Tasting a Higher Proof

Fred Minnick just released his well-regarded ranking of the top 100 American whiskies for 2022. He started with 800 whiskies, and over several rounds, narrowed things down to his top 100. All else equal, I suspect that higher proof whiskies tend to do better in this ranking. Is this because undiluted, cask-strength whiskies are more complex in the nose, flavor, and finish? Or is the reasoning is circular — maybe the sort of whisky that does well undiluted is better. Maybe Fred just likes an efficient way to get buzzed?

To answer this question, I pulled Minnick’s top 100 picks into a spreadsheet and cleaned-up the data. Here is the distribution of the proof of the 100 whiskies:

That outlier on the right is the infamous Jack Daniel’s Coy Hill.

Then I did a simple regression analysis. I use a whisky’s proof to predict its ranking. Since this is a very small dataset, I am doing traditional full-sample analysis, with no test set. It turns out, the proof (ha!) is there in the data: Minnick prefers higher proof whiskies. In fact, over 20% of the variation in his top 100 ranking can be explained by just the proof of the whisky! The relationship pops in a scatterplot:

That coefficient of -0.188 on proof means that your whisky can improve its rank by 1 if you increase its proof by about 5. The relationship is weaker (14% explained) if you remove the top & bottom 5 proof whiskies as potential outliers.

Minnick does not seem to be biased by price. There is almost no relationship between a whisky’s price and its rank, especially when you throw out the pricey Michter’s 20 as an outlier.

If you combine both proof and price into a multivariate regression, you can explain a bit more of the variance in rank (about 25%). The data is here, if you want to experiment yourself.