Bourbon Truth

Don't Drink the Purple Kool-aide the crappy booze companies are feeding you

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White Fools Gold

I think in the back of every Whiskey Geeks mind is the dream to own that cool distillery that people will line up for outside stores for it’s bottles. The sad truth is that it takes a chunk of your lifetime, millions of dollars and lot of skill and patience to have any chance.
The “Craft” movement keeps coming up more and more in the mainstream media. This great recent Wayne Curtis article did one of the best jobs I’ve seen on the subject
In 2003 there were 40 Craft distilleries, today around 350 and expected to swell to 500 by 2015. The definition of “Craft” is irrelevant when you don’t need to be a real Distiller anyway. It would be impossible for me to keep up with who doesn’t distill and who is lying about it as there are so many. Unfairly to the legit places, I just assume these places have never seen a Still let alone be skilled in working one. It’s become a cynic’s “Where’s Waldo” to me in looking at the warning signs and clues. “Produced by” is a favorite. Another is the Age. It’s very hard to find out how long a non-distiller has been around as they don’t want to make it obvious to sell a six year old Whiskey when they have only been in business for a year. The missing “Straight” indicator is often a good and bad thing. It means that the Whiskey is almost definitely younger than two years (the “straight” minimum) but it’s also young and super hard for it to be any good. “Not that bad” has become my anticipated expectation.
Places like Whistle Pig want it both ways even after their charade backfired putting them much more in the spotlight due to their own idiot owner going on national TV to make a fool of himself. They came clean about as quietly as possible in the blog of Whisky Advocate only to say that they are growing their own Rye on the farm that is then sent to their “Distiller” to be used for their own contract distilling. Even if this were true it would be a drop in a bucket of what is actually needed for their brand that takes 10 years to age and in business for around three. So admitting you got caught deceiving your customers only to plant another story is a bad attempt for a tiny bit of legitimacy. The media only feeds into this deception as they don’t ask the follow up questions holding the liars feet to the flames. It’s admirable at least that Whisky Advocate made an attempt even though it’s often halfhearted. Also they were supposedly approached by the brand to do the piece when they knew for years the truth they choose not to tell. Space limits in print is often the author’s excuse but when it’s in blog form with endless free space it’s just bad reporting.
As I travel I make it a point to visit a few craft Distilleries. Often I walk in unannounced as many are “non-public” with a no tour policy. To try and make an appointment for such a place results in lots of questions or they just say no. When you’re standing in the middle of what’s often a glorified double bay garage in the middle of a non-descript Industrial park it’s hard to say NO once you’ve walked in.
“NO” or “Get Out” becomes almost impossible. Case in point was a trip to Boston and Bully Boy Distillery. I had called a few times to be told they were too busy or call tomorrow. One day I just walked in to be told this isn’t a good time by Dave, one of the brothers that own and run the place. I told him I had called a few times but never had luck as they were always “too busy”. Within a couple minutes we started talking and a couple hours later we both agreed it was a great visit becoming fast friends. Down Slope in Denver was much like this. I was rightfully critical of Reservoir Distilling in Richmond Va. Their bottle label is very deceiving. The way “batch” and “year” are shown it makes the batch number look like an age. Very hard to believe its a mistake. In my criticism of them I was invited to come by to have my opinion of them changed. I was urged to come by and try the Whiskey and stop in. To be fair I did the next time I was in the area. It was far out of my way and I wasted three hours in my attempt. I tried to call and email several times but they wouldn’t respond. When I tweeted about it suddenly a response came. I said a “friend” was coming. When, I got to the city an email exchange started that was so moronic of them. Who are you, you need to show ID, we can’t let you taste anything and they were about as big of Assholes as one can encounter. State Law and Insurance was the reason and although valid, it’s never been a problem before and a smart place always finds a way to make you feel welcome. I’m not talking a carload of people or a bus but one person. I had made it clear I was very interested in the craft and what they do, not a free ½ ounce of what is usually terrible tasting booze. Once I emailed who I really was he was pissed saying I tried to scam them. I reminded him that he was the one that urged me to come by. Too late, I was 50 miles away by then and I tried the booze on my trip, terrible.
So this brings me to a cross roads of two opposing thoughts. With almost 500 Distilleries on the way and very little to separate them, a huge Ambassadorship of loyal fans to spread the word is money in the bank. I was at the Las Vegas Distillery last year before they had anything ready that was aged or licensed to do tastings (the law hadn’t been passed yet). They couldn’t have been nicer and more hospitable. By the end of the visit let’s just say that a few barrels might have leaked while I was there. Regardless of how the aged product (they now have coming out) tastes, the goodwill will pay huge dividends. The “craft” distillers that really distill hardly ever have the luxury of waiting until the product is ready or right. It’s White Dog, New Make or improperly billed as Moonshine. This stuff is rarely drinkable and in only two or three places I would say the new make was good. Yes, a Master Mixologist can make the worst Whiskey tasty but it doesn’t have to be from Turd Nugget Distillery. I don’t expect it to be good. There are only so many shelves for “Legal Moonshine” or rot gut that’s poorly flavored and way way over priced. Reid Mitenbuler has also written written some of the best articles on the trend for Slate Magazine He is also coming out with a new Bourbon book I’m in much anticipation of reading.
Here is an excerpt from one of Reid’s articles “The upstarts are entering a crowded market for a product that traditionally takes years to age, meaning long learning curves and delayed revenue. The odds are even more stacked against them than they were for emerging microbreweries in the 1980s and 1990s.”
There is a good reason that it’s rare to find a great or sometimes good Bourbon or Rye, It’s hard and really expensive to do. You need the right ingredients and many of the best grains are already locked up in contracts for years. You need the right equipment and places like Vendome Stills have long waiting lists. You need to age it right and for a long time. There is a three year waiting list for an aging warehouse to be built in Kentucky. If you need barrels there is a multi-year backlog from large barrel producers. Even if you don’t make your own Whiskey, MGPI/LDI which had been the primary go to place for aged stock for a brand to sell as their own isn’t any more. At last report they were only selling new make unaged or one year old at the oldest.
This doesn’t stop wanna-be Whiskey makers. Moonshine Bootcamps are popping up all over the place. In many cases guys that used to make beer in their garage expanded to a bad distillery making bad booze then teach others how to do the same. When a bad bomb maker trains another bad bomb maker and it blows up in their face we laugh and figure it serves them right. When a bad whiskey maker trains another and it’s a colossal mistake I find it hard to feel bad. Taking retirement money and a kids College fund is a fool’s errand at this point without loads of knowledge and giant risk.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t incredible people and places making some great American Whiskey, there are. In most cases they are now well established and hardly craft any longer. Balcones and St George are a couple.
Let’s look at what I consider the granddaddy of craft Bourbon, Willett. They did not rush back into the family business of Distilling so they became rectifiers and bottlers. They knew it would be years and years before they ever saw a dime from aging their own whiskey. They needed to pay to reopen the distillery, pay for labor, new warehouses, grain, barrels, and more then wait and wait and wait. It’s going to be almost three years for the Rye and four to five years for the Bourbon to make it to stores. They are fortunate to have existing sources, stock and customers. They have recently had to seriously scale back their contracted brands. They only use about 1/3 of their own capacity because they can’t grow faster when 3-5 years worth of expense is sitting in wood getting old but not making a dime.
The current challenges for existing Craft places is huge and what lay ahead is exceedingly dangerous. Used stills will be so easy and cheap to come by from the failed distilleries that more will take their place. It will be a “White Rush” not a Gold Rush but it will be 10 years too late just like a mine that has no Gold left just get rich suckers. It doesn’t make them bad people, just bad business people that have everything working against them even if the product didn’t suck. This wouldn’t apply to rich successful people that enter the business and can afford to do it right and wait. They don’t need to keep the bankers happy when they are the bank. They are a small minority.
Many of the best and smartest places have dodged the bullet and the worst is behind them. Some are actually aging some nice Whiskey but over saturation can still destroy the business they have earned. One great restaurant on your block in a small town is a big success, two great ones can thrive, build ten and the strongest two will survive. I had to laugh when recently researching a new Distillery. They are selling a rye that looks like they made it but it’s still real sketchy. I’ve asked them five times if they make the rye and how old it is and they have refused to answer. Then I see they are training some new places that are going to open distilleries. I have no idea what “Distillery” means now since you can join the Craft Distillers Association and have a DSP number without ever having a still. Thinking back to my attempt to visit Reservoir it makes me hostile as here is a place that doesn’t get it and should be turning their garage over to an auto body shop. They run the business as entitled children when they have no idea that they have one foot in the grave, someone is willing to throw them a rope and they scoff at it. Some deserve to have it blow up in their faces nor have fans or loyalty.
White Fools Gold is now obscuring the few real class acts out there that have busted their asses to make it work. I urge you all to get to know the good from the bad. Research them, visit them, taste the whiskey but only buy and reward those with your loyalty that truly deserve it and aren’t lying to get your money.

