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View Full Version : Does the Emperor Have No Clothes?



Gillman
10-25-2005, 16:41
Tonight I had an experience that made me think (allowing for some exaggeration), the emperor has no clothes. I tasted a 100 proof Old Forester and a Wild Turky Rye a friend had just brought back from a trip to the U.S. These particular bottles struck me as some of the best straight whiskey I've ever had, and better than some sold for much more money. E.g., recently I bought for some $50 (U.S.) Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, the 2004 issue. I knew this was the young one in the series, but I wasn't prepared for the awkward palate. It seemed to taste of heat, alcohol, vanilla and some char but not in a melded way. I also bought on the same trip Rock Hill Farm; again I was disappointed, this sample, while sweet and rich, seemed to show a little "old barrel" (punky) taste that put me off. In comparison, I felt the OF 100 proof, and the WT rye, which cost 15 or 20 dollars each, superior by their balance and clean, rich, integrated taste. Probably I'll always buy some high cost items (because they change over time, and from curiosity) but this tasting tonight brought forcibly to mind that some bourbons and ryes costing many times less than premium versions are arguably better-tasting and away better values.

Gary

TNbourbon
10-25-2005, 18:45
<ul type="square"> Evan Williams 1783: $11
Old Heaven Hill 10yo BIB: $11
W.L. Weller 12yo: $30 per 1.75L
AAA 10yo: $12
EWSB: $23
Jim Beam Black: $18
Rittenhouse BIB rye: $15-$18
et al
[/list]
Gary, there's not a doubt in my mind that you and most others here know -- and have long known -- that you don't have to spend a lot of money to get outstanding whiskey. Generally, all of us could be quite happy drinking nothing but the few I've listed, any of which are quite royally dressed.
But I also accept your point that we can be undressed retail-wise by the assumption that price=quality. The only bottlings I have in quantity that are consistently over $45 (in TN, anyway) are Stagg, ER17, and ORVW 15yo and Wild Turkey 12yo (when I can find them) -- and I also believe most here will acknowledge that they're worth a premium. I don't buy Sazerac in the same price range, for example, because I don't particularly care for it.
And, is Pappy 23 (especially the Lawrenceburg bottling) really a $200 bottle, even if on the upper echelon of bourbons I've tried? Probably not, empirically, but the price is a function of time and rarity, and the bottling likely wouldn't exist but for the price it commands.
I just counted 18 open bottles of current brands on my sideboard just now -- 11 are bottles consistently under $22 per 750ml bottle on local store shelves.
So, you're right, Gary, and it's a good reminder for the newcomers here especially: find and buy whiskey you like, or you may find yourself swallowing nothing more than a loss.

Gillman
10-25-2005, 18:55
Thanks, and the whiskeys you listed at the outset are indeed excellent. So are some of the more expensive ones you mentioned, for my part, I enjoy Elmer T. Lee, also some of the EW expressions. I find though these are fairly priced for what is offered. Some bourbons, at least for my taste, seem too costly for what they offer: this essentially is the point I am making. I am saying too though given a choice at any price between OF 100 proof and the 2004 Birthday I'd choose the former.

Gary

barturtle
10-25-2005, 19:20
I am saying too though given a choice at any price between OF 100 proof and the 2004 Birthday I'd choose the former



In a similar vein, I would choose Old Grand Dad BIB over Basil Hayden.

This is exactly the reason many of us have been upset over the loss of ER 101 and AAA (at least temporarily), as well as wondering about the loss of age statements of certain bottlings (seems like mostly Heaven Hill).

The large size of the batches helps to stabilize the flavor profile, while introducing flavors from what are probably many different parts of the warehouse(or different warehouses altogether).

Yes, I too, love some (many) of the newer expressions that are taking over the top end of the market, but I will never be without some of the mass-market bourbon sitting on the shelf. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/drink.gif

NorCalBoozer
10-25-2005, 19:55
i think we are lucky to have the breadth of variety in present day offerings. Really so much to choose from, and great buys at low price points and also great tasting high end products.

lets just hope this continues..

