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  1. #1
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    Direction of the industry

    I'm interested to see if people feel there will be better and better offerings.... or, whether the best bourbons and ryes have been 'hanging about' in warehouses for some time (Mitchner, some(?) of the Van Winkle ryes...) and when they are gone things will go downhill?

    It's not just product, of course, but people. Booker Noe passed away last year, Jimmy Russell is passing the reigns as we speak, etc. Are there new young 'Turks' taking the industry to new heights or, once these giants are gone, they are just irreplaceable?? (it's tough to phrase that without offending just everyone but please take it in the spirit intended ;-)

    What I'm interested in here are people's perceptions on the Bourbon industry over the next 10-20 years. What can we expect???

    My perception (as someone who knows NOTHING about the industry) is we are seeing some wonderful new offerings. I hope that trend continues (or accelerates?).

    Cheers,

    Ken

  2. #2
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    Re: Direction of the industry

    Well Ken, probably the same thing was said about 50 years ago before Booker, Jimmy, Elmer, and the other guys we all revere starting pumping out the bourbon. Sure some labels are shadows of their former selves, but look at the great bourbons that have just appeared in the last 10-15 years. Buffalo Trace gets lauded a lot for their new bottlings, BT, Stagg, ER17 etc (not to mention all the experiments that Ken keeps alluding to). Look at what HH is about to do in launching the Bernheim wheat whiskey. I'm excited about the resurgence in bourbon being seen all over the world. I also am finding that I spend more time these days reminiscing about the "good old days" just like my dad and his dad before used to. Someday these will be the good old days our kids remember fondly. "Remember when you actually had to type into a computer....".

    To sum it all up, I raise my glass to the Grand Masters we all adore tonight, but also to those who they have been grooming to take over. Our future is in their hands. Let's just hope they remember the lessons they learned and keep those darned marketing people from making too many changes. (Not that I dislike marketing people, they put their pants on just like we do, one tenticle and a time)

  3. #3
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    Re: Direction of the industry

    My wife and I discuss this kind of thing all the time. The problem is you lack the historical perspective and, frankly, there is no very reliable way to gain that perspective. You can get glimpses but I would be stunned if someone could get an accurate idea of what people think today based on, say, reading today's press 70 years from now.... Even talking to people who were alive in that period, their memories are colored by the 70 years they've live since then........

    For example, we hate the way the courts are creating laws from the bench today. We view it as not what the founding fathers were trying to accomplish with the initial 3 headed government. 100 years ago, did people worry about the same thing??? (or something else that has now happened and we just accept as 'the way it is'???) Makes you wonder.....

    Your point is excellent. Only 30 years from now will we be able to look back and say, 'Wow, 2005 was the golden age of Bourbon' or 'Can you remember that horrid stuff we used to drink in 2005??? Man this stuff is so much better!'.

    In the end, you always do the best you can with what you have.....

    Thank goodness we're not living during Prohibition!

    Cheers,

    Ken

  4. #4
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    Re: Direction of the industry

    This has been a very interesting thread! I for one do not believe we have yet experienced the "Golden Age" of bourbon. Speaking with Elmer, there were several terrible bourbon brands in wide distribution decades ago. We made perhaps the largestselling bourbon at one time (during WW II), Three Feathers. Elmer said it was so bad that after the war when other bourbons became available, it dropped out of sight overnight. Likewise, there were brands we made like Cream of Kentucky that we excellent bourbons, but just faded from the market. I believe the first release of Eagle Rare 17 was actually Cream of Kentucky.

    Much of the taste of early bourbon brands was a credit to the Master Distillers' experience, as well as the warehouse managers' knowledge of cherry aging locations. As science played a small role, these men were artist who pursued their craft with the passion to produce the very best. As we learn more about what makes a better whiskey, we are able to blend that artistry with technical knowledge to POTENTIALLY create a better bourbon.

