View Full Version : Over-empasis on rare/expensive items?
I think there tends to be here an over-emphasis on rare and expensive items and I'd like to see more discussion on everyday bourbons. There are a number of reasons for this: first and foremost, the actual quality difference between a high-end and low-end bourbon is quite small. True, the high end usually is "better" but the amount of improvement is usually very small in relation to the price difference. Second, not everyone can buy or source expensive brands.
And I say this as someone who can buy (more or less) what I want. Just the other day I bought an Old Overholt for 15 dollars and a no-longer-available Van Winkle rye 12 year old for 25 dollars and they will give me more pleasure than, say Classic Cask rye, Birthday Bourbon, Stagg and many other expensive whiskies because they are better value for money but also arguably better whiskeys ounce for ounce. Older and stronger are not always better for example and I am tiring of a tannic edge on a lot of the old whiskey that's out there.
So e.g. Jeff's choice of a price brand as BOTM was an excellent one. As it happens, Old Fitzgerald is one of the few price brands I don't like. But I discovered that only after trying it and I bought it before knowing it was August's BOTM. But I like Ten High, Barton's brands (almost all of them), the Heaven Hill-branded whiskeys, many of the smaller labels in bonded form, Beam Black, all the 4 year old ryes out there, many of the American blendeds out there (especially Barton's brands) and much else that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. I love rock and rye which is very versatile. In fact when you factor in that to make most cocktails it doesn't matter what straight whiskey is used, the emphasis on the high end brands seems a little contrived and marketing (as always) can work its magic on those here no less than any other kind of consumer.
The only part about the whiskey renaissance I don't like is the tendency to focus on high end brands to the exclusion of the solid middle and even lower shelf. That may create a situation where producers put out very old tannic whiskeys on the one hand and a slew of poor quality lower-shelvers on the other hand. I hope that never happens but auguries are not good, methinks..
Isn't it way more fun talking about Corvettes, Stealths and BMWs, than say, Pontiac Sunfire or Ford Focus?
I also welcome discussions of the better mid-level products. What I have found in most of them is a lack of finish with little wood influence (I don't know if that is the Tannin you are refering to??) My favorite aspects of Bourbon are the warm full alchohol opening, mellowing into the sweet, carmel middlings and a long complex finish of Oak.
But let me be very clear, we don't get just everything here on the North Coast. We have WT101 which I like a great deal but will generally pass on for Rare Breed. We have a few other "basic Bourbon's" such as Beam Black but no Weller's, Fitz, Forester etc etc.
We do have a nice but hardly complete selection of higher end products inc.: 1792RR, Blanton's, Rare Breed, Booker's, Baker's, Basil Hayden, Jefferson Reserve, Evan Williams Single Barrel and Elijah Craig 12 (but haven't seen the 18).
My suspition is stores here stock more of the higher end products because they make more on a $50 bottle than on a $20 bottle. They also have a few suitable for mixing but don't want to cut into high end sales with almost as good much cheaper products.
If I could find the same enjoyment from less expensive offerings I would certainly welcome that and reading what other's who have access to these think gives me something to keep an eye out for when I'm travelling.
Also, please understand, I don't tend to mix drinks, other than adding water for a later afternoon refreshment, otherwise, strickly neat. I can easily understand how the "quality" of a spirit intended for Old Fashioneds or Manhattans matters way less. (I don't put Grey Goose in a Screwdriver either!)
Let the discussions begin!
This is the Premium Bourbons/Specialty Bottlings section of the board. There are the other sections to discuss the everyday bourbons. I really don't see you point in posting this in the section set aside for the higher cost bourbons.
Going over the many threads on tasting, it seems to me that many mid shelf and even some lower shelf entries have been disected quite well. I'll admit that the higher end stuff gets somewhat more press but "to each his own". I like to read 'em (and drink 'em) all.
First, I meant to post this in general bosubon discussion and thought I did, I must have hit the wrong field.
