Label says Bourbon but it’s not?

One of the things that make Bourbon unique is that nothing can be added post distillation other than water.  This is true regardless if it’s labeled Bourbon or Straight Bourbon. Other American whiskey types such as Rye, if it’s not labeled Straight, can have up to 2.5% HCFBM, which stands for Harmless Coloring Flavoring Blending Materials.  This could include caramel coloring or lab created flavoring. Which is why I often comment with the phrase ‘If it’s not Straight, you must abate’.

I was asked today about a product that said, ‘Straight Bourbon with Dark Cherry and Bourbon Vanilla Beans’.  They wondered since Bourbon can have nothing added but water, how this product could be labeled Bourbon? The same question is often posed to me about Bourbons that are finished in a secondary barrel such as port.  Obviously, a port barrel will add both coloring & flavoring. Also, Bourbon is only allowed to be aged in new charred oak containers, in which a used port barrel clearly does not meet this qualification.The answer is found in Ch. 7 of the TTB BAM.


The TTB allows a producer to state Bourbon, or Straight Bourbon, on the label of these products as long as it is followed with the statement of what was done to it that made it no longer Bourbon.  This is required to be on the front label. The example given by the TTB is the addition of Yellow #5, but this same concept applies to the example above of added cherries and vanilla as well as for whiskies finished in secondary barrels.

The TTB makes it very clear that these additions change the class type if the original class type prohibited any additives.  These whiskies become class type 641 – Whiskey Specialties. Bourbon is class type 141 and Straight Bourbon is class type 101.  You can look up the COLA label approval for these products and see that they are class type 641. Example:

The label on this product says Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Port Wine Barrels.  Is it Bourbon? No, it’s a Whiskey Specialties.

I’m also frequently asked about whiskies that have some type of staves or spires added to them, such as Maker’s Mark 46.  These additional staves fall under added HCFBM. They are specifically addressed by CFR 27 5.39 (c) which states “Treatment with wood. The words “colored and flavored with wood ___ (insert chips, slabs, etc., as appropriate)” shall be stated as a part of the class and type designation for whisky, in whole or in part, with wood through percolation, or otherwise, during distillation or storage, other than through contact with the oak container.”  So are these bourbon? No, they are Whiskey Specialities.

Many consumers do like these products and this post is not a commentary on the quality of any of these whiskies.  It’s an explanation of why these products are class type whiskey specialties. Bourbon does have special protection in the USA.  The well documented history of whiskey in America shows that rectifiers cut and added all sorts of materials to stretch whiskey or try to make inexpensive whiskey taste better with short cuts.  In some ways I see these class type 641 whiskies as going against the hard fought battle that earned Bourbon it’s place and protection in the USA and around the world. By having the words Bourbon followed by an explanation on the bottle causes consumer confusion.  The 641 class type is a catch all for whiskies that don’t fit neatly into any other type. My hope is that the TTB at some point defines some improved class types for these whiskies. I would also like to see age statements allowed. I would suggest calling these products Finished Whiskey on the front label & allowing the producer to then state the type of whiskey used along with whatever process on the back label.

Tater-Talk Myth Busting Patrol – Polished Whiskey

I recently came across a newspaper article about a company, Persedo Spirits, with a patented process that discussed polishing whiskey.  The article mentioned turning bad liquor into good. Over the years I have seen and tasted several other spirits produced by some type of contraption, they were poor substitutes for and easy to detect apart from properly aged spirits.  I would not have thought twice about this latest company except for the fact they were in my backyard in Alvin, TX which is about 35 miles south from me. 

They had convinced the newspaper reporter that their polished spirit “was considerably smoother with richer flavors”.   I wondered if they would entertain a local group of bourbon enthusiasts for a visit. I sent them an email and received a phone call back that day from the company President Ricky Ford.  We had a nice chat and I was honest about being skeptical, but I committed to approach his products with an open mind. Ricky understood and said he welcomed the challenge and would love to show us their facility. We picked a date and I arranged a group composed of myself and four other members from the Houston Bourbon Society to visit.

For me to be convinced that something positive was really happening I wanted to bring my own whiskey and watch it go through their process then conduct a triangle blind taste test with it.  Our group decided to use Evan Williams 100 proof Bottled in Bond for this test. It is a solid economical pour, but in my opinion is on the young side with some rough edges. Ricky told me their process required a minimum of 1.5 liters.  I purchased a 1.75 liter bottle and a 750 ml bottle of the Evan Williams and blended the two together to ensure homogeneity. Upon arriving at Persedo Spirits, we tested the proof and temperature of our test Bourbon to compare to the post process.

