If you’re reading this you are probably well aware that bourbon is booming. The spirit is seeing a renaissance of incredible magnitude. But how has the recent bourbon boom affected us short term and how will it affect us long term?
Just two or three short years ago you could’ve walked into most major liquor stores and picked up a bottle of Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition or Parker’s Heritage almost anytime you wanted. You could also come across the now-elusive Pappy Van Winkle sitting on shelves. As you well know, that is no longer the case. In fact, it has even become difficult to find some of the less-expensive, go-to bourbons like Elmer T. Lee and W.L. Weller 12 year. It’s a case study of supply versus demand at the very core.
The most concerning issue about this bourbon boom are the dramatic changes that some distilleries are making both privately and publicly in order to keep up with demand. Last year, for example, Maker’s Mark dealt with the issue by trying to lower their proof and then changed after a fury from social media. Jim Beam quietly removed the age statement of Basil Hayden from 8 years to “Artfully Aged” and Buffalo Trace has removed the age statement from several of its brands such as Weller Antique and Old Charter 8 year. Buffalo Trace has also removed some old brands like Old Charter 10 Year and Ancient Ancient Age 10 year (though we hear it will return in a couple years). This is a trend that the public needs to be aware of and speak up about.
Another adverse effect of the bourbon boom has to do with sourced whiskey. Over the past few years a lot of major distilleries have been sourcing barrels of bourbon to small rectifiers, craft distillers and start-up distillers. Some good whiskies that you may know of in this category are Smooth Ambler and High West . (These are two of our favorites.) With the shortage we currently see at some of the major distillers it may be difficult in the near future for those who buy sourced whiskey to continue to get the same quality or even the same amount of barrels they purchased in the past. We cross our fingers this doesn’t come to fruition.
Finally, we’ve seen a rapid increase in prices during this bourbon boom. Just a couple of years ago you could buy a bottle of Elijah Craig 18 year for $47.00. Now, just three years later, the 21 year version is selling for $149.99. That’s over a hundred dollar difference for just 3 more years in age. Many other products have increased between 15 and 20%.
Since The Bourbon Guys always like to have our glass half full instead of half empty we thought it would be nice to share a few recommendations for surviving this bourbon boom:
There is still plenty of good premium bourbon on the shelf – All of the major distillers are still putting out great bourbon. If it’s premium bourbon you’re looking for there is still a good selection on your local liquor store shelves. Grab some Four Roses Single Barrel, Russell’s Reserve (more on this brand in a future post), Booker’s or Noah’s Mill and you won’t be disappointed.
Try a few private selections from your local liquor store – Private barrel selections sold at some local liquor stores are a great way to experience some of your favorite brands of bourbon that may have a completely different flavor profile from your standard bottle (sometimes even higher in quality).
Experience some great lower-priced bourbon – Lower cost bourbons have actually been stagnant during this bourbon boom with most of the public gravitating to the premium brands. We encourage you to revisit some of these less expensive but high quality brands like Old Forester Signature (see our review), Old Fitzgerald (see our review) and Old Grand Dad 100. Put any of these 100 proof bourbons in a blind tasting and you might be surprised with the results.
Try some of the younger whiskies coming from craft distillers – We have tried some good bourbon that’s been distilled at some local craft distillers. Some of the better ones we’ve tried are MBR Bourbon, Grand Traverse Bourbon and Watershed Bourbon. These are younger bourbons that actually have far more flavor than just corn.
Hold on to your rare stuff – If you have any left, hold on to your rare bottles and don’t sell them on Craigslist as most will never be around again. It’s always nice to know you have at least one rare bottle on hand for those special occasions.
Speak up – If you want to continue drinking good bourbon, don’t be afraid to speak up about the changes that are taking place at some distilleries. Speak up about lower proof and younger aged bourbons replacing the standards we’ve come to know. Social media can be a very powerful tool if used properly.
Be patient– Many distillers, including Pappy Van Winkle distiller Buffalo Trace, are beginning to put away much larger supplies for the future. For example, right now there are more barrels being aged in Kentucky than there are people living in the state. This process might take a while but the yield should be something for us all to look forward to.
Story by (The Bourbon Guys) with contributor Jason Farler