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  1. #1
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    Scotchafication of Bourbon

    Last weekend Linn was making some good points about the "Scotchafication" of Bourbon. (Linn, please feel free to correct the spelling. It is your word after all.) The point being that a lot of emphasis is being placed on age and now they are tinkering with cognac and port wine barrels to finish the bourbon. What are your opinions on this subject?

    I will start the ball rolling by saying that to me a bourbon is usually readty at an age between 6 and 12 years old. There are some bourbons that do age well and we all know Julian Van Winkle has a real talent for picking those barrels, but other bourbons of the same age are not as good. A prime example is the Weller 19 and the Pappy 20. Weller 19 is a good bourbon, but probably past its prime. It would have been better at 12 YO in my opinion. Pappy 20 YO is great just the way it is.

    Other bourbons don't need all of that age to be great. Russell's Reserve is great at 10 YO and I still love the 8 YO Old Fitzgerald 1849 above many other designer bourbons that are much older. Age for a bourbon is subjective but a good Master Distiller is going to know when the bourbon is ready for bottling and waiting longer can often ruin a good bourbon.

    Mike Veach


  2. #2
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    Re: Scotchafication of Bourbon

    Mike it was Ryan Stotz that first proffered that notion last year in a thread under the Single Barrel/Small Batch topic board on the second page about Elmer T. Lee bourbon. Ken Weber made his forum debut in that thread.

    Stotz railed against what he called 'the Scotchafication of Bourbon'. In this case all that was involved was getting rid of the old ugly bottle and putting it in an attractive one. Stotz predicted a significant increase in price and he was correct. In my tasting last year the Lee fetched $18.99 in a Frankfort Rite Aid. This year with the new bottle, but still the same old and very good bourbon inside is $24.95! Roughly a 25% increase to the consumer. Did you get a 25% raise in your income last year? No? Well neither did I.

    Another erronious notion is that older is better. This is big business in Scotch. If a 10 year old is good is not a 20 year old twice as good? Then wouldn't a 30 year old be much better than the 20? This is insane, but it makes for higher prices and higher profits. Good for the distiller. Bad for the consumer. Yet this is the very same mindset we see in today's bourbon markets.

    STOP The Scotchafication Of BOURBON!

    Linn Spencer

    Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

  3. #3
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    Re: Scotchafication of Bourbon

    A few general comments.
    I'm makin' some pretty bold over-generalizations here, so feel free to
    disagree!

    1) A little experimentin' isn't gonna make the good stuff go away. I doubt that
    something nice like Russell's Reserve, or even Rare Breed will be pulled to
    make room for "scotchified" stuff.

    2) Experminentation in general is a good thing. Bourbon has changed over time,
    and it should keep changing. Think of things that helped bourbon: the sour mash
    process, the use of wheat, and heck, proper warehouse management. All
    innovations.

    3) Great bourbon is pretty much subsidized by cheap bourbon, so further
    subsidization is fine with me. What I'm trying to say here is that top notch
    bourbon isn't what keeps distillers in business. The huge sales of the lesser
    bourbons make possible the great bourbons. If distillers can start selling
    strange stuff to scotch snobs, then good for them! If they can make money
    off it, then it keeps 'em in business so that they can make the stuff I like.

    4) We'll all agree that Julian knows how to pick 'em. We'd all have Julian over
    for dinner and spend all day cookin' up a storm and we'd consider it
    an honor. But I'll tell you, I'll be glad when everyone knows how to pick 'em,
    because then there will be a lot of great bourbon out there. I have a feeling
    that over the next 20 years, "old" bourbon will get better the more experience
    people have with it. Right now, you might not like "old" bourbon, but in the
    future, I think you will, because the product will get better.

    5) For me, there is a place for spirits of all ages. I like some things at 12 years
    old, and I like some things at 12 days old! My "favorite" is always changing.
    I think there's a lot of room for all kinds.




  4. #4
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    Re: Scotchafication of Bourbon

    Wow Tim! Can I use your post (properly credited, of course) for "boilerplate" whenever anyone asks or complains about bourbon age, quality, or where the future is going? That pretty much spells it all out exactly the same way I see it. About the only thing I'd add is that just WHEN a bourbon becomes too old is quite a subjective thing. I sure wish you'd had a chance to join us this year, as we tasted examples of what some said were way too old and other said were just beginning to taste right. Julian's true genius, by the way, seems to me to be his ability to pick what his CUSTOMERS will appreciate; I don't think MY favorites of his products (RVW Rye12 and RVW 15 bourbon - and "old" Pappy20) are HIS favorites at all.

    =John=
    <A target="_blank" HREF=http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey>http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey</A>

  5. #5
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    Re: Scotchafication of Bourbon

    >If a 10 year old is good is not a 20 year old twice as good? Then wouldn't
    > a 30 year old be much better than the 20? This is insane, but it makes for
    > higher prices and higher profits.

