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Giving Up Craft Bourbon?

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Kepler
On 10/20/2017 at 10:43 AM, cdcdguy said:

 I appreciate their pioneer spirit though. What are your thoughts?

 

False pretense.  I don't see the "craft" bourbon makers as "pioneers."  Rather, they are johnny-come-lately types that rush to a boom market, just like Economics 101 teaches us will happen. It's textbook.  They joined the market late, to take part in the windfall.  When this bourbon market inevitably busts, they will leave the market first because there is no money to be made anymore.  Most of them will go belly up with Chapter 11, and some will simply wisely find something else to do before they go bankrupt.   A couple of them will stick around permanently, because they are good at business or lucky, or a combination of the two.

 

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cdcdguy
7 hours ago, Kepler said:

 

False pretense.  I don't see the "craft" bourbon makers as "pioneers."  Rather, they are johnny-come-lately types that rush to a boom market, just like Economics 101 teaches us will happen. It's textbook.  They joined the market late, to take part in the windfall.  When this bourbon market inevitably busts, they will leave the market first because there is no money to be made anymore.  Most of them will go belly up with Chapter 11, and some will simply wisely find something else to do before they go bankrupt.   A couple of them will stick around permanently, because they are good at business or lucky, or a combination of the two.

 

On second thought, could not agree more. We have one here in Fort Wayne called Three Rivers. They make other spirits plus regular and wheated bourbon. It's young. However they now have a tasting room that's very popular hangout place on weekends. Not the best bourbon, but if the could afford to age it longer, they might have something. They might survive the future bust with their other spirits.

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OCD #5

This thread is a bit old but I want to contribute a few thoughts. There are a lot of really good posts here and a lot of good comments. As the owner of a very small distillery distilling bourbon, malt whiskey, rum and specialty spirits maybe I can clarify some things. 

 

First- what is craft? There is no LEGAL definition and there never will be. Let's just say small (micro even), mid size and large. Willet was mentioned several times and to me they are mid size (and pretty good). We produce 12 barrels a MONTH. If a distillery makes 10 or more a DAY then they are mid size to me. The bigs are hundreds of barrels a day. But to me who cares what size you are and many of you agree that the quality of product is what matters. I agree.

 

Unfortunately I have had some bad bourbon (and malt and other things) and the vast majority came from small "craft" distilleries. The Bigs all have "low cost" stuff and it is not as good as their higher end stuff but all the Bigs produce some good and great products. BUT 20 or 30 years ago there was not the variety there is today. The Bigs have upped their offerings to capture some of the market that has developed in the last 10 years. Single barrel and barrel strength or even reverting to BiB products. That is good for consumers and the market overall. Maybe "craft" has driven some of the innovation from the Bigs, maybe not. But there is a market and when there is a market producers step in and fill the void.

 

Now to the question of "worth" (price). A thing is only "worth" what someone is willing to pay for it. Unfortunately there are taters out there willing to pay almost any price for any thing. To me if the price gets to $60 or more that product needs to be amazing. And at some point the quality just does not get better no matter who made it or how old it is. We produced a product that sold for $100 for 750 ml. I posted that if you have a bourbon that was $150 or less and it was better than ours I would give them a free bottle. I had no takers. So I upped it to any price. No takers. The deal was that other people would judge BLIND and if their product was better I would give them a FREE bottle. BUT if they lost they have to give me their bottle. I did not make this as a boast. I did it because I WILL NOT pay $150 for a bottle, but if there is one that is that amazing I would like to know what it is.

 

The quality curve has a plateau, but the price curve does not. It a silly secondary (and sometimes primary) market.

 

Now brings me to a major issue- bias. No matter what you think you are apt to bias. You see a label and if it is a product you know you are biased in your opinion. The ONLY way to sample and be free of bias is DOUBLE BLIND. But it is necessary to put similar things in your test. For example you can't put a Bookers up next to a Makers and ask people which they prefer. Some people like more mild and would select the Makers. Some people like more intense and would prefer Bookers. That is normal. Our products are barrel strength and single barrel. If you do not like strong spirits you may not like them. But you can add water to cut the proof. If you put a $13 bourbon up against a $45 bourbon you should be able to tell the difference. Which you prefer is another question. If you see the label or know it is young you will automatically be biased. I would say that 99% of people who do not know the age of our product before tasting NEVER say it is young. 95% of people who know the age before tasting say it tastes young.

