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Dear Distillers and Non-Distiller Producers,
We know you’ve came a long way in the last decade to bring us products that we could only dream of. You’ve done a fantastic job. But we, the bourbon drinking people of the United States, still want more. It is not because we are being greedy, but it’s because we know you have it in you. We’ve been clamoring for these changes or bottlings for years now.
We’re not asking for anything outrageous like George Dickel finished in Pappy barrels. Nor are we asking for anything that would completely turn off your fanbase, like Pappy finished in George Dickel barrels. But we feel the need to bring this list to your attention to let you know there’s still much work to be done and because we want to give you our patronage every time you launch a new product.
So we’re calling you out! We’re demanding that you begin to sound the horn to your corporate office that you need the resources to put into the following changes or improvements in order to win back supporters that may be getting tired of the same old, same old or just want something new.
#15 Buffalo Trace: Just Bring Us Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel Already
You own a majority of the most sought after brands of bourbon in the world. You openly spit at the suggestion of joining the Kentucky Bourbon Trail because you know that people will always know who you are. But through the bureaucracy of your overlords, the Sazerac Company, you’ve happily ignored the demands of
taters your fans who demand that they also be able to buy a bottle of Blanton’s Gold and Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel from the shelves of their local liquor store. It’s great that you’ve announced that you’re now releasing Blanton’s Gold on our shores, but if we don’t see Blanton’s SFTB soon, we’re going to get our sharpened pitchforks out again.
Here’s a suggestion: Why not build an exact replica of Warehouse H and just name it Warehouse HH? After all, the best name you could come up with for a premium version of Eagle Rare was just “Double Eagle, Very Rare.” Groan. This should be able to double your capacity for Blanton’s in the next 5-6 years!
#14 Barton: 1792 Rye Needs to Be A Thing
You’ve been on fire since 2015 when you began to flood us with new products like Port Finish, High Rye, Sweet Wheat, Full Proof, Bottled in Bond and Single Barrel. But with the addition of “Aged 12 Years,” we know you’re running out of ideas for your bourbons that are bottled mostly between 92 and 100 proof. Plus, with the various colors of necktags that your bottles wear, there is one glaringly obvious color you’re missing in your lineup: GREEN.And we all know what the color green represents in the world of American Whiskey… RYE. That’s right Barton, it’s time you dust off the old recipe book and get to work making that famous rye that has been used in various High West products of yore and is even rumored to be the main rye behind Kentucky Owl and Michter’s 25 year old rye whiskey. You’re great at making rye, so why not give in to the fans of your brand and of all of those legendary brands? You obviously know how to make it!
#13 Maker’s Mark: We know you have 10-12 Year Old Wheated Bourbon, Now Release It!
The world may think that Pappy Van Winkle is the most famous wheated bourbon in the world, but Maker’s Mark is the most accessible wheated bourbon in the world. And we can see you’ve really been trying these past 5 years with Cask Strength, Maker’s 46, Maker’s 46 Cask Strength and the Private Select lineup. But the rumors and stories coming from people who have gotten a behind-the-scenes tour of your warehouses reveals a very little known secret… that you have a warehousefull of old, aged wheated bourbon ranging between 10 and 12 years old. Maybe you have more than 1 of those warehouses? And from the sounds of it, those barrels are MAGICAL.
Since there has never been a bourbon that old released under your labels and since the barrel brokers out there don’t have any of these in their inventory, we have to ask “WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THESE BARRELS?” We demand you bottle it up and charge an absurd amount of money for us to taste it. Many of us know this already, but Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is often superior to Old Weller Antique. And if that’s the case at around 6-7 years old, then imagine how your bourbon would fare against Old Rip Van Winkle or Lot B!
