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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Quality v. Style

    Some comments in another thread about Jack Daniel's got me thinking about this.

    I recently attended a presentation about Herradura Tequila. We tasted their Blanco, Reposado and Anjeo expressions. For those who don't know, Blanco (white) or Silver tequila is un-aged, Reposado is aged for less than one year and Anjeo is aged for a year or more. What was interesting was the presenter's point that the difference is one of style, not of quality. It's all the same tequila, after all, therefore the same quality. The aging doesn't make it better, it just makes it different. But it's a difference in style, not quality. The validity of his position is easy to prove. Just taste a Herradura or other premium blanco next to a cheap mixto blanco.

    Whiskey is a little different because as aging became more common, virtually no one chose to continue drinking common whiskey (i.e., white dog) and age became a quality measure--six years was better than four, eight was better than six, etc.

    But when you get past about ten years, I think the same theory holds. It's not really better quality, it's a different style.

    But I'm not sure I've fully wrapped my head around the whole concept. What is the difference between quality and style? It matters because, presumably, quality evaluations should be objective while style preferences are by nature subjective. What do you think?

  2. #2
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    Re: Quality v. Style

    Quote Originally Posted by cowdery View Post
    But I'm not sure I've fully wrapped my head around the whole concept. What is the difference between quality and style? It matters because, presumably, quality evaluations should be objective while style preferences are by nature subjective. What do you think?
    I think quality is a more objective thing, while style is more subjective.

    For me, Scotch is a good example of this. Because I dislike the taste and smell of peat, I don't drink it. My nose and palate are acute enough to pick it up in whiskies where it's not that strong (say a Speyside). But I like to have a bottle of good single malt around for guests. Last fall, when a bottle of Macallan 18 bit the dust, I started researching a replacement (wasn't going to spend $150 for another Mac 18). One that seemed to be on everybody's Top Ten list was Aberlour a'bunadh. At $64 it seemed a reasonable buy so I got a bottle.

    Had to try it of course. All kinds of wonderful aromas and flavors, very smooth, long finish. Obviously a very well-crafted whiskey. If it wasn't for the peat...

    In Bourbon, most would agree that WT RB and VW Lot B are quality products. But one is rye'd and the other a wheater. Some people (my wife) don't like wheaters. It's subjective.

    The BMW Z4 is a well-engineered, well-made sports car, but some people hate the way it looks.
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  3. #3
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    Re: Quality v. Style

    Very interesting post Chuck! I had never thought about style and quality with tequila but that really made sense. My first thought on the Bourbon side would be, to get a different style of tequila, it ages a year or more. With Whiskey the adding of extra years would equates to more evaporation! The more years the less in the barrel, I agree that would change the style after every year but in MHO the years and KY weather add quality and we see that in the price (not to say you do not see the price go up in tequila)!

    I think the price on a bottle of Bourbon goes up with supply and demand as well. For example the FR 40th bottles sold out in a very short period of time. I believe you posted a new barrel strength release from FR's for 2008 and it will be at an increased price (expected not confirmed). Does that mean the quality of this bottling will be superior to the previous? I would guess not, but the FR folks know what is selling and they know they are making a quality product that will sell.

    In final, I think the Style and Quality works for Tequila but I think the adding of years to bourbon also adds quality up to a peak point ( what that is I have no idea)!

    Tony
    "So long as the presence of death lurks with anyone who goes through the simple act of swallowing, I will make mine whiskey"

  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2010 and Guru
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    Re: Quality v. Style

    Wouldn't age also be more of a style than an indicator of quality? A youthful, zesty bourbon is more of a stylistic change from an older, barrel influenced bottling.

    Let's say all bourbons at a distillery go through the same quality controls, grain selection, fermentation, distillation, dilution for barreling. Then they would all be of the same quality.

    If you continue this through to the fact that dumping larger batches reduces the chance for variation and therefor increases the chance that one bottle bought one year in one country will be nearly identical to another bottle bought some other year in some other country, then Beam White is without a doubt the highest quality bourbon on the planet.

    This would also mean that many of us are parting with serious chunks of money in exchange for LOWER quality products known as single barrels. his would be a case of paying for style over quality (much like buying an Apple instead of a Gateway).

    There used to be (or still is) a body shop in L.A. that specialized in Ferraris, the average paint job cost $64,000.00. It seems that while the Ferraris were stylish, their quality wasn't all that hot, leading to variations of up to 1/4" from side to side. The cost included fixing these issues and bringing the quality up to a level to match the style of the car.

