View Full Version : Golden Age?

02-14-2001, 17:45
I have seen some refrences to the fact that we are in a "Golden Age" for bourbon. I wonder if this is true. I believe that there is a curb and that we are actually on the downward slide. Let us consider some historical perspective. About 150 years ago bourbon began to improve with the advance of technology allowing better control of the manufacture of spirits. The bourbon was made with lower entry proofs and smaller barrels and had a lot of flavor that bourbons today does not have. I admit some of these flavors might not appeal to us today, but then again I say who can really say if nobody is making the whiskey the old fashioned way anymore so there is no comparison standard. Prohibition changed the industry creating standards for manufacture that made the industry look more like what we have today. Barrels got bigger. The change would have been subtle and maybe not noticed by most people and it saved money. Entry proofs started edging the way up. The accountants have started to get involved in the manufacturing process and marketing people started telling everybody what "they should like" (exception is Linn who has very strong opinions of what he likes, damn the marketing people). As we go into the 21st century almost all of the distillers are using 125 proof as entry proof. This leaves less flavor from the grains so recipe becomes less important. Marketing people are changing the packaging taking a product that once was proudly sold as "8 Year Old" and making it "No. 8" with no age statement. The product is changing in subtle ways hoping nobody will notice and for the vast majority of the people, they won't notice.

I say if we are in a "Golden Age" it is of marketing. The distillers art golden age was the 1950's and 60's. I would rather have some Old Fitzgerald made in the 1950's that is 5 years old than I would the current 12 year old product. Others have talked about the "Pre-Beam Old Grand Dad". This was a time when modern methods improved control but the Master Distiller was still in control of the manufacture of bourbon. I wish Pappy Van Winkle was still in business today. His motto of "Always Fine Bourbon" should be a standard for the industry. At the Heritage seminar at the Bourbon Festival about 5 years ago someone asked Ova Haney who would be the Master Distillers of the future and his reply was "The F*!@'n accountants". I fear he may be right. What do you think?
Mike Veach

02-14-2001, 22:55
Mike, I believe we are actually heading toward a Golden Age. If there was a golden age of bourbon in the past, we are about to witness the Mother of all Bourbonic Encores.

This is a very exciting time to discover bourbon -- we got pot stills working their inefficient, but magical tricks at Labrot & Graham. We got distillers experimenting with "finishing" casks (cognac, sherry) to impart exciting new flavors to bourbon. We got folks willing to try something NEW. We got Elmer! And Julian! And Jimmy! Heck, we EVEN got...EVEN (Kulsveen)!

We got Buffalo Trace winning Distillery of the Year honors for America. And Evan Williams Vintage Single Barrels winning annual awards. And Woodford Reserve. And Russell's Reserve, Eagle Rare 17...and an 18 yr. old rye! And we got Elijah Craig and Johnny Drum to enjoy for under $20 a bottle! Many restaurants charge more for appetisers these days.

Marketing has improved -- but it has a long way to go. Broadening the flavor base of our bourbons can give the marketing guys something new to pitch. I may not like a mesquite flavored Texas whiskey -- but I applaud the guy with the courage to try something different. Tradition is a good thing but it shouldn't stifle creativity. I don't believe accountants will keep Master Distillers from exploring new flavoring techniques or production methods -- in fact, I think they will encourage new paths to growth and profit.

One final thought -- The Association of Canadian Distillers says Americans consume more Canadian whiskey than Irish and bourbon COMBINED. This is incomprehensible to me. The marketing guys better get busy. Our beloved bourbon deserves better than runner up to Canadian blahs..er, blends.

Sit tight, Mike -- the best is YET to come.


02-15-2001, 06:10
Mike, I was going to answer your post with some encouraging thoughts about the state of bourbon today, but Omar's answer hits every point I would have brought up right down the line. The only thing he didn't mention that I would have is Heaven Hill's decision to de-tune the state-of-the-art automation at Bernheim so as to put the human element back into it. If anything, this looks like the Platinum Age for American whiskey, and for every reason Omar wrote.

