Small Barrels Make Lousy Whiskey.
Posted 22 January 2012 - 11:10 PM
People who get enraged about this need to remember it was one experiment using certain criteria. Recognizing that, I'll even agree that the title is overbroad. I think it's within the acceptable range and others disagree, but it really is abuse of an equine corpse to keep harping on that aspect of the conversation.
Some style terminology for bourbon may be evolving but it's still mostly descriptive; 'wheater' for a bourbon that uses wheat instead of rye, or 'high rye' for a rye recipe bourbon that is about 30 percent rye, rather than the more common 15 or so. Anything aged for less than four years is usually characterized as young or underaged, both of which could be deemed prejudicial, but historically only cheap, low quality products were aged that briefly. I understand micros need to overcome that prejudice if they want to sell young whiskey, but I object to the way some (not all) go about it.
If something qualifies under the regs as bourbon they have a right to call it that, even though subjectively that might not always be in their best interest. Tuthilltown was smart to call their three-month-old product "baby bourbon."
Mostly I object to producers who put out very young and rough whiskeys and make grandiose claims for them, especially when those claims involve gratuitous trashing of so-called 'commercial bourbon.'
I also don't like it when people decide to make it something personal against the messenger.
Posted 24 January 2012 - 09:28 AM
Bad link. Try here: http://itunes.apple....asy/id428499961
It is the most recent entry right now, Episode 47.
Posted 25 January 2012 - 06:27 PM
While this may technically be true, the liquor industry of 100 years ago and older was pretty much unregulated. And there were lots of quality problems, not all of which were related to the producers. Due to the generosity of some friends, I've had the chance to taste pre-Prohibition whiskey and I thought they were excellent. I've had some Old Fitz made in 1933 just after Prohibition ended, barrelled for a mere 5 years at most, and it was far superior to nearly all the bourbon on the market today. imo
Mr Cowdery can now happily claim his disassociation from BT, but he certainly was happy with that association so he could produce his exclusive report where his headline screams "ALL WHISKEY MADE IN SMALL BARRELS IS BAD". Of course, just the messenger.
Have to say I have a lot of respect for Mr Cowdery when he writes on the topics of the history of whiskey and the major brands.
Anyone who wants to be successful in this business should just go out and get some nicely aged whiskey from LDI and bottle it. Mr Cowdery and all the experienced whiskey drinkers will like it, they'll say nice things about it, you'll have enough to get a distributor and they'll push the brand for you. Instead of having to buy all that distilling and fermenting equipment you can hire some brand ambassadors for key markets for half the price and you'll move some product and make some money.
Or you can work your butt off non-stop to make something you think is special. Whiskey that's good right from the still. But the bars won't stock it cause they have an exclusive arrangement with the dominant wholesaler in their market for all the major brands at prices you can't compete with; the big box stores won't deal with you for basically the same reason, plus the fact that you can't produce enough to meet their needs; and in the end you struggle just to make ends meet.
Posted 25 January 2012 - 08:52 PM
Posted 26 January 2012 - 04:40 PM
Chuck, could you point us to Lew's article?
Posted 26 January 2012 - 05:57 PM
As a disinterested observer, it is quite clear to me that the BT over-aged small barrel thing is a hatchet job, confirmed by their inviting "on-side" bloggers (journalists, whatever) to come round and agree how disgusting it is.
Chuck writes "Tasting it after 5 years and knowing how bourbon ages, I don't see how there could have been some earlier point in the process when it tasted better." No? Well, what did they put in the barrel? Garbage?
I am surprised how dishonest this appears to be, the whole thing.
And, unfortunately, Chuck, you have allowed it to turn you into a troll.
Posted 25 February 2012 - 12:55 PM
But, I thought you said that tasting was "subjective" ... so, what is it, tastes like what "experienced bourbon drinkers expect" or the subjective drinker? At what point does one become an "experienced bourbon drinker"? I'm 72 and I've been drinking all kinds of whisk(e)y for more than 50 years and I'd still classify myself as "subjective". Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Call it what you like...you either like it or you don't.
