I would point to two intrinsic differences between American whiskey (bourbon/rye) and Scotch whisky that make them such different creatures: one obvious and the other perhaps less so. Scotch is made exclusively from barley, while American whiskeys are combinations of much-sweeter corn, rye, wheat and/or malted barley (and the barley content is the least, used only to initiate fermentation). Also much affecting the tastes of each is the barrel-aging. In the U.S., 'straight' whiskeys MUST be aged in NEW barrels, which impart many barrel flavors to the whiskey. The flavor of long-aged bourbon, for example, can be derived as much as 80%, according to Elmer T. Lee, from the barrel itself. The flavor of Scotch, which is generally aged in used (sometimes, multiply-used, barrels) is much more grain-centric. Additionally, the use of 'finishes' -- final aging in a non-whiskey cask/barrel to impart flavors -- is not allowed by U.S. law, nor is the addition of any other flavors or colors.
Others here can speak more knowledgeably about these and other matters, such as why geography affects the flavors of Scotches. But, along those lines, I'd note that all American whiskey today (outside of craft distilling) is done in the contiguous region of Kentucky/Tennessee/Virginia, which would minimize any geographic differences that might emulate Scotch otherwise.
Another factor is the degree to which the malt has been smoked/peated. This single factor is the source of of one of the biggest differentiators between styles of scotch.
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- Stills...basicly most Bourbon is distilled in a column still of which each still is almost identical in design.
I will agree that bourbon has a more uniform taste and my guess is that it has to do with the new barrels, similar stills and the fact that the sweetness of the corn does overpower some of the other flavors. This has all been stated earlier as well.
For the record, my favorite bourbon so far is the Van Winkle 10 year old - it's especially luscious while still being affordable. I'm open to suggestions of other brands, especially if they're not too hard on the wallet.
Jon Barleycorn wrote:...For the record, my favorite bourbon so far is the Van Winkle 10 year old - it's especially luscious while still being affordable. I'm open to suggestions of other brands, especially if they're not too hard on the wallet.
You might look at this thread:
http://www.whiskymag.com/forum/viewtopi ... 6351#76351
Regarding Van Winkle 10yo (either the 90- or 107-proof), it's an interesting preference because you can't get it anymore, or you soon won't be able to get it as it is, or you'll eventually get it as something else. Confused?
Julian Van Winkle (who does not distill) started the Old Rip Van Winkle brand with purchased barrels of bourbon distilled at the defunct Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which was long owned by his family and famous grandfather, Julian P. "Pappy" Van Winkle. It stopped distilling in 1992. As Julian's youngest S-W whiskey passed first 10 years old, then 12, etc., he replaced it in the younger bottlings in order to let it age for his older Pappy Van Winkle brands (15-, 20- and 23-year-olds), while also joining with Buffalo Trace Distillery in agreement to distill his wheated bourbon for future years.
But, BT did not, at that time, have any 10yo wheated bourbon, so Julian now uses Bernheim-distilled wheat in his 10yo ORVWs and 12yo Special Reserve Lot B. In fact, the most recent Pappy 15yo bottling consists of mostly Stitzel-Weller, but with some Bernheim wheated bourbon blended in.
However, Diageo sold the Bernheim distillery to Heaven Hill in 1999. Although HH does distill wheated bourbon (ironically, they now own the old S-W brand, Old Fitzgerald, which made Pappy famous) and its unique Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey, they don't distill anything that matches Julian's taste profiles. So, when he runs out of S-W and old Bernheim, he's going to be using Buffalo Trace wheated bourbon -- the third distillery's product in that label.
The good news is, Julian is a wonderful whiskey-picker, so the quality will remain high in any case.
With Bourbon I often get some spirity fermentation elements that single malts don't have. Perhaps I just need to get used to them.
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I agree with the poster above who pointed out that the fresh wood requirements and lack of peated grains limits the taste profiles. Also, the limited geographical areas limits the range of temperature variation (plus many warehouses are artificially heated).
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