Ken Weber, I'm overwhelmed by the depth of your response to my probing questions. Rambling, indeed! I can't thank you enough for opening up to us and sharing some of the inner workings of this fascinating business. Oh sure, it's fun for us all to compare what we think of different brands but frankly that can get old real quick. The opportunity to have you "ramble" is what I come here looking for. I'm sure that goes for all of us here.
What fascinates me most about bourbon is the wide range of styles and flavors that can be obtained from such a limited original pallette. And with all the cross-fertilization of ideas among distilleries, there still seems to be distinct ways that are the hallmark of each one. In speaking or writing to bourbon-makers, I've heard several different explanations for the variety of bourbon styles. Below is my take on them as I understand them today. Can you add your comments and insight (and watch the discussion get hot now!! Hoo-Whee!!)
<u>Buffalo Trace</u>: Some variation in mashbills, but limited; warehouse conditions are very predictable, producing a wide range of profiles from which the master distiller selects at bottling. Is a provider of bulk bourbon for other distilleries and independent bottlers.
<u>Wild Turkey</u>: One mashbill, producing essentially one bourbon with some style variations (mostly age and proof) in the finished product. Warehouses are mostly metal-clad wood, but vary in both type and location and include some leased space in brick warehouses. Plus some purchased stock that meets profile specs. Master distiller selects from all available stock (including multiple ages) to produce best profile match.
<u>Four Roses</u>: Uses a whole library of mashbills and yeasts. Produces many discreet individual bourbons which are then mixed in much the same way as blended Scotches to produce the final products.
<u>Heaven Hill</u>: Much like Buffalo Trace. Basically one mashbill produces all the bourbon at Heaven Hill. Variety results from selection at bottling from among a wide range of ages and maturation profiles. Also a provider of bulk bourbon, as well as custom work using proprietary mashbills or simply the house product.
<u>Old Forester/Early Times</u>: I've heard conflicting stories about this one. Some say they're entirely separate bourbons, as they once were before Brown-Forman moved Old Forester production to the Early Times plant. Others say there's no difference at all off the still and only the barrels (new or used) the whiskey is put into determine what will be Early Times and what will be Old Forester. Of course that's still pretty early in a four-to-six-year process. I kinda tend to believe the second scenario.
<u>Labrot & Graham</u>: Too experimental to know anything yet. Woodford Reserve is hand-selected Old Forester, so they know it's going to be Woodford Reserve before it's moved to the L&G warehouses but not for the first few years of its life.
<u>Barton</u>: (I'm afraid I don't even know WRONG things about Barton)
<u>Maker's Mark</u>: Much like Wild Turkey, but even more exclusive. Basically one style of bourbon (slight variations in proof and age), everything from the grain selection to the final product is geared toward consistantly reproducing this single Maker's Mark profile.
<u>Jim Beam</u>: One high-rye mashbill for Old Grand Dad, Basil Hayden, and others, One other mashbill for everything else. Creative distillation techniques are used to vary the actual distillation output, though, and specific brands (or at least brand-families) are produced in a given still run. Brands are barrelled and aged as such.