BourbonJoe
10-26-2005, 05:35
I agree wholeheartedly with both Tim's. Some of the high end (pricewise) stuff is not worth it IMO. I like a lot of the lesser priced offerings, almost all of which Tim Sousley listed. I just hope these continue to be in the same price range that they are now and not be watered down or filled with younger whiskey, which seems to be the case lately.
Joe http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/usflag.gif

kbuzbee
10-26-2005, 05:48
This is exactly the reason many of us have been upset over the loss of ER 101 and AAA (at least temporarily), as well as wondering about the loss of age statements of certain bottlings (seems like mostly Heaven Hill).




... and Wild Turkey 101, which used to boast it was aged 8 years......



they are now and not be watered down or filled with younger whiskey, which seems to be the case lately.



Such as Russell's Reserve which is dying off at 101 being replaced by the new 90 expression.....

Now most of you know I enjoy Wild Turkey products but these trends are not ones I want to see.

To Gary's point, there are some tasty offerings under $20. I find "most" of them lack the finish the higher priced offerings deliver. And, YES! we are very lucky to be living in an age where we have such bounty.

Ken

squire
10-26-2005, 19:33
Evening Gents,

Gary I'm glad you brought the subject up. Old Forrester (my preferred spelling) BIB has migrated in and out of my cellar for decades now and every year or so I rediscover it for the quality product it is and make a mental note to lay in a supply.

Tim that's a great list. The only thing I would add is Barton which is my go to house whiskey and the only brand I buy by the case in 1.75 size. Well, there was one exception when I bought a case of 1.75 Elijah Craig and gave out three of the bottles to my die hard Scotch drinkers to show them the light. Figgured that if they sampled enough then they might be converted. Worked with two of them. My friend Bill now prominently displays Craig on the sideboard of his home bar and when a guest says anything will do he says "try this, its a bourbon a scotch drinker will like, let me pour your one". The third is a transplanted yankee who after three decades of living here still doesn't understand why everyone doesn't drink Cutty Sark. Interesting side note, when Greg had to trip up to Long Island to administer his late father's estate they found a couple cases of Cutty delivered during Prohibition by Capt. McCoy himself. No, there are no bottles left, doubt if it was any different from the currently avilable stuff, but it would have been neat to have one to bring to the gazebo. Half of one case was used up during the wake and the balance, over the years, was, as Greg says, "properly dispenced with".

Some time back when my buisness travels went through central Kentucky every year or two I would drop by Toddy's and pick up a case of the Heaven Hill 10 yr BIB. Gave them out as Christmas gifts telling folks this was a limited expression only available close to the distillery. Mostly true, actually, as this expression wasn't available very far from the source. Neat thing was my friends could tell their guests forget Jack Daniels and Wild Turkey, this is the real stuff and only locals can get it.

Last time I passed through there was Derby in '02 and the proof had been lowered so I made no purchase. Good to hear the the BIB is now available.

Regards,
Squire

tdelling
10-26-2005, 20:26
I was thinking the other day about Isiah Morgan Rye, and how great it is.
And how fantastic it's going to taste with a few years on it. This is the
one product that's the closest I've ever come to the taste profile that I
would personally shoot for if I ran my own distillery.

Ahhh... my own distillery. Kind of like one of those fancy high-tech
startups, except low tech. And I thought... what if I succeeded? What if
I made a whiskey that is just the absolute best whiskey I've ever tasted.
Who would care? How much could I sell? Who would my target market be?

I looked around, and I thought to myself that I could never outsell Jack
Daniels, because people who buy Jack obviously have chosen it over the
other, higher quality offerings.

Then I looked over at the Woodford Reserve bottle, and thought to myself:
the beautiful bottle, the fancy name, a little marketing money... you
could put just about anything in that bottle, as long it's a little above
average, and would do just as well as the current stuff.