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Guest Post: Tasting the Legends

Lloyd’s note: I’d like to thank my tasters, and especially Blake at and Bryan for collecting and crunching the numbers. Incredible job. These were all double blind and several samples were re-sent and re-tasted. It should be noted that when I did this with another group informally and not blind, scores were a full point (0-5 scale) higher. This blind tasting had tasters ranging from well-read bloggers to national whiskey authors, respected reviewers and lovers of liquid. I’m not a math wizard but have never seen such a great analysis of a tasting before.

This post is courtesy of Bryan (Twitter handle @Elenaran).

Lloyd sent out 13 samples of his “favorites and legends” bourbons to reviewers in January, 16 of whom received the samples and completed (most of) the tasting. He instructed the reviewers to rate them on a 0–5 scale, as follows:

  • 0: wouldn’t give this to my Dogs
  • 1: Dog Whiskey
  • 2: Not bad, not great but I liked it
  • 3: Pretty good, Id buy a bottle for me and my friends to enjoy.
  • 4: This is really good I’d buy as many as I could afford and only my best friends could have a little.
  • 5: I must be in Whiskey heaven, wow, just WOW. One of my favorites or my favorite ever.

Based on results he provided (203 total reviews—five reviews were missing from various reviewers), this graph shows how many of each score were given by all reviewers. Based on results he provided (203 total reviews—five reviews were missing from various reviewers), this graph shows how many of each score were given by all reviewers combined:


Since the reviewers were tasting Lloyd’s “favorites and legends,” we shouldn’t be surprised that the reviews skewed heavily in favor of higher ratings. In fact, only 12 total reviews were rated as “dog whiskey” or below, out of a total of 203 total reviews.

Here are the whiskeys, as revealed by Lloyd on Twitter, in tasting order and with the label shown on each sample:

#1 Willett Wheated 20 Year Gift Shop


#2 Pappy 20 Year


#3 Four Roses 2013 Small Batch


#4 Elijah Craig 12 Barrel Proof 134.2


#5 Four Roses Small Batch 2012


#6 Michter’s 10 Year KBD bottling of Stitzel Weller Barrel 18 Years Old (Last 10 year that was Stitzel-Weller)


#7 Elmer T Lee Private Barrel


#8 Willett Private 19 Year Wheated


#9 Jefferson 18 batch 14 Early Handwritten Label


#10 Parker Heritage 3rd Edition Golden Anniversary


#11 Very Very Old Fitzgerald 1955-67 (was sealed in a bar for 40yrs, condition is due to cigarette smoke)


#12 Willett 12 Year Private Hot Chocolate Fudge Bomb


#13/M Blend of 60% Bernheim Wheat Whiskey & 40% Wild Turkey Rare Breed (I wanted sweat wheat with spicy rye)


Here’s the collection all together:


I’ve taken the graph above showing the distributions of ratings, and broken it down into individual graphs for each of the 13 whiskeys:


While the distributions have some differences, it’s easy to see that, for the most part, they center around that 3-4 mark, much like the combined distribution.

Descriptive Statistics

First, we’ll look at descriptive statistics for the scores for each whiskey. From here on out, we’ll look at these scores on a 100-point scale, as that is how the data was stored on Bourbonr. It’s the same data, just on a different scale:

  • 0–1 becomes 0–20
  • 1–2 becomes 20–40
  • 2–3 becomes 40–60
  • 3–4 becomes 60–80
  • 4–5 becomes 80–100

The following chart shows a box plot of each whiskey’s score. Box plots are made to give an idea of both the median (middle) score (it’s sort of like an average score, but better because it’s not as influenced by extreme scores, which we call “outliers”), and at the same time to give an idea of the distribution of scores around this median. The solid line in the middle of each box represents the median (defined as the 50th percentile score), while the top and bottom of each box represents the 75th and 25th percentiles, respectively. The mean is shown as a red “X,” while the open circles represent the outliers mentioned above.


Outliers tend to represent unlikely scores, so It’s important to look at the distribution of scores, rather than just the mean score. For example, the second whiskey, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (ECBP) has a much mean (average) much lower than its median, because one reviewer rated ECBP very low, which pulls the median down.

The following table gives another view of the same data, in order of median, showing the minimum and maximum scores each received, along with the mean and median score, and the standard deviation of each score (which gives an idea of how much the scores varied):


Keep in mind that the median means half of the reviews are above and half are below that mark, so half of the reviewers scored the Willett 12-year as 4 out of 5 or better. It’s also interesting to note that five of the whiskeys had identical median scores.

As mentioned above, the standard deviation gives you an idea of how much variability there is in the scores for each whiskey. However, like the mean, the standard deviation is also very sensitive to outliers, so whiskeys like ECBP get appear to have much higher variability than one expect.

To mitigate the effects these extreme values have, I also tried calculating the descriptive statistics with the outliers removed (the open circles on the boxplot above). This table shows the same statistics, but calculated without the outliers:


For this table, I sorted by mean instead of median, since the mean should no longer be skewed. You’ll also notice reduced standard deviations in some cases, especially for ECBP.

Another thing I thought might be interesting to look at was how each individual reviewer scored his whiskeys:


This table is like the table above, but we’ve grouped scores by reviewer instead of by whiskey. Although there is quite a bit of variation from one reviewer to the next, it is interesting to note that 7 of the 16 reviewers had an identical median score of 70, which would be between “pretty good” and “really good” on the 5-point scale.

Another interesting measure is to look at the number of times each whiskey was picked as a reviewer’s favorite out of the bunch:


Just like in the medians calculated without outliers, Willett 12-year and ECBP tied for the top—I’d say they’re the clear favorites in this tasting (at least, for this group of reviewers).

Relationships between Whiskey Scores

Since the ratings are paired with the users that gave them, we can look to see if there are similarities in ratings between pairs of whiskeys, measured by correlation. If the scores for whiskey A are correlated with B, if you like A you’ll like B, or if you don’t like A you won’t like B. Or if the scores for whiskey C and D are anticorrelated, if you like C you wouldn’t like D, or if you like D you wouldn’t like C. The correlation ranges from -1 (strong anti-correlation) to 1 (strong correlation). Each correlation also has a p-value, which gives an idea of the statistical significance of the correlation. For this study, we consider a p-value less than 0.05 to be significant—that is, more likely to be true and not just a random fluke:


The strongest and most significant relationship was a positive relationship between the Bernheim blend and the Willett 12-year. That means that people who liked the Bernheim blend also tended to like the Willett 12-year, and that people who didn’t like the Bernheim tended to not like the Willet. The numbers don’t tell us why this is the case, though.

Conversely, there was a negative relationship between the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (ECBP) and the Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition (FR2012), which means that people who liked ECBP tended not to like FR2012 as much, and vice versa.

Relationships between Reviewers’ Scores

Just like we can look at relationships in scores between whiskeys, we can do the same thing for users. Looking for correlations between users should show us whether two reviewers are likely to rate the same whiskey similarly, or dissimilarly:


Again, a lower p-value indicates better statistical significance, while a higher correlation (in terms of absolute value) indicates a stronger relationship. That means that spd0925 and joethebluesman scored things very similarly, in general, while risenc tended to score things differently than kbr127. All of the other relationships between reviewers not shown here were not significant (p>0.05), meaning that scores weren’t sufficiently similar or dissimilar for us to confidently say there is a relationship between two users’ scores.

Relationship between ABV and Rating

I also had an idea that alcohol by volume (ABV) may have had an impact on the ratings, so I looked at that relationship as well:


So, yes, there was a significant positive relationship between rating and ABV, albeit not very strong. In general, this means that while people tended to give higher ABV whiskeys higher scores, other factors likely contributed more strongly to variation between scores. This scatterplot shows the relationship between ABV and rating, but because the correlation is weak, it doesn’t look like much:


Differences between Whiskeys

One thing that Lloyd was probably looking for was to highlight the differences in scores between more well-known whiskeys like Pappy and lesser-known (or less popular) whiskeys. In order to look at differences in this type of data, statistically, I ran what is called a Repeated Measures Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) test. The details and outputs are more complex than what most people reading this will care about, but, to summarize the results, there are no significant differences between the scores of the whiskeys.

You might say, “Hey, Willett 12-year had an average score of 75, while Pappy was way down at 62,” but if you look at the average scores overall, they’re all pretty close together, right in that 60–80 range. To see this visually, look back at the box plot. There’s a lot of overlap from box to box, and especially from whisker to whisker.

What does this mean? Well, it could mean that the whiskeys aren’t really that different in terms of ratings, or that reviewers’ opinions differed to much to get consistent ratings. Or it could just be that (statistically speaking), this study’s sample size was too small to show consistent differences between the whiskeys. Also, keep in mind this is a pretty small sample size, statistically speaking. That’s not Lloyd’s fault—getting a big enough sample size would have required a lot of time and money, particularly considering the cost of these whiskeys. And you can only split one bottle into so many samples that are big enough to rate—if you have to buy multiple bottles of the same whiskey, the study could be affected by variations in batch, barrel, bottle age, or bottle storage.

The chart below shows the mean score for each whiskey along with the margins of error (the whiskers), which are related to the sample size (16) and the standard deviation of each set of scores:


So, while you can see there are differences in the means, you can also clearly see that pretty much all of the means are within each other’s margin of error—that is, the whiskeys have a lot of overlap—which visually shows why the ANOVA didn’t find significant differences.

