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Why does Bourbon get a bad rap?

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Why does Bourbon get a bad rap?

Postby DaveM » Thu May 12, 2005 9:48 pm

I'm constantly amazed, especially when in the company of scotch drinkers, at the lack of respect given to bourbon. Some scotch drinkers simply refuse to even explore this style of whisk(e)y on the grounds that it is beneath them to do so.

Sure, there's some dogs out there (hey, just like scotch!!) but in recent years there have been many bourbons released that are ranked among the best whiskies in the world.

So my question is this, why do you think that as a general rule, bourbon isn't taken seriously?

This question is really intended for those of you who are enlightened (ie. those that have had the pleasure to explore and come to know the wonderful bourbons that indeed exist). If you don't like bourbon and have no respect for it, the question is rather moot.
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Postby Elliot » Fri May 13, 2005 12:12 am

Dave,
I think that it is partially because of the general scarcity of premium bourbon around the world. The BC LDB lists over one hundred types of Scotch but only seven types of bourbon, and because of marketing, Jim Beam white label is by far the most popular even though most people on this board probably wouldn't think of drinking it. If there were more single barrel and older bourbons distributed to the rest of the world, its popularity would certainly rise.
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Postby Paul A Jellis » Fri May 13, 2005 1:32 am

Having explored some bourbons (Wild Turkey, Elijah Craig, Woodford Reserve, Pappy Van Winkle and some I forget) I find them too sweet and sticky. They seem to lack the bite that you get from a good malt. It's not too bad with a mixer!

It's not that scarce, one of my regular haunts, Constantine Stores in Cornwall, has a list of 84 American and Canadian whiskies available.

Going back to your original question, I do have some respect for it, but don't like it. Cut out some of the sweetness and try again.

Cheers

Paul
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Postby Aidan » Fri May 13, 2005 8:11 am

The thing is, many scotch drinkers who don't like bourbon talk of it in a patronising manner, while bourbon drinkers who don't like scotch aren't patronising.

Bourbon is a hugely popular drink, so why "cut out the sweetness and try again" for anyone's benefit?

I am not the biggest bourbon fan in the world, as I don't know that much about it, but it certainly doesn't lack bite. In fact, it has more bite than most scotches. It's not a more "simple" drink than scotch. It is a great drink, with its own history and traditions.
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Postby bamber » Fri May 13, 2005 8:20 am

This is one of my pet topics - so don't get me started :) In Europe, I think it comes down to anti-americanism pure and simple. All power to Scotch drinkers who have tried a good variety of quality Bourbons and don't like them, but just to dismiss all American whisky after a couple of JD's and JB white labels is ridiculous.

Sweetness ? I guess Bourbon is sweeter than Scotch in general but there are some excellent (and very dry) American rye whiskies out there for people who don't like dessert. Ardbeg 1977 is a very sweet whisky (one of my favourites) but I've never heard anyone knock it for it.

The maltmadness website says all Bourbon is rubbish, yet the author has hardly tried any. I find his ratings and tasting notes to be of little use anyway (but that's a different story).

Personally I'm an equal fan of Scotch and Bourbon - Scotch has more variety and my top 50 whiskies would contain a lot more Scotches than Bourbons but my top 3 whiskies are all American.
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Postby Aidan » Fri May 13, 2005 8:28 am

I wouldn't say it's anti-American, bamber.
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Postby bamber » Fri May 13, 2005 9:10 am

Hi Aidan,

The reason I say that is because the terms used to deride it are reminiscent of those used to rubbish America and particularly American culture in general. Bourbon is often described as lacking complexity (shallow ?) and overly sweet (like junk food). When I hear people, in the UK, talking about America and Americans, there is the same lack of evenhandedness that is meted out to American whisky. People seem to forget that the same America that gave us McDonald's, and diluted pop culture also gave us Herman Melville and put people on the moon.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Fri May 13, 2005 10:28 am

I think you're both right actually! It is easy for some to ridicule american massculture uncritically - and without taking a good look at oneself! To say europeans are very different from the north american consumer culture is just single minded - not single malted! I've witnessed people "laughing at them stupid americans" and they would probably have problems getting into upper secondary unless it was obligatory in Norway.