#12 Michter’s: No More Low Proofs! (And Make 10 Year Old Products Available At Barrel Strength)
You bottle some of the most expensive and sought after bourbons on the market. Your legendary reputation was originally built on the back of Pennsylvania rye whiskey while your modern day success comes from the unobtainable bottles of Celebration Sour Mash, Michter’s 20 year old bourbon and Michter’s 25 year old rye whiskey. If there was a bourbon that was ever bottled to strictly be “elite,” it seems Michter’s was it.But while their focus recently seems to have been to put every distillate they have in a “toasted barrel,” the real focus should be on something that’s very doable: start bottling your products at a minimum of 100 proof. We understand that your liquid is incredibly expensive to produce (perhaps the most expensive to produce among the large distillers) but always gets bought up anyway.
The simple matter is that no matter how good Sour Mash, Straight Rye Whiskey, Bourbon or American Whiskey is in a vacuum, it is still all very underwhelming compared to its competitors. The extra push that a higher proof could offer it would do wonders. Your whiskey drinks so easy anyway, it’s not like a leap up to 100 proof would ruin it. If price is a concern, then a subsequent raise in prices would probably be accepted by the community. Oh, and while you’re at it, start offering your 10 year old bourbon and rye at barrel strength.
#11 Jack Daniel’s: Jack Daniel’s Barrel Proof Rye, Please
You’ve been doing it all lately: Special Releases, Single Barrels, Barrel Proof Single Barrels, Rye Whiskey and Limited Editions. You’ve got a core fanbase that will always keep you in business. You have a label that is one of the most iconic in the business and has lured millions by giving them an introduction to mixed drinks (Jack and Coke, anyone?). So really, you’ve kinda done it all. But there is one thing that has piqued our interest that you released on a very small level recently… a barrel proof version of your rye whiskey.
The Lincoln County Process (LCP) is not all bad and it actually imparts some very unique traits on your whiskey. But applying the LCP to a rye whiskey really can open people’s eyes to the unique taste of a high proof rye whiskey when it is filtered through that famous sugar maple charcoal. Why won’t you commit to releasing it on a smaller state-by-state distribution to see how it’s perceived? The market is going wild for rye whiskey and there are literally no LCP Rye Whiskies on the market right now. Plus, Brown Forman has been releasing many new rye whiskey products in the last couple of years (Your own 94 proof rye whiskey, Old Forester 100 proof rye whiskey and Woodford Reserve Rye Whiskey to name a few) so it only makes sense that this could be a huge next step… if you’re willing to take it.
#10 Heaven Hill: Give Store Picks The Option of Bottling At Barrel Proof
Every single barrel pick guide at Heaven Hill has surely been asked the same question from groups: “Can we just get this bottled at barrel proof?!” The sad answer is always “no” even though it’d save time on the bottling line to not have to water down Elijah Craig down to a measly 94 proof points, drowning out the flavor that once previously existed.
Why can’t buyers select this option? Why can’t stores pick an 8-12 year old barrel of Elijah Craig at barrel proof? Why can’t they pick a 5-7 year old barrel of Larceny and bottle it at barrel proof? Heaven Hill can literally print their own money and they’re refusing to do so for absolutely no reason. Hell, they could even drop Elijah Craig Barrel Proof from their lineup and bring it back a year later with an extra year added onto the age statement and charge triple the money and people would still pay for it. Hmmm… maybe that one was a little bit too on the nose…
#9 Cascade Hollow: Release A New Label And Fill It With Your Experimental Mashbill Distillate
Erroneously referred to as “George Dickel Distillery,” Cascade Hollow is the official name of the distillery. While they are most famously known for George Dickel products, that doesn’t mean that they are a one trick pony. Some of those tricks were revealed around the time when Barrell Bourbon first started to source bourbon from an “undisclosed distillery in Tennessee.”
The bourbon that Barrell sourced uses unique mashbills that look NOTHING like the mashbills that normally go into George Dickel Whiskey. The reason being is that they contain much higher rye content. These experimental mashbills are distilled for unknown reasons. They make them, age them and then… sell them off to the highest bidder. Why not use them for a new line? Fans of Barrell Bourbon already know that these experimental mashbills are some of the best examples of Tennessee bourbon out there, so why not launch at least a new, premium line of them?
I propose that Cascade Hollow launches a new brand like… I don’t know, “Old Fred” or something with the word “Old” in it. But the lineup would showcase these rare recipes. Barrell is able to charge over $100 for them in single barrel form, so even at $60-75, Cascade Hollow could stand to rake in some serious dough.
