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View Full Version : Where are The True Indpendent US Bottlers



Bamber
05-03-2006, 05:43
I recently bought a bottle of Cadenheads (a Scottish independent bottler of fine spirits). This was described as ~59% 11yo Frankfort distillery bourbon and was from a limited run of about 270 bottles (from memory). This is an incredible bourbon that I'm sure most forum members would love.

For those of you who are not 'into' Scotch, Cadenheads along with Douglas Laing, is one of the most well respected Scotch whisky bottlers around and consumers can buy with confidence, whatever the country or distillery. Every bottle is different and provides a unique whisk(e)y experience. The labeling is transparent, such that no two Heaven Hill offering (say) can be confused.

So to get to my question, where is the American equivalent ?

I know we have stuff like Noah's Mill, but this is just a brand, which is aiming for consistency. I noticed Binny's have started doing their own single barrel bottling of BT (not available to me unfortunately).

Rather than worrying about differences between PVW 15yo and ORVW 15yo, we could celebrate them. PVW 15yo is a new bottling, to be explored and enjoyed.

An indpendent bottler offering single cask offering of different ages from different distilleries would be allow bourbon drinkers access to some of the variety Scotch drinkers have enjoyed for many years.

Two years ago I was obsessed with trying as many American whiskeys as possible. Now I feel like I've tried practically eveything I wanted to and have been drawn back to Scotch.

My favourite whisk(e)ys are still American, but I'm not ready to stop exploring yet. It seems to me there is just so much potential being untapped for American whiskey.

Hedmans Brorsa
05-03-2006, 08:15
I seem to recall that I raised this issue back in the early days of the forum. I got the reply that in America everything was focused on brands, brands and brands again.

If I remember right, I also managed to incur the wrath of the (occasionaly volatile) then member Linn Spencer. (To compare with Scotch was a no-no. :grin:)

Bamber
05-03-2006, 09:17
....
If I remember right, I also managed to incur the wrath of the (occasionaly volatile) then member Linn Spencer. (To compare with Scotch was a no-no. :grin:)

You do get that from some Bourbon drinkers. I wonder if the situation in the Bourbon vs. Scotch debate is starting to switch. There seems to be a lot more acceptance of Bourbon by the Scotch drinking community of late.

WLW recently got whisky of the month in Whisky Magazine and there was plenty of people at the Bourbon stands at Whisky Live in London.

Scotch would do well to emulate Bourbons exacting standards re colouring, but I believe Bourbon can increase it's wider appeal (i.e. Europe), with better labeling and more single barrel offerings.

At the end of the day it is up to the big brands to allow their whiskey to be rebranded. Most of the IB's we get in the UK are from Heaven Hill.

Anyone fancy some 8-12yo SB barrel strength Maker's Mark or WT ?

chasking
05-03-2006, 09:18
The American whiskey market has been in a state of rapid change for a while now, and it may have been that "back in the early days of the forum" there might not have been a market for independent bottlings of specific honey barrels, I get the impression that that may have changed. This is sort of going on already with the purchases of barrels by SB denizens.

All it really needs is somebody to do it commercially. The toughest part would probably be getting whatever licenses and permits are required to sell whiskey, and negotiating the distribution labyrinth. If each label requires a time-consuming and probably costly process to get it approved, that may be an impediment to doing a bunch of single-cask bottlings. IIRC the barrels that the SB folks bought were bottled as existing products (Weller 12, wasn't it?). But maybe a label could be approved with blanks to write in the distillery, cask number, age, etc. There are lots of brands now that have batch numbers, barrel numbers, etc. that differ from bottle to bottle: WTRB, Woodford Reserve, etc.

If I had some capital to play with, this could actually be a fun part-time business. It is the kind of thing that could be started small and expanded if successful; even if it's not wildly successful I can't imagine it would lose money: there's just got to be a market for bottles of really good whiskey; the question is how much American whiskey that market is prepared to absorb.

Bamber
05-03-2006, 09:46
Johnnie Walker started out as one shop. Surely the market is ready for Bourbon.