There is snobbery too of course. Many wine connoseurs rightfully feel uneasy about american wines but unfortunately do the same for much else. There are som facts that are easily established though and that is the american home markets preference for sweet and/or perfumed character in beverages. But that's a matter of taste more than what is right or wrong.

I'd like to try a bourbon but given the enourmos choice of scottish whisky I think it won't happen in the nearest future though - accidentaly this affects my lack of knowledge and experience of irish whiskey too.
Maybe the Old Potrero which a friend of mine speaks highly of!

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Postby Aidan » Fri May 13, 2005 10:37 am

Mr Fjeld

Someone was kind enough to send me a sample of Old Potrero (thanks!) and I really like it. I would buy a bottle of the 3 yr old if I came across it. It really is unique. This is a reason I can't wait to try some good ryes. I was in the U.S. last week, but couldn't find the Sazerac there. I think it sells for only $40 over there when it's availalbe.

Bamber

One of the great things about Jim Murray (and others) is that he champions "world" whiskey.

By the way, I know I discussed this with you before, but I had the last bit of Elijah Craig 12 from the bottle a few weeks ago. It was really superb. I think it really benefited from a bit of air in the bottle for a while, although its taste changes for me all the time.
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Postby bamber » Fri May 13, 2005 10:42 am

Aidan,

EC12YO is one of my favourites too. If I'm trying to get someone into bourbon and they don't like it or Buffalo Trace, I tend to give up a little bit. I actually don't have any in the house at the moment. I think you may have just triggered that centre of my brain :)
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Postby Aidan » Fri May 13, 2005 10:45 am

It was rediculously (sp??) cheap in the U.S. I already had my bags full of hooch, so I thought it was best not to risk bringing in any more.

If you're in New York - Park Avenue Liquors. Excellent shop, very friendly and helpful staff.

The only bourbon I brought back was a Makers Mark, which I love. It's the red top one.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Fri May 13, 2005 12:35 pm

I think Bourbon suffers chiefly from the excellent marketing of Scotch over the years. People have come to believe that Scotland is the true home of whiskies, and that all other whiskies are inferior imitators. People have come to accept that single malt whiskies are always better than blended whiskies, and that older single malts are always better than younger single malts. This has led to the marginalization of Bourbon, Irish and Canadian whiskies and has, apparently, Japanese domestic whisky in Japan. Of course, these prejudices are all rather too sweeping - especially the feeling in favour of single malts. What is a bad blend, after all, but a blend of bad single malts and bad single grains? These prejudices lead to attitudes of "well I might try Bourbon/Irish/Canadian one day, but as long as there is Scotch, I'll never need to try them today". This is a shame, as those people are confining their pleasures to a narrower sphere than they need to.
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Postby Aidan » Fri May 13, 2005 12:41 pm

Yes, I often notice Irish and American whiskey being listed as "world" whiskey in some websites.
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Postby hpulley » Fri May 13, 2005 12:44 pm

It comes down to this: bourbon is grain whisky, not malt whisky. In scotch circles, malt whisky, especially single malt whisky made in pot stills in a 'traditional manner' (whatever that is) is thought of as the best. Grain whisky made in patent or column stills is seen as a lower form of whisky. Since there is no single malt bourbon that I'm aware of, scotch drinkers who place single malt scotch at the top of the rankings will not think much of any grain whisky, no matter how good.

That said, while I find bourbon to be the best grain whisky made for the most part, I don't find it is comparable to scotch. It can be compared to Canadian and scotch grain whisky but not malt whisky. I prefer malt whisky. So I guess I'm a scotch snob too but I tell you it is not because I haven't tried and enjoyed some bourbons; I have! I just don't like them enough to buy them regularly, while I DO like scotch enough to buy it and drink it regularly.

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Postby Aidan » Fri May 13, 2005 12:48 pm

Harry

There is nothing at all wrong with not liking bourbon. If you don't like it, you don't like it.

I think the thrust of this thread is that it is often described as inferior or not as complex or intellectually stimulating...

