Whisky Advocate

Those bourbon guys, they’re finally getting it

November 22nd, 2008

There was a time a several years ago that, if a whiskey company put out old bourbon, it usually tasted too old, too woody, and past its prime.

But times are changing. A vast majority of new releases of old bourbon actually keep the oak in check. The producers are paying attention to the oak and making an effort to give us good old bourbon, not just old bourbon. Examples include the recent bottling of Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old, Parker’s Heritage Collection 27 year old, Eagle Rare 17 year old, and several of the recent 20-something year old Willett bourbon (and rye) bottlings.

I can understand charging a lot of money for a really good, very mature bourbon. But it’s wrong to ask us to pay $200 or more for for a bottle of old bourbon or rye that tastes like charred tooth picks just because you stumbled across some stocks (or bought some stocks) of old whiskey and want to make a quick profit on them.

I think we, as a collective whiskey-drinking voice, let the producers know this. And they are responding appropriately.

6 Responses to “Those bourbon guys, they’re finally getting it”

  1. Joe says:

    I certainly hope that this is true. I haven’t had any very recent bottlings of Pappy Van Winkle 23-yr, but the last one I tried had very harsh wood tannins.

    I’ve also tasted a private bottling of a cask of Bourbon which an extremely knowledgeable Bourbon drinker that I know had done for him (cask-strength) and it was positively screechy with harsh wood tannins. Apparently, this is what he likes, but I found it undrinkable in it’s pure form; to me, it absolutely required not just airing out but also water. So I guess there are seasoned Bourbon drinkers who do like that style, but it’s definitely a niche.

    I think that Chuck Cowdery has maintained that older doesn’t always mean better when it comes to Bourbon, and while I don’t wish to mis-attribute any of his published opinions, I seem to remember that he doesn’t believe that Bourbon over 18 years of age (or so) is always going to deliver the goods. Obviously, there are exceptions (i.e. Parker Heritage 27-yr immediately comes to mind), but I’ve tasted some over-20-yr Bourbons that tasted dried out. One wonders what they might have been like if bottled at 12-15 years of age.

  2. John Hansell says:

    Joe, I still have samples of Pappy Van Winkle around when it first was introduced and it was over the top with the wood. Then I went years without tasting it. I tried it again a few weeks ago (I think it was the bottle that the Brandy Library donated to WhiskyFest for our charity table) and was surprised at how balanced the wood was with the rest of the flavors.

    Yes, we certainly have had our share of overly woody whiskeys. In addition to those earlier versions of Pappy Van Winkle 23, the Export Evan Williams 23 years old is way over the top. Ditto some of the Eagle Rare 17s from years back. Some of those 20-plus year old rye whiskeys also have seen better days. But I’m seeing some improvements, which is a good thing.

  3. Louis says:

    Hi John,

    I would be just as happy with middle aged (10-15 years) bourbon matured in warmer locations in the warehouse, and not have to pay three figure prices. For example, the Old Charter 13 year old is very competitive with single malt scotchs that are far more expensive. And I’m sure that the Jack Daniels single barrel has a ceiling on the price as it is ‘only’ seven years old.



  4. John Hansell says:

    Louis, I agree with you that, while some of the older bourbons are amazing products, they are not 3x better than some of the bourbons that are 1/3 the price. The quality/price relationship is not linear.

  5. Lew Bryson says:

    I got this demonstrated in a really ugly and visceral way at WhiskyFest New York, when I dropped in after Parker Beam’s seminar on “The Methuselah Myth,” about aging and super-aging bourbon. Larry Kass let me taste a 19 year old that had been matured low in the warehouse: oaky, but spicy, good. Then he gave me a sip of a 19 year old that had been aged on the top floor: holy crap! It smelled like fingernail polish remover, and the tiny little sip spread over my tongue like toxins in a river. It was naaaaaaasssTEE! Larry laughed and assured me that it was strictly a teaching tool. Yuck.

  6. John Hansell says:

    Ugly and visceral is okay, as long as they get it.

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