About the only thing I would add is this...

On the forum, we rarely speak of Jim Beam White Label, or Ancient Age, or Old Grand Dad. When we wax nostalgic over brands of yore, Hill & Hill isn't among them; nor is Green River. What we talk about, what we're excited about, is Knob Creek, Buffalo Trace, Russell's Reserve, Elija Craig. All these wonderful products have been developed recently. Sure, Old Grand Dad and Old Fitzgerald were undoubtedly better in the '50s than they are today, but they were the best you could get then; those are just ordinary brands now, and we have new stars to show off the pride of the distillers.


02-15-2001, 11:32
Mike you present a dark picture indeed. Let's examine the testimony in your favor. As far as the present day Old Fitzgerald goes I'll submit that you know better than I, but I'd still like to do a blind taste test of your 50's BIB OF vs. todays VSOF. Lets make it a threesome and invite Mashbill's bottle of Very Very Old Fitz to the party. Bill are you game? Let's see who wins and why. Chuck calls VVOF +pure ambrosia".

Glenn the Aussie (where the 'ell did 'e get off to?) stated over and over again the Old Grand-Dad didn't taste as good as it used to.

Todays Old Taylor is just Jim Beam in a different bottle. A far cry from it's former glory days.

Old grand regonial brands like Michter's and Virginia Gentelman are either no more or are mere reflections of a better time and place.

This evidence is in your favor Mike, but there is other evidence.

The single barrel brands starting with Blanton's and Elmer T. Lee to include such standouts as Kentucky Spirit, Wathen's, Rock Hill Farms, Evan Williams, Henry McKenna, Elijah Craig,and Eagle Rare.

Are these *all* just the efforts of marketers and *F%$#king accountants here? Or have real master distillers, real whiskeymen, done an honest days work here and distilled bourbons to be proud of?

How about Russell's Reserve? or Knob Creek? or Booker's? or Woodford Reserve? or Elijah Craig? Are these all just "run of the mill bourbons"? Nothing Special?

While there are some sad passages of time on your side of the argument there are exciting new births and a bright new future for bourbon.

In econonomics for every bottom there is a top. You have simply called one top, an historic one, and Chuck is calling a current excercise in bourbonic excellence.

Mike you're a historian and you see things as glorys from the past. Chuck is many things but he is for us here at straightbourbon a reporter of current events. You see yesterday. Chuck sees today. I see the future, and the future is bright with wonderment and gladness.

Let us not argue where the gold is. Let us instead fill our glasses with bourbonic joy from whatever year you prefer and enjoy the good things coming our way tomorrow.

Linn Spencer

Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

02-15-2001, 20:01
You are always the optimist. I said we are on the downward curve, not rock bottom. I agree while we have people like Jimmy Russell and others who stick to their guns we will enjoy some fine bourbons. As for all of the bourbons people are mentioning I should remind you that a vast majority of them were made 10 or 15 years ago. What about the bourbons being made today? More and more are becoming the same as the accountants push for the maximum entry level. This makes recipe less important because you lose flavor from the grain. And remember, it has not been that long ago that all of Wild Turkey was 101 proof and 8 years old. I don't think it was Jimmy who chose to change this fact. I have other reasons to be the pessimist but I do not want to talk about them on the open forum at this time. Let us say that there are hold outs, but how long will they last? Even Brown-Forman forced Lincoln into using a higher entry proof than he would have liked to have used at L&G, so mark my words, the accountants are winning.
Mike Veach

02-16-2001, 17:26
The accountants might be right, in that you have to stay profitable to be able to do anything in terms of growing the business.

Do you ever wonder why you wash your car with drinking water? In other words, does it make sense to process all water to drinking water standards when only a small percentage of it will be drunk?

Why make a mass-market bourbon (or anything else) better than it has to be? If there is demand for low proof-of-entry bourbons, they will be made. If there isn't, why make them? I have no trouble defending that philosophy. At the same time, I believe you should always be leading your customer toward something better.