I knew they were located in an industrial warehouse space so I had a picture in my mind of what the place would look like.  I was wrong about that. About one quarter of the location is built out into a beautiful man cave environment with plenty of TV’s, seating, and a full bar.  Their crew welcomed us and the bar was fully set up with snacks and Glencairn tasting glasses. Ricky started by telling us the history of the process that his father had invented and how they progressed from that to their more complex patented process.  We took our Evan Williams and started the process on their small-scale device, which took about 30 minutes. He then showed us a much larger version that they use in production. Their business is modeled to handle having others send them spirits in totes for processing or they can license their equipment to be installed at their customers facility.  They are a federally registered DSP.

One thing they were very clear on is they respect traditional barrel aging.  They are not trying to replace it. They have a slogan of “Where Technology Respects Tradition”.  So, what exactly does happen in this process? You can visit their website for more detailed information, but I’ll give an overview here.  The spirit is placed under a mild vacuum while being subjected to ultrasound waves; it’s also subjected to the addition of food grade Nitrogen and CO2 gas.  The parameters can be adjusted based on the desired outcome. Other companies have used ultrasound before in an effort to simulate traditional aging, but the other elements Persedo claims help them be more selective about what changes.

While we were waiting for our sample whiskey to go through the process, our group tasted side by side a few other whiskeys they had previously polished.  They have a bar with a large selection of various spirits they had polished. For the first sample, I spotted Wild Turkey 101 on their bar. I drink enough WT 101 that I know the profile well.  I could easily tell the difference between the 2 samples. I preferred the before version, but that could be due to how I expected it to taste. We also tried samples of before and polished MGI 95/5 Rye in the form of Bulleit Rye, a local produced bourbon, and Weller SR.  For me, I’m not a fan of Bulleit Rye before or after. All five of us agreed that the local Bourbon was much better in the polished version.

By this time our Evan Williams was ready.  We proofed the after version and temperature corrected the proof. It had dropped 1 point, which in a 100-proof bourbon is also 1%.    My testing in all my drinking for science projects, where possible, is done in triangle blinds. Each taster is given 3 samples which might be 2 of the processed and 1 of the standard or vice versa.  Regardless 1 of the samples will be different, so the first step is to determine if the 1 different sample could be identified. The follow up question is, was the odd sample better or worse overall?

3 of the 5 tasters correctly identified the odd sample in round 1.  Of the 3 that correctly identified the odd sample, 2 preferred the unpolished sample and 1 commenting they liked the samples the same.

Ricky stated that the processed whiskey tends to taste better a few days after polishing.  Based on what I have learned about marrying whiskies I can accept that claim. Ricky had polished another large bottle of Evan Williams 100 proof 1 week prior, so we conducted round 2 with it.

2 of the 4 tasters correctly identified the odd sample in round 2.  Of the 2 that correctly identified the odd sample, 1 preferred the unpolished sample and 1 preferred the after polishing sample.

I know this was a small sample set, but 5 out of 9 times in the triangle blind the odd sample was correctly identified.  For me, this shows Presidio’s polishing process does change the whiskey. However, in the case of Evan Williams 100 proof, most of our group preferred the unpolished whiskey.  In the case of this Evan Williams, for me the difference was subtle but the polished whiskey developed a minerally note to it that makes the whiskey taste different and somewhat artificial.  I was able to identify it in the triangle blind. From the visit I did bring home the Evan Williams bottles in hopes to have more participate in a future triangle blind.

In tasting through the other samples provided, I tend to think their polishing process works better with younger spirits.  If you are a craft whiskey distillery that needs to sell young whiskey for cash flow, I’d suggest seeing for yourself what your whiskey tastes like before and after polishing.

“If it’s not straight, you must abate” blind tasting

Time for another drinking for science post.  This time it’s a blind tasting conducted within the Houston Bourbon Society, HBS, with 15 tasters of 18 straight whiskies.  This is the 3rd time I’ve done a blind tasting with this group. Here is a link that covers previous blind tastings – https://tater-talk.com/2018/01/23/blind-tasting-of-20-american-whiskies/.  This time when I recruited the tasters I specifically ask for volunteers that had not participated in the previous 2 blind tastings.  HBS has over 6,000 members and if you are a part of this group you’re likely a bourbon enthusiast so you know a little more than the average consumer.  Are these folks expert tasters? Perhaps or perhaps they represent and score whiskies like the average bourbon enthusiast. 

