View Full Version : Barrel Proof - Lower is Better
Two weeks ago I was in Cincinatti and I let John, Linda, Marvin and Evelyn try some I W Harper distilled in 1936 and bottled in Bond in 1941. The big difference in this product and modern Harper is that it was distilled at little over 100 proof (probably about 104) and put in the barrel at about 103. This Harper was declared by all as being excellent and better than the current 15 year old Harper. This led to a discussion on barrel proof. John and I agreed (or at least I think John agreed with me, it is hard to remember after so many bourbons) that adding water after aging is not the same as aging water with the whiskey. The water in the barrel is going to have more flavor from the distillation process plus it is also going to receive flavor from the barrel. This leads to a more flavorful product that is complex and maybe a little "heavier" in flavor than modern bourbons. I also think it gives the bourbon better flavor at younger ages. Has anyone else tried some of these old bourbon and wish to comment upon this?
The Harper that we had tried would definatly be a premium product today. I do agree with the lower distillation proof. Comparing it to modern Harper, there are very few simularities. I believe that we all did agree on the fact that the flavor of water aged with the bourbon would be more flavorful then adding water after aging. I'm basically just agreeing with what you said but we all did have a fine time sampling the different whiskies!
I would be interested in learning just how much would need to be added to the per/bottle retail price of a mid-range bourbon to offset the additional cost of distilling and barreling at very low proof. How much would a bottle of Evan Williams Single Barrel or Russell's Reserve (around $22.00) or Woodford Reserve (around $25.00) have to cost if it had come off the still at 110 proof and went into the barrel at 103? That's with everything else being equal; not counting that increased sales would probably offset some of the cost.
We have one modern example of a low-proof-of-entry bourbon and that's Wild Turkey, which most of us agree is one of the better bourbons around. The standard 101 expression is a good value as are even some of the older versions, such as Russells Reserve.
Production cost is far down on the list of what makes a bourbon cost what it does. First, high taxes make all bourbon more expensive than it needs to be. The rest is packaging, marketing and distribution costs, and the higher profit expectations of "premium" bottlings.
--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)
In March, when I was in San Francisco for the Whiskies of the World Expo, there was a guy called Paul who had a bottle of IW Harper from the 1930s, which let me have a taste of. I was really impressed with how full of flavour this one was. Couldn't compare it directly to a recent IW Harper, but the rich flavour really made it stand out for me.
Mike, here's another plank to put into your platform supporting the idea of the ever-raising degree of proof in our bourbon. We just acquired a neat little (50 pages, but hardcover) book titled The Spirit of Old Kentucky. Written by James Boone Wilson, it's a promotional book from Glenmore in Owensboro, copyright 1945, and it tells all about what bourbon is and how it's made -- that is, how it WAS made over half a century ago. The book clearly states that their 100-proof whiskey (which was pretty typical, not premium grade stuff) was distilled at 125° and barrelled at 103°, with the final dumping proof being between 106° and 109°.
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