Updated: Dec 5, 2019
We all will someday find out that something we were convinced is certain, is not. I do not like Scotch. I was wrong.
Humans are comfortable with certainty – food, shelter, heat, loving relationships, a stock market that goes up, and up, and up. Not so much with uncertainty. I’ve been a bourbon drinker for a long time and a Tennessee Squire for over 10 years. I was certain that Jack Daniel’s was NOT a bourbon. In fact; it is, but chooses not to call itself that. If your eyes are bleeding reading this – you were wrong once too.
I was recently asked by Wine, why it is that I absolutely love certain whiskeys – mostly bourbons – and won’t go near others, or will opt for gin or vodka at an open bar that doesn’t have anything better than Jim Beam? Hmmm. I didn’t know. And, being The Duke of Bourbon, I was embarrassed not knowing. So I sought to find out. While I have much research to complete, I’ll start at the beginning, where I started.
I drank Jim Beam white label because it was affordable. Jim Beam & Coke, and not much thought about it. You could buy it in a can pre-mixed, Jim Beam & Cola. Perhaps you still can. At some point I was introduced to Jack Daniel’s and I never looked back. Still Jack Daniel’s & Coke, until I learned that cola will kill you. Then Jack Daniel’s & a splash of water (the way Jasper Daniel drank his) and then Jack Daniel’s & a splash of Pellegrino – the magical mineral water from Italy. What you mix it with, I’ve learned, is less important than the quality of the ice. Then Brown Forman, the owners of Jack Daniel’s threw a head fake by changing the shape of the bottle when what they were really up to was lowering the proof to 80, where it remains today. Don’t mess with my whiskey. And DON’T lower my proof.
I mentioned that I learned cola will kill you. Wine & I are on a journey of healthy eating that might have started with the realization that you could trace the origin of the American epidemics of diabetes & obesity right to the time when food manufacturers replaced real cane sugar with high fructose corn syrup. Then we educated ourselves for real and learned that what smells good to you is, your body’s natural state is wellness, and that animal fat does not cause heart disease, and cholesterol is a measurement of worthlessness.
So I searched for non-GMO grain bourbons. I found two: Wild Turkey and Four Roses. Today, there are numerous farm to bottle operations that are using non-GMO/non-glyphosate corn and that is a great thing – but both are pervasive and despite more awareness of a public that continues to be skeptical of a corrupted government sanctioned food pyramid, their use is expanding. And Hell, Wild Turkey was my #2-go-to, thanks to Hunter S Thompson. And so I drank Wild Turkey – and still do.
I’ve always had other bottles. The ones that I can’t or couldn’t at that time, afford to drink on an every-day basis. Eagle Rare was an early favorite, then Woodford Reserve came on the scene and produced perhaps the perfect Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. And I still drink Jack Daniel’s, and prefer the higher proofed specialty label offerings they produce.
I hate Maker’s Mark. There, I said it. And thanks to Wine’s question (or was it a challenge?) now I know why. I do not like wheated bourbons. Bourbons that the distiller replaces or supplements barley with wheat. Starting with my love of Wild Turkey, Woodford’s and Eagle Rare – and my distaste for Maker’s Mark – I thought that was a good place to start investigating why those taste different to me.
All whisk(e)y distillers have a mash bill - the percentage of corn/rye/barley that a distiller uses in the mash. Wheated bourbons are fruity and floral and I don’t like that, I like smoky & oaky. My preference, not everyone’s. The good news for me is that I can give up trying to like Van Winkle bourbons – also wheated, which are too expensive to keep trying to like just because they are expensive and you’re supposed to like them. Van Winkles are aged at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, where Eagle Rare is made and Buffalo Trace Bourbon is made. They don’t advertise their mash bills, but I like them both.
And Scotch? Well, after all, Johnny Walker Blue is not hard on the palate, and the Black Label isn’t bad either. Glenmorangie is outstanding and that’s as far as I’ve gotten with Scotch – but I am the Earl of Whisky, so, much more tasting lies ahead.
Thus far, I’ve learned that based on the mash bill – I SHOULD like Jim Beam. I do like Booker’s and Basil Hayden’s and have loudly and proudly claimed that those are the only Jim Beam family bourbons that I can tolerate. I haven’t yet been brave enough to re-try Jim Beam White Label…again.