Other non-significant findings

I also looked at a few other interesting variables, but they didn’t have significant results

The first was based on a discussion some of the reviewers had on twitter involving samples with white caps versus samples with black caps. Some reviewers thought that the black cap bottles had somehow tainted the whiskeys, giving them off flavors. I checked this using a t-test, and found that no significant difference existed in ratings between black cap and white cap whiskeys. However, as I showed before, it could have just been due to small sample size or from the fact that all of the whiskeys were fairly close in score. And some reviewers actively tried to ignore the off flavor from the black cap bottles, in which case we wouldn’t expect to see a difference between black cap and white cap bottles.

I ran a similar test on wheated versus non-wheated whiskeys, but again found no significant difference between those groups. Either this group of reviewers isn’t picky about whether a whiskey has wheat or rye in the mashbill, or other factors were more important, or the sample size was just too small.

Finally, I wondered if maybe higher alcohol-content whiskeys were more polarizing in terms of ratings—maybe some people love high alcohol whiskeys and some people hate them. To test this, I went back to my analysis of the relationship between ABV and rating and ran a test for non-constant variance. The results showed there was no significant change in variance of rating by ABV-level, so higher-alcohol whiskeys don’t appear to be more polarizing.


To summarize, the results show that it’s important with data like this to not just take an average, post those numbers and call it done. That approach ignores things like skew, outliers, sample size, etc. While there weren’t significant differences present between the whiskeys, there were some interesting findings, such as relationships between scores of different whiskeys, relationships between scores of different reviewers, the presence of a relationship between ABV and rating, as well as distributional pictures of for each whiskey.

While a sample size of 16 is too small to make any real statements about these whiskeys in terms of global taste preferences, I think it’s clear that the Willett 12-year was the favorite of these reviewers. It had the No. 1 rating in both mean and median score for both the datasets with and without outliers. After the Willett, things are less clear, appear only in certain circumstances (e.g. “This whiskey was the 2nd favorite in terms of median score after outliers were removed…”).  However it’s important to keep in mind that even the last place finishers had mean and median scores in the 3-4 range, just like all the rest of the whiskeys.

Something that might also help improve results in future tastings would be to randomize the numbers for each taster, or to have the tasters cover all the whiskeys in a single setting. The current system was set up as a social network activity, so it made sense to have everyone rating the same whiskey at the same time, but that can lead to bias: if someone reads 3–4 other reviewers saying that #7 is the best whiskey they’ve ever had, they are likely going to have high expectations going in to that tasting, potentially skewing the results.

Randomizing the order also prevents assumptions such as Lloyd saving the best whiskey for last. Additionally, reviewers may have made changes to their tasting procedures or rating methods as they went along. You can imagine that maybe one taster started out rating the whiskeys too high or low, and changed as he or she went along. Or maybe palates varied a lot from night to night, or the scores changed based on a tester’s mood—everyone has their off nights.   

Also, it would probably be best not to have any of the whiskeys specially marked. In the current tasting, the Bernheim blend was marked as “M” and was the last one to be tasted, leading people to give it inflated or deflated scores, due to thinking think it was special due to the label (the rest were numbered), combined with the fact that it was saved for last. Again, randomizing the order would help this.

5 notes

This is the Willett Distillery office. This is not the Distillery dog. Cooper is the neighbors outside dog. He waits at the gate in the morning to be let in. The Distillery folks feed and take care of him. A cool watch dog story would be nice but no, this is his spot most of the day, 68 degrees. At the end of the day he punches out, they take him to the gate, lock it and off he goes till the next morning.

This is the Willett Distillery office. This is not the Distillery dog. Cooper is the neighbors outside dog. He waits at the gate in the morning to be let in. The Distillery folks feed and take care of him. A cool watch dog story would be nice but no, this is his spot most of the day, 68 degrees. At the end of the day he punches out, they take him to the gate, lock it and off he goes till the next morning.

2 notes

Woodford Reserve Whiskey Row Series due in the Fall 2014

Woodford Reserve-Brown Forman in or around September 2014 plan to release a new “Whiskey Row” series to commemorate Old Forester’s release in 1870. No Anniversary, just a new series. Whiskey Row was Main Street in downtown Louisville where most distilleries were and aged product. Some of the buildings remain a block from the banks of the Ohio River. It should be pointed out that the Ohio River had a small series of waterfalls and rocks only barely navigable during unpredictable times when the water was very high. Barges and ships up river would need to be off loaded, goods carted around the falls then reloaded onto other boats on the way to the Mississippi and often New Orleans. It was easier to build the distilleries there and ship barrels from below the falls. In 1830 a dam and locks were built to make it navigable but many Whiskey companies stayed on at what became “Whiskey Row”.

As many of you are aware the last few releases of the Woodford Reserve Masters Collection have been a bit underwhelming. The new and old barrel 375 ML paired bottles of Rye are still on shelves from three years ago. The Four Wood was not popular or well reviewed and this year’s Single Malt pair of new and old barrels is not setting the world on fire either. There are reportedly still a few more to come out like a used Tequila barreled and another wine rebarreling. The Woodford Rye is due out in the next year or two but I suspect Brown Forman Rye is currently being used by other brands right now. The planned upcoming “Whiskey Row Series” is a bit different. It will span the years of 1870-1924 for something historical, such as mashbill, used during the time. No TTB has been filed yet.

“1870” Whiskey Row”-The original Recipe and mashbill. I believe in a replica bottle but not certain. George Garvin Brown started the brand with the endorsement of Dr. Forrester to sell sealed, labeled “medicinal” whiskey to doctors by the bottle (unusual in its time to just be sold by the bottle or labeled) to guarantee purity with Browns signature. Old Forrester was born. Very nasty things were going into others booze so purity and safety was a major concern. When Dr. Forrester died they changed the spelling to Forester so consumers would recognize it was a different product not endorsed by a dead man.

“1897” this is when the Bottled in Bond Act that the Brown family and EH Taylor had a heavy hand in creating. It will be a Bottled in Bond 100 proof unfiltered.

“1917” A double Barreled Whiskey.

“1923” a 125 Proof bottling.

I expect this to be an annual release but not sure. Of course it’s all subject to change as well.

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Whiskey Windbag, the unraveling of credibility

It’s 12:30 AM and a friend brought me a copy of the latest paid Newsletter of a popular Whiskey Writer and blogger. First, my apologies. I don’t intend to bash another blogger again, especially one who has been a respected and once reputable writer. I’m not in defense mode either. I gotta get it off my chest now. I have sourced him many times. A friend said I needed to read his latest Newsletter (as I no longer subscribe) after they saw my last post. Another writer mentioned it to me and a follower asked if I had seen what this guy put in his newsletter recently, so I did. There has been this quiet little war brewing and I’ve alluded to it in the past few months. In this writer’s blog he went off on a coded rant that is now very clear. The man has lost his effing mind. Really, bonkers!! It’s time to do a bit of housekeeping.

The bulk of the recent issue does two things; he takes to task the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) and then folds up like a cheap newspaper on Michters.

I’m not going to go line by line but I think if I gave out my name I’d be more popular than him right now at every Kentucky Distillery but one. I hope he has some “Incentive” for stroking Buffalo Trace while killing his rep at every other Distillery. Take a credable shot if you must, that’s not this. There is an old saying, “Hell has no fury like a women scorned”. Let’s change that to ——- has no fury like a “Whiskey God” (apparently in his own mind) scorned. He goes off on a rant saying he wasn’t invited to attend or knew in advance about the Bourbon Affair run by the KDA. Really? Dude, are you six years old and someone took your dolly? He then says how expensive it is to attend and breaks down the dollars and cents pointing out Buffalo Trace doesn’t charge for tours. If you’re doing the Bourbon Trail, the food, travel and lodging are the same regardless. As I’ve said before, I’ve been lucky, very lucky to have had the honor of meeting and spending time with Master Distillers, Plant managers, Icons and executives. I’ve been to places and seen things that was too bad others couldn’t enjoy. The Kentucky Bourbon Affair is just this opportunity and no ones complaining. He calculates that the $400,000 the KDA will make is going to their profit and greed. But hold on one second Tonto—From the KDA website-

“The KDA, a non-profit organization, is proud of the high standing it has always enjoyed with local, state and federal officials and in its community relations.”

They can’t profit. They can use the money for tourism and promotion of their members which sells more booze, brings more people to the state and people have more jobs. That’s just the thing that a reasonable person can come up with. But here’s the sleazy part. Mr. ———-, you have been doing tours for a company that used to be the official tour company of the Bourbon Trail run by the KDA. I don’t think they are any more but the company still offers tours, your tours too and they aren’t free! Your latest in fact starts March 12th to the 14th 2014 and costs $539 for up to 20 people, almost $11,000. You don’t cover this “Angle” do you?

I don’t think you or they are non-profit are you? That $11,000 won’t do anything for anyone but buy cheeseburgers and a new chair for a windbag. Watch your own house before unjustifiably shitting in someone else’s. At least pick a worthy target that won’t make you look bitter and absolutely wrong.

