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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2007

    What is the perfect proof?

    I've been pondering proof lately. More specifically, I've been considering what the perfect proof might be.

    I know, I know, there are different proofs that are suited to different taste profiles, ages of whiskey, times of day or year, etc. And I know there have been interesting discussions of why various proofs exist in the past (though those threads are closed now). But I still think there are some interesting things to hash out here.

    First, it's my understanding that our 100 proof is basically the result of a corruption and/or misinterpretation of the old Sykes system, under which 57 percent alcohol was considered 100 proof. The only common bottling I could think of that comes in at 57% is OGD114, which I consider a terrific pour at a terrific proof. That said, some truly great bourbons are never or rarely at 114-proof (specifically, it seems WT enters the barrel at about 110 most of the time), so I'd hesitate to use 114 as any kind of magic number (not to mention the fact that the Sykes system was in place mostly for tax purposes as I understand it).

    Second, I will say that I tend to enjoy most of my bourbon at 100/101, and nearly every "favorite" I have (WT 101, Knob Creek, OGDBIB) is at this proof. This could be attributable to several factors, though, that are unrelated to proof. 100-proofs tend to be bonds and/or small-batch, for instance. And nearly every company that has a 101-proof has a lower-shelf bourbon at a lower proof, meaning their better whiskey's going into the 101.

    Also, I will acknowledge that I love Stagg, Booker's, etc. In other words, I'm not opposed to high-barrel-proof (though I will add three drops of water to open up the nose) whiskey. I think this stuff has its place, but it's certainly not the sort of thing I'd drink as often as it's 100-proof brethren (Knob Creek for instance).

    Clearly, Julian Van Winkle seems to have an affinity for 107-proof, and who am I to argue? ORVW, PVW, Weller 107, et al. are terrific at 107, as is Baker's from Beam. And there is something perfectly warming on an autumn day about nearly every 107-proof whiskey I can think of.

    Now, I recognize that all of the above doesn't really account for factors such as age relative to proof (consider the superiority of Weller 107 to Weller SR at the same age) or barrel selection.

    But I guess what I'm getting at is that there does seem to be some sort of common thread here. I rarely have an 80-proof bourbon I'd want to pour with regularity, occasionally an 86-proofer, but find most bourbon isn't really balanced with respect to mouthfeel or flavor profile below 90-proof. Even at 90-proof, there aren't too many whiskeys that take much age before the wood dominates, though there are more examples than maybe there used to be. Between 90 and 100 proof, there are some terrific pours. But for me, the sweet spot is about 100(/101) proof. Whether this is due to other factors besides proof or not, I obviously can't say for sure, but I'd say probably not.

    There are other oddball proofs, too, such as Fighting Cock at 103 and some of the "point-proofs" (Thedford at 94.2, etc.), and clearly bottlers are choosing barrel or batch profile with a bottling proof in mind to balance the flavors, but in the end, 100-proof seems right to me: enough dancing on the tongue and complexity to balance even the sweetest whiskey, but allowing the true flavor of the bourbon to come through without being overshadowed by alcohol.

    What do you guys think? Is there a perfect proof? What if you had to choose a proof at which to drink?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Montgomery County, PA

    Re: What is the perfect proof?

    Great post, TBoner! I find myself to be much the same as you - most of my favorites are 100/101 proof. You're right - the alcohol doesn't overpower, but obviously it's warmth and kick are there. And the flavor of the whiskey is undiminished, if not enhanced. A 100 proof spirit tastes creamier than an 80 proof pour, if that's the right word, a more substantial mouth feel.

    I've never cared for the hi-test stuff. 107 is about my limit, and there have been some bourbons at that proof that I have never grown to like, like Wellers Antique, even as I enjoy their 90 - 100 proof stablemates. OGD 114 is actually more drinkable than the proof suggests, a testament to the quality of the product. But it's not an everyday pour - the OGD BIB is. Stagg? Bookers? Never tried 'em, to be honest; I'd certainly have to cut them, which seems like such a shame.

    86 is a good proof. Easy drinking, but not too easy. I love Old Forester at this proof. I keep an open bottle of both the 86 and the 100 at all times.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Wash DC Metro

    Re: What is the perfect proof?