By the way, there are American single malts, rather than "bourbon" single malts. Lex knows a great deal about these.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Fri May 13, 2005 1:00 pm

If a preference for Scotch is based on taste, then I can respect the position. However, dismissing grain whisky as being lower and malt whisky as being superior is, I am afraid, bowing to the marketing of the ad-men. I would agree that it is hard to find much to compare with the very best malt whiskies. I would also suggest there is not much that would compare with the best grain whiskies. But I would be hard placed to put all malt whiskies (including Littlemill, Allt a'bhainne, Convalmore and Glen Ord) above all American whiskies (including Bookers, Sazerac, Elijah Craig and George T Stagg).

Restricting yourself to single malts is liable to lead to perpetual debates over peat vs sherry whilst drinking forgettable, thin spirits in between the odd great bottle. I know - I was there myself once. Bringing pot still, corn, bourbon, rye and even blended Scotch into my life broadened the range of flavours, delights and experiences open to me. It also had a massive advantage that many of these styles are decidedly cheaper than classic malts.
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Postby peatreek1 » Fri May 13, 2005 5:09 pm

The snobbery against bourbon is a combination of (1) bias against American products (ye olde European products must be better than the vile garbage produced by those arrogant upstarts), (2) successful marketing of the Scotch whisky mystique (magical natural product made in the wilds of Scotland by men in kilts using the purest barley and water, etc.), and (3) the absurb notion that malt whisky is more expensive and therefore must be better (my $200 bottle of Macallan must be much better than your $30 bottle of bourbon and I am a wonderful successful person because I can afford the former).

The reality is that good bourbon is a quality product equal to malt whiskies, and I enjoy them both. Perception is often more important than reality and people convince themselves to like what they think they should like. After all very few like any whisky at first taste.
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Postby hpulley » Fri May 13, 2005 5:38 pm

I disagree that they are equal. In fact, I think scotch and bourbon are very different beasts and you cannot say, "I can't believe JB rated this bourbon 90 but this scotch only 85." They're different and I don't think you can compare the ratings. A 90/100 bourbon is hopefully better than an 80/100 bourbon but what is better, a scotch or a bourbon, when they are such different products? You might as well compare them to vodka and gin too while you're at it. All distilled liquids are NOT created equal -- to treat them as if they were is folly, IMO.

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Postby Tom » Fri May 13, 2005 5:56 pm

This is a hard topic.
In the first place i have the same feeling as Harry about the matter without the Bourbon is inferiour part :D . Yet i find Nick's point more in common with my own opinion.
i totally disagree however with Peatreeks view (sorry about that).
In my opinion all whiskies are of the same quality generally speaking. I have the same affection and interest in blends, vatted, single malt- and grain, bourbon,Rye, irish whiskey etc. and would like to know all of them. However, even though they all inspire me that doesnt mean i find them all equally good in taste. Thats a matter of personal taste, and thats the solution to this topic i believe.
Americans are grown up with bourbon and rye, so it is only logical they have a natural favor for them. They grew in the distinctive flavor of those just like we belgians grow up with the different kinds of beer. However, here in europe (im gonna narrow it down to only Belgium cause then i know what im talking about) we learn to taste blends, then single malt, and only then is the step taken towards Bourbon and Rye.
The simple fact that we first grow in the malt flavors and learn to apreciate its complexity before we get confronted with the very sweetish corny flavors of bourbon is probably what causes many to put bourbon down. It tastes so very different then other whiskies that it needs time to develop. I must say, i try regularly a new bourbon but i still havent found my way in it. I keep sampling new ones because i realise its a flavor you must obtain (at least i hope so).
So i think its a matter of personal taste and the fact it tastes so different then other whiskies that makes it quite hard or unaccesseble for the common "european" whisky enthousiast to apreciate Bourbon.
Snobistic behaviour has nothing to do with it IMO.
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Postby Aidan » Fri May 13, 2005 8:46 pm

I don't think it's about whether scotch is different to bourbon. I think we'd all get that question right.
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Postby Tom » Fri May 13, 2005 8:58 pm

Yes, but i thought the question was why bourbon has a bad name
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Postby Paul A Jellis » Fri May 13, 2005 11:06 pm

To go back to the original question, I did think that it is because it is a copy, it's not the original item. But then neither is scotch, the Irish first used distillation to produce a drink.