 

The good news is this- there are a lot of good and really good bourbons (and other spirits) on the market. There are a lot that are not great and unfortunately MOST of them come from small craft distilleries (my experience). Contrary to what some people said it is not just age and barrel size. Unfortunately, some (or more) of the not good stuff is young and done in small barrels. We used some smaller barrels and it was great (the issues is the small barrels cost a lot more and do not do a better job enough to offset the cost). We have product aged just over a year and people love it. To me the issue is more related to the stills being used and HOW they are used. Most craft people are buying the same stills from the same manufacturers and probably learning to operate them from the manufacturer (meaning the same stuff over and over). Many craft distilleries buy a hybrid still that will make vodka and gin AND whiskey. When you get a hybrid still like that the whiskey suffers. Whiskey and vodka need a different still. 

 

In closing I agree with several people regarding taste it first. If it is good and the price is ok then buy it. I think every day we have people come back to buy again and that is the biggest indicator that they like it and see "worth" in it. People will buy something once for the novelty, but if it is terrible there will not be another sale. I think in a few years we will see a lot of fallout with small distilleries closing. It has already started.  It is great there are so many options. If you get a sample and like it, buy it. If it is not good pass on it. But, not everyone likes the same things.

It is a great time in history to enjoy whiskey!

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Richnimrod
3 hours ago, OCD #5 said:

This thread is a bit old but I want to contribute a few thoughts.

First let me say this: I deleted almost all of your post, only to save electrons (those little buggers are so expensive, eh?).  :)  I agree nearly 100% with your thoughts on this, OCD #5!

 

I too, have tasted a small number of 'craft' offerings (some were even small-barrel-aged) that were actually pretty decent.   A few were just too different from expectations, and more than a few were just too expensive for the experience offered.   But that said, there remained a small number that I was moved to purchase, and I've enjoyed those bottles and will likely purchase replacements (have done on a couple). 

 

Here is my own personal criteria regarding value/price decisions on such purchases....

I'll pay a "premium price" only if the product warrants; even if it doesn't, I'll over-pay about 30% above a similar offering from an established house, thinking to help out a small start-up doing a good job and making good juice.

 

Thanx for resurrecting this thread, OCD #5

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lcpfratn
This thread is a bit old but I want to contribute a few thoughts. There are a lot of really good posts here and a lot of good comments. As the owner of a very small distillery distilling bourbon, malt whiskey, rum and specialty spirits maybe I can clarify some things. 


 
First- what is craft? There is no LEGAL definition and there never will be. Let's just say small (micro even), mid size and large. Willet was mentioned several times and to me they are mid size (and pretty good). We produce 12 barrels a MONTH. If a distillery makes 10 or more a DAY then they are mid size to me. The bigs are hundreds of barrels a day. But to me who cares what size you are and many of you agree that the quality of product is what matters. I agree.


 
Unfortunately I have had some bad bourbon (and malt and other things) and the vast majority came from small "craft" distilleries. The Bigs all have "low cost" stuff and it is not as good as their higher end stuff but all the Bigs produce some good and great products. BUT 20 or 30 years ago there was not the variety there is today. The Bigs have upped their offerings to capture some of the market that has developed in the last 10 years. Single barrel and barrel strength or even reverting to BiB products. That is good for consumers and the market overall. Maybe "craft" has driven some of the innovation from the Bigs, maybe not. But there is a market and when there is a market producers step in and fill the void.


 
Now to the question of "worth" (price). A thing is only "worth" what someone is willing to pay for it. Unfortunately there are taters out there willing to pay almost any price for any thing. To me if the price gets to $60 or more that product needs to be amazing. And at some point the quality just does not get better no matter who made it or how old it is. We produced a product that sold for $100 for 750 ml. I posted that if you have a bourbon that was $150 or less and it was better than ours I would give them a free bottle. I had no takers. So I upped it to any price. No takers. The deal was that other people would judge BLIND and if their product was better I would give them a FREE bottle. BUT if they lost they have to give me their bottle. I did not make this as a boast. I did it because I WILL NOT pay $150 for a bottle, but if there is one that is that amazing I would like to know what it is.