Posted 25 February 2012 - 01:03 PM
Exactly correct. Read the book "BAD WHISKY: The Scandall That Created The World's Most Successful Spirit" by Eward Burns
Posted 25 March 2012 - 10:17 PM
I could not possibly be more respectful of Chuck Cowdery than I am.
Chuck is one of the "gods" from whom I learned about what American whiskey is all about. He is also one of (maybe the ONLY one of) my "mentors" who has always stressed the idea of looking beyond the "generally accepted" marketing hype and checking out whether what we're being told actually corresponds to what our own intellegence says. They are often not the same thing. And Chuck isn't afraid to provoke us into thinking that way. Thank you, Mr. Cowdery.
Of course, that doesn't mean I agree with him. Way, WAY, NO!! But it's never been Chuck's point that you agree with him.
It's never been mine, either, and I'm another person who often gets quoted as if I knew what I was talking about.
In this particular case, I totally agree with the good commentator from Chi-town.
I'm not even sure that many who think they disagree would, if they realized what Chuck is saying here... Please take these thoughts into consideration:
(1) "Bourbon" is a particular KIND of whiskey. It has particular qualities that are common to the familiar brands, and which are also LEGALLY applicable to other expressions. The fact is, though, that "Bourbon", like many other "heritage" things, is very narrowly defined in people's minds and is, basically, a fantasy product that exists only as a number of recognizable brands -- even if the actual whiskey no longer bears any resemblance to the whiskey that those brands once represented.
(2) Very good whiskey, often made with processes that are different from "standard" bourbon-distilling processes -- including different maturing styles, is being made today by distillers (and bottlers) that tastes delicious... and TRIES to, but should NOT, attempt to call itself "bourbon"
(3) Among those, there are many very fine-tasting products that have, among their flavor characteristics, the peculiar -- and for many people, quite desireable -- flavor that is inherent in short-term, small-barrel aging. The point -- and I believe this is Chuck's point -- is that that particular flavor is NOT characteristic of what people normally associate with good "bourbon". In fact, it is a flavor that is considered to be INAPPROPRIATE for whiskey that is labelled as "bourbon".
I totally agree. My position (and it might be Chuck's as well, although I can't remember him ever actually expressing it as such) is that "BOURBON" is NOT the "be all" and "end all" of American whiskey, and that products that have (and appreciate) the flavor that comes from aging in small barrels should be compared to each other, and not to a standard that is different.
(4) By the way, when I say "...a standard that is different" it is important to understand that does NOT mean a standard that is "inferior". I believe the term "American Whiskey" needs to be brought out from its present position as "whiskey that isn't good enough to be called "straight bourbon or rye" and given it's rightful position as American whiskey that is NOT "straight" rye or bourbon, even if it really does qualify as "straight" whiskey, but has other features (such as as small cooperage, or non-oak barrels, or whatever) that should put it into a different class of comparison from "traditional" bourbon, rye, scotch, etc.
In other words, it's not that Mr. Cowdery objects to the (sometimes very delicious) new spirits being marketed; it's that he (and, really I as well) object to the makers of these new spirits limiting themselves to calling it "bourbon" when it's really something else entirely. I say, Vive le Differance, and to H#!! with existing categories!
Posted 26 March 2012 - 07:22 PM
The tastes of some segment of the the american spirit drinker have obviously grown beyond the limits of bourbon from 53 gallon barrels made in Kentucky. The numbers don't lie and the success of Tuttletown's Hudson or baby bourbon is a testament to it. As one who regularly tastes many of the bourbons made by the big Kentucky producers (and here I include the claimed single barrel/ "small batch" claims of those like woodford) The tastes have immense variation and levels of smoothness. To claim some type of standard bourbon taste exists seems a bit dubious to me. My experience may be limited to yours as I don't know your age or experience (I don't have your book), I am always wary of those claiming the absolutes which you are asserting about small barrels.
It can't be both.
Contrary to the conclusions of many, I'm not hostile to small producers. I simply suggest they should focus on the former and not claim the latter, as most currently do.
