Recently five good buddies and I made our annual pilgrimage from Louisville, KY to the mountains of western North Carolina for our Fall weekend of The Man Trip Trinity: unabated football watching, bourbon drinking, and consumption of grilled dead animals. As has been the tradition with this retreat, one night is designated for our official bourbon tasting event. Every year, in order to drink curious we mix up the genre of bourbon; each guy will then provide a bottle that fits the descriptor. This year’s parameter for the six bottles?
The juice inside had to come from beyond the homeland of bourbon: Kentucky*.
In planning the weekend, each member of the crew informed only me what bourbon they were going to supply – this helped to avoid duplicates and ensure the tasting would be as blind as possible. Of course, there are a myriad of ways to conduct tastings, but I feel that blind sampling allows for nearly 100% personal preference; label identification and preconceived notions are eliminated. In further preparation for the weekend, I customized my Bourbon & Banter tasting mats and provided each guy with a flavor wheel – being able to tailor make the mats enhances the event. For the scoring sheets, I received permission from Susan Reigler of Bourbon Women to use their pre-fabricated sheets.
The non-KY juices attending the tasting included:
- Belle Meade Bourbon, Tennessee
- High West Whiskey Campfire, Utah
- Breckenridge, Colorado
- Two bottles of Wyoming Whiskey – two different batch numbers; 28 and 37, Wyoming
- Blood Oath pact 2 (Kentucky bourbon on the label) was thrown in as a bonus as the bourbon is a blend from St. Louis, MO-based Luxco
Each bourbon was placed into a brown paper lunch bag, shuffled around several times, and then marked with a number from 1 to 6; this allowed for everyone to participate fully in the tasting without prejudice. Once the tasting table was set with customized mats, scoring sheets, bottles of water, and light snacks the main event began.
The bottles, in their numbered brown bags, were poured in glasses that sat on mats with the corresponding number. As we nosed the aromas, tasted the flavors, and focused on the nuanced finishes, the silence was deafening due to the laser-like, focused concentration on the task at hand. All samples were initially sipped neat and then it was up to the individual panelists as to whether he wanted to add a splash of water or not. Over the course of the next 45 minutes, notes were taken and scores given to each of the blind samples.
Once the tasting was over, each person tallied up his points total for each sample and then, based on score, ranked the brown water 1-6 with 1 being their favorite. Now, I should preface this portion by saying that the members on this outing have a range of bourbon interest from casual weekend consumer to a certified Executive Bourbon Steward; the one commonality was that we all simply enjoy bourbon. What happened next is what I find to be fascinating with true blind whiskey tastings.
Each of the six of us revealed a different personal favorite – no two people chose the same bourbon as their A-1 selection. However, two juices made the top three for 5 of the 6 of us: small batch Wyoming Whiskey (batch 37) and Breckenridge Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
Conversely, the brown water that consistently scored the lowest amongst the group was High West Whiskey’s Campfire; however, that was the #1 choice for one member. Personally, I tend to enjoy the various expressions that come out of High West Distillery but am not a big fan of scotch whisky; ergo, I think it was the smokey, peaty scotch blend that placed Campfire at the bottom of my list. All in all, we enjoyed the various offerings and found some different labels to add to our personal rotations.
When the event finished, we poured ourselves some more, turned on a football game, and threw the steaks on the grill.
#drinkcurious – Cheers!
*I am quite positive that the readers of Bourbon and Banter are well versed in the Standards of Regulation for what qualifies a whiskey as a bourbon, but just in case – reminder: bourbon is a distinct product of the United States. It just so happens that 95% comes from the Commonwealth of Kentucky and 5% does not.
Born and raised in Newport Beach, California, Matt Evans married a native Kentuckian and has called Louisville home since 2007 – after stops in Washington D.C. and Durango, CO. His love affair with bourbon started as an attempt to learn more about his adopted hometown (and get in good with his in-laws!); the pursuit has developed into a full blown passion. Through the Stave and Thief Society, Matt is certified as an Executive Bourbon Steward. He has certifications from the Filson Historical Society’s Bourbon Academy and the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Academy. He also has served as Master Distiller for-a-day at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience under the tutelage of Artisanal Distiller Charlie Downs.Matt’s day job is instructing 7th grade World Geography, and he is the proud father of two daughters. During the summer, Matt teaches bourbon history courses at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York state. Read Matt's full profile.