    Money is cheap right now because His Majesty Alan Greenspan is
    trying to stimulate the economy. But at a rational interest rate, say, 7%,
    money doubles every 10 years. So in order to keep up with the cost
    of money, you *have* to double the price for every 10 years of aging
    or you've got a losing proposition. On top of that, you've got evaporation
    to deal with, and warehouse space...

    So if you're going to sell a 20 or 30 year old whisk(e)y, the price is going to
    have to be high. The real question is this: is the high price worth it for what
    you're getting?

    I vote with my dollars and I say the Elijah Craig 18 YO is worth it!


    Tim




  6. #6
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    Re: Scotchafication of Bourbon

    >Wow Tim! Can I use your post (properly credited, of course) for "boilerplate"
    > whenever anyone asks or complains...

    Sure! I'm just gettin' started!

    (In general, I figure that anything I post to the internet becomes community
    property for the most part anyway. Linn has given me a boquet of flowers
    by picking up on my "Huzzah!" and using it. I'm glad when anything I type
    gets propigated! Of course, for works of art like my parody of Linn's tasting
    notes, I like to get credit.)

    >Julian's true genius, by the way, seems to me to be his ability to pick what his
    > CUSTOMERS will appreciate; I don't think MY favorites of his products (RVW
    > Rye12 and RVW 15 bourbon - and "old" Pappy20) are HIS favorites at all.

    Personally, his 13YO rye might very well be my favorite whisk(e)y of all time.
    It's definitely in my top 5. One of the things I wonder about aging is how attached
    people get to their ideas... so if they set aside a bunch of barrels hoping that
    they turn out one way, but they don't turn out that way at all, is the disappointment
    so great that it's hard to honestly evaluate the barrels for what they are? The
    same goes for vatting. If there's one barrel that has the perfect taste, and you
    vat to try to match that, and you miss, then how happy can you be with the
    final product? Personally, I might cry if I over-aged a barrel that was perfect last
    year, but tastes mediocre this year!

    >About the only thing I'd add is that just WHEN a bourbon becomes too old is
    > quite a subjective thing.

    Indeed! I like 'em grainy and woody and I prefer that they don't kick my in
    the pants.

    Tim




  7. #7
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    Re: Scotchafication of Bourbon

    Said TDelling, "...if they set aside a bunch of barrels hoping that they turn out one way, but they don't turn out that way at all, is the disappointment so great that it's hard to honestly evaluate the barrels for what they are?" and "...The same goes for vatting. If there's one barrel that has the perfect taste, and you vat to try to match that, and you miss, then how happy can you be with the final product? Personally, I might cry if I over-aged a barrel that was perfect last year, but tastes mediocre this year!"

    Unlike wine, where the base ingredient (grapes) varies significantly from year to year, distillers don't usually set aside a specific bunch of barrels. The distillate comes off the still pretty much exactly the same as it always does. In fact, that consistancy is considered a mark of the distiller's prowess. Of course events can cause even the most skilled distiller to occasionally vary from the standard, but remember that, again unlike wine, the distillation process is repeated every day, not just once a year. Corrections can and are made all the time, so the profile has far less variance. Scotch distilling is very similar, of course, but bourbon is then barrelled in new barrels. The assumption (and I'm not convinced, but that's another topic) is that these, too, can be considered identical in the practical sense. Add to that the fact that most bourbon spends its entire aging career in the same barrel it was originally poured into, from which it picks up a great deal of character. Scotch, on the other hand, may be transferred to another or maybe even a third barrel, each of which imparts only subtle characteristics. And each of which must be carefully chosen in advance in the hopes of producing the desired result.

    There are many ways to control the effects of aging on bourbon, but probably the most significant is warehouse environment. The range of temperatures varies enormously from one part of a typical bourbon warehouse to another (not so with scotch warehousing) and it's this variation that has the most effect on how the bourbon ages. Except for single-barrel bourbons, however, the finished product in bourbon (as it is in scotch) is a "marriage" (bourbon distillers growl and throw things at you if you use the word "blend") of (often widely) variant barrels to conform to the standard profile. Thus, a barrel that happens to have passed its prime age can be matched up with some that's too young (extreme oversimplification, of course, but you get the idea). Matching single-barrel bourbons to a standard would be more difficult of course, and closer to what you describe; but even here a barrel that doesn't meet the profile simply wouldn't be chosen for use as a single in the first place. Remember that these barrels aren't just put away until maturity the way wine is; they're being sampled often, especially as they near the time for dumping. And the final selection is (usually) made at that point and not years in advance. The one exception to this that I can think of is Blanton's, in which Elmer Lee selects early on the barrels that will be moved into Warehouse H to later become Blanton's. He does this, however, because that's the way Colonel Blanton did it and he is upholding the tradition. Elmer selects his own single-barrel, Elmer T. Lee (which he considers superior), from his favorite locations in the general warehouses.