My impression at the SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Society) bar is that whilst bourbon maybe does not get the respect it deserves, people will happily drink it and enjoy it.

Seems to me the Scottish IB's are ideally placed to start buying barrels from the US. I can only imagine American distilleries are unwilling to sell them or the IB's are fearful about changing their image by bottling American whiskey.

George T. Stagg sells for 100 a bottle in this country. I cannot believe quality barrels from well known distilleries would not sell easily.

doubleblank
05-03-2006, 10:17
Hey Chuck......I think you are spot on with your answers above. The legal maze one must traverse to do single barrel, limited, unique bottlings is huge. And the costs associated with getting necessary state and federal approvals, etc is not insignificant.

Again, as you stated above, members of this board and many retailers are essentially doing the same thing. We short circuit the process by tasting and purchasing barrels and have them bottled as a currently approved "label". These "special" barrels can be identified or described by using additional neck labels and neck tags. For example, several board members jointly purchased four barrels of Stitzel Weller whiskey from BT. They were bottled as Weller 12yo and have neck labels identifying each as a single barrel. The barrel I received has a label saying "Single Barrel of Stitzel Weller Bourbon/Distilled Summer 1992/Bottled Fall 2005". I could have added warehouse location, etc but that info doesn't interest me much. I now have bottles from six different barrels I either selected myself or participated in their selection.

As Bamber noted, Binny's, in Chicago, has an extensive single barrel program. They are even able to have certain barrels processed differently, ie, bottled without chill filtering, etc. They have an excellent RHF done as a single barrel w/o chill filtering. Binny's is just one example. Even small retail shops are doing it now.

When I was at BT during the Sampler, I saw at least fifty barrels selected by various retailers as single barrel products waiting to be bottled. Their single barrel bottling line is backed up for months. So, the answer to Bambers q about where are the special bottlings.......they are out there, just camoflauged as commercial bottlings and only at certain retailers. I'm quite certain a UK retailer could come to KY and purchase a "special" barrel and have it bottled as BT with their identifying label (or some other bottle available there).

Randy

Bamber
05-03-2006, 10:28
Well that sounds pretty much what I'm after Randy. Shame I cannot buy the stuff :(

Seems like how the big blends like Johnnie Walker, and the rest started out. Retailers bottling their own brand.

It's still a step away from having a Binny's or sb.com (say) own label, where they have bottled and branded the stuff themselves.

Imagine sb.com offering a dozen single barrel offerings form different distilleries, with new stuff coming out every few months.

I'm getting thirsty :)

doubleblank
05-03-2006, 10:40
The issues are not insurmountable. LeNell (who posts here occasionally) owns a liquor store in NYC. She is in the process of creating her own label for whiskey for sale in her store. I recall her saying she recently picked the barrels for her initial bottlings....one of which is a barrel proof rye. So it can be done.....maybe she can describe the process from her perspective.

I like your idea of a series of SB single barrel bourbons out in the retail market. I volunteer for the selection committee.

Randy

Bamber
05-03-2006, 11:22
I volunteer for the selection committee.
Randy

I'll be an overseas correspondent please !!!!

boone
05-03-2006, 11:31
The American whiskey market has been in a state of rapid change for a while now, and it may have been that "back in the early days of the forum" there might not have been a market for independent bottlings of specific honey barrels, I get the impression that that may have changed. This is sort of going on already with the purchases of barrels by SB denizens.

All it really needs is somebody to do it commercially. The toughest part would probably be getting whatever licenses and permits are required to sell whiskey, and negotiating the distribution labyrinth. If each label requires a time-consuming and probably costly process to get it approved, that may be an impediment to doing a bunch of single-cask bottlings. IIRC the barrels that the SB folks bought were bottled as existing products (Weller 12, wasn't it?). But maybe a label could be approved with blanks to write in the distillery, cask number, age, etc. There are lots of brands now that have batch numbers, barrel numbers, etc. that differ from bottle to bottle: WTRB, Woodford Reserve, etc.

If I had some capital to play with, this could actually be a fun part-time business. It is the kind of thing that could be started small and expanded if successful; even if it's not wildly successful I can't imagine it would lose money: there's just got to be a market for bottles of really good whiskey; the question is how much American whiskey that market is prepared to absorb.

