Words by: The Bourbonator
The BBS train has offered up a wild ride over the past twelve months with more highlights than the Orient Express and a promise of even more beautiful vistas to come. We could think of no better way to celebrate our one year anniversary than with a monumental opus of a bourbon tasting at Milroys of Soho, the filling station where it all began, to be held on Saturday 22 April 2017.
Our first anniversary tasting attempted to answer a question posed by many, “was bourbon better back then?” In preparation for the answer, we were able to source the question with a number of old bottles from Old Spirits Co. to pit against their modern day equivalents for a side by side tasting in a battle of ‘Old vs New’. The bottles entering the Thunderdome were:
Four Roses Yellow Label 1970’s VS Four Roses Yellow Label 2017
Evan Williams Black Label 1974 VS Evan Williams Black Label 2017
Wild Turkey 8 Year Old 101 1970’s –Wild Turkey 101 2017
Blantons Single Barrel 1988 – Blantons Single Barrel 2016
Old Taylor BiB 100 proof 1960 and Old Taylor 86 Proof 1984
In our quest for the truth, we were joined by over 25 BBS members as well as representatives of the European Bourbon and Rye Association, over from Zurich for the weekend on the return leg of our ‘bourbon cultural exchange program’. It's fair to say that the EBRA team had tasted more than their fair share of American whiskey and had a well-informed opinion on all things whisky. Whilst we all dream of driving that DeLorean on a whiskey shopping trip to 1984, their heaving bunkers are proof that they’d gotten there first!
Two by two, the whiskies were introduced and poured for the room to get their palates around with a show of hands determining which was preferred. Whilst it was not unanimous, the majority voted in favour of ‘old’, which did not come as a surprise to me. My dice might have been loaded from the start with the knowledge that older bourbons from the 1960s and 1970s are generally accepted to have been some of the best ever produced although it was interesting to see that, with the benefit of tasting side by side, this was a view supported by the majority of the room.
What made bourbon better back then? This is still very much up for debate as over the years mash bills have changed, distilleries have closed (or burnt down), processes have become more industrialised, climate change has had an affect on water, wood and ageing and of course, time in the barrel all could have contributed to the taste that seems impossible to replicate in the whiskies of today. What is agreed is that due to the glut era, where supply outstripped demand by some margin, entry level bourbons most likely contained well aged stock over and above even the statement on the label. Today, with demand as high as it is, age statements are being removed from labels to ensure that distilleries are only obliged to bottle at the minimum 2 (or 4 years if a straight bourbon) which is most likely the contributing factor in the difference in quality. To be clear, it does not mean that the product today isn’t good, I would not have the obsession I have if it wasn’t, just that the product, from a taste perspective back then was on average nicer to drink.
With the tasting concluded, it was time to deliver the first annual British Bourbon Society awards, given to BBS's favourite whiskies, retailers and bars as voted for by our members. We'll have a post on our blog about that very soon but, if you can't wait, check our twitter or Instagram pages for the deserving winners that we were privileged to honour.