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Blended Bourbon


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In blended bourbon, distillers are missing a golden opportunity for a small batch product that would be genuinely distinctive and unique. A blended bourbon is made by combining selected straight bourbons, from different years and distilleries, in much the same way as fine cognacs or the better blended scotches are made. Blended bourbons have existed in the past but were never very popular. I know of none that are made now.

The last ones I knew about were some that Glenmore was still selling in the early 90s, before they were completely absorbed by United. Glenmore had a lot of whiskey from a lot of little distilleries and some of it wasn't very good, but they could make it palatable by blending it with other whiskey from other distilleries.

The industry is shy about blended bourbons because the law requires them to use either that or "Bourbon, a Blend" to descibe the product, and the industry thinks the consumer will inevitably confuse blended bourbon with blended whiskey, a very different and usually cheaper product.

But if you think of the cognac model, you can imagine how a quite tasty quaff could be made by tempering a youngish whiskey with some that is very old, and a few that are in between. I'd like to try it if anyone would like to make it.

- chuck

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Is that confusion the reason Seagram doesn't sell 4 Roses here? Because despite all the fanfare I still haven't seen any 4 Roses except the press pack bottle I got last year. I have to admit, if I saw the word "blend" anywhere on the label of a bourbon I'd walk on by if I were in any kind of hurry.

Lew Bryson

Hirsch Reserve 16 YO: Real Pennsylvania Bourbon

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Lew,

Your note suggests that Four Roses is a blended bourbon. My understanding is that the Four Roses sold overseas is a straight bourbon. When last a Four Roses was sold in the U. S., it was a blended whiskey, I believe, not a blended bourbon.

As I understand it, Seagram doesn't sell Four Roses in the U. S. simply because their corporate marketing strategy is to only participate in market segments they can reasonably expect to win, and their chances of building Four Roses up to a Jim Beam or Jack Daniel's level in the U. S. are slim and none, hence they don't participate. If you have contrary information on any of this, I stand ready to stand corrected.

- chuck

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We (Da Press) were given to understand by Seagram last year that Four Roses bourbon is indeed a blended bourbon; a bourbon made up of mingled straight bourbons.

As to selling in the U.S., again, we were told they were going to release 4R bourbon in the U.S. Obviously, that hasn't happened. Your reasoning sounds dead on the money, but... Brands have been overthrown before. I do think 4R is a damn good table bourbon, but of course, that don't mean everything.

Lew Bryson

Hirsch Reserve 16 YO: Real Pennsylvania Bourbon

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Fwiw, Jim Murray's book has reproductions of labels (complete with Japanese characters reminding us we can't buy this whiskey in its country of origin, poo). The labels all state "straight bourbon".

My experience with breweries is that the spokesmen are often remarkable ignorant about the product itself. The Marketing Director of

Blitz-Weinhard corrected me during one meeting when I suggested that the brewery create an all-malt beer. She was stunned when I told her that it was not only possible, but that the brewery was already doing it in their contracted production of Sam Adams. I can easily imagine a marketing bozo assuming that the mingling of barrels was the same as blending.

--Jeff Frane

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For bourbon, the mingling of barrels from different distilleries and different seasons is considered "blending." We may understand the distinction between "blending" and "mingling," but the federal laws that govern bourbon labeling don't recognize it. Federal law requires such a product to be labeled "Blended Bourbon" or "A Blend of Bourbons" or "Bourbon, a Blend." The word "whiskey" can be inserted after bourbon in any of those expressions, if you wish, but the word "blend" in one of those forms has to be used.

Such a product cannot be labeled "straight bourbon" in this country, although it is possible that non-U. S. markets aren't that picky and will accept the label "Straight Bourbon" on what is actually "Bourbon, a Blend."

Clearly, that word "blend" just sticks out like a big ole sore thumb to whiskey people, because of the much lower status accorded to American blended whiskey. This may be what is giving Seagram's pause about introducing Four Roses in the USA.

I agree with you that Four Roses in a nice drink. I typically drink it when I am in Europe, as did my brother when he lived in Spain. I always assumed it was a straight bourbon, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that it is actually "Bourbon, A Blend." The Seagram Company is justifiably proud of its blending expertise.

- chuck

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Agreed on the general knowledge of spokesthings, but in this case we were addressed by a Master Distiller Emeritus. Much better source!

It astonishes me how little spokespeople know, and astonishes me even more when they will say out loud that they do not even drink the product in question.

Lew Bryson

Hirsch Reserve 16 YO: Real Pennsylvania Bourbon

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At least when the tobacco reps/lobbyists used to appear in Congressional hearings, you could always count on them being chainsmokers. :-)

If some of the distillers want me to represent them around the PNW, I'll solemnly promise never to make such a stupid statement.

