bourbon taste and proof

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bourbon taste and proof

Unread postby FredL » Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:48 pm

i've been drinking scotch for a long time, but I'm relatively new to bourbon (and this site). I find that I tend to like the higher proof bourbons more, in that they seem to have more intense flavor. As I understand it, flavor and proof are inversely related. Does that just refer to initial proof at distillation, or am I just imagining that higher proof bourbons have more flavor?

thanks

Fred
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Re: bourbon taste and proof

Unread postby ebo » Fri Dec 07, 2012 5:10 pm

Higher proof bourbons do have more flavor, but it's been my experience that all whisk(e)y has more flavor at higher proofs, not just bourbon.
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Re: bourbon taste and proof

Unread postby FredL » Fri Dec 07, 2012 5:38 pm

so, are lower proof bourbons distilled at the same proof, but watered down more before bottling? are any distilled at a relatively lower proof?

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Re: bourbon taste and proof

Unread postby WhiskeyBro » Fri Dec 07, 2012 9:39 pm

All are distilled and barreled at barrel proof (58% ABV+) and are watered down after being dumped. ABV can increase or decrease while the whiskey is in the barrel.
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Re: bourbon taste and proof

Unread postby jcg9779 » Sat Dec 08, 2012 12:16 am

FredL wrote:so, are lower proof bourbons distilled at the same proof, but watered down more before bottling? are any distilled at a relatively lower proof?

fred


Not all white dog goes into the barrel at the same proof. Different distilleries use different entry proofs. Lower proof bourbons are then watered down to the 80, 86, 90, etc bottle proof. I've heard of one Four Roses single barrel that was a sub 100 proof barrel strength. Last year Shopper's Vineyard did a FRSB barrel strength bottle with a proof of 105. I love the "lower" proof barrel strength bottles. I think it brings a ton of flavor without getting watered down. My favorite WLW is the 2007, which came in at the low proof of 117. Some people have criticized it because other years have been 130+pf, but that 117 works perfectly for me.
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Re: bourbon taste and proof

Unread postby FredL » Sat Dec 08, 2012 3:15 pm

Ok, I think I got it now. Sounds like lower barrel proof and higher bottle proof would make for the most flavor...

Fred
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Re: bourbon taste and proof

Unread postby Squire » Sun Dec 09, 2012 9:59 pm

You got it Fred, of course, as with scotch, you may find some brands more flavorable than others.
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Re: bourbon taste and proof

Unread postby FredL » Mon Dec 10, 2012 3:14 pm

thanks for the help. you guys are a good resource.

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Re: bourbon taste and proof

Unread postby gillmang » Mon Dec 10, 2012 4:17 pm

Higher bottling proof generally makes for more taste because there is more barrel extract (wood tannins and sugars) in the brew: the more you dilute it, the less of those flavors in the drink.

Since barrel proofs on dumping are very high though, and almost all bourbons are diluted for bottling, it is just a question of the right balance point for the taste. If the bottling proof is too high, the alcohol can burn too hard and blur the other flavors. 100 proof is a traditional bottling proof for quality bourbons, but each brand will differ and indeed each bottle in my experience. I prefer some lower-proof bottlings to higher, e.g. VOB 100 is not as good taken neat as the VOB 90 or 86 IMO. However, the 100 is a better value and I can add my own water.

Lower barrel entry (e.g. Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey) proof tends to produce more taste because water extracts more from the wood than alcohol. Some distillers believe that a relatively high barrel entry proof is better though, e.g. Heaven Hill (I've read).

Lower distillation proof tends also to produce more taste because more non-ethanol congeners are left in the whiskey - they don't taste all that great though when new and a congeneric young whiskey needs more time to age properly than a less congeneric one - although it depends too where in the warehouse you aged them.

So there are a lot of variables and it is difficult IMO to lay down hard and fast rules. One thing that is clear again is a higher-proof spirits are a better value. All things being equal, I will always buy them and if the bottling balance isn't to my taste I will add my own water. A lot of whiskey tastes grand at 86 proof or 90...

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Re: bourbon taste and proof

Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Dec 11, 2012 12:24 pm

The thing to remember her that there are three types of proof to consider here: Distillation Proof, Barrel Proof and Bottle Proof.
Distillation proof is the proof the whiskey is distilled at and the higher that proof is, the less flavor. The reason bourbon has a 160 proof max instead of the 180 allowed by whiskey regulations is that the bourbon distiller wants more grain flavor in the whiskey. The lower the distillation proof the more flavor left in the spirit.
Barrel proof is proof that the spirit enters the barrel and the lower the proof, more sweetness from the barrel. Whiskey does not have a maximum barrel proof, but bourbon does at 125. This was raised in the 1960s from 110. The more water in the whiskey (in other words, the lower the proof) the more natural sugars extracted from the wood. Sugar dissolves better in water than alcohol.
Bottle proof is the opposite here - the higher the proof the more flavor. There are two causes of this. The more water added the more the flavor is diluted. Also the lower the proof, the more the distiller has to filter the whiskey to prevent "flocking" and filtering removes flavor. (Flocking is the formation of vegetable oils into solids causing the whiskey to look cloudy in colder climates.)

I hope this answers your questions.
Mike Veach
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Re: bourbon taste and proof

Unread postby FredL » Sat Dec 15, 2012 9:39 am

That's a great answer. Thank you!

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Re: bourbon taste and proof

Unread postby gillmang » Sat Dec 15, 2012 5:00 pm

Incidentally, by "hard and fast rules", I meant for what is in the bottle in front of you. Only bottling proof will be clear. One is unlikely to know the distilling out proof or entry proof unless some detailed research is done. Even then, the results may not be certain (for various reasons).

So if you have a bottle of high proof bourbon in front of you, it is probably more flavorful than a bottle of the same brand packaged at a lower proof. That much is clear.

But take a whiskey distilled out in the 150's, entered at 125 proof, bottled at 90 proof.

Take another whiskey distilled out at 140 proof, entered at, say,115 proof, and bottled at 86 proof. The latter may well have more taste than the other. But maybe if the former was bottled at 100 proof, it would have more taste.

I don't question Mike's statements and believe I made the same factual ones earlier. But in the final analysis, and given too that bottlings from batch to batch rarely taste identical for a variety of other reasons, one is left with just the bottling proof as a sure indicator when compared to the same brand bottled at a lower proof. But how many brands of the same whiskey are bottled at different proofs? Very Old Barton (not nationally available) is but not really since I understand the bourbons for VOB are not all the same age at the different proofs bottled (80,86, 90, 100). Old Forester is kind of an example, as between the 86 and 100, but the 100 may still be bonded, so that can distort the comparison.

Mike, any comments?

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