On to the next Newsletter piece of the issue you cover Michters. You wrote a book, articles, many blogs about the evil Michters and Chatham imports. Now you love them and have completely avoided any negative past other than a quick gloss over? Wow! You were one of the biggest critics, you told the world what they were and the true story. Do you need new friends this bad to do what you have to your honor, credibility —-your REPUTATION? Buffalo (not part of and against the KDA) and Michters, nice friends. If you were in the Wizard of Oz you would be friends with the Wicked Witch and the Flying Monkeys. I won’t say what I think is your motivation, it’s obvious.

Cheeseburgers are expensive, I understand. I liked you so much and at one point you were the man, now it’s just sad. So very sad.

Calling you a sellout insults sellouts. Calling you a vindictive sellout that has lost the ability to be taken seriously and honorably is a different matter altogether. Loads of people may hate me but I’ll take why they hate me 100 times over rather then having people wonder what the hell happened to you.

7 notes

The Dumbing down of our Whiskey

I was asked today why I Troll Whistle Pig’s twitter. That’s nothing new for me. I have been blocked from Michters, Jeffersons, maybe some other’s twitter feeds. I asked the question back to the follower-“why aren’t more of us speaking up?” Is it that we don’t care? Is it a knowledge thing in we don’t know? If your reading this your already part of a very small minority that follow my twitter and blog and are whiskey geeks. There are a few others that speak up to varying degrees. A few weeks ago SKU of SKU’s Recent Eats posted a Alcoholic Root Beer that was 20-30% abv (if I recall) that had been given TTB approval with “Bottled in Bond” on its label. BiB is required to be 100 Proof as well as many other specifications. SKU blogged about Buffalo Trace dropping of the age statements on several of their brands but rather than removing the 6 Year, 8 Year etc designation they left the “6”, “8” for deception as the only possible explanation.

Very sleazy moves but they aren’t the first nor the last.

Sku does his piece about undefined whiskey terms and the fact you can pretty much call something single barrel when it isn’t necessarily as one of the many terms he explores.

Bulleit pours on stories about their distillery that they don’t have. Another new Diageo brand created to give them some “Cred”, The Orphan Barrel Project, screams Stitzel Weller Juice when its only aged there. If I walk around Harvard does that make me a graduate there? Speaking of Harvard, SKU takes the Harvard approach to highlight these things, I take more of a party school approach. His stuff is very relevant as are a bunch of other great bloggers. Chuck Cowdery was one of the first.

Diageo now wants to change the Tennessee law on Tennessee Whiskey. You see Tennessee Whiskey must use all the Bourbon requirements plus the Lincoln County process which is putting the new make through 10 feet of Maple Charcoal. One distillery, Prichard’s filed for an exception and got it so their Bourbon doesnt need to use the process. They also use a rebarreled sourced product in the Double Bourbon but are up front about it and its good stuff.

A new Whiskey barrel costs about $150 a used one around $80 unless you own them, like Diageo’s Dickel, and they are free. Diageo nor others own their own Cooperage that makes barrels such as Brown Forman does and there is a barrel shortage currently. Barrels are the most expensive part of Bourbon/Tennessee Whisky production unless the law was changed to make it permissible. Fred Minnick talks about this in his blog-

Not to get into a science lesson but whiskey matured at high temperature variations such as in Kentucky and Tennessee need the chemical changes of a new charred Oak Barrel to produce the quality, taste and flavor consumers want. You just won’t get that in a used barrel. Scotch is very different but I won’t get into it now.

Knob Creek has a Smoked Maple, Wild Turkey a Spice and Honey variation I can keep going and going and going. There are some fairly specific federal labeling requirements that seem to be forgotten, stretched,ignored or abused as of late. Beverage trade groups represent the distilleries and brands. Magazines sell ads for the new and expanding bastardized brands. No one seems to be putting up much of a fuss.

Here is a Whistle Pig TTB filing and label of today

Here is the original-

They are now finished in Bourbon Barrels and I suspect this is the loophole to the law or at least their perception of the law. Dave Pickerell their “Master Distiller” for a distillery-less brand told me a few months ago it was still Canadian. The TTB application states the origin as Domestic and the “Canada” import designation is gone. The idiot CEO owner did this Bloomberg interview that whiskey geeks trashed. You need to watch it and know whiskey to see how truly moronic Raj is-

I fear that American Whiskey is slowly losing its identity. Rather than reigning in the abusers, those of us that notice are becoming either ignorant or apathetic of it.

There is a sense of tradition in American Whiskey, now more so than ever, but at the same time powerful forces are working against the tradition and we need Whiskey Yoda’s like SKU. We all need to start questioning it and bitching. I don’t think it’s too late but in 5 years when you’re telling stories about when there were age statements and Bourbon used new oak barrels you’ll wish you bitched more. I hope that the KDA can get involved with the debate and start holding the TTB accountable. I hope they can preserve the tradition I see the slow degradation of and what makes it special. We all need to start “Trolling” start asking questions and voicing displeasure. I should not be as shocking as I am to people. I hope you all start or you’ll be drinking Grape Bourbon in a few years and will wonder how it happened.

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Deceit vs. Deception: The Heroes and Hobos of Whiskey and Defense of a Misguided Hatchet Man

I started this post a couple of weeks ago, but then on March 8, whiskey blogger Josh Feldman posted an entry over at  The Coopered Tot titled “Considering Michter’s,” the resulting comments on which became a “spirited” discussion on Twitter, entertaining masses of Whiskey geeks and annoying the innocent wondering what these idiots were bitching about. Here is Josh’s post.

Naturally, I decided to re-work this post in response; I’ll address his post in this entry, but it won’t completely take over my originally intended blog post. The flow of this one might seem awkward without this explanation, as it has undergone major editing, so please bear with me.

This is most likely the last such post I’ll write on Michter’s, as they will soon start distilling. I’m sure Michter’s/Chatham will forget that it will take several years for their Whiskey to reach bottles, so if stories of the “new” or “expanded” distillery start coming out, you’ll know it’s bullshit. It will be the first drops of Whiskey they have ever made, which will be four to six years away from actually being released. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they release some George Washington’s New Make Rye Whiskey or some crap like that.

In February 2013 they secured another abandoned trademark for Bomberger’s Declaration (the search link wouldn’t transfer, so a screen capture is below); Bomberger’s was another name for the real Michter’s distillery in the 1900s, along with Pennco – neither of which they have anything to do with, nor do they use original recipes or yeast from.


Anyone that has followed me for a bit understands that I can go off on a sudden rant about something, especially my favorite target, Chatham Imports (which owns the Michter’s brand). I’ve covered it before and will cover it again. Still, people keep asking me, “Why do you hate these guys so much?”

Maybe it’s a crusade to change one thing that I see and believe is terribly wrong, even if by just a little bit. They are a snapshot of why it is so difficult to trust your whiskey these days. In fact, Michter’s is a prime example of why the Bottled and Bond Act of 1897 was created; they are a modern unscrupulous rectifier using shady, and what I find fraudulent, practices to market their brand. They are run by a lawyer; he stays on the legal side of gray, so technically the misleading facts of the brand are “OK.”

So, I do this to make a point to others who will come up with “Lincoln Liquor” pretending old Abe pissed in a whiskey barrel they use. Yes, there are lots of stories and legends out there, some worse than others. Maybe I’ll get to some. What it really boils down to, though, is Michter’s displays a lack of respect for and a willingness to shit all over the tradition of the classy brands and companies, some of which are centuries old. They are smug and give the preverbal finger to its customers assuming they are too stupid to care or notice, we notice.

Look, I’m not from Kentucky, but I love the state and its people; I love the tradition. I could see myself retiring there, really. Come on, Powerball! Heck, I’d have a horse farm and distillery faster than you can say, “Chatham Imports/Michter’s are scummy carpetbaggers literally from 5th Avenue in New York.” OK, maybe faster than that.

Here is the real Michter’s that DID sell booze to George Washington’s troops.

Operating since the 15th Century, this family (the Laird’s) are the real deal, and you should be getting their awesome 12 year Apple Brandy or the Laird’s Bottled in Bond 100 Proof Brandy, which contains 20 pounds of apples – yes, Bottled in Bond Apple Brandy. They have actual records of Washington buying their booze. Chatham has nothing. The people running Chatham seem to think that huge gaps in history and piecing things together with kindergarten paste is “good enough.”

In his post, Josh shows Michter’s decanters and King Tut bottles at the Chatham headquarters. If this is the standard, I have souvenirs from Graceland and an Autographed Elvis Album, so I must be related to Elvis right? If I have a seat from Yankee Stadium and some infield dirt, I’m a Hall of Famer. Aw, what the hell, I’m Babe-freaking-Ruth. And if I have a decanter from Old Fitzgerald or Old Rip Van Winkle, that makes me a distiller and a Van Winkle?

No, this is just some idiot brand playing games and assuming all its customers will go off thinking they are the Whiskey Elvis when all they have is a Graceland snow globe.


