Why is it that some Bourbon enthusiasts look down their noses at folks who blend and/or bottle whiskey that they've purchased from distilleries? There seems to be a consensus of 'if you didn't distill it, you're not legit', or that bottling something you didn't make is somehow less of an accomplishment, qualitatively speaking. Take, for example, the polarizing reaction to David Perkins of High West getting the “Innovator of the Year” award from Malt Advocate. Many purists derided Dave’s award by saying, ‘He didn’t make the spirit, he just blended it’.
To my point of view both distillers and blenders practice very important crafts. And, in my experience, it takes a whole lot more talent to take a multitude of barrels - some of varying mashbills, ages and characteristics- and make a compelling, layered, nuanced bottle of whiskey. Don't get me wrong...I'm not saying that there's no art to distillation. There certainly is; however, if forced to come down on which of the two is more important, I'll choose the blender.
In the wine industry there is a whole category of producers known as negociants. They neither grow the grapes nor process them into wine. They purchased finished wines from wineries, and (most often) blend them with wines purchased from other producers to craft a finished product. And some of those products are damn good. The general consensus in the wine trade is that negociants aren’t as ‘good’ as a winemaker…and I’d agree with that sentiment on the whole. I’m not taking away anything from their talent to blend a complex wine, it’s just that – when it comes to wine – the grower and winemaker are every bit as important in the finished product.
With selling whiskey you do need to have a good distillate base…but the maturation and blending of the product is really where the rubber meets the road. You can make the finest white dog in the world, but it pales in comparison to a well-crafted Bourbon. If you don’t know how to blend – what to add, what not, and in what proportions – then you’re toast.
I make this observation not to piss any of you off, it’s really to get some honest feedback as to why some here think that folks who purchase barrels from distilleries and then bottle under their own label are not (or somehow less than) ‘real’. I’d welcome your input…thanks!