The answer may be in the fact that it is called whiskey, and in calling it whiskey it is bound to be compaired with the best - scotch. If bourbon was called 'bourbon' and nothing else then it would stand in a class of it's own, as indeed rum does. Whisk(e)y is produced all around the world and no one could argue against the fact that, on average, the Scots produce the best. That then sets the benchmark against which all other whiskies are judged.

The bourbons that I have tried I'd find hard to rate above 5 out of 10, and yet the drink in front of me now (Ardbeg 10) I'd rate 9 out of 10, and that's just the standard bottle available everywhere - even Tesco! I have yet to taste a bourbon that has made me want to discover more about it, it's different expressions etc. So, maybe, it is just an inferior product, and that is why it has a bad name.

Or I could be completely wrong and need a guiding hand to introduce me the wonderful world of bourbon.

PS: If a like or dislike a drink it has nothing to do with where it comes from.
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Postby DaveM » Fri May 13, 2005 11:18 pm

the best - scotch... no one could argue against the fact that, on average, the Scots produce the best.


Paul, do you see? You're assuming that the Scots make the best. And you're implying that you'd deny the use by others to use the term whiskey simply on those grounds, none other. I could see your point if any whisky from outside of Scotland tried to label itself "Scotch" (which used to occur). No offense, but you're like a bible thumper claiming the bible is true because it says so. :lol:

Go visit bamber and he'll walk you though a couple of good bourbons that can compete with Ardbeg 10 any day of the week.
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Postby Paul A Jellis » Fri May 13, 2005 11:48 pm

I'm not assuming that the best whisky comes from Scotland, I'm taking that as a fact.
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Postby Aidan » Fri May 13, 2005 11:52 pm

Actually, Irish whiskey has more to offer than scotch - FACT!

Only joking, I wouldn't be so arrogant as to suggest that, altough it is my belief.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Fri May 13, 2005 11:56 pm

I'm not assuming that the best whisky comes from Scotland, I'm taking that as a fact.

Hehe, I love that statement :D

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Postby Frodo » Sat May 14, 2005 7:37 am

hpulley wrote:It comes down to this: bourbon is grain whisky, not malt whisky. In scotch circles, malt whisky, especially single malt whisky made in pot stills in a 'traditional manner' (whatever that is) is thought of as the best. Grain whisky made in patent or column stills is seen as a lower form of whisky. Since there is no single malt bourbon that I'm aware of, scotch drinkers who place single malt scotch at the top of the rankings will not think much of any grain whisky, no matter how good.

Harry


I agree with Harry. I think people who are used to drinking whisky based on Barley (Scotch & Irish) would have some problems with whisky dominated by corn. Corn whisky is usually looked down upon compared with single malts - the corn whisky being the component of the hated "blended whisky" that many people dislike. If you don't like blended whisky, and Bourbon has a fair amount of "small grain" in it, you probably would look askance at it.

Aside from this, I also think there's a "new world" component to this lack of general acceptance of Bourbon. My father (dedicated scotch drinker) would look at a glass of bourbon as though someone was trying to poison him. On the other hand, my step-father who likes Cdn whisky quite likes the stuff. But try telling my step-father about the virtues of Irish whisky, and he'll look at you like "what're yer try'n ta do ta me"?

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Postby Crispy Critter » Sat May 14, 2005 3:49 pm

I've found that I like bourbon, Scotch and Irish, each for its own differing character. As for Scotch, once I got past the single malt snobbery and tried some blends, I found that a good blend is every bit as enjoyable as a good single malt. My recent forays into bourbon have opened up a whole new world to explore as well.

