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Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project


cowdery

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Impressive project, but them handing down the cost of almost $47 for 375 ml isn't.

I like to point micro-distillers in the direction of interesting things the big guys are doing and I'm always interested in your reactions.

This one is a doozy.

http://www.singleoakproject.com/uploads/press/2011-04-28-Buffalo-Trace-Unveils-Single-Oak-Project.pdf

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I think that's really cool. I hope they release some of the information they gather, as it could be a really useful tool for distillers and, maybe even more so, coopers looking to create specific flavors. Of course, this is their own info and there is no specific reason for them to release it, so I doubt they will.

$47 for a 375 is not cheap, but considering all the work that went into the whiskeys it sounds perfectly reasonable to me. As Jay points out, there is micro whiskey that goes for that price, so complaints about cost on this forum seem a bit out of place.

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Clever way to get folks to pay twice as much for bourbon.

At the conclusion of the project the Distillery plans to take the top rated barrel, make more of that product ...

That'll be a neat trick, considering there was only one barrel made from each specific tree, those trees are gone, and they can't re-use the barrels. With all the variables and specifics introduced, they've created a literally unrepeatable exercise.

and launch it under the Single Oak Project nameplate

That seems a misnomer, what with all the blending going on.

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It's not entirely unrepeatable... they'll just need to source oak of a specific grain and then set a specific char level. Expensive and resource dependent, yes.

I think the biggest challenge will be to ellicit consistent feedback/reviews from customers over the course of several years, and in a sufficient quantity to make for a statistically significant profile-build of each barrel. Obviously four or five customer "reviews" of bottles from a particular barrel isn't going to give much insight into its characteristics and whether those characteristics appeal in a broader sense to the market.

But it sure is a neat experiment. I hope to try a bottle or two. :)

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They're not blending them, that's the point. The bottle has a specific set of conditions and comes from a single barrel whose lineage has been carefully tracked.

It's actually a very well designed experiment.

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In my other life, I do high-throughput / combinatorial chemistry - so I think it's kind of neat that they are setting up a factorial study with lots of dimensions. But unless they can control, or at least identify, trees like the test samples, then it's more a novelty than commercially useful.

And it's possible they can. They might have several more 'assays' than the final sensory evaluations they are talking up. (It's nifty PR. After all, it's not only a high price, but how much do you want to bet that enthusiasts who are able ($$) will buy a whole case, just to compare the different trees.) The wine coopers are starting to talk up the use of IR-Spec and other non-destructive assays as predictors of flavor. _If_ they can tie measurable wood features with defined process steps to final flavor, they can pick the trees to give similar character.

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This is also them getting into the artisan game. Does this add value to actual artisan scale distilled spirits or is this another chink in the wall between big and small?

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BT has 60,000 gallon capacity column stills. They are not an artisan distillery though they certainly know what they're doing. The fact that they can make a bunch of money off their experiment is probably what sold it to the brass, even though the relative cost of doing the experiment was very little.

And every dollar they get for some limited edition product like this is a dollar that the customer won't spend on a small distillery's product or on a high end product from HH. But the customer is being tricked a bit, as they either (1) won't be able to get what they really liked again, and (2) there's no way to know whether the profile of one of the experiments that you like matches any particular current BT product so it won't help drive your purchases.

So in the end, it's just like all the other one-off "limited edition" releases Big Whiskey produces: a way to get the customer's money. Sorry if that's sounds cynical but that is what an annual report talks about, ROI, infrastructure investment, market share, emerging markets, etc.

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In my other life, I do high-throughput / combinatorial chemistry - so I think it's kind of neat that they are setting up a factorial study with lots of dimensions.

Did you? I sometimes still do, in the area of nanomaterials, for my day job!

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I think this is a really clever idea for a focus group. Make a bunch of variations, then have your focus group participants (eagerly) pay you to try the product and give you feedback.

Cheryl, did you know that BT also has a small micro distillery? So while their main game is mass production, they're not just talking or pretending when it comes to micro distilling. Check out http://www.distilling.com/newsletters/104.html for a picture. A fancy Vendome; I think it's 250 gallons.

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Yes I took the ADI tour of BT last year so I saw their pot still. It wasn't in operation at that time. Not sure whether they've made any real products in it. They might have made a one off. Maybe they have product aging that was made with it.

