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  1. #1
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    importance of sweetness

    In my recent explorations of bourbon, what I have noticed is that I tend to like sweetness in bourbon. Now, I found Basil Hayden for example to be quite sweet and it tastes premium. Likewise Four Roses small batch... whereas some inexpensive bourbon does not have this characteristic. Is this something that defines a more expensive bourbon? It doesn't seem it would. Also, is sweetness an additive? where does it come from? I am curious if the best/most expensive bourbons are the sweetest. I have a limited experience with the more expensive bourbons..... thx

  2. #2
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    Re: importance of sweetness

    I tend to like sweetness in bourbon as well. I would not say that all high-end bourbons are sweet, nor are all cheap bourbons dry. The sweetest bourbon I can think of is Virginia Gentleman, which goes for $20/bottle. Elmer T. Lee is also sweet and usually retails in the $20-30 range.

    I think sweetness in bourbon is simply part of each individual distiller's style of making the whiskey, or even how they select the barrels. Wild Turkey 12 year old is noticeably sweeter to me than Wild Turkey 101, for example. But Elijah Craig 18 year old is anything but sweet, and probably less sweet than EC12. I assume much of the sweetness comes from the sugar in the corn (white dog is pretty sweet), but is enhanced by the caramelized flavors that are pulled out from the charred wood in the barrels. Perhaps some sugars are pulled out of the wood as well as the whiskey ages. I'm no expert on this, but I suspect others are, or have more knowledge than I.
    -Dan

    Who stole the cork from my breakfast?

  3. #3
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    Re: importance of sweetness

    I'd add some of the OC expressions to the sweetest list as well... particularly my favorite (and no longer available PR).

    Perhaps it's the high corn content in the mash bill.
    John B

    "Drinking when we are not thirsty and making love at all seasons… that is all there is to distinguish us from other animals."

  4. #4
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    Re: importance of sweetness

    Bourbon such as Weller, as well as any Van Winkle product, is sweeter than most due to the wheat. Most rye'd bourbons are less sweet but still have a sweetness. As Dan said, the corn probably lends some natural sweetness to the bourbon. And, I do believe a major contributor to sweetness, which Dan alluded to, is the wood. Prior to barreling the white oak barrels are charred which, I believe, caramelizes the wood. As the bourbon ages and goes through the seasons, the bourbon goes into and out of the wood, each time extracting sugars, other flavors and color from it. At least, this is what I think.

    But, definitely let the guys that know more chime in.

  5. #5
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    Re: importance of sweetness

    I'm convinced that wheaters exhibit, on balance, an overall sweet palate because the wheat is a very neutral grain that brings down the intensity of the grain flavors, not at all because of any sweetness in the wheat. Corn and oak are where the sweetness comes from.

    Wheat is much, much less spicy than rye, so the grain spiciness goes way down in a wheater.

    Also, the actual amount of corn sweetness goes down some in a wheater. Wheat bourbons use a much higher percentage of wheat than most rye bourbons use rye (low 20%s vs. 6-14% or so), which brings the proportion of the corn down, as barley remains pretty much a constant (10-12% unless enzymes are added).

    The effect of this smoother, less intense grainbill is to let the oak character be more dominant so that, on balance, the vanillins, cotton candy, caramel, etc. show much more dominantly in the wheater. It is the toned down balance of a wheat bourbon that gives it its smooth, sweet, drinkability.

    To test this, try Bernheim Wheat alongside a corn whiskey or a low rye bourbon. Also, taste wheat beers alongside conventional barley beers. You could even restage the MM legend of the rye bread versus the wheat bread. I believe in each of these, one would find that the wheat has less sweetness, if one keeps in mind to account for any other intense flavors.

    Roger

  6. #6
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    Re: importance of sweetness

    I second the Old Charter suggestion. The 10 year old is quite sweet. The 8 yo not as sweet, and I pretty much only us the 8 as mixer. I have a bottle of the 12 which I have yet to try. Also a bottle of 7 year BIB that I have not opened as well.
    "And that low down southern whiskey, began to fog my mind"
    -Little Feat
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  7. #7
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    Re: importance of sweetness

    Was the term "sweet whiskey" ever used to denote a well aged flavorful product, one that's very easy drinking?

    I remember watching One Eyed Jacks. Brando's character used the term "sweet whiskey" to describe something that was "smooth sailing" or "easy going" I believe he said something like: "from then on it was sweet whiskey...........

  8. #8

    Re: importance of sweetness

    Quote Originally Posted by Rughi View Post
    I'm convinced that wheaters exhibit, on balance, an overall sweet palate because the wheat is a very neutral grain that brings down the intensity of the grain flavors, not at all because of any sweetness in the wheat. Corn and oak are where the sweetness comes from...
    I don't know, Roger. You ever stripped a head off a wheat stalk and popped the 'nuts' into your mouth? Think Bernheim Wheated. Sweet AND wheat-y. Sure, the corn and oak add to it. But wheat IS sweet!
    Tim

  9. #9
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    Re: importance of sweetness

    Quote Originally Posted by TNbourbon View Post
    I don't know, Roger. You ever stripped a head off a wheat stalk and popped the 'nuts' into your mouth? Think Bernheim Wheated. Sweet AND wheat-y. Sure, the corn and oak add to it. But wheat IS sweet!
    Sure, every grain has sugars - if a grain didn't there would be no point in converting that sugar to ethanol in fermentation.

    Residual sugars (aka non-fermentable sugars) are the key, not original sugar content.

    Honey, for instance, is extremely sweet in its raw form but ferments more completely and "dry" compared to most commonly used grains. An example of a grain with a very high residual sugar content would be caramel malt barley, where light toasting converts some of the proto-sugars to a non-fermentable form so that as a small component of a mashbill it can lend sweetness to a beer after fermentation.

    None of these are _either-or_ situations, but rather degrees, and what I was originally saying is that wheat has a smoothing effect in bourbons that allows the amount of sweetness present to show more dominantly - even if the overall sweetness is lower.

    As an example, one might try the experiment I just tried. Take 2 glasses of sugar water and add water to one and worcestershire sauce to the other. I found that, while the worcestershire sauce sample was actually sweeter, the diluted sugar water sample more cleanly expressed sweetness to my palate. On balance, the diluted sugar water sample seemed sweeter.

    Another example I just tried was with two samples of Bernheim Wheat (I don't like drinking in the morning, but this was in the name of science). One I added a few drops of Fee Bitters to, in the other I added a bit of water. Again, the diluted Bernheim gave a greater impression of sweetness compared to the more spicy Fee Bernheim.

    Roger
    Last edited by Rughi; 02-16-2008 at 09:38.

  10. #10
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    Re: importance of sweetness

    Quote Originally Posted by fogfrog View Post
    In my recent explorations of bourbon, what I have noticed is that I tend to like sweetness in bourbon. Now, I found Basil Hayden for example to be quite sweet and it tastes premium. Likewise Four Roses small batch... whereas some inexpensive bourbon does not have this characteristic. Is this something that defines a more expensive bourbon? It doesn't seem it would. Also, is sweetness an additive? where does it come from? I am curious if the best/most expensive bourbons are the sweetest. I have a limited experience with the more expensive bourbons..... thx
    I think Ridgemont Reserve (1792) is probably the sweetest bourbon I've ever had. I definitely enjoy it, but it has to be something I'm in the mood for, like a digestif.
    "Suppose he's got a pointed stick!?!"

    - Eric Idle, Monty Python's Flying Circus

 

 

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