Blind Tasting of 20 American Whiskies

I love blind tastings.  I think too often we get caught up in trap of if something is expensive it must be excellent.  I just finished up running a blind tasting of 20 American whiskies. I obtained 20 different bottles of American Whiskey and broke each one down into 50 ml sample bottles.  In a local Houston whiskey group, I had 15 tasters volunteer.  Each taster paid the actual cost for the samples.  The only 2 clues the tasters knew were that it was American whiskey and that none were secondary cask finished products.  They submitted notes and scores on 2 samples a week for 10 weeks.

American Whiskey is a broad category.  The TTB defines 35 different types.  And I threw the gauntlet at this group; corn whiskey, wheat whiskey, Bourbon, malt, rye, blend of straight whiskey, and even one that was 51% American and 49% Canadian.  I Included whiskies that ranged from $15 to $130.  Included were some hot to trot new brands that are often discussed in social media.  I threw in a real dog, well OK a few, and the group pretty much ranked this appropriately towards the bottom

The attached graph (data graph courtesy of Sergio Garcia) shows the results.  The scores on the 2 most expensive whiskies? slightly above middle of the pack.  Maker’s Mark Cask Strength as winner might surprise some, but not me.  I think the entire line of Maker’s products are under appreciated by whiskey geeks and hope this will get a few to go pick up a bottle.  Whitmeyer’s is a local Houston area craft distillery.  They have just started selling some of their true grain to glass bourbon as single barrel expressions so nice to see them score so high.

One I really enjoyed but the tasters thought middle of the pack was the new Beam Little Book, a blend of straight whiskey.  It was probably the most polarizing of the group.  If you look at it’s median score and top range, it way outperformed its average score.

HBS Blind #2 ranks graph 2

For larger image of graph, see here:  Blind 20 graph

Private picks vs store picks

I have been involved with barrel picks from multiple distilleries: Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Willett, Bowman, Smooth Ambler, High West, MB Roland.  One thing they all have in common is you are almost always picking someone else’s reject barrels.  Let me explain.  The typical process is samples will be sent or if in person barrels rolled out.  It varies but typically from 5 to 10 barrel samples are tasted for your pick.  The barrel you select is then marked and set aside for later bottling.  A new barrel is rolled in and the next group gets in on the process, picking from your reject barrels, just as you picked from the prior group’s reject barrels.

When you walk into a liquor store and see a private pick of a bottle on the shelf, sometimes the store owner/manager was directly involved in the pick by tasting samples.  But plenty of times it is nothing more that the store telling the distillery to send them a barrel pick of xyz.  In this case, someone at the distillery selects the barrel. Pulling and moving barrels from a rickhouse is lot of hard work; I’ve moved my share.  Since barrels have already been pulled for the barrel picks, my theory is if a barrel has been rejected multiple times by groups doing tastings, those are the barrels that become ‘store’ picks.

As they say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Whiskey Tater Reason:

51. You believe all barrel picks are superior to standard bottle expression.

 

Whiskey Water?

There are companies that now market special limestone water for mixing with your bourbon.  They claim it’s the same water Kentucky distillers us to make bourbon.  This might be true, but they omit the most important detail.

KY distillers use this limestone water only in the cooking of the mash and fermentation, never in the bottling.   Limestone water is naturally low and iron and sulfur, both of those you don’t want in distillation.   Limestone water also has magnesium and calcium which can act as nutrients for yeast during the fermentation process.

Limestone water is hardly unique to KY.  Large limestone aquifers exist throughout the Southwest into Minnesota and Iowa and down to Florida.

Post distillation, all water used in the bourbon making process by any of the major producers is a pure as possible.  The water is treated by reverse osmosis and deionization or other similar process to be as neutral as possible.  No distillery would even consider using limestone water post distillation.  No limestone water is used to cut white dog to barrel entry proof nor is it used to cut to bottle proof.  Yet, companies want to sell you this special water for you to add to your bourbon.

The only reason you would buy this water is if you are tater.  Specifically, tater reason #

33. Buy specialty ‘whiskey water’ to add to your whiskey vs tap or routinely available bottled water.

Kentucky Bound

I’m leaving first thing in morning for a KY trip.  I made my first trip there in 2003 or maybe 2004; can’t recall exactly.  And since then most years I’ve been once or twice a year.  This trip I’m going as representative from local Houston Bourbon group and helping select a couple of barrels for the group to enjoy.  Our first stop will be at Four Roses.  I’m lucky enough to have done this more than once.  It’s a fantastic experience.  Last time I was there picking a barrel, one of the best in the industry, Jim Rutledge, was there.  Jim would walk you through the process, hand pulling samples from the barrels.

We will also be making trip over to MB Roland.  I visited them once before about 4 years ago when they were just getting going.  They were doing some stuff I thought was fascinating; distilling to only 100 proof and placing that straight into barrel.  Nobody has done that in 50 years.   I have not tried any of their whiskey since that visit, so looking forward to seeing how that turned out.

Even more important for me is who I will be making trip with.  Along are a couple of longtime whiskey friends and a couple of newer ones.  Really looking forward to just hanging out with these guys for a few days.  Also, will get a chance to see a couple of good friends that live in KY.   It’s going to be freezing, but so worth it.

Welcome to Tater-Talk

This is my blog to discuss all kinds of whiskey tater behavior.  I’m a long-time whiskey geek, certified specialist of spirits, whiskey consumer advocate and even sometimes a tater.  I have been a seminar speaker at Tales of the Cocktail with Fred Minnick as well as lead a vintage whiskey tasting event at the annual Houston Whiskey Social. At least one company with improperly labeled whiskey proclaimed me public enemy #1 and banned me from their facility.  I have been on forefront of a grassroots effort to educate all on the US federal labeling laws regarding spirits.

This blog will cover topics ranging from: blind tasting reviews, spirit experiments/projects, spirit labeling issues, cigars, food/cooking or just about anything else I feel like discussing.  It will avoid all politics and religions.

If I post any type of spirit review, it will be from a product bought in normal retail channel.  I will not review any samples provided for free from the producers or the media companies.  I will not be riding the free sample whiskey blogger circuit. Therefore, I will be free to give independent reviews without worrying reviewing a honey sample or being cut off for negative reviews.

What exactly is a whiskey tater? Generally it’s an uneducated spirits drinker but also it’s a term to describe some of the funny and weird things folks do when they become spirit collectors.  The term’s origins have been lost but rumor is a secret Facebook whiskey group was involved.  The list has evolved over time with much input from the whiskey community.  And it’s a long list which will be discussed in future posts.  Update – some whose opinions I don’t entirely distrust pointed out that the original person that coined the term Potato, later shortened to tater, was Patrick Luebbers.

I’m terrible at grammar and spelling.  Expect errors and if noticed and politely pointed out will be much appreciated.

If you want to spend 15 minutes watching me speak at Tales, the presentation was videoed and available here; I start at about the 17 minute mark – Tales – The Audacity of Sourced Whiskey

If you stumbled upon this site looking for some awesome potato recipes, here you go:  Best Roasted Taters Recipe