Scotch whisky often draws cheers for being like wine—incredibly diverse. Whereas a Highland malt (e.g., Dalwhinnie) might mix smoke and fruity flavors, an Islay whisky (e.g., Laphroaig) will be far smokier and throw in iodine and brackish notes.
Pity that Bourbon is only belatedly getting a similar respect. Per U.S. regulation, Bourbon must have a mashbill that is not less than 51% corn. That leaves the distiller free to play with the remaining 49%, using varying amounts of corn, wheat, rye…chicken flesh. (Just joking.) The result, of course, is Bourbons that taste very different from one another. Different stills, different stillmen, and different aging add all the more diversity amongst Bourbons.
Take Maker’s Mark 46 and W.L. Weller Special Reserve 7-Year Old. Both are wheated Bourbons. Yet, they taste very differently.
Maker’s 46 is a significant upgrade from the standard Maker’s Mark. This wheated Bourbon (92 proof) is big-flavored and tastes of toffee, caramel, and vanilla. It is delicious. (Rating ****1/2)
Meanwhile, W.L. Weller Special Reserve 7-Year Old Bourbon (90 proof) is utterly different.(1) The wheat flavor is much more pronounced, and it is less sweet than Maker’s 46, and shows a nutty flavor. (Rating ****1/4)
And this example only scratches the surface. Throw a rye-heavy Bourbon like Old Forester into the mix and the tippler can really begin to appreciate the breadth of flavors Bourbon offers.
(1) Chuck Cowdery reports that this 7-Year Old might be going away, alas.
(2) If you are looking to buy these whiskeys online, try this seller.