Last week the Chicago Vests visited the Florida Vests (my parents and sister) for several days of fun on the Gulf Coast. One of the joys of the week was being there for my dad’s birthday—celebrating birthdays with family is hard when you live so far apart. A related joy was sampling his growing collection of bourbon.
My dad has become quite a bourbon connoisseur of late. It just so happens that the stretch of I-65 between Chicago and Northwest Florida goes straight through the heart of Kentucky bourbon country. Over the course of the last several trips my parents have made to visit us, they’ve stopped at a few distilleries and a massive spirits warehouse store. Along the way, he’s amassed dozens of great bourbons and not only enjoys drinking them, but also enjoys tasting them. Aided by a book called Bourbon, Straight and a great blog called Sour Mash Manifesto, he’s become a legitimate bourbon authority.
We tasted a wide variety of bourbons over the course of three nights. For each tasting, Dad would select a flight of bourbons to compare and contrast and we’d pour 1 oz. portions in tasting glasses. If possible, we would watch a video of Jason Pyle tasting the same bourbon on Sour Mash Manifesto; if there wasn’t a video, we would simply read his review. I was amazed at the flavors Jason would distinguish in the nose and palate of these various bourbons. Here’s an example from his blog:
Nose: Rich and flooding with almond toffee, ripe banana, vanilla, sweet spices, popcorn, and a tangy sweetness of sorghum and molasses. A scant teaspoon of water to a 2 oz. pour ramps up the spices, dried fruits, and deep oak notes.
Palate: On the palate this bourbon just hits you with flavors in waves and it keeps on coming. Few whiskies can match it in that department. Deep dark sticky caramel, Rum Bananas, vanilla, Dried Dark Fruits, root beer, fudge, and intense sweet spices of cinnamon, clove, and mint are dominant when sipped neat. A teaspoon of water brings out the barrel flavors and rounds out the alcohol edge and heat.
Tasting bourbon is just as interesting as tasting wine, beer, or anything else that combines a variety of flavors into a complex experience of smell and taste.
Dad and I often noted that we couldn’t pick out individuals flavors with the precision and articulation of Jason. Yet we were still able to enjoy the rich complexity of the bourbons, noting how each one was definitely different from the others.
By the third night, I got a little philosophical. It seems to me that life is a lot like tasting bourbon. Not all of us can find the words to name what we experience with precision or poetry, but we can all appreciate the experience nonetheless, and we can certainly savor every drop.