But when they can get $90/750 or the equivalent for special editions their column still whiskey they don't have much incentive to use it.

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Yes I took the ADI tour of BT last year so I saw their pot still. It wasn't in operation at that time. Not sure whether they've made any real products in it. They might have made a one off. Maybe they have product aging that was made with it.

But when they can get $90/750 or the equivalent for special editions their column still whiskey they don't have much incentive to use it.

Saw this beauty two weeks ago on a tour and got the sense from the Buffalo Trace guide that they are already running their experimental collection through it. The corresponding fermenter is right near the camera's position in the above-referenced picture with a capacity of ~2400 gallons. Don't know what they are using for stripping, though. In any case, both fermenter and still were empty when I visited.

kMfWZl.jpg

Also, I'm new here and want first to give a large thanks to everyone who has contributed to the wealth of info on this forum!

Eugene

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The micro-distillery is in what used to be their yeast room so these small (by their standards) fermenters are where they fermented and propagated their yeast mash, before they switched to dry yeast. There is also a corresponding cooker and several holding tanks.

I've never seen it running but I was given a picture once of mash in that fermenter that is intended for a future E. H. Taylor release, using a white corn and high malt mash bill found in Taylor's papers.

That was an exception as they tend not to talk about experiments when they lay them down. They tend to only talk about the ones that turn out well.

Here's the still. The other picture is bags of grist for the white corn experiment. They don't have a scaled-down mill.

They did not use this set-up for Single Oak, as that used two of their standard distillates, rye-recipe bourbon and wheat-recipe bourbon.

post-74-130544190457_thumb.jpg

post-74-130544200475_thumb.jpg

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  • 1 month later...

That was an exception as they tend not to talk about experiments when they lay them down. They tend to only talk about the ones that turn out well.

That's the beauty of the single oak project, Cowdery. They're just releasing whatever happened to come out of those barrels, worthless swill or otherwise, and welcoming those saps who are willing to pay outrageous amounts of money to become part of their product development. Brilliant marketing and brilliant R&D, yes, but if you want to call it "craftsmanship" you're in the wrong forum.

Any distiller can see that the "Single Oak Project" is simply a way of unloading the waste of an R&D scheme, not some glorious gift that Buffalo Trace altruistically decided years ago to present to discerning Bourbon aficionados. Truly, the Single Oak Project is a shining example of how to get one's customers to buy one's waste at the same time as expanding one's tasting panel. Gotta give them props for showing how it's done.

Nick

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You think that the company that sells its flagship whiskey at $19.99 in California, king of the wholesaler/retail markup, came up with this elaborate plan with the sole intent of gouging their customers for a piddly 192 barrels? Over four years?

Bit ironic for us small guys to accuse Buffalo Trace of gouging, don't you think? I guess the more altruistic path would be to sell those barrels to some Potemkin "micro", and let them mark it up.

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Bit ironic for us small guys to accuse Buffalo Trace of gouging, don't you think?

I don't call it gouging, I call it brilliant. Buffalo trace is mimicing what is often done by many smaller whiskey distilleries that don't have the inventory to be able to blend a consistent product: they're releasing whiskey barrel by barrel, good or bad, and counting on whiskey drinkers who enjoy experimenting with different whiskies to buy their product and discuss its nuances.

Whoever made the call to market those experimental barrels rather than blend them off into their regular product stream is a marketing genius. And the added benefit of having people who have already paid for the residue of your product development log onto your website and give you tasting data as well? Icing on the cake.

Nick

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My apologies for misunderstanding your point, Mr. Jones.

But you have to admit that it's pretty difficult to read the sentence "Any distiller can see that the "Single Oak Project" is simply a way of unloading the waste of an R&D scheme, not some glorious gift that Buffalo Trace altruistically decided years ago to present to discerning Bourbon aficionados" and not come away with the idea that you think that BT is sticking it to the their customer.

Cheers

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I know that my prose waxes a bit flowery sometimes, Denvery, and I apologize.

It's hard not to be at least a little jealous of the big guys when they're making a killing on their R&D by-broducts. All I can do with my mason jars of whiskey soaking slivers of wood is drink them myself.

Come to think of it, I'm not all that jealous anymore;)

Nick

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