How to stop FOMO and enjoy bourbon again

During this ongoing bourbon boom, somehow retail prices of $80 to $200 per bottle of bourbon became normalized.  The masses that jumped into Bourbon over the past 3 to 4 years have bought into the fallacy that price equates to quality or rarity.  This is a result of masterful manipulation by spirits companies.  The chairman of Diageo, Javier Ferrán, said it best, “A key driver of perception of quality is price”.

One factor driving this is the influence from online whiskey reviews via bloggers, youtubers, tik tok, instagrammers, etc.  Those new to the game errantly give these folks credibility. Their motivation to review these overpriced whiskeys is largely that they are given free media kits and want to continue to receive free whiskey samples from them. It wouldn’t matter if they bought these bottles from a retailer as there is only one opinion in the world that is important,  you and your palate!  Seriously, go right now and unsubscribe from any site/person that reviews whiskey online, and indefinitely delete your patreon account.  Once that is done, come back to continue reading.

Here’s the deal.  Most of those $80-$200 bottles are put out by NDPs, non distilling producers, who sourced overpriced whiskey through a broker.  99% of the time this whiskey is distilled by one of the major US whiskey distilleries. So, until you know the profile of what the major distillers put out and which bourbons align with your palate, you are chasing waterfalls.  Just stop!  The great news is that these major producers put out plenty of bourbon that is affordable and widely available for the most part.  Below is a list from the majors to buy next if you haven’t tried them.

Some of the majors have multiple mashbills so some of them have 2 suggestions. With a few possible exceptions, these should be easy to find at any decent liquor store in the US and for under $30 a bottle.

-Barton – Very Old Barton 100 proof

-Buffalo Trace – Buffalo Trace.  Wheated mashbill – Weller Special Reserve 

-Four Roses – Four Roses yellow label (now a tan label)

-George Dickel – Dickel 12

-Heaven Hill – Evan Williams or Elijah Craig. Wheated mashbill – Larceny

-Jack Daniels – Jack Daniels black label

-Jim Beam – Beam Black or Knob Creek. High rye mashbill – Old Grand Dad 100 proof

-Maker’s Mark – Maker’s Mark

-MGPi – they have just started selling their own brands in certain states so if it’s available in your area then look for George Remus Bourbon; this will be the exception on price and more like $38.  If George Remus is not available, then look for any Straight Bourbon which the back label states “Distilled in IN”.

-Old Forester – Old Forester Signature 100 proof

-Wild Turkey – Wild Turkey 101

-Willett – Old Bardstown 90 proof square bottle – The square bottle is their own distillate

-Woodford Reserve – Woodford Reserve

These are all the real deal Straight Bourbon Whiskey with no flavoring or extra barrel finishing/staves added. They are all aged at least 4 years.  Try all these either by buying a bottle or by buying a pour at your local watering hole.  Narrow down your preferences to figure out your favorite. I could tell you my favorite, but this ain’t a whiskey review site. Once you have a favorite, explore other options from the same distillery. The next time you buy a more expensive hyped up bottle, because I know you taters still will, compare them to each other.  If your favorite from the list costs $25 and the new hyped bottle was 4 times the cost, ask yourself if the new one is 4 times as good.  Is it even better? 

I know if you truly take this approach, you will splurge way less often on these hyped bottles and you will begin to enjoy bourbon again.

George Dickel is Bourbon

George Dickel, which is owned by Diageo, recently cleared a new label for George Dickel and for the first time called the product Bourbon instead of TN Whisky.  Both Jack Daniels and George Dickel have always met the legal requirements to be called Bourbon although they elected to designate themselves as TN Whisk(e)y.  Nothing about the Lincoln County Process prevents a whiskey from being bourbon.

Now what surprised me was that George Dickel used a Diageo address in New York in the Produced By statement on the back label.

But since this was now labeled as Bourbon and not TN Whiskey, this label failed to meet 27 CFR 5.36 (d). My readers likely know this code requires the actual state of distillation to be on the label on certain types of American whiskey if the Produced by or Bottled by statement is different than the actual state of distillation.

I contacted Diageo and the TTB about this clear label code violation.  The TTB gave me their typical line; we will investigate it and take action as appropriate.  Diageo did get back to me and after a week later they responded back that a new COLA label submission had been filed which now says distilled and produced at Cascade Hollow in Tennessee.  I also checked on the old label with New York and it has now been surrendered.

The new label:

I would hope this puts an end to the false argument that Jack and George aren’t bourbons. But since many uneducated fools still think Bourbon can only be made in KY, I doubt it does.  In the meantime, I’m looking forward to this release of 8-year Dickel Bourbon.

KY Bourbon trip circa 2012

I stumbled upon a word document that I saved from a 2012 road trip report to KY. My have times changed.

