When it comes to the booming cult of bourbon, many newbies feel they need to drink what the pundits are touting. While many expert opinions are valued for various reasons (Mike Veach, Susan Reigler, Fred Minnick, to name a few) it can be a bit intimidating to try and match the same tasting notes as such luminaries. It took me a while to grasp this and to appreciate the fact that everyone’s palates are different; as a result, the same bourbon shared among friends may result in different tasting notes.
Depending on the bourbon in question, there may be a few common notes that should stand out to nearly everyone regardless of palate awareness: vanillas, caramels, etc. But when it comes to “hints of” wood flavors, floral notes, or fruit forwards, it truly is a personal experience.
There are several different factors involved with a quality brown water tasting experience. Of great importance to a savory sampling is the ability of one’s nose and palate to work together. Not everyone possesses the same level of olfactory acuteness or taste bud sophistication. Although it is possible to train your senses to enhance your experience, the fact is that some people are just born with a keener ability to decipher subtle differences (unfortunately, I am NOT one of those people).
The tongue is a complicated beast. According to Wikipedia, the tongue has between 2,000 to 5,000 taste buds and each taste bud contains 50 – 100 taste receptor cells (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste_bud). However, all those receptors only allow the tongue to decipher but a few senses: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. If that’s the case, how do we pick up the other more subtle nuances of our favorite juice?
When it comes to maximizing the beautiful flavors of bourbon, the tongue has a partner in crime. One’s olfaction plays a co-starring role! The two senses work hand-in-hand to help deliver a maximum sensory experience. Think about a time when you had a head cold – nearly impossible to get the full flavor of your food, right? You can see the connection.
Next time you are with your friends for some brown water sampling, try this – rather than tasting and verbalizing what you are “getting” on the nose, tongue, and finish, try writing your response instead. Once everyone has finished, then share with the group. When you eliminate the power of suggestion, I can almost guarantee that the notes will be as varied as the number of people in your group.
Bottom line: don’t perseverate on what bourbon your friends are touting. Find the labels and expressions that please your palate on a personal level and enjoy the delicious brown water as you see fit.
Now, take it personally and get sampling!