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  1. #1

    Are There Any Small Bourbon Companies?

    Someone in a recent thread said that Bulleit was owned by Diageo. I was disappointed to hear that, even though I've read some good things about Diageo. But I was wondering if there were some very small bourbon companies left.

    I realize that "small" is vague. I don't know, for example, if Wild Turkey is big or whether it might be owned by someone else. But it seems like Diageo, Beam, and Buffalo Trace are very large with each having many brands. And the labels on the bottles are very often misleading. Instead of "Buffalo Trace" you read something like "Old Prentice Distillery." The labels try to make it sound like the bourbon comes from a small company, when in fact it often doesn't.

    I want to know if there are any very small companies making bourbon in Kentucky or anywhere else. I recently came across this one:

    www.oldpogue.com/

    Who knows, maybe it's owned by Diageo. I don't know. But if there any very small ones, how does the bourbon taste? Are there any small companies that have a national distribution so that you don't have to go to Kentucky to get the whiskey?

  2. #2
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    Re: Are There Any Small Bourbon Companies?

    > But I was wondering if there were some very small bourbon companies left.
    >
    > I realize that "small" is vague.

    Ummm... "bourbon companies" is also vague! There are an infinite number
    of bourbon companies... you could very well start your own without too
    much trouble, and do all the work from home in your underwear. Purchase
    a few barrels of aged bourbon, pay to have them bottled and labeled, and
    sell 'em.

    > I want to know if there are any very small companies making bourbon in
    > Kentucky or anywhere else. I recently came across this one:
    >
    > www.oldpogue.com/

    Now you're being vague again! What does "making bourbon" mean?
    Old Pogue doesn't really "make" bourbon. They just sit at home
    in their underwear! Other large companies distill and age the
    bourbon, they just buy it and pay someone to slap their name on it.


    Might I suggest "The Bourbon Companion" by Regan and Regan? It's a
    nice little book that gives good descriptions of the various bourbon
    distilleries, and will tell you who makes what brand. It's a little
    dated, being six years old, but 95% of what you see on the liquor store
    shelf will be covered there.

    I've also heard that Jim Murray's Whiskey Bible is good, but I haven't
    ever seen a copy myself.


    Tim Dellinger

  3. #3

    Re: Are There Any Small Bourbon Companies?

    Old Pogue doesn't really "make" bourbon. They just sit at home
    in their underwear! Other large companies distill and age the
    bourbon, they just buy it and pay someone to slap their name on it.
    That's disappointing to learn.

  4. #4
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    Re: Are There Any Small Bourbon Companies?

    Heaven Hill is an independent, family owned company. Not a small business by any means, but a traditionalist whiskey maker selling fine brands at very fair prices. Distilling is not like other businesses in that it requires a fair amount of capital (or diversification) to get through times when the market is changing or is unpredictable. The fact that the current group of distilleries are mostly very large companies or owned by international conglomerates should not incline one away from their products. The fact is there is still a large range of whiskey out there, most of it very good stuff.

    Gary

  5. #5
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    Re: Are There Any Small Bourbon Companies?

    Agreed. Just because the final purse strings are held by large companies doesn't mean that the distilleries that are currently operating aren't any good. Pretty much every master distiller working in Kentucky right now is a master of their craft, with decades of experience.

    What makes it great is that the few remaining distilleries manage to produce a staggering variety of whiskies.

  6. #6
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    Re: Are There Any Small Bourbon Companies?

    Also, being big and sophisticated helps to ensure a consistent product. The market (even the cognoscenti) want consistency.

    Sometimes when companies become big they start to cater, in their search for cost savings, to the lowest common denominator. Arguably this happened to some of the big brewers in America. But this has not happened to bourbon distilling, and if anything, the trend is going the other way. More and more, premium products are getting the spotlight. I think the roots of distilling are so entrenched (still) in Kentucky that this has helped to preserve tradition. Partly this came from the enduring dynasties of distilling and merchandising families (whether owners or not) such as the Beams, Samuels, Medleys, Van Winkles. Partly too the legal definition of bourbon has helped to ensure a minimum quality standard. But finally there is that intangible of real whiskey simply hanging on in Kentucky. People stuck with it long enough that it has become, dare I say, fashionable, but this was only possible because enough people were loyal to bourbon in the days when it wasn't seen by all that many as a quality spirit. In other words, Kentuckians and some others knew they had a good thing and were proud enough to stick with it until its place in the sun became reasserted. (Too bad this didn't happen to rye in Maryland and Pennsylvania).

    I fully support small craft operations. Of the ones recently noted by Lex, most or all seem to be focusing on malt whisky. But in time I am sure some will turn to bourbon whiskey.

    Industry growth in Canada has reduced choice but the effect has not been (in my opinion) that noticeable because the product to begin with, at least since the early 1950's when the last Canadian domestic straight rye and bourbon left the market, lacks the kind of distinctiveness that characterises bourbon and Scottish malt whisky.

    Gary

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    Re: Are There Any Small Bourbon Companies?

    Anchor would qualify as "small", I should think. I don't think they're owned by a multi-national, but I could be mistaken.

    They're making Old Potrero single malt rye, not bourbon, and so perhaps closer to Scotch. Still, an interesting American whiskey made by a small outfit.

    http://www.anchorbrewing.com/about_u...trero_18th.htm

  8. #8
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    Re: Are There Any Small Bourbon Companies?

    > They're making Old Potrero single malt rye, not bourbon, and so perhaps closer
    > to Scotch. Still, an interesting American whiskey made by a small outfit.

    There are lots of small outfits popping up all over the country that
    are distilling very interesting things... it's a very exciting time
    for Ameican whiskey! Although they are making a bunch of whiskies of various
    kinds, they tend to shy away from bottling an honest-to-goodness bourbon.

    About a year ago, there was a thread about this:
    http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbth...p?Number=22414

    Things have changed and evolved since then, but I haven't been able
    to keep up with all of the developments... I heard rumors that a string
    of brewpubs on the west coast is installing distilleries at a dozen of
    their locations...

    Tim Dellinger

  9. #9
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    Re: Are There Any Small Bourbon Companies?

    For the curious, the BATF's latest incarnation, the ATTB, has
    a pdf up on their website listing all of the "Distiller, Bottler
    and Warehouseman Spirits Permits" as of September 2004.

    It's in their Freedom of Information Act section on the Frequently
    Requested Listings page, among other places:

    http://www.ttb.gov/foia/frl.htm

    It looks like there are 200+ permits, but most of these aren't going
    to be actual operating distilleries. A big chunk are California wineries,
    probably looking to make brandy. There are a few new startups that I
    hadn't heard of before... "Fat Dog Spirits" in Florida (although a quick
    Googling shows that they're concentrating on vodka).

    Tim Dellinger

  10. #10
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    Re: Are There Any Small Bourbon Companies?

    Very interesting resource, Tim, thanks for finding it.

 

 

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