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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2009 and Virtuoso
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    Are Top Shelf Bourbon\'s Robbing the Lower Shelfs?

    It seems to be accepted that top shelf blends and single barrel bottlings are both proliferating in numbers and growing in sales. This is great for most of us. But my question is this....with all these great "honey barrels" being selected for the specialty bottlings, are the lower and mid-shelf bourbons' quality suffering as a result? IOW, if many of these "honey barrels" would have historicaly wound up in the high volume products, removing them from the blend has to be detrimental to their quality. How far can you take making more premium bottlings without the lower shelf items suffering quality problems?

    Personally I don't have enough reference points to determine if the lower to mid shelf products are getting worse. I have seen some comments here and elsewhere that suggests that is what is going on. But with brands changing hands, being distilled at different locations over time, etc., it would be hard to say for sure why "XYZ" isn't as good today as it used to be.

    Other spirit producers around the world have said that the production of top tier products is somewhat limited in order to maintian consistent quality in their higher volume bottlings (ie, cognac). Are we getting near that point in bourbonia?

    Randy B.

  2. #2
    Advanced Taster
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    Re: Are Top Shelf Bourbon\'s Robbing the Lower Shelfs?

    all of us have experienced an evolution in our tastes, where one bourbon just doesn't taste as good as it used to or we find a new appreciation for a bourbon we thought we knew and didn't like.....that said, I have thought that for the last year or so that something is going on with Old Forester...it just doesn't have the "depth" and finish that it used to...have all the barrels of Woodford Reserve taken from it made the difference? Any opinions. by the way the price of OF has risen here lately....gee, anything to do with the new and expensive ad campaign they have going?? Don't get me wrong, I like OF, but not as much as I used to...is it just my own changing tastes??

  3. #3
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Are Top Shelf Bourbon\'s Robbing the Lower Shelfs?

    Personally I agree with this assessment. A recent buy was Forester's Bonded Bourbon ($17.00 U.S.) and it was worth the money certainly but did not impress me overly. It seemed one-dimensional and a bit "raw" at 4 years old.

    I have found the current Woodford better but not by a large margin considering too its premium price.

    Everything is relative, I find Evan Williams a better buy than Forester or Forester Bonded because (again IMO) it delivers richer taste for less money.

    Gary

  4. #4
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    Re: Are Top Shelf Bourbon\'s Robbing the Lower Shelfs?

    Interesting enough question, but I have to think that what the tasters are looking for to use in a single barrel bourbon is not necessarily the best bourbon, but a top quality one that needs no blending and yet can be reproduced again and again. If I was tasting and found one truly exceptional barrel, I wouldn't want to use that one knowing that it may never be duplicated because the next bottling would disappoint those who had tasted the remarkable one. We all know that some years products are better than others due to the nature of the product, but I would think that in the best interests of a brand name, being as consistant as possible would be much more profitable in the long run. Now that I think about it, if I did find that one exceptional barrel, though, I might want to save it for a special one time bottling and market it as such.

    Dane

  5. #5
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    Re: Are Top Shelf Bourbon\'s Robbing the Lower Shelfs?

    I still have not encountered a disappointing bottle of Old Forester. Maybe I am just lucky, but I haven't.

    Tim

  6. #6
    Connoisseur
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    Re: Are Top Shelf Bourbon\'s Robbing the Lower Shelfs?

    It might just be the evolving taste phenomenon you've already touched on, but I find myself tasting fewer differences between Old Forester 86 and Woodford Reserve. My guess is that Brown-Forman has exhausted the true 'honey' barrels, and due to their marketing success is having to tap into the regular OF stock.

    Again, it's pure speculation, but that's certainly how it tastes to me lately.

    I got my last bottle of WR on sale for $19.99 (a bargain I guess!?), but even at that price I doubt I'll replace it.


  7. #7
    Advanced Taster
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    Re: Are Top Shelf Bourbon\'s Robbing the Lower Shelfs?

    I really don't know if all the high end bourbons are killing the quality of the bottom of the line bourbons, but how many of us drink the 'base model' bourbons? I don't see too much discussion about jim beam white here... And in my limited experience, most people that drink stuff like jim beam white do it just because of the 'brand name', because it fits an image they want to portray or because of 'percieved quality' from advertisements they may have seen... I know i got a bit off topic, but i don't feel bad at all that our higher end bourbons may be affecting the taste of the lower end names that get the 'leftover' barrels, i don't think that the majority of the people drinking would know any better either way... And i would also imagine that if there weren't so many people buying the low end bourbons, there would be less barreled in the future... less barrels overall would equal less honey barrels, which would mean less high end bottlings (or lower quality due to less barrels to pick from)...

    I wonder if there are any distilleries working on ways to tip the odds in their favor for more 'honey barrels'... It's my understanding (maybe i am wrong) that sometimes for some unknown reason 2 barrels next to each other will end up tasting different...


  8. #8
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    Re: Are Top Shelf Bourbon\'s Robbing the Lower Shelfs?

    I would think that the differences could be in the wood used for the barrel staves and the degree of char on them. I'm sure that the pores in the wood are less than uniform and can make a difference in how deep the bourbon seeps in the warm months and while charring is an artform unto itself, it surely is not completely uniform. Of course this is all IMHO.

    Dane

  9. #9
    Connoisseur
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    Re: Are Top Shelf Bourbon\'s Robbing the Lower Shelfs?

    I wonder if there are any distilleries working on ways to tip the odds in their favor for more 'honey barrels'...
    That's Maker's Mark's claim to fame (other than the pretty red wax). They rotate their barrels so they all experience similar conditions. (However from what I've been told, their methods aren't 100% effective either, as they have barrels they won't sell as MM!)

    sometimes for some unknown reason 2 barrels next to each other will end up tasting different...
    My understanding is that it's largely a 'crapshoot'. Obviously, every barrel that goes into the rickhouse is designed by the master distiller to be the best possible bourbon it can be, but even with similar conditions they don't all perform.


  10. #10
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    Re: Are Top Shelf Bourbon\'s Robbing the Lower Shelfs?

    I've been told Gary, by a reliable source, that even tough Makers Mark claims to rotate barrels they do not. It's an old practice that just is not that feasible anymore...

 

 

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