Second, I should be more clear perhaps by saying, not that I mind the quality bourbon discussion (in which I often post myself) but that there should be more middle and lower-price brands discussed. Some are but relatively few, e.g., Ten High, when was that last discussed in any detail (as opposed to the stray comment)? I recognise bourbon availability varies over the land and that is a problem in getting enough people to discuss the same thing.
The BOTM is a way to do it and Jeff, I would persist with choosing middle and lower shelf products. Many are very good and don't offer a woody edge. I am not even sure how woodiness became a hallmark of whiskey quality (the snob factor of an older and therefore more costly product, maybe?); whiskey in my view was aged historically enough to convert its congeners or most of them to more flavoursome elements not to make the whiskey too woody.
i have been feeling the same way for quite a while. when i'm enyoying a glass of whiskey i want to enjoy a glass of whiskey. more often than not i find that in the older whiskeys the oak is a distraction. whiskey doesn't need lots of oak to be satisfying. for my money i'll take wt-russells reserve, beam 8, old grand dad bib, old forester bib, beam rye and pikesville rye. there are others i enjoy but for me in general older is not better. my current whiskey of choice is pikesville rye @ $9.50 a bottle. just the right amount of florals and spice with the whole enveloped in a veil of lavender. wonderful stuff. delicate is the best way to describe it. reminds me of my southern aunts garden, when i was 12 years old, on a summers evening.
Indeed, lately, I've been trying out some of the lower-priced whiskeys out there, and finding them to be highly enjoyable. Sure, I flat-out love some of the expensive stuff like Stagg or Hirsch 16, but there's quite a lot of bang-for-the-buck available in the $15-$30 range. AAA 10, OGD 114, BT, and WTRR 101 (bye!) are all quite good, and a lot easier on the pocketbook.
I'm currently having a pour of Rittenhouse Rye BIB 100. It's nothing short of wonderful, even more so when I realize that I can get a bottle of it for a measly $12!
whiskey in my view was aged historically enough to convert its congeners or most of them to more flavoursome elements not to make the whiskey too woody.
Agree 100 %, Gary.
Also, why is it that 6-8 yo whiskeys almost always have to be regarded as "everyday pours"? This does not correspond to my reality.
You donīt have to travel that far back in time to find out that younger premium whiskeys (even in Scotland) were much more common (see for instance Talisker and Rosebank).
Presently, when premium whiskey has been turned into yet another postmodern consumer artifact (no doubt purchased by people who read and write blogs, Gary! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif) bottlings below 10yo of age have been withdrawn because they are deemed to be unworthy by the casual consumer. How sad.
Yes, you're right, but the important thing is to speak up for the things one believes are good and should survive. And by the way I have nothing against the best old whiskeys: I enjoy them (particularly ORVW and its line, also Elijah Craig 18 year old). All I am saying is, I don't think very aged product should become the industry norm, to me they are specialty items to enjoy on occasion. Sometimes an older whiskey hits a perfect balance (e.g., that ORVW 12 year old rye I mentioned) but even that is something I couldn't drink too often. I think my perfect bourbon all things considered would be something like the bonded Ancient Age I bought in a free port last year in the Caribbean. It looked to be bottled about 10 years ago and I hope the current AA Bonded is as good. That, or VOB 86 or 90 proof, or Bulleit. (Or Old Fitzgerald Supreme 80 proof or Yellowstone 80 proof as they were in the 1970's and 80's).
The other use I find for old whiskeys is to blend them into one of my complex bourbon compounds, much as the Scots whisky blenders do. I think there is an untapped market here, for someone to put out a blend of straight bourbons which incorporates very old bourbon but also (more) younger bourbon. You can (believe me) end up with something that is the bourbon equivalent of Johnnie Walker Blue Label and is actually better since there is no need to include high proof elements. I am going to work on making one of these for the Gazebos upcoming. Julian, you might consider doing this with your existing bourbon line, e.g., a blend of ORVW 10 year old, 15 year old and 20 year old. You can work with the percentages to get an optimum taste but I'd go something like 70% 10 year old, 25% 15 year old and 5% 20 year old. People who have open bottles of these at home might try it, you'd be surprised how good the result can be. And this can be done with whiskeys that cost much less than those, e.g., with Jim Beam, Beam Black and OG 114, the combinations are endless. It is the methodology that is important. So this is the use extra-aged whiskeys also have for me.
