View Full Version : "Hand Selected"-"specilaty bottlings"

11-30-2005, 10:54
Large scale "Hand Selected"-"specialty bottlings" as opposed to "Single Barrel" bottlings...good, bad, or, who the hell cares?

These Specialty or hand selected bottlings seem to be showing up more and more lately. Certainly I'm more aware these days from personal exposure but also from others posting their findings here on the SBdotcom site.

My first question is this...Are the special bottlings "SPECIAL"?

I don't have a bottle of W L Weller HC 10yo Frankfort to compare to the BevMo "hand selected for" edition. I have tasted the latter and find it to be quite delightful, but I digress. And, although I can get my hands on the two editions of Knob Creek (and not having done that) my focus is on the background of "special or hand selected" for the larger, retail chains.

Recent/past postings about the problems with single barrel bottlings centered on the complaints and disappointments from the "customer" regarding the fact that it (the whiskey) didn't taste the same as the OB version...well Duhhh!

More specifically, I learned from a statement made by our own Randy Blank a last falls single barrel selections being made at BT and it was, to my best recollection, something like;

"This barrel here shows something out of the ordinary, it has everything good that the other barrels show but with a distinctive bonus, setting it apart from the others, I like this distinctive difference, I think we should buy this one too!" (Well, we did, but again I digress)

My point leading to my second question;

Do these "Special" bottlings hold the same level of potential for disappointment to the less knowledgeable consumer in the general marketplace much like the person who bought a "Single Barrel" bottling and complained of the difference....?

Or my third question;

Is the basic flavor profile of that given whiskey unchanged from the "baseline" profile of the distillery flavor profile or, does the bottom line boil down to a fancy gold sticker installed as a "BevMo-Corporate-Ego-Marketing-Tool"?

Now, BevMo has a large ability because of its' selling power, and I don't mean to single them out in a negative way...quite the contrary. I believe that companies like BT and Beam pay attention to these larger retailers, but do they run any risk when making "special" or "different tasting" bottlings?

Your thoughts please...

I don't know if anyone from Beam or BevMo looks in here, but Ken From BT does....What do guys you think?


11-30-2005, 11:21
Do these "Special" bottlings hold the same level of potential for disappointment to the less knowledgeable consumer in the general marketplace

I don't think the general consumer will discern any difference, especially after they mix it with their Coke or Pepsi.

11-30-2005, 11:45
My first question is this...Are the special bottlings "SPECIAL"?

They are special in that they are unique. Are they "more" unique? Or more to the point - Are they better?? That depends on what the offering is, who is doing the choosing etc. I would suggest that very few people have the same ability to select a quality Bourbon that, say Elmer or Jimmy do. BUT, if THEY bring you 5 barrels that meet their standards and you get to choose the one that hits your palate just right, well, that's a win-win. Now if that barrel is being selected by BevMo, well, does their palate match yours??? If 'yes' you have a winner!

Do these "Special" bottlings hold the same level of potential for disappointment to the less knowledgeable consumer in the general marketplace much like the person who bought a "Single Barrel" bottling and complained of the difference....?

Really, that goes back to the above point, does their palate match yours??

Is the basic flavor profile of that given whiskey unchanged from the "baseline" profile of the distillery flavor profile or, does the bottom line boil down to a fancy gold sticker installed as a "BevMo-Corporate-Ego-Marketing-Tool"?

If the distillery is presenting it as Buffalo Trace or ETL or Kentucky Spirit you would certainly think it would show the basic flavor profile of that offering.

I do not think it boils down to a gold sticker but rather a chance to taste variations on a theme. My 'if you could only buy one' scenario aside, most of us really enjoy the subtle (or not to subtle) differences both between brands and between bottles. You may like some better and some not quite so much but noticing the differences and figuring out what has changed is a most enjoyable passtime.

Now, of course, Wade is spot on. For most of us, the subtleties we're discussing here would be very small indeed. And for the + Coke crowd.... does it really even matter??



11-30-2005, 12:20

I do not think it boils down to a gold sticker but rather a chance to taste variations on a theme.

For us here, I'd agree, when finding that bottle on the shelf it was immediately picked up for exactly the reasons you outlined above. I, like you, celebrate the different variations found in our whiskies; we are at one end of the consumer spectrum... And Wade, your comment about the cola mixers is at the other end of the consumer spectrum...

I'm more interested about the person, somewhere in the middle, maybe a "Brand" drinker, that would be dissatisfied with the product because it was different, and then go back to the cash register for a refund or be dissatisfied with the product and change. Wouldn't the person that found themselves in the middle group be most susceptible to this, and wouldn't that middle group be much larger that the "ends" combined?

