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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Sep 2002
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    Toronto, Canada
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    Does the Emperor Have No Clothes?

    Tonight I had an experience that made me think (allowing for some exaggeration), the emperor has no clothes. I tasted a 100 proof Old Forester and a Wild Turky Rye a friend had just brought back from a trip to the U.S. These particular bottles struck me as some of the best straight whiskey I've ever had, and better than some sold for much more money. E.g., recently I bought for some $50 (U.S.) Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, the 2004 issue. I knew this was the young one in the series, but I wasn't prepared for the awkward palate. It seemed to taste of heat, alcohol, vanilla and some char but not in a melded way. I also bought on the same trip Rock Hill Farm; again I was disappointed, this sample, while sweet and rich, seemed to show a little "old barrel" (punky) taste that put me off. In comparison, I felt the OF 100 proof, and the WT rye, which cost 15 or 20 dollars each, superior by their balance and clean, rich, integrated taste. Probably I'll always buy some high cost items (because they change over time, and from curiosity) but this tasting tonight brought forcibly to mind that some bourbons and ryes costing many times less than premium versions are arguably better-tasting and away better values.

    Gary

  2. #2

    Re: Does the Emperor Have No Clothes?

    <ul type="square">[*]Evan Williams 1783: $11[*]Old Heaven Hill 10yo BIB: $11[*]W.L. Weller 12yo: $30 per 1.75L[*]AAA 10yo: $12[*]EWSB: $23[*]Jim Beam Black: $18[*]Rittenhouse BIB rye: $15-$18[*]et al[/list]
    Gary, there's not a doubt in my mind that you and most others here know -- and have long known -- that you don't have to spend a lot of money to get outstanding whiskey. Generally, all of us could be quite happy drinking nothing but the few I've listed, any of which are quite royally dressed.
    But I also accept your point that we can be undressed retail-wise by the assumption that price=quality. The only bottlings I have in quantity that are consistently over $45 (in TN, anyway) are Stagg, ER17, and ORVW 15yo and Wild Turkey 12yo (when I can find them) -- and I also believe most here will acknowledge that they're worth a premium. I don't buy Sazerac in the same price range, for example, because I don't particularly care for it.
    And, is Pappy 23 (especially the Lawrenceburg bottling) really a $200 bottle, even if on the upper echelon of bourbons I've tried? Probably not, empirically, but the price is a function of time and rarity, and the bottling likely wouldn't exist but for the price it commands.
    I just counted 18 open bottles of current brands on my sideboard just now -- 11 are bottles consistently under $22 per 750ml bottle on local store shelves.
    So, you're right, Gary, and it's a good reminder for the newcomers here especially: find and buy whiskey you like, or you may find yourself swallowing nothing more than a loss.

  3. #3
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Does the Emperor Have No Clothes?

    Thanks, and the whiskeys you listed at the outset are indeed excellent. So are some of the more expensive ones you mentioned, for my part, I enjoy Elmer T. Lee, also some of the EW expressions. I find though these are fairly priced for what is offered. Some bourbons, at least for my taste, seem too costly for what they offer: this essentially is the point I am making. I am saying too though given a choice at any price between OF 100 proof and the 2004 Birthday I'd choose the former.

    Gary

  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2010 and Guru
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    Aug 2005
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    Re: Does the Emperor Have No Clothes?

    I am saying too though given a choice at any price between OF 100 proof and the 2004 Birthday I'd choose the former
    In a similar vein, I would choose Old Grand Dad BIB over Basil Hayden.

    This is exactly the reason many of us have been upset over the loss of ER 101 and AAA (at least temporarily), as well as wondering about the loss of age statements of certain bottlings (seems like mostly Heaven Hill).

    The large size of the batches helps to stabilize the flavor profile, while introducing flavors from what are probably many different parts of the warehouse(or different warehouses altogether).

    Yes, I too, love some (many) of the newer expressions that are taking over the top end of the market, but I will never be without some of the mass-market bourbon sitting on the shelf.

  5. #5
    Connoisseur
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    Apr 2005
    Location
    Northern California
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    681

    Re: Does the Emperor Have No Clothes?

    i think we are lucky to have the breadth of variety in present day offerings. Really so much to choose from, and great buys at low price points and also great tasting high end products.

    lets just hope this continues..

  6. #6
    Guru
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    May 2005
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    Eastern Pennsylvania
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    2,824

    Re: Does the Emperor Have No Clothes?

    I agree wholeheartedly with both Tim's. Some of the high end (pricewise) stuff is not worth it IMO. I like a lot of the lesser priced offerings, almost all of which Tim Sousley listed. I just hope these continue to be in the same price range that they are now and not be watered down or filled with younger whiskey, which seems to be the case lately.
    Joe

  7. #7
    Connoisseur
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    Jul 2005
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    Mentor, Ohio, USA
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    837

    Re: Does the Emperor Have No Clothes?

    This is exactly the reason many of us have been upset over the loss of ER 101 and AAA (at least temporarily), as well as wondering about the loss of age statements of certain bottlings (seems like mostly Heaven Hill).

    ... and Wild Turkey 101, which used to boast it was aged 8 years......

    they are now and not be watered down or filled with younger whiskey, which seems to be the case lately.
    Such as Russell's Reserve which is dying off at 101 being replaced by the new 90 expression.....