--Jeff Frane

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Chuck wrote to Lew:

"Your note suggests that Four Roses is a blended bourbon. My understanding is that the Four Roses sold overseas is a straight bourbon. When last a Four Roses was sold in the U. S., it was a blended whiskey, I believe, not a blended bourbon."

It was both, actually. 1940s advertisements for Four Roses (back when Paul Jones made it) called it a blended bourbon, and mentioned that it got its name because it was a blend of four different straight whiskies. (I know, there are tons of variant stories on how Four Roses got its name; here's one more :) )

But by the 1960s it was being sold as a blended whiskey, I believe 60 or 65 per cent grain neutral spirits.

Michael Shoshani

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Most of the marketing people for the big companies, like Jim Beam, are not "whiskey people." This week they're on a bourbon, next week they're on peppermint schnapps, and next year they'll be on dog food. My big criticism is that they miss a lot of opportunities by treating bourbon like any other packaged good, like cereal or salad dressing. Few of them will spend their whole career in whiskey, so they like to keep their product knowledge light and hyped.

That's why you want to talk to somebody from the distillery, not from the marketing company, and definitely not from their PR or ad agency.

- chuck

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That is precisely the problem. The PR/marketer wants the writer to talk to them so that they can control the output; the writer wants to talk to the distiller so that they can get facts, not vapid bullshit.

Bad PR: the people at Beam, who insist on sanitizing everything coming out of the distiller's mouths (with the exception of Booker, thank God, although he's hard to find without a handler). Good PR: Ann Higgins, who does Wild Turkey, and considers her job to send me press materials and samples by FedEx and get me on the phone with Jimmy Russell ASAP. Would that it was so easy everywhere.

Lew Bryson

Hirsch Reserve 16 YO: Real Pennsylvania Bourbon

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I have the same problems with the same people. With Booker, he always has a handler (usually with a recorder), but he ignores the handler and says whatever he wants to say. If he really has retired, he'll be missed.

I also agree that Ann is one of the good guys. The people at Heaven Hill and their agency are cooperative too, plus they're actually knowledgable. Ditto Brown-Forman.

- chuck

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Heaven Hill is REAL good people, and as you said, knowledgeable. They can talk market, they can talk bourbon, they can talk straight distilling talk. Brown-Forman people scare me with how much they know. I always figured that was my edge on marketing people: they dressed better and had more money (prettier and smelled nicer too, but who's perfect), but I knew their product better. Not these people.

BTW, I asked Gary Regan about Booker, he told me he's no more retired than he has been, far as he knew, still out making the rounds. Good news.

Lew Bryson

Hirsch Reserve 16 YO: Real Pennsylvania Bourbon

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  • 1 month later...
Guest **DONOTDELETE**

Lew,

Sorry to be jumping in here so long after the original post, but I just re-visited this site and discovered the forum.

Four Roses bourbon is indeed available in America, but only in Kentucky and Indiana (where Seagram's U.S. distilleries are). The label says it's Straight Bourbon, which means it's neither a blend of bourbon with grain spirits nor a blend of bourbons from different distillers. But it *is* made by mixing different whole bourbons (actually quite a lot of them). It just happens that they're all made at the same distillery (in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky). This is different from mixing differently-aged barrels of the SAME bourbon, such as most distillers do; these are completely different whiskies, with different mash bills, distilling proofs, etc. It's really a lot like the way blended scotch is made, except that all the whiskies are made by Four Roses. We spent a wonderful day there with Al Young (who you can certainly add to your "knowledgeable" list). Check out our website page on Joseph Seagram's for a good description and photos.

BTW - I see you are in Bucks County, PA. My wife and I lived in Dublin (just north of Doylestown) for years and we're going back to visit the end of this month. I could pick you up a bottle if you like.

-John Lipman-

http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

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John--

We're not in disagreement here; it's just hard to describe how 4R is made because of the history of "blended" whiskey in America. You described it well; must have been that time spent with Al Young. I met Al in 1998; he's one of the good ones, you bet!

But I wouldn't compare how 4R is made to a blended Scotch, it's more like a single malt in that it is all the product of a single distillery, or a vatted Scotch in that it is blended but all whiskey, no grain spirits. It's hard to put a finger on when comparing it to Scotch.

I'm glad 4R is available in KY and IN; it was not in 98. That's the 80 proof 4R, in the label that's approx. the same color as the distillery, right? As to a whiskey exchange... I'd love to, but I'm under a slight whiskey embargo right now. Da Wyf says no more until I get a proper space for it; it's kind of overflowing the top shelf of the pantry, and I've got bottles coming from Heaven Hill for a story I'm doing later this month. I'll have to thank you, but regretfully decline. Awfully nice of you to offer!

Lew Bryson

Hirsch Reserve 16 YO: Real Pennsylvania Bourbon

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