I probably would say that this period in which we are living has the potential to be a Golden Age of American Whiskey because the industry is finally pretty stable after a century of turmoil. Whiskey companies, like any good companies, want to sell to any potential customer, but to develop new products and new markets, you need your core business to be stable and profitable so you have the time and resources you need to develop the new stuff. If this period of stability lasts and the companies reinvest their profits for growth, it could be a Golden Age.

--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)

02-17-2001, 09:55
again, well said. My profession of marketing gets beaten up in this forum from time to time. The fact is, producers must produce what consumers will drink. Granted marketers have made god-awful Captain Morgan's one of the most popular spirits on the planet. But I can still get a very fine Guatemalan rum which anyone in their right mind should never mix with anything. With profitability of mass products comes the opportunity to experiment in directions such as single barrel products.

Given the current direction, distillers are willing to try niche products. We have a very good selection of bourbon right now. This is due to the fact that there is a mass market but also other segments, like us, that will buy from the very best barrels. The people in this forum could not keep a major spirits producer in business. Yet we provide incentive for them to produce some very fine products.

I don't know if this is a Golden Age or not, Mike, but I believe it is better than it was a few years ago when brown goods were on serious decline and there was little incentive to produce any specialty brown products. Since I did not live a century ago I cannot make any comparison. If I'm really lucky I'll live a full century and can see if the next 50 years gives us more interesting variety than, say, the post-WWII years. Meanwhile I'll just thank Julian and Elmer T. Lee and Gary, and others for producing some fine products. And by the way Bill Samuels (Sr. and Jr.) did a fine job of leading people via marketing, as Chuck suggests, to a different, more niche product. Then Fortune Brands' Jim Beam products gave us small batch, etc. I like the trend.


02-17-2001, 10:30
Have you ever been to a rum distillery?
I lived in Puerto Rico as a boy, and we once visited the Don Q distillery. The sugar cane is piled in great heaps outside, and begins to mold and ferment in situ. I like rum quite a bit, but find it difficult to separate that God-awful odor from the flavor.


Jim Butler

03-01-2001, 20:28
My bottle is only a Very Old Fitzgerald, but I'll be glad to share it with my staightbourbon friends at this year's Bourbon Fest.


01-15-2002, 11:46
surely this is wrong!...

"We got distillers experimenting with "finishing" casks (cognac, sherry) to impart exciting new flavors to bourbon."

you can not 'finish' bourbon in the way that they finish scotch whisky. Would such a product be called something else. Brown-Froman finish Early Times in used barrels, and call it kentucky whisky.



01-15-2002, 16:30
The only distiller doing this is Jim Beam with their Distiller's Masterpiece. I forget how they handle the "Is it bourbon?" question, but they finesse it in some way. My feeling is that once something is bourbon, you don't make it un-bourbon by doing something else to it, much like making a mixed drink (i.e., adding ingredients). It's sort of bourbon-plus.

I really don't think something like this will catch on, though. Because bourbon is so flavorful, it's hard to think of a "finish" that would really complement it. In contrast, I'm thinking of that Canadian whisky that is finished in sherry barrels and all you can taste is the sherry barrel, since the underlying whisky is so flavorless.

<A target="_blank" HREF=http://cowdery.home.netcom.com>--Chuck Cowdery</A>

09-19-2003, 07:24
By popular request, I am moving this old thread forward for further discussion. I still believe that what I said a couple of years ago is true, but I do see one ray of hope.

Julian Van Winkle is trying to peice together the old family recipe in more exact terms so that he can have it made at Buffalo Trace the sameway his grandfather made it at Stitzel-Weller. This will have lower barrel proof and wont use the enzymes that were used to make the wheat recipe under United Distillers. It should truley be a very interesting product, as long as he does not try to age it in brick warehouses.

Anyone else care to make any comments?

Mike Veach

09-19-2003, 09:24
My other ray of hope is the fact that the folks at Buffalo Trace are willing to experiment -- a lot.

As for brick vs. iron clad, I'm always interested in how staunchly certain people in the distilling industry will support one over the other.