The independent bottler may soon feel the "pinch" for extra aged bourbon...That may put a slow down of private SB bottlings. It's been noted that the scope is "deperate"....

There was a article in Whiskey Magazine about the shortage of extra aged bourbon. Not just one or two distilleries, but all of them. Mark Brown, Buffalo Trace, called it desperate...Stockpiles dropped 40% in 2004 the lowest since 1998. Max Shapria, Heaven Hill Distilleries, noted a increase in outage. The angle share incresased dramatically....

No one can predict the future... :grin: I suspect that this pinch will last a few more years and things will level :grin: :grin: :grin: They have "the crystal ball" out and I can bet it's sayin'-----> "Mo' Bourbon" :grin: :grin: :grin: :grin:

Bettye Jo

Gillman
05-03-2006, 11:55
In my opinion, this is where the skill of the mingler/vatter/blender (call it what you will) will come in. If there is less well-aged product to go around and be offered as single barrel the careful mingling of whiskeys that are younger to produce a well-balanced, tasty product may be the way to go. This may require expertise at combining wheat- and rye-recipe bourbons possibly with other straight whiskeys. Maybe the old blend of straight whiskeys, or combinations of minimum 51% bourbon or rye with remainder being one or more straight whiskeys, will come back. Their last heyday seemed to be in the late 40's and this can be explained I think by the cessation of bourbon distilling during the war ('42-'45 in U.S.). This no doubt resulted in a shortage of well-matured product for some years in the Truman era.

Gary

TMH
05-03-2006, 12:26
I would love to see US IBs or even an IB like Signatory do bourbon. If done properly, I think it would be a huge success. I've been disappointed with the limited bottlings being released by BT to various liquor stores and SB members. There is so much potential to release truly exceptional bourbon, but instead chill-filtered standard proof bourbon is being pitched as an exclusive barreling. Unless that changes, why bother? Same whiskey different label. :rolleyes:

boone
05-03-2006, 12:59
I would love to see US IBs or even an IB like Signatory do bourbon. If done properly, I think it would be a huge success. I've been disappointed with the limited bottlings being released by BT to various liquor stores and SB members. There is so much potential to release truly exceptional bourbon, but instead chill-filtered standard proof bourbon is being pitched as an exclusive barreling. Unless that changes, why bother? Same whiskey different label. :rolleyes:

I think they do a excellent job! :grin:

Let the Scotch folks give it a whirl...:slappin: :slappin: :slappin: :slappin: :slappin: :slappin: :slappin: :slappin: :slappin:

We now have "annual" Bourbonian Taster of the Year" award. This is to single out our "official" taster amoung us :grin: :grin: :grin: :grin: As of today, Chuck Cowdery holds the title...Actually, it was a tie between Jon (bucky1) and Chuck (cowdery)...We held a "taste off" :grin: Chuck identified Barton's as a 6 year product. He won the title with that correct answer.

A blind taste test is a very humbling experinece....and it will set folks straight really quick...

When folks drink bourbon...What you "see" is what it is...In a blind taste test, what you don't see, most won't know what it is.

We had a big chuckle in the lab at BT the other day about Chill filtering...

Most have strong opinions on this...but the taste test tells the tale.

After reading this...there's gonna be a "extra section" added to our tasting. I am going to add chill filtered and non-chill filtered to the agenda---same product---If I can get it :grin: :grin:

This will be marked seperate...for reference in future topic's on Chllin' :grin:

It's Onnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn :grin: :grin: :grin:

chasking
05-03-2006, 13:09
A couple next logical steps I could see independent bottlers taking:

First, there are no doubt excellent and interesting barrels of whiskey in the warehouses of various distillers that for one reason or another simply don't fit the flavor profile of any of their regular products. My understanding is that such barrels tend to get dumped in with huge numbers of other more standard barrels in mass-market products, or re-distilled into vodka. I believe that even in instances where the distilleries sell individual barrels to customers, those barrels are from a relatively small selection already approved as meeting the flavor profile of the brand as which they will be bottled. I think it would be fascinating to have access to barrels that don't meet the standard flavor profile (although they are still good). Independent bottlers would be a possible outlet for such whiskey.

