People often underestimate the power of branding and marketing, especially when it comes to spirits. There is this joke that gets told in some distilleries, “Have you ever tasted marketing? Try vodka.” The joke comes from the fact that the US definition of vodka means that it should be a flavorless, odorless spirit. So, if a vodka is made correctly, you shouldn’t be able to taste the difference between a $12 bottle and a $100, but branding and marketing convince people to buy those $100 bottles all the time. And I’m not trying to say that all vodkas are the same, there are good ones and bad ones, but I’m trying to illustrate the point that people’s perception of a spirit is effected by the bottle, the label and the brand story much more than they think.
One thing I love that we get to do at our place, Moonshine University, is blind tastings. Since we have no brands of our own we do our sensory evaluations completely blind, and interesting results happen all the time. We have had a myriad of people come to various bourbon classes, like our Stave & Thief Society Bourbon Certification class, and rail against certain bourbon brands the entire day, only to find out that they love that very same brand when it shows up in a glass in front of them. The only difference, they didn’t know what it was. They have to judge it off one simple thing, which is what we should all be judging our favorites off of…how it tastes.
So often we pick our favorite bourbons based off the perception of the bourbon. “I like this bourbon because it’s classy, or because it’s highly sought after”. But is it your favorite bourbon or is it your favorite bottle that a bourbon comes out of? Being in the spirits industry I have a pretty large collection of bourbon and spirits, and I love entertaining at home and pouring all sorts of fun treats for people. But whenever someone tells me to pour them whatever I’m drinking, they are generally surprised by what they get. One, by what it is, and two, by how much they enjoy what they would have never otherwise tried.
See, I found that I like a younger bourbons, generally between 4-6 years old. I think that’s when bourbon is at its best. It’s at its biggest, boldest, most flavorful point in its aging journey, and I love it. Now, how did I discover this? I get to do a lot of tasting and sensory training at work, so that helped a great deal, I won’t lie. But the main way I discovered what my favorite bourbons are is by trying everything blind. Strip away the bottle, the brand, the image, and just see if you like the bourbon. Whenever I go to a bar and want to try some bourbons I ask for a flight, and I request that I get it blind. Just ask them to write down the flight on a piece of paper and give it to you later. Most bars will let you tell them what you want to pay for a flight and what you generally like in a bourbon. Creative bartenders will generally put together some tasty treats for you.
Try it out and see how you like the experience. You might be surprised by what you find. In my case, I can’t tell you how delighted I was to find out my favorite bourbons were readily available and at a great price point. I don’t have to wait in line for limited allotments or break the bank on a single bottle. I like that mid to low shelf bourbon, and truth be told, so do most people who end up trying it.