Let’s Talk Bourbon!
Whisk(e)y options can seem overwhelming at first. Which is why I’m breaking it down so it’s more manageable. The first thing to think about is what flavors you prefer. The next step is to think about what’s your favorite drink. Do you prefer savory over sweet? Or is it the other way around? Do you prefer light and refreshing to bold and intense? You can use this information to help guide you through any spirits category. It will also inform you of what flavors you might like in a cocktail too.
I’ll use myself as an example. I love intensely bold, sweet, and fruit flavors. There will be some whiskies like bourbon which are inherently on the sweet side. Yet most of the bourbons I’ve tried some which were highly spiced without a lot of sweetness to them. In my case this is less than desirable. It's also why I avoided bourbon. It was one of my least favorite style of American Whiskey. However last September, which is also National Bourbon Heritage Month here in the United States, I set out to re-evaluate my disdain for bourbon. I reached out to various people on Twitter for recommendations, and tips about tasting bourbon.
It was a tip I received from David Wondrich that helped me break through the impasse I had come to with bourbon. He told me to add water to bourbon when tasting it. He went on to tell me, “Bourbon unlike other types of whiskey was formulated specifically to have water added to help unlock the flavor profile.” This was all I needed to seriously start exploring bourbon.
Since September I’ve also learned bourbon or any whiskey choice doesn’t have to break the bank to be tasty. Another piece of advice shared with me during Whisky Jewiblee a couple weeks ago was to not get too caught up in tasting notes. Everyone has different tasting notes they will pick-up. The best question to ask yourself is, “do I like it?”
Below is a list of some of my bourbon picks based on what I have tried so far. They also won’t break the bank if you buy a bottle or buy them at a bar/restaurant or rather they shouldn't. Another tip to trying out a new expression is to buy a mini bottle. It’s an inexpensive way to find out if it's a whisk(e)y you like without committing to purchasing a whole bottle. There's nothing worse than getting a recommendation; buying a bottle of it, only to find out you don't like it.
Evan Williams - Original, and Bottled In Bond
Brown Sugar, and Cherry notes
This bourbon is by far my favorite at the moment. It’s sweeter than some of the others I’ve tried. It also has less spice to it. The flavors tend to be even keel. I enjoy it so much I prefer it without water.
Old Grand Dad (OGD) - 80 proof, and 114
Cordial Cherry notes
The 80 proof starts out sweet and has a spicy finish.
The 114 is potentially discontinued. It’s unclear if production was suspended for a short time or permanently. However it was my first introduction to OGD. It has complexity to it that I love in a bourbon. It starts out sweet, and became more intensely spicy as it slightly dissipates as you drink it. I prefer adding a little bit water via an ice cube for a slow water integration.
Old Forester - 86 proof
Light, and refreshing with a hint of cherry
Unlike OGD Old Forester starts off spicy, and ends with a sweet finish. Old Forester has quite a few expressions that are worth exploring as well.
Spicy up front, light cherry flavor with a dry slight lemon pith finish.
Confession on this selection although I appreciate it. However dry bourbons are my least favorite. This bourbon falls into the light and potentially refreshing.
Four Roses - Small Batch
Medium body with a bit of spice
Four Roses has several expressions depending on your palate preference. However I've found the expressions I've tried to be more on the sweeter end of the spectrum.
This list is small compared to what is out there. However this is a starting point to help determine how far down the bourbon trail you want to roam. Although this approach worked for me, another approach might work better for you. What's important is working at until you find an expression that works for your palate.