Then, there is the potential for bottlers to buy actual physical barrels of whiskey to age themselves, and bottle when they decide the whiskey is ready. I believe this is what some if not most of them do in Scotland. That would require more money up front.

One of these days when I have some free time, I may look into the regs and see just what needs to be done to get a label approved, and just how specific the label would have to be. Something that identifies the bottler but has blanks for the details (Bottling #X, distilled at distillery A on date Y and bottled on date Z, XXX proof) could be pretty versatile. I suppose separate labels would be necessary for bourbon, rye, and whatever other variations might come along (i.e., a Gillman Special blend). As far as state regulations go, for practical purposes it would probably not be necessary to register in a bunch of states. Sam's and Binny's both sell from Illinois and ship to wherever booze can be shipped to. So, jumping through the legal hoops in Illinois and Kentucky would probably go a long way. (Apologies to those of you who live elsewhere and can't order.)

Gillman
05-03-2006, 13:38
That sounds good Bettye Jo but either way when SB-ers get together chillin's the name of the game. :)

Gary

Bamber
05-03-2006, 17:24
I think they do a excellent job! :grin:

Let the Scotch folks give it a whirl...:slappin: :slappin: :slappin: :slappin: :slappin: :slappin: :slappin: :slappin: :slappin:


From my experience at Cadenheads and the SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Society), when 'the Scotch folks have given it a whirl', they've come up with the goods. These guys are experts in determining what barrels to buy and when they are ripe to be bottled - it's what they do. I guess it's easier when your not restricted by a particular taste profile.

The SMWS bottlings are amongst the best whiskies Bourbon or Scotch I've tried at the society ..... they're all Heaven Hill bottlings by the way - barrel proof and non chill filtered. I remember one time I walked in the society bar a year or so ago and everyone was literally drinking cask strength Heaven Hill bourbon. I always have a pour of that when I'm there.

The Frankfort (BT ?) bottling I mentioned is just so exceptional and I would honestly rank it up there with the very best whiskies I've ever drunk. The guy in the Cadenheads shop in London spoke knowledgeably and respectfully about Bourbon and when I told him I considered American whiskey at least the equal of Scotch he seemed pleased not offended, despite him dedicating his life to that spirit. He bolted down those stairs to get me one of the last 2 bottles available. I'll also add that I went in their with my heart set on a bottle of Rosebank or Ardbeg and it was him that talked me round to the Bourbon. I guess the point I'm trying to make is one should not underestimate the kudos Bourbon is developing on this side of the pond.

I've not tried the American 'IB's' (Binny's et al) mentioned but if they are chill filtered low proof bottlings, they do not pique my interest the way a straight from the barrel offering does: I'm quite capable of adding water myself.

As for chill filtering, I don't honestly know. My instincts tell me it's a bad thing but as Betty Jo points out, unless you've tried the same 2 whiskies side by side with the same treatment you don't really know. A bottle of GTS, a deep freeze and some filter paper sounds like a noble experiment ot me ....

doubleblank
05-03-2006, 19:19
Tim3......Which SB member bottlings have disappointed you? I love the barrel I purchased and it is very different from the standard bottling. The nose is the best of any whiskey I have ever tried. Most who have tried it also enjoy it and the difference it has from the standard. Some stores may accept a single barrel that tastes like the standard....but they don't have to. BT will roll out as many barrels as you're willing to taste to find a unique one for you.

As to chill filtering.....have you ever tried many side by sides. Next time in Frankfort, visit the BT lab and do some. I've done it and you might be surprised.

A taste of the Van Blankle will answer "Why bother?"

Randy

TMH
05-04-2006, 21:34
Randy,

Let me clarify what I meant about being disappointed with special bottlings. I've never had a bottle of SW I didn't like and highly doubt that will change. However, on occasion, after enjoying some SW, I've wondered what it would taste like straight from the barrel. This has made me wish for such a bottling. Overall, I've been disappointed to find that although the special bottlings from BT are amazing, to me they don't differ too far from a regular release on proof. Again, that's not to say, the bottlings weren't amazing, but I find myself wondering if it was a missed opportunity.

