Ask 100 bourbon drinkers which bourbon is best, and you will have an outstanding shopping list with which to make your own decision.
The bourbon family has a long, rich history with a nearly endless variety of flavor profiles. We all have our favorites. However, true bourbon lovers are always at the ready for a new experience.
It could easily be said that the best bourbon is the one which is in the glass you are holding in your hand.
But, that would be shortsighted.
One of the most significant qualifiers for determining the best bourbon is whether you are talking about the ultimate “perfect world” bourbon experience; meaning a rare bottle of Pappy Van Winkle from the 1950s or something similar for thousands of dollars (Sadly, this surreal experience is probably a stretch for most of us). Or something more moderately priced to find your bourbon epiphany.
Today, we are trying to determine which is the best bourbon, so we will stay out of the stratosphere and discuss how to find the best bourbon among those that any one of us would be likely to purchase.
There is some fantastic bourbon available at very affordable prices.
Some would say that the best bourbon is one in its purest form; small batch, single barrel, cask-conditioned. You can’t get much closer to the distillery that that. These bourbons are high proof and intense, perfect in the eyes of some, a bit much for others.
We can back off that a little bit and drop the cask condition.
Small-batch single barrel bourbon is the best bourbon for many people. These bourbons are a step removed from their cask-conditioned sibling. They deliver the same notes and flavors in a less aggressive manner at a slightly lower proof and a lower price as well.
In today’s world of craft distilleries, this variety of bourbon is more prolific than ever.
Then we come to the bourbons that most of the world is familiar with. Many of these are every bit as well-made and tasty as their single barrel cousins. These tend to be less expensive, but there is a cost overlap between the two groups. Meaning that they can cost nearly as much as some single barrel varieties.
So, how do we determine which is the best bourbon?
Realistically, and from a practical standpoint, we can’t. But you can.
When evaluating a bourbon, there are five different elements to consider; color, aroma, mouth-feel, flavor, and finish.
Using a tulip-shaped glass in a well-lit area and against a white background, evaluate the color of your bourbon. Swirl the glass around. See how dark or light your bourbon appears.
You can determine the clarity by holding the glass up to a light to evaluate its brightness and transparency.
Cup your glass in your hand and warm the whiskey for a moment. Swirl the whiskey around and then take a few quick sniffs (be careful not to overdo it). If you experience a wide range of aromas, your bourbon is considered to be open. If the range is narrow and less apparent, it would be described as closed.
How does your bourbon feel in your mouth? You probably gained some insight into its texture from your visual inspection. Evaluating mouth-feel should round out that impression.
As you take a sip, make sure that you can recognize the full bouquet your bourbon delivers. The subtle notes and much of what your taste is not from your taste buds, but instead created as the aromas travel back through your nasal passages.
The flavor you experience, and its duration is the finish. Once you have tasted your bourbon, the flavors will linger. The finish may be long or short. It should reflect and complement the aromas and flavors you have experienced.
What is best for you is up to you. If you can afford Pappy Van Winkle as a daily elixir, you should go for it.
If not, then it’s time to get cracking and begin your search. A whiskey subscription box is the perfect luggage for this trip.
It could be a lifelong endeavor; and wouldn’t that be a sojourn worth having?