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  1. #1
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    Anyone know the history of "Premium" or "Super Premium" bourbon?

    So I'm reading this article, and they allude to the "premium bourbon trend" starting in the 1980s. I guess they're referring to the introduction of Blanton's and the single barrel bourbon trend started by Elmer T. Lee?

    I guess my question is this: Before the 80's, there clearly were a couple of premium bourbons, like VXOF, and VVOF, but those older expressions of Old Fitz might be the only ones I know of. I'm drawing a blank when I try to think of any single barrel or otherwise extra-aged or special bourbons which were introduced prior to the 80's?

    Anyone know some backstory on the history of the high-end bourbon?

  2. #2
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    Re: Anyone know the history of "Premium" or "Super Premium" bourbon?

    Interesting question. I don't, but my guess is that there have always been "top shelf" and "well" bottles to varying degrees. With fewer options available to most consumers (limited distribution areas back in the day, etc), I think there would be fewer tiers than we see now - and maybe the variance between well and top shelf was a lot less than today. Hopefully Mike Veach or Chuck can lend us their knowledge/insight! Having read their books, this is a particular angle that I don't think has been addressed (which isn't a critique in the least - you can't cover every topic, and their books are well written and a wealth of information).
    Gary
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    "Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough." - Mark Twain
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  3. #3
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    Re: Anyone know the history of "Premium" or "Super Premium" bourbon?

    Not a specific bourbon but a category, BIB, used to be called "the good stuff." With any bonded, you could always count on the bourbon meeting at least the minumum standard. Before the internet, the level of knowledge available to the average consumer was significantly lower so BIB was a form of Good Housekeeping Seal. BIBs are'nt necessarily high-end but some of them might still be called "premium." Even though the prices ran under $20, they still cost a significant percentage more than the regular stuff in the $10 range.
    If God made anything better than bourbon he must have kept it for Hisself.

  4. #4
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    Re: Anyone know the history of "Premium" or "Super Premium" bourbon?

    Quote Originally Posted by dmarkle View Post
    I'm drawing a blank when I try to think of any single barrel or otherwise extra-aged or special bourbons which were introduced prior to the 80's? Anyone know some backstory on the history of the high-end bourbon?
    From our perspective today one would think that back when everybody who could afford it drank Old Fitzgerald but such was not the case. Harry Truman served Old Grand Dad in the White House, Richard Nixon chose I.W. Harper (who actually provided to the public a specially blended Presidential Select expression, sound familiar?) Ike Eisenhower favored Wild Turkey, Frank Sinatra's favorite was Jack Daniels, there are other examples but the point is men who could afford any brand chose these and offhand I can't think of anyone who was first in his field choosing Fitzgerald. My late Father liked Old Fitz but thought it a bit of a lightweight and preferred Old Grand Dad.

    Back when brands were made by individual distilleries (Crow made Old Crow, Taylor made Old Taylor, Grand Dad made Old Grand Dad, Yellowstone made Yellowstone, etc.) each had their own formula and the whisky was crafted by hand. Master Distiller Jim Rutledge recently commented in an interview about the number of distillery workers who had worked 40 years or more. When you think about it a young man who went work when the distilleries opened back up in 1935 would probably been born before World War 1 and was serving as Master Stillman in 1975 when he retired and the last whisky he made would not have been bottled until after 1980. The same young man would have been taught his craft by the older returning workers who would have been born in the 1880s.

    In those pre-computerized days Bourbon was made by hand using traditions that had been passed down through generations. The brands were unique in their flavor profiles and each found their market.

    So the answer to your question is there weren't premium brands so much as there was a premium profile. Everybody pretty much agreed on what constituted the premium profile which followed the time honored tradition of age, proof and Bottled-in-Bond. The major houses all put out a premium and they all sold for about the same amount of money. The same things counted then as count now, mashing techniques, distillation proof, barrel entry proof, location in the warehouse and barrel selection.

    The difference now is the premium stuff goes into single barrel or small batch brands whereas in days of yore they were vatted together in the general mix which upgraded the whole lot.
    Last edited by squire; 06-16-2013 at 07:15.

  5. #5
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    Re: Anyone know the history of "Premium" or "Super Premium" bourbon?

    Someone recently posted along those same lines. Before "premium" labels, the honey barrels were dumped right in with everything else. So back in the day, the regular distillery label (AA, Taylor, etc) bottles containing the juice from the honey barrels was better than those label today. Ancient Age, even the 10 year, would be better if it had the Blanton's and ETL mixed in. And so on with all the distilleries...except Maker's I suppose.

  6. #6
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    Re: Anyone know the history of "Premium" or "Super Premium" bourbon?

    Could have been me, I've made similar posts before. I believe part of what made Maker's reputation as a consistent whisky is they stuck with making the one brand mingling all the barrels together.

  7. #7
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    Re: Anyone know the history of "Premium" or "Super Premium" bourbon?

    There have always been advertising for "Premium" bourbons, but it was with the creation of Single Barrel and Small batch bourbons in the late 80s, early 90s that the industry started talking about "Super Premium" bourbon asa category of its own.

    Mike Veach

  8. #8
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    Re: Anyone know the history of "Premium" or "Super Premium" bourbon?

    Some marketing guru will figure out a way to say "Our premium is more premium than their premium".

 

 

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