Coming from a scotch drinkers perspective, EVERYTHING'S less expensive, so to me a good pour is the OG 114,ORVW, EWSB Vintage, Buffalo Trace, or anything under $25.00 retail! I just bought (and I am enjoying immensely) the ORVW 107 for $23.00 (NOT on sale). Is that a super premium? Obviously, the Pappy Van Winkle 20 year is. But I am finding bourbon to be unbelievable for the money compared to scotch. Yes, there's the $9.00 scotch, but the level of quality (IMHO)of a $20.00 bourbon is head and shoulders above a $20.00 scotch (in most cases). Maybe discussing the "bottom shelfs" is easy to define, but it's that middle shelf that is so exciting!
Although I have not been at this as long as most of you, this post made me think about what I have in my collection. I realized that I continue to keep coming back to the mid shelf selections. I have not ventured into the top (with the exception of Stagg and Hirsch) or bottom shelves too often since I continue to find so many great bargains in the $12-$25 range. I have found these favorites in that range; Rittenhouse BIB, Beam Black, Buffalo Trace and Weller 12yr.
or bottom shelves too often
Get a bottle of Ten High soon, as a suggestion from me, it won't knock your socks off, but it will not offend either! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/Clever.gif
Bobby, have you ever seen a bonded Ten High?
I have not, and a search of Bartons site only shows an 80 proof, but I think there was some made, perhaps on a dusty shelf somewhere.
I drink what I like. I really like Booker's, but @ $53/bottle, I don't drink it often. Instead, I usually drink the following for the "everyday" pours:
Weller Antique 107 - 7 YO, $21
WT 101 - 6-10 YO, $22
Fighting Cock 103- 6 YO, $18
Eagle Rare 101 - 10 YO, $25
and further up the price ladder is
WT Rare Breed 108 - $32
Knob Creek 100 - 9 YO - $33
I concentrate on bourbons that are a good value. I've tried the Ancient Age, Old Forester, Beam Black, etc., but there are others in their price ranges I enjoy more.
Personally, I find it rare that I like a bourbon that is aged over 10-12 years, so I am very hesitant to shell out the $$ for a bottle.
For me the 'more expensive' and 'aged' bourbons are a specialty item and not an every day pour. I can't say conclusively if my thoughts are entirely due to the price restrictions and availability in our market or personal taste - all 3 play a factor in my choices.
Whilst I love a Bookers, I can't drink it every day. Price is definitely restrictive - approx $90 AU per bottle. It's also too strong for a daily pour (in my opinion) Pappy 15 is my current favourite drop, but again, it is a 'big' bourbon to me and my palate doesn't tolerate it daily. It's more my Friday night pour. Price (at $140AU) and availability (there isn't any in the country now) also restrict me from drinking it more frequently.
What I do like to drink on a daily basis is either an Evan Williams SB or a Bulleit. Both are mid priced for our market at $45au and are readily available. They aren't 'huge' bourbons in the sense that they don't take my head off, and I can drink them fairly steadily. It's my hope that Buffalo Trace will eventually slot into my regular pours as well.
I still revert to Jim Beam White Label & Cola RTD's when we head out to a BBQ or party away from home. It's more the convenience of them that appeals.
At the bottom end of the price range , I've really started to like the Heaven Hill produced range of Kentucky Gold and Nelson County. At around $25au, they are with out a doubt the best bang-for-buck bourbons I've come across in our market.
I too am settling into "regular" pours myself. They tend to be "middle" shelf as I expect is the case for most of us. I love ORVW 10yr (both), Buffalo Trace, and EWSB vintage 95, all below $25.00. Has anyone been totally blown away by bottom shelf (not just for the money or bang for the buck, but beating out a middle shelfer in flavor and quality)?