In the past blind tastings, I’ve used a 100 point scale system.  In this system most whiskies score in the 60-100 point range and so below 60 becomes meaningless.  This time I switched to a more simple 0-5 scale, with 5 points being the best whiskey possible and 0 points being the worst.  2.5 points would be the middle of the road. Tasters scored each whiskey in either whole or half points. Tasters turned in scores of 3 whiskies each week, so this tasting lasted 6 weeks.  I instructed the tasters to score each whiskey on its own, preferably tasted on different nights.

The theme of this tasting was straight whiskies; specifically Straight Bourbon or Straight Rye.  Whiskies that are finished in a secondary cask that previously held wine or another spirit are no longer straight whiskies and did not qualify for inclusion.  Straight Whiskies are the product of only 1 state and aged at least 2 years. I also tried to keep the proof range much narrower than in my previous blind tastings.  This time the lowest proof was 90 and the highest proof was 116.8.

The results:

Sorted by Median:

link to graphs in larger format – https://photos.app.goo.gl/UgurGZBgge83ErFt8

So should you draw some sort of line at the top and never try any whiskey below that line?  Keep in mind that for every one of the whiskies at least one of the 15 tasters scored it 3.5 points, meaning they really liked it.  You like what you like; it does not matter if this particular groups overall score is lower than you expected. For example, I particularly enjoy OF Rye which scored very poorly; I’m still going to buy another bottle, and soon as my open bottle is finished. 


Most of the whiskies selected are current versions purchased right before this tasting began.  The GB Balmorhea were 2 375ml bottles, which I have been told was the first batch. Barrell Bourbon HBS Mr Blue was a 14 year pick of TN Straight Bourbon done in 2018.  The OWA bottle was from my bunker; I included this as a thanks to the volunteer tasters for their time. They were a great group providing very good tasting notes and completing scores on time each week.  

My personal observations are current Wild Turkey Rare Breed is a great Straight Bourbon, easy to find and at a reasonable price.  Henry McKenna, at least the normal single barrel that us every day folks randomly buy off the shelf, is a solid bourbon, but it’s not the world’s best whiskey no matter what some asinine award show proclaims. 


Advertised age statements – Does the collar match the cuffs?

When is an age statement not an age statement?  In my previous blog post, https://tater-talk.com/2019/07/23/rums-misleading-age-statements-and-other-lies/, on misleading age statements in rum I listed 3 ways producers mislead consumers.    Today I’ll look at another common way spirit producers abuse age statement requirements. I’ve seen this method used by all types of spirits.

The TTB regulates alcohol beverage advertising.  Obviously, this includes rules on what can and can’t be stated on the product’s label.  This also extends to ads in newspapers, magazines, TV or radio broadcasts, internet based social media, as well as websites.

I’ve talked before about how some whiskey blog posts basically repack a brands PR on a new product as their new blog post.  Often these include an age reference, but the actual bottle is NAS – No age statement. I’ve always found this to be disingenuous; if the whiskey is “X” years old, then state it on the bottle.  This violates TTB code:

CFR 27 5.65 (b) (2) (c) Statement of age. The advertisement shall not contain any statement, design, or device directly or by implication concerning age or maturity of any brand or lot of distilled spirits unless a statement of age appears on the label of the advertised product.

Unless the bottle carries an appropriate statement of age, the producer can make no claims of age in the advertising.

Let’s look at some blatant examples of producers violating this.  


The new Buffalo Trace grain of the tater bottling, oops I mean the new Buffalo Trace E.H. Taylor, Jr. Amaranth Straight Bourbon whiskey in their PR states it is aged ‘over a decade’.  Yet the actual product released is NAS.

Flor de Cana states on their website their rum is 18 years old. The actual bottle has just a number which is not an age statement.

Here is Michter’s website saying this whiskey is a blend of 10 to over 30 year old whiskeys. The actual bottle has no age statement.

This is from the website for Straight Edge. This is a bourbon finished in XYZ cask, which makes it a class type 641 Distilled Spirits Specialty and by code not allowed to state an age statement.

Are these producers not aware of the US federal code?  Are they misleading consumers on purpose? Perhaps the first release is the PR advertised age statement, but future releases will be much younger?  I know I will trust for fact what is actually on the bottle and discount anything in advertising.  