TNbourbon
05-04-2006, 21:45
...after enjoying some SW, I've wondered what it would taste like straight from the barrel...

Having tasted at least four S-W barrels both from the barrel and after (chill-filtered) processing, I can't honestly say I'd prefer them from the barrel, other than for proof. In fact, the so-called 'Barrel of the Year', or BOTY, is much better bottled than I expected it to be from barrel sampling.

NorCalBoozer
05-04-2006, 22:24
Tim, do the S/W barrels from BT have to be cut to 90 proof to meet the Weller label? Would it be possible to do a s/w bottled at barrel proof?

Bamber
05-05-2006, 01:38
.... I can't honestly say I'd prefer them from the barrel, other than for proof .....

Is that not the whole point :)

I understand a branded whiskey being cut and vatted to produce a consistent product, but with a SB offering it makes no sense to me.

The aformentioned Douglas Laing OMC bottling are all cut to 50% alcohol, which I guess is a compromise, but personally I'd rather see them at full strength.

Bourbon is, IMO, more drinkable than Scotch at higher proofs. Let the consumer add water as they see fit.

chasking
05-05-2006, 08:09
Tim, do the S/W barrels from BT have to be cut to 90 proof to meet the Weller label? Would it be possible to do a s/w bottled at barrel proof?

I believe you've just described William Larue Weller. Or was that S-W whiskey? In any event, now that the WLW label has been established presumably it could be used for such a bottling if necessary, if BT would be willing to do so.

Rughi
05-05-2006, 08:31
Having tasted at least four S-W barrels both from the barrel and after (chill-filtered) processing, I can't honestly say I'd prefer them from the barrel, other than for proof.

But wasn't being allowed to have that experience of some value? I would (and do) pay money to have the experience and make the choice for myself.

I wish the discussion wasn't "either/or" but rather "both/and." I don't think many of us are trying to minimize our purchases to only a few preselected "greatest" versions, but rather to understand and appreciate the breadth of flavors possible.

When I buy bottlings of Old Forester (including early Woodford and Birthday Bourbon) from every era and expression I can get my hands on, it's not just to decide which is "best" but to understand the differences. I find that to be an enjoyable thing. And when guests come, I don't just tell them to drink the one I've chosen as "best" and forgo all the other choices, I tell them about what differences I find and urge them to make their own decision on what is "best."

Where BT offers both versions of their product (such as a Sam's edition Centennial I have that is un-chill filtered), I might very well buy both, just to taste the differences for myself. With the Centennial I have bought both for just this reason, and to me the un-chill filtered blows away the standard, but YMMV, and I respect that if it does.

I guarantee more money comes out of my wallet when I have the opportunity to experience different expressions of bourbon than when I have only one choice.

I'm surprised to hear so many voices saying that we shouldn't want to have the choice.

Roger

dougdog
05-05-2006, 09:10
I wonder if a company like KBD would take you into their warehouse and let you sample barrels to make your choice, bottle them for you, un-cut at barrel proof, non chill-filtered, and make a custom label for you...

doubleblank
05-05-2006, 09:42
Tim....I hear what you're saying about picking the "ideal" proof of a single barrel or leaving it at barrel proof. After I picked my barrel of Van Winkle Lot B, Julian commented that he agreed with my choice as being special and interesting ..... and added that this was one barrel he'd like to do at barrel proof.

But many barrels taste better at lower proofs. Just last week at a SW barrel picking at BT, they lined up 5 barrels and thieved samples. As we reviwed the samples, many noted that barrel 2 was very hot on both the nose and taste at barrel proof. I commented "Don't dismiss this one just yet....nose it and taste it at a lower proof". Guess what....at lower proof this one was the best of the lot and the groups top choice. This is where the services of an IB come into play....they could pick the proof that best presents a particular whiskey. My point is that going for barrel proof does not always give the consumer the best product. If all we had to evaluate the barrels last week was a barrel proof sample, barrel 2 might have come in last.....and missed getting a special whiskey.