#8 Bardstown Bourbon Company: Stop Using Dickel In Your Collaboration Series
You’ve been doing a great job with your distilling, blending and bottling! Literally, this is going to be a distillery that will be kicking ass and taking names decades from now. I even predict it could be in a position to de-throne Buffalo Trace with all of their hyped offerings of various mashbills (yeah, I said it). I could only think of one thing that they should change that came to mind as I was writing this article and that is that they need to stop using George Dickel whiskey in their Collaboration Line.
So far the bottles that have contained MGP bourbon have been “outstanding” to “next-level.” The ones containing Dickel, however, have increasingly been considered as “Shelf Turds.” No matter what barrel you’re using to finish the whiskey in, it’s not covering up that terrible Dickel undertone. Stick with KY and IN distillate and you’ll be golden again. Or as a compromise… why not buy up some of those experimental bourbon mashbills I just mentioned that Dickel creates? It’s five times better than their standard mashbill that you and everyone else seem to be sourcing lately.
#7 Wild Turkey: Bring Back the Single Barrel Picks of Russell’s Reserve Rye Whiskey
With another Master’s Keep release and the release of Rare Breed Rye Whiskey this year, Wild Turkey has basically covered all of the desires that enthusiasts clamor for (Face it, they’re not doing barrel proof SiBs anytime soon). But there is still one missing product that last existed in 2016: store picks of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye Whiskey. That’s right, stores used to be able to pick out bourbon AND rye whiskey single barrels from Wild Turkey, then the rye program ended.
Wild Turkey can’t use the excuse that rye whiskey just doesn’t have the demand, because fans are absolutely bonkers over it these days and this would be such an easy sell. This would be so easy because you still produce and sell bottles of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye Whiskey. At a time when very few producers are allowing Single Barrel Rye Whiskey picks, you’re in a great position to take the lead back. After all, you’ve already got stores lining up years in advance to get their annual bourbon pick, so why not let them pick a rye whiskey while they’re at it?
#6 Barrell Craft Spirits: Put As Much Effort Into Your Rye, Whiskey and Bourbon Line-up As You Have Your Single Barrel Program.
Your bottlings are getting to be insanely varied. Literally the single barrel program you have seems to be making up 50% of your business. But please don’t forget about the core lineups you have. We hope you continue experimenting with rye batches (maybe get some craft rye into blend if you can!) and never give up blending new and exciting bourbon batches (how about putting some larger craft distiller whiskey in those as well?).
As far as your whiskey line goes, I really want to see a release of Barrell Whiskey (maybe Batch 006?) that’s finished in Orange Curacao and new Toasted Barrels (orange creamsicle anyone?). If finishing is going to be your new thing, then don’t forget that rye whiskey takes really well to various wine barrels! In the end, keep up your creative efforts and never stop surprising us.
#5 Belle Meade: Get Creative With Your Craftsman Lineup!
Belle Meade releases 4 different “Craftsman Cask” bourbons each year. This is a new thing, so the program can still take pride in the fact that they’ve really been nailing these special releases like the Honey Cask and various wine casks. But I’ve recently sampled many of the Barrell Craft Spirits Single Barrels of Kentucky Whiskey (not bourbon) that they had finished in up to 48 different barrels and I found a huge preference for the Tokaji Wine Barrel finish.
This Hungarian wine is vastly different and incredibly rich from other wines that I’ve tasted and would pair so much better with a heavier bourbon like MGP. Speaking of finishes, Armagnac is the current hot trend for finishing because the spicy nature goes so well with bourbon. This absolutely needs to be on the drawing board at Belle Meade. If their parent company, Constellation Brands, can help source Armagnac barrels for High West, then there’s no reason they can’t help Belle Meade get them.
