Tag - bourbon

Everybody Panic, We Are About Out Of Whiskey, Or Something
Real or Hoax?
Pappy Van Winkle Heist Update—$10,000 Reward Now Offered
SideBlog: The Top Ten Cheap “Bourbons”
GQ Reveals the Bourbon Family Tree
The Great Pappy Van Winkle Heist

Everybody Panic, We Are About Out Of Whiskey, Or Something

Whiskey Shortage Crisis
I feel a bit like Kevin Bacon today, folks.

There is a sudden surge of panic stricken articles and posts out there proclaiming the “Whiskey Apocalypse“, and that the world is on “the Brink of a Whiskey Crisis“. No less luminary a publication than Esquire suggests you start hoarding.

Everybody freak out! Run in a panicked mob down the street to the nearest taverns and drink all the brown grain liquor before someone else does! Just let me get out of the way first, since I don’t want to be crushed flat like a cartoonish Chip Diller.

All clear? Good, for those of you still here, instead of lying face-down on a bar top, clutching the last empty of Jim Beam in your desperate fingers, let’s calm down. Yes, there is a whiskey shortage. It has been going on for some time. It is only going to get worse for years to come. This is not news.

As near as I can tell, the latest round of hand-wringing over how you won’t even be able to buy a Manhattan in a few weeks stems from this press release by Buffalo Trace, a company which has recently become the indisputable king of marketing by media hype. It is entitled “BUFFALO TRACE DISTILLERY UPDATES BOURBON INVENTORY SHORTAGES”, and every article written recently about the coming Bourbon Dust Bowl seems to lead back to it. The writer should get a raise. There is precisely one item of news in the seven paragraphs, and that is that Buffalo Trace has hired a new distribution guy… OK, a new “full-time barrel allocation manager”, a move that is apparently part of their already existing business plan, not some Hail Mary pass to preserve the Republic.

What is going on with Bourbon, and other premium American whiskeys, is called Capitalism and Market Forces, and everything is going to be all right. Can we please get straight what is going on? Several things that are commonly being freaked out about in the stuff being written in this latest wave of bourbon hysteria are either incomplete, or misunderstood.

First off, there is the question of what is causing the shortage. Most people realize there are two sides to this, the supply of the product and the thirst for it. The proximate cause for the “crisis” comes from the demand axis of the graph. There has been, and will absolutely continue to be, a huge increase in the numbers of in the numbers of bourbon drinkers, and how much they drink. But it isn’t because of this guy:

It’s because of these guys:

Chinese Businessmen
“Yeah, we just finished building another empty city that even we don’t have any people to put in. Fly us in another eight cases of Willet for the ribbon cutting.”

If it was just the current Cocktail Renaissance fueling whiskey demand, the demand spike would be much smaller, probably already peaking, and possibly a bigger problem for the industry. But half the world’s population is only now having its first taste of bourbon, and at the same time it is gaining access to the means to buy its subsequent tastes. It is a reasonable bet that foreign desire for American whiskey is going to continue to drive up demand. I suspect that this is actually a good thing. Human industry handles long-term growth in demand very well over the long haul, thank you. Look it up. (Kids, that’s a turn of phrase people used before “Google It” came into vogue. To “look something up” you bike down to a storefront search engine called a “library”. Be sure to stop off at the malt shop on your way down.)

Demand spikes, as we would be looking at if this were really a hipster led issue, lead to bubbles. Bubbles lead to crashes. Crashes lead to economic dislocations and bankruptcies. Bankruptcies in the whiskey business lead to orphaned barrels of good stuff being sold off at fire sales and being diluted with water and caramel coloring and put in Early Times bottles. No one wants that.

The challenge for the distillers is going to be balancing pricing with the new demand, not getting too far out in front of the price wave and getting a reputation for being over-priced or gougers, nor too far behind and becoming competitively disadvantaged because of all the money left on the table. Most of these guys are damn sharp businesspeople. So be happy that the economic health of the people who make the good stuff is largely assured, as long as they manage their businesses well and don’t bollix up a good thing. If they do, screw ‘em, it’ll be because they deserve it for being bad at capitalism.

