Blind Tasting Is Truth

Like me, Galileo is a fan of blind tastings. Because, you see, blind tastings are truth. There is no label bias. No influence of Bourbon journalists. No social media pressure. It’s simply you, the whiskey and what you like. What you really like.

At a recent Bourbon Fellowship we had thirteen guys participate in two blind tastings. The “Bourbon experience” level in the group ranged from novice to what I would consider to be sophisticated. They were given no clues about what they were tasting other than the liquid in front of them was, in fact, Bourbon. There were three Bourbons in each flight and they were instructed to rank them 1st, 2nd and 3rd. The results were surprising to both me and Galileo.

Blind Tasting #1

For the first tasting I decided to explore the wheated mashbill from Buffalo Trace. The Bourbons included were Weller Special Reserve, Old Weller Antique and Pappy Van Winkle 15 year. The results:

While none of these Bourbons are easy to find, the one that is the most difficult to locate and will cost you $1000 on the secondary market finished last. LAST! And with only one 1st place vote along the way.

Galileo: “I just discovered the moons of Jupi…wait, Pappy’s finished last?

Blind Tasting #2

For the second tasting I also picked on a highly-allocated Buffalo Trace product. I matched Blanton’s against Cooper’s Craft (82.2 proof) and JTS Brown bottled-in-bond. The results:

While the betting favorite (Blanton’s) came out on top in this flight, it was by a very slim margin. Some of the more experienced palates in the group actually preferred Cooper’s over Blanton’s. So, the question at hand: Is it worth hours of hunting to get Blanton’s when other less expensive and more readily available Bourbons may be close to it in terms of your actual taste preference?

Can we draw definitive conclusions here? Probably not. If the same group tasted the same Bourbons a day later the results could be different. Likewise, if another group did the same blind tastings the order of finish would likely not be the same.

What we can conclude is that blind tastings do reveal truth. Or if that goes too far for you, blind tastings at least dispel myths: well-entrenched, very expensive myths. And unlike Galileo, you don’t have to suffer the wrath of the Inquisition to do so.

These blind tastings were a lot of fun. The group seems to really enjoy them. I would encourage you to do these with friends in small or large groups. You are sure to learn a few things and have a good time while doing it.

Kevin Rose

The Riff Stuff

It only seems fitting to honor the anniversary of the passage of the Bottled in Bond Act (March 3, 1897) and the NCAA Basketball Tournament (occurring every March since I can remember…too lazy to look up the exact year it started). So, last week The Bourbon Fellowship held its First Annual Bottled in Bond Blind Tasting Bracket or FABIBBTB for short (or not so short, as it turned out). If you are unfamiliar with “Bottled in Bond” you can follow this link for more information.

The bracket was composed of 8 randomly selected bottled in bond (BiB) brands.  I put the names of 14 different BiBs in a box (a Booker’s box to be exact) and drew out 8 names.  Those 8 went back in the box and as I drew them out, I wrote their name on the bracket for pairings.  Each was assigned a letter (A through H) to identify them individually during the blind tastings.  The participants and the 1st Round pairings were:

These made the Big Dance!

A – 1792 Bottled in Bond (Barton)

B – E.H. Taylor Small Batch (Buffalo Trace)

C – Henry McKenna (Heaven Hill)

D – Old Bardstown (Willett)

E – Jim Beam Bonded (Jim Beam)

F – McKenzie Bottled in Bond (Finger Lakes)

G – Early Times (Brown-Forman)

H – New Riff Bottled in Bond (New Riff)

I poured the samples and counted votes as seven of our Fellowship made some tough decisions…and drank some outstanding bourbon.  As a group, they sampled one pairing at a time and voted on which bourbon moved on to the next round.  (For example, sample A and B then vote on which one they liked better.) We would proceed through each remaining pairing to complete the first round.  The semi-finals and finals followed the same pattern.

Quarter Finals

By a slim 4-3 margin, E.H. Taylor advanced over 1792.  It would be a shame if Colonel Taylor got bounced in the first round given that the Bottled in Bond Act wouldn’t have been passed without him.

In a somewhat surprising close match-up, Henry McKenna narrowly moved on over Old Bardstown by a 4-3 count.  An even greater surprise to me as I moderated the tasting was that a couple of long-devoted McKenna fans voted for Old Bardstown.  That is the beauty of a blind tasting!

Jim Beam Bonded also gained a 4-3 victory over McKenzie Bottled in Bond, but it wouldn’t be March and it wouldn’t be Madness without a buzzer beater and some hullabaloo.  After a first count of 4-3 in favor of McKenzie, Tom (known lovable trouble-maker of the group) abruptly changed his vote from F (McKenzie) to E (Beam).  Beam would move on, but in controversial fashion.

The last pairing of the Quarter Finals saw New Riff dominate 6-1 over Early Times.  Most of the guys said it was a close decision for them personally, but an overwhelming majority chose the newcomer.

Final Four

In a battle of the bottled in bond bourbon behemoths (say that five times fast), E.H. Taylor took on Henry McKenna for a right to punch a ticket to the finals.  Again, the vote was 4-3.  Again, known McKenna lovers voted against it. Again, McKenna still claimed a win and a chance at the title.

Maybe the youngster just doesn’t know it isn’t supposed to be this easy, but New Riff claims another 6-1 victory.  This time the freshman bests Beam and carries a lot of momentum into the finals.

The Bottled in Bond Finals

From one side of the bracket is Henry McKenna.  A 10-year single barrel bottled in bond that has been a daily drinker for many a bourbon enthusiast and has also been hailed as 2018 Whiskey of the Year.  McKenna is a true PTP-er (“prime time player” for those not fluent in speaking “Vitale”). Emerging from the other side is the upstart freshman, New Riff.  A four-year bottled in bond that is the very first bourbon distilled by New Riff Distillery.  This bourbon just hit the market in the fall of 2018.  It’s a diaper dandy and it’s awesome, baby!

Congratulations to New Riff.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa-oh…The Riff Stuff!

One would think that based on résumé alone Henry McKenna would be the heavy favorite.  But…the last time I checked: we don’t drink a résumé! New Riff (the New Kid on the Block) had the “right stuff” and took down the traditional favorite, Henry McKenna, by a 5-2 vote. 

Congratulations to New Riff on claiming the title of The Bourbon Fellowship 2019 Bottled in Bond Champion.  While it may not fall in the category of “coveted title” just yet, it will always be the first one ever.  And they can never take that away from you, New Riff (look for your certificate in the mail, soon)!

The results…

The blind tasting aspect of this was fascinating to watch unfold. In a day or two, I’ll blog about that and what my personal bracket looked like. I’ll also post reviews from our Bourbon Fellowship of the two finalists.

Kevin