Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby Mike » Mon Jul 12, 2010 9:02 pm

cowdery wrote:My difference with Mike is that I think it's wrong to equate personal preference with quality. One is subjective, the other is objective.
That's trying to pass off your personal opinion as objective fact. We have enough of that in politics.


Chuck, you raise some interesting issues. I am going to say something that is sure to puzzle some folks. Quality is not objective..........but neither is it subjective. Quality, at least as I understand our use of it in this context, is public....but it is not objective. I know of no way to 'prove' in a truly objective manner that ANY bourbon is superior to another in quality.

Yet, here I am, saying that JBB is 'better' than JBW as if I held the key to quality in some generally accepted (i.e. public) way. This, to me, is the best we can do (my opinion) in being objective about quality. So, I should have said, 'It is my opinion that most experienced bourbon drinkers (my quality judges being the experienced drinking public) would say that JBB is better than JBW, knowing full well that some folks will claim the exact opposite

As to my blast, 'SOME BOUBONS ARE BETTER THAN OTHER BOURBONS', I hope you will forgive my shouting, but I do stand by that. I certainly believe this statement comes as close to being objective as we can come in regard to matters of taste.........and matters of quality. Quality, like value, is about human judgement which is, as far as I can see, never quite objective in any way beyond dispute (say in the way that saying the earth revolves around the sun is objective).

It is my intent (foolish man) to try to carve out a niche outside of subjectivity (or mere opinion) for judging bourbon. I believe that to say that all taste is subjective, hence beyond challenge, is to fail to recognize the patience and skill of master distillers who strive for better quality bourbon all the time. They are not going to go to an inexperienced bourbon drinker for confirmation that they have succeeded despite the fact that this inexperienced taster is entitled to an opinion from tasting. Their own judgement and that of a few known experienced and acute tasters such as yourself and Mike Veach are often included among these.

I further think that the line so often drawn twixt subjective and objective obscures the fact that even though perfect objectivity is beyond our human capacity, pure subjective is available only to the insane. Being human is to be imperfect, but saying, 'some bourbons are better than other bourbons' (no shouting this time), seems a sensible and human thing to say.

On the other hand, saying that JBB is better than JBW is, as you have pointed out, a bit more problematic, even though I certainly believe it to be true. To be sure about this I bought a 50 ml bottle of JBW (I have some JBB) and will test my belief within a few days.
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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby bunghole » Mon Jul 12, 2010 11:07 pm

delaware_phoenix wrote:I think bunghole's inuqiry as to what make something craft is a good one, and one that gets little discussion. Even in the craft distilling world. Conversely, the craft of making whiskey on a large scale is often overlooked. Knowing what the majors do well and what a small distillery can do well is the first step to understanding.


A very astute observation Cheryl, and one that demands an answer.
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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby delaware_phoenix » Sun Jul 18, 2010 3:27 pm

Well, I'm not going to dive into that thicket. At least not on the forum. Maybe we'll have to get together for drinks some day. :D


But Todd mentioned yeast management, and I was poking around and found this article from 1942. I don't have full access, (and am too dang cheap to be willing to spend $30 on access to the article). The article is titled "Continuous Aerobic Process for Distiller's Yeast" from Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, Vol 34, No. 11., 1942, pp 1402-1405. You get to read the first page for free, and it's kind of interesting.

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ie50395a034
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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby delaware_phoenix » Sun Jul 18, 2010 6:01 pm

I wanted to bring folks attention to a book I found via google, titled "Manufacture of Denatured Alcohol" by H. W. Wiley, Chief of the US Department of Chemistry, 1908.

While about denatured alcohol, he goes into a lot of detail on barley, malting, etc.

Here's a few questions:

1) what were the strains of barley used in the top brands such as 1908's Old Crow? were these 2-row or 6-row varieties? where were they grown? did they use a specific variety, say the white barley of Utah, or did they use one's named Manchurian, Scotch, etc (6 row varieties) or Goldthorpe, Hanna, etc (2 row varieties)?

These are specific varieties of barley grown commercially and mentioned in this 1908 book.

2) are these 1908 varieties of barley currently grown in the US? Is this on a commercial scale? Are these varieties used by the distilling industry?

It seems to me that this is a possible difference between old whiskey and modern whiskey. My guess is these varieties have one out of favor as the industry sought malted barleys with higher DP. Does anyone have more info on this?
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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby cowdery » Mon Jul 19, 2010 12:10 am

They are, after all, the same whiskey.

My sole issue is this. People say "A is better than B" when all they really know is, "I like A better than B." They're stating a personal judgment as if it's a fact. That's hubris.
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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby delaware_phoenix » Mon Jul 19, 2010 6:17 am

I think there very much are differences that equate to better whiskies. Some of it is perference. But if it is based on knowledge, then it becomes more than preference. People should certainly be free to choose the kind of beverage they want. Certainly there is nostalgia for the past, but we are pretty sure there was bad whiskey long ago, as well as whiskey that garnered a reputation for quality.