Kentucky Bourbon Trip

Last week, Randy Blank & I left Houston on Tuesday morning for our road trip to KY.  We stopped Tuesday night in Memphis and we ate some above average BBQ at Cozy Corner (had been on Food Network’s D.D.D.) and drank some good beer at the Flying Saucer.  The next day on our way to Bardstown, KY, we toured the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY.  The factory where GM makes all Corvettes is right next door.

We arrived in Bardstown and had a group dinner that night at local restaurant with Wes Henderson from Angel’s Envy Bourbon.  Wes spoke to our group about his family’s involvement in the Bourbon industry and their decision to launch this product.  While this a “sourced” bourbon that is then aged in Port barrels, they do have plans to start their own craft distillery.  Wes did say this was produced for them to their mashbill specifications.  They plan to introduce a cask strength version of Angel’s Envy by the end of this year.  This will be aged much longer in port barrels; up to 2 years vs. 6 months.  Wes brought samples of this cask strength as well as standard Angel’s Envy for us to try.  I have to say while I’m not in love with this bourbon, I do love the passion Wes has for the product their family is making.  If you ever get the chance to meet Wes, be sure to ask him why he is not allowed in Canada (story involves a road crew and the band INXS).

The group I’m involved with has about 70 members and about half made this trip to KY.  After dinner, we had a conference room reserved at our hotel and everybody brought a bottle or 2.  It was a great selection of bourbon to select from. 

On Thursday, Randy & I got up early and went to friend’s house, Doug, who lives in KY out in the boonies.  I think his neighbors next door might be moonshiners.  We smoked 3 briskets that made the trip up with us from Texas.  One member of our group works as a chef and cooked a bacon wrapped stuffed pork loin that was out this world.  I’ve attached a picture – pure food porn.  While we were cooking at Doug’s, most of our group went to Four Roses for barrel selection and lunch.  Four Roses is at the top of my list and the group agrees, we selected 3 barrels for purchase. These barrels were recipe OBSF, OESK, and OESF – all will be bottled at proof and unfiltered. Doug has been collecting whiskey, both Bourbon and Scotch, for a very long time.  He recently finished out his basement and built shelving to display his collection.  It’s over 2500 bottles and I bowed down to this like I was at the altar.  I have a picture of it on my phone I can show you, but Doug asked for photos not to be posted to internet. 

On Friday morning, we visited Buffalo Trace to select barrels of Old Weller Antique (OWA).  They rolled out 12 barrels for us to pick from.  They were all the same age and all stored in same warehouse location.  One might think they would all taste the same, but you would be very wrong.  I brought with me a sample of off the shelf OWA.  I used this as baseline to compare.  After tasting the first 6 samples, I was disappointed and did not find anything I thought was better than the normal OWA.  However, started with barrel 7, I knew we had some winners.  On barrel 9, Randy looked at me and said If this barrel does not get selected, it’s going home with me.  The group purchased barrels 7, 8, and 9 and a subgroup purchased 2 additional barrels.

After the tasting, we received a behind the scene tour.  I’ve toured Buffalo Trace many times and was pleasantly surprised that we toured areas I had not seen.  This included the barrel fill and barrel dump area.  Attached is a picture of me at Buffalo Trace collecting some barrel char on the dump line.  These char pieces fall out of barrel and are great to use on your grill or smoker. FYI – I learned to always take a glass with on tours. Also, on this line, I filled my glass directly out of the barrel with some Ancient Ancient Age – very tasty.  Later we walked through a lab area where they were preparing for the next release in Old Taylor series.  This will be a barrel proof, about 134 proof, bourbon and should hit your retailer in 3-4 months.  A Buffalo Trace employee had a 200ml sample bottle he was passing around for us to nose.  Again – my glass came in handy!

From Buffalo Trace, we made our way to Independent Stave Company.   They make the barrels for several distillers.  I’ve traveled back to KY many times over the years without seeing this.  It is a very interesting process and while there is some automation, barrel assemble is still an art.  The cooper hand picks the staves required for the barrels.  Different distilleries specify how many staves per barrel, so the cooper must select the right size staves to complete barrel to the specifications.

From Independent Stave, we made our way back to Doug’s for some porch sitting and sipping bourbon.  Bob and Allen Richards had arrived in KY that morning and they caught up with us at Doug’s.  Doug has an amazing single malt collection that were open for anybody to sample, so Bob and Allan were both in heaven.  From Doug’s we left to go to the Gazebo.  Bardstown has a Best Western hotel called the General Nelson (GN).  The GN has an outdoor Gazebo that starting in 2001 became a default gathering place for forum members of  I made my first trip to GN in 2003 and have been a regular at the Gazebo table since.  Hundreds of folks show up that I might see only once a year but through the years have become good friends.  Hard to put in words, but suffice to say, I think it is something special.

