View Full Version : Why I don't care about private label bottlings.
Under "Tasting" right now there is a discussion about a couple of the products currently sold under the Michter's name. That prompted me to write this post.
I have very little interest in products like the current Michter's or any of the other private label products on the market. (There are a couple of exceptions, such as some of Julian Van Winkle's products, and the Ezra Brooks 15-year-old.) In most cases, bourbons marketed by non-distillers are undistinguished and over-priced. Unless you know for a fact that the whiskey is something special, you can safely assume that it is not.
Even though it has recently become apparent to me that Heaven Hill isn't necessarily the presumed source for all private label or bulk whiskey sales, so what? What is the point of buying Old Barnswallow and wondering who made it when you can buy Woodford Reserve or Wild Turkey and know who made it. Do you think any distiller would sell its best whiskey in bulk? Of course not.
When I see an unfamiliar brand on the shelf, I'll look at it to see if anything on the label gives me a clue as to its source, but whether I learn anything from that or not, I usually don't buy it. That isn't to say some of them aren't pretty good. Corner Creek, for example, is a good whiskey for a good price. I don't know who made it and I don't particularly care. I won't buy it as a regular thing either. I'm more interested to know what the distillers are doing with their own brands.
Very interesting idea, Chuck. I never really thought about it that way, but I pretty much agree. Van Winkle is probably the only private label I have ever bought and that was only one time. So, in practice, my habits have gone that way.
I don't like the fact that the private labelers have little regard for a flavor profile. The can change sources of bulk whiskey and bottle a horrible batch and later bottle a great batch. My feeling is they bottle the great to begin with, maybe establish a name, then switch source to junk. Or like Evan K, they specialize in exporting, and then maybe sell the overage in th US.
My bottle of Corner Creek is the absolute worst whiskey I have tried and I have vowed to never again purchase anything associated with Evan K.
I am of two minds. I share Chuck Cowdery's concern that bottlings that are not attributed to a distillery on the label tend to be lesser and do not attract my interest as much as regular distillery offerings. There are exceptions, as he said, and again I agree Old Rip Van Winkle products are first-class in every respect. But ORVW isn't really an exception, for two reasons. First, Julian has told us (here on these boards who have asked) where he has sourced his products. Second, he has created a house style. His signature is smooth, long-aged bourbons that have a particular flavour or keynotes and he maintains that over the years. This results from his mashbill specifications but also his aging requirements and methods (to use a term from a 19th century book on whiskey, Julian is a "first class judge of whiskey").
For bourbons released by other independent dealers, it is more of a mixed bag. Personally I did not much like Corner's Creek either. The flavor just seemed unusual. I did like Rowan's Creek a lot when first released a few years ago, however. It was a fine bourbon whiskey in the clean, fruity, medium-sweet vein. The more recent release of Rowan's Creek (in the wood presentation box) has not impressed me as much, I think it is the same whiskey but older by that many years from when the first batch was bottled and, to my taste anyway, is a bit woody. One of the few ORVW bourbons I did not like was Old Commonwealth because it had a strong oak flavour with not much else going on. But Julian treated his customers very fairly because it was priced low, it was more than a fair price for a taste of the barrel (and some people like that, or use it to juice up a too-young bourbon on their shelf).
In sum, Julian has been punctilious to offer a house style of distinction and interest and has succeeded in keeping his products consistent and appealing. Most of the other bourbons I know from other dealers vary quite a bit more than Julian's from year to year, i.e., new brand names keep coming and the ones still going can vary from what they were like a few years back. (But there will always be very good bottlings, look at that Ezra Brooks 15 years old seen last year, I think a single barrel, it was great).
One thing I admire without reservation in the EK line: all his whiskeys are available in minis. (It helps to be in Bardstown. Bobby will tell you where to get them. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif)). That is fair ball, one can taste them that way and then decide whether to buy a full bottle. And you can hit a great one, I would say that second only to Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, the Rowan's Creek released a few years ago may be the best bourbon I ever had. A number of Toronto restaurants still have bottles from that release and I am able therefore still to taste it from time to time.
I agree with Chuck, non distillery bottlings have been hit or miss to date with JVW doing most of the hitting. But they give us choices.....and choices/variety are always better for the consumer. Competition for our dollars makes everyone's product better ...big and small producers ...(or their product will disappear from the marketplace). If these bottlings are not any good, they will disappear. I am currently enjoying the new verion of the Black Maple Hill 14yo very much. Yeah, it may not be here tomorrow, but neither will my 1994 Napa Cabs I enjoyed so much. I like having variety.....and this board helps keep me from buying the "dogs".
To me, variety is the spice of life. There are limited numbers of standard bottlings, and I've tried most of what's available to me in the mid grades and premium grades. The non-distillery bottlings are a chance for me to try something different. I'll take the risk of buying a bottle I dislike anyday, if doing so offers me the chance for rewards like the Black Maple Hill is giving me tonight. Yeah, the bad ones may be a waste of money, and the good ones will be gone and irreplaceable some day, but that's life. I love the chance to try something unusual, and go into it not knowing what to expect.
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