Chuck raises a good point....now that BT has two established labels at barrel proof.....one rye and one wheat...theoretically we could ask to taste some barrels and have them bottled at barrel proof. They probably won't do it beacause these are their flagship bottlings so to speak and want to keep it a limited bottling.

The Kulsveens and Julian are probably best situated to do some of the things being discussed here. To date, they have focused recently on developing "brands", but have helped various others like the Twisted Spoke in Chicago and Blue Smoke in NYC get labels approved and do special bottlings for them. They are the ones to answer the question posed here....why not do special, single barrel bottlings for a few premium markets?

Randy

NorCalBoozer
05-05-2006, 11:36
But many barrels taste better at lower proofs. Just last week at a SW barrel picking at BT, they lined up 5 barrels and thieved samples. As we reviwed the samples, many noted that barrel 2 was very hot on both the nose and taste at barrel proof. I commented "Don't dismiss this one just yet....nose it and taste it at a lower proof". Guess what....at lower proof this one was the best of the lot and the groups top choice. This is where the services of an IB come into play....they could pick the proof that best presents a particular whiskey. My point is that going for barrel proof does not always give the consumer the best product. If all we had to evaluate the barrels last week was a barrel proof sample, barrel 2 might have come in last.....and missed getting a special whiskey.
Randy

A 90 proof or chill filtered bourbon is not the same as a barrel proof/unchill filtered bourbon. Both can be outstanding, but are not the same product.

To me it depends on what the outcome you're shooting for is, which for me is uncut, and not maximizing the taste from a set # of barrels to get the best taste from those barrels.

If your premise is that you want barrel proof unchill filtered bourbon, then you start from there and pick barrels accordingly. If you don't find what you want in taste profile, then you don't purchase anything to bottle within those specs.

Maybe go to another distiller and keep trying.

I can see what you're saying about the best barrel out of a group having to be watered to 90 to get the best taste profile of 5 barrels. that makes sense if your ultimate goal is to get the best tasting bourbon from 5 barrels. We are clouding the point b/c people want to get the last of the S/W. Lets take the last of the S/W out of the picture, what if your goal is to get the best barrel strength, unchill filtered bourbon?

I and others are probably more interested in the category of barrel strength unchillfiltered bourbon right now, independent of any particular distiller. While S/W is great whiskey, I'm not that inclined to get an uncut version just b/c it's S/W. I'd like to have good S/W bourbon(at whatever proof) and also I'd like to get an array of bourbons that are uncut.

TMH
05-05-2006, 12:05
http://www.stl-inc.com/images/stockPhotos/water_dropper.JPG

doubleblank
05-05-2006, 12:49
We've kind of moved this thread off topic from "Where are the IB's and why aren't they doing special bottlings?" to "Why aren't there more barrel proof/unchill filtered bourbons out there?" Again, I think Julian, Drew and the important retailers could answer the first one and any distiller or IB could answer the second, different question.

Since this a free enterprise system.....I'd bet its just good ol' economics. My guess is that building brands is more important to the current IB's than issueing small, specialty bottlings.....and the big guys (at least their accountants) don't see a large market for the barrel proof/unchill filtered products.

Randy

doubleblank
05-06-2006, 08:33
Last comment regarding the selection of barrel proof/unchill filtered bourbons. To my knowledge, Bookers, Stagg, and W L Weller are the commercially available barrel proof, single barrels available in the US. BT also makes a barrel proof single barrel Blantons for overseas which I have tasted (and still have a few). I don't know how Beam picks their barrels for the barrel proof, but BT picks them by tasting with water.....not based on tasting a barrel proof sample. In fact, when BT needs some barrel proof Blanton's, they just grab the next Blanton's in line and bottle it uncut. Not hand selected because they stand out at barrel proof. So in the US, I'm not sure anything we get at barrel proof has been hand selected based on its taste uncut. Like others, I like the concept of someone picking a single barrel to bottle uncut based on the barrel proof taste.....I'm not sure its being done for bourbon anywhere.

Randy