Rum’s misleading age statements and other lies

There are many brands of rums who IMHO are guilty of misleading consumers about the ages of their rums.  This is done in 3 ways:


1.  Stating a number on the label without actually calling it an age statement.

2.  Using a solera system where only a small fraction of the rum matches the age statement.

3.  Complete fabrication.

An example of #1 is Flor de Caña.  They sell a range of aged rums which carry a number 7, 12, 18, or 25 on the label.  Next to that, instead of saying years old, they state ‘slow aged’, which means nothing as it has no legal definition so it is just a marketing gimmick.  They depend on retailers who will happily tell consumers in their advertisements and shelf tags that these products are actually ‘X’ years old. They even advertise that they are ‘Fair Trade Certified’, which as an organization just lost all credibility for me.  I sent Fair Trade an email with my concerns and am waiting to see if they respond.



Before I address #2, let’s look at the TTB rules on age statements for spirits.  From the TTB BAM Ch. 8 we find: “Age is the period during which, after distillation and before bottling, distilled spirits have been stored in oak containers”, “Age may be understated but may not be overstated”.  There are no exceptions for rum or for solera processes, which I’m convinced in Spanish means bullshit age statement. So unless every single drop of a rum in the bottle has been aged in oak containers for at least 23 years, then that producer can’t label their product with a 23 year age statement.  Zacapa 23 is not a 23 year old rum which consumers often mistake it as.

That brings this to example #3.  Without doing a compliance check by visiting each distillery it’s not possible for me to name brands.  I can do the math though. Rums aged in the tropics lose an incredible amount to angels share each year, from 7 to 12% a year.  Producers do consolidate barrels as they age which helps, but does not stop this process. Losing 10% the first year and 7% each year after, which is the low end,  the angel’s share is 60% after year 12. It’s an 82% loss by year 23. Start factoring in the time and expense of holding inventory for 23 years, the cost of exporting to the US, federal taxes, importation cost, the wholesaler’s and the retailer’s cut, it’s easy to see that when you see rums for sale for under $50 that boast age statements of over 20 years, alarm bells should be ringing.

The rum brands on my naughty list I will not buy include:

Antigua Porteno
Botran
Canasteros
Centenario
Dictador
Dos Ron
Flor de Caña
Kirk and Sweeny
Matusalem
Opthimus
Papa’s Pilar
Villa Rica
Vizcaya
Zacapa
Zafra

Now getting into the brands that add sugar or other sweeteners post distillation without disclosing such is a whole other issue for a future blog post.

Saint Cloud Bourbon – hop off the hype train

2019 bourbon drinkers, or least the type that likes to read whiskey blogs, seem to always be searching for the next big thing.  This is especially true if it is new and they can ‘get in on the ground floor’. Whiskey bloggers are more than happy to get the page clicks or podcast/YouTube views, so they promptly gush all over the new guy in the market.  Being first to get a review out from a free brand provided sample bottle is important work for these types. Most of these blog posts are the PR points of the brand regurgitated into an article along with some tasting notes. But since you are reading my blog you know my angle will be different and I will dig a little deeper.

Today’s new flavor of the month bourbon is St. Cloud.  Sites like The Whiskey Wash and Breaking Bourbon have quickly done their thing with little to no due diligence performed.  Ray Walker is the person behind this new brand of bourbon. Ray fancies himself as a successful entrepreneur. He started a French wine company, Maison Ilan, and claims he was the first American to make Grand Cru Burgundy wine.  In 2011 he was featured in a New York Times piece. He wrote a book, The Road to Burgundy, that reached 15th on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list in August 2013.  His wines at this point were in massive demand with futures sold only to the lucky buyers who had ‘got in on the ground floor’.  Two years later the bottom fell out and buyers did not receive their wine, which was paid for upfront. The winery was bankrupt and shut down.  Just as there are bourbon forums, there are wine forums where many of these buyers have vented their concerns and consider Ray a huckster. Ray himself admits orders have not been fulfilled and has promised to make these buyers whole, but to date for some this has been nothing but an empty promise.  This is not the first time Ray has made serious business mistakes that cost others money. When he was in his twenties he dealt in BMW parts where he also left buyers with unfulfilled orders. Ray explained this away as being young and irresponsible. If you wish to read more about the fall of Maison Ilan, please see this article – https://www.burgundy-report.com/burgundy-report-extra/09-2016/the-spectacular-rise-fall-of-maison-ilan/