The next morning, we visited Drew Kulsveen and KY Bourbon Distillers (KBD).  I can say that tomorrow has finally arrived – KBD is now distilling.  It took many years, but KBD is now filling 16 full size barrels a day.  They are still working on some pump issues and plan to ramp up to 50 barrels a day.  Alas, this will not be ready for sale for many years.  Our group was there to taste other barrels that KBD owns.  Our group had previously purchased barrels from this specific source when it was 7 years old, then again at 8 and now 9 years old.  We tasted from 6 barrels and selected 2 for purchase.  Honey, maple, brown sugar, cherries – a great bourbon that we will have bottled at barrel proof and unfiltered.  We asked to Drew to hold for and age to 10 years 2 additional barrels.  Last minute, Drew decided we might be interested in an 8 year wheated bourbon.  We sampled 4 different barrels.  I thought they could use some more age and passed on this one.  Others disagreed and the group has purchased 1 barrel.

Drew gave us the full tour.  The distillery is a thing of beauty.  Drew has the Willett family original recipe and they are distilling using that mashbill.  They are making both Bourbon and Rye Whiskey.  After tour, Drew grabbed a drill and took a few of us up to the top of one of their rickhouses.  The drill is a quick way to grab a sample from a barrel.  Drew pulled samples we tasted the KBD distilled bourbon.  Just a camera phone picture but thought this one was a good shot.  I have been in rickhouses before, but usually they are full.  Being on the 5th floor looking down at empty rickhouse and knowing it would soon be full was surreal.  This KBD visit was my highlight of this trip.

After spending the morning sampling 10 different barrel proof bourbons and then some straight from the barrel, I’ll admit I went and took a good nap.  Without me, the group went on the Heaven Hill (HH).  HH makes many bourbons including Evan Williams and Elijah Craig.  One member from California has previously purchased barrels from HH and has developed a very good relationship with them.  Our group prefers to buy single barrel at barrel proof unfiltered bourbon.  HH has always said no to this request in the past.  They would only sell something that went into one of their standard offerings.  Well, they finally said OK and decided to show off what they could do.  They rolled these barrels for tasting:

Bernheim Wheated Bourbon – same product as in Parker’s Heritage Wheated Bourbon
10.6 YO – 126.9PF
11.6 YO – 122.4PF

Rye – DSP 354
3.6 YO – 126.0PF
3.6 YO – 125.6PF

Old Fitzgerald – distilled at Stitzel Weller
20YO – 130.0PF

Bourbon – Prefire HH
22.1 YO – 152.1PF
22.2 YO – 152.3PF
21.2 YO – 129.5PF

Bernheim Wheat – Straight Wheat Whiskey
7.5 YO – 136.0PF
6.2 YO – 130.2PF

Mellow Corn – corn whiskey aged in used barrels
8 YO – 125.5PF
11 YO – 139.7PF

This group did not have prior commitments for purchase at HH, so we are currently polling members to see what we might purchase.  While you might get the most excited about the 20YO Stitzel Weller Old Fitz, all said it was too woody.  Most thought the Rye was too young.  Corn Whiskey, aka legal moonshine, usually is aged very little.  The 8YO corn whiskey tasted has received some great reviews. 

Late Saturday afternoon, we had a cookout at the GN.  One straightbourbon member who works in a restaurant had Allen Brothers donate 32 steaks.  A couple of pork butts were also smoked and I made up some Thai Slaw.  Several others brought side dishes and desserts.    From here, Bob, Allan, and myself went to KY Bourbon Festival Sampler.  Most of the distilleries and brands have booths setup where you can get a sample, typically in a logo-ed glass that you get to keep.  Jim Rutledge, Master Distiller, at Four Roses was there and we had a nice conversation with him.  Then back to the Gazebo.  I was designated driver that night, so my participation was very limited.  I did sample of Cabin Still at 90 proof from the 70’s that was remarkable. 

We started road trip back early Sunday morning.  We elected a different route coming home – stopping at casino resort in Biloxi on Sunday night.   This route takes us route by a cousin of mine in Hartselle, AL, so able to stop and have a brief visit.  Randy & I both won a little money gambling (although him way more than me).  The other great thing about this route is it passes by Don’s Specialty Meats outside of Lafayette, LA.  I can’t pass on fresh hot cracklin and also stocked up on boudin, crawfish tail meat (from LA – not China), some rabbit sausage and few other items.

Overall, this was the best trip I have been on the KY.  Looking forward to next year’s version.

