View Full Version : 20% factor

05-12-2004, 06:39
Just came across a detailed interview of Max Schapira by Lew Bryson (whom many here know as a whiskey and beer writer based in or near Philadelphia, PA). This was done last July and appeared in Beverage World and/or Malt Advocate, I did not keep the link but can find it again if anyone would like to read it (possibly it was mentioned on these boards earlier). Schapira gave a detailed explanation of the company's current product lines and strategies that was frank and revealing in many details I hadn't realised. For example, he said Elijah Craig was first issued in 1986 and predated the Beam small batch line as a quality, craft-stytle bourbon. He said that bourbon accounts currently for 20% of HH's sales. That figure surprised me. I'd have thought it was much higher and hadn't realised the extent to which HH (and no doubt the other distillers) have diversified their product lines. He explained that over the years their distributors kept asking for new or different products so they got into different lines, both house-made and also imported, and the latter both bulk and bottled. He said brandy is a bigger business for the company than bourbon, citing its Christian Brothers brands and other brandy labels previously owned as major contributors to the bottom line. (I wouldn't have thought domestic brandy was that big a market, but clearly that is not the case!). He said since HH started as a bourbon distiller and built its success regionally on its bourbons that is what they feel most "warm and fuzzy" about. Clearly they continue to offer fine products in this category (McKenna Bonded 10 year old, the Elijah Craig whiskies, the ryes, etc.) but it is evident too HH has become a diversified spirits company with a product range that goes well beyond bourbon, rye and blended whiskey. He gave some interesting background on the Evan Wlliams brand. Like a lot of things, it was hardly an overnight success but caught on finally to become a major seller. As a 7 year old it offers (he said) value in comparison to the 4-5 year olds it competes with (he didn't say which those were but presumably they are Jim Beam White Label and Jack Daniel's).

Altogether a fascinating interview with someone who is looking ahead but at the same time very aware of the heritage of the company.


05-12-2004, 06:56
I can testify first hand to the early start of Elijah Craig. I worked at a Louisville ad agency that had the Heaven Hill account. I was there 1978-1980 and even during that time we were working on prototype package designs for a brand to be called Elijah Craig.

05-12-2004, 06:57
Hi Gary,

A few months ago we asked what was the #1 seller at Heaven Hill...The answer... http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif Hpnotiq http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif

Without going into a novel about this subject...(I would be writin' for days and days)...I will mention this...Right after the big fire in 1996. Max called all of us to a special meeting in the cafeteria. I thought for sure he was gonna say...Sorry folks that's it...but it was totally the opposite. One of the first few words were "All of you know" that "Bourbon" is just a small fraction of what we do...

We knew that, and have assumed that everybody else does. But if you ain't inside you'd never know...

I have two lines...On of them (D-line) is nearly exclusive for Evan Williams (7 year) and Christian Brother's brandy...It's a never ending circle...Every once in awhile they will throw in a cat and dog but that's rare...

http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif Bettye Jo http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif

05-12-2004, 07:00
A a trivial aside to your post Gary, Lew Bryson was one of the first members of this forum. His career began to take off and he eventually faded out. He frequents several discussion forums, but they seem to be those most pertinent to his current line of work (beer and food.)

05-12-2004, 07:33
Thanks as always for the inside scoop. I'll look into their brandy brands, I hadn't known HH was involved in that business. I am sure a top-of-the-line Christian Bros. brandy must make a good drink.


05-12-2004, 07:37
Thanks Jim, good to hear he was involved with this forum at least at one point. I met Lew in Philadelphia once in connection with attending that city's annual Book and Cook events. We met at one of the local beer bars but ended up talking mostly about rye whiskey! He is an enthusiastic and good writer and I like in particular his "travelogue" style pieces, some of which are available through his website. I don't have the URL ready to hand but a quick web search no doubt would disclose it.


05-12-2004, 07:41
The "New" Heaven Hill web presence... Heaven Hill (http://www.heaven-hill.com/)

http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif Bettye Jo http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif

05-12-2004, 08:30
Thanks, I took a look and realised I had seen it (the new site) earlier when you first mentioned it here but just didn't focus somehow on the other product lines. I guess I am singleminded about whiskeys. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif Interesting line of drinks and that Whaler's rum is one Max mentioned in the interview. He noted a trend for flavored spirits. He mentioned Hpnotique too. Interesting idea to combine vodka, pot still cognac and fruit flavours. All this is very valid for beverage spirits and I am sure it tastes great. Again, it is a variation on the theme of blending and really none of this is new. Some of the combinations may be novel but reflect established principles of spirits blending. If you look at old recipes for, say, the rum punches of the Islands one can see that Whaler's is a variation, for example. Blended whiskey and the more flavored kinds (Yukon Jack was an early example - I wonder if that is still made) are the same kind of idea, and the circle comes 'round, finally, to the new bourbons finished in casks that held sweet wine or another spirit or where the other alcohol is added straight into the bourbon as for the new Beam product in Australia.

Can a Heaven Hill bourbon finished in Christian Brothers best ex-brandy barrels be far behind?


05-12-2004, 09:31
Lew's website is at


and it's worth digging through. He's mostly a beer guy,
but does whiskey, too. There's one page I like that's not
really easy to find, but is definitely worth reading,
so I'll give a direct link for that one:

There are plenty of other good bourbon stories on
there as well. Read up!

Tim Dellinger

05-12-2004, 13:04
Interesting stories. I had read some of these before but not all. I couldn't follow what Lew was saying about using toasted barrels at Woodford Reserve. Do they toast the barrels, let them rest a while, and then char them and enter the whiskey? Or do they age whiskey in toasted barrels and then transfer it to charred barrels? I guess if they do the latter and leave them in charred wood for at least two years it is still a straight whiskey, and I believe WR carries no age statement (but in total must be 4-6 years old).

Second point I found notable was the filtering out of char particles. I wonder if that is the same as chill filtering. Is this practice unique to WR?

I find WR rather uncharred tasting (despite being very much a bourbon) and it seems the company is going intentionally for that profile. Sounds like they want to stress more the estery, fruity side of the whiskey.


05-12-2004, 13:54
I think Lew might have gotten things confused at L&G about the barrels. I do believe that everybody toasts their barrels because that is part of the coopering process that creates the red layer. What Chris says on his tours in the late winter when we do the Bourbon Academy programs is that L&G is the only bourbon with the barrel heads toasted. Most barrels made are not made with toasted heads. Chris says that Brown-Forman believe that this will add additional contact with a red layer, thus aiding the aging process.
It is all quite a bit to take in and I can see Lew getting confused as to what had been said when he looked at his notes later, thus confusing barrel heads with simply barrels.
Mike Veach

05-12-2004, 14:54
Thanks Mike, maybe, but Lew makes a clear distinction between toasting and charring, implying possibly WR uses a preliminary step of aging whiskey in toasted barrels (before aging in new charred barrels). Sam Cecil states that around the Second World War distillers experimented with aging whiskey partly in new charred wood and partly in reused charred barrels, but the results did not impart the necessary palate, so everyone went back to using new charred barrels only. When I read Lew's comments I wondered if WR might be reprising the wartime-era experiments, except this time using new toasted wood aging, followed by charred wood aging.