Monday, February 27, 2017

Can you tell wheat from rye?


Over the past fifteen years, I've participated in hundreds of blind tastings and hosted my share as well. Tasting blind and watching others taste blind is a great experience and teaches you a huge amount about spirits and your own palate. There is one very surprising thing I've learned from blind tastings: almost no one can consistently differentiate between wheat and rye recipe bourbons.

Bourbon fans put a lot of stock in the mashbill, but I've done tasting with some incredibly experienced drinkers, and I don't think I've ever blind tasted with anyone who could consistently differentiate between wheat and rye recipe bourbons. Sure, some high rye bourbons are a giveaway and some people are very good at identifying particular distilleries, but even very experienced tasters often miss the mashbill in a large and varied blind tasting.

And I'm no different. I was once so convinced that a Bowman bourbon I had blind tasted was a wheater that I contacted Sazerac to ask - no dice. I was told it was rye recipe.

To me, this indicates that we may put too much stock in mashbill. There are many factors that contribute to bourbon flavor from yeast to cask and maybe mashbill content isn't as important as we think it is.

Can you tell wheat from rye?


11 comments:

Steve L said...

No, I don't believe I can. Somewhat relieved to read this post... because there are times I can't tell rye from bourbon either!

Slandy said...

I trend towards being able to. I'd give myself a 75% chance in a blind setting with no distractions. It's not so much that the mash doesn't matter it's that all of the other things matter too so if you don't try to compensate for the other variables it's going to be hard to tell. People looking for spicy rye could find spicy oak instead.

Adam H said...

The funny thing is, this "skill" shouldn't matter at all. The way to measure a whiskey is by how much you enjoy it. Whether it's made with wheat, rye, or quinoa shouldn't matter.

The problem is that for whatever reason, it does matter to so many bourbonheads out there. If they aren't told in advance that something is a wheater, they have problems fully enjoying it.

Ryan said...

I'm pretty good at telling a rye whiskey from bourbon, but honestly not sure about a rye recipe from a wheated recipe. I think I found my next experiment...

Eric said...

If tasting totally blind with zero context, I'm not convinced I can tell my aged brown spirits apart with 100% reliability, let alone tell wheat from rye mashbill bourbon with 100% reliability.

Richnimrod said...

I know, with my iron palate, I will never be a GREAT taster. But, I think if someone gave me 3-Bourbons of similar age, and proof, with one being a wheater and the others having rye as the flavor grain... or the reverse (1-rye bourbon and 2-wheaters), I think I'd pick the wheater 2/3 of the time. So, 66% or so. All things being equal wheaters seem a bit 'thinner' to me, and a have bit more cinnamon flavor in general. Also, most of the wheaters I've had seem to be a bit more aromatic. That may be all in my head (or my schnozz...HA!); but, that's my take.
Sku, I challenge you to send me 3-750s without labels, and have at least one; but not all, be wheaters. I GUARANTEE I'll drink 'em all!

Eric said...

I'm with Rich. Only send Pappiez or that dank Stitzel juice. Kthxbye

Anonymous said...

This is a good one :) I can indeed tell apart wheaters easily and reliably, even though I am just a mediocre taster overall. The trick is a very specific taste (fresh recently plucked raw green hazelnuts) I get from all wheaters, which Americans are not familiar with at all, but people of my origin easily pick. This is my "party trick" and always a conversation starter.

Anonymous said...

Oh do go on.

Mac said...

I agree with Richmond, wheaters are thinner. I also get a cherry candy flavor with wheat bourbons that I don't notice with rye mash bills. I believe I can reliably pick out a wheat bourbon in a blind tasting, if it's the first one I try...after the first sip, my palate is ruined.

Jake said...

Can you tell wheat or rye when it's used in (modern, not classic styles of) beer? Differing mashbills are getting more popular but for every rye ipa i try, maybe 25% of them have a taste i could identify as rye. And that's before it even touches a piece of wood.