View Full Version : Bourbon Industry Revival

09-15-2004, 12:44
Looking at the Booker Noe posts in another thread, I had to notice Chuck's post and quote. I don't quite agree with what Chuck has said, but I do think I understand what he meant. The quote however has me thinking about the revival of bourbon. Was Booker and Small batch bourbons the cause of the revival? Or was it Elmer t Lee and the single barrel concept? Or can you really say we have a revival until there are increases in sales at all levels of product? Just a few questions to consider.

I think that the revival did start with the single barrel concept. Marketing small batch bourbons was Jim Beam's way of answering the challenge of single barrel. Did Booker "create" the small batch concept? I would say no, it had been around for a long time (extra aged Old Fitzgerald products are a prime example of "small batch bourbons" from Stitzel-Weller). What Booker did was take this concept and make it work. It was his hard work and dedication that convinced people that "small batch" was a legitimate style of bourbon and equal to the single barrel concept. These two ideas (with Elmer T Lee working just as hard to promote the "single barrel" concept) created new interest in the spirit and slowed the decline in sales. The market has now leveled off and showing hope for improvement. These two concepts have led to more interest in extra aged products, thus United Distillers came out with the "Heritage" collection. I would not say United Distillers created this catagory, because it has been around for a long time. Julian Van Winkle (and his father before him) have been marketing extra aged products for decades.

I think the "Industry Revival" is due to the work of many people. Booker Noe and Elmer T Lee are two of those that deserve the credit, but I would also throw in some people like the late Ova Haney, Julian Van Winkle, Bill Samuels, Jimmy Russell, Lincoln Henderson and Max Shapira and the Beams at Heaven Hill. They have all have worked hard to increase the interest in bourbon as a spirit and produce interesting products to fill the new catagories.

Mike Veach

09-15-2004, 13:15
Good points all Mike. I think that the real inventor of the small batch was some guy cranking out 3 barrels a day in season a couple hundred years ago. Since the name is forever lost or forgotten, it follows that it is redefined to mean what it does today. Then again that fellow was the big player in his day. None of these guys, and we appreciate them all,are working in a vacuum. They are like guitarist to some degree, you have your Chet's and Clapton's then Hendrix comes along and redefines the whole game. We all know that whether music or Bourbon, they aren't totally reinventing the wheel with each new innovation. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif

09-15-2004, 13:50
Good point. One of the reasons I chose to post this in history is that there historical precedents to everything that is going on today. Single barrel bourbon? A hundred and fifty years ago it was all single barrel bourbon. Even when they bottled the product in a grocery, it was probably one barrel at a time. Small batch? As you said, when the guy was making a barrel a day, it was all small batch. Extra aged? In the 1890's the firm that owned Mammoth Cave Bourbon worked it out to send barrels to Germany to age so he could age it 20 years before he had to pay the taxes, and then only as an imported spirit. There are no new ideas, but there are people who work extra hard to make them work in their time.
Mike Veach

09-15-2004, 14:31
The cross-fertilization between different alcoholic beverages is also
an interesting contributor to the bourbon revival.

The idea that a small producer makes marvelous drinks in small quantities
and charges a pretty penny for 'em is epitomized by French wines with all
their Chateaus and Estates and such. That idea got picked up by the Scots,
who poured all kinds of development and marketing into teaching
us that there are such things as super-premium whiskies, and demonstrating
that whiskies can be just as marvelous as cognacs and armagnacs, and are
worth the price.

All of that helped set the stage for other drinks to be "premium" products:
premium vodkas (which aren't worth the extra price in my book) have
really taken off, quality rums and tequillas are on shelves everywhere.

And, of course, simultaneously with a lot of the things discussed above,
microbrewed beer with all of it's "small batch" charm came along and has shown
all of us that there's a profitable market segment there, too.

I think all of these things helped open doors for each other... when the
others were showing a little success, it made people on the business end more
likely to gamble and people on the drinking end more likely to try things.

The overall trend is good for bourbon: it's now becoming a respectable
drink, and sales are picking up because of it. I think much of the
"revival" has to do with the super-premiums, the small batches, the
single barrels, etc... and that'll all trickle down to increasing sales
on the middle shelf, too.

Tim Dellinger

09-15-2004, 15:42
I also believe it started with the single barrel concept. A friend gave me a shot of Blanton's in 1988. I had never had any bourbon that smooth and tasty. At the time, I was not personally prepared to spens $35 to $40 on a bottle of whiskey, but I certainly remembered how delightful it was.

More than 10 years later, I decided to start tasting fancy bourbons. I didn't start with Blanton's, but I finally bought some about three months later. And here I am, today, with my modest bunker.


09-16-2004, 05:49
Does this mean that we are entering another Golden Age in the American Whiskey field?


09-16-2004, 06:31
Maybe a golden age for overall quality, but not variety. There was much more variety 50 years ago. Some of it was much better bourbon than is being made today, but some of it was much worse. I think the quality level has evened out today, but at the cost of flavor. Prime example: Old Fitzgerald is a good product now but was even better when the brand was made at Stitzel-Weller under the eye of Pappy Van Winkle. Another example: Old Crow was a good product 50 years ago - not so today.
Mike Veach

09-16-2004, 06:36
Good points. I have always said that the single barrel concept only came about as an answer to the challenge of single malts. The chain of events as I see them are single malts early 1980's, Single barrel mid 1980's, small batch early 1990's, extra aged mid 1990's. This timeline deals with the American Market - not origin of concept. I am sure these type of products have been around for decades before marketing made them popular.
Mike Veach

09-26-2004, 12:55
what are some other examples of variety 50 years ago? what are we missing? has anyone ever used oats? maybe its time someone innovates.