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cowdery

Historical Claims. Do You Care?

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cowdery

I devoted the most recent issue of my newsletter to the subject of dubious historical claims in the marketing of American whiskey.

When you see a historical claim in a whiskey's marketing, are you inclined to believe it? Or do you usually dismiss it as marketing fluff? Either way, do you care if it's true or not?

My rationale for excusing many of these claims is that they were first made before anyone conceived of 'truth in advertising' as a value. To some extent they were grandfathered in when the government began to police product claims in the early 20th century. No one means any harm. It has simply become part of the brand's fabric, its background music.

I like knowing what's true and what's fluff, but I don't mind the fluff.

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kbuzbee

I guess I'm the same way, Chuck. I enjoy hearing the "lore". It doesn't influence my buying or drinking enjoyment. I guess I take all of it with at least a grain of salt but the stories are fun.

By the way, I really enjoyed your latest issue. Nicely done. Always a good read!

I would LOVE to have interviews with the master distillers to hear what they think their advantages really are. I know it would be laced with the marketing bullet points but something like the Whiskey Magazine round table discussions would be fun to read.

Ken

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gr8erdane

The way I look at it, lore doesn't add or detract from the product in the bottle. I've bought a lot of bottles without tasting them first but when it comes to replacing them, I had to like what was in the first bottle well enough to finish it. All the marketing hype in the world won't make a difference to me if I didn't like what was in the first bottle.

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ratcheer

I don't really care whether its true or not. I think, "Maybe, maybe not. Its a nice story." and go on my way. Like the thing about Knob Creek and Lincoln growing up. Its mildly interesting, but who cares?

Tim

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bobbyc

Like the thing about Knob Creek and Lincoln growing up.

That one is generally accepted, as much as you can accept something from a little over 150 years ago. The odd thing is they mention that if left at the distillery, young Abe was certain to grow up to be the finest Master Distiller ever, And I'm given to wonder if perhaps they might really have thought he would have been the finest warehouseman or fireman of the boilers rather than the top slot. I suppose a hundred years from now it will be said of Bill Clinton, that if he had been born in Ky he would have been the best Brands Manager ever to come form our fair state. lol.gif

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squire

The stories are nice and they add a bit to the lore. At least some of the old brands are being kept alive. J.W. Dant ran it off a log and even though the brand exists now only in name the 100 proof BIB HH expression is a good whiskey and a bargain at its price.

Regards,

Squire

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bobbyc

I like JW Dant a lot. That is the Brand my Dad drank the most of.My mother worked at Beam and the only time he drank Jim Beam was the 1 bottle she got at Christmas or if he ran into Baker.

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BourbonJoe

I like JW Dant a lot.

So do I Bobby. Last night I had a pour of 86 proof Dant from 1959. It was as good as anything I've ever had.

Joe usflag.gif

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chasking

I find most of the historical claims on whiskey bottles blatantly not credible. It saddens me, as I think, "Who do they think they're kidding?" Ultimately, none of that is going to determine whether I buy a whiskey or not. If the whiskey's good, I don't care if you can trace it back to 1783; if it's not, I likewise don't care if you can trace it back to 1783.

I think it's high time that distilleries started taking more pride in what they're doing RIGHT NOW. I do think that's starting to happen, particularly with the (relatively) recent spate of whiskeys named after living distillers (ETL, RR, Baker's, Booker's). If a real person is willing to put his name on a bottle, THAT is something to which I would give some weight.

P.S. I know Booker is dead, but he was alive when Booker's was launched, within recent memory---recent enough that I doubt the flavor profile has wandered much.

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jspero

I find most of the historical claims on whiskey bottles blatantly not credible. It saddens me, as I think, "Who do they think they're kidding?" Ultimately, none of that is going to determine whether I buy a whiskey or not.

I agree with that. I automatically assume anything written on a bottle is made up marketing crap and usually don't read it. If the contents of the bottle taste good to me, I'll likely buy it again regardless of what is written on it in the way of lore or product history. I never use the "stories" on bottles to attract me to new products, either.

Jay

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bluesbassdad

I used to care -- a lot.

Then I discovered this site. Now I feel like a kid who has recently learned there is no Santa Claus.

I really wanted to believe that one Kentucky distiller's limestone water and charred oak barrels were better than another's, that one great-great grandfather's recipe was better than anything before or since, and, most of all, that a quaint, small operation in days gone by produced a consistently better product than today's modern facilities, just because they cared so doggone much.