Ray Walker is now trying to shed his past reputation and rebuild his brand with a sourced bourbon.  The Saint Cloud website mentions it’s made using a “perspective that comes only from making Grand Cru in one of the world’s top wine regions”.  For me this just screams marketing spin as Bourbon is uniquely American and has very little to do with wine making. The website says the bourbon is unique and refined being “produced in a traditional manner using a hybrid pot-column still without the use of many other modern aides and equipment”.  There’s nothing unique about pot-column hybrid stills as those are the most common used stills by craft distillers across the US. I am curious what modern aids and equipment are forgone.

This product at one point was pitched as  L’Americaine Kentucky Bourbon. Perhaps this was a little too French as it was launched as Saint Cloud Kentucky Bourbon.   Batch one is apparently from 12 barrels and yielded 3000 bottles. The website says it was distilled in 2016 and bottled in March 2019. This could be a 2 year or possibly a 3 year old bourbon.  We know that federal code requires all American whiskies under 4 years to have an age statement. Here is their required age statement:

It states under 4 years.  This is not a TTB compliant age statement.  The TTB even has an online FAQ that covers age statements that specifically list this as not acceptable.  See S11 here – https://www.ttb.gov/spirits/faq.shtml

Is this product Bourbon or Straight Bourbon?  The above label which is placed on the side of the label says Bourbon in one spot and Straight Bourbon in another. The class type is required by code to be on the front of label; the front of neck label on the bottle states Bourbon.  Their website mentions that it is Straight Bourbon. Perhaps it’s a case of someone with a wine background who does not know the difference?

Also, this is Bourbon.  Redesigned. Jim Beam just ‘redefined’ Bourbon last month with their Legent whiskey.  Who will ‘reconceive’ bourbon next month?

The website has some lovely videos that spends more time showing the bottle being produced than the bourbon.  I’ll grant the packaging is very nice and my estimate accounts at the retail level for about a third of the price.  Speaking of price, we have another young bourbon that is over the $100 price point; this is listed on their website with a purchase price of $114.99 per bottle.  The chairman of Diageo Javier Ferran once said “A key driver of perception of quality is price”. Looks like they are taking a page out of the Diageo playbook.

Why are the blog sites hyping up such a limited release from a new company run by a person with a questionable business background?  My answer is they cater to taters who only care about owning, likely to later flip, a bottle that is a limited release, be it any limited release, as long as the hype can drive up the secondary market.

The Whiskey Wash ignored my request for a comment.   https://thewhiskeywash.com/whiskey-styles/bourbon/new-saint-cloud-kentucky-bourbon-crafted-by-former-winemaker/

Breaking Bourbon responded with “His prior business failure and sorting through that mess, however, was not the focus of the tasting notes for the bourbon.” https://www.breakingbourbon.com/tnt/saint-cloud-kentucky-bourbon-2016-batch-1


Is KY Owl Confiscated the copycat of the ‘white van speaker scam’?

Have you ever heard of the ‘white van speaker scam’? If not wiki link – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_van_speaker_scam. The gist is a con artist driving a white van makes you believe they have some high-end speakers left over from some job and must move fast. They are willing to move well below retail; often 80% below ‘retail price’ but you must act NOW. The reality is they are selling super cheap imported from China crap speakers. They are still out there but now have moved to flat screen TV’s; I was approached just last year.

In my opinion, KY Owl Confiscated is the whiskey version of the ‘white van speaker scam’. Its bulk sourced non-age stated KY straight bourbon whiskey for $129. Every single major KY bourbon distillery sells the same for $25 or less. Since KY Owl has no distillery they bought this from one of those other major KY distilleries. They are pitching high-end bourbon but delivering something pretty basic. Did I mention it has no age statement?

The white van scam generally starts in parking lot with the con artist approaching you saying ‘you look like a cool dude’. And since we all want to be cool, this relaxes your guard against being scammed. KY Owl does about the same; they immediately tell you they are ‘The Wise Man’s Bourbon’.

I thought the KY Owl Rye was overpriced but at least it carried an age statement. Perhaps one could justify the price if this was a very limited release, but it’s a national release with wide distribution. It carries no added secondary value.

I can’t stop you from buying $25 whiskey for $129; it’s your money. However, I can at least say I warned you and I will laugh at all the fools who do buy it.