 
The quality curve has a plateau, but the price curve does not. It a silly secondary (and sometimes primary) market.


 
Now brings me to a major issue- bias. No matter what you think you are apt to bias. You see a label and if it is a product you know you are biased in your opinion. The ONLY way to sample and be free of bias is DOUBLE BLIND. But it is necessary to put similar things in your test. For example you can't put a Bookers up next to a Makers and ask people which they prefer. Some people like more mild and would select the Makers. Some people like more intense and would prefer Bookers. That is normal. Our products are barrel strength and single barrel. If you do not like strong spirits you may not like them. But you can add water to cut the proof. If you put a $13 bourbon up against a $45 bourbon you should be able to tell the difference. Which you prefer is another question. If you see the label or know it is young you will automatically be biased. I would say that 99% of people who do not know the age of our product before tasting NEVER say it is young. 95% of people who know the age before tasting say it tastes young.


 
The good news is this- there are a lot of good and really good bourbons (and other spirits) on the market. There are a lot that are not great and unfortunately MOST of them come from small craft distilleries (my experience). Contrary to what some people said it is not just age and barrel size. Unfortunately, some (or more) of the not good stuff is young and done in small barrels. We used some smaller barrels and it was great (the issues is the small barrels cost a lot more and do not do a better job enough to offset the cost). We have product aged just over a year and people love it. To me the issue is more related to the stills being used and HOW they are used. Most craft people are buying the same stills from the same manufacturers and probably learning to operate them from the manufacturer (meaning the same stuff over and over). Many craft distilleries buy a hybrid still that will make vodka and gin AND whiskey. When you get a hybrid still like that the whiskey suffers. Whiskey and vodka need a different still. 


 
In closing I agree with several people regarding taste it first. If it is good and the price is ok then buy it. I think every day we have people come back to buy again and that is the biggest indicator that they like it and see "worth" in it. People will buy something once for the novelty, but if it is terrible there will not be another sale. I think in a few years we will see a lot of fallout with small distilleries closing. It has already started.  It is great there are so many options. If you get a sample and like it, buy it. If it is not good pass on it. But, not everyone likes the same things.

It is a great time in history to enjoy whiskey!


I don’t disagree with a lot of what you’ve said, but I do think you might have contracted yourself a few times in your comments. Also, I know some of our fellow forum members have visited your distillery in the past, and I’ll just say that some of their commentary wasn’t necessarily as glowing of an endorsement of your products or your distilling methods as you’ve portrayed for yourself. I haven’t ever tried your products, so I don’t know whether they are good or not, and if they are, I wish you great success.

I will say that the Bigs still make some great whiskey in the $20 to $40 price point, and that makes it very tough for a new small/craft (whatever you want to call them) distillery to entice customers to buy, and retailers to stock an item at a price point above that. Many customers of craft products, that have bought at above those prices in the past, have ended up feeling robbed, and many retailers now have inventory that just sits on their shelves. Of course there are always exceptions to any statement like that, but overall, I think it’s true, and it’s going to make it harder on small/craft distillers to bring products to market in the future. The result will likely be the downfall of many small distilleries over the next few years, especially those that were under capitalized to start with, and brought inferior products to market in order to generate funding, thus causing irreparable harm to their brand in the process.
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Harry in WashDC

OCD #5 -- Just to add a bit to my comment on my comment on your "Old Crow" thread comment and your comments above - YUP!

 

I like the craft market distillers if only because they help make the majors think about their offerings.  Like gnats on (a dozen or so) horses, they may not threaten, but they sure do make those (dozen or so) tails flick.

 

While most of the whiskeys/whiskies made by the crafters don't fit my particular palate, every once in awhile I find a gem.  For example, for some reason, as I posted above, Balcones True Blue and its burnt popcorn REALLY scratches some of my itches.  OTOH, I've got these clunkers on my shelf . . .:rolleyes:

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Jazzhead

Duke Ellington said there's only two kinds of music - good and bad.     The same goes for whiskey,  and the question of knowledge bias does, for better or worth, color perceptions of what we like and dislike.    Then again,  certain knowledge (like an age statement)  has it own kind of bias since I expect more from a bourbon with an age statement.    With craft whiskeys,  I try to judge them fairly according to the values they bring to the game.    Some measure up, some do not.    I don't factor in price so much,  because I understand that most craft whiskey -  if compared apples to apples -  is inherently more expensive to produce on a per-bottle basis than what comes from the industrial distillers.     