09-20-2003, 07:09
The supporters of brick warehouse are the companies that own them. They will claim their superiority for various reasons, but I always point out that there is one company that claims its very best single barrel bourbon comes from the only iron clad warehouse on the premises.

If you are curious about the difference they have in the aging process, go out and buy a new bottle of Weller Special Reserve 7 yo and compare it side by side with some of the same product bottles 6 years ago when United Distillers owned the brand. The BT Weller was aged in Brick warehouse and the UD Weller in iron clad.

Mike Veach

10-02-2003, 17:01

I can say with all certainy you are one of the few that I really listen to when it comes to the history, flavor of bourbon. But I must say, I just don't agree with you. We are producing, or I should say they are producing, world class bourbon. I am talking about Jimmy Russell, Elmer T. Lee, Greg Davis, Parker Beam and Jim Rutledge among others who are producing the best bourbon the world has ever known. You can go back in time and say "if only the South had won" but the fact is the best bourbon that has ever been produced is now and it can only get better in the future. And yes, I will have another drink of that delicious Gold Label Maker's Mark. Mike, you are the only one that makes me sit down hours on end and think about the past and the future. For me, I will take the future. Keep on making those posts as they certainly cause all of us to think!!! And that's the good part for everyone.


10-03-2003, 02:42
Very difficult to say. When you read interviews of distillers or retired "big names" most say bourbon is better than it ever was: a round table discussion in the current Malt Magazine seems to concur in that regard. Are some spokesmen just being loyal to the industry (a natural inclination and who could blame them?). Again hard to say. At the Gazebo tastings at the Festival, I felt Bobby's Yellowstone Mellow Mash from the early 1980's beat almost any bourbon out there today, premium, super-premium, whatever. There was a Jim Beam circa 1960 from a decanter on the table that had a rich rum-like taste, quite unlike any Beam of today, I thought, including the barrel sample that was present (which was still very good). As Mike said in his e-mail he brought forward, in the old days (and one would think bourbon flavour in 1900-1918 would be at least as good as 1960-1980) there seemed the possibility to get rich taste at relatively young ages. Today, it seems necessary to age whiskey much longer than formerly to get a big flavour going. And, there is a trade-off - old whiskey can taste woody and thinnish (maybe the tannin from the wood makes them seem thin. A lot of people like very aged bourbon of this style, but often I pine for full taste and balance without a heavy wood overlay.

I guess I am saying that based on comments such as Mike made and the odd tasting of older bottles, it seems bourbon may have been better in the "old days". Not all of it (there was probably too much young sharp bourbon around, more than today) but in the mid-range of ages I am speaking of.

I hope Julian Van Winkle, whose products have a lot of integrity, does succeed in the apparent goal to make the old Stitzel-Weller bourbon at Buffalo Trace. I think, in other words, there is a market for a full-flavoured whiskey aged 5-8 years. By the way, Evan Williams 7 years old is of this type. But it is hard generally to find such whiskeys today. In the Jim Beam range, most of the small batch series seems light (the body) on the palate except Knob Creek, and even Knob Creek seems less rich than when first released. Blanton's though does carry the flag for very full taste and rich flavour at a median age.. (and some of the Wild Turkey products, e.g. Kentucky Spirit, Russell's Reserve). Certainly for people who know where to look, there is no dearth of fine rich bourbon in the medium age range. But if, say, Jim Beam White Label was heavier in body than it is, might it not sell in even greater numbers, thereby earning more converts to straight whiskey? Ditto for Jack Daniel's, Maker's Mark, the regular Wild Turkey, Old Overholt rye whiskey, etc.


10-03-2003, 06:18
I agree they are making some fine bourbon today, but just consider this senerio- Today's quality controls for a bourbon that was made by distilling at 102 proof and put into the barrel at 100 proof, then aged 6 years. That would be a true "Distillers Masterpiece" in my book and worth the big bucks they would have to charge for a bottle.
Mike Veach

10-04-2003, 17:00
I felt Bobby's Yellowstone Mellow Mash from the early 1980's beat almost any bourbon out there today, premium, super-premium, whatever.

