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View Poll Results: What is the Most Important Factor in a World Class Bourbon

Voters
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  • Quality of Mash Components (Grain)

    3 5.36%
  • Mash Bill / Composition (Percentage Corn, Rye, Wheat, Barley)

    4 7.14%
  • Water

    1 1.79%
  • Yeast

    1 1.79%
  • Distillery Equipment / Process

    1 1.79%
  • Age in Barrel

    2 3.57%
  • Barrel Location

    7 12.50%
  • Final Barrel Selection

    29 51.79%
  • Blend of Barrels (If Not Single Barrel)

    4 7.14%
  • Other

    4 7.14%
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  1. #1
    Advanced Taster
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    What is the most important factor in a World Class Bourbon

    Outside from my obsession with Bourbon, I've been tasting, drinking and collecting wine for close to 20 years (god I'm getting old). Anyway, I used to live in wine country and have had many a conversation with a vintner about the making great wines. Almost to a person, they'll say that the grapes make the wine and their job is not to screw it up. So, with that in mind, I'm wondering what you all think is the single greatest factor among the following.

    1) Quality of Mash Components (Grain)
    2) Mash Bill / Composition (Percentage Corn, Rye, Wheat, Barley)
    3) Water
    4) Yeast
    5) Distillery Equipment / Process
    6) Age in Barrel
    7) Barrel Location
    8) Final Barrel Selection
    9) Blend of Barrels (If Not Single Barrel)

    The first 7 are fairly systematic and can be replicated over time. #8-9 are the most variable -- requiring human intervention (until someone can put together a bourbon analysis machine).

    Before you score, think about what your favorite bourbons are and what makes them so.

  2. #2
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    I'm not trying to be contrary or avoid your question, but with the possible exception of water, I'd say each of the factors is equally important. The reason is, a misstep in any one can ruin or hurt the whiskey. A mash too high in corn may make it too bland; bad yeast can muff a ferment and hurt the distillate; punky wood can impart an off-taste; a still with insufficient plates can impart too much of a congeneric (e.g., boiled cauliflower - ask Jeff about that ) taste, and so on. Even improper batching can make the difference between something acceptable and something really good. Every part of the process needs careful attention. Probably this is true of water too even though it is distilled. I once read that the wrong kind of water can impart off colors and odours (to take an extreme example, water with natural dissolved sulfur). Every step is important and contributes to the final organoleptic qualities.

    Gary

  3. #3
    Guru
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    Gary,

    Although less knowledgeable than you about the mechanics of production I had much the same thought.

    However, a slight adjustment in interpretation of jsgorman's survey question may be worthwhile.

    Given the actual processes and controls in use by the various manufacturers (presumably none of which would use sulfurous water, for example), which of the factors listed make the greater contribution to the differences in the final product across all distillers?

    For example, one departed member believes that in the case of Jim Beam, the single mashbill results in a family identity that dominates other variables, such as the allegedly unique yeast used in Baker's.

    For another, I have facetiously suggested that a certain distiller may "accidentally" include one stave made of eucalyptus in each of its barrels, creating its own unique, family identity. Apart from my attempt at humor in that case, it wouldn't take much to convince me the choice of barrels is a major factor. Of course, if someone in the know tells me that barrels are a mere commodity (identical save for char level), just as corn is, I would have to accept it.

    Yours truly,
    Dave Morefield
    Last edited by bluesbassdad; 07-10-2006 at 13:24.
    Yours truly,
    Dave Morefield

    Dog Lover, Euphonium Player, Campfire Guitarist, Marksman,

  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Dave:

    In the sense you have indicated, I would answer the question by saying that mash bill and yeast are the most important. Because, we all know how a step-up in, say, rye content can affect the flavour. But equally important is yeast. As brewers and beer fans know, beers vary dramatically depending on the yeast used and fermentation temperature. So that variable has to be rated equally. I think wood contribution is fairly equal across the production spectrum. Ditto the stills used (which in the end just deliver a distillate in a certain proof range). Warehouse and location therein play their part, but in the end mash bill and yeast are the most significant in my view. This is to be sure in terms of delivering the house taste, not the taste of bourbon "qua" bourbon. Indeed they explain I suggest the signature notes in Jim Beam's and HH's whiskeys.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 07-10-2006 at 13:33.