So no, demand pressure is not a new thing. Nor is it a bad thing. Yes, bourbons are going to get a bit more pricey in the next few years. And yes, when Buffalo Trace’s new full-time barrel allocation manager or one of his colleagues at other distilleries mess up, you may find your favorite bottle is not available during all given runs to the package store. But prices for bourbon will not get out of control, and supplies will not run out. Why? Because this exists. And so does this. And many others.

In the long run, demand for bourbon will in fact be easily satisfied. Why? Because, Malthusians (Motto: Being utterly wrong about our core beliefs since 1798!) aside, the world is not running out of corn.

Most people understand this last fact at a deep core level, so this current mini-hysteria wave has felt the need to discover two new, completely unheard of things that will not ever let bourbon production catch up to demand. Barrels and angels.

Yes, not only are there ravening hordes of hipsters, roaming Williamsburg and guzzling Knob Creek like there is no tomorrow, but also God has sent a horde of Angels to punish us for our wicked ways by stealing half of all bourbon made from inside sealed barrels before it can be bottled! To hear all these writers go on about the Angel’s Share, you would think this was something new that presents some sort of barrier to increased whiskey production.

You might equivalently say that we will have difficulty producing more milk in the future because we have to pump it out of cows. We have always had to pump milk out of cows, and always will. Likewise, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and the rest of the gang have been swilling barrel-strength Jack Daniels since the day Jack first put his whiskey in wood. Transpiration losses are simply a part of how whiskey is made. They are known and expected and nothing out of the ordinary, and they don’t make it take any longer to make a good whiskey.

If you are wondering how this sudden rash of heavenly drunkeness became a concern to anyone, may I suggest you check a certain press release mentioned above?

Nearly the same goes for barrels. Yes, American cooperage operations are stretched tight right now, but in truth, they have been for a long time. Overall, cooperages are getting bigger, at a responsible rate in reaction to demand. We are not running out of white oak for making them either. (One of the ways that the US does a far better job of decreasing net carbon dioxide emissions than any other industrialized nation on Earth is our aggressive program of re-forestation. That’s right, folks! Drink more whiskey and you can help stop Global Warming!) Distill all you want, the coopers will manage to make more barrels.

Again, yes, increasing demand for barrels and for corn will put pressure on prices as well. It doesn’t help that the government keeps spending our money on turning good corn into bad fuel, but again, not enough to really matter in this situation.

So what is a drinker to do?

First, do not follow the recommendation of Esquire. Don’t rush out and put all your ready cash into cases of booze. That is a bad idea for the market and everybody else around you. When consumers start to hoard en masse, they end up causing the very circumstances they wanted to hoard to avoid. You get a huge spike in demand, which causes outrageous prices and shortages all over the place. So don’t hoard, or my whiskey drinking self will end up like Kevin Bacon—squashed under your spooked feet.
And in case your response is, “Hey bub! Every man for himself,” don’t hoard because it is stupid for the hoarder, too. A stock of booze, while it doesn’t go bad, is a non-productive asset. It is not going to appreciate faster than the market. It does not improve with age. And the money you spent on it, you could have saved or spent on something you use to make yourself more productive, either of which would give you more money to spend on the same booze when it is more expensive later. In the mean time, your spouse will be yelling at your during the intervening years to give them back their storage space.

If you are going to hoard some whiskey, lay down something like Jim Beam or Jack. Should the apocalypse come, that shade tree mechanic you need to fix your car so you can get out of town in front of the zombie horde will just as happily take a bottle of that as he will a bottle of Angel’s Envy Rye.

Second, there is lots that drinkers and bartenders can and will do to alleviate the issue. Look into rum… and gin… and brandy… and so on. Lotsa good stuff to drink out there besides American whiskey, people. That’s called responding to a market signal. It fixes things. And in the process, tunnel-visioned whiskey aficionados may remember the rest of the world of fabulous spirits. Try coming up with some uses for less popular spirits. Convince the hipsters that Seagram’s VO is the PBR of whiskey, and the ironic lifestyle requires consuming nothing else in their (not your or my) Old Fashioneds. Do all that, and the industry will be healthy, your bank account will be healthy, everything will work itself out in a few years, and I can still buy Bourbon without a bank loan I can’t get anyway.

Real or Hoax?

I’m going with hoax…

But here’s the thing: I’m not sure.

OK, I can find nothing about an Oak Ridge Distilling Company on the web… but “high-tech” as this operation would have been, let’s face it, their web penetration would still have been, um, limited. Also, maybe it was only available at the plant, and thus ultra, kill-anyone-who-even-looks-German-level classified.

