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Let’s talk about Nelson’s Green Brier Honey Cask release for just a minute. If you keep up with bourbn release news, you’d know that this was a long time coming. Belle Meade’s Honey Cask (and the Craftsman Cask Collection) is dead and it has been replaced by NGB’s version called “Nelson Bros.” NGB is having hard time putting into words what exactly they’re doing to the brands, whiskies and finishes that they produce. I know that there have been social media posts and emails and press releases, but it’s been very poorly done and still confusing.
Nelson’s Green Brier Honey Cask
If you’re new to what I’m talking about, here’s the quick skinny: for about 4 years now, Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey and Belle Meade have been two separate brands that use two separate kinds of whiskies to put into their own respective bottles, all housed under the same roof. Belle Meade had always used sourced MGP bourbon while NGB distilled their own. Their own stuff used a wheated bourbon mash bill which was charcoal filtered (basically the Lincoln County Process) prior to being barreled. The result has always been kind of gross. Belle Meade, on the other hand, has always been kind of delicious.
The thing almost every enthusiast associated Belle Meade with by 2019-2020 was their Honey Cask release. I was at the 2020 release and it was staggering to see 1,000+ people in line by 9am. Many more would have been in line if they hadn’t seen the length of it and just turned their car around. Many more were told by friends on the phone “you’re too late, don’t even bother coming.” You can’t just make a legend like that overnight. Belle Meade earned it and the future was bright.
But sometimes between the 2021 Honey Cask Release and today, NGB decided to burn it all down by announcing the next release was going to go into a Nelson’s Green Brier bottle instead of Belle Meade. They even released a FB Reel that showed one of the barrels that just got back from Tru-Bee (the apiary whose honey graces the inside of each barrel) wearing a “DSP-KY-20037” number on it along with the code “10 K 16.” Eagle eyed enthusiasts read that as NGB was now using Bardstown Bourbon Company’s bourbon instead of MGP’s and that the age of the liquid was around 5.5 years old (if we are to assume that 10 K 16 = 10 October 2016 fill date).
On a Belle Meade Enthusiast’s FB page, a NGB employee (or person knowledgeable about their inner workings) decided to chime in after a question was asked if Nelson Bros Bourbon was all being sourced from Kentucky now. The answer that they got back was a word salad that read:
“we are not discussing sourcing at this time. You can be sure we still use the same longterm sourcing relationships we’ve had, but our production team needs to (sic) freedom to explore, be creative, and have the resources they need do (sic) achieve their best results”
Now this response seems to indicate that NGB is still sourcing bourbon from MGP, but since the picture of a Bardstown Bourbon Company Barrel is front and center in their FB reel, this representative seems to wiggle around a bit and indicate that their production team was batching together a bourbon according to what they liked, and it may be a blend of bourbon from Kentucky and Indiana.
Nelson Bros Honey Cask hits the Secondary Markets
Then on Sunday, September 4th, these new bottles of Nelson Bros Honey Cask began to show up on secondary selling sites with people asking as high as $700 for one. This was quickly followed by skepticism from buyers which sent the price plummeting down to $500. At the time of this writing, none were being sold for cash, just traded for bottles like Weller CYPB and Weller Single Barrel, proving once again that the only thing Weller is good for is trading. It turns out Nelson’s Green Brier did a surprise distillery release that day sent out an email around 3:00 PM Eastern indicating that you could sign up for a lottery to purchase the bottle in person for the staggering cost of $200/bottle.
For reference, the 2020 release, which used 11-year-old MGP bourbon was sold for $149.99 per bottle. That release also had 4 different single barrels and yielded about 550 bottles (of which 500 were sold to the public). So not only was NGB now using bourbon half that age, but they were charging $50 more per bottle. They also had produced six times the amount of honey bourbon for this release as the 2020 release.
The numbers that have been thrown around seem to indicate that 3,000 bottles are being released from the result of a blend of 15 barrels (remember, they probably filled the honey barrels to the brim with bourbon). 1,000 will be sold at the distillery, 1,000 will be raffled off to the Cooper’s Club members and 1,000 will be distributed to various accounts outside of Tennessee.
So what can we say about all of this? To me, it seems like NGB is trying to do some damage control by explaining to fans of Belle Meade “no, no, the brand’s not dead. Don’t be silly,” while also kind of confirming it by taking Belle Meade’s most recognizable release and bottling it in a Nelson Bros bottle. They also did a very poor job disguising the fact that it’s not double-digit aged MGP bourbon inside anymore but instead, a young-ish Kentucky bourbon… or a blend of those two. Who knows! They’re not gonna tell us because now they have to be so secretive about everything. What happened to you NGB? It’s like we don’t even know you anymore.
In the end, Nelson’s Green Brier made a huge mistake by not being truthful with us. If only they had published a letter like this, would this whole situation be wrapped up in a nice, neat little package that enthusiasts could get behind. I imagine the letter would read something like this:
To our tens of thousands of Belle Meade Bourbon fans (and the dozen or so fans of NGB bourbon),
We want to take a moment to be real with you. We really fucked up the Belle Meade brand… hard. All of those 9 to 12 year old single barrels? They were so good but were always on borrowed time. Cask Strength Reserve? Wow, some of those were great right? But the proof kept plummeting and we were running out of those 11 year old barrels. So we gave you Belle Meade Reserve and, yeah, it could’ve been better. But hey, at least we still had those groovy Craftsman Cask Releases you all loved, right? Well, we accidently used up the rest of our MGP barrels and now we can’t make those anymore.
But what we really want you to know is that sometimes things are out of our control and we can’t quite make the things we used to (it comes with the territory of being owned by Constellation Brands, AMIRIGHT High West?!).
So we want to give it to you straight. This year’s Honey Cask ain’t gonna be what it used to be. It’s still going to use Tru-Bee Honey. That shit’s dope, right? But it’s also going to use bourbon from Bardstown Bourbon Company and be significantly younger. We still think we can make it taste pretty good, but just in case we don’t, we’re gonna lower the price for you. Lowering the price on a product in the year 2022?! That’s right! We’re doing it because you guys are great and made us great. That’s why you deserve to know the truth…
Look, we’re going to be giving you all an inferior product for the next 3-5 years until we can do the right thing and source enough 10+ year old MGP bourbon to make Belle Meade great again! I know we’ve been letting ourselves go recently with all of the ordering-in, binge watching Netflix and making our own really questionable bourbon that 13 people like, but hopefully Daddy Constellation will give us the credit card so we can get some mani/pedi’s and feel beautiful again. And by mani/pedi’s, we mean buying some aged MGP bourbon like the good ol’ days.
Anyways, the bourbon game really sucks these days, doesn’t it? But you know what would make it suck less? If we were actually open and honest with you instead of feeding you bullshit about creativity and freedom with this Nelson Bros Honey Cask release. So that’s what we’re going to do with you all. The buck stops here and you all deserve to know that we want to do better. Sorry about this year and all of the stupid decisions we’ve made.
Your Always, XOXO
The Nelson’s Green Brier Team
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