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WhiskeyBlender
On 10/15/2019 at 5:47 AM, OCD #5 said:

 

The good news is this- there are a lot of good and really good bourbons (and other spirits) on the market. There are a lot that are not great and unfortunately MOST of them come from small craft distilleries (my experience). Contrary to what some people said it is not just age and barrel size. Unfortunately, some (or more) of the not good stuff is young and done in small barrels. We used some smaller barrels and it was great (the issues is the small barrels cost a lot more and do not do a better job enough to offset the cost). We have product aged just over a year and people love it. To me the issue is more related to the stills being used and HOW they are used. Most craft people are buying the same stills from the same manufacturers and probably learning to operate them from the manufacturer (meaning the same stuff over and over). Many craft distilleries buy a hybrid still that will make vodka and gin AND whiskey. When you get a hybrid still like that the whiskey suffers. Whiskey and vodka need a different still. 

 

@OCD #5, I, too, agree with a lot of what you've said, but I'd like to go quite a bit further and note some of my own observations from my work. Over the years I've worked as a consulting master blender and QC consultant for a lot of craft distilleries, and I've seen a lot of the same mistakes out there over and over and over again. Since I work mostly with craft distilleries and I also teach professional development courses on maturation, warehousing, and blending, as well as sensory analysis and fault detection to distillers, I think I can be objective enough to also highlight what I've seen as some serious QC issues. I obviously have some biased, but even so, here's what I've seen:

 

You are right, it is not just age and barrel size that affect the quality of craft products, but there is no doubt that these things DO affect quality. The quality of the oak that is used to make small barrels is usually not as good as it is for 53 gallon barrels, and hasn't seasoned as long in the seasoning yards. Also, with barrels under 53 gallons, the extraction vs. oxidation ratio is usually severely out of balance, so that free vanillins, caramelized wood sugars (arabinose, zylose, rhamnose, etc.), tannins, phenols (guaiacol, etc.), and lactones (trans & cis isomers) are extracted fairly soon after filling, but these don't have enough time to oxidize out to more matured, complex aromas that people usually associate with high quality bourbons. 

 

I completely agree with you that there is an issue with the stills being used and HOW they are used. I've seen many of the wrong kinds of stills being used for Bourbon production, as folks buy hybrid stills (often German design, which is fine for some types of spirits, but isn't that great for Bourbon production) that are made to be a "one-size-fits-all" in that they are made for vodka, gin, rum, brandy, and whiskey production, but they never do one thing very well. 

 

But it isn't just the type of still. A big problem I see is also HOW they make their cuts on those stills. Some craft distillers, when using pot stills or hybrids, make their cuts for very tight, as if they are making a corn eau de vie, which isn't meant to be aged. Thus, there is not nearly enough congener content in the distillate so that the Bourbon can gain some complexity during the maturation process. 

 

Another HUGE issue I see is from folks who have "zero" experience with fermentation science. They might have been investment bankers or attorneys in a former life and had a hobby of home-brewing (heck, I'm originally trained as a lawyer and I'm a Harvard Tibetan Buddhist Studies academic so I'd better shut up! Hehehe. And I love home-brewing too). But on a totally serious note, they have absolutely NO idea how to make whiskey on a professional level. They want to make the whiskey themselves, which is a very romantic idea, but unless they are exceptionally talented, it usually does not equate to making a quality whiskey.

 

Thus, over the years I've seen many, many, many of the same fermentation faults, from acetic acid notes (vinegar), lactic acid (sauerkraut, sour milk), butyric acid (vomit/parmesan cheese), iso-amyl acetate (intense banana esters), acrolein (mustard/cayenne pepper), etc. Often, the pH is very off for the particular yeast strain used, or there is no glycol jacket on the fermentation tanks, so that there is no control over fermentation temperatures and thus the yeasts are over-stressed, or there is no understanding and appreciation of the difference between sanitization and cleanliness (i.e., killing microflora vs. cleaning off dead yeast cells, pieces of grain, proteins, etc.). So I definitely think that some of what some of the folks on this forum are tasting in many craft spirits are these fermentation flaws, which are then compounded by the wrong type of still, and with inappropriate cuts (if done on a pot still at least), so that the whiskey is very "tight." On top of that, the use of small barrels and lower quality oak amplifies the problem, often with kiln-fired staves, as do whiskeys that are released before the extraction-to-oxidation ratio has been released. The whiskey is released because the shareholders are nervous, and not because the whiskey is truly ready for release. 