Labels that tater too far

Having a name for a private barrel or store pick goes back a long time.  Doug Phillips, who picked among the very first WFE barrels in 2006, had the label information filled in with green ink.  A second pick was done in black. Over time, these bottles became known simply by Doug’s Green or Black Ink. In 2014 the Facebook group T5C upped the ante by naming a Smooth Ambler Old Scout pick FS/FT, an acronym meaning For Sale/For Trade.  More creative barrel pick names followed. For the most part, the producers allowed a certain amount of characters and this was applied to the bottle label on the producer’s bottling line. Certain bottles have empty areas and groups/stores learned they could take advantage of this by placing a graphical sticker there and no longer be bound to the producers character limitations.  These would typically be applied after the store received the bottles.

This trend quickly caught on as many saw taters clamor for bottles with these new additions. The sticker game was on full force.  Secondary sales on bottles can be easily manipulated, some groups used stickers to engage in pump and dump schemes. They hyped up the latest pick, adorned with a creative sticker, as the best.  Because many taters have an irrational FOMO (fear of missing out) they are easily conned into believing the hype and paying 10 to 20 times original cost of these picks.

In 2018, a new trend emerged – labels that covered up the original producers label.  Unfortunately, most stores aren’t aware of federal labeling codes that stipulate certain information is mandatory on liquor labels.  Federal codes even specify where on the bottle certain information must be located. Here is one example:

This is the front label of a Knob Creek 120 proof bourbon pick.  The TTB BAM Ch. 1 on mandatory label information states that front label has the brand name and the class/type.  In this case that would be Knob Creek and Straight Bourbon Whiskey. This label covers up both.

Here is an example of a store applied label that covers up the mandatory government alcohol warning along with the required producer’s statement.  

Naming a barrel pick with a good or funny name or applying a sticker in a blank area is fine.  Covering up required labeling information is going too far.

This post inspired by these 2 you might be a whiskey tater reasons:

59.  Hype up any barrel pick you bought bottles of only later to flip a bottle on secondary

76.  You have an irrational fear on missing out by thinking this ‘limited’ special release or that single barrel pick is the ONE.

Basil Hayden’s – It’s so smooth

Basil Hayden’s is part of the original Beam Small Batch Collection which also includes Baker’s, Booker’s, and Knob Creek.  Beam uses 2 different bourbon mashbills, a low rye and a high rye bourbon. The low rye produces most of their whiskies and the high rye produces only 2 – Old Grand-Dad and Basil Hayden’s. Basil Hayden’s, with its high price point and over the top bottle packaging, shouts to the consumer that it is a premium bourbon.  As a matter of fact when friends who don’t really know bourbon, that want to surprise me with a bottle as a gift, often choose Basil Hayden’s. Gifted bourbon is always good and there is nothing wrong with this selection. It’s a pleasant pour, but at a low 80 proof it just does not excite me. For 1/3 less in price one can purchase Old Grand-Dad 114, which remains one of the best values in bourbon today.  A few years back there were rumors that Beam was planning on discontinuing OGD 114. I purchased a case and tucked it away in the back of a closet. Thankfully those rumors proved to be false as OGD 114 is still readily available. But I still sleep better knowing that the case sits there, just in case.

In 2014 Basil Hayden’s was 8-year age stated whiskey.  Now the top label of current Basil Hayden’s states ‘Artfully Aged’, which is marketing speak for we removed the age statement.  They dropped the age statement claiming that this will allow our distiller to maintain the same profile by artfully blending younger and older whiskeys.  A year later I did a group blind tasting, including both the 8-year version as well as the NAS version. Blind tasters were asked which they liked better.  The results were evenly split, which indicated Beam did a good job maintaining that profile.

Beam Suntory just recently introduced a 80 proof 10-year age stated Basil Hayden’s KY Straight Bourbon Whiskey with a suggested retail of $60.  The standard version here in Texas goes for about $32. Has the standard version maintained the profile of the old 8-year bourbon as Beam indicated that it would?  Or has younger whiskey been gradually introduced into the mix? Is a 2-year bump in age worth almost double the price? Or is the price that high just because the 10-year version will be a ‘limited’ quantity release?  I’ll stick with the OGD 114 and be very happy.

It has become a trend for brands to drop age statements and then, a few years later, reintroduce very similar whiskey with a much higher price.  Wash, lather, rinse, repeat.

Whiskey tater reason 76.  You have an irrational fear on missing out by thinking this ‘limited’ special release or that single barrel pick is the ONE.

Saving Taters from Themselves – the Bourbon 30 Ban

Recently the admins of several major sites where secondary sales of spirits occur made a joint decision to ban all products from 1 distillery.  And before I continue, no I will not name or get you into any of these sites and yes, it is illegal for individuals without a license to sell or trade spirits.  That said these sites exist and hundreds of transactions occur every day. The distillery was Bourbon 30 Craft Spirits.