Hmmm... I forgot about Japanese whisky. I've only had Yamazaki, but it's a treat too.
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Postby Lord_Pfaffin » Sat May 14, 2005 8:52 pm

Finer bourbons lack notariety as well as availability and perhaps therein lies the problem. For the most part bourbon and it's reputation is represented it's the market leaders; J.Daniels and J.Beam and their need to capture a youger market. The visable younger comsumers tend to project a more cavalier and wreckless attitude as part of thier rebellious group-persona. Bourbon has to be part of "gen X popular-culture" to survive and grow but in doing so unfortunatley it has to be painted with the same brush.
Malt is an extremely likeable taste in it's many forms and in my opinion will always rule hands down no contest.
Ardaíonn ár ngrá muid féin níos airde i gcónaí!
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sun May 15, 2005 1:14 am

I sometimes wonder if I have some sort of genetic predisposition to favor barley. When I was a wee lad, my favorite soup was Campbell's Beef with Barley and Vegetables... Having been a devoted beer drinker for many years, I have learned that American brewers began introducing adjuncts (corn and rice) to beer as a cost-cutting measure. Just a little won't make much difference in the flavor.... A little leads to a little more, and eventually you end up with Bud, Miller, Coors--stuff that I don't think even qualifies as beer. I have always assumed (rightly or wrongly) that grains other than barley were introduced into American whiskey for the same reason. Certainly, in the US, corn is much more widely available than barley or most anything else. And that is the source of my prejudice, which I will freely admit to. Nevertheless, I try (not always successfully, alas) to be respectful of other people's choices, and I have read enough interesting things about bourbon here that I nearly bought a bottle last week.... Ah, too much good Scotch yet to be tried. One of these days.
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Postby Ed » Sun May 15, 2005 4:51 am

Hello All,
I just noticed this thread. Where to start?

Bourbon and scotch are very different beasts and it is difficult to compare them. An apples and oranges sort of thing. Just as it is silly to dislike oranges because they don't taste like apples it is silly to dislike one style of whisky/whiskey because it doesn't taste like another style. Of course, you may prefer apples and always eat them in preference to oranges. Perhaps you may eat an orange from time to time for variety or because you are out of apples. But to say that oranges are 'bad' or 'inferior' because you personally don't like them as much as you like apples is kind of ridiculous. Taste is subjective, not objective. :D

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Postby Frodo » Sun May 15, 2005 6:24 am

MrTattieHeid wrote: Nevertheless, I try (not always successfully, alas) to be respectful of other people's choices, and I have read enough interesting things about bourbon here that I nearly bought a bottle last week.... Ah, too much good Scotch yet to be tried. One of these days.


Too bad I just read this. If I had known this when you visited TO, I would have suggested a couple of pubs/restaurants that sell good quality shots of the stuff. I guess I figured that living in the US, you'd probably have tried bourbon previously, and came to your own conclusions.

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Postby bond » Sun May 15, 2005 7:14 am

I have had 6-8 kinds of bourbon basis recommendations obtained on this forum.

Without getting into the seemingly incoherent better/worse debate, I was able to detect only subtle variations in the nose or palate in the various bourbons that I had. Sure, a Makers Mark was different from a Jim Beam white label, but they did taste like siblings, or at least cousins.

In my limited exposure to bourbon, I have not come across variety like say, Ardbeg v/s Glenkinchie. The spectrum seems a lot narrower.
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Postby Frodo » Sun May 15, 2005 9:08 am

Two things just occured to me:

bond wrote:In my limited exposure to bourbon, I have not come across variety like say, Ardbeg v/s Glenkinchie. The spectrum seems a lot narrower.


1) I agree with what Bond said. It's not a comparison of quality comment, just an observation that I think is spot-on. Makers Mark and Bookers would seem to be the biggest gulf in terms of differences in taste. Scotch seems to have a wider variation in my experiance.

2) Bourbon is usually aged for less than scotch is. It doesn't have to be aged for 15yrs to be good. Scotch on the other hand has the age proudly displayed on the bottles. Who wouldn't be impressed by "Longmorn 15yrs old" as opposed to "Woodford Reserve" with no age statement.

I guess with the longer ageing advertised, the scotch has this cache that says "if you can afford me and my longer age, I'm worth it". Whisky enthusiasts tend to know better, but people buying gifts or buying for conspicuous consumption might want something more "flashy".

Just a thought.
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Postby Ed » Sun May 15, 2005 9:33 am

Hello All,
Hello Bond,
I agree that there is a strong family resemblance among bourbons. However, speaking for myself, the differences are pronounced rather than subtle. There are 'cousins' that I really love to spend time with and other 'cousins' that I would rather not have at my table.
Ed
Ps. Oh, yes, of course, there is enormous range in Scotch. Amazing really.
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