As to Taste being 100% subjective

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As to Taste being 100% subjective

Unread postby Mike » Fri Sep 21, 2012 10:07 pm

Taste is 100% subjective. We are often treated to that piece of information as if it is emblazoned in immutable bronze and is a truth too obvious to be debated. BULLSHIT!

Taste is NEVER 100% subjective.......... unless there are no other humans on planet earth who affect our opinions (and tastes). And unless our tastes never change!

Taste ALWAYS has subjective components....... and certainly differs by person, but so what?? Subjectivity can NEVER be the best, or only, measure of taste. Even as far back as the Romans it was known that taste is largely a matter of opinion (de gustibus non est disputandum). Again, I say, SO WHAT? Taste, to be even slightly interesting to humans, is PUBLIC.

The problem here is that, in so far as bourbon is concerned, some bourbons are better than others, irrespective of personal taste opinions. True, not a one of those 'better' bourbons will win universal approval......... which only says that some people have bad taste, or unique taste, or that on this particular bourbon have their own biases. That, me lads and lassies, is not an insurmountable obstacle to recognizing quality, and allows plenty of room for the assertion that some bourbons are 'BY GOD' better than others.

Many times on BE I have made this similiar argument, and I am ever more convinced that to say that everyone's taste is their own is not to say much. It is, at best, trivially true.

Still, it is unimportant. Would you trust an opinion, however subjective, on bourbon, to someone who has never, ever, had a sip of bourbon. Not lucking fickly. Subjective taste is always important, but it can be cultivated, and it will change with experience......... and be BETTER (most likely, but not definitely)!!

To MIKE, that some bourbons are better than others (irrespective of cost) is the basis upon which Bourbon Enthusisast was founded. If it were not so, what would be the point? Rarely is this an all or nothing world.......... and there you have my subjective opinon........ defended as best I can. If you want to take the other side of this argument, you must be prepared to defend something called 'solipsism'........ which effectly says that all I know is what is in my own mind (complete subjectivity)......... everything else is suspect......... and you are welcomed to defend it, but be warned that it lacks credibility, almost universally. Who, in their right mind, would argue that?

Please be advised that I am not disparaging individual opinons about bourbon........... they exist, they are important. But they, in themselves, carry little weight unless they are 'informed'. Now, if you ask me to define 'informed' to the degree that everyone is satisfied with that definition, forget it. There are things about which we will ever contend.......... but that does not mean that: (1) we should abondon things of interest because we cannot decide on the criteria by which to judge them, or (2) deciding that going beyond our sure and secure subjective opinions is not possible to an acceptable degree (we do that every day on other matters).
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
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Re: As to Taste being 100% subjective

Unread postby gillmang » Sat Sep 22, 2012 8:34 am

As always, this is an adroitly written and argued piece from Mike. I must say while I generally agree with his views, I find myself in some disagreement here. I think you can make the argument that the ideal age range for bourbon is 4-10 years, with some leeway to about 12 for some whiskeys (e.g. Lot B, which I like), but the majority of the quality being in the 6-8 year range. Straight rye is a partial exception since it benefits from longer average aging than for bourbon, IMO. There are some up to 18 years old I've liked a lot although 12-13 years is probably the ideal range for me.

I think anything much over 4-10 years for bourbon loses too much distillery character - meaning congeneric flavor, basically - to tannic and wood character. The older whiskeys cost more, and "should" therefore be better. They cost more because they are in storage longer and storage costs money. Historically, age was considered good for liquors, so a mystique developed around old liquors. But once spirits became better distilled in part through use of the column still, prolonged age became a liability or at most didn't add much (arguably) in proportion to price asked. Nonetheless the habit hung on to prize something very old, and this is why IMO very old bourbon and malt whiskies are held in high esteem today. But when you look at public taste, it doesn't want that and in fact, goes the other way even from the moderate age ranges I am bruiting here. The public taste is for vodka, mostly (in terms of sales I mean). Nor is this solely a pricing decision since premium vodkas command a very good price. And while public and specialist tastes do not have to coincide, when they veer too far from each other, I start to wonder about the "validity" of specialist tastes. For example, I made a brief foray into vintage Champagne some years ago. This ended after I became fed up with a series of wines which tasted of old mushroom or autumn leaves on the forest floor. I understand fully this is something admired by many but I just couldn't get it...

The one area I do see useful for old bourbons (12-20 years) is to season younger ones in vattings, as counselled by Jos. Fleischman in his late-1800's text on the blending and compounding of liquors. In this Mike, as an experienced vatter, would concur I'm sure.

I feel similarly about most special or limited edition whiskeys. Most don't seem worth the money to me. For some, they are, because you are getting more proof - more whiskey - than for standard releases. But e.g. a LE 4RSB I bought some months ago for $80.00 just wasn't worth, IMO, paying almost double over the regular 4RSB. I thought it was actually less good than most of those (each bottle does vary a bit), but of course others can disagree.

This does not mean all taste is subjective and cheapest is best. I find a lot of bourbon that is 3-4 years old, extending to 6 in some cases, has too much corn taste and I never use them except for vatting (where again they can add complexity and other values). I never much liked the Beam profile although a recent Knob Creek showed some rich character and a better taste than I recall from this brand in some years.

In my bar currently, amongst about 12 bourbons and ryes ranging in price from $18.00 to $80.00, the best-tasting IMO is Ancient Ancient Age, which is the $18.00 one.

So to sum up my views and once again that is all they are, I'd say old bourbon is generally overrated, rarely is something much over 10 years of interest to me except for vatting, and once you get the strong corn taste out and the wood evenly balances the distillery character (usually at somewhere between 6 and 10 years), I'm in. Other expensive bourbons, e.g. LE's and experimental releases, rarely satisfy unless the higher proof which many have offers an overall good value. (Stagg is an example).

Sometimes 4 years is perfect though: Forester Signature 100 proof, say. I find most of the Birthdays too wooded for me. Jack Daniels SB at 4-5 years is excellent. Ditto Buffalo Trace which I think is 8-9 years in range. Four Roses Yellow Label - 4 years old - is as perfect and elegant a bourbon I know. I think I prefer it in fact to the Small Batch and 4RSB. Blanton is excellent bourbon, about 5-6 years aged I believe. The Evan Williams vintage series, 10 years old, is about the perfect expression from that distillery. VOB at 6 years old - I like the 86 or 90 best - about the perfect bourbon. For me.

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