Bourbon 30 Craft Spirits was started by Jeff Mattingly.  They specialize in ‘the art of barrel finishing’ and ‘direct purchase of their barrel crafted spirits’.  Pictures of their website show a small still on site, but I’m not sure how much they distill themselves. From sources, their primary business is a NDP, Non-Distilling Producer.  They have sourced barrels from various producers and allow customers to procure a private barrel selection or even a blend of barrels as well as different ‘finishes’. There is nothing at all wrong with that concept.   And this ban does nothing to stop his business from continuing their normal everyday operations.

Bourbon 30 first started bottling single barrels in 2014 but it was not until 2017 that the hype for them in the bourbon community began.  Ed Bley, who was the spirits buyer for a large liquor store well known in KY, had developed a strong following for his barrel picks done for this store. He picked over 200 barrels for this store.  Ed, who in my opinion has a great whiskey palate, worked with Bourbon 30 to create a marriage of whiskies from barrels procured from Bourbon 30. The first version was popular enough that a second version was also done in 2018.  This time lines were out the door with waits to procure a bottle. It did not take long for the fresh flippers, those who buy to immediately resell, to start listing these bottles on secondary sites. I asked Ed on his thoughts on his picks being flipped on the secondary market.  

He stated “When I began picking whiskey barrels it was a passion I can’t describe. I love the thrill of the chase. It wasn’t about profit, because I made very very little money working for a liquor store. It was about sharing a passion with my friends. Today I’m saddened. I’m sad that Jeff has to deal with this, I’m sad that as a secondary market that we’ve turned into a pack mentality as a group. What we don’t realize is that we have built up an industry together. Today we are working together to tear it down.  Wade was nice enough to ask my opinion on my bottles not being able to be sold on the secondary market. My answer is I’m sad that we even have to ask that question, when my entire goal has been to share my passion with you. At some point some greedy individuals decided they deserved to make a lot of money off of the hard work of others. This is when it went from being a positive to a negative.”

These secondary sites allow a national reach for a product that was conceived to be sold in 1 local market.  Demand from a national base exceeds local supply and the price adjust up to accommodate. Those in KY think they have struck gold; and they have – tater gold. I’m convinced taters have this fear about missing out.  Any single barrel that starts to get some positive blog posts or mention in one of the gazillion podcasts out there can instantly start a tater frenzy.

I have tasted 3 whiskies from Bourbon 30 including one called Bald Monk.  I don’t really do reviews of spirits on my site because I like what I like, and you like what you like.  Sometimes those might align but often not. The 3 whiskies I tried from Bourbon 30 all were to me average whiskies.  I would put them on the scale of standard products from big producers like Wild Turkey 101, Elijah Craig, Eagle Rare or Buffalo Trace.  The 3 whiskies I tried from Bourbon 30 all retailed over $100, which already puts it in my category of a big stretch.

One of the nicest thing that has come from these secondary sites is some bottles are sold with proceeds going to charity.  Some of these Bourbon 30 picks sold for charity with over $1000 raised per bottle. Unfortunately, I think this created a market impression that Bourbon 30 must have old Stitzel Weller stocks laying around.   This lead to Bourbon 30 doing more limited release barrel picks that taters were lining up for overnight, primarily so they could immediately sell on the secondary markets. I have always believed a sale can only take place when you have both a willing buyer and a willing seller.  However, one thing that can happen in any market is market manipulation. A seller ‘sells’ a bottle to his friend, but it is a fake sale to create a market established price. The Bourbon 30 bottles reached a point the admins of these groups feared this was happening, thus the ban.  Based on my opinion of the Bourbon 30 products I’ve sampled, I think they are saving taters from themselves. If they ever opened this bottle, they would realize have foolish they were to pay the going rate.

Most of what MGPi have available to sell to NDP’s is very young whiskey or its older stocks are mostly light whiskey or whiskey that has been aged in used barrels.  2 recently released Bourbon 30 whiskies that led to the ban were ‘Butterface’ and ‘Everything Butterface’. Each of these were labeled Bourbon Whiskey. My source confirmed both contained a percentage of Light Whiskey.  The Bald Monk that Bourbon 30 bottled says on the label that it is ‘Straight Blended Whiskey’. To be labeled this the product must contain a mixture only Straight Whiskies. It can’t have any finishing, nor oak staves added to the blend.  It can’t have any light whiskey added to the mix. Bourbon 30 has violated federal labeling codes.  I’m not sure if they did so intentionally or because lack of knowledge of the federal labeling code.  I reached out to Jeff Mattingly for comment, but he declined to answer.

There are many rumors out there about the Frankenstein whiskies Bourbon 30 created in trash cans.  I’m not here to comment on their process but will say consumers need to be able to trust producers when it comes to labels complying with federal code.  Straight Blended Whiskey sounds much better than Blended Whiskey finished with added oak staves, but you must label whiskies truthfully.

