Don’t Judge a Bottle by its Label

By Leo Titus

There’s a reason you don’t walk into a pub and see someone having a glass of milk, or a slice of toast. Bourbon is a tasty way to stir conversation and get to know people. “On the Rocks” is our new segment about exploring the world of bourbon and other fine spirits with you. Whether you’re an expert or newly entering the wonderfully complex world of spirits, you’ll enjoy as we share personal reflections around our favorite sips. We invite you to connect with each other over a glass of the good stuff. To start off, Leo Titus, Chief Operating Officer, will give insight into his experience tasting bourbon.

Before COVID I considered myself an amateur bourbon enthusiast. I was one of those people hunting for hard-to-find bottles, because everyone else was hunting for them. In most cases I had never even tasted some of the bottles I was looking for. I figured, if people are willing to stand in line for hours and pay a lot of money for a bottle of bourbon, it must taste great, right? 

In March of 2020, as the world was going into initial COVID isolation, I was invited to join a small group of people from different parts of the country that individually taste two or three small samples of spirits “blind” every week. We aren’t told the distiller, the brand, and sometimes even what spirit it is (whiskey, rum, brandy, etc.). At the end of the week, we meet virtually on a ZOOM call to learn what we had tasted and talk about what we liked (or didn’t like) about them. It is something to do and a way to connect with people while we are all living in a virtual world.

I’m amazed at what I’ve learned! Before tasting samples blind, I thought things like: “I don’t like Scotch, I’m a bourbon guy” or “you don’t sip tequila, that’s for margaritas.” I had preconceived notions about what I loved or hated solely based on the label on a bottle, or what I had heard from someone else. But when the label wasn’t there, it was just me and my palate deciding what I thought about the brown liquid in my glass. 

After almost two years and over 200 blind samples tasted, I’ve learned a lot:

  • Expensive spirits aren’t always good.
  • Good spirits aren’t always expensive. (Some of my favorites are under $40 a bottle)
  • What I love, you may hate, and vice versa.
  • Drink what you like, how you like it.
  • Be willing to try new things! (Now I consider myself a bourbon, rum, rye, Scotch, Irish whiskey, Armagnac, brandy, and tequila guy)

Most importantly, I’ve made new friends and our conversations about spirits expanded to barbecue recipes, best ways to make coffee, wine, cigars, shows to binge and life in general. At the end of the day the best part about that brown liquid in the glass is sharing and connecting with friends.

If you are someone like me that would judge a bottle by it’s label, try tasting different samples blind sometime. You might surprise yourself (and your palate)!