Now I know I was being snookered, and yet I miss the joy that reading labels once gave me. I can't stop reading them, even though I know better. Now I cringe every time I read a reference to a charred, white oak barrel -- as though that makes the bourbon inside different from other bourbon.

I can't think of another industry about which I've ever had similar feelings. Perhaps that's due to the bourbon industry's marketing practices. Perhaps not. For instance, I can't imagine allowing myself to be convinced that today's Ford is a better car than, say, a Toyota because Ford was the first to adopt an assembly line, or that X is better than Y because its origins can be traced further back in time.

Notwithstanding, all the stories do create a backdrop, "background music" if you will, that may well continue to attract new consumers while enhancing enjoyment by existing, more knowledgeable ones -- as long as they don't take it seriously.

I suppose that someone who has had a hand in creating such ad copy may be in a category all by himself in regard to this matter.

Yours truly,

Dave Morefield

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mrt

For one like me who feels great interest in history, family roots and tradition, replies here are really dissppointing frown.gif

I alvays read the stories of the brands carefully, and it significantly improves my bourbon enjoyment...At least, may I belive that the stories aren't completely fiction? I like reading them and hoping them to be -at least partly-informative and real...And, although it doesn't determine whether I'd buy a bourbon or not, yes I care...

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T47

I enjoy History as well. It’s nice to know what’s true, and what’s just fluff, but like Chuck, I don’t necessarily mind the fluff…I guess it is part of the History as well. Did you read this article? I really enjoyed it. These days with multi-national companies and a huge world economy, it would be nice if some of these Distilleries would stay American owned forever. Check out Chucks article, it’s a good read!

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gr8erdane

After reading your post, I went back and read my own and I agree, most here are a bit disappointingly negative. As for my post, I was just saying that marketing plays little part in what I buy these days. I have always been a history buff and love to pass on bourbon lore to those who don't run away screaming or fall asleep on me. However, I always add the customary disclaimers to all the nonsubstantiated historical anecdotes.

When I look at my collection of bottles though, I think more on the history of a given bottle than of the brand name on the label. I look at my bottle of WT Tribute and know that I got it from Tim. I look at the Pendennis Club and it came from Bobby. I look at the WT 12 Gold Label and think of Dawn. EWSB 90 from Bettye Jo, ORVW Olde Time Rye from Randy, Old Ezra 15 from Cliff, etc..... Then I look at the half empty bottle of Bookers and see the foundation of my collection, where it all started. You see, the personal history that is part of me is what I really enjoy, much more than the stories of who was the first distiller, who was the first to use charred oak barrels, or who created the first wheater recipe.

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camduncan

and love to pass on bourbon lore to those who don't run away screaming or fall asleep on me

Jeez Dane, I thought I was the only one that did that to people smilielol.gif

Back on topic, I always read the history on the lables and attached info sheets. But I do always take it with a grain of salt. As I'm not a major history buff (I do enjoy reading bourbon history in books like Chucks though), I usually can't tell if the blurb is stretching the truth or not. skep.gif

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bourbonv

Chuck,

Another interesting question to ask here is, "Would you be impressed if a distillery placed a legitimate historical claim on the label?" For example if Elmer T Lee said something like "Elmer T Lee introduced the modern concept of single barrel bourbon to the world".

Mike Veach

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doubleblank

We'd all probably like these stories to be accurate....but if we demanded 100% historical accuracy, there wouldn't be any stories to tell. I must be part Irish as any good Irish storyteller will point out .....its more important to tell an interesting story than to worry too much about the complete accuracy. Maybe it was actually 1797 and not 1783 ..... and maybe the barrel wasn't charred in a barn fire.....but these stories represent a plausible way things may have happened. I can imagine being a purveyer of spirits in times of old and the whiskey salesman from KY comes calling. I know he is going to have a story of why I should buy from him......and I'm going to find it entertaining if he has any chance of making a sale to me.....the other criteria being he has a good product at a fair price.

These days in the Information Age, those stories probably don't help make many new customers. They do help support the image they have developed in the marketplace for certain products. What's getting new customers today are 1) the innovative products being introduced and 2) better whiskey in the bottle. Both of these things are changing much of the public's perception of whiskey. HH's Bernheim, BT's BT and Antique Collection, OF BB, etc, etc. Most of these aren't relying on a false story of folksiness, etc.

Randy

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Ken Weber

Dave,

Being a marketing type at BTD, I must say that you have written most eloquently on this topic. I must also say that I agree with you! It is indeed difficult to distinquish between fact and fiction. When we try to educate consumers about a particular brand, it is not an easy task. I have to agree that the verbiage on the back of Buffalo Trace tends to get a bit flowery and really does not inform about the contents therein. When we produced the Antique Collection, we included a "fact" sheet with each case. The intent was simple and straightforward - provide the factual information concerning the production of the brand.