Thanks for mentioning that , Gary. I too was impressed by Mellow Mash, it has a richness that few bourbons today emulate. It dances over the tongue and there are many things going on at once. Wathens has it, It's pedigree and Mellow Mash are shared. Gts has it. I feel that Woodford Reserve, and I like WR for what it is, does not. It seems to me to be somewhat one dimensional, in a Maker's Mark, Ten High, way.

10-04-2003, 17:03

That Mellow Mash was one of the jewels of <font color="red"> Gazebo '03</font> . Have you been holding on to that bottle for some time, or did you recently discover it?

10-04-2003, 17:16
I have been hanging on to 4 bottles for a few years. It was probably some of the last dusty old stuff I found. In both cases I found 2 bottles and more was promised only to find out it was all gone. I made an amicable trade of 1 bottle, so as it stands I have 2 sealed and what's left in the Gazebo bottle. Maybe it will make a return visit! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif
Glad you enjoyed it, I had no idea really what to expect, But I did know that it was possible that it would be near Wathens, and actually it is good but didn't seem too similiar to me.

10-04-2003, 17:21
Maybe it will make a return visit!

Sorry if it seems I am conversing with myself.

I can't bring it back next year, I have some National Distillers Old Taylor that needs to be sampled. Maybe we can be surprized again! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif

10-04-2003, 17:24
The more the merrier Bobby http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif I hate to show my ignorance, but please elaborate on Mellow Mash's relationship to Wathens.

10-04-2003, 17:36
Both are creations of Master Distiller Charles Medley. We have discussed the origin of Wathens before and no real consensus was arrived at. However behind these 2 Bourbons stands the Yellowstone plants in Louisville( Now Gone) and Owensboro. Charles Medley had a distillery in Owensboro, hence the guessing game as it pertains to Wathens. The Mellow Mash does state that it came from Louisville. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif

10-04-2003, 17:53
Bobby, thanks for your posts on the Mellow Mash. I am sure the Old Taylor of National Distillers would acquit itself well too. I recently had some current Old Taylor and it is a shadow of what I recall from 20-30 years ago. As I was saying in the post you quoted from, in the old days many bourbons (e.g. Old Grandad) had a richness where as you say lots was happening. In other words, complexity. Not sure if it came from mingling or different production processes, but I fear we may be losing this "middle" category of quality bourbons, ie. the rich tasty ones far above the 4 year old norm in quality but less costly (and usually less woody) than most of the current super-premium bourbons out there.

Back to Mellow Mash, I kind of knew it would be very good because even the regular Yellowstone of the era was great, so I figured the Mellow Mash Yellowstone (being a premium version) had to be a winner. Thanks again for "tabling" it at the Gazebo '03.


10-04-2003, 18:13
Just to continue my thoughts here, I hope that the increasing number of super-premiums in the market doesn't lead distillers to weaken the quality or even withdraw their "regular" bourbons. Old Forester for example is a fine whiskey, so is Very Old Barton. The fact that Woodford Reserve has been a winner in the market (and rightly so) will not, I hope, lead to any less effort being put into OF than is done now. Since margins on the premium category are higher (given enough volume) than on the "regular" issue, I wonder if some distillers may be tempted to de-emphasise the regular bourbon(s) in their portfolio. 1792 is good but I actually prefer VOB and I hope the latter will always be available in its current forms (the various proofs and the BIB version).

Looking for a moment at Heaven Hill, their Elijah Craig bourbons are outstanding but I hope the company will always put out its current range of whiskeys under the Heaven Hill brand name and maintain their quality.

If one looks at the brewing industry, many brewers felt they had to go into the microbrewery style of beer (rich-tasting, more costly to make) and this led many to stop making their former line-up or lower its quality or image. I hope this will not happen in the bourbon industry.


10-04-2003, 19:07
Just to continue my thoughts here, I hope that the increasing number of super-premiums in the market doesn't lead distillers to weaken the quality or even withdraw their "regular" bourbons.