The whole industry, top to bottom... how much of the success is marketing
driven? What makes an expensive bourbon expensive? Often price is just
another marketing tool. In most markets for luxury goods, the strategy is
the same: double the price, and sales will increase. You need at least
a nominal increase in quality, but luxury is all about intangibles.

Would this strategy work with, e.g. Rittenhouse Rye BIB? Needs a fancier
lablel and the price should be doubled. They'd sell more of it. No
question about that. Is it worth their effort? Or should they invest their
money in Berry Blast Sour Smackin' 100 Proof Sugar Zinger?

Does the Emporer have no clothes? Well, I'd say the emporer is in his
underwear when it comes to higher end bourbons. Yes, the price is higher
just for the sake of having a higher priced product. But it's nothing compared
the the outlandish prices that people pay for Scotch.

I'm certainly willing to pay $40 for a good bottle of bourbon, but I'm not
under the impression that it's twice as good as a $20 bottle. I'm paying
the extra just to have variety. It's not a mass-market product, so I don't
get the price break that comes with mass-production.

It could be worse... I can't imagine what it would be like to actually
consider paying $350 for a bottle of Scotch.


Tim Dellinger

RedVette
10-26-2005, 20:27
I have been decidedly underwhelmed by some of the pricier Bourbons out there, and have been amazed by some of the lower priced offerings available. While I love to collect and sample rare/wonderful things, I think I find greater pleasure in finding really good low cost items. Elijah Craig 12 has to be the best value for the buck in all of Whiskeydom, Buffalo Trace is a close second. And when I found those bottles of the original Elmer T Lee in Puerto Rico for $5.00 ea, I darned near stained myself.

Expensive Bourbon might be good, and it might not.

PS, other than the fact the bottle is pretty, I don't get the Birthday Bourbon. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/confused.gif

Edward_call_me_Ed
10-27-2005, 00:00
Of the bourbons Tim listed I have only ever seen AAA 10yo,
EWSB and Jim Beam Black, but at higher prices. The AAA 10 yo is good stuff, but I am not seeing it on the shelves these days. The Jim Beam Black doesn't really wow me, just okay. EWSB is pricy here and I don't really like it as well as Evan Williams 12 yo which is currently aroung half the price of the EWSB 1995. The Wild Turkey Rye that Gary mentioned is one of my favorites, the Old Forester 100 proof I don't really like. I will keep visiting the bottle I bought for BOTM a few months ago till it is gone. Unless I see the light, I won't replace it. Besides was fairly expensive, upper twenties.

There are a lot of bourbons in the twenty to thirty dollar range here that are 8 to 12 years old that I really like. Elijah Craig 12, Wild Turkey 8 yo, Johnny Drum 12, Elmer T Lee, Rip Van Winkle 10 yo 90 proof, Old Grand Dad 86 proof, Olde St Nick 8 year old, Old Charter 8 yo to name a few. Oh, I did recently find Very Old Barton 6 yo 80 proof and at a very resonable price I haven't drunk enough to have made up my mind yet, but it is good stuff. There are a number of bourbons that are in the fifteen to twenty-five dollar range that I haven't tried yet. Many of those I have heard less than rave reviews here on SB.

There are a number of bourbons in the thirty dollars and up that I feel are well worth the money. Definately fully clothed! Others are simply too expensive for what they are.
Ed

Gillman
10-27-2005, 01:02
I've enjoyed reading the reactions/observations.

I think the consensus is, it depends.

I've had some whiskies at $20-$30 that are worth the money, but some aren't.

Most lower priced labels are good value but some will not please the taste of some.

I stress too that bourbons change in flavour over time, i.e., bottling batches seem different despite the claimed adherence to a standard. I had a bonded Forester a couple of years ago in Miami that wasn't nearly as good as the one I mentioned the other night. (The latter did not state bonded in compliance with current labelling practice of B-F but apparently meets the legal definition). Wild Turkey rye is smoother and seemingly older than 5 years ago or so. This all stands to reason because inventories don't stand still and I believe they aren't as regularly replenished or made up (the batches) as we may think.