Get a bottle of Ten High soon,
Thanks for the suggestion. I will pick one up the next time I am at the store.
...Has anyone been totally blown away by bottom shelf (not just for the money or bang for the buck, but beating out a middle shelfer in flavor and quality)?
"Blown away" might be overstating a bit, but the black-label Ezra Brooks 90 proof (the one that got sued for imitation by Jack Daniel's way back in the '60s when it came out -- JD lost, despite it being a heckuva lot closer a copy than Ridgewood Reserve to Woodford) is a lot more than you'd expect from a $10/750 bourbon, I think. Same with the Very Rare Old Heaven Hill 10yo BIB. Both solid, always enjoyable pours.
I was, by an Ancient Age Bonded I picked up for almost nothing in St. Thomas last year. It appeared to have been bottled about 10 years ago and I am not sure it is still available or if it is, if it still tastes like that. It had a sweet clean rich taste with an interesting buttery or medium honey-like taste (butterscotch-like) and was better than almost any bourbon in my bunker at the the time and I had a few.
Today I picked up in Buffalo, NY a bottle of Benchmark Premium Bourbon that looks also about 10 years old, it is the pre-McAfee version but clearly is post-Seagram. Benchmark was a fine rich product in the 1970's and maybe 80's but by the time of this bottling the whiskey was evidently something quite different. It is kind of harsh, "feinty" and not too easy to drink neat! It will make a good Manhattan though or for blending into other whiskeys. See, I made an error, I should have bought either the regular AA or Ten High next to it that were actually being sold for less. Oh well, you have to take the good with the ... less good http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif By the way in trying to guess where this was made, I'd think maybe Trace because the label at the bottom says Bottled By The Old Benchmark Company, New Orleans. That is the only hint on the label of who was behind the bottling. Because Sazerac brands is from New Orleans I'm wondering if that suggests a Trace connection (or more properly when it was known as Ancient Age Distillery of Leestown). Something in the taste tells me it might be from their production but a lesser quality and therefore sold under this Benchmark label not the regular brands of the house. Or maybe I'm wrong there. But you know in a funny way I like it, it helps me understand better the range of palates in bourbon and I'll make good use of it in my own ways.
So, this time the dusty shelf produced not great results but more often than not I've been very satisfied with the low and middle shelfers, especially older ones, and that Double A Bonded was absolutely superb and a steal.
Has anyone been totally blown away by bottom shelf (not just for the money or bang for the buck, but beating out a middle shelfer in flavor and quality)?
AAA while it lasts in VA.
EW 1783 is ranked very highly by Tina - on sale this month for $10.
Here's how I made good use of my Benchmark.
To make a Manhattan, I combined:
one ounce Benchmark bourbon
one and one-half ounces Blanton Barrel Strength (two might be better)
dash Hirsch 16 year old
light dash water
half-to-three quarter ounce good red vermouth
faint drop Peycheaud bitters
faint drop Collins orange bitters
Stir very well. Sip neat. The complexity you get from a balanced mix of whiskeys of different ages and qualities and an adroit addition of the other elements is outstanding. The drink is (in my view) better than a Manhattan made with the Blanton alone or the Hirsch alone. My Manhattan is silky-like, deep and complex but unrolling on the palate harmoniously.
...one and one-half ounces Blanton Barrel Strength
Gary, as much as I love reading about your concoctions, do you realize how much it pains me to read about you *MIXING* with my Holy Grail bourbon!!?! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/cry.gif
-The other Gary
Gary, I knew someone would raise that. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif Truth is, I was really making that Blanton a regular Blanton by adding a dash of water (because I don't have any regular at the moment). I used Blanton because I believe the Benchmark may have been brewed at Trace, to get a complementarity of flavors (albeit Blanton is the better bourbon).
By the way I find when I dilute the Blanton barrel strength it is quite similar to the other Blantons out there, so I don't see the fuss about it really (and maybe that is why it is not sold in the U.S.).
