Whisky Advocate

Another way craft distillers cope until they have mature stocks of whiskey

March 21st, 2012

They buy mature stocks from suppliers until their product matures. This is an alternative to selling “white whiskey” or experimenting with smaller barrels and other techniques to try and speed up the maturation process.

There are numerous examples of this over the past several years, such as High West  and Templeton, and even companies who aren’t even making their own stuff yet, like Michter’s, Angel’s Envy, and WhistlePig.

I’m okay with this, as long as the brand owners are transparant about the source of the whiskey, because a lot of the whiskey they are putting out is pretty good stuff!

How do you feel about it?

47 Responses to “Another way craft distillers cope until they have mature stocks of whiskey”

  1. Rick Duff says:

    Honestly, I don’t care about the age, source, or anything else,
    just as long as it tastes great and is priced great.
    Isn’t that what really matters?

    • John Hansell says:

      That’s fine as long as the brand doesn’t change its source of whiskey, altering the flavor profile, and you find out AFTER you buy the next bottle that it doesn’t taste the same.

  2. John Jeffery says:

    Have any transitioned to their own spirits after launching with a brokered product? Do they announce the switch-over? That might make a difference.

  3. John,

    This is always a great topic.

    Trust is so much a part of the relationship with consumers. With premium spirits in particular, those who are willing to invest in quality are more often in tune with the nuances of their preferred brands. Quite often, in addition to the taste of a particular brand, they are equally influenced by the brand story and background. There is nothing more distrustful than influencing a consumer with a background or story that is DELIBERATELY misleading.

    With Angel’s Envy, we were always up front about our sourcing of product produced by another distillery pending construction of our own facility (which by the way is now swiftly moving forward). We have taken a bourbon produced to our specifications, and then finished and blended a wonderful product. As long as you bottle a great product, the origin is not of consequence, and I could never understand why some companies are ashamed of this fact. I am PROUD of what we have accomplished.

    One battle I face as a brand owner is maintaining control of the subtleties behind our brand identity and the “story” of the brand. Most of us have marketing folks who can very easily get things wrong…sometimes on purpose with spin….and sometimes by accident. Just last week I saw one of our point of sale pieces (fortunately before it hit the market) that was just plain inaccurate. Granted, it was a technical point that could be a grey area for some, but I KNEW it to be inaccurate. There was no malicious intent, but nonetheless, when things like that happen, you risk losing valuable trust.

    Another thing I am seeing is that brand stories can be morphed by social media. This can happen without the brand owner’s participation, and can sometime perpetuate inaccurate information. As blogs are often re-quoted, an inaccuracy can live in perpetuity.

    I know this is a very long post from a small fish in a huge pond, but this is something I feel strongly about. We know that as our brand grows, it is impossible to maintain control over everything that will be communicated about our products, but we all owe it to our customers to be honest and accurate from our side.

    • Jason Beatty says:

      I cannot wait until Angel’s Envy is available up here in Indy! What’s so great about your whiskey is it gives me something different to turn to in order to keep my interest level up as I get bored easily.

  4. Vince says:

    John
    My feeling is that as long as their is transparency, I have no problem with sourcing whiskey. I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoy Angels Envy, Whistlepig, and High West to name a few.

    Nice post Wes! Keep up the good work!

  5. Josh says:

    Agreed, honesty is most important. An ever present fear for consumers is, “I hope these companies are really selling me what they claim to be selling”. I believe it has a lot to do with the increasing globalization of companies and how influential money can be. Don’t get me wrong, I want to trust highly publicized product (or the exlusive stuff too), I am a whisk(e)y drinker so when it’s good not much matters, but a good company reassures me as I hand my money over.

  6. AaronWF says:

    There are different kinds of transparency. It’s one thing to say, “We sourced our whiskey,” and another thing to say, “We sourced our whiskey from [such and such] distillery.” Yes, ultimately taste trumps all, but as an enthusiast, hobbyist and generally interested consumer I really enjoy knowing which distillery made the product – it adds to the intellectual enjoyment of my whiskey.

    Also, I don’t really get how a company can call itself a distiller or distillery if they are not currently distilling. That may be the goal, but if the distillery doesn’t even exist yet, calling themselves a distillery on a product they bottled but did not make is entirely misleading.

    The liquor industry in the U.S. is used to keeping secrets, but I think that with the age of the internet and social media, there is generally more demand for not just transparency, but full disclosure. And I think that the niche consumers a ‘craft’ operation would be after are the ones that keep track of this sort of stuff more so than those who would just as soon stick to their Jack, Jim and Turkey.

    • Jordan says:

      The tricky thing is when distilleries like LDI won’t let independent bottles indicate that on the bottles. Which is a shame, because given all of the good whiskey coming out of LDI in the last few years, I’d probably be more likely to buy something that indicated it came from there than if it didn’t state where it was from.

      • sku says:

        You can almost always tell when something is LDI. Just look for the tell-tale “Product of Indiana” on the label.

  7. David D says:

    Total transparency is great for the enthusiastic consumer, but the most successful bottlers are the ones who don’t tell. Black Maple Hill rules the Bay Area and no one (except the Willett family) knows exactly what’s in it. The same goes for Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, Johnny Drum, etc. I’ve found that the bottlers who were honest (i.e. “This is five year old Buffalo Trace”) ultimately suffered for it. Because, honestly, who’s going to try five year old Buffalo Trace for $35 when you can get 8-10 year old from the distillery for $20? As long as it tastes good, keep the recipe to yourself!