In any case, there are values at the lower shelf and some clunkers on the higher: the trick is to know which is which. Birthday by the way is generally very good (although whether worth the price another matter) but the 2004 was younger than usual and apart from that just doesn't seem well-knitted to me. I thought it was the new one when I bought it but made an error, I should have looked more carefully.

I also believe there are values in the American whiskey category. Chuck in an article recently on Barton said apparently the company puts a lot of bourbon into its better blends, more than the stated percentage. It is fun and not expensive to try the better blends, and if they are found wanting, a splash of bourbon can improve them. E.g., a whiskey that may contain 30% bourbon can be easily adjusted in the glass to contain 60% or even more. The results can be really good, a bourbon-like drink that is softened and made more complex by the young whiskey or GNS in the blend. These mixtures make very good cocktails, too, sometimes better than straight bourbon or rye. I often make two cocktails side by side, one with plain bourbon, one with one of my blends, and most people who have tried them pick the blend as the better drink, because (I think) the taste is more complex. A mixture of whiskies seems to meld very well with vermouth, sugar, bitters, lemon juice and the other components of the usual whiskey cocktails. This is what I do with bourbon or rye that isn't to my taste (it's blended into complex mixtures dominated by bourbon), and I find my money is turned to better account that way.

Gary

JeffRenner
10-27-2005, 05:33
Wild Turkey rye is smoother and seemingly older than 5 years ago or so.



Wild Turkey Rye was one of my absolute favorites back in the mid to late 90s when I rediscovered whisk(e)y, but somewhere around the time they (coincidently?) changed from the green label, I became disappointed in it. I thought that it was me.

But when you mentioned it in your original post in this thread, I bought a bottle and was stunned by how good it was - back to old form, as close as I can remember it.

I am not that big a fan of WT bourbons, but this rye is outstanding. (I wonder if the No. 8 brand will similarly return to the form of the old 8 yr., which I did like.)

And Old Forester 100 proof is the bourbon I keep in my post-pro bourbon decanter - my "go to" bourbon. I really like it.

Jeff

CrispyCritter
10-27-2005, 18:50
Does the Emporer have no clothes? Well, I'd say the emporer is in his
underwear when it comes to higher end bourbons. Yes, the price is higher
just for the sake of having a higher priced product. But it's nothing compared
the the outlandish prices that people pay for Scotch.

I'm certainly willing to pay $40 for a good bottle of bourbon, but I'm not
under the impression that it's twice as good as a $20 bottle. I'm paying
the extra just to have variety. It's not a mass-market product, so I don't
get the price break that comes with mass-production.

It could be worse... I can't imagine what it would be like to actually
consider paying $350 for a bottle of Scotch.




You hit the nail on the head. Whiskies like Rittenhouse BIB, BT, EC12, OGD 114, and AAA are absolute fantastic values, but it's also nice to splurge on an unusual, rare bottling. ORVW 15, PVW 15, Stagg et. al. are, IMO, well worth the price premium.

I have set a hard limit of $100 for any bottle I might buy. That's a pretty hefty price to begin with - I won't even consider buying a $350 bottle. The only things I've had that have approached or touched the $100 limit have been Scotches (Ardbeg 1977, Glenrothes 1974, and a 40yo Hart Bros. bottling of Alloa single-grain). All have been stellar, but a $30 bottle of Aberlour 10yo is a much better buy from a bang-for-the-buck point of view.

But currency fluctuations, shipping costs, import duties, and supply vs. demand have made bourbons and ryes a better value still - the $50 bottle of Stagg, in its own way, is just as good as the Ardbeg '77 that costs twice as much. And, the $30 bottle of Ardbeg 10yo has become a $45 bottle recently. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/frown.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/frown.gif I'm glad I stocked up when I had the chance.

monte
10-28-2005, 00:02
(I wonder if the No. 8 brand will similarly return to the form of the old 8 yr., which I did like.)
Jeff



Isn't No. 8 history at this point? Does it exist as an export? I found an old bottle in a dusty store (haven't opened it...!) but AFAIK, it isn't current production.