Is that even possible!? My understanding of how distilleries allocate their barrels isn't exactly by choice in most cases. BT can't just on a whim decide it's going to make more Blanton's...the individual barrels have to meet certain criteria (SB.com calls these "honey barrels"). There are always lesser quality ones which make it into lesser bottlings in the lineup. Sure, they can sell them to make blends, but only a certain percentage can be bottled as their premium products. Am I wrong here!?

10-04-2003, 19:51
I assume production could be expanded or adjusted to produce more high end bourbon. New warehouses can be built, maybe heated in certain ways, to produce more honey barrels. If the market is there, supply will respond to it...


10-05-2003, 07:52
Actually Charles Medley had nothing to do with the Mellow Mash bourbon. Mellow Mash was a product of the Yellowstone Distillery in Shively and it was closed down before Glenmore even bought the Medley Distillery. The reason it was called Mellow Mash was because the Yellowstone distillery had a special buffer zone at the top of its column still that recirculated the distillate before being sent through to the doubler. It was believed to make the whiskey more "mellow".
If I am remembering correctly, the distiller at Yellowstone when it closed was either a Dant who was married to a Beam or a Beam married to a Dant. Maybe Betty Jo can can help us out here.

Another footnote of interest - When Buddy Thompson sold Glenmore to U.D. the Mellow Mash label and about 50 barrels of the bourbon were kept by him for his personal use. At the 2001 Heritage Seminar (a program that has been cancelled by the new administration of the Getz Museum since it does not make the Bourbon Festival any money and only appealled to bourbon enthusiast) Julian Van Winkle and Buddy Thompson was on the panel. After the program was over, Julian tried hard to get Buddy to let him bottle the last of that 20+ year old bourbon for him before it all evaporated away.
Mike Veach

10-05-2003, 12:02
I think Wilmer Beam was at Yellowstone, But also several Dants were in the game as well. Interesting about Charles Medley not having anything to do with it. I took that from someones

" Whiskey Adventure"
Actually they only said he may have had something to do with it.

It is an excellent bourbon. the prospect of 20 year is intriguing, Hope he has monitored it for an improvement each of those years so as not to have a barrel of whiskey tainted tannins.

Beyond that All operations ceased at Louisville Yellowstone in 1991, so it was out before that.

I'll save you a drink Mike.

10-05-2003, 12:11
Very Good Bobby http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif

It was indeed my Uncle Wilmer who was a distiller at Yellowstone. I don't know the exact number of years that he worked there but I do have a letter dated November 1956 http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif Hmmmmm...another little tidbit to finish in my records. I don't know (from memory) how long he worked there http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif

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

10-05-2003, 12:18
http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif

10-05-2003, 16:22
Thanks for saving me some. Did you get to try some of the Yellowstone from 1980 I bought along Thursday to Buffalo Trace? That would be the same whiskey at less age and proof. It is quite good for an 80 proof Yellowstone. It was the best selling whiskey in Kentucky in the 1970's- early 80's. I will bring it along so we do a comparison.

Mike Veach

03-15-2004, 06:10
Well said, Mike.

03-15-2004, 06:30
> ...it could force the bigger companies to improve their quality and quit
> letting accountants sacrifice quality for savings in expense of production.
> Unfortunately most of the companies are public companies driven by the short
> term demands of stock holders instead of the long term investment needed to
> create better whiskey.

Could you briefly expand on this? If I recall correctly, you are known to
advocate iron clad warehouses over brick warehouses, and also a lower barrel
entry proof. Am I accurate in my recollection, and are other things that
you think would increase quality?

Tim Dellinger

03-15-2004, 07:16
The small companies that bottle products but do not distill are going to have less choice in the future as Heaven Hill becomes the only company selling to them. If Heaven Hill limits the choice of whiskey being sold to such companies then their quality could suffer.