I can’t imagine how any form of radiation would make whiskey age faster. But I’m no chemist, and I don’t want to ask my wife and have her laugh at me, so maybe it could.

Who would want to drink radioactive whiskey? But people thought radiation was the answer to everything for a while, so why not turbo barrel-aging?

Why 150 proof? It seems excessive. Look, we are talking about a product that is “Tested by Geiger Counter”, and you are worrying about it having too much alcohol?

Then there’s this photo (no embedding allowed, darn it!) Does that stopper have a plastic cap? Maybe it is just a replacement…

Look, it’s got to be a hoax, because… none of it makes sense!


But I want to believe!

It is real! (Sort of)

Commenter Emtilt of Thinking While Playing (and the sadly blogbandoned Astrophysics is Better With a Drink) possesses greater Google-Fu than I. He found it at the Oak Ridge Associated Universities Museum website. The bottle is a real product. The radiation-aged whiskey, alas, is mythical. It was a novelty toy bottle, produced in 1963, that rattled and shook when you touched it. (You know, like radioactive things are won’t to do….)

Pappy Van Winkle Heist Update—$10,000 Reward Now Offered

George Clooney Danny Ocean seen leaving Buffalo Trace
His entire crew still at large… with a price on their heads!

Just a quick update on the Great Pappy Van Winkle Heist, just because I love this story. Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton has announced a reward of $10,000! That’s about 50 bottles of Pappy… if you could get it. I doubt they’ll let you take your reward that way, though. The reward money has been put up by an anonymous donor whom I picture in my mind as a elderly gentleman colonel in a white suit who was told by Buffalo Trace that he won’t be getting his own personal annual supply due to the theft.

Angry Colonel Sanders
Far up the big fryer, boys! Ah’ve got an ideah foah the perpahtraitahs who stole mah Pappy!

Said Sheriff Melton, “We just want to bring Pappy home.” I’m sure the sheriff is enjoying the attention brought by a nationally high-profile, non-violent crime, but I also think he really wants to solve this lest he end up seeming like the guy who got beat by the booze bandits. They thought they had a suspect recently, but he’s been cleared. It turns out said suspect is a high school principal who went to a local liquor store to try to buy a bottle. I can see the suspicion though. Even back when I was “rich”, I wouldn’t have been buying this liquor. Where does a public school administrator get the scratch to be buying Pappy?

In the interim, don’t feel bad for Buffalo Trace. They are getting hundreds of times the value of that stolen booze in free, hugely positive media, which in turn is setting off a bit of a Pappy frenzy. Last week, 600 people showed up at an Atlanta liquor store for chance to win a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.
I found out about the reward while watching CBS This Morning, which devoted several minutes of national airtime to the story, including copious b-roll glamor shots of the distillery, shot by Buffalo Trace’s own marketing people.

And don’t feel sad for CBS’s intrepid, hard-boiled reporters, slogging through the horrid, red state sticks of Central Kentucky to get the story on these thieves, either. The main original reporting done by CBS for the piece consisted of going to a bar in Manhattan with a fellow reporter from the New York Times, where they drank Pappy Van Winkle at fifty bucks a shot on their expense account. They’ll do anything to get the story, those intrepid CBS guys….

There is no clip up of the CBS segment yet, so here is their Louisville affiliate’s piece on the reward, below the fold since it blows up the blog’s formatting: Read More

SideBlog: The Top Ten Cheap “Bourbons”

The top ten cheap “bourbons”, ranked. Of these, only my father’s brand, Early Times, has ever passed my lips.
“Have you ever had a Boulevardier? It’s like a Negroni but with bourbon in the gin’s place. It’s a great drink, but you have to make it at home lest you find yourself pronouncing “Boulevardier” in public.”

GQ Reveals the Bourbon Family Tree

Source: GQ

GQ is not my magazine. Despite my occasional outbursts of sartorial grace, I get little value from a magazine that chiefly specializes in articles on how athletes and rappers fail to dress like gentlemen, and how actresses and supermodels barely dress at all…. But, via a Gizmodo link, I discovered a recent article of theirs that is worth a discussion.