I’m not currently a fan of Buffalo Trace (read my stuff and you’ll know why) but they have walked the walk and paid their dues (most their dues Eric). Sorry 10 people got that private joke. Harlen Wheatley knows his shit, and when they are not screwing around, they make some of the best whiskey in the world – maybe the best, depending on the month and who’s drinking it. I’ll give credit where credit is due; I’ll always try to be fair. When I’m not, I’ll say so. Josh is off base with his piece, which seems to put a giant target in the wrong place – on my back. This is why I say that Jefferson and Michter’s put out some really good whiskey at times; not recently, though.

My issue isn’t the juice, it’s who says they squeezed the juice and how. The Jefferson and Michter’s I like were also done and bottle by KBD, so that was palatable for me in their deception. I realize the nature of the “biz” for survival reasons which makes them need to concoct stories, legends and mirages. But even greed and sales have a line, and Michter’s has crossed it lots. There is no reason in this “sell every bottle you have” environment to lie.

Now, that said, I can’t say that if I had a choice to lose it all or lie that I would be much different. Thankfully, that’s why I’m not doing what they do. Julian Van Winkle III has a degree in psychology and economics (I believe, but I’m wrong a lot). His choice was to be dragged into the biz by his dad and now he is finally recognized for all the lean times and treated like a rock star. I get that, but not the PR bullshit he unnecessarily flings.

(An aside: As I write this, I’m having my first drink in five days. It’s a Goose island Bourbon Country Stout at 14.9 percent ABV. It’s kicking my ass right now. I’ll need to clean this up some. It’s some good stuff and will eff up most bottles of Michter’s in a throw down, so let’s get on with it.)

True lovers, students of and respecters of the craft of distilling are passionate. The trade media WILL NOT take this on to the extent needed to slow or stop this implicit collusion because (whether they like it or not) both sides know who holds the keys, the wallets and futures of these publications. I used to get seven different print Whiskey/Beverage publications, and now I get one. I can get better, more timely info reading seven great bloggers – well, when they don’t spew the fairy dust they have ingested.

Michter’s will soon be going live with a real still. They either took delivery of the still from Vendom, or delivery is close. They hired a real Master Distiller. From an edited article from Louisville BizJournals, Pamela Heilmann was hired as distiller and vice president of production. She spent 15 years working with Baker’s, Basil Hayden’s, Booker’s and Knob Creek. Most recently, Heilmann was distillery manager at the Booker Noe Distillery in Boston, Ky. She tells BizJournals, “I look forward to working with master distiller Willie Pratt to produce the most exceptional rye and bourbon on the market.”

As much as I hate to admit it, she will make some great Whiskey, but that takes time. I doubt she will be working much with Willie Pratt other than stupid looks he will give her like when you blow a whistle at a dog. Working with him will be like Superman looking forward to working with Bugs Bunny.

How does a brand suddenly go legit? Do they stay quiet? Not these fools. I’m sure the Mayor, Governor and the media that has been fed, watered, and “taken care of” will spread their manipulation of the day to whoever will believe it. I’m thinking the “distillery” expansion story works best. Something like, “Due to the overwhelming popularity of our (shitty) products we have needed to expand.”

Slick Willie and Little Doctor Evil Joey will have a whole bunch of new toys to be photographed in front of. Real toys! Now, it will be a few years before they come out with their own aged product, but they won’t be able to resist the temptation of flooding the market with White Dog. Every mindless “mixologist” ever to be bought off by a sandwich or party in New York will then start pouring this stuff into $20 cocktails, and the unsuspecting will be happily ripped off.

I’m not the first person to bring the Michter’s/Chatham thing to light – Straight Bourbon, Bourbon Enthusiast, Sku’s Recent Eats, Whisky Advocate (or the prior identity in blog form), Chuck Cowdery and lots of others have done so. Much of what I know I got from them and my own research. I’m just the flavor of the month in a long line of Michter’s debunkers.

Under the “History of the Real Michter’s” section below, there are links to several pages with loads of comments. Josh makes it sound as though I’m the only one pissed, but I’m not. For many years others, much better and with more knowledge than I, have shown they are pissed. Here is an excerpt from a piece dated July 7, 2011, from the Whisky Advocate blog, and a comment from one of their staff at the time:

“Unfortunately, the current owners continue to perpetuate rumors of absolutely no substance, one being that George Washington and his troops had any connection to the site. That falsehood stems solely from a fanciful commemorative coin struck by the Lebanon Valley Coin Club during the 1970s depicting Washington at Schaefferstown. Michter’s did indeed use the slogan, ‘The Whiskey That Warmed the Revolution’ during that same period, simply emphasizing that the product from that location would have been available before and during the Revolutionary War, but making no other claim, ever, about any connection to Washington himself.” -Sam Komlenic

So these Chatham idiots steal the slogan and lineage from a souvenir coin?

I’m not sure why Josh chose to target my views when they are shared by so many better (and longer blogging) writers. He did little research into this issue and if he’s not now embarrassed, he should be. I’m not sure from where or whom his research came, but much of it is simply not correct. He was a guy that loved the Whiskey, normally spot on in his blog, who became star struck in a permissible con game.

Mr. Not-So-Clean Joey must have put an invisible clock over Josh’s bullshit meter; since it never went off, he never gets to any hard or controversial questions in his piece. It’s the same reason that stores and bars carry this crap and rarely stop to ask questions.

I don’t like to criticize other bloggers because I’m the last guy to cast the first stone, but if someone says something stupid like “all Bourbon is made in Kentucky,” I’ll gladly jump in if I choose to call out the blog or blogger.

Josh’s post was a softball, one-sided piece that throws in a few insignificant mentions of controversy that he pretends is balance. I’ll take on someone based on fact and often due to someone distorting their facts. Josh’s moral meter apparently stops at his palate and no further. If you want to love a sourced average or mediocre bottle that rarely gets any reputable positive reviews, so be it. If you’re drinking it with your eyes wide open to the true facts, knock yourself out, but don’t shoot the messenger because you’re the type of guy that would eat Soylent Green  because you like it – even when you know what’s in it.  

So, in the game of Michter’s “Hate Tag,” I guess I’m “it.” So let me take a moment to address it: If someone is dead-ass wrong, it’s a different matter. If someone hates me (which isn’t hard, as I hate myself sometimes), it’s easy. I’ve been to Kentucky a bunch of times, maybe 50. I go a few times a year. I meet and eat with some really cool people that are far up the food chain of American Whiskey, and I get to see, hear, feel and taste what’s going on, what’s happening and what’s coming up or going down. I don’t go out of my way to stir a pot for the sake of the stir, and neither does Josh.

The problem is, if I get dirty it’s crawling around a rickhouse with distilling legends, Josh gets dirty on 5th Avenue in Manhattan in the office of the CEO of Chatham Imports. When someone tells me something they want me to hear or tell, I understand why. Many times it’s as a friend or in conversation, sometimes it’s something they want to get out. My purpose is to inform, have fun, and try to get people that like what I have to say a perspective to help them in the Whiskey part of their life.

I know of at least a half dozen people that cover Whiskey for a living that got sent full bottles of Michter’s Celebration bottles, which retails for $4,000-$6,000. Most never wrote a word. Then there were a bunch whose credibility and honor was bought like a common street walker.

I’m not perfect. Occasionally, when I go out with someone from the business, they pick up the tab. I’m not in the business and Whiskey costs me money; I don’t work in the industry or get paid to blog on it. In either case, when you’re repeating what the CEO tells you as your proof, you’re doing their PR work for them, using them as your fact checker and diminishing your own worth and credibility. I’m not a writer, I’m not a journalist, nor is it my profession.

I’m not writing for industry acceptance, as I’m anonymous to 95 percent of those who read this blog. I take pride in trying to be fair and accurate with a painful bite at times. Yes, I can and often am a prick. That’s OK. Josh has every right to take me out for a spin as does anyone else when they feel I’m wrong or they have been wronged. I’ve got no problem with him. I have an e-mail address I check daily. I’ll give any brand a phone number to call that wants to speak to me. I may be anonymous, but that does not mean I hide.

Hey, Josh’s stuff is great; his Michter’s post doesn’t change how I feel about his prior or future posts, just the same as if I blast a brand my followers like and then give Four Roses accolades. I’m not a big supporter of Beam’s products but the Bookers 25th Anniversary is one of the best Bourbons I’ve ever tasted. We can all get manipulated when we’re brought to the CEO’s office of a very successful beverage company on 5th Avenue when the light is just right.

“The only thing that matters is what’s in the bottle.” Thanks, bullshit. What if slaves make it? What if it’s good counterfeit booze? What if you pay three times more for ketchup, beer, diapers, cheese, you name it, when it’s not what you think it is, but it does its job? If you say George Washington’s troops drank it, “it’s the same recipe as Michter’s,” that you’re a real distillery, that your Master Distiller is, in fact, one or has ever been one, and you know none of that’s true, I don’t care.

If you’re a beautiful woman or a Tom-Cruise-looking-guy and you’re out and your date says, “I’ve cheated and lied to my last 100 dates, let’s go out tomorrow,” what do you do? I’ll bet you leave and 95 percent of people wouldn’t go out with them again.

