The classes I teach for I Wish all involve tasting, so to simplify things we always do the classes in bars, i.e., a licensed premises. It's good for the bars because they get some business on a usually slow night and get some people into the place for the first time who might like it and come back.
Although I might make some suggestions, the bars usually pick what we're going to taste. We've been using good bars who have made good choices. Then I tailor my remarks based on what they select. I'm not sure why Rock's Lincoln Park picked the four bourbons they did, but it made for an interesting lesson in the use of rye as the most common flavor grain in bourbon.
We started with Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, which is made from Buffalo Trace mash bill no. 2. It has an average rye content. While they won't reveal the exact percentages, it's probably about 15 percent rye. Next we tasted Knob Creek, which is the Jim Beam mash bill and also about 15 percent rye. Then it was Buffalo Trace itself, which is their no. 1 mash bill, and lower, about 8 percent rye, so with ETL and Knob we're tasting two very similar mash bills but two different distilleries and two different yeasts, and a couple years more age in the Knob. Finally, we tasted Bulleit, which is about 35 percent rye, the highest of any bourbon.
One thing you notice is that low rye bourbons taste sweeter. They're not actually sweeter, but the rye tends to mask some of the sweetness with its distinctive spice and floral notes. By reducing the rye or substituting wheat, a milder flavor grain, you make way for the sweetness to cut through.