In The Bourbon Family Tree, GQ excerpts an excellent illustration and some good information from the The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining. Most of that volume (which I’ve ordered for my own library) is a rundown on the how-to of home distilling, an illegal (shakes tiny fist and overweening big government) and daunting task, which the book is unlikely to give me the courage to undertake. It also has a bunch of likely valuable information on craft distilleries and other segments of the modern American whiskey market.

The chart you see atop this post, hopefully an indication of how well author David Haskell communicates information in his book, shows a truly useful “distillation” of the corporate and chemical relationships between most of America’s commercial, non-craft bourbons, ryes, and assorted other brown liquors. Click the image atop this post to pop up a larger version. In thirteen years of booze nerd-dom, I’d already learned most of the information on this infographic, but I think I’m garnering some new insights from seeing it presented all together here. In case you refuse to click through to GQ (you know, because you are afraid you might accidentally run into the aforementioned pictures of hot women in few clothes), you read the chart from the bottom up.

Discuss the bottom row with your broker, as it details the corporate ownership of your favorite brown liquor. Diageo (DEO) has done quite well for me, for instance. How many rednecks out there who argue relentlessly on the relative merits of Jim Beam versus Maker’s Mark would be yanked up short if they knew both were kissing cousins? Thank God, Ford and Chevy still have different stock symbols….

The next row shows the major American distilleries each corporation owns. There are a lot fewer than I think most Americans believe, but happily, a couple more than I had previously thought. The trunks shooting up from each of these distilleries first branch out into whiskey varieties, then individual labels. The farther up the chart, the older, and generally more expensive, the product. The chart prominently features Buffalo Trace’s three mash bill family, but totally glosses over Four Roses’s ten bourbons to make three bottles process. Probably because it would have turned that tree into some futuristic-looking topiary that would better belong in Tomorrowland.

The most important concept for the whiskey drinker to take away from this graph to make him or her a better consumer is how many of these labels can be found on the same stems, representing that they all have essentially the same mash bill, and that bottles as disparate in taste and reputation, such as Knob Creek Bourbon and basic Jim Beam, or RI(1) and Old Overholt, may well have come off the same still, from the very same batch. Nothing could more clearly show the defining truth of whisk(e)y, that having a good white dog may be important, like a good foundation for your house, but most everything interesting and unique happens after it leaves the still. “While the four mash bills contribute to the flavor, the more significant differentiation among brands is done in the warehouse, where the type of construction, placement within the warehouse, and duration of aging have a stronger impact on the finished spirit,” says GQ about the Buffalo Trace bourbon family.

In whiskey, nurture wins out over nature, or Elijah Craig would just be Evan Williams in a fancier bottle.

Which of course leads me to my ding about this article. (I can’t write about someone else’s writing without finding fault. Feel free to find fault with me about this.)

Can’t find Pappy? Go for Weller
Pappy Van Winkle is frequently described by both educated and uneducated drinkers as the best bourbon on the market. It is certainly aged for longer than most premium bourbons, and has earned a near hysterical following of people scrambling to get one of the very few bottles that are released each year. Of the long-aged bourbons, it seems to be aged very gently year-to-year, and this recommends it enormously. But if you, like most people, can’t find Pappy, try W. L. Weller. There’s a 12 year old variety that retails for $23 around the corner. Pappy 15-year sells for $699-$1000 even though it’s the exact same liquid as the Pappy (same mash bill, same spirit, same barrels); the only difference is it’s aged 3 years less.


The only difference is not three years. GQ’s own article, two paragraphs before notes that it is more than just toss the barrels in a rick house and yank ‘em out after the requisite months have passed. Barrels are different. Their placement in the rick house, and the rick house they are in is different. Over the years, the distillers taste each, and determine which are coming along how, slowly segregating them by of what destiny they are becoming worthy. At the end, barrels (in most cases) are blended together to further refine different characteristics for each bottling.

There’s more in GQ’s article, most of it better and more informative than that last quote. And there is more for you to glean on your own from the chart. I especially love details like the honest family tree twining of branches, where you notice things like how George Dickel’s rye whiskey looks an awful lot more like the MGP milkman than George, and his Bulleit bourbon looks more like the handsome neighbor with the rose bushes… Mrs. Dickel gets around, I guess.

Have fun with this, and be sure to read GQ’s article, or Haskell’s book, so you can make sense of things like the dotted lines atop the stump (sapling?) growing up from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers.

