First of all, if you are not a reader of Chuck Cowdery’s blog, I strongly recommend that you become one. His blogging output is consistent and his material is very informative. His site has helped me in a number of ways including introducing me to a number of whiskeys that I may not have thought to try otherwise (Jim Beam Double Black being the most recent).
He recently published a post titled “How Long Does It Take to Make Good Bourbon?” Apparently, it’s a pretty controversial topic given the number of micro-distillers that produce either white dog whiskeys or aged whiskeys that spend very little time in the barrel (in some cases, as little as three months or less).
Recently, when I acquired a bottle of Jim Beam Double Black, I bought a small bottle of Jim Beam’s flagship bourbon. The Black is aged for eight years while the traditional white-label bourbon is aged for four years. Doing this kind of comparison, especially as a relatively novice drinker, was an eye-opening experience for me. While I have no beef at all with Jim Beam’s flagship bourbon and would gladly drink it neat or in a cocktail, I found Jim Beam Double Black to be light years better because I really enjoy the flavor that oak contributes to a whiskey. The additional four years gives the Double Black a whole new character. The oak becomes a dominant character trait with the corn sweetness pulling back a bit (it’s still there though). It’s probably no surprise that I enjoy bourbons like Jim Beam Double Black (8 years), Eagle Rare Single Barrel (10 years), Evan Williams Single Barrel (10 years) and Elijah Craig (12 years).
This is not to say that I don’t like whiskey that aged less than 8 years. There plenty of great selections that are aged between four and eight years (Maker’s Mark, Old Grand Dad 100, Woodford Reserve, etc.) that are excellent pours and have a lot of the oak character I enjoy. I agree with Chuck when he says “The wisdom of the families and companies who have been making bourbon for a long time–several centuries in some cases–is that in a climate similar to Kentucky, it takes a minimum of four years in new charred wood to make something you would like to drink. “
My experience would agree with this. Personally, I think that the white dogs are overrated. I have a mason jar with about one or two fingers worth of corn whiskey made by some fine southern gentleman in the mountains of North Carolina. For what it is, it tastes good. My guess is that it’s somewhere in the 100-110 proof range so it’s pretty drinkable straight from the jar. However, like any unaged spirit, there is very little that keeps my interest, something that has helped me avoid spending too much money on the bottles of overpriced white dog produced by many micro-distillers. My experience with whiskey aged for less than one year is limited to Hudson Baby Bourbon, a whiskey aged for three months. I liked it, but comparing it to traditional bourbon is like comparing apples to oranges. The whiskey doesn’t spend enough time in the barrel to get the kinds of flavors that I like. That doesn’t make it bad at all. It makes it different.
Then again, taste is subjective.