Having a little extra time on my hands over the holidays I conducted an impromptu Bourbon Whisky tasting event this weekend. 12 popular and widely-available American bourbons were sampled. The tasting focused on the following characteristics: 1) Aroma 2) First taste impressions 3) Lingering aftertastes and 4) How suitable the bourbon was for making the perfect "bourbon and coke".
The glasses were labeled in a manner that made identifying the whiskies impossible until the tasting notes and rankings were in. Results follow in order from worst to best:
12th place: Jim Beam regular.Very faint or "no nose". A listeriney-taste. Poor.
11th place: Jim Beam Black 8 year old. Very faint nose. Extremely smooth mild taste, smoother than Jack Daniels Gentleman, but less taste.
10th place: Early Times. Pleasant medium nose. "Flattish" taste. Belongs in the softer category. Flavor just not as developed as Jack Daniels Black.
9th place: Jack Daniels Black. Faintly sweet nose. Fair amount of "burn", but unimpressive taste. Belongs in the "softer" category. Flavors not as impressive as Jack Daniels Gentleman.
8th place: Knob Creek. Fair if you have nothing else to drink. Just no compelling flavor. A "musty" flavor note was mentioned on several tastings. Pleasant nose.
The whiskies above (8 through 12) were judged just to mediocre to be very interesting.
7th place: Jack Daniels Single Barrel. Overall fairly good but the imposing "strong" flavor detracts somewhat. Somewhat "medicinal" nose and backnotes. The word "strong" appears several times in the notes. Flavor development is lacking.
The following 6 whiskies are all above a threshold where they can be recommended as overall quite impressive and pleasant products. Notes alongside these 5 read "all really great"... They are divided into 5 "bold" style, and 1 "smoother" style bourbons.
THE 5 TOP "Bold Style" BOURBONS in this tasting:
5th place: Old Charter 10 Year Old. Very pleasant sweet nose without overpowering alcohol notes. Simple, uncomplicated flavor. The lack of taste complexity has it towards the back of the "recommended" bourbons but otherwise quite impressive.
The 4 bold bourbons below were all noted as "sumptuous":
4th place: Wild Turkey 101. Sweet nose. Very lingering warming flavors. Was tasted blind after the Knob Creek and notes read "like it much more than previous". Head-to-head comparison notes continuous refer to "impressive taste".
The 3 bold bourbons below were all noted as "gorgeous"
3rd place: Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Pleasant sweet nose. The "best of the bold noses". Very diverse and intriguing tastes. Lingering. Head to head with other top bourbons the notes continuous read that this was the "boldest" of them all, but not necessarily the "best" nose or flavor.
The 2 bold bourbons below both have the notes "Flavor!!"
1st Place (tie): Makers Mark. First tasted blind right after JD Single Barrel. Notes read: "fainter nose than previous whisky". Lingering mellow flavors. Further notes read: "nice nose"... "delicious lingering aftertaste"... "lovely lingering soft taste"... "kind of a 'candy' flavor"...
1st Place (tie): W.L. Weller Special Reserve 7 Year Old. Appealing nose. "Interesting taste", "not as dramatic as Wild Turkey Rare Breed", "similarities to Old Charter 10 Year Old"... "plesant uncomplicated flavors"... performed well consistently head-to-head for "pleasantness" and "uncomplicated flavor".
The TOP "SOFTER STYLE" WHISKY
From the tastings, about 4 of the whiskies exhibited distinctly "softer" aromas and flavors. Only one was strikingly impressive though... The following whisky was judged the best of this "softer class"
1st place (softer style): "Gentleman" Jack Daniels. Faint floral nose. "mildest yet". "very soft pleasant nose... mild". Sweeter nose and less "burny" than Jack Daniels Black. "More interesting" than Early Times.
*************** THE BEST BOURBON AND COKE *****************8
For those of us who love a great bourbon & coke, the Top Whiskys above were then tasted with an equal amount of Coca Cola regular and one ice cube. Tasting impressions follow:
1st Place: Makers Mark and Coke. "Sweet", "dramatic", "nice"... "the best"
2nd Place: W.L. Weller and Coke. Nearly as good as Makers. "nice rich flavor with coke.
3rd Place: Jack Daniels Gentleman and Coke. Soft. Less pronounced flavors with coke. Smooth. Not really recommended for a great bourbon and coke
4th Place: Wild Turkey Rare Breed and Coke. "Dramatic". "Shivvering". "So-So". "A bigger taste than Wild Turkey 101 and coke" "not as interesting a flavor combo as Makers and Coke". Not really recommended for a great bourbon and coke.
5th Place: Wild Turkey 101 and Coke. "Not as interesting as Makers Mark which has a delicious lingering aftertaste". Not recommended for a great B&C.
So there you have it. And I don't recommend doing this the evening before you need your mental faculties!