    More auto analogies: Buying Single Barrel bourbons is like geting a Mustang convertible, you can get the hardtop with the same quality for less, or you can part with some extra money and get some style. Maybe more appropriate would be buying a Harley or getting a custom bike from a custom chopper shop-same basic building blocks, vastly different end products.
    2010 Bourbonian of the Year

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  5. #5

    Re: Quality v. Style

    I think, too, that "quality" is a technological term, while "style" is artistic.
    The distillers and distilleries provide quality whiskey in virtually every instance today. It contains no harmful impurities, it adheres to proof/content/aging standards, and it's recognizable upon tasting as a member of its family.
    Style is what the distiller uses to paint the canvas, if you will, with his whiskey(s). Parker and Craig Beam, for example, are artful stylists in order to turn the same, basic rye-recipe bourbon into all those different, but yet consistently related, bottlings Heaven Hill issues. The more varied the stable of labels, the more stylistic the distiller's role. Style, then, is the difference between Old Heaven Hill BIB and JTS Brown BIB.
    Jack Daniel's and George Dickel, on the other hand, come pretty to unifying quality and style, as they present pretty much the same whiskey over and over again, with little variation. If they've made it right, they've made it, period. At those two distilleries, the tasters are as much the stylists as the distillers, because they determine when the singular profile is met.
    Last edited by TNbourbon; 03-28-2008 at 10:52.
    Tim

  6. #6
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    Re: Quality v. Style

    On the more narrow point of whether the age of a bourbon is a quality or style attribute, I'd say at the end points of the age spectrum it's quality, but in between, it's style.

    In other words, too young it will likely be considered low quality. I've tried uanaged corn whiskey (Georgia Moon I think) and found it too raw to enjoy. This is also why JB WL is probably viewed as low quality (at least here), because it's fairly young. The selection of four years as the minimum for a BIB was likely not an arbitrary choice.

    At the other end, you can over-age a bourbon. My first experience with this was back in the 1980s, when 15yo Ezra Brooks was introduced. It was so woody it almost seemed grainy to me, and since then I always approach a bourbon of this (or older) age with a small amount of concern. I consider it a testament to the skill of the blender when I find one that doesn't have this flaw.

    Even so, from some people's perspective too much is too much. John Hansell (The Malt Advocate) gives PVW15 a 93 and a similar score to the 20, but only 84 to the 23, which he describes as having, "dry, spicy, leathery, sooty-charcoal, tobacco notes".

    Now, I'm not saying he's right about the PVW 23 (not tried it myself), but my point is that if you do over-age a bourbon, then you've lost ground, qualitywise.

    But within that very broad "sweet zone" (4-20 years?) variations in age should be considered stylistic differences.

    "Oh my," exclaimed Goldilocks, "this bourbon is too young!" She made a face. "And this one is too old!". Another face. "But this Weller Antique is just right...but so is this Van Winkle 12 year old...and so is this 15.5 year old George Stagg! Oh my, I need to lay down. Hmm..this bed is too hard..."
    Scott

    "Remember that your sense of humor is inversely proportional to your level of intolerance."
    - Serge Storms

  7. #7
    Bourbonian of the Year 2010 and Guru
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    Re: Quality v. Style

    Quote Originally Posted by CorvallisCracker View Post
    On the more narrow point of whether the age of a bourbon is a quality or style attribute, I'd say at the end points of the age spectrum it's quality, but in between, it's style.
    I believe that even at these extremes it's still style rather than quality.

    Compare to, say, hot sauces. You could buy the mildest Jalapeño Tabasco or you could get one of the Capsaicin extracts. Both may be of the same quality, but they are different styles.
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  8. #8
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    Re: Quality v. Style

    Quote Originally Posted by barturtle View Post
    I believe that even at these extremes it's still style rather than quality.

    Compare to, say, hot sauces. You could buy the mildest Jalapeño Tabasco or you could get one of the Capsaicin extracts. Both may be of the same quality, but they are different styles.
    I dunno. If a sauce is so mild that you perceive no heat, then it fails to even qualify as a "hot sauce". If it's so strong that a single drop renders a bowl of chili inedible, then what good is it?
    Scott

    "Remember that your sense of humor is inversely proportional to your level of intolerance."
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  9. #9
    Bourbonian of the Year 2010 and Guru
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    Re: Quality v. Style

    Quote Originally Posted by CorvallisCracker View Post
    I dunno. If a sauce is so mild that you perceive no heat, then it fails to even qualify as a "hot sauce". If it's so strong that a single drop renders a bowl of chili inedible, then what good is it?
    It's a difference of personal taste. I know someone who considers even mild salsa very spicy, but I use Dave's Insanity like it's going out of style.

    I prefer Georgia Moon to Woodford Reserve Four Grain. I've also been outspoken about my dislike of Pappy 23. Yet I know people who love Pappy 23 and at least one who likes WR4G.
    2010 Bourbonian of the Year

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  10. #10
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    Re: Quality v. Style

    I cannot help but think that the quality/style distinction is different among various alcoholic beverages and that there is more room for quality differentiation for beverages in which the variation in production costs is greater.

    In particular, I believe that quality increases as the very best raw materials and practices are employed with greater frequency. Examples might include sourcing grapes from the very best vineyards or top-notch malt or hops, procuring barrells from the very best cooperages, or recruiting a well-trained winemaker, brewmaster or distiller. The line does blur, however, because often the "best" raw materials are the best for a certain style of wine, beer, tequila, etc. But still, to the extent that the choices in production process are discretionary and selected in such a way that material costs are well above the median for that beverage by competent and skilled professionals, one surely has an indicator of quality. Please do not confuse this notion with that which says higher price signals quality -- I'm just talking about production costs. But does idea this hold for bourbon?

    I know more about beer, wine and tequila production than bourbon but intuition tells me that my argument breaks down a bit. There may be "select grains" that make better bourbon but how much does the grain really affect quality?

 

 

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