When communicating with consumers,tasting notes are often used. These are a bit subjective and I know from past experience that they are sometimes fabricated or written by someone who is beholden to the brand owner.

If we were to say that Blanton's is the best single barrel bourbon by virtue of it being the first, we would be making a claim that carrys no credibility with discerning bourbon drinkers. BUT, since there are more undiscerning bourbon drinkers/buyers, then why not make the claim and reap the rewards? The answer is simple, some people will resort to this while others take choose not to; it all comes down to ethics. What is more important, the bottom line or maintaining your integrity? As simply as this is stated, it is indeed a difficult question!

Ken

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bobbyc

I look at the Pendennis Club and it came from Bobby.

You do know that Pendennis Club is toast? Last Bourbon Fest I had arranged a trade with Roger for a couple of those against a couple of 200 anniversary Jim Beam. Imagine my chagrin when I found out that distribution had been stopped and the sole bottles of it had been cleaned out just moments before I dropped in to pick a couple up. I think there may be a stray here or there but as of yet have not seen them.

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gr8erdane

I got two bottles from you Bobby and one is history, the other will remain closely guarded...

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bobbyc

It is a fine 7 year bourbon, we realised a little too late what a sleeper it was. Now I wonder what the Rich ol'Boys are pouring these days. stickpoke.gif

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Edward_call_me_Ed

This thread has been bubbling and boiling in my mind since I read the first post. If I were to try to write everything I have thought about the topic it would turn out to be too long and need footnotes. Here is my best try at a short version.

Do I believe the history printed on the label? In a word, "No." Oh, the corporate person might still have some sort of continuing existence, but does that mean that there is some sort of family tradition/transmission from the old still on great great great grandpa's farm back up in the holler behind the old log cabin he and his neighbors built back before Scarlet O'Hara found out what came after that first passionate kiss? Yes, No, Maybe.

Yes, there is a deep and venerable tradition. No, it isn't quite as folksy as the labels would have us believe. And maybe, yes, it is that family tradition that make bourbon great. The same families have been in the business for generations, just ask Bettye Jo Boone.

And what about the bean counting marketing types? Without them there would be no fine bourbon at all, just popskull out of the back of a pickup, if that. Or maybe there would be some truly fine bourbon made just like great great great grandpappy made it. One barrel at a time, just enough to go around among the cousins as long as the uncles don't drink it all up before it is bottled....

Part two:

Does the label, the bottle, the story on the label matter? Aren't the contents of the bottle, the taste, what really matter? The fact is that the bottle, the label and the story all have more influence on how we perceive the taste than we care to admit. Case in point, a marketing firm changed the color of the Seven-up can without changing the contents at all and people tasted more lemon and lime in the drink. They got really upset, "Don't you do a New Coke on me!" A little yellow added to ink and the flavor profile was markedly different.

It is late. I have got to go to bed.

Ed

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miller542

When you see a historical claim in a whiskey's marketing, are you inclined to believe it? Or do you usually dismiss it as marketing fluff? Either way, do you care if it's true or not?

I like knowing what's true and what's fluff, but I don't mind the fluff.

I tend to dismiss most marketing "lore" as being based on some seed of truth, which is then spun into creating the brand image. The bottle shape, label, story, etc. are then created to fit that image. Sound marketing, to be sure, but there should be some basis in reality. Like Ken Weber asks "What is more important, the bottom line or maintaining your integrity?" If it's all fluff, how well does that reflect upon the integrity of the actual product?

This site and several books help to sort the truth from the fluff, but I enjoy it all. It's fun to read the label and step back in my mind and think about the way things might have been in the years before, during, and after Prohibition.

Ultimately, I see the marketing lore as a fun way to preserve the rich history of the bourbon industry and its role in the development of America. A history that I would not like to see forgotten any time soon.

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mrt

...Ultimately, I see the marketing lore as a fun way to preserve the rich history of the bourbon industry and its role in the development of America. A history that I would not like to see forgotten any time soon.

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ProofPositive

...Ultimately, I see the marketing lore as a fun way to preserve the rich history of the bourbon industry and its role in the development of America. A history that I would not like to see forgotten any time soon.

Completely agree. Since we all know that there's a historical background, then we can enjoy reading and thinking about it, regardless of what percent of the stories is "fluff". Especially given that, the older times of bourbon country attracts even my attention from here-the eastern end of Europe.

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