#4 High West: The Time for Barrel Proof Options Is Now
High West has been slipping for a few years now. In the beginning, their ability to source beautifully developed whiskies (rye whiskey from Barton and MGP; bourbon from MGP and possibly Four Roses) resulted in products that grew their fan base and ignited a passion for their products. But after being bought out by Constellation Brands, their quality has dipped. After running out of Barton Rye Whiskey, they substituted in their own. After running out of Kentucky-sourced bourbon, they substituted Dickel. The single barrel program is still unique and interesting, but when their products routinely never go above 103 proof, the fans that were initially lured towards the brand have now become bored. Bring back the quality and bring up the proof.
#3 Jim Beam: Make Old Grand-Dad Great Again
The Old Grand-Dad name was not always owned by Jim Beam. Prior to entering their portfolio, they were once owned by National Distillers. Those bottles fetch top dollar due to the amazing liquid inside. After acquiring the brand, Beam-Suntory brand rewarded the label with its own unique high-rye mashbill (27% rye). But it has never been marketed as anything other than a bottom-shelf bottle in all of its forms (80 proof to 114 proof).
Bourbon purists all know of the potential this mashbill has, but aren’t offered a way to sample that potential. All OGD needs is additional aging and the ability to be bottled at barrel proof. Currently, there is such a thing as a 10 year old, high-rye bourbon in the Beam portfolio; it’s the incredibly boring 80 proof Basil Hayden’s 10 year bourbon. Knowing this, there is no reason why a limited edition Old Grand Dad bottle couldn’t be released with a 10 year age statement and a proof of 114 or more. I guarantee that enthusiasts would easily pay “Little Book” prices for this kind of product.
#2 Woodford Reserve: Where Are The Barrel Proof Offerings?
Woodford Reserve is an interesting animal because it is one of the few brands on this list that has a product that a lot of bourbon drinkers found as a sort of “gateway bourbon” (the other being Jack Daniels and Jim Beam). Their easily accessible and tasty Woodford Reserve Bourbon grabs people’s attentions and wallets early on and their Double Oaked Bourbon may have enticed them with the layers of sweetness. But after that, they’re kind of a one-trick pony. Their Distiller’s Collection is routinely a giant let down year after year with prices that border on the absurd (prices can range from $70 to $130 depending on where you are in the US) for 90 proof products.
Then in 2018, someone at Woodford green-lighted the release of the first barrel proof version for all markets in the form of “Batch Proof.” While this was a giant step up, it simply does not compete with the other distillers barrel proof products out there, especially at the price point of $150+. What Woodford Reserve needs to realize is that they cannot simply jump into the premium price category with a product that’s not as great as the others around it. Instead, why not offer true single barrels bottled at barrel proof to the stores out there? Jack Daniel’s got ok’ed to do this two years ago and Old Forester is finally doing that this year, so when does Woodford get the go-ahead?
Even charging double of what a standard bottle of WR costs would still be acceptable to many people out there because we’re all curious what those pot stills can really do. We don’t even really need an age statement since we know that you’re generally embarrassed about the fact you’re routinely putting out 4-6 year old stuff anyway (once again, just like Jack and Old Fo). Just give us a taste of something that’s truly different on the market!
#1 Four Roses Rye: Just Produce A Rye Whiskey Already!
This is one of the easiest and most natural suggestions in this whole article. Four Roses is one of the only major Kentucky distilleries that does not put out a rye whiskey, yet the market and growth of ryes is undeniable. If you’re a fan of this website and have read my article about MGP, you’ll remember that Four Roses and the Lawrenceburg, Indiana Distillery are siblings separated at birth (they were both owned by Seagrams for many decades). They both still share the same yeast strains, use the same mashbills and probably source their rye from the same European farms that MGP does (mostly Germany). The kicker on this idea? Brent Elliot even admitted once that he wouldn’t be opposed to a Four Roses Rye Whiskey product!
And with MGP’s giant success with their rye whiskey (it’s spawned 2 additional mashbills in recent times), it should be a no-brainer that Four Roses has every ability to produce a killer rye whiskey. And if you really want to get wild and crazy and take this one step further, then how about distilling 5 different recipes of rye whiskey using all 5 yeast strains?! Now that my mind has been blown, it’s time for me to go send them an email with my recommendation, and I suggest you do too.
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