View Full Version : "American Whiskey Crisis?"
See the August 4th post here in John Hansell's blog.
He also has a link to the article that he spoke of, I added that link below also.
I have avoided the so called micro and/or craft distillers bandwagon because so far I don't like them.
Just like in the early '90's when everyone and his brother put out a micro beer and there was a lot of swill with pretty labels and stories about how good it was because it was made by the little guys.
If a newbie to bourbon thinks these mircos are the real deal then they will naturally reject bourbon.
I don't agree that the craft products are lesser than mainstream bourbon, they're just different and call for different treatment often (e.g. use in cocktails).
There are some 3 and 4 year old bourbons out there from mainstream producers which are pretty young-tasting too. Plus, in time, the craft producers will put older product on the shelves, so it will all even out at some point.
Finally, just because someone tried something and didn't like it, does that mean he won't try another brand of the same type of liquor? If I tried Laphroig first and didn't like it, I don't think that would stop me from trying another malt I might like better. The article was interesting but I don't really see the problem here.
The idea of maturation time has long been understood by wine producers. Even in the bottle the organic and chemical components of wine continue to interact with each other, forming new compounds and precipitating others like tannin together. That process gives way to new, complex flavors and richer textures. I have long believed that whiskey reacts the same way to time, just not as quickly or drastically.
Clay Risen does a good job. He is much more knowledgeable than many who have tackled the subject. He also has a knack for stirring the pot and sensationalizing a subject. Crisis? I don't think so. For one thing, the majors with their properly-aged products are doing a good job of counter-pointing the micros. To the extent there is a 'crisis' that may cause some harm, I believe it will be to the micro-distilleries themselves, who may have some good ideas and good products to offer, but who alienate consumers by over-promising and under-delivering. I don't see it hurting American whiskey overall.
Of course, I am not for alienating and over-promising, but the consumer is robust. One bitten, twice shy (no pun intended!).
The thread Thad has started makes me think that one could as easily tax major American distillers with initiating a series of changes that may have affected the palate of their products, in that entry proof was raised from 110 to 125, many distilleries (most?) now distill over 130 proof whereas most used to distill under it according to the article Thad mentioned, wood is in some cases (most?) now kiln-dried instead of left to dry outdoors before being made into staves and barrels, dried yeast is often used instead of jug yeast, and so on. But it is what it is, and indeed excellent whiskey is still made by the distillers of America. In some cases it may need to be aged longer, or mingled differently, so they do that. I see it the same viz. the craft products, they have an inherent interest, e.g., historical, but often taste great in the right cocktail or mixed drink.
A further point I'd like to make is, I've bought a few craft whiskeys (two or three were bourbon or rye) and I recall serving them to people who liked a whisky drink but had no particular expertise in bourbon. Everyone liked them! Sure, most drank them with Coke or something on those lines, but still, they found an appreciative audience.
One correction, Gary. In recent years the industry has returned to naturally air-seasoned oak for barrels. If kilns are used at all it is for 'finishing' the wood after the natural seasoning. Some producers, Maker's Mark in particular, have never used kiln-dried oak.
I'm open to the idea that small producers can make a good product, but just being small doesn't mean it has to be good. Also, I'm probably not going to spend a lot of money on something 80 proof and 2 years old. Then we have the small barrels age faster claim. The big distillers have capital and people with technical knowledge and experience. If the small barrels were so good, wouldn't they all use them? Like the micro brew proliferation of the '90s; many will go away, some successful ones may remain. Overall, I think it's good.
To the extent there is a 'crisis' that may cause some harm, I believe it will be to the micro-distilleries themselves, who may have some good ideas and good products to offer, but who alienate consumers by over-promising and under-delivering. I don't see it hurting American whiskey overall.
Don't forget over-charging .
The veritable drop in the ocean they produce, the limited distribution, and generally sky-high price point limits the impact of the micros to a pretty small audience... too small to cause a crisis.
Point taken Chuck, thanks.
I see where this could turn off the audience that loves bourbon enough to post on a forum dedicated to that idea, but I don't see it driving new people away from the spirit. Newbies will still start with Beam, Makers, or Canadian Whiskies, and won't buy an expensive product. If they like the "starters", they'll play around until they find a higher shelf brand they really like. Some might be more willing to try a local brand for the first time, and might like it. I don't see where this threatens the big guys or the marketplace at all.
I don't see a problem either - doesn't the spirit have to age at least 2 years in new white oak barrels to call it straight whiskey? If I were to see "aged 3 months in a one gallon barrel", or not see anything at all, it would tell me all I need to know...
And I agree with StraightNoChaser on the comparison to wine aging - my barrels are half to one-quarter as large as standard wine barrels. If I were to leave the wine in there for 18-24 months, it would be over oaked. So I'll make twice to four times as much wine and rotate it between a newer barrel and neutral barrels in an attempt to mimic the standard barrel. Even a neutral barrel will provide the oxygen exchange and evaporation needed to provide flavor concentration and larger tannin molecules forming to provide the mouthfeel without bitterness...
they're just different and call for different treatment often (e.g. use in cocktails).
Admittedly I am jumping in without reading the entire thread here but this is a pet peeve of mine: I love bourbon, obviously, but have no interest whatsoever in putting it in a cocktail. I can't be more blunt than that, just don't like bourbon messed with at all, if it isn't good straight don't even attempt to waste my time with other ingredients!
That's fair enough, but then I doubt you will buy a three year old bourbon made by a large company, of which there are a number on the market (or even some 4-6 year olds that have a good taste of corn, say). Yet these will appeal to some, mostly (I would think) for mixed drinks or cocktails. Yes, the price point generally is lower than the craft whiskey but some people want a hand-made product for various reasons.
One thing that worries me about this is that over-priced young craft bourbons would likely tend to have the effect of pushing prices up market-wide. Now, the big guys certainly don't need the little guys to lead the way in terms of price increase, but more shelves of 2 year-old bourbons for $50 could do a lot to consumers expectations. If market logic allows for 2 year-old bourbons at $50, it would easily follow that 8-10 year-olds should start well above that.
I think there is a risk that some young people, unfamiliar with bourbon or with distilled spirits in general, will become enamored of some small, local distillery run by someone their age, to whom they can relate, who sells them on their super-dooper hand crafted, better-than-anything-the-majors-could make whiskey -- 14 months in wood -- which tastes like crap, and the person concludes, "gee, if this stuff at $50 a bottle, hand made and all that, is this unpleasant, I guess I better stick to Bud Light."
But on another level, so what? More of the good stuff for us.
I'm from the land where Templeton Rye is king, and I've seen a lot of people get drawn with the TR mythology and then transition to better whiskeys due to price and lack of availability. I think overall its probably brought more people into drinking good whiskey around here. TR, of course, is much different from many other microdistillery products in that 1) it tastes decent; and 2) its not even remotely a microdistillery product (:grin:).
I tend to think that micros will bring more interest in the whiskey industry. Sure, some are low quality and high price and will dissuade people from branching out. But overall, even the very young micros are fine in a cocktail, and that's how a lot of people are introduced to whiskey. Next time at the liquor store maybe they'll pick up a bottle of Evan Williams Black for 1/4 of the price and go from there.
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