking!) more, and eventually getting to the point where I might have something to share here. In the meantime, any questions you might have about bass guitars, science fiction, or statistics, fire away.