 

Finally, it is very rare for craft distilleries to have a serious QC/QA program, where all the points of production where QC should be checked (i.e., receiving grain and testing for geosmin, mico & aflatoxins in corn and other grains, checking fermentation pH, gravity, temperatures, etc., diligently checking distillation temps and the temps of the condensers, checking humidity, temperature, and ventilation during maturation, and many more critical QC points). I have several craft distilleries that I've been working with for many years that are very serious about checking all of this, and are extremely diligent in their QC programs and have developed sophisticated programs. 

 

Sadly, however, many craft distilleries don't even know to do this. Thus, they are competing with the big Bourbon distilleries that have 1 or 2 hundred years on them, not to mention very high-tech, extremely sophisticated and expensive QC/QA programs. Some craft folks I've worked with over the years have been able to develop a lot of sophistication in a short amount of time, but admittedly that's not the norm. 

 

At any rate, this is just my two cents on the issue. Again, I obviously have some biased as I work with craft distilleries that are think are doing a great job, but I've also seen a lot of bad quality juice out there too, where there is no concern for quality. 

 

I hope this helps shed a little more light on the issue. It isn't the final word, but it hopefully adds to the story. 

 

Cheers,

Nancy

 

 

 

 

Edited by WhiskeyBlender
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flahute
42 minutes ago, WhiskeyBlender said:

@OCD #5, I, too, agree with a lot of what you've said, but I'd like to go quite a bit further and note some of my own observations from my work. Over the years I've worked as a consulting master blender and QC consultant for a lot of craft distilleries, and I've seen a lot of the same mistakes out there over and over and over again. Since I work mostly with craft distilleries and I also teach professional development courses on maturation, warehousing, and blending, as well as sensory analysis and fault detection to distillers, I think I can be objective enough to also highlight what I've seen as some serious QC issues. I obviously have some biased, but even so, here's what I've seen:

 

You are right, it is not just age and barrel size that affect the quality of craft products, but there is no doubt that these things DO affect quality. The quality of the oak that is used to make small barrels is usually not as good as it is for 53 gallon barrels, and hasn't seasoned as long in the seasoning yards. Also, with barrels under 53 gallons, the extraction vs. oxidation ratio is usually severely out of balance, so that free vanillins, caramelized wood sugars (arabinose, zylose, rhamnose, etc.), tannins, phenols (guaiacol, etc.), and lactones (trans & cis isomers) are extracted fairly soon after filling, but these don't have enough time to oxidize out to more matured, complex aromas that people usually associate with high quality bourbons. 

 

I completely agree with you that there is an issue with the stills being used and HOW they are used. I've seen many of the wrong kinds of stills being used for Bourbon production, as folks buy hybrid stills (often German design, which is fine for some types of spirits, but isn't that great for Bourbon production) that are made to be a "one-size-fits-all" in that they are made for vodka, gin, rum, brandy, and whiskey production, but they never do one thing very well. 

 

But it isn't just the type of still. A big problem I see is also HOW they make their cuts on those stills. Some craft distillers, when using pot stills or hybrids, make their cuts for very tight, as if they are making a corn eau de vie, which isn't meant to be aged. Thus, there is not nearly enough congener content in the distillate so that the Bourbon can gain some complexity during the maturation process. 

 

Another HUGE issue I see is from folks who have "zero" experience with fermentation science. They might have been investment bankers or attorneys in a former life and had a hobby of home-brewing (heck, I'm originally trained as a lawyer and I'm a Harvard Tibetan Buddhist Studies academic so I'd better shut up! Hehehe. And I love home-brewing too). But on a totally serious note, they have absolutely NO idea how to make whiskey on a professional level. They want to make the whiskey themselves, which is a very romantic idea, but unless they are exceptionally talented, it usually does not equate to making a quality whiskey.