Cheers,

-monte-

Edward_call_me_Ed
10-28-2005, 01:52
I haven't heard that the WT 101 no. 8 had been discontinued. The WT 101 8 yo. is the standard bottling here in Japan, but it isn't easily available back Stateside.
Ed

Edward_call_me_Ed
10-28-2005, 02:41
Inspired by this thread I decided to go out and get a cheapie. Early Times Straight Kentucky Bourbon. There are two expressions, a Yellow Label (YL) and a Brown Label (BL). Neither has an age statement and both are 80 proof. The YL is always cheap the BL is sometimes, not always, expensive, 30 bucks or so. I paid 1000 yen for the BL today and 980 yen for the YL some time back. I think of 1000 yen as ten bucks but it is really less than that.

I am drinking the BL now. A little thin. Some vanilla/brown sugar. Not a lot of oak. There is a Jack Daniel's note to it. Not too surprising since the same company make them both, though at different distilleries.

Now the Yellow Label. The nose is less spirity. Sweeter, nicer mouth feel. Less of the Jack note, maybe more vanilla. There is the faintest hint of orange in the finish. I think I like this better. Not top shelf, IMHO, but not bad. I am a little surprised. I thought that these might be the same whiskey with different color labels, but they taste different to me.

A friend of mine gave me a bottle of Jack Daniel's the other day so I have some on hand to compare to the Early Times I have been talking about.

Yep, the Jack note in the BL is Jack. A lot more of it in the JD. Chuck called it "wet varnish, or possibly, shellac or lacquer" That about sums it up for me. Not necessarily unpleasant. Well, you all know what Jack tastes like, if your memory goes back that far...

YL is the best of the three, BL right in the middle, and Jack comes in third in the field. Are any of them worth the price? Not sure. If I ever finish them then I would say, yes. If, after finishing a bottle, I buy another then, definitely yes. We will see.
Ed

JeffRenner
10-28-2005, 05:28
Isn't No. 8 history at this point? Does it exist as an export? I found an old bottle in a dusty store (haven't opened it...!) but AFAIK, it isn't current production.



Oh, yes, that's right. Thanks for the reminder. They did change the name once more. Brain cramp. I guess they call it Wild Turkey 101 now.

I haven't kept up on that because I stopped buying it a while back. Too many other bourbons I like better.

Sad.

Jeff

StraightBoston
10-28-2005, 07:34
I avoided Early Times in Japan for years because of the association with the el cheapo US version (not a blend, but not KSB -- it's 3 years old in re-used barrels.)

Finally tried a miniature of Yellow Label at the airport last trip and was pleasantly surprised -- very light, but a nice balance of corn and vanilla. Definitely different from Jack. One cube kills any alcohol burn in the throat. Bottom shelf perhaps, but a very tasty style.

On the Japanese ET website, it appears that Yellow Label and Brown Label have different mashbills: Yellow Label is 79/11/10 corn/rye/malt; Brown Label is 72/18/10.

I grabbed a few nips to go but haven't had the chance yet to do a comparative tasting (I was planning Old Forester since I believe it comes from the same distillery.)

JeffRenner
10-28-2005, 09:23
it appears that [Early Times] Yellow Label and Brown Label have different mashbills: Yellow Label is 79/11/10 corn/rye/malt; Brown Label is 72/18/10.



The former is the Early Times Kentucky Whiskey mash bill, the latter is the Old Forester mash bill, so I wonder how how the brown label differs from OF.

Also, I wonder if Early Times Straight Bourbon as sold overseas has to comply with US identity laws. Perhaps it is also aged partially in used cooperage but can be called bourbon overseas.

Jeff