Thanks for saving me some. Did you get to try some of the Yellowstone from 1980 I bought along Thursday to Buffalo Trace? That would be the same whiskey at less age and proof. It is quite good for an 80 proof Yellowstone. It was the best selling whiskey in Kentucky in the 1970's- early 80's. I will bring it along so we do a comparison.
Well said, Mike.
> ...it could force the bigger companies to improve their quality and quit
> letting accountants sacrifice quality for savings in expense of production.
> Unfortunately most of the companies are public companies driven by the short
> term demands of stock holders instead of the long term investment needed to
> create better whiskey.
Could you briefly expand on this? If I recall correctly, you are known to
advocate iron clad warehouses over brick warehouses, and also a lower barrel
entry proof. Am I accurate in my recollection, and are other things that
you think would increase quality?
Long term I wouldn't worry about this. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, business abhors an unmet demand. If Heaven Hill becomes the only source for bulk whiskey, especially if their supply is unsatisfactory, someone will step up. Barton, for example, has been known to quietly do some contract deals. There is some evidence that even Jim Beam has sold some bulk whiskey. The only reason any distiller would not would be if they are at or near their production capacity just to supply their own needs. If the industry gets to that point across the board, there are a couple of plants that could be reopened with a minimum of hassle and expense. The ones that come immediately to mind are Stitzel-Weller in Shively, Jim Beam in Frankfort (the Elkhorn Forks plants, formerly Old Grand-Dad) and Medley in Owensboro. (I'll admit I don't know the Owensboro distilleries as well as I do most of the others, but I'm pretty sure there is at least one plant there that could be reactivated relatively easily.)The small companies that bottle products but do not distill are going to have less choice in the future as Heaven Hill becomes the only company selling to them. If Heaven Hill limits the choice of whiskey being sold to such companies then their quality could suffer.
Define what you mean by "quality."If you are talking about the quality of the bourbon, I would say no.
I know we talked about this question last weekend and that you were asking everybody about the "Golden Age" of bourbon. I have refined my opinion and here it is.
The question is "Are we in a Golden Age of Bourbon?" My answer is determined by how you want to define "Golden Age". If you are talking about the quality of the bourbon, I would say no. There are many great bourbons being made now and the overall quality has risen in many cases, but some of the best bourbon I have ever drank was distilled at least 20 years ago. I would place the Van Winkle era Cabin Still at 4-5 years of age and 90 proof above anything being made today in the less than $25.00 a bottle catagory and many of the so called "super premium" bourbons today. A 5yo bonded I W Harper (1936-1941) that I drank was superior to most bourbon made today with complex citrus flavors with great vanilla and caramel tones from the barrel. Some of the best bourbons I have tasted were made in the past. Some of the worst bourbon I have drank were also made in the past so the overall quality has at the lower end has risen, but I feel the upper end has dropped as well.
Now if you are talking about consumer choices and overall quality, then yes we are entering a "Golden Age". There are many great choices of very good bourbons available. Unfortunately I feel we are on a knife's edge where the choices could become less and the quality could become less. I think the balance between improvement and blandness lies with competition. The small companies that bottle products but do not distill are going to have less choice in the future as Heaven Hill becomes the only company selling to them. If Heaven Hill limits the choice of whiskey being sold to such companies then their quality could suffer. However if some of these companies start looking into creating a smaller "micro-distillery" operation to support their brands, and if they distill a quality product, it could force the bigger companies to improve their quality and quit letting accountants sacrifice quality for savings in expense of production. Unfortunately most of the companies are public companies driven by the short term demands of stock holders instead of the long term investment needed to create better whiskey. If they make this investment and are profitable, look for some of the best whiskey made to come as they combine some old time methods with madern quality control. Julian and Buffalo Trace are the company to watch. If their experiment at reproducing the old family recipe works out, then that will signal the beginning of a true Golden Age, In my opinion.
I have stated before in this thread that lower barrel proof would increase quality but be more expensive. I also know that some distillers have used enzyme to lower the amount of malt used at the expense of flavor. One brand has become over 80% corn because it is the cheapest grain and they wanted to make it cheaper. There have been a lot of changes made to make production cheaper at the cost of flavor.
I tend to prefer bourbons made in ironclad warehouses but that is really just part of the recipe as far as I am concerned. I have always liked Old Charter but it has been aged in brick warehouses since the end of prohibition. I think that is why it takes 8, 10 or 12 years to make it taste the way it does.
In this case, maybe I should say flavor instead of quality. The quality as far as purity of product today is excellent. It is flavor that I consider better in some older products.
Charles Medley owns the Medley distillery in Owensboro. I just wish he had the money and the market to get it running again.