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Monday, December 6, 2021

What is a good bourbon for beginners

I get this question all the time and my response is typical, "What are you drinking right now?  What is your choice when you go into a bar for whiskey?"

It doesn't matter if the response is Jack or Jim or scotch, an Irish whiskey, or even nothing.

I ask this to get them to establish a base of their current taste profile. The question is for them, not me.

Back the Beginning -

For a lot of us, Jack and Coke was our first. I went with it as a kid, starting with Jack Daniels on the rocks as an 18-year-old.  On my 21st birthday, I received five, 5ths of JD - I established myself as a Jack Daniels dude early on.

I went through the usual whiskey adventures; Jack and Coke, or rocks or Yukon Jack.  I settled on what I called a "Mountain Jack", Moutain Dew, and Jack Daniels.  It would be another 40 years or so until I discovered the real connection between Mountain Dew and whiskey.  


Back to the Future -

So you've decided to try this bourbon thing.  Maybe a buddy started talking about bourbon or you saw a really cool commercial, checked out some bars, and found stuff for eight bucks and some for forty-two dollars a shot.  Confusing, isn't it?

Yes, it is.  Let's start out with some bourbon Gregisms:
  1. There is no such thing as a correct or incorrect way to drink bourbon.  
  2. Ice is not a bad thing.
  3. There is no such thing as a 'terrible whiskey/bourbon'; you just haven't found yours yet.
  4. Mix if you want.
  5. There is no bourbon worth $100.00 per pour. It is all marketing.
Are you getting the vibe, here?  Commercials, stories, legends, and whatever you hear about bourbon are opinions and the best thing you can do on your bourbon journey is not theirs affect yours.  Let the bourbon talk to you directly.  Don't worry about awards and stars or some editor's judgment.  Judge for yourself.

Now, this doesn't mean you shouldn't seek out folks who have been on the path before you; Those who have developed a palate like you're attempting to do.  Nor does it mean you shouldn't read up and do your own research - just do it with an open mind and don't fall for any bourbon snobbery.  

There is no such thing as a "Bourbon Sommelier", nobody's palate is better than yours and those who really care, remember when they didn't know the difference between whiskey and bourbon, corn and rye.  They don't make fun of those who haven't gotten it yet.

What's a good starter? Bulliet. Elijah Craig. Angels' Envy. Buffalo Trace.  Each one has a different story and a different taste profile.

Taste simply with no ice at first. Slowly draw and let the flavor roll over your tastebuds.  Let the heat rise.  Swallow.  Look for the "bloom" of heat in the chest. (usually older, higher proof)

There is a phenomenon within the tasting realm - from wine to bourbon to beer - you are more likely to detect tastes AFTER somebody tells you what THEY taste.  It is the only way we have all learned. For instance, how in the world would I be able to detect 'walnut', or 'butterscotch', or 'chocolate' without somebody telling me what they tasted. The comparison is real, so is the psychology.  

Bulliet will give you some sweetness and light, with a little bite.
Elijah Craig has sweetness with butterscotch and caramel and is also light.
Buffalo Trace is another light, young, beginners dram with really good flavors upfront.  "Up Front" means the taste is in your mouth yet dissipates quickly.  It doesn't linger, there is little if any aftertaste.

When you notice a 'bite' it is usually the result of a younger bourbon in combination with a higher proof.  Really good, high-proof bourbons do not burn, they "bloom"(that is a bonafide Gregism).  The heat rises within your chest, it does not burn on the way down and does not leave you wishing you hadn't tried it.  The warmth is welcome and begs for another.  

When with friends, this warmth is a shared experience.  

One of many, on your path toward bourbon nirvana.

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