(I understand "drinking whiskey the way you like it") but...(I don't know if I'll never completely understand the "cola mixers", let alone someone who would spend lots more money on a expensive whiskey just to dumb it down) (I don't think I want to try and understand it...install blinders here)

11-30-2005, 12:29
While I (SADLY!) think the cola mixers are actually the largest group (by volume sold), for the middle group you define I suspect these variations are largely lost. For them, the bulk of the value may indeed be the gold sticker. "Lookie what I bought!" I doubt there are significant enough variations to be found.


11-30-2005, 12:50
If the distillery is presenting it as Buffalo Trace or ETL or Kentucky Spirit you would certainly think it would show the basic flavor profile of that offering.

Yup, pretty much agree here. When the place I worked for bought a barrel of "Knob Creek" from Beam they offered us two barrels to taste from, and they were quite close to the standard KC profile(though at barrel proof), I quite sure that they didn't pick two barrels at random and have them be so close in flavor(both to each other and to regular KC).

When the same place went to BT to buy a barrel of their namesake, they offered us IIRC 6 barrels to pick from, there was much more disparity among the flavors in these barrels, though not enough that the average customer is going to cry foul, but enough that the enthusiast will pick out a uniqueness to the pour. Some were sweeter some spicier some with more oak, but the base profile was there to back it up.

Does it boil down to a ego marketing tool? Well, to some extent, but also(in the case of the restaurant where I worked) it really is also an educational tool. The staff went along to help pick, took a tour of the distillery(which made doing Beam quite a unique experience, as they give no actual plant tours, though spending half a day with Elmer was unbeatable. BT also went more in depth than a standard tour also). The staff now knows more about bourbon, has one they they helped pick out and will therefore recommend and sell more of.

I'm sure if I was a distiller and was selling to a company(like a restaurant or retailer) I would be very guarded with my brand image and therefore select barrels close to the flavor profile of my brand, however if I were selling to an individual (or a group of enthusiasts) that wasn't going to be resold, I would probably leave it more to chance and let the selection be a much more personal experience. I've heard this is pretty much how it went with the Van Winkle bottling.

11-30-2005, 13:57
I'll add my little two cents from the marketing side that I have personal knowledge of. I've been to two different retailers selling bottles with the neat gold sticker "Hand Selected for ________" and asked the question "Who selected these barrels and could I visit with him". Like stated by others above, most of us appreciate the little differences that show up in different barrels for the same brand. I wanted to know what he found different and likeable in his/her selections. Anyway, the answer I got was something like....."We don't always send someone to KY to personally select a barrel. Its too expensive. We just ask one of the distillery's experts to do it for us". WHAT the heck? In these cases it was simply all marketing ...... not something picked out by a local enthusiast of bourbon. IOW, it was not the same person picking the special barrel of KC, BT, JD, VW, etc etc......so there was no one's judgement to trust for purchasing future "Hand Selections". Needless to say, I passed on any purchases .....and I was an eager buyer because I wanted to judge their VW 12yo against mine.

Fortunately there are retailers who have a whisky(ey) expert on staff to do their selections.....and if you like their choices, then you have a source for good, unique bottlings of your favorite bourbons.

I have been fortunate to participate in four single barrel purchases. The first one was all by my lonesome with Julian.....and I could pick out one I liked. My choice stood out primarily in the nose and had a distictive pie spice flavor to it. Otherwise, the barrels all tasted like Julian's excellent 12yo. My second effort was part of a group's selection of a BT SB.......and the barrel chosen was not my first choice. Excellent bourbon.....but not mine. To me, it was fairly close to the standard BT but with a slightly earthy element. My third and fourth efforts were with our SB group during this past Fest. Again, the group's barrel selection was not in my top two....so I quickly organized a sub group to buy the barrel I liked best. A third barrel was also purchased. We'll hopefully have the fruits of our selections soon. It will be interesting to taste these three SB bottlings of the same whiskey side-by-side and look for distinguishing characteristics. My point of all this rambling based on my experience is this.....unless you're the one doing the barrel picking, you may or may not like it better than the standard bottling.....but it should provide enough different tastes/smells to be of interest.

In answer to Doug's other question.....I doubt the differences in a "hand selected" barrel would drive off any customers of that brand's standard product.