 

Thus, over the years I've seen many, many, many of the same fermentation faults, from acetic acid notes (vinegar), lactic acid (sauerkraut, sour milk), butyric acid (vomit/parmesan cheese), iso-amyl acetate (intense banana esters), acrolein (mustard/cayenne pepper), etc. Often, the pH is very off for the particular yeast strain used, or there is no glycol jacket on the fermentation tanks, so that there is no control over fermentation temperatures and thus the yeasts are over-stressed, or there is no understanding and appreciation of the difference between sanitization and cleanliness (i.e., killing microflora vs. cleaning off dead yeast cells, pieces of grain, proteins, etc.). So I definitely think that some of what some of the folks on this forum are tasting in many craft spirits are these fermentation flaws, which are then compounded by the wrong type of still, and with inappropriate cuts (if done on a pot still at least), so that the whiskey is very "tight." On top of that, the use of small barrels and lower quality oak amplifies the problem, often with kiln-fired staves, as do whiskeys that are released before the extraction-to-oxidation ratio has been released. The whiskey is released because the shareholders are nervous, and not because the whiskey is truly ready for release. 

 

Finally, it is very rare for craft distilleries to have a serious QC/QA program, where all the points of production where QC should be checked (i.e., receiving grain and testing for geosmin, mico & aflatoxins in corn and other grains, checking fermentation pH, gravity, temperatures, etc., diligently checking distillation temps and the temps of the condensers, checking humidity, temperature, and ventilation during maturation, and many more critical QC points). I have several craft distilleries that I've been working with for many years that are very serious about checking all of this, and are extremely diligent in their QC programs and have developed sophisticated programs. 

 

Sadly, however, many craft distilleries don't even know to do this. Thus, they are competing with the big Bourbon distilleries that have 1 or 2 hundred years on them, not to mention very high-tech, extremely sophisticated and expensive QC/QA programs. Some craft folks I've worked with over the years have been able to develop a lot of sophistication in a short amount of time, but admittedly that's not the norm. 

 

At any rate, this is just my two cents on the issue. Again, I obviously have some biased as I work with craft distilleries that are think are doing a great job, but I've also seen a lot of bad quality juice out there too, where there is no concern for quality. 

 

I hope this helps shed a little more light on the issue. It isn't the final word, but it hopefully adds to the story. 

 

Cheers,

Nancy

 

 

 

 

One of the best ever posts on this forum right here.

Thank you Nancy.

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EarthQuake

+1 Nancy for the win, great to see some solid knowledge dropped once again.

 

It seems every craft producer has some pitch about how they're doing something unique, how they're doing things the proper way, how all those other craft guys make bad stuff but not them. Usually this is followed up with some speech about how small barrels make good whiskey, how age isn't important, how their limited production capacity and lack of experience somehow means they produce a better product, etc... and then you taste the stuff and it's undrinkable. Of course I'm generalizing here. So it's great to read another awesome @WhiskeyBlender post, as she has an uncanny knack for eloquently explaining concepts and ideas that I am only barely able to grasp.

 

Edited by EarthQuake
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WhiskeyBlender
6 hours ago, EarthQuake said:

+1 Nancy for the win, great to see some solid knowledge dropped once again.

 

It seems every craft producer has some pitch about how they're doing something unique, how they're doing things the proper way, how all those other craft guys make bad stuff but not them. Usually this is followed up with some speech about how small barrels make good whiskey, how age isn't important, how their limited production capacity and lack of experience somehow means they produce a better product, etc... and then you taste the stuff and it's undrinkable. Of course I'm generalizing here. So it's great to read another awesome @WhiskeyBlender post, as she has an uncanny knack for eloquently explaining concepts and ideas that I am only barely able to grasp.

 

Many thanks @flahute and @EarthQuake for the kind words. Several years ago, a certain craft producer who was taking one of my production classes told me that they didn't have time to check all of those critical QC points in the production process because they were, and I quote verbatim, "too busy making whiskey."