I’ll let Ed finish with this statement “We look a lot better raising glasses than torches. Let’s get back to drinking and less selling please.”

All Tennessee Whiskies are Bourbon? What about Jack Daniel’s?

“All Tennessee Whiskies are Bourbons”.   I saw this statement made the other day in one of the Facebook Bourbon info groups and would like to address this.  When a US produced spirit is labeled Whiskey, it means it meets the standards for federal code class type 140 – Whisky. Note the TTB always uses Whisky but Whisky/Whiskey spellings are interchangeable.  Class type 140 is a very broad whiskey definition. Requirements for Class type 140 are the spirit must be made from grain, distilled below 190 proof, and bottled at not less than 80 proof. Following federal codes for whisky, it must have contact with an oak container, be it new or used, charred or not.  Up to 2.5 % coloring/flavoring/blending materials may be added without disclosure. If a spirit is produced completely in one state then that producer may put the state in front of the product type on the label. Therefore, a distillery in TN could produce TN Whiskey that was distilled to 189 proof, aged in used barrels and have 2.5% flavorings added to it.  This would be TN Whiskey, but it is a far cry from Bourbon. So, the statement of “All Tennessee Whiskies are Bourbons” is false.

Confusing matters, somewhat, is the fact Tennessee passed its own law defining TN Whiskey in 2013.  While TN law does not override federal code, it does establish their own standard. It mostly follows the federal code definition of Bourbon but adds “Filtered through maple charcoal prior to aging” as a step.  It also gives a legally dubious exception for this step that only applies to one distillery in TN. However, nothing in the TN code prevents the use of 2.5% flavorings. So even under this TN law, one could make TN whiskey that has 2.5% flavorings that would still not meet the legal definition of Bourbon.

This brings us to the never ending online debate of “Is Jack Daniels a Bourbon?”  Jack Daniels is labeled as TN Whiskey. It meets all the enacted TN whiskey laws and JD claims they add no flavorings or coloring.  The step of filtering through maple charcoal prior to aging is referred to as the Lincoln County process. Those who say JD is not a bourbon usually point to the Lincoln County process as the step that prevents it as being such.  The other camp points out nothing in the federal code prevents Bourbon from employing charcoal filtering. In fact, many bourbons state on the label that they are charcoal filtered. In general, charcoal filtering removes compounds and does not them add them.  I fall into the camp that since nothing is being added JD could be called Bourbon if they so elected. I rarely see asked but I have often pondered if JD could be called Straight Bourbon? It’s aged 4 years so it meets the age requirement but then it gets a little more complicated.

There is a section in federal code that discusses when formulas are needed for spirits that have been changed through a process that alters their character, composition or class type.  Straight Bourbon never requires a formula. 27 CFR 5.27 (c) any filtering or stabilizing process which results in a product which does not possess the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to that class or type of distilled spirits; and, in the case of straight whisky, results in the removal of more than 15 percent of the fixed acids, volatile acids, esters, soluble solids, or higher alcohols, or more than 25 percent of the soluble color.  Does the Lincoln County process, which is a filtering process used by JD, remove more than 15% of these?  If the answer is yes, then JD is not Straight Bourbon. Since JD elects not to call their whiskey Bourbon or Straight Bourbon we may never know the answer to this.

Update – Jeff Selgren said I should credit him as the person that stated incorrectly that “All Tennessee Whiskey is Bourbon”, so Jeff so referenced.  

OWA/W12 – How long does it take whiskies to marry together?

Have you ever made a batch of the Old Weller Antique/Weller 12 mix?  If so, how long does it need in the bottle to marry together for the best results?  Is it instant? Do you wonder about these things or is it just the whiskey geek in me?  I was of the opinion that if you take 2 different bourbons, put them in a bottle and give them a good shake, they would be as mixed together as possible.  While visiting various distilleries and listening to folks much more knowledgeable I kept hearing it takes time for whiskies to come together, or marry.

If you noticed I called it OWA/W12 mix and not the much more common social media term of “Poor Man’s Pappy.”  This is because I know the gentleman that devised this mix, Gary Gillman. Gary was actively involved in the forums of and was routinely vatting different whiskeys.  So much so that we referred to his process as Gillmanization. When Weller Centennial was discontinued around 2008, Gary developed this mix to be a replacement for Centennial and not as a substitute for Pappy.  I also try to refrain from using the word blend and instead use vatting, marrying or mix. Blended US whiskies with their use of GNS, aka Vodka, as well as coloring/flavorings have a poor, deservedly so, reputation.  