  5. #5
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    I'd agree that all these characteristics are important, but for the sake of intelectual curiosity, I was curious what people thought was the single most important factor to making the ultimate bourbon.

    Take Buffalo Trace for example. It is my understanding that Buffalo Trace, Ancient Age, Blantons and GT Stagg (all excellent Bourbons, mind you) use the same ingredients and go through the same process. The difference between Blantons and Ancient Age is Barrel Selection. Stagg, is both barrel selection and barrel age.

    I belive all Wild Turkeys (save the rye) start off as the same white-dog -- but there is quite a difference between the 101, 8yr, 12yr., and so on. Part is barrel age, but Jimmy will tell you that once it passes 8yrs, he really has to work his barrels to get a drinkable product. In fact, if both Jimmy and his son were to jump ship, I would wonder how well WT couild survive.

  6. #6
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    That's interesting that Russell said that about bourbon aged over 8 years. I would have thought he was an admirer of extra-aged bourbon in general since all the premium WTs are over 8 years old (Russell's Reserve, Signature, Tribute, the 12 year old where available, Kentucky Spirit and a good part of Rare Breed). Anyway he does a great job of selection. To answer your question in the way you have explained it now, I would say age, selection and vatting are equally important. They determine, all other things being equal, the distinctive traits of a brand.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 07-10-2006 at 14:29.

  7. #7
    Moderator and Bourbonian Of The Year 2014
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    I've actually looked at this question from a whole different perspective (I am just starting to drink my morning coffee )

    I admit to knowing next to nothing about the making of bourbon.... but to me, to be a "World Class Bourbon".... a product should be available world-wide (albeit maybe in limited numbers..or preferably not )

  8. #8
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    Regarding WT and Jimmy Russell

    I asked him a similar question regarding the Tribute, and he told me that he originally thought that it was meant for the 150th Anniversary and he only found out it was for him when they called him down to see the packaging.

    His point was that after 8 years, it becomes particularly easy for the bourbon to get over oaked and for the 15 YO, he needed to move the barrels around to slow down the aging process.

    I did mean to ask him about the 12YOs -- his impressions on them and why they aren't available in the US, but I forgot.

  9. #9
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Well, now that you explain this, I see more what you meant. Because it is a house taste of WT to be 'woody'. Even 80 proof WT has this taste to a degree. So I see now what Jimmy Russell meant, he doesn't want the house flavor exaggerated in the older expressions. The 10 year old gets the balance right. And while I never would have called any WT elegant (it just isn't the house style), the RR 90 comes close, more so than any other in the WT range. The Tribute and Signature have richness but inevitably wood extract is very present too. The 90 has too I find a faint taste of "old wood", punky is not the right term, maybe a hint of mushroom like some cognacs have. It lends complexity. Still, I think the McKenna trumps it. Since these are carefully batched and the McKenna is of course bonded, I imagine the next time I try them I might prefer the WT, but not this time. It gratifies me to find such a high quality HH. I always felt it could reach the heights but everything has to click and it sure does with this McKenna. If anyone else has a bottle of the same barrel I'd be interested in your comments (barrel 278 barreled 6/21/94).

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 07-11-2006 at 01:14.

  10. #10
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    Sorry to disagree, Cam, but I don't think availability has anything to do with class.

    world-class (wûrld'klăs')
    adj.
    Ranking among the foremost in the world; of an international standard of excellence; of the highest order: a world-class figure skater.
    Great, as in importance, concern, or notoriety.
    -Dan

    Who stole the cork from my breakfast?

 

 

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