 

Can you believe that? NO time for quality control? My jaw just dropped. I'm usually not wanting for words, but I was literally speechless when I heard that. Checking something such as the moisture content of grain when receiving it and before using it doesn't take any time at all. Nor does putting a few kernels in a microwave for a couple of seconds and smelling it for mold/mycotoxin issues, etc. And yet, I've seen this total disregard for QC/QA over and over again, because they either don't know how to do it, or they don't know that they should be doing it, or even worse, as the distiller I quoted above said, they're "too busy" to do it. 

 

That's totally unacceptable in my book. Heck, the whole job of making a good quality Bourbon is ALL about having proper QC/QA protocols in place. I don't mean to offend anyone with the phrase I'm about to use, but out there on the retail shelves, there is no "special Olympics" for craft producers. You have to be able to make a product that can compete quality-wise with all the big players and everyone else. Now of course, it is usually impossible to compete cost-wise with distilleries that have so much more inventory that they can keep their prices a lot lower, but at least as far as quality goes, you have to be able to compete. 

 

I'm all for trying new things, experimentation, etc., in the craft industry. That can keep things fresh, innovative, and exciting in the whiskey world, but it should NEVER be at the expense of high quality. Quality comes above everything else in my eyes. 

 

At any rate, I'm sure I've preached on this long enough. Thanks for listening to me rant! 

 

Cheers,

Nancy

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fishnbowljoe
1 hour ago, WhiskeyBlender said:

 

 

At any rate, I'm sure I've preached on this long enough. Thanks for listening to me rant! 

 

Cheers,

Nancy


Keep on preachin’ Nancy. I assure you the congregation is listening.  😇

 

Biba! Joe

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Vosgar
2 hours ago, WhiskeyBlender said:

At any rate, I'm sure I've preached on this long enough. Thanks for listening to me rant! 

 

Cheers,

Nancy

Nancy, I'll listen to you all day, every day. Your posts are amazing and even though some of what you talk about is above my comprehension level, it's still enjoyable. Thanks for educating people like me who want to learn more about the spirits we love.

 

Moderators.....maybe we could consolidate some of these posts of Nancy's in one place. That way, when I forget what she's said I could find it more easily. 😁

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flahute
4 hours ago, WhiskeyBlender said:

Many thanks @flahute and @EarthQuake for the kind words. Several years ago, a certain craft producer who was taking one of my production classes told me that they didn't have time to check all of those critical QC points in the production process because they were, and I quote verbatim, "too busy making whiskey."

 

Can you believe that? NO time for quality control? My jaw just dropped. I'm usually not wanting for words, but I was literally speechless when I heard that. Checking something such as the moisture content of grain when receiving it and before using it doesn't take any time at all. Nor does putting a few kernels in a microwave for a couple of seconds and smelling it for mold/mycotoxin issues, etc. And yet, I've seen this total disregard for QC/QA over and over again, because they either don't know how to do it, or they don't know that they should be doing it, or even worse, as the distiller I quoted above said, they're "too busy" to do it. 

 

That's totally unacceptable in my book. Heck, the whole job of making a good quality Bourbon is ALL about having proper QC/QA protocols in place. I don't mean to offend anyone with the phrase I'm about to use, but out there on the retail shelves, there is no "special Olympics" for craft producers. You have to be able to make a product that can compete quality-wise with all the big players and everyone else. Now of course, it is usually impossible to compete cost-wise with distilleries that have so much more inventory that they can keep their prices a lot lower, but at least as far as quality goes, you have to be able to compete. 

 

I'm all for trying new things, experimentation, etc., in the craft industry. That can keep things fresh, innovative, and exciting in the whiskey world, but it should NEVER be at the expense of high quality. Quality comes above everything else in my eyes. 

 

At any rate, I'm sure I've preached on this long enough. Thanks for listening to me rant! 

 

Cheers,

Nancy

Preach and rant on! More people need to hear this.

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VAGentleman
On 10/18/2019 at 10:50 PM, WhiskeyBlender said:

 

 

But it isn't just the type of still. A big problem I see is also HOW they make their cuts on those stills. Some craft distillers, when using pot stills or hybrids, make their cuts for very tight, as if they are making a corn eau de vie, which isn't meant to be aged. Thus, there is not nearly enough congener content in the distillate so that the Bourbon can gain some complexity during the maturation process. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awesome info Nancy!  Could you elaborate a little on the tight cuts.  Are they not leaving in enough heads and tails?  Or are they leaving in too much?  Thanks!