    Enter the huge business concerns were the primary focus is on maximizing the wealth of the shareholders. You see fine whiskies that have been aged less and less time, proof being decreased, used cooperage being used, etc. Each of these improves the bottom line in the short term, but may destroy the brand in the long run. Still, every brand has a life cycle. Jack Daniel's is currently selling 8,000,000 cases, yet it will someday go away. Just as a point of reference, if there had been a Forbes 500 list (major businesses) in 1900, only 5 of those companies on the list even exist today! So, a common thought is to milk the brand for all it is worth today, then reinvent it tomorrow with a new name, heavy advertising campaign, and some new unique selling point.

    That being said, I believe that some companies are more interested in the bottom line than pursuing their passion to produce the finest whiskey they can. If I were accountable to a number of stockholders, why would I jeopardize my career by investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in an experiment that, even if it works, will take at least 10 years to make it to market, long after I have been fired because there was no immediate return of their investment?

    Enough of the doom and gloom! I applaud the work being done by some of our bourbon brethern (and sisters!). Four Roses Single Barrel is a very nice expression, as is the concept for HH new wheat whiskey. While I have not yet tasted the wheated whiskey, my hat is off to the folks at HH for having the courage to give it a shot! I am chagrined that we did not think of it first!! As long as we have the people who can blend art and science together, without concern for short term profit, I am confident we will be making better whiskey well into the future. We are working with Julian to produce better tasting wheated whiskies; my big regret is that Pappy is no longer around so that we could work with him.

    Boy have I rambled! Sorry about that. Bottom line, brands will continue to decrease in quality as companies strive to meet quarterly budget goals, while innovative companies will continue to produce high quality bourbons/whiskies with new brands coming on line. I think the future will bring several fantastic products that will exceed the quality of what we have today!

    Ken

  5. #5
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    Re: Direction of the industry

    Great post Ken. It's great to hear what folks like you are seeing. Like any industry, the folks inside have a perspective that has a lot more credibility. The rest of us are just marketing fodder (at least until we buy a bottle ;-)



    Ken

  6. #6
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    Re: Direction of the industry

    Bottom line, brands will continue to decrease in quality as companies strive to meet quarterly budget goals, while innovative companies will continue to produce high quality bourbons/whiskies with new brands coming on line.
    IMHO, the worst thing that can happen to a product is when it becomes a brand. Corporations buy and sell brands as if they were trading cards. As far as I'm concerned, the way to judge a company is: do they have pride in their products, their employees, their work? Or, are they more interested in meeting some Wall Street analyst's quarterly projections?

    (rant)Just look at how some of these analysts dissed Costco because they treat their employees too well. Never mind that Costco is profitable, and its CEO responded that they're in business to make money for the long haul, not next week.(/rant)

    As for Brown-Forman, the destroyer of Jack Daniel's legacy, their one saving grace is that they import Ardbeg, but at least that's still a product produced with pride.

    Ken, keep up the good work, and don't let the Make-Money-Fast crowd ruin it! I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I've never been disappointed by a Buffalo Trace product.

  7. #7
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    Re: Direction of the industry

    Not that I dislike marketing people, they put their pants on just like we do, one tenticle and a time


    Well put! As a relative newbie to bourbon (and whiskey in general!), for me the "glory days" are now. While I don't like some things I see happening (e.g. the watering down of some brands), I also see some very encouraging developments: on the bourbon front, BT seems to be on a tear of late, which is a good counterbalance against watered-down WTRR.

    Across the sea, there's Laphroaig Quarter Cask and the resurgence of Ardbeg, balanced against Macallan backing away from their "exclusively sherry casked" hype.

    I think we'll see some distillers rise, and others fall - the trick is to pick the risers.

  8. #8
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    Re: Direction of the industry

    And I believe I recently heard that Elmer T. Lee has retired or semi-retired at Buffalo Trace.

    Tim

  9. #9

    Re: Direction of the industry

    And I believe I recently heard that Elmer T. Lee has retired or semi-retired at Buffalo Trace.

    Tim
    You're a distiller behind, Tim -- master distiller Gary Gayheart recently retired. Elmer's been 'emeritus' for a decade or more now.

  10. #10
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    Re: Direction of the industry

    Well, there you go.

    Tim

 

 

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