11-30-2005, 15:31
I've been to three barrel selections. Two with SB.com'ers and one with a local retailer. Its been pretty much the same: You can't screw up!!! All the barrels presented for selection were at least as good as the stuff you buy off the shelf. The profiles were so similar, once you compensated for proof differences, that you couldn't go wrong. That said, there was something unique to me, either real or "in my head" that drove me towards one selection, and I'd have to say it was something in the nose that "grabbed me". I would describe it as pleasant, triggering some olfactory memory.
I really like the social event. Its worth a couple of C notes just to get together in that environment. (Getting the bourbon two months down the line is a big bonus)
I paid more than that to do 20 laps in a NASCAR and had to pay for the picture so I had something to take home besides stained underwear.
Everytime I drink a hand-picked selection, there's a story. A good one.
I'm rambling.
Bottom Line:
Its not like going into the warehouse and grabbing 20 barrels at random and picking a winner, when there might be 10 losers destined for bulk sale as glue diluent.
Its fun, has some market spin and beats the heck out of pickin' it off the shelf in Walgreen's.
As far as Big Retailer's Special Selections. I have no tie. Price is the same. Doesn't do it for me. Never had a bad one, but nothing exciting about them either. (Except that BT Selection at Thoroughbred. Our "second choice")

11-30-2005, 17:31
I'm not sure how this fits into your original question..........I've forgotten most of what I've read up to this point. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif Some very good, and lengthy post that I enjoyed reading.

I think its fits the good, bad or who cares part. Anyway......One of the large retailers locally carries a nice selection of "specialaty bottlings". They are generally BT products that are not marketed otherwise in my area. This gives me a much appreciated oportunity to enjoy bourbon that I would not be able to easily get.........so I say "good"

11-30-2005, 18:55
My take on all this is "I don't know", EXCEPT for the case where an outfit like Bevmo or Hi Time buys a single barrel of what otherwise would be a much larger batch. If the "special" bourbon they are hawking is the same price as the normal stuff, I buy it and regard it as generally, a good deal.
Joe http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/usflag.gif

11-30-2005, 20:55
I have had a few "hand picked" bottles over the past year. With the Binny's Buffalo Trace, I had nothing to compare it to, as I had never had BT in its "not hand picked" format. With the Hi Times ETL, I had a current ETL as well as some older black label stuff to compare it to, and the Hi Times version blew them both away. So far, I guess I am better off for having the special bottles, than not.

12-01-2005, 21:25
Great thread (as usual) Doug!

Regardless of the quality of the bourbon in the barrel and the difference between the chosen barrel and the standard bottle, it's a marketing tool that benefits the distillery, the store, and potentially the consumer. The distillery gets sales from the store. The store gets sales from the customer, who buys it because it is different from the regular bottle. If customers believe Bevmo sells quality items, this will work. If customers only care about price, it won't work. I don't think Bevmo customers only go to Bevmo for price alone. I think Bevmo has developed a brand image, which allows it to do this sort of thing.

Also, the distillery could use this as an opportunity to get rid of some barrels that don't fit into its regular flavor profile. This is not to say that the barrels are bad, just different. Think about it. I highly doubt Beam said to Bevmo, "come on down to our warehouse and pick any barrel you want". Most likely Bevmo was given some barrels to choose from. In actuality the barrels are selected by Beam, not Bevmo; however, the overall consumer impression might be that Bevmo choose the barrel because of its high quality.

Finally, the difference between the hand selected barrel product and the standard product could be minimal, yet the marketing would still work. How many consumers do side by side tastings? How many of us have had a different drinking experience with a favorite bourbon when we drank it in a blind tasting? I know I have. What percentage of the drinking experience comes from the image of the bottle? I believe it's more than we'd care to admit.

Bottom line, it's good marketing and I think we'll see more and more of it.

12-02-2005, 07:20
Tim.......I (and others) have been trying to convince a couple of the distilleries to allow some of their good customers (us!) a chance to taste and purchase a barrel of some of their oddities. By virtue of acquisitions, contract distilling for others, etc, they all end up with odd lots of whiskey made by/or for old so-and-so but they own it now. It's not in sufficient quantity to come to market with.....even in a limited edition. So it usually gets worked into a lower or mid shelf bottling and its uniqueness lost forever. Let us come and taste these.....negotiate a price (it will have to go thru a distributor and retailer).....and bottle it under some old label/brand no longer in use but still approved by whatever state we take delivery in. Put a little sticker on it for us. So far.....all I've gotten is something like...."We appreciate where you're coming from as a bourbon enthusiast.....we like to taste these things too. But a barrel here and a barrel there just doesn't reach our bottom line."

As you said Tim, it would be a way for them to sell some of their unusual barrels.....but they do it now by putting it into their 100 barrel dump of __________.

So far, no one is jumping all over this.......but I'm (we're) still pursueing it.


12-02-2005, 13:50
But a barrel here and a barrel there just doesn't reach our bottom line."

But it shouldn't detract from their bottom line either. After all, a sale is a sale. Is it that much additional trouble on their part to sell single barrels? I should hardly think so.
Joe http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/usflag.gif