The whiskey business isn’t full of honesty and integrity. I understand that, but there are few if any that go to the extreme of lies and manipulation as Michter’s does. They bring bartenders, bars and retailers into the fold with the almighty dollar, naivety, false trust and greed. So, when you buy a product accepting this, what does it say about you or the respect for others you serve it to? What if your best friend is given a bottle or a drink from what you bought and they have no idea? Do you say, “Good whiskey, but the place that makes it is scum”? So even if the whiskey in the bottle is good, it’s no excuse. I robbed the bank because I was hungry!

Leading up to the recent Bourbon Classic, there was a flurry of postings from me about the Motley Crew of Heroes and Hobos at the “Legends and Master Distillers” on the panel.

Here are some photos taken from their video they produced for a promo or from their website. They took it down, but it is still on YouTube on the Wine Enthusiast Awards presentation page. This is when idiot editor Kara Newman, with the scruples of an alley cat, gives non-distiller Michter’s the 2012 Distiller of the Year award (watch the video here). I canceled my subscription after this, as I personally considered all future information coming from them to be unreliable.

They state they have two Louisville Distilleries. The bottling plant as of this writing has no distillery. The Main Street location has had no visible work done the last few years, empty inside and still held up by large braces.


Here is the doctored photo they promote:


Here are distillery photos they promote of the above empty building that are artist renderings of what is not actually there:





Willie hitting a barrel; guess it looks like he’s doing something:


No clue, maybe a toilet:


Cool dude, Red Corvette. I guess this makes him a Corvette driving fake distiller:



I think this is a model miniature of a still:


Yeah, this isn’t there either:


More CGI of the non-existent still they promote as real. Love the wall reflection that’s not possible.

Anyway, at this Bourbon Classic panel, lots of great Master Distillers where there, some very green ones were there, and Willie Pratt, the unintentional court jester, was there as well. If there ever was a time someone could laugh a brand – that was there on smoke and mirrors and an estimated $10,000 sponsorship – off stage, Pratt was it.

It was reported to me by a few people there that Joe Magliocco, CEO of Michter’s, was super embarrassed and wanted to crawl under a rock. One person joked that they are going to give Pratt a box of resume paper as his going-away present. I’d recommend Michter’s hire a bus boy from the Brown Forman dining room, so long as when he speaks in circles about nothing, he doesn’t say that there are 20,000 distilleries just because that’s how high DSP numbers go to. He’s later corrected by Drew Kulvseen of Willett, then Jimmy Russell, at which point he sheepishly giggles his way out of his moronic spotlight of embarrassment. (If you want to hear it for yourself, you can do so right here. Go to about the 40:00 mark and listen in.)

Then again, this is a guy that’s never been a Master Distiller. He was involved with barrel management and inventory at Brown Forman before he suddenly no longer worked there. I suspect the closest he got to the handle of a machine with water in it was when he used the toilet. He has never distilled or fermented a batch of anything, from what I’ve dug up. This is good, as he hasn’t had to do it at Michter’s either, because it’s a make-pretend distillery as of March 2014.

Let’s get down to taste. Black Maple Hill is a brand that the Van Winkles provided the barrels for and bottled for. It was awesome stuff. When CVI moved the brand to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, the quality and product was awesome. It took a while for the cult following to hit the mainstream, but bartenders and many customers now scour the earth looking for remaining no-age-statement bottlings that are average-tasting $20 whiskey.

I over-use the emperor and his new cloths analogy, but it keeps being necessary. If 100 people are told camel piss is great wine, then many, many more will follow suit. So, if Michter’s is supposed to be great, it will be for many.

Josh tasted a few things that he references in his blog post. I submit that he was ill equipped with knowledge to know what he was tasting or to understand the complexity of it. Here they are:

Michter’s 20 year, bottle 12 of 220

Here’s the thing: You can’t get 220 bottles out of a 20 year old Barrel at 114 Proof. At best, it’s co-mingled barrels into one. Since small batch and single barrel have no legal definition, I could say it was aged in a flying saucer with the same credibility when dealing with Michter’s.

AH 16 Gold Foil Frankfort Bottling

There are at least 3 AH Hirsch 16 versions. Three things here: 1. The ones directly bottled by the Van Winkles are wax dipped. 2. Tanked 16 year was bottled years later at what was or would become Buffalo Trace. 3. The bottles brought from stores were re-dumped and re-bottled at KBD for the Hirsch Humidor Release. There is a difference in the three.

Michter’s 10 year 2340

Michter’s 10 year started as 1991 Stitzel Weller. The first 10 year I’m aware of is the batch 17, as in 17H. 17 was bottled 1991 juice. That’s 16 years old. The 18 batch was 17 years old, etc. The 10 batch was 19 years. Some batches were Old Bernhiem and were much older, but I’m not sure if they were as old as the Stitzel barrels. The 2012 Michters 20 was Stitzel-Weller, but the 2013 version was not the same, not even close. The 2340 Batch was much younger and average, so I’m guessing it was Brown Forman. The 2340 2012 20 year and later batches of 10 year are not that good, are not the same juice and were not bottled by KBD, according to filings. Josh now knows this, but I’m a sharing kind of guy.

(FYI: The letter such as in “10H” indicates the month bottled. So, this 10 was bottled in 2010, H is the eighth letter of the alphabet and signifies August, so it was bottled in August 2010; I happen to know it was distilled at SW on 12-31-1991.)

I’ve had each batch of 10, 20, 25 bourbon, most of the 10 and 25 year Ryes. I know much, much more about the Michter’s taste profile and lineage than Josh. My last tasting, I sent out the 10H that was a 19 year Stitzel-Weller. It was a 15-person blind tasting with 13 whiskeys put it behind a 60/40 Bernheim/Rare Breed mix, ahead of some other great ones. These were all legendary bourbons. 2007-2010, 10 year Michters age statements weren’t changed as it was more trouble that it was worth. A few years ago aging/old whiskey didn’t hold the same awe factor of today nor value. This ended with the 25 year then follow up 20’s.

The Michter’s 25 was KBD-produced and possibly one of my Top 5, as was the 2012 bottling of the 20 year by KBD. The 17, 18, 19, 10 were incredible bottles, and still are. The four digit, 13 and 14 batch bottles are average at best. Black Maple Hill had great stuff and the legend caught up to them when they were putting out the average No Age Statement (NAS) Small Batch – it’s not the same stuff. The emperor and his clothes again.

What we see, are told to believe and imagine fool us. If you’re tasting a series of Whiskeys you should do it blind with placebos, as in five glasses labeled one through five. Cover the label, pour the glasses, taste test, and then put them in order. Guess what the bottle is worth, write down the favorites after the reveal.

I’ve told people what they are drinking was Pappy, when it was Weller 107 and they rated the Weller over other great stuff. I’ve then not done it blind to the same group in the same exact glasses, and the rating differences were far off. I’ve been fooled myself, it’s easy and it’s not Josh’s fault, its all of us that taste this way with rose colored glasses on. I had the recent Jeff Ocean blind so I wouldn’t unconsciously hate it, for example.

I’m not writing this to tell you Josh has a great or bad palate. I’m not saying mine is better or worse. This is an informational thing.

So let’s look at a tour of more Chatham PR crap to cap off the deception angle. The photo below was sent to Josh before his meeting to warn him to be careful. This was taken from the Michter’s home page which I’m sure will be altered or removed very soon.


So this photo looked like it was Photoshop-ed by a 6-year-old. By law, the barrels need to have a DSP serial number. I like the multi-color, aged barrel hoops. Whoever the 6-year-old was that did this must be a wine drinker who has never stepped foot in a rickhouse in his or her life, as you rarely see red or orange bourbon barrels. They are also lazy as shit. Note when they inserted the fraudulent barrel stamp they needed to Photoshop the cables out. They never put them back, so these magic barrels are suspended by two broken cables. Someone should have hired a 7-year-old to pull this one off.

A buddy on the inside at Brown Forman told me that they sell to Michter’s, but not anything special. Essentially you’re buying typical Brown Forman stuff at inflated prices, and you are therefore paying for the lies. Maybe it can’t be called bourbon or is not aged in true Bourbon barrels.

A barrel is the most expensive component in making Bourbon, so a used barrel is much cheaper and can therefore be called “Whiskey.” But can it be called “sour mash?” Yes. Sour Mash is a normal part of fermentation of 99 percent of all American Whiskey, so that designation is nothing special. It’s simply manipulation of the uninformed.

They do an excellent job as I’ve heard bartenders, retail store staff and others recite that it’s special because it’s “sour mash;” so sad. So, a few more shots of shame.

Here’s a Michter’s barrel in a Brown Forman rick stamped with DSP-354, which is Brown Forman’s DSP number:


Here’s an idiot twitter post, as they have no distillery and use Brown Forman’s barrels:


This one’s easy: They don’t distill.

When Wine Enthusiast gave Michter’s Distiller of the Year, they mentioned Willie Pratt’s nickname is “Dr. No.” Michters says it’s because he says “NO, the whiskey isn’t ready.” I say it’s NO DISTILLERY. Here is slick Willie’s bio from Michter’s:

“Willie spent his career at Brown Forman, where he co-chaired a special committee formed to study cooperage – the art of barrel construction – and to identify optimal distillation and aging conditions for, among other things, whiskey taste, aroma, color and yields.”