Long term I wouldn't worry about this. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, business abhors an unmet demand. If Heaven Hill becomes the only source for bulk whiskey, especially if their supply is unsatisfactory, someone will step up. Barton, for example, has been known to quietly do some contract deals. There is some evidence that even Jim Beam has sold some bulk whiskey. The only reason any distiller would not would be if they are at or near their production capacity just to supply their own needs. If the industry gets to that point across the board, there are a couple of plants that could be reopened with a minimum of hassle and expense. The ones that come immediately to mind are Stitzel-Weller in Shively, Jim Beam in Frankfort (the Elkhorn Forks plants, formerly Old Grand-Dad) and Medley in Owensboro. (I'll admit I don't know the Owensboro distilleries as well as I do most of the others, but I'm pretty sure there is at least one plant there that could be reactivated relatively easily.)

03-15-2004, 07:18
If you are talking about the quality of the bourbon, I would say no.

Define what you mean by "quality."

03-15-2004, 09:01
I know we talked about this question last weekend and that you were asking everybody about the "Golden Age" of bourbon. I have refined my opinion and here it is.

The question is "Are we in a Golden Age of Bourbon?" My answer is determined by how you want to define "Golden Age". If you are talking about the quality of the bourbon, I would say no. There are many great bourbons being made now and the overall quality has risen in many cases, but some of the best bourbon I have ever drank was distilled at least 20 years ago. I would place the Van Winkle era Cabin Still at 4-5 years of age and 90 proof above anything being made today in the less than $25.00 a bottle catagory and many of the so called "super premium" bourbons today. A 5yo bonded I W Harper (1936-1941) that I drank was superior to most bourbon made today with complex citrus flavors with great vanilla and caramel tones from the barrel. Some of the best bourbons I have tasted were made in the past. Some of the worst bourbon I have drank were also made in the past so the overall quality has at the lower end has risen, but I feel the upper end has dropped as well.

Now if you are talking about consumer choices and overall quality, then yes we are entering a "Golden Age". There are many great choices of very good bourbons available. Unfortunately I feel we are on a knife's edge where the choices could become less and the quality could become less. I think the balance between improvement and blandness lies with competition. The small companies that bottle products but do not distill are going to have less choice in the future as Heaven Hill becomes the only company selling to them. If Heaven Hill limits the choice of whiskey being sold to such companies then their quality could suffer. However if some of these companies start looking into creating a smaller "micro-distillery" operation to support their brands, and if they distill a quality product, it could force the bigger companies to improve their quality and quit letting accountants sacrifice quality for savings in expense of production. Unfortunately most of the companies are public companies driven by the short term demands of stock holders instead of the long term investment needed to create better whiskey. If they make this investment and are profitable, look for some of the best whiskey made to come as they combine some old time methods with madern quality control. Julian and Buffalo Trace are the company to watch. If their experiment at reproducing the old family recipe works out, then that will signal the beginning of a true Golden Age, In my opinion.

Mike Veach

03-15-2004, 09:08
I have stated before in this thread that lower barrel proof would increase quality but be more expensive. I also know that some distillers have used enzyme to lower the amount of malt used at the expense of flavor. One brand has become over 80% corn because it is the cheapest grain and they wanted to make it cheaper. There have been a lot of changes made to make production cheaper at the cost of flavor.

I tend to prefer bourbons made in ironclad warehouses but that is really just part of the recipe as far as I am concerned. I have always liked Old Charter but it has been aged in brick warehouses since the end of prohibition. I think that is why it takes 8, 10 or 12 years to make it taste the way it does.

Mike Veach

03-15-2004, 09:12
In this case, maybe I should say flavor instead of quality. The quality as far as purity of product today is excellent. It is flavor that I consider better in some older products.

Mike Veach

03-15-2004, 09:13
Charles Medley owns the Medley distillery in Owensboro. I just wish he had the money and the market to get it running again.
Mike Veach

03-15-2004, 09:14
Thank you, Chuck.

03-15-2004, 10:58
Is that the Owensboro distillery Glenmore was using? Did he buy it back from them at some point?

03-15-2004, 23:08
Charles Medley purchased his family distillery back from U.D. in 1996.
Mike Veach