By the way I find when I dilute the Blanton barrel strength it is quite similar to the other Blantons out there
Well, it should be. Did you expect it to resemble Wild Turkey? http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif
Granted, I have only tried one bottle of Blantonīs straight from the barrel but it wasnīt that dissimilar to Stagg, which shouldnīt come as a big surprise, really.
Well, what I meant was, if the Barrel Strength Single Barrel was truly unique in flavor, dilution to the strength of the other Blantons, especially Blanton Original, would not result in a similar drink. But the result is similar and therefore I conclude strong Blanton is different only (essentially) by being stronger. I realise some here like the extra undiluted strength. I don't drink whiskey at anything over 80-90 proof, generally, so that aspect of the drink does not really appeal to me. I realise the bottles still will be different one from the other and from the other Blantons depending on the barrel and year, but I find the differences fairly restrained.
Stagg (which I have had a few times in recent years) has a much bigger character than Blanton's. It is about twice as old and much more concentrated and massive in character. Blanton even at its highest proofs must be styled by my lights Stagg Lite. Which is not to slight Blantons in any way, it is a fine bourbon on its own terms. Although generally I'd say I prefer the flavour of Elmer T. Lee and the mocha-like taste of Buffalo Trace. In my time I've tried to come up with a mingling of all of these to improve on each and have succeeded on occasion. But the minglings never last, they end up getting changed or rocked and ryed or something. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
All I am saying is, I don't think very aged product should become the industry norm, to me they are specialty items to enjoy on occasion.
If 8 year old bourbon became the industry norm at the distillation and barelling that they have going right now, that would be wonderful. But chances are, they wouldn't leave well enough alone, and they'd start releasing 20, 30, 40 year bourbons to meet the consumer demand for older whiskey. The problem is that how much age will make a bourbon better depends a lot on the distillation proof and barreling proof; whiskey doesn't always improve with age. When the customer doesn't know that, he'll head for the older bourbon even when it isn't appropriate, drive up the demand for needlessly old bourbon, and unless the distillers adjust the distillation proof and barreling proof to adapt, he'll end up with an expensive bourbon of a poorer quality than it could have been.
I think there is an untapped market here, for someone to put out a blend of straight bourbons which incorporates very old bourbon but also (more) younger bourbon.
There's a few things that make blending bourbon tricky.
The first thing with blending is that you need a whiskey with something wrong with it. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif Unless there's something off about your whiskey, what good will blending do? The idea behind blending is to blend together a bunch of less expensive whiskeys with minor flaws to replicate the flavor of a higher-quality product, passing on the savings in the form of quality whiskey for less money, or not passing on the savings and having a cheaper quality whiskey for a higher profit.
The second thing with blending is that it's much harder to learn from scratch than it sounds. It's not a case of if you luck out you'll make great whiskey even better and if you don't you'll still have great whiskey; it's a case of if you luck out you'll make ok whiskey great whiskey, and if you don't you'll make it worse.
The third thing is that without microdistilleries, there's very little to work with. The major blending traditions with scotch and cognac started because there were a bunch of microdistillers in those countries pumping out a lot of different spirits of widely varying types and quality. With the bourbon industry, almost all the bourbon being produced comes from a handful of companies.
When you combine these facts together, it makes blending on more than a minor scale (like for small batch bottlings) an unlikely future prospect.
The first thing with blending is that you need a whiskey with something wrong with it.
Once I questioned Jimmy Russell about the 12 year Wild Turkey which as far as I'm concerned they make nothing better than, he said a lot of it was being used along with 10, and 8 year stock to create Rare Breed. I would say they were balancing inventories of different aged bourbons, in that case.
I'm sure your scenerio plays out in other circumstances, as well.
Has anyone been totally blown away by bottom shelf (not just for the money or bang for the buck, but beating out a middle shelfer in flavor and quality)?
AAA while it lasts in VA.
EW 1783 is ranked very highly by Tina - on sale this month for $10.
Tim, Dave-Thanks! To expand my palate,as well as my horizons, I want to seek out come bottom shelf treasures. I have confidence in Heaven hill, so that will probably be my first pick up. Chaz
I don't agree with your assertions regarding blending.