You can try and tell me that thistles and daisies are the same, but they're not. :D And liking one or the other is a preference.

I do know that how food is produced in the US is significantly different from the methods used even as early as 50 years ago. And the varieties are definitely different. They have been bred (using traditional techniques, not genetically modified using rDNA techniques) to handle modern machine processing and transportation. Obviously, this is for fruits and vegetables, as well as grains. Don't even get me going on the factory production of meat in this country. :roll:

Corn has been bred to produce a sweeter variety than what your parents and your grandparents ate. There's very few varieties available now, and all very similar. Unlike a hundred years ago. (There's also that disaster "No Till Corn".) If you don't believe me, investigate this. In Italy, where there's been some effort to preserve agricultural diversity, there are vegetable strains that are different from one mountain to the other. We know this is true for grapes (otherwise terroir would be a meaningless idea simply used to sell expensive wine). Look at the varieties of apples, now and in the past. The Cornell Agricultural Station at Geneva, NY has a whole orchard of apple strains that aren't grown commercially anymore. I could go on, but I'll refrain.

See, Chuck, you've got me all riled up and it's barely 6 AM! :shock:

And I still see a real difference between the writings of a 10 year old and Shakespeare. But then again, I believe that there is an actual thing called Good and a thing called Truth. I don't think they're imaginary names we just made up in our hubris.
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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby cowdery » Mon Jul 19, 2010 1:56 pm

Before anyone else replies to me they should think about what I actually said, because most of what Cheryl wrote is both undeniable and beside the point. Of course there are differences in quality, of course there are experts who can perform expert anaylsis, of course products can change over time, and of course there are differences between different kinds of things, such as daisies and thistles. All I'm saying is this. People often say "A is better than B" when all they are really saying is, "I like A better than B." They're stating a personal judgment as if it's a fact, which is hubris. It is perfectly okay and appropriate to have preferences, just don't confuse your personal preference with an objective and authoritative assessment.

We can see the crux of the problem in how much trouble I've having getting people to even recognize the difference.
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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby delaware_phoenix » Mon Jul 19, 2010 6:36 pm

I fully understand what you're saying, and agree with you that the vast majority of people drinking bourbon, whiskey, and scotch are in the state of liking such-and-such and therefore it's better than the things they don't like. The drinker of Clan MacGregor may very well say that their drink is better than all those Speyside malts. And visa versa. Certainly many people don't give a lot of thought to what they like and why.

Which to me is where things as whiskey tasting wheels other tools come in, which includes the books that acknowledged experts have written, and this website and forum. There are a lot of very knowledgeable folks here, with a lot of whiskey tasting to their credit. And they do seem to often explore what it is that makes some bourbons seem "better". And you're right Chuck that it could just simply be their preference, their taste buds.

But while it's all very individual, I know I'm still interested in what makes good whiskey. Something other than put it in oak for 12 years. So that would include the ingredients, the mashing protocols, the ferment, the setback, the distillation protocol, and the aging. Of course, I want my whiskey to be good whiskey, whatever that means; and in the end it'll be my take on what good whiskey is. But hopefully it'll be within the ballpark of what enough other people think of as good whiskey that they'll be happy and I'll be happy.

I'm also very interested in the historical differences in whiskey production and how it effected the product. I know the stills back then often weren't the best compared to today's pot stills. So here we have an opportunity to have some modern equipment to make up for equipment deficiencies in the past, and see what can be made. Hey, it might even be good!!
Now hopefully all these words won't make you :violent3:
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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby Mike » Mon Jul 19, 2010 7:57 pm

cowdery wrote: They're stating a personal judgment as if it's a fact, which is hubris. It is perfectly okay and appropriate to have preferences, just don't confuse your personal preference with an objective and authoritative assessment.

We can see the crux of the problem in how much trouble I've having getting people to even recognize the difference.


I say there are no truly objective assessments when it comes to value or taste ..........but there are authoritative ones, which are not the same as purely subjective ones.........that is the crux of my argument.

For myself, if I have overstated the value of my opinion on A being better than B (and at least as often as I might have overstated it, I have in the past noted that my assessment is not truly authoritative), then I am guilty of 'hubris', as charged, and if that is a sin, believe me it is not the only one of which I am guilty.

This argument is not about bourbon, it is a philosophical argument about taste, opinion, subjectivity, objectivity and authority in matters of taste..........and like most philosophical arguments is making little progress. I see some merit in each of the positions taken, and have affection and respect for the disputants, but naturally my 'hubris' (meant only in good fun) sees more merit in my own position.
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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby cowdery » Tue Jul 20, 2010 12:29 am

I have tried not to make this about any individuals. I respect your work here, Mike.

I just wish everyone would be slower to put everything on a scale. Free your mind and see how ridiculous it truly is to say a whiskey ranked 89 by authority X is reliably better than a whiskey rated 88, and if I can't rely on these ratings then what good are they? If I like the 88-rated quaff better than the 89-rated one, does that mean there's something wrong with me?