I decided to put this to a test.  This was done a few years back before I started blogging.  I mixed up one batch using the typical 60% OWA and 40% W12 which I let marry in a bottle for 30 days.  The other batch used the same ratio but was mixed together with a good bottle shake right before the test.  I used the same blind triangle test as I did in the “Did my bourbon change in the bottle?” tests. Testers would taste 3 samples; 2 from the bottle that was freshly mixed and 1 from the bottle married for 30 days, or vice versa.  Either way, one of the 3 samples is the odd sample and if change is perceptible enough then it would be identifiable. I did not ask which tasted better, I only asked if they could identify the odd sample.  We had about 6 people at this whiskey get together and they all tried this test. A few repeated the test with new blind samples so that I had a total of 10 tests.  9 out 10 testers identified the odd sample. Beyond that most also correctly identified which was the aged for 30-day sample. One tester did this twice by just nosing samples.  My conclusion is that the time in the bottle the whiskey marries together will noticeably change the taste.

I’m not sure what the optimal amount of time involved would be to properly marry.  Is it 2 weeks or 2 months? So I asked an industry expert, Nancy L. Fraley, for her opinion.   Nancy has worked with many distilleries on blending and whiskey maturation. While I asked her about this OWA/W12 mix, should gave me a much more elaborate answer ranging from a producer production scale to relating that to our small consumer project.  Here is Nancy’s full answer:

“From a production standpoint, I was trained and have seen from experience that after barrels are harvested and dumped, the longer they are allowed to marry in stainless steel tanks (and always of a passivated grade of either 316L or 2205), the better the mixture will be. Whenever I marry casks, doing a minimum of 1 month, although 3 to 6 months or longer in stainless is what I always prefer whenever possible, assuming the production schedule allows that and the tank space is available.

Depending upon the product I’m working on, if I can allow a blend to marry in exhausted casks rather than using a passivated grade of stainless steel, that is even better because it is an “organic” oxidation vessel, with gentle ingress and egress of oxygen, which allows the fatty acids, esters, aldehydes, organic acids, etc. to marry and recover from the mixing more quickly. Exhausted casks are perfect for this sort of thing, because when you have finished a product, you are not looking for new tannins or other oak extractive products, and the exhausted barrel acts as a sort of “lung”. I’ve used exhausted casks anywhere from 1 month to several years for marriage. But if you are using exhausted casks as oxidation vessels for whiskey marriage, then it is also important that you have the right maturation conditions, with proper temperature and humidity requirements for what you’re trying to accomplish.

After a finished whiskey is bottled, I always prefer that the newly bottled whiskey have a chance to “rest” before going out into the world to distributor’s warehouses, retail stores, or in connoisseur’s liquor cabinets. The bottling process is quite aggressive and can literally “shock” a spirit, so if you don’t allow at least the minimum amount of time for the bottles to rest, it will be very noticeable to the consumer. For this, whenever possible, I like to allow anywhere from 2 weeks to 1 month.

Now, on the consumer side of things, for connoisseurs who have taken an interest in blending 2 or more whiskeys at home and then putting them back in a bottle in order to experiment with new taste profiles, you might have noticed that when you first mix the whiskeys together and then taste it fairly soon after the mixing, it will usually be somewhat aggressive, hot, and angular. You might even notice that this effect is amplified the faster you mix the liquids together, whereas if you go more slowly when mixing the liquids, it will be less aggressive. It will also taste more aggressive if you vigorously mix the liquids together once in the bottle.

Why is this? Well, first of all, you have to be very gentle with alcohol, whether you are mixing barrels in a production setting or mixing different whiskeys together as a connoisseur. When you first mix different alcohols together, the molecular bonds are disjointed and interrupted, and thus, the mix will taste somewhat “spiky” and angular. You might not be very pleased with your initial attempt at mixing when you first taste it. But it takes time for the fatty acids, alcohol molecules, and other congeneric content to bond properly. And also, you have to remember that even when you allow a new mix to marry in a bottle, there is in effect some sort of “maturation” going on. Legally, of course, you cannot have “maturation” this way, but there are indeed chemical changes which are occurring in the presence of oxygen that take time to create.

As a general rule, I find that at least 1 month is necessary for this process to occur in a glass bottle. If you experiment with this at home, I would recommend making up a batch of 2 or more whiskeys that you mix that is large enough to take a taste of it every week to observe the changes. The first time you taste, do it immediately after you have blended your components together and take copious tasting notes. Keep the remainder of your sample in a dark, cool place. A week after you make the blend, taste it again and take notes. Do this every week for at least a month, and two months if possible.

Over time, you might notice that the blend starts to “relax,” become less angular each time you taste, until it eventually becomes rounder and softer on the palate. Notice whether or not new flavors and aromas develop. For example, you might notice some citrus notes developing, whereas those notes were not present in any of the component whiskeys. Occasionally, you might find that your home blend develops to a point, but then goes “flat” or dead, where it doesn’t seem very interesting anymore. In that case, try making minor adjustments to it, such as adding maybe no more than 5 mL of another whiskey component that might have more spice, sweetness, fruitiness, etc. You can always add more, but it is best to make these adjustments a little at a time and watch how they start to affect the mix before adding more.”