Where do you see him asserting the "different product vs. better-made version of the mainstream style" that makes you claim "It can't be both"? Apologies if I'm not seeing something in the huge wall of words that the thread has become.
I have to agree that the whole experiment seems like a set-up. Unless you know how bourbon ages and BT doesn't, leading them to leave this bourbon in such small barrels for five years.
Where I agree with you is that most micro bourbons aged in small barrels that I've tasted don't taste like bourbon, they taste like raw wood. Actually, I'd extend that to other whiskies as well. Most micro gins don't taste like gin, either. In both cases—in my own personal opinion—a new category or style has been invented to cover for the general lack of expertise or knowledge of a given spirit on the part of the maker: "I meant for it to taste like that". I know this was the case with absinthe.
I'm just responding to your comment, as I have no room to complain. But then when I'm right, I don't give a rat's ass who wants to shoot the messenger.
Posted 06 April 2012 - 09:03 AM
I have an older friend who have been drinking beer for much longer than 40 years. Its pretty much always Highlife and maybe once in a while Yuengling - you get the idea. When I brought over some micro-brew and tried to tell him it was better beer, well you know I lost that argument.. While I can't say my friend is wrong, the success of hundreds of micro-brewerys says hes not right either.
Attractive, cool, yummy, tasty, delicious are subjective terms and whats good in fashion, food, music, achitecture, and whiskey change over time.
I am sure the first cheap bastard to put whiskey in an old burnt pickle barrel, instead of buying a new one, had an uphill climb to convince people his whiskey was "better". And when the trend cought on and the traditionalists cried the sky is falling, I bet they argued against co-opting established terminology as well.
Posted 06 April 2012 - 01:35 PM
I truly believe Chuck is in no why trying to divide us in terms of what is better as many of you are accusing him of. He is trying to get us to define ourselves in a fashion as unique as the spirits we are making. On that I couldn't agree with him more and I believe my earlier comments support that.
I would also like to point something out to those of you making claims he may be a shill for Buffalo Trace. If Buffalo Trace or anyone else thought they could make a truly better product in small barrels in a tenth of the time why wouldn't they? Either it's history or it doesn't taste the same as what they recognize as their bourbons and how They want it to taste. That in no way diminishes the value of the flavors craft distillers are making in small barrels it just makes them different. We should take greater pride in that, as opposed to how much we taste similar to what came before us.
Posted 16 April 2012 - 09:48 PM
Posted 24 April 2012 - 01:04 AM
Bourbon is defined by the law, nationally and internationally. There is no reason a new producer shouldn’t use the name if they meet the requirements. They might be at a competitive disadvantage if they don’t. It seems a bit dubious for someone to insist they “know” what bourbon should taste like, based on their experience drinking the same handful of brands over and over, and then insisting a new brand with a different flavor should not use the name. Should we be expected to believe that Bourbon has always tasted exactly the same way for the last 200 years, and should never change in the future?
Posted 03 May 2012 - 03:49 PM
The historical facts are these. After Prohibition, there was a lot of very young whiskey on the market because aged whiskey was in short supply. As aged whiskey became more available the aged stuff was more costly than the young stuff. People didn't like the young stuff but they bought what they could afford. When aging stocks returned more-or-less to normal, the very-youngs went away. Standard bourbons and ryes were four to six years old, premium bourbons and ryes were six to eight years old, and anything older was considered ultra-premium. A few value brands were sold at three years old and there were virtually no whiskeys sold below three years old.
(And, guess what? They knew how to make small barrels in those days too.)
That's the way it was from before 1950 until about ten years ago, a long time. Tuthilltown came out with its three-month-old "Baby Bourbon" but they smartly labeled it in a way that said, "don't expect regular bourbon." That makes sense. People didn't expect it to taste like regular bourbon, but some people liked it, enough to make it a big success. That's wonderful.
What's not wonderful is coming out with an immature whiskey and claiming it's not only of the same type but better than a fully-aged representative of that type. That does not make sense. It's "Emperor's New Clothes" territory.
I'm not saying anyone has to do anything except follow the rules. I am asking: what's smart? What makes sense?
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