That’s really sad. Sounds better than a lab or warehouse assistant or whatever his title was – if he even had one.

History of the Real Michters

If it were not for A.H. Hirsch, the name Michter’s would be lost to history the way hundreds of others were. Maryland had a bunch of distilleries making the world’s best Ryes, they are all gone and most of us have no idea what they were called, nor were their names revived and exploited.

The whiskey at Michter’s (and other prior names which I’ll cover) was average. It wasn’t until Adolph Hirsch, a former Executive at the Diageo of its day, Schenley, commissioned the distillery to make a special batch for him. He forgot about it, and when the distillery’s finances were in dire straits he was contacted with a “now or never” to come get his Whiskey. At this time, no one wanted any Whiskey. Barrels leaked in the rickhouses until dry, and much of the stocks that remained would be converted to ethanol. He didn’t want it, so it was sold off cheaply. The Van Winkles bought up a bunch for the Hue’s retail store to bottle for them. Henry Preiss had it bottled as “A.H. Hirsch” and sent to Japan. These were bottles with wax-dipped tops. Some stayed. Eventually it got famous and prices climbed. The tanked versions later bottled as 16 year with gold foil got big, with the wax tops being the best and highly sought rarities. This is where the fame and legend of Michter’s was allowed to live on. Josh’s reviewed bottle was a tanked 16 year that many enthusiasts feel is sub-par to the wax dipped.

I use several sources, but much comes from the great research that Linda did at this link.

Schaefferstown, Penn., in the selected history of distilling there:

In 1753, John Shenk (another Swiss Mennonite farmer) built a home-farm distillery near Schaefferstown, Penn., in Lebanon County. The last distillery (Michter’s) was not the same location nor was it linked to this historical one in anything but geography.

In 1790, Israel Shreve built a distillery to augment George Washington’s grist mill.

Then comes Abraham S. Bomberger. Abe’s family continued to operate until it was forced to close in 1919 by national Prohibition.

When Prohibition ended in 1933, a company named “Pennco” purchased the Bomberger distillery, and then operated it for the next 45 years until selling it in 1978 to the people who called it Michter’s.

From the web:

According to information from Preiss Imports, the distillery was purchased by Louis Forman in 1942. That would be about 35 years shy of 1978. Fowler (another source and researcher) doesn’t mention Louis Forman at all on either of her pages, but we have a ceramic jug, clearly marked Michter’s, that dates from 1942. It’s also clearly marked “Louis Forman & Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.” But they’re identified only as the brand’s sole U. S. agents, not as owners of the distillery. The jug is also somewhat ambiguous as to whether the distillery even IS the old Bomberger place located just southwest of Schaefferstown, since the address it shows links it to a location several miles in the opposite direction.

This is the link to the US Trademark search, just type in “Michter’s”.

It’s a bit cloudy on exact dates, but depending on who you go by – filings, Chuck Cowdery’s book, etc. – it appears the name came to be in the 1950s. Maybe the distillery was not renamed from Pennco until 1978-ish. In 1989, it went out of business, although some accounts put it being abandoned overnight around 1992.

It is thought, however, that Dick Stoll (the last Master Distiller) locked the doors at the close of business on February 14, 1990, for the last time.

The Trademark is abandoned and becomes free in 1997, when it is grabbed.

Dick and Elaine Stoll wrote this about early distillery ownership:

“Lou [Forman] never owned the distillery.  In the early 1970s, Samuel Glass and Associates bought the distillery from Kirk Foulk.  Sam Glass was the brother-in-law of Lou, so Sam made him president.  Lou was the brains behind the Michter’s name and brand.  The plant was contracted by Hiram Walker to make cordials, who brought in new equipment, but the plant did not expand to the level expected. Hiram Walker ended the relationship and took back the equipment.”

There’s plenty of background to tell the real story of Michter’s – Whisky Advocate is all over it. Like this piece about a tour of the original distillery.

And this piece by Sam Komlenic about the history of Michter’s.

And this guest blog by Ethan Smith that looks at the downfall of the original Michter’s.

Even this short piece from 2011 announcing the new Michter’s distillery seems a bit skeptical in its tone.

So you see, Michter’s own history is clouded, and once again, the fame is in the geography and A.H. Hirsch, mostly. Chatham’s use of a name that was created in the 20th century for marketing purposes was dug up to be used to deceive for marketing purposes.

The deception is unstoppable, as I have shown. There’s no basis for any special consideration for Michter’s unless one wants to marvel at the marketing prowess to lie and deceive. The old Chatham/Michter’s bottlings are credited to KBD barrels and bottlings of some great stuff. I’ve got no idea what the purported older bottlings of Michter’s are now. They are done at a bottling place in Ohio, according to records, and no longer any link to KBD or its stocks. I don’t address Preiss or Anchor (the current owner of the AH Hirsch and Hirsch brands) as they don’t pull the crap Michters does.

I have had almost every batch and I can tell you from my palate’s point of view the new stuff cannot hold up to the old bottling at all. They can’t even hold up to things half the price. Ninety-nine percent of the Michter’s being sold isn’t that old. Until someone proves to me it’s not Brown Forman standard recipe, that’s what I’ll go by. There is nothing wrong with Brown Forman booze but if I want Old Forester or Woodford or whatever it’s called, that’s what I’ll buy.

Now, I know what some of you geeks will say: Woodford has its own story and its own skeletons in the closest. Yes, but that’s another blog for another day.

So, in closing, Josh, this ain’t 5th Avenue, it is the truth. The Bourbon Truth.

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Stitzel Well-NO

I guess it’s not enough for Diageo to play games with their Bulleit brand. In a truly unnecessary ruse to overplay the “Orphan Barrel project” aging at Stitzel Weller card Diageo marketers need to know that the whiskey consumer in the $75-$150 category isn’t as stupid as they’re assuming. In fact early reviews have not been too encouraging.
This isn’t new. Van Winkle Bourbon and Weller have/had its share of Old/New Bernheim in it as well. Who wants to give credit to the competition (Heaven Hill, current owners of the Distillary) still making Wheated Whiskey and Bourbon there.
A loyal follower was at the Diageo Orphan Barrel event tonight in Louisville and reported this to me as a guest contributor. —

Diageo has launched the first two releases of the Orphan Barrel Project. On paper this looks like it should be really exciting news for whiskey geeks, especially those who love Stitzel-Weller juice. There’s just one problem-this isn’t Stitzel-Weller juice. It was distilled at Bernheim and aged in the rack houses at Stitzel-Weller. Don’t get me wrong, Ed Foote was likely the master distiller overseeing Barterhouse, if not Old Blowhard as well.
I listened to this episode of Whisky Cast at the suggestion of Lloyd Christmas before the launch party so I would have some idea what I was walking into. The information provided in the invitation was quite vague. Mark Gillespe did a great job of clarifying Ewan Morgan’s repeated claims that these Orphan Barrel releases were Stitzel-Weller juice. Morgan finally relented toward the end and said that, yes, this juice was only aged at Stitzel-Weller. I thought that would be the end of that. He had been called out publicly on the popular podcast about using the venerable name of Stitzel-Weller as what would seem to be a marketing ploy.
Imagine my shock when I walked into the release party to see a Stitzel-Weller plaque above the podium and no mention of Bernheim in sight. Throughout the presentation and tasting, several names of distillers and distilleries were bandied about, with only one mention in passing that this juice was actually distilled at New Bernheim. I was sitting in the back so it is possible that there was something about New Bernheim where I couldn’t see it. But to have any mention at all of Stitzel-Weller other than in passing smacks of deceptive marketing. Not to mention that Bernheim’s contribution is getting swept under the rug.
So there you have it. These bourbons are old and rare and have been influenced by some of the biggest names in the bourbon industry. Why they have to be marketed this way is somewhat of a mystery.

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Trouble ahead in Bourbonland?

I keep hearing independent rumblings about about a few major Beverage Conglomerates getting their “piece” of the pie. Especially one’s that have largely missed the Whiskey Renaissance in the US. Distilleries historically get sold at their lows in value in what seems like a 20-30 year cycle of gluts and such. This is another matter all together. Many of the distilleries are privately owned or controlled and there has never been a better time to sell high, real high. Suntory, Diageo, Bacardi at minimum are all in a buying, looking or shopping mode. Speaking to one insider recently he was afraid something’s about to happen. The landscape of American Whiskey could be very different in 6 months and not in a good way. What if the MPGI plant in Indiana gets sold? 1/3-1/2 of the brands may lose their New Make supply and possibly aged barrels. In the recent Bourbon Classic panel the power players there all said there is no aged whiskey available unless it’s already yours. Someone could swoop in, buy up the MGPI plant then offer cents on the dollar to buy established brands that could lose their supply overnight with no choice but to sell. They might not even have the strength to sue. Just count all the brands that could be effected, some sell lots of bottles. Very scary thought. Granted we won’t miss most of them and the smart ones got their own stills working by now but many are still years away from a non rushed release.