    Now most of you know I enjoy Wild Turkey products but these trends are not ones I want to see.

    To Gary's point, there are some tasty offerings under $20. I find "most" of them lack the finish the higher priced offerings deliver. And, YES! we are very lucky to be living in an age where we have such bounty.

    Ken

  8. #8
    Guru
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    Sep 2004
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    Jackson, MS
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    12,372

    Re: Does the Emperor Have No Clothes?

    Evening Gents,

    Gary I'm glad you brought the subject up. Old Forrester (my preferred spelling) BIB has migrated in and out of my cellar for decades now and every year or so I rediscover it for the quality product it is and make a mental note to lay in a supply.

    Tim that's a great list. The only thing I would add is Barton which is my go to house whiskey and the only brand I buy by the case in 1.75 size. Well, there was one exception when I bought a case of 1.75 Elijah Craig and gave out three of the bottles to my die hard Scotch drinkers to show them the light. Figgured that if they sampled enough then they might be converted. Worked with two of them. My friend Bill now prominently displays Craig on the sideboard of his home bar and when a guest says anything will do he says "try this, its a bourbon a scotch drinker will like, let me pour your one". The third is a transplanted yankee who after three decades of living here still doesn't understand why everyone doesn't drink Cutty Sark. Interesting side note, when Greg had to trip up to Long Island to administer his late father's estate they found a couple cases of Cutty delivered during Prohibition by Capt. McCoy himself. No, there are no bottles left, doubt if it was any different from the currently avilable stuff, but it would have been neat to have one to bring to the gazebo. Half of one case was used up during the wake and the balance, over the years, was, as Greg says, "properly dispenced with".

    Some time back when my buisness travels went through central Kentucky every year or two I would drop by Toddy's and pick up a case of the Heaven Hill 10 yr BIB. Gave them out as Christmas gifts telling folks this was a limited expression only available close to the distillery. Mostly true, actually, as this expression wasn't available very far from the source. Neat thing was my friends could tell their guests forget Jack Daniels and Wild Turkey, this is the real stuff and only locals can get it.

    Last time I passed through there was Derby in '02 and the proof had been lowered so I made no purchase. Good to hear the the BIB is now available.

    Regards,
    Squire

  9. #9
    Enthusiast
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    Mar 2000
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    Midland, MI
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    455

    Re: Does the Emperor Have No Clothes?

    I was thinking the other day about Isiah Morgan Rye, and how great it is.
    And how fantastic it's going to taste with a few years on it. This is the
    one product that's the closest I've ever come to the taste profile that I
    would personally shoot for if I ran my own distillery.

    Ahhh... my own distillery. Kind of like one of those fancy high-tech
    startups, except low tech. And I thought... what if I succeeded? What if
    I made a whiskey that is just the absolute best whiskey I've ever tasted.
    Who would care? How much could I sell? Who would my target market be?

    I looked around, and I thought to myself that I could never outsell Jack
    Daniels, because people who buy Jack obviously have chosen it over the
    other, higher quality offerings.

    Then I looked over at the Woodford Reserve bottle, and thought to myself:
    the beautiful bottle, the fancy name, a little marketing money... you
    could put just about anything in that bottle, as long it's a little above
    average, and would do just as well as the current stuff.

    The whole industry, top to bottom... how much of the success is marketing
    driven? What makes an expensive bourbon expensive? Often price is just
    another marketing tool. In most markets for luxury goods, the strategy is
    the same: double the price, and sales will increase. You need at least
    a nominal increase in quality, but luxury is all about intangibles.

    Would this strategy work with, e.g. Rittenhouse Rye BIB? Needs a fancier
    lablel and the price should be doubled. They'd sell more of it. No
    question about that. Is it worth their effort? Or should they invest their
    money in Berry Blast Sour Smackin' 100 Proof Sugar Zinger?

    Does the Emporer have no clothes? Well, I'd say the emporer is in his
    underwear when it comes to higher end bourbons. Yes, the price is higher
    just for the sake of having a higher priced product. But it's nothing compared
    the the outlandish prices that people pay for Scotch.

    I'm certainly willing to pay $40 for a good bottle of bourbon, but I'm not
    under the impression that it's twice as good as a $20 bottle. I'm paying
    the extra just to have variety. It's not a mass-market product, so I don't
    get the price break that comes with mass-production.

    It could be worse... I can't imagine what it would be like to actually
    consider paying $350 for a bottle of Scotch.


    Tim Dellinger

  10. #10
    Enthusiast
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Location
    Oklahoma is OK
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    422

    Re: Does the Emperor Have No Clothes?

    I have been decidedly underwhelmed by some of the pricier Bourbons out there, and have been amazed by some of the lower priced offerings available. While I love to collect and sample rare/wonderful things, I think I find greater pleasure in finding really good low cost items. Elijah Craig 12 has to be the best value for the buck in all of Whiskeydom, Buffalo Trace is a close second. And when I found those bottles of the original Elmer T Lee in Puerto Rico for $5.00 ea, I darned near stained myself.

    Expensive Bourbon might be good, and it might not.

    PS, other than the fact the bottle is pretty, I don't get the Birthday Bourbon.

 

 

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