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Harry in WashDC
On 10/18/2019 at 10:50 PM, WhiskeyBlender said:

     *   *   *   *   *

 

Thus, over the years I've seen many, many, many of the same fermentation faults, from acetic acid notes (vinegar), lactic acid (sauerkraut, sour milk), butyric acid (vomit/parmesan cheese), iso-amyl acetate (intense banana esters), acrolein (mustard/cayenne pepper), etc. Often, the pH is very off for the particular yeast strain used, or there is no glycol jacket on the fermentation tanks, so that there is no control over fermentation temperatures and thus the yeasts are over-stressed, or there is no understanding and appreciation of the difference between sanitization and cleanliness (i.e., killing microflora vs. cleaning off dead yeast cells, pieces of grain, proteins, etc.). So I definitely think that some of what some of the folks on this forum are tasting in many craft spirits are these fermentation flaws, which are then compounded by the wrong type of still, and with inappropriate cuts (if done on a pot still at least), so that the whiskey is very "tight." On top of that, the use of small barrels and lower quality oak amplifies the problem, often with kiln-fired staves, as do whiskeys that are released before the extraction-to-oxidation ratio has been released. The whiskey is released because the shareholders are nervous, and not because the whiskey is truly ready for release.  *   *   *   *   *

 

Thanks for this and for the comments on the effects of still type (column vs. pot, etc.).  For YEARS, I have attributed the banana and vinegar/sauerkraut mostly to yeast.  I shall be more careful in the future.:)

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WhiskeyBlender
7 hours ago, VAGentleman said:

Awesome info Nancy!  Could you elaborate a little on the tight cuts.  Are they not leaving in enough heads and tails?  Or are they leaving in too much?  Thanks!

@VAGentleman, yes I sure can! So, at least for those craft distillers that make their bourbon using pot stills, they are often not leaving enough heads and tails (and especially tails). This would be okay if they are making a white whiskey (but come on, who really wants to drink that?), but it is detrimental if they are producing a bourbon, or any other kind of spirit, that is intended for long term barrel maturation. 

 

That's why for bourbon production, I personally prefer continuous distillation on a column (i.e., a "beer still") with the 2nd distillation being performed by a doubler or thumper, which is a form of continuous pot still distillation. I think that for bourbon production, that really provides the best scenario for producing this particular type of distillate.

 

@Harry in WashDC, yes, you are right that the banana esters/iso-amyl acetate are produced by yeasts. A little banana flavor in a bourbon can add to the complexity for sure, but too much of it then becomes an off-aroma, which is a technically a fault if it takes over all the other aromas. 

 

However, acetic acid (vinegar) and sauerkraut notes come from bacteria; namely, Acetobacter and Lactobacillus. A butyric acid fermentation is derived mostly from Clostridium. And chemical called Diacetyl, which imparts a buttery/buttered popcorn note to bourbon, derives from Pediococcus. These are some of the most common bacterial issues I've noticed, but there are others for sure. 

 

These bacteria tend to like many of the same kind of conditions that yeasts like, such as a low pH, lots of sugar, moderate fermentation temperatures, etc. And once they are present, they tend to persist depending upon how (and even if) the fermentation tanks and pipes are cleaned and sanitized. 

 

So, this circles back to what I've seen over the past 12 years of working with craft distilleries,. This issue has been the #1 QC issue in that they allow these bacteria to develop in their fermentation tanks, pipes, hoses, etc., and therefore these defects end up in the distillate over and over again. I've even seen some issues with iso-amyl acetate and butyric acid at a few large, mainstream Bourbon distilleries, although admittedly it is a lot more rare at that level. 

 

At any rate, does this help explain things a little further? 

 

On that note gentlemen, I hope y'all are imbibing something "fault-free" and very delicious on this beautiful Sunday evening!😆🥃

 

Cheers,

Nancy

 

Edited by WhiskeyBlender
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VAGentleman

Thanks!

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Jazz June

Just to add to the chorus, awesome posts Nancy. Keep dropping the knowledge, we all love to read your thoughts.

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JoeTerp

Amazing posts Nancy.  

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