Skip to Content

If A $200, 20-Year-Old Wheated Bourbon From Missouri Seems Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is

If A $200, 20-Year-Old Wheated Bourbon From Missouri Seems Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is

Here’s one of the more fascinating mysteries to pop up in the bourbon scene this year: A Non-Distiller Producer (NDP) based out of Colorado called “Art of the Spirits Whiskey LLC” has somehow gotten their hands on 19 and 20-year-old barrels of Missouri Bourbon. They plan on selling them as cask strength single barrels.

But the story gets weirder. Not only did they initially list a price for them on their website for under $140 at the beginning of May, but Jay West (known as t8ke on the popular Reddit sub “r/bourbon”) has managed to secure a barrel of it for his single barrel program. The specs on the email he sent out only deepened the mystery:

He quickly corrected the original email with another version that removed Mccormick Distillery’s name. Now it just says “undisclosed.” Was it because he was told that he could not use the Mccormick name? Or was it because Art of the Distillery was incorrect about the source of the bourbon and could not tell where it came from?

The 19-year-old ryed bourbon was also changed to reflect that the distillery was undisclosed.

Pinning down the distillery is more difficult than it appears

Not sure why this qualifies as a mystery? Then allow me to lay it out for you. There is no known distillery that was distilling bourbon around 2003 in Missouri. Even if you add or subtract a few years on each end, the result is the same.

The most obvious distillery to look at is Mccormick – which is once again churning out bourbon under the Ben Holladay name. They have an inconsistent history of distilling throughout the last 150 years. This article claims that no bourbon was made at the distillery from 1985 to 2015 – a gap of 30 years! The spirits they made during that time were all clear (and some corn whiskey). Yet there was BJ Holladay bourbon being sold into the 1990’s. How is that possible? A quick look at the back of the bottles from the 1990’s states that it was distilled in Kentucky. According to Chuck Cowdery, they were likely sourcing bourbon from one of the usual Kentucky purveyors of the time (Heaven Hill).

The oldest bourbon at Mccormick Distillery should be 8 years old at this point. Are there any other distilleries that have been around longer? The two oldest ones I can find are Pickney Bend Distillery and J. Rieger Co. Both got off the ground in 2014, so that counts them both out for making this bourbon. The only mathematical way it would make sense is if, I dunno, a moonshiner illegally distilled and filled some 53 gallon barrels back in 2003. But that would be crazy, right?

Mash Bill Mix-up

The final number that doesn’t add up is the mash bill. The Art of the Spirits spec sheet lists a wheated bourbon mash bill of 51% corn, 45% wheat and 4% malted barley. Alternatively, the non-wheated mash bill is listed as 51% corn, 45% rye and 4% malted barley. Many enthusiast instantly called out former mash bill as the same one used in MGP’s wheated bourbon recipe. The only issue is that MGP didn’t first distill this recipe (code name LFSV) until 2013. It was part of their recipe expansion project which saw at least 10 new recipes created.

These recipes were created under the supervision of Greg Metze before he left to work at Old Elk. He became the head distiller in 2008 after Larry Ebersold left. And while I didn’t reach out to Larry to confirm this, it was extremely unlikely that a wheated bourbon was distilled – let alone considered – during his time at Seagram’s and during the Pernod-Ricard era.

Someone will inevitably point out that recipes aren’t trademarked and that multiple distilleries can (and do) distill with identical ratios. Wild Turkey and Jim Beam come to mind and there are now half a dozen distilleries making their own 95/5 rye whiskey. But the low-malt content seen in these Art of the Spirits single barrels are telltale Seagram’s recipes if you factor in they were made 20 years ago.

This is because they perfected the technique of using the minimum amount of malted grain in a recipe to ferment with. And while some craft distillers have demonstrated that they don’t even need a malted component to begin fermentation (there are plenty of commercial enzyme choices), this wasn’t the case 20 years ago.

Some will also point out that Midwest Grain Products actually owned Mccormick Distillery for a period of time from the 50’s to the 70’s. However, there is absolutely no proof that they influenced the distillery on what mash bills to make. Alternatively, there is no proof that MGP took mash bills from Mccormick and later implemented them at the Indiana distillery when they purchased it in 2011. In fact, MGP’s new mash bills have more in common with their Seagram’s lineage than anything else.

20 Years Old, Distilled in Missouri and a wheated 51/45/4 mash bill – only one of these can be true

If everything I laid out is true, then that means that these barrels do not contain what they are advertised to contain. There was no distillery in Missouri producing bourbon 20 years ago. The mash bill they claim is too new to have been used for this barrel.

So what’s in this barrel?

1995 bottle on the left, 1977 bottle on the right.

My guess is that if the bourbon truly is 20 years old, then it was sourced from another distillery and uses a different mash bill. If it was truly distilled in Missouri, then it’s not as old as its claimed to be. If it has a wheated bourbon mash bill, then it’s probably from Mccormick (Ben Holladay Soft Red Wheat) but not as old as it says it was. Even so, it probably uses a different mash bill. And finally, if it really is a 51/45/4 mash bill, then it’s sourced from Indiana and isn’t 20 years old. I’d say it’s closer to 10.

Does the description of “Temperate Cave Aging” offer any clues?

There is one interesting fact that is easy to pass over in the description. Art of the Spirits claims that the barrels were aged in both rickhouses and in temperate caves. Missouri is a state known for their numerous caves, so this isn’t something I would dispute. In fact, the Mccormick Distillery has a storage cave on their property. No problems with that statement, right?