Value Proposition of Higher Proof US Whiskies

Whiskey geeks love higher proof whiskies.  We tend to like sipping whiskey neat at higher proof and the flexibility to add our own water to our desired proof.  In the heat of Houston summers, I often drink bourbon with a few ice cubes. Higher proof bourbon can hold up to ice without becoming too diluted.  In recent years the US distilleries and NDP’s have responded with expanded offerings at higher proof.

These higher proof offerings often come at significantly higher prices. The reality is you are paying a premium for something that simply has less water added to it.  It’s generally the same whiskey just bottled at a different proof. Knowing that, it becomes a math calculation to determine the premium you are paying for a more concentrated version.  It’s true that these versions often come in more fancy packaging. Some are not necessarily bottled at barrel proof, but perhaps at a marketing term of ‘Full Proof’ or just at a higher proof.  This is often done so they can have 1 label that covers all the possible proofs that will come out of any barrel or batch of barrels. Considering that I get my own water for virtually free, I decided to break some bottles down for price comparison.  This shows how much premium these higher proof bourbons carry. The chart below is based on pricing in my local market Houston for 750ml bottles; pricing varies some by region.

Barrel Proof premium rev 1

link to above – Barrel Proof spreadsheet

I’m sure I’ll get some feedback of my pairings. I’m not saying these are exact but I am saying they are close.  Is Stagg Jr really a barrel proof version of Buffalo Trace? They are the same mashbill and around the same age with just a difference in proof.  WP Boss Hog V is a 13 year MGPi Rye finished in secondary casks. WP Old World is 1 year off at 12 years and is MGPi Rye finished in secondary casks at a lower proof.  Blanton’s SFTB is EU’s current pricing converted to USD, but you still have to get it to the States.

As you can see the range is from an extremely reasonable zero % increase to a whopping 399% increase.  Overall we are paying significantly more for higher proof US whiskies. Are they worth this extra cost?  That always comes down to an individual’s personal preference. For me, I’m going to start drinking more OGD 114 and I need to go purchase some WT Rare Breed.

Next in this series I’ll look at how much premium producers are charging for finishing whiskey for a short period in secondary casks.

Proof Calculations computed using this calculator –

Whiskey Show Advice & Etiquette

If you are a whiskey geek like me then you have probably attended whiskey shows like The Whiskey Extravaganza, Whiskies of the Worlds or numerous other events like these.  Producers at these shows pour various small samples of their whiskies. As a consumer it’s a great way to try new whiskies and get to know the brands a little more. For whiskey companies it’s a great way to introduce new whiskies to consumers as well as explain what make their brand unique.

One of my pet peeves is the tater that decides to have a 30-minute conversation with the brand rep while trying every single whiskey in the portfolio with a long line that stands behind him.  The proper etiquette is try 1 maybe 2 pours depending on the line and keep conversation reasonable but brief. Typically, the show’s lines tend to become shorter as the event progresses. So, if you want to have a longer more in-depth conversation stop back by later.  This advice also applies to the brand reps. You don’t need to start with “Our distillery began distilling 230 years ago” and continue with the complete history. I know it’s your job to educate customers on your brand, but develop a concise discussion that will cover the essential facts.  If a customer skips a table because the line is long both the consumer and vendor lose.

If you live in a major market like I do in Houston, these shows are frequent events.  Some are good and some are just a money grab, one and done type of shows. I suggest searching reviews on past events as well as looking at what companies will be pouring.  Respected shows will publish this list on their website. A danger sign that a show will not be very good is if the list is not made available to the public prior to the event.

I spoke with Kristopher Hart whose company runs a well-produced local whiskey event in Houston, Houston Whiskey Social, about managing lines.  Kristopher said “My goal has always been to shape the event in a way to prevent any build ups at the table to allow conversation to happen. We encourage a 10-14 person per Vendor ratio. So, if we have 70 vendors then we have 700-1000 people”.

Also keep in my mind it’s not a race or a competition to try the most.  Generally, if you tried every sample at one of these shows, you are not going to remember any of them.  Please use the dump buckets. Good shows will place these on every table or have them conveniently located.  Yes, that might be a great whiskey in your glass, but after you sampled it, it’s not being disrespectful to dump the rest.

Don’t be afraid to try new whiskies from producers you are not familiar with.  Yes, I love that sample of The Balvenie 21 PortWood, but if it is a whiskey you are very familiar with perhaps skip it and find something new to try.  I tend to try mostly new to me whiskies and from that I find a favorite that I will later purchase a bottle of.