Monday, September 19, 2011

Double-blind Bourbon Tasting - Part 1

As someone with 6+ years of business schooling behind him, I'm well aware of the common disconnect between product pricing and quality.  There are countless examples of products that are essentially indistinguishable commodities save for the varying degree of marketing muscle placed behind them.  'Premium' often means higher price and more marketing, not necessarily any measurable quality difference or additional utility.  Monster Cables, Exxon gas, Tropicana orange juice, they're all differentiated by marketing, by spin, and even misdirection.  They succeed not byway of better performance, but by the perception of better performance.  It doesn't matter if Pepsi wins 90% of blind taste tests if Coke buys people's hearts and minds with polar bear ads and sports league endorsements.

So, is this the case with Bourbon?  Does a $100 bottle of bourbon taste better than a $7 bottle?  Or does it just look prettier and make you feel better about having spent your hard earned money?  This is a tough question, because it's truth lies hidden in the subjective.  My gut (and mouth) tells me that while there are meaningful differences in the taste of bourbons, perceived quality has more to do with price and packaging than with taste.  Does the emperor wear clothes while sipping a 25 year old Michters?
I've chosen 8 different bourbons ranging in price from about $7 per 750ml to $100 per 750ml.  That works out to under one cent per ml to over 13 cents per ml.  Most of the lineup represents what I would consider the midrange, around $20-$30 per 750ml.  As an experiment, one midrange bourbon (Bulleit) has been aged (by me) on toasted french oak cubes for about a week, at an expense of about $1 at the local homebrew store.

Each bourbon will be tasted (double-blind) by a panel of 7-10 people who will evaluate and take notes on flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, etc.  We'll have freshly ground coffee to help cleanse the nose, and various mild crackers and non-alcoholic beverages to cleanse the palate.  Come back for Part 2 where I will examine the results.

Ancient Age - $7 (750ml)
Baker's - $48 (750ml)
Buffalo Trace - $23 (750ml)
Bulleit (French Oaked) - $26 (750ml)
Elijah Craig 12 year - $25 (750ml)
Hudson 4 Grain - $50 (375ml)
Maker's Mark - $22 (750ml)
Redemption High Rye - $27 (750ml)

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