When you are ready to try a new bourbon, you may turn to reviews online. Regardless of whether a consumer or professional bourbon reviewer wrote the review, it is imperative that you know the terminology used, and how those terms translate into flavor and appeal for your palate.
Common Terms Used in Bourbon Reviews (and What They Mean for You)
- Youthful or Dignified
In a review, you will see the use of “youthful” or you will see “dignified.” If a whiskey is called young, it is light, vibrant, and not as mature as the distinguished counterpart. A dignified bourbon is one that offers a seamless, elegant blend of flavors that are easy to distinguish and describe in just one sip.
- Sweet or Dry
When a bourbon is described as “dry,” that means that your tongue will feel dry after you finish that first sip. A sweet bourbon, on the other hand, is sweet and wet to the palate.
- Descriptive Flavor Notes
When you read bourbon reviews, you will notice that flavor “notes” are indicated in that report. These are the flavors that you smell, taste, and find in the finish of the drink. Some common flavor notes you would expect to see in a bourbon review include:
If a bourbon is described as “balanced,” it means that the flavors that you pick up while sipping are compliment one another. They do not overwhelm, and not just one flavor stands out. Instead, they all stand on their own and provide a positive sipping experience.
- Warmth or Heat
Some bourbons, especially those with high alcohol content, will make your mouth feel warm, or the throat and rest of your body warmed.
Malt refers to the grains sprouted and used to make the bourbon. These grains are turned into grown starches then toasted. Malts make sweeter bourbon whiskeys.
- Mash Bill
The mash bill is what refers to the ratio of grains used to make that bourbon whiskey. You will see them represented by a percentage, such as 51% corn mash bill and 20% rye.
- Small Batch Bourbon
The term “small batch” is thrown around often by novices; however, true reviewers know the exclusivity of this term and use it wisely. When a bourbon is referred to as “small batch” it means that it was created from a single cask or there are limited numbers of bottles. However, the term is not legally monitored; therefore, a small batch could consist of 5,000 bottles and still be labeled as a “small batch.”
The proof discusses the alcohol by volume. In the United States, the proof point is defined as a company’s version of alcohol that doubles the alcohol percentage at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Naturally, the higher the proof number, the more alcohol by volume.
- Spirity or Ethanoic
These terms are used to describe a heavy taste of alcohol that overwhelms the senses. Most bourbons, however, do not receive such a statement unless they are aged for a short period, or they are a cheaper bourbon.
The body refers to how the whiskey feels in your mouth. It could be cumbersome and thick like syrup, or light and watery.
When a bourbon review says that the bourbon is “complex,” they mean that it has layers of flavors. After each sip, the layers come out one by one. Complexity is not always a good thing because sometimes all the flavors will overwhelm you.
This is how the whiskey imparts flavors on your palate immediately after you have swallowed it. Only individual flavors show up during the finish, while others are noticeable by nosing (smelling) the glass or sipping.