Well, not exactly. The cave on the property has been described as being no bigger than a standard home’s living room. It was also filled with clutter for a very long time, not barrels. Rarebird101 has seen the cave and seemed skeptical that it was used to age any barrels at all.

But how about other spirits producers in The Show Me State? Do any of them have caves? A quick search popped up with Cave Vineyard & Distillery and there’s bound to be others. And it might be a stretch, but what about if any of the cave-cured meat producers had stashed a couple of illicit barrels underground? There are lots of possibilities but few outright contenders.

Could it be tanked?

This is a response I’ve seen a couple times after discussing it with other friends. For sure it’s a possibility, but the question would still exist: who was contract distilling (or selling) barrels of wheated bourbon back in the 90’s or early 2000’s? The usual suspects are Maker’s Mark, Ancient Age/Buffalo Trace and United Distillers/Heaven Hill, but none of those seem remotely likely.

Even if a distillery in Missouri was able to land a barrel or two from one of them, the price they would would fetch would be five-to-ten times higher than $200 per bottle. And speaking of price…

What clues does the price hold?

One final point of interest in this mystery is the price. I know you’re going to have to take my word on this, but when the Art of the Spirits originally listed the 19-year-old single barrel on their website, it had a price of only $137. I don’t have a screenshot, but I do have a link that I witnessed with my own eyes. Now the link has expired and I can’t view what it previously showed. If you know how to recover it, give it a shot and let me know: https://checkout.square.site/merchant/MLQFMZRYPRWKA/checkout/6GN34GJRSX562OGJVQU3CNIT

The new price of these mystery 19 and 20-year-old barrels is a little over $200. Still, for 20 year old bourbon, this is an extremely reasonable price. I am basing that off of the accepted value equation of $10 per year of age being the go-to way of establishing if a bourbon is worth it or not. More than $10/year and it’s a bad value. Less than $10/year and it’s a good value.

So if this bourbon truly is $200+, then that either means that it’s objectively not good or that it’s not what it says it is. Deals like this never come around and if they do, there’s a reason why they’re so cheap.

Conclusion

Something just doesn’t feel right with these two barrels. Granted, maybe I’m just not giving t8ke enough credit that he really did verify everything that Art of the Spirits said was true. I’ve been wrong before. It’s kind of my forte, actually. But I can’t make it make sense in my mind. In fact, nobody I’ve talked to has told me that they trust all of the info that was given is completely accurate either. Every direction you take with making sense of these barrels seems to lead you into a dead end. Nothing about them feels right.

But all I can do is try to obtain my own samples to see for myself or wait for the reviews to start coming in. That should give some hints who made it. At the very least, it would confirm if the bourbon was so poor that there wasn’t a buyer for it until just this year. But until I can try it for myself, I will remain skeptical… and so should you.

Featured Products

  • Neat Traveler
  • View Larger
  • Description:The Aged & Ore Neat Traveler is a complete travel kit for spirits. We combined our widely praised Neat Glass with one of our 3oz Flight Bottles and housed them together in a custom EVA travel case. Perfect for a night away with your favorite pour. The tie
  • Bottle Flight
  • View Larger
  • Description:The Aged & Ore Bottle Flight is a premium set of 4 custom silicone wrapped glass bottles designed to transport and share samples of your favorite spirits. The flight bottles come in a custom EVA travel case that fits perfectly in any small bag. An Aged &
  • Travel Bundle
  • View Larger
  • Description:This Bundle combines two of our crowd favorite products, creating the ultimate travel bundle to bring along your favorite spirits and glassware. Bundle Includes: Neat Traveler (Gray) Bottle Flight (Gray) Note: This bundle is only available in gray and col

*Bourbon Culture is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Anonymous

Thursday 6th of June 2024

Not everybody knows everything about anything. There is, in fact a bootlegger that has been barrelling stuff in MO since 2003 - longer actually, there was an AOTS bottle sold in Colorado before Christmas last year that was 26yo MO distillate. Since the operation didn't get a DSP until much later, anything *that* Label puts out can not legally carry an age statement older than the DSP. Thing is that with the NDA in place, the NDP can state the actual age statement long as the Distillery remains undisclosed. Should the Distillery become known, there's a risk the TTB/ATF will intervene and risk future operations. This is why I am posting this anonymous as even knowing my name could increase the chance things go wrong. I know everyone loves a good investigation and a good expose, but as I said, not everything is known even to the biggest Whiskeytuber nerd or the SpiritsReviwer Website extraordinare!

Jordan

Wednesday 29th of May 2024

Update to original comment. Saw a reviewer on tiktok mention that his 21-year bottle had a note on the side that said the first 7 years were aged in a 'new toasted American oak', next 7 were aged in a one-time use 'American bourbon whiskey' barrel, and after that aged in a 'neutral cask' to balance over-oaking.

Anonymous

Friday 31st of May 2024

@Jordan, could it be Woodhat Distillery?

Jordan

Wednesday 29th of May 2024

Just purchased one. I trust T8ke, but I should've figured it sounds too good to be true. Heard a reviewer mention minerality on their tasting notes. Made me think of only one thing... Dickel! Mashbill obviously doesn't line up, but they have the cheapest 15+ year bourbon around.

Also, if you check out Art of the Spirits barrel dumping videos, the outsides of the barrels are ridiculously clean for 20 years of aging. Nothing like rickhouse aged barrels.