Opinions on bourbon types

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Opinions on bourbon types

Unread postby Mike » Mon Aug 03, 2015 5:54 pm

A few speculations (opinions if you prefer) on bourbon drinking from an amateur bourbon lover. The opinions expressed below are derived from my experiences as a bourbon drinker. I make no claims for them being in any way authoritative, and while I expect your palate to have formed different opinions, I take the liberty of thinking them still in the mainstream.

For me own purposes I classify bourbon tastes in terms of several categories.

Some bourbons are very rich in barrel flavors, in general, I think the barrel proof bourbons hold the edge here. For one thing, they are often high proof so the barrel flavors are prominent, because they have been undiluted. Unfortunately, so is the alcohol. But the addition of a judicious amount of das wasser, to your own palate's sweet spot, finds the correct balance. For that reason, when I desire the pleasures found in the rich and creamy essence of the barrel, I reach for a barrel proof bourbon and shape it to my palate. At present my goto bottle is Stagg Jr, which at about 128 proof, is kinda like a barrel too far. But, even at that proof, in a sipping mode, the barrel holds off the alcohol, but kicked down to about 110 proof, it is a sublime sip.

Some bourbons achieve a balance twixt barrel flavors and a soft mouthfeel. These fellows are generally lover in proof, and are either low rye recipes, or wheat bourbons, or even sometimes bourbons with a larger share of malt in their recipes. They do tend to be on the sweet side, but lack the rich and creamy sweetness of those bourbons described above. Usually, being lower proof (90 proof or below), they do not directly challenge your palate, and form the bulk of the bourbon sold around the world. Some of them are excellent bourbons (e.g. Evan Williams Single Barrel, Buffalo Trace, and even some Corn Whiskies), and pretty much all of them are quite drinkable (including Maker's Mark). But many, in my humble opinion, do not bring the palate to a full alertness because they lack a challenge. Still, the subtlety found in many of these bourbons is a treasure (e.g. if you can find a Weller Antique bourbon, buy it....... even at 107 proof it is an almost gentle wheat bourbon). True, though, that we do not always, maybe not even often, want a challenge to our palate. Still, in this man's opinion, without challenges to one's plate one cannot truly know one's own palate. Besides, I like variety in my whiskey. To see the effects of more malt in a whiskey, take your favorite bourbon and add a bit of Jameson's Irish whiskey (a malt whiskey) and note the change in the character of the sweetness (it is 'rounder') and the adds to the 'softness'.

Some bourbons use the unique qualities of rye grain to take the palate for an almost spiritual flavor walk. The spice is lively and biting, and a nice challenge. By far, my favorite among these, and a bourbon that I consider, dollar for dollar, the best buy in bourbon, is Four Roses Single Barrel. The high rye content and the flavorful and fruity yeasts used by Four Roses makes for an exceptional bourbon. Some of the special releases of Four Roses, which are barrel proof, achieve both a high degree of barrel rich flavors, AND, the ready spice of a high rye recipe. Thomas Handy Straight Rye Barrel Proof whiskey also offers this unique and explosive combination.

Some bourbons use yet another characteristic of the charred barrel to achieve a unique taste. This taste is probably the most controversial among all bourbon tastes. It involves not the creamy rich barrel flavors, nor the softness of a lower proof, and lower rye content bourbon, but the almost acrid dryness that remains once the vanilla/maple/brown sugary like flavors of the barrel are exhausted and the evaporation inherent in barrel aging have had their say. This effect usually begins as bourbon has spent in excess of ten years in the barrel, dependent of course, upon where the barrel was placed in the warehouse. At the highest levels the bourbon ages faster because it get hotter in the summer, and colder in the winter. A representative of this class of bourbon is Noah's Mill, which is usually priced a bit less than $50. It now has NAS (no age statement) but is probably bourbon that is around 15 years old. It has a decidedly tannic quality which many find to be too bitter, and it certainly has a measure of that quality. For myself, I find tannins only objectionable when they achieve a degree of bitterness that obliterates all other taste qualities. Noah's Mill is almost, in my opinion, at that point, but I think there is a nice quality that yet remains that I enjoy for its own sake.

As an aside the quality that makes Pappy Van Winkle bourbons such a favorite with so many (please do include me among them) is that in the midst of these tannins, the best of the Van Winkle bourbons (the 15 YO in my opinion) still retain some of the barrel richness, which is moderated, and lengthened by the time in the barrel in such a way that a remarkable and unique, and highly desirable, subtlety is preserved.

As a second aside, make your own bourbons to suit your palate by taking bourbons from the various types of bourbons and combine them to suit your own palate. You can often find that near perfect combination of qualities that suit you by taking bourbons of different intentions aimed in the direction that you find most to your liking.

My opinions are my own, make as little, or as much of them as you will. And, please take the liberty to offer your corrections to them as you see fit. I never forget the ENTHUSIAST in BourbonEnthusiast. Thanks for your indulgence and patience with a long post.
Last edited by Mike on Mon Aug 03, 2015 8:12 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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: Opinions on bourbon types

Unread postby Squire » Mon Aug 03, 2015 7:32 pm

A post well worth reading Mike, thanks.
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Re: Opinions on bourbon types

Unread postby ebo » Tue Aug 04, 2015 8:11 pm

It's nice to see you back, Mike. I missed reading your posts.
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Re: Opinions on bourbon types

Unread postby mhatzung » Wed Aug 05, 2015 3:18 pm

Thanks Mike.

Your post gives me some things to reflect on. Reading through it, you helped me formalize several thoughts that have been rattling around in the back of my mind that I just couldn't bring forward. This may help me step to the "next level", figuring out why I like this or that.
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