I’ve heard that a few larger brands that are NDP for their brands are being shut off. The Four Roses/Bulleit thing for example but it goes beyond this from what I’m hearing. After you spend all that money on an acquisition you need to make it back quick right? With supplies dwindling there’s only one way, double double. Look at many Diageo single malts, Macallan. Yamasaki 18 was $90, 18 months ago and I went to replace my empty at my go-to place this weekend it was $225. That’s Suntory, Beams most likely new home. What happens to Bourbon if a 12 year old costs $80, NAS value brand adjusted from $30 to $60 over a years time? In my Diageo piece a couple months ago they said it at their November investors meeting that they were going to start taking the Bulleit and Dickel prices steadily up. When ever I read a story on the American Whiskey market bubble bursting I disagreed it because of it’s momentum. I never considered greed and unintentional suicide though as a potential cause. I hope I’m wrong but I keep hearing some frightening things and enough of its true. Getting nervous. Don’t be shocked if a shoe drops within a week or two, maybe even a day or two.

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Everything’s coming up Four Roses for Jim Rutledge

I had a chance to hear Jim Rutledge of Four Roses speak recently. He had some time to talk with me a bit later, and as a result I came to appreciate him more for what he has done and all that he has gone through.

You see, Jim Rutledge is Four Roses.

Here’s a rundown on how this amazing story has played out: When Seagram’s sold the Four Roses brand and distillery around 2001, they had stored away something in the neighborhood of 300 yeast strains in their R & D department from the closed facilities. As the distilleries with bourbon were sold off, their yeasts were preserved and five of those are now in use at Four Roses. Presumably, some are still in use at MGPI, the former Seagram’s Distillery, as well as some Canadian Distilleries that are formerly Seagram’s locations.

Seagram’s had a blind bidding process for the brands being sold; Jim wanted Four Roses and partnered with an investor, bidding $50 million for Four Roses, but did not get it. However, he later learned that Seagram’s did not want a former employee to buy Four Roses, as the family in control didn’t want to risk an employee turning things around and making the family look bad. I guess they got that one right. They now look really bad – Rutledge still gets the credit, even though he didn’t get the distillery.

Rutledge has so much more to do with the day-to-day operations at Four Roses then I had imagined. He started as the Master Distiller in 1995, although he had worked at Seagram’s for many years before that, always dreaming to return to the Distillery when the time was right. He spoke then of many things, like bringing Bourbon back to the U.S., but was told he would get zero marketing support and it would have to be totally word of mouth with a one year experiment.

He finally convinced Seagram’s to permit a Single Barrel version to be sold, but it was only approved to be sold overseas in 1998. Prior to that, Seagram’s only had the nasty, neural-grain, blended Whiskey sold for the U.S. Market, so as to move as much of the cheap profitable stuff as possible. Seagrams took over the brand in the 1940’s but stopped domestic Bourbon distribution in the 1960s, Four Roses’ U.S. reputation was all bad. In fact, Four Roses was basically what street people were drinking – bottom shelf, cheap of the cheap. It has taken almost 30 years for the brand to shake that image, with many still under the illusion it is rot-gut. In contrast it was a premium best selling bourbon brand in Japan and Europe.

In 2004, after Four Roses was handed off first to Diageo and then to Kirin, the best stuff was brought back to the U.S. after lots of time and effort spent prodding the new owners. But without marketing dollars from Seagram’s or Kirin, Jim’s strategy was a grassroots, word-of-mouth effort, during which he entered his Single Barrel bourbon in several major competitions, hoping a good score would attract buzz from the Whiskey writers. He won Best Under 10 years at one competition. He then won another in Kentucky in 2005, but at the time, the Bourbon was only available in Kentucky due to limited barrel inventory.

Keep in mind, this was still at the tail end of the glut and companies were still nervous about producing much, especially 6 to 10 years prior. But Four Roses did well enough to slowly expand by word of mouth. Ownership gave him a year with Small Batch introduction; he came up with the wide bottle to stand out and take up more shelf space, but the downside was a thinner glass that resulted in lighter looking Whiskey. (Small Batch contains 50 percent high and 50 percent low mashbill of 20 percent and 35 percent Rye, 70 percent K yeast and 30percent O yeast.)

The big turning point was in 2007, due to the Stock Market crash as big, deep pockets in their large overseas markets stopped buying the more expensive premium brands. This helped bring about a two-thirds drop in sales, mostly at on-premise bars and restaurants. As a result, Four Roses was able to bring this surplus to the U.S. and expand to around 15 states.

Rutledge responded by launching the Limited Annual Small Batch series followed by the Single Barrel Limited releases. The Mariage Collection was renamed Small Batch Limited in 2010 after a couple of years. He finally got Kirin to trust him to ramp up production as he felt the momentum building, so six or seven years ago he began to make much more bourbon.

I didn’t ask if this is why more Limited hadn’t been released; a simple supply issue of great 12-18 years old is needed. I suspect that a smaller awesome release over larger lessor quality is the direction they will take.

A 17 year old Bourbon from the 2012 Small Batch Limited and 18 year old from the 2013 Small Batch made up part of those years blended versions and were from the same run and recipe. Jim said he is not sure what made that older run so special. They went to the same single story (for consistency throughout the Four Roses aging warehouses) aging area.

Sadly, he says they are all gone and there won’t be a 19 year used for the 2014 releases. He is the first to admit he is against long aging, and it’s very rarely a good thing, but with these barrels something special happened. Annual releases of Small Batch have gone from around 3,000 to last year’s 12,000, although 4,000 of those went overseas. They maintain a major presence as a top brand in Japan and several other countries in which Four Roses Premium Bourbon was nurtured while Rutledge’s plan went into effect. An “Ultra” version called Platinum is available only in Japan.

In 2011, case sales were up 42 percent; in 2012, they rose 58 percent from the previous year, and in 2013, the leap was 71 percent from 2012. Not only did his “feeling” work out, but he was instrumental in all phases of the marketing, expansion and having a supply based on his historical account. It took a while, but Four Roses is now nationally distributed. Yellow Label is around 6 and a half years and the least expensive, and is a great $20-ish value. Regular shelf Small Batch is around 7 to 8 years old, and Single Barrel is around 9 years.

Rutledge and Kirin are being very careful and sensitive to the fact that they are nearing the point that they will need to allocate, cut age or increase price. He was asked about why a Rye isn’t coming out and the simple answer is there was just no capacity for it. They are straight-out too busy doing Bourbon, so there was no reason for a rye or room for it.

He points out the 35 percent Rye in the High Rye recipe bourbon represents the highest of the distilleries in Rye for a Bourbon. His favorite peak for flavor is six to eight years. Once the sugar produced in the barrel with the interaction of the wood and whiskey is gone, they have about six months to get it out of the barrel before the whiskey turns the corner and starts getting worse.

He feels that two-thirds of the flavor is from the wood, so managing the barrel inventory is essential, and that’s the tricky part. Expansion may still be needed at some point, but he points out there is a waiting list of two years for ordering a new rick house to be built. I suspect his understanding and direction is largely responsible for that great taste at a perfect age while keeping Four Roses one of the best values in American Whiskey.

Listening to him gave me much more understanding that the Four Roses brand truly belongs to him, like no other bourbon. Distillation, marketing, sales, bottle design, stewardship and being out in the field – I can’t understand how he does it all.

I’ve been lucky to go with some friends to pick barrels in Kentucky for private bottling. It takes an act of god to get many Master Distillers to say “hi,” let alone assist in barrel selections. Jim pretty much insists on being there in what often is a two- to three-hour process. Some distilleries have a haphazard pre-selection of two to five barrels to select from, whereas Jim has a barrel from each of the 10 recipes brought to sample as picks. They are usually bottled at barrel proof, non-chill filter, as close to the barrel as you can get.

I asked how the barrels are selected to be brought out to be one of those 10, and Jim personally pre-selects them, so there are no dogs in the bunch. The selection is picking the best of what recipe is found to be the favorite of the group purchasing the barrel. Unfortunately, many selections are done by mailed samples, so much of the interaction is missed.  Jim will only offer his thoughts and favorites after the selection is complete.

The Four Roses story under Rutledge is truly an amazing one. The deeper one gets into it, realizing that one man took the brand from obscurity and mediocrity to where it is now, and where it is heading, is just amazing.

As this goes live in my blog, Jim is picking the barrels and blend for the 2014 Small Batch Limited Edition that will be released in September 2014. The 2014 Single Barrel release details have been let out of the bag as an 11 Year OESF recipe.

One last thing: Jim was joking a little too much about retirement. Selfish thoughts of the Jesse Pinkman character flashed in my mind. If you’ve been living in a cave and have never seen the TV series “Breaking Bad,” Jesse was a former student of high school teacher Walter White. In the story line, worthless Jesse teams with Walter to make crystal meth.

Spoiler alert: Late in the series, Walter gets out of the business and Jesse is kidnapped and held as a chained-up prisoner in a drug lab to make a special recipe. So when Jim says “retirement,” those scenes of Jesse chained up cross my mind. Not that I would go to such measures.

Still it illustrates what I said before: This guy is Four Roses; he’s in every bottle.