The Great Pappy Van Winkle Heist

George Clooney Danny Ocean seen leaving Buffalo Trace, scene of the heist
Possible suspect seen during the Hard Hat tour at Buffalo Trace

Dateline, Kentucky: In further evidence of the mainstreaming of liquor and cocktails in the modern culture, we are now facing the dire specter of elaborate heists of beloved hooch, as if it were Vermeer’s The Concert. In this case, we are staring down the barrel of a theft of 65 cases of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve, the bourbon nerd’s bourbon for obscenely wealthy bourbon nerds. In other major theft news, I totally stole the joke behind the Photoshop above from Tim Read on Twitter.

The USA Today has the story thus:

Roughly 65 cases of 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon were stolen in what looks to be an inside job from a secure area at Buffalo Trace Distillery’s Frankfort, Ky., facility, said Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton.

Melton said the theft was reported Tuesday and appears to have occurred over the past couple months. Detectives believe that in addition to the inside personnel, access may have been gained by a diminutive asian acrobat who folded himself into a barrel.

I may have added that last sentence….

A case of Pappy Van Winkle consists of only three bottles, so if the thief was Bilbo Baggins instead of Danny Ocean, perhaps he just stuffed the less than 200 bottles into a couple of barrels with some straw and tossed them into the river below the warehouse at Buffalo Trace. Retail for a bottle of Pappy is $200, but since only 7,000 cases come out a year, eBay gets a serious workout with the stuff at significant markup. The whiskey has achieved legendary status in the bourbon community. All of my boozenerd friends who’ve tried it get the same look in their eye and whisper in their voice that Pentecostalists get when discussing the Book of Revelations. Booze writers who want to impress with their “access”, or “industry friends”, or “huge bank accounts”, like to write about Pappy like this: “Ok whiskey world, get ready to pitch your tents, change your diapers, and drain your bank accounts.” Or this: “As far as I am concerned, Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve (20 year old) is the holy grail of bourbon.” It’s good stuff, is what I’m surmising.

And stealing it was also apparently hard work, since the crew also took off with an additional nine cases of Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye (a mere $80 a bottle) for casual after work drinking, I guess.

Incidentally, a bombshell allegation embedded casually in the USA Today’s version of events is that Pat Melton, the sheriff of Franklin County, Kentucky does not drink bourbon. I had written a whole long bit about the sheriff was obviously lying and therefor in on it himself, because the chances that an elected sheriff of any Kentucky county (much less Franklin) not drinking bourbon are slightly worse than seeing Barack Obama and Ted Cruz together, deep in their cups at Applebee’s, giggling in whispers about the waitress’s ass.

But I got rid of it all because I then read in the Lexington Herald-Leader that Melton just doesn’t drink Pappy. Now it is obvious to me that Melton is on the up and up, since his reasons for not drinking Pappy are the same as mine.

“I’ll be honest, if I like something, I like it a whole, whole lot,” he said. “It scares me. I’ve never had it just for that reason.”

I don’t try the really stratospheric boozes like Pappy because, while I can buy Pappy, I cannot afford to buy Pappy. I’ve got my house and my kids’ college fund right where I want them.

So what will be the effect of this theft? Well, it is less than 1% of the annual production, so a simple economic analysis would suggest not much. But simple economists can’t afford Pappy. Buffalo Trace had already been warning that supplies of PVWFR were getting tighter before the theft. Since every drop of the stuff had been selling out upon release for years, I can only assume that announcement was just a friendly reminder, and not a fiendish marketing plot designed to further chum the water in advance of this year’s release….

Anyway, the real result will be everybody watching eBay. The cops will be trying to catch the perps by identifying sellers who seem to have too much of the stuff. The perps will, looking for ways to hide the scale of their sales. (They can afford to be patient, since they have all that rye to drink while they wait for the cops to lose interest.) And buyers will, too.

The interesting thing will be, will buyers hesitate to buy grey-market Pappy because they don’t want to be receivers of stolen goods? Or will they buy more of it, at higher prices, and have the bottles shipped to anonymous PO boxes? And once they have the hooch, will they drink it all quick and then destroy the bottles with their damning serial numbers? Or will they in turn hide their booty away in the dark, telling no one, like whoever has the above mentioned The Concert?

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