    =John=
    <A target="_blank" HREF=http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey>http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey</A>

  8. #8
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    Re: Scotchafication of Bourbon

    Tim it's clear that you didn't bother to go back and read Stotz's comments, and yes you've over-generalized.

    Let's get back on track and identify some of the components of scotchafication:

    1) Fancy bottles and higher prices for the same old bourbon - Is there anyone who would deny that this has occured?

    2) The Older Is Better bugaboo - Folks only better is better. Age is but one variable in a complex host. Is there anyone out there besides Dellinger & Lipman that just don't get it?

    3) The Loss of Bourbon Heritage - This is probably the most intense component of the concept of scotchafication - The best example here would be Beam's distiller's masterpiece. Take a fine bourbon and turn it into a non-bourbon by re-casking (a scotch term) in an old sherry or port wine barrel for further aging. Then charge a small fortune for it.

    Is this the direction we want the bourbon industry to go? I surely don't.

    Linn Spencer

    Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

  9. #9
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    Re: Scotchafication of Bourbon

    >Tim it's clear that you didn't bother to go back and read Stotz's comments, and
    >yes you've over-generalized.

    I was writing a response to Veach's original post, which defined "scotchification"
    as (1) emphasis on age, and (2) experimentation with cognac and port. Your
    post didn't even show up until after I'd posted mine, so while I wrote, I was yet
    unaware of the Stotz reference!

    Now on to the scotchification debate part 2 !
    >1) Fancy bottles and higher prices for the same old bourbon - Is there anyone
    > who would deny that this has occured?

    Well, I'm all in favor of fancy bottles! As to higher prices: I'm against them. It's
    sad but true that often in America, there is stuff that doesn't sell when the price
    is low, but sells when the price is high. One example I can think of is Rolling
    Rock beer... in NY it's cheap, but in Chicago it's expensive, because if it were
    cheap in Chicago then no one would buy it. But raise the price and it sells.
    I really don't know what to do about this. I'll call it the "yuppification" of
    bourbon rather than the "scotchification", although I can see how people
    might equate the two.

    >2) The Older Is Better bugaboo - Folks only better is better.

    I wholeheartedly agree. I said "The real question is this: is the high price worth it
    for what you're getting?". I'll answer my own question. Sometimes yes,
    sometimes no. Is EC 18YO worth the extra money? For me the answer is
    yes. Is Distiller's Masterpiece worth the money? For me the answer is no.
    EC 18YO isn't better because it's older, it's better because it's woodier!

    There are plenty of pretentious bastards out there with much more money than
    I have who buy all kinds of expensive crap just because it's old. Those people
    are idiots. But I'm glad that they keep the distilleries in business, and they
    keep the distillers innovating and trying to make better bourbon. Distilleries
    produce lots of lower quality cheap bourbon... so what if they produce
    lower quality expensive bourbon?


    >3) The Loss of Bourbon Heritage - This is probably the most intense component...

    Let's go bak to the old days then. No sour mash process. Forget about proper
    warehouse management. Aging wood before making it into barrels? Too
    modern! Seriously, though, I think that Russel's Reserve (and Rare Breed) will not
    be displaced by any innovations. These are beautiful bourbons, and they
    will not be "lost" due to experimentation.


  10. #10
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    Re: Scotchafication of Bourbon

    Hear, hear, Linn!

    The one factor that has me so interested in bourbon, now, is my perception that we are losing our southern heritage. And, whether or not I/you/we are southerners, this is important. The country is becoming homogenized. Not only are southerners disappearing, but so are Yankees (in the New England sense), midwesterners, and, to some extent westerners. And, when we all become the same, what a terrible loss.

    But, anyway, as I see big multinational corporations taking over our old distilleries and, in many cases, closing them forever, I lament the permanent loss of old, long-standing heritage. Once it is gone, it can never come back.

    For some reason, the one that bothers me the most is the loss of the Stitzel-Weller distillery. I guess that is because many years ago, before I knew anything, my favorite bourbon was Rebel Yell. Then, at college, a new friend from Kentucky introduced me to Old Fitzgerald - it was from the same distillery, but what a difference. That was my introduction to the good taste of bourbon. Later, I also discovered Weller Special Reserve.

    I'm sorry this is getting so long. Anyway, I kept seeing these brands and assumed all along that they were coming from the same old distillery. But, as I started doing research for my bourbon tasting adventure several weeks ago, I was shocked and dismayed to find that Stitzel-Weller was sold to a conglomerate back in the 70's and has since been completely shut down. The brands are now just that - brands. The unique whiskeys are history.

    And that hurts.

    Tim


 

 

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