Monday, February 22, 2010

Older Is Not Necessarily Better.

Many people learn the hard way that very old bourbons are not necessarily better, they're just older. This is different from scotch, where older generally does mean better. (Though, even there, not always.)

Very old bourbons have a distinctive taste that is wood-heavy and not to everybody's liking. I like them okay, but generally in very small doses.

The other thing a lot of noobs don't understand is that the profile of very old bourbons--good ones and not-so-good ones alike--is very different from the profile of standard bourbons. If you go around mostly trying very olds, you don't know what bourbon really tastes like.

Sometimes, people come to the bourbon category and want to try 'the best,' so they gravitate to the most expensive bottles, which generally are the very olds. They are often disappointed.

For example, the Old Rip Van Winkle 23-year-old. If you are very familiar with Stitzel-Weller whiskey then you might enjoy tasting an example of that whiskey at 23 years, and what the family thinks is a really great example of the whiskey at that age. You can appreciate it and be glad you tasted it, even if you don't particularly like it. If you come to it without that experience, you don't have a basis for enjoying it and instead experience all the reasons why bourbon producers normally don't leave their spirit in the barrel for 23 years.


Unknown said...

Amen, Chuck. There is way too much emphasis put on age and not enough on the actual spirit.

Greg said...

Chuck, good post and for the most part, I agree. I think there is a distinct difference from current offerings over those bourbons made decades ago. I personally think they are better to a certain extent (e.g. Old Crow, Early Times, Beam, Old Forester, etc.) I think differences in corn and non-chill filtering make a noticeable difference. I think Beam white label from 30 years ago is better than what is offered today. Again, my opinion but one shared with others among the enthusiast community. I don't necessarily put emphasis on the older (not super aged but older by date) but have just naturally gravitated toward older bottlings because of taste.....and my taste buds haven't failed me yet.

Chuck said...

I thought it was great last year (?) at WhiskeyFest when the Heaven Hill guys brought two examples of really old bourbons (over 20 years), from different places in the warehouses: one was really quite delicious, and one was the worst bourbon I have ever tasted. Their point was that to last that long, a bourbon needs to age somewhere where that process is a little slower. But without that graphic demonstration, many people don't seem to grasp the extent to which age is only one component of quality, and it can cut both ways.