This started with the question, "which Beam is best?" Inevitably, people said which one they like the best. I did that too, but I also said, "hey new bourbon drinker, you'll have more fun with this if you don't look at it that way."

Why is this important? In forums like this, most of us find the extra-aged bourbons the most satisfying. Most of us didn't start out drinking them. I worry about people reading this stuff, deciding the best bourbon is Van Winkle Lot B, and making that their first bourbon. Why is that a bad place to start? Well, it isn't necessarily, but what if it's something that happens to be old but isn't so good?

Maybe I don't think the shortcut serves their interests. Maybe my answer should be, "I know and I ain't tellin. Figure it for fer yerself."

I'm not really trying to win an argument here. I'm trying to introduce an alternative way of thinking about some things.
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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby gillmang » Tue Jul 20, 2010 4:54 am

One of the things I've found helpful to test the validity of personal judgments is blind tasting. Quite often, but not always, I have found that I rated fairy highly a bourbon I thought I didn't like. Which proves I think we are in part influenced by considerations such as a higher age expression, advertising including bottle shape and labeling style, and other "extraneous" data. On the other hand, generally (lately anyway) I have picked out the style I generally favour (e.g., older rye vs. young). But you can get surprises, I recall once choosing Knob Creek as the best amongst a pretty impressive group of bourbons. I like some bottlings of Knob Creek but not all and that surprised me. Do producers know more than we do about what we like...? I would think yes but only to a point.

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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby delaware_phoenix » Tue Jul 20, 2010 8:22 am

I think most of us agree that point based scales (89 points! wow!) are great for marketing, but not very useful. At least at a museum, when the wall label says "Raphael" you figure that someone kind of knows what their doing. But when the tasting scores go from 80 to 100, and 80 doesn't mean it's bad, just that this is the lowest score we'll give in print, they don't have much meaning. Other than as a tag at the liquor store to entice someone to buy it.

I completely agree with Chuck that new tasters (myself included) need to defy the authorities and taste things themselves and make their own decisions. But it would help if they had some signposts along the way.

Do producers know more than we do about what we like...?


They certainly know what sells to the general public and what sells to the aficionado's. The current taste preference for old oak whiskey seems somewhat new. And perhaps that was a fluke of the glut. It'll be interesting to see whether the majors continue to at such long term aging.

Re: the extra aged bourbons and ryes, I wonder is there something about the modern palate that likes so much oak? The same seems true in the wine world as well where it might have been driven by the tastes on one very influential taster, Robert Parker. Even some micro-brews issue beer aged on oak. Don't people like the flavor of the whiskey itself? Maybe vodka aged 20 years on oak would be just as good?

(That was a bit of a loaded question as it gets back to things you can't describe by an age statement.)
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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby bunghole » Tue Jul 20, 2010 2:49 pm

cowdery wrote:I'm not really trying to win an argument here. I'm trying to introduce an alternative way of thinking about some things.


Me likey, and also agree. Sorry Chuck for sizable snip in your quote.

Let us think beyond what is conventional. Beyond what is convenient. Beyond what is comfortable.

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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby cowdery » Fri Jul 23, 2010 11:19 pm

We can, you know. Is usual.
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Re: Distillers beer from Johnathan Taylor Diary

Unread postby delaware_phoenix » Sun Jul 25, 2010 7:15 am

I've been thinking a bit about this, or perhaps more accurately, some thoughts have percolated up to my consciousness from the ooze and slime of my mind. Nevertheless, here goes...

If it is all as Chuck says, individual taste+aroma descriptions that have no generalized basis (meaning you can't go from a collection of single cases to make a general claim), and that all whiskeys are simply different and tasted differently, then a lot of what goes for the current state of whiskey affairs goes done the drain.

Eagle Rare ain't no better than Jim Beam Black. It's just different.
Pappy juice 21 year ain't no better than Maker's Mark. It's just different.
etcetera

It's all marketing hokum. There ain't no master distillers, because the result is just different.
There ain't no good ferments, or difference between a good and bad ferment.
No such thing as a bad barrel, it's silly for the industry to inspect barrels, and reject a percentage of them.
Single barrel is no better than the blended expression of the same. You just paid more.
Craft distilled? Pot distilled? New make? If you like those flavors, go for it! But you just paid more.
No such thing as a honey barrel either, or a better place in the rickhouse. All the same, just different.

Perhaps I've misconstrued Chuck's position, and if I have I'm sure he'll let us all know about it. :D

In general, some of what Chuck has suggested is true: with some whiskies there are really just differences, and the individual expressions really can't be directly compared, like trying to say rue whiskey is better than bourbon, or using wheat as the small grain instead of rye or triticale, or new make versus aged to various degrees. However, I think there are comparisons that can be made based on quality, and that a definition of quality within a subset of the elite can be established.
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