A Willett 21, a Belle and Meade bourbon and a Wild Turkey Tradition. I've had other WTT and Willett 21's that didn't have it so that's why I was asking about over oaked.
I actually have a chart that I used to draw out for people who visited the distillery that showed my understanding of how a barrel influences whiskey.
It is my contention that the effects of aging closely mimic the a cross section of a bourbon barrel stave. The first thing you have is the char -- think of it like activated charcoal -- it actually removes something from the whiskey. So, the sharp edges are worn away and you lose the grainy flavor of the white dog. The second layer is the "red zone" where you find the caramelized sugars from wood. This layer is responsible for adding sweetness and those distinct bourbon flavors (caramel, vanilla, tobacco, fruit, spice, etc.). The third layer is the uncharred wood. Here is where you get the (surprise) woody notes as well as the tannins (bitterness).
Each of these layers of barrel influence come sequentially but are overlapping and the influence deminishes as time goes on. So if you I were to draw it out, it would look something like this:
===== CHAR ----- - - -
. . . . --===== CARMEL ---- -- -- - - - -
. . . . . . . . . . .--===== WOOD ---- -- -- - - - - - - -
I find the "smoothing" effect of the char mainly takes place in the first five years (which explains why JB at 3 years is still pretty rough). It isn't until year five that you start getting the caramel flavors. And then at 10 years, you can start to pick up the "woody" notes.
So assuming this has some validity, you can find some naturally occurring sweet spots. The 7-8 year range is nice because you can find some very approachable juice that has been polished by the char, and has the caramel influence beginning to show. Great spot to look for high quality mid-shelfers. Then, the 12 year range is really nice as well because the caramel is peaking and you are getting the woody influences, but it isn't overwhelming. This is where you can find some excellent whiskey for reasonable prices ($30-40) without having to pay the premiums that come with extra-aged stuff.
I am not a fan of overly oaked whiskey, and I find after the 15 year mark or so the woody notes tend to dominate.
Personally my favorite age is 12-15 years (And I would often rather go a couple years younger than a couple years older) because it is here where I find the char has done its job to smooth things out, the caramel has peaked and given the whiskey its body, and the woody notes are there to add complexity without overpowering.
Of course there is a very good chance I am way off base, but what I described above certainly matches my experiences and preferences.
Last edited by kickert; 09-20-2013 at 13:06. Reason: Fixed ASCII art
Hope is subversive, for it limits the grandiose pretensions of the present by calling into existence the possibility of something better.
My wife, who is a lot smarter than she gives herself credit for and a non-bourbonite, noted the oak influence on a couple of recent 10+ year pours...ECBP and Stagg Jr. She was very accurate in her description based on the above information.
Great thread, thanks everyone!
Not sure if it is relevant to the intent of the question but no one has commented on the influence of the real estate; i.e., location, location, location. A barrel aged at the top of the rickhouse is going to be radically different from the barrel at the center of the ground floor, all other factors being equal. With single barrels, the labels sometimes tell you exactly where the bourbon rested and for how long. How much of the top shelf stuff comes from the top floor?
If God made anything better than bourbon he must have kept it for Hisself.