    Funny...I was just discussing this very subject with my brother about two weeks ago. Years ago (like 20), WT 80 was my stable drink mixed with Coke. Now my bourbons range in proof from 90 to 140. For whatever reason, I now never cut my bourbon....always neat. I have noticed some of you like to cut your bourbon with a couple drops of water to "open it up" but I would suspect this doesn't really change the proof. I agree with you that my sweet spot for proof tends to hover around 90-100. There are times though that Stagg or WLW neat hit the spot. I checked most of my open bottles and they all range somewhere between 90 and 100 proof (Wathens 94; Lot B 90; Old Pogue 91).
    “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” - P.J. O’Rourke
    Greg's "bourbondork" blog

  4. #4

    Re: What is the perfect proof?

    Quote Originally Posted by TBoner View Post
    ...I know, I know, there are different proofs that are suited to different taste profiles, ages of whiskey...
    I think you've pretty much hit on -- or, at least, hinted at -- a proper answer. Every whiskey has its own ideal proof. You can also add such factors as barrel-entry proof, distillation proof, grain profile, barrel char, etc.
    I think younger bourbons fare better at lower proofs and older ones can survive a variety of proofs. The added flavor complexity of the older ones lends itself to more 'taster's choice', and thus most barrel-proof offerings seem to be at least 7-8 years old. Each taster can reduce (or not) the whiskey to match his/her palate.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Northwest of Peoria

    Re: What is the perfect proof?

    Perfect proof? Hmm. If I had to make a blanket statement I'd say 100 to 110 with the provision that all bourbon was made like Wild Turkey; relitively low proof off the still and a barreling proof around 110.

    I enjoy Booker's and Stagg and almost always sip them neat. But I have often wondered would they taste better (and be easier drinkin') had the distillation and barrel entry proof been lower? Also, I have always wondered if the reason WT bottling are consistently so damn good is precisely because of the lower distillation and barreling proofs. WT doesn't sell any lesser whiskey under other labels (cats and dogs). Do they?

    BT is the only 90 proofer (bourbon/rye) I drink with any regularity. I like it just fine but have often wished it was available in a 100 proof version.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Eastern Pennsylvania

    Re: What is the perfect proof?

    My ideal lower limit is 90 and my ideal upper limit is 110. I like most bourbons and ryes that fall in this range. There are exceptions, of course.
    Colonel Joseph B. "Bourbon Joe" Koch

    "Bourbon.....It's cheaper than therapy!!"

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2000
    Frankfort, KY

    Re: What is the perfect proof?

    Please consider what the whiskey will be used for when determining the perfect proof. If it is made especially to be mixed (Jack & Coke), why make it more than 80 proof? The Coke will dominate anyway. If you want more of the whiskey taste, just add a little more whiskey. This in my opinion was the rationale used to justify the proof reduction of JD.

    At Buffalo Trace, we believe that some bourbons taste better at specific proofs. 90 proof has always been a favorite, while 80 proof may work for a cheaper well bourbon (AA). Wild Turkey 101 was a marketing notion to separate it from other 100 proofs. The 107 proof Weller arose from the fact that it was as close to barrel proof as the folks at SW could consistently make. Booker's was a pioneer in the high proof, which I believe they knew would not generate a huge volume following. Stagg is also a mutant!

    Most of the SBers really appreciate fine bourbon and appreciate the higher proofs, however, most consumers do not like the taste of alcohol and they just want to enjoy the "bourbon" taste. To many of them, bourbon and coke is the perfect way to enjoy it.


  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2006

    Re: What is the perfect proof?

    I find 107 proof to be just about right...

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Park City, UT

    Re: What is the perfect proof?

    Quote Originally Posted by ggilbertva View Post
    somewhere between 90 and 100 proof

    That'd be my vote. Allows for variation by type, not too weak, not too strong, plenty of flavor, can be mixed or taken straight. Sure, there are some that are pretty good at higher proofs, but 90 to 100 proof is where it's at!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Decatur GA

    Re: What is the perfect proof?

    I have few favorites under 100 proof. I agree that lower proof can be limiting. A favorite is OC 12. It's a good pour and I think its profile suits warm weather well, but at 90, I never drink it over ice. It just gets too thin.

    But yeah, some are just perfect at a different offered proof. As Jazzhead noted, OGD 114 is easy drinking neat at a proof you wouldn't expect.




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