The object of blending/mingling, as I practice it and many distillers do, is to make a group of bourbons, not equal a non-blended one, but better it. I do not regard, say, Knob Creek, or Hirsch 16 or what have you, as the acme of bourbon production. I find few bourbons entirely satisfying on their own. I do find a careful blend of different ages and qualties more balanced and interesting than most bourbons as commercially released.
Also (or what is sayng the same thing) I don't regard young bourbons (within acceptable parameters) as being better than older ones, just different.
You say blending is harder to do than it seems. I feel this is untrue based on reading manuals of how it is done and examining current industry practice. Look e.g., at Rare Breed, that is a typical mingling, in that case of 3 Wild Turkey bourbons of different ages. Or look at how Four Roses approaches mingling. The company hasn't hid how they do it, they mingle bourbons made from a fixed number of different mash bills and yeasts. This is not rocket science. Anyone can do it provided you have a group of bourbons of different ages and qualities. Don't assume the pros know more than we do, they don't, necessarily.
As for the availability of whiskeys to mingle/blend, distillers/wholesalers don't need to buy stock from competitors, they need only use their own stock to do so. E.g., I gave the example that VW could make a mingling of its 10, 15 and 20 year olds if it chose to. In fact, distillers do mingle and batch produce, it happens all the time. And anyway if they wanted to they could buy whiskey in bulk from across town or elsewhere in the state. Why wouldn't Beam sell some surplus whiskey to say HH?
This is a good example. I don't view the 12 year old as better than Rare Breed, on the contrary. That is why I think Pernod Ricard makes Rare Breed. If it felt WT 12 year old was better it would make much more of that and sell it at a good price. It would make it its Johnnie Walker Black Label. It doesn't, because (I infer, and believe) the market prefers Rare Breed. That is in effect the black label scotch - the most popular luxury label - of WT and a fine bourbon it is. When Jimmy Russell was asked why they blended 3 whiskeys, he said (see Waymack and Harris) "because we like it that way". He's got it, and there's a hundred years of experience behind that statement. I've been mingling and blending for only, say, 20 years, but I've figured out what they have.
Well, I tried them side by side yesterday for the first time in yonks. I normally donīt pair these two since they are pretty overpowering on their own but with this thread it somehow felt relevant to put both my nostrils and tastebuds to the test.
Itīs a semi-blind tasting and after warming the glasses sufficiently I manage to separate them but only just! Stagg ( the 142, 7 version, itīs the only one Iīve managed to track down) has a fresher nose compared to the SFTB (131, 7 proof) which displays a light streak of corn.
To taste, theyīre initially very different. STFB displays a delicious corn/honey dominance in contrast with the fresh citrus-ey character of Stagg. After around 20-30 seconds, though, the Stagg starts to more or less resemble the SFTB.
The SFTB has, somewhat surprisingly, a more heavier and (in my view) a lot more exciting finish than the Stagg. This is the only part where I feel that it excels the Stagg.
Stagg (which I have had a few times in recent years) has a much bigger character than Blanton's. It is about twice as old and much more concentrated and massive in character
Are you sure about this? When I first got into Blantonīs I learned that they were around 6-8 yo, then I think Ken wrote something on this very forum that all BT Single barrels were around 10 yo but my SFTB feels older still. There is among other things, that heavy presence of menthol on the nose. Maybe it is the high proof that deludes me?
Interesting test although when you said "semi-blind" I was reminded of the old saying that there is no such thing as being a little pregnant. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
I thought Ken said Blanton (any version) was 6-8 years old and Elmer T. Lee was around 10 years old and BT was closer in age to Elmer T. Lee.
Blanton is good but as I said earlier diluted to 100 or 90 proof it seems to be similar to the Blanton's issued at that strength (and some barrels not as good).
I don't know Stagg as well but I doubt many Trace bourbons can improve on the current Elmer T. Lee, and again, if it iss rocket power that is wanted, that is one area that does not attract me in whisky.
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