When you read wine guru Robert Parker's review of 29 bourbons and one rye, as posted by David Driscoll in Spirits Journal, you may wonder if it's not a wicked parody by David. It's not, or maybe it is, but the author is Parker, not Driscoll.
Naturally, people who write about bourbon more than once in a lifetime are not amused. "Scotch and Ice Cream" took the first swat. That was picked up and amplified upon by Clay Risen, he of the New York Times and with a new encyclopedic bourbon book on the way, who quickly posted, "Robert Parker and the Douche-ification of Bourbon."
For all true bourbonians, a sly smirk is probably the best response to all of this. No real harm is being done. Can the Van Winkle line get any more unobtainiumable?
And there is plenty in the review at which to smirk. Parker is a taster and his tasting notes are fine, perhaps even valuable, and generally on the mark. Famous for his 100-point rating system, he is also the prime underminer of same. His lowest score, for Hudson Baby Bourbon, which he describes as tasting "somewhat diluted, simple and harsh" and "over-matched by everything around it," is 82.
It's not a 100-point scale unless you use all 100 points. Here Parker uses an 18-point scale. That's worth a grin.
He also does not appear to know nor care that it's insane to compare Hudson Baby Bourbon to Pappy Van Winkle 23 just because they both have the word "bourbon" on the label. Would he compare a Pinot Noir to a Sauterne? Not without at least noting their inherent differences first.
He also doesn't care much for Woodford Reserve. It's the only Brown-Forman product he tasted. The only Beam product he tasted was Maker's 46. Each got 88 points. Heaven Hill did a little better. They got two on the list, Parker's Heritage Collection 2012 Mashbill Blend (92 points) and Evan Williams 23-year-old (95 points).
Products of the three largest producers of American whiskey only merited four places on a list of 30, according to Parker the Conqueror.
Let's go around the horn to the other distilleries. Four Roses, two; Wild Turkey, none; Barton 1792, none; George Dickel, none; Buffalo Trace, 11 (including Van Winkle and A. Smith Bowman).
Predictably, Parker's loves him some Van Winkle. The 20 gets a 95. The 23 gets 100. Yes, Pappy 23-year-old is the perfect bourbon, sez Robert Parker.
The rest? A couple micro-distilleries and a lot of non-distiller producers. Seven places on the list are taken by direct or indirect products from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, which brokered and bottled the whiskeys reviewed, but made none of them.
Parker seems oblivious to the distinction. He does not, he says, know much about Black Maple Hill, except that it "comes from the Black Maple Hill Distilling Co. in Bardstown, KY," which he apparently does not know is an entirely fictional distillery.
And he gives it a 96, one of his highest scores.
Perhaps it's appropriate that Parker loves the product of a fictional distillery, since he freely admits that his foray into bourbon was inspired by his enjoyment of the TV series, "Justified," which is set in Kentucky and whose characters drink improbable amounts of Van Winkle bourbon.
We can only hope Robert Parker doesn't become enamoured of "The Walking Dead" next.