If you are new to this bourbon game, no doubt you find it an exhilarating hobby. However, you may have also realized that it can be a money pit. To help alleviate some of the pain newbies can experience, I thought I would share a few tips to help you enjoy the bourbon enthusiast game more while saving a little bit of money.
My Rookie Year
I consider myself new to the bourbon enthusiast's scene, a rookie, as it were. I've only been in this game for about 2 years; however, that period has been a whirlwind of education and tasting American whiskeys. I have purchased over 100 American whiskeys in this short time, and I am not a rich person.
Initially, my approach was to try as many bourbons as possible to determine what I liked. I chose not to try samples because of the 3-taste rule. The rule being, never to judge a bourbon unless you've tried it three times from the same bottle and over a period of time. So, I ended up purchasing bottles of everything that I wanted to try.
I was reading discussions about neck pours and letting bourbon "open up." Seasoned enthusiasts told me that it would take at least three pours over time to know if I liked it or not. This advice is true and should be followed. However, in retrospect, buying a new bottle for every bourbon I wanted to taste resulted in a lot of wasted money. I was not fond of about 1/3 of the bottles and ended up using those whiskeys as expensive mixers. Believe me, purchasing a $120 bottle of bourbon only to find out that you don't like it is not the best feeling.
What Would I Do Differently?
If I had to do it all over again, what would I do differently? I would not buy bottles of bourbon impromptu. I would focus more on researching flavor profiles, using the recommendations of renowned critics, and spending money on those bottles.
Additionally, it is extremely advantageous to join online bourbon groups. Try to find a Facebook group in your state or region where the individuals share tasting notes and information on where to find bourbons, mainly store picks. You can save a lot of time and money through these relationships and by sharing samples.
The Allocated Bourbon Trap
Avoid hunting the allocated bourbons, particularly whiskeys from the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Why the focus on Buffalo Trace? Their whiskeys are a hype perpetrator and newbie magnet. Unless you buy their higher-end bourbons, then the hype and subsequent secondary market prices are not equal to their taste. However, that is just my opinion.
Still, I believe you will find that your favorite bourbons are rarely the hyper-allocated ones. Again, hunting these whiskeys is often not worth the time and effort because they rarely live up to the hype. Sure, it might be nice to have a pretty bottle of Blanton's Orginal sitting on your shelf, but if you are into bourbon because of the tasting experience, there are scores of better tasting and less expensive bourbons.
Don't Get Focused on One Brand Early On
If you are new to bourbon, don’t stock up on any one brand early. You may find that as you expose yourself to other brands, you may not like the one you tried first as much. You really need to try a variety of bourbons to really know what you like or love. If you get stuck on the first one that you think is "good" you may be missing out on the really good or "great" whiskeys.
Determine Your Taste Profile
Let your taste preferences be your guide. Try bourbons, ryes, blends, wheated whiskeys, etc., and document why you like them. Use those findings as a baseline for purchasing new whiskeys.
If you reference online bourbon reviews, compare a few different reviews of the same bourbon. Determine if there is a standard profile or set of characteristics among the reviews. Once you see similar features from various reviewers, it will give you a core flavor profile. Still, anything you read will be that person's experience, not yours.
Final Points to Keep in Mind
- Do not assume price equates to taste.
- Do not make impromptu purchases based on an employee's recommendation unless you have a history with that person.
- Do not focus on pretty labels or bottles.
- Do not spend too much time hunting allocated bottles.
- Do not make a final judgment of a bourbon on your initial tasting.
- Do form relationships with your local liquor store.
- Do form relationships with other enthusiasts.
- Do try different types of whiskeys; ryes, bourbons, wheated whiskeys, etc.
- Do document your taste preferences.
- Do join local bourbon tasting groups or local social network communities.