What’s a good aged bourbon?

Answered by James Porterfield

When it comes to aged , there are a few key factors to consider in order to find a good and enjoyable bottle. Age plays a significant role in the development of bourbon's flavor profile, as it allows the to mellow and acquire complexity over time. Here are some aspects to look for when seeking out a good aged bourbon:

1. Age statement: Check the label for an age statement, which indicates the number of years the bourbon has been aged in oak . The longer the aging process, the more time the whiskey has had to interact with the wood, resulting in a richer and more refined flavor. Bourbons aged for at least four years are typically considered to have reached a satisfactory level of maturity.

2. Mash bill: Pay attention to the mash bill, which is the combination of grains used in the bourbon's production. Different ratios of corn, , wheat, and malted barley can significantly influence the flavor profile. For example, bourbons with a higher percentage of rye tend to have a spicier and more robust character, while those with a higher corn content can be sweeter and smoother.

3. Barrel char and type: The level of char on the inside of the oak barrels used for aging can greatly impact the flavor of the bourbon. Deeper charring tends to result in an enhanced smokiness and caramelization. Additionally, some distilleries experiment with different barrel types, such as those previously used for aging other like or . These alternative barrel finishes can impart unique flavors and nuances to the bourbon.

4. Tasting notes: Read reviews or tasting notes to get an idea of the flavor profile of a particular aged bourbon. Look for descriptors that align with your personal preferences, such as notes of vanilla, caramel, oak, spices, or fruit. Tasting notes can provide valuable insights into the overall character and complexity of the bourbon.

5. Personal preference: Ultimately, the best aged bourbon is one that aligns with your own taste preferences. It's important to remember that everyone's palate is different, and what one person may find exceptional, another may not. Experiment with different brands, ages, and mash bills to discover what resonates with you personally. Don't be afraid to try something new or unexpected – you might stumble upon a hidden gem.

In my own experience as a sommelier and brewer, I have had the opportunity to taste a wide range of aged bourbons. Some standout options include the well-known Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve, with its complex layers of flavors and long, smooth finish. Another personal favorite is the Four Roses Single Barrel, which offers a rich and spicy profile with hints of caramel and dark fruit. However, I've also found great satisfaction in discovering smaller, lesser-known distilleries that produce exceptional aged bourbons.

Remember, the world of bourbon is vast and constantly evolving. Exploring different brands and expressions is part of the fun, as it allows you to develop your own appreciation for aged bourbon. So, take your time, savor each sip, and enjoy the journey of discovering your own perfect aged bourbon.