    • John Hansell says:

      David, as I noted above to Rick Duff, a lack of transparancy is fine if the product tastes good, and as long as the brand doesn’t change its source of whiskey, altering the flavor profile. But I have seen this happen over the years, as a label’s whiskey source dries up and they must find product elsewhere. It’s pretty disappointing buying another bottle of something to replenish the one you finished only to find out that it doesn’t taste the same.

    • Kris says:

      Every drop of Buffalo Trace ever bottled, has been Mash Bill #1 and aged for 8 years or more.

      • David D says:

        Not if it isn’t sold by Buffalo Trace…..there are several indy bottles that are actually young BT

        • Jimmy says:

          I was also confused by the original phrasing. In the Bay, a bottle of Buffalo Trace is $35, and I was wondering, “why is Dave D saying it is 5 yrs old, and where is this $20 stuff?!”

          If I understand you correctly, you’re saying, “who would buy 5 yr old Buffalo Trace UNDER A DIFFERENT NAME” for 35 when you can get 8-10 yr old BT under its own name for 20.

          And, yeah, that’s a good incentive for keeping the sourcing secret.

          • David D says:

            Right! When people are upfront about what it is they’re bottling, then the public can lose interest. I know of two indy bottlings that are 5 year old BT and they don’t say anything for that reason. Buffalo Trace at my store is $20, so I thought that would clear it up!

          • Ben says:

            K&L has Buffalo trace for $20, fyi.

  8. David D says:

    I agree. I think it’s important for a brand to have standards and to be morally dedicated to giving an honest product. Revealing the source, however, while sometimes interesting, is not necessary to do so.

  9. Phil Brandon says:

    Being a craft distiller and working hard at crafting my own products, it irks me when other distilleries that are in the “craft” game don’t disclose that they are sourcing whiskey. Just adding local water to a sourced whiskey doesn’t make it a craft product… not no way, not no how. At the end of the day, the average consumer doesn’t care where it comes from, they just want a good product and the rest is just marketing fluff anyway.

  10. sku says:

    I completely agree with you John. I would much rather drink a sourced whiskey with some real age and character than another white dog. And the distilleries that have done this best have been the ones that have used some innovation in their bottlings by seeking out unusual mashbills (WhistlePig et al.), experimenting with finishing (Angel’s Envy and Hooker’s House) or made interesting blends (High West).

    I agree with those who favor full disclosure though I understand it is not always possible since some distilleries probably won’t sell without contractual agreements restricting it. I would like to see American bottlers act more like Scotch bottlers who regularly list the distillery right on the bottle.

    And David D, High West has disclosed their sources and I don’t think it’s damaged their sales, likely because they are using mashbills and blends that aren’t available elsewhere. Similarly, we all know that Templeton Rye is LDI, but they can’t keep it on the shelves, so I don’t think disclosure has to hurt sales.

    • David D says:

      LDI rye doesn’t count. I could carry a rye from anywhere and it would sell.

    • Jason Beatty says:

      Speaking of sourced whiskey and rye: the last barrel of 18 Year Jefferson from Stitzel-Weller is being batched with an aged rye to make a “four grain” Jefferson. This does sound intriguing but I cannot figure out why anyone would mix this Stitzel-Weller bourbon even if it were slightly below standards.

  11. Allen says:

    I agree that craft distillers should let the consumer know that they are bottling whiskey from another distillery, but I don’t necessarily need to know what distillery that whiskey is coming from. As others have expressed above, I think a good product is more important than the knowledge of where the whiskey came from. Since we are living in the internet age we end up finding out where a lot of the products are sourced from regardless of whether or not it’s printed on the label.

  12. Ethan Smith says:

    The current Michter’s is about as far from transparent as you can get. I really would like to know more about them, their whiskey sources, and how they exactly got the Michter’s name…….

  13. Red_Arremer says:

    Whisky branding, in so far as it is opposed to the cultivation of a thoroughly informed consumer-base, is evil. Transparency is the progressive thing and there is no reason that it must work against the economic interests of whisky producers. There is nothing wrong with sourcing whisky. As Wes implied above, any part of the production of a well and responsibly made whisky, including where it comes from and who chooses it, is something that a producer should share proudly with consumers.

  14. Jordan says:

    I’ve tried some sourced whiskies that were really fantastic (Jefferson’s Rye, Big Bottom Port Cask) and some that weren’t quite so good (I won’t name names here). If the product is good, I could care less where it’s coming from. But as a whisk(e)y geek, I’d much rather know where it’s coming from than having it remain a mystery. Unless they’re just trying to shift crappy stock, I can’t say that I understand why contract distillers wouldn’t want to have their name on the bottle, but some of them seem to feel that it’s important for these things to remain a mystery.

  15. JDW says:

    What we want is transparency: Tells us what is in the bottle.

  16. Andrew says:

    I have a question about sourcing. If I am whiskey A and I want to source from B (and B sells it’s own product), am I simply bottling B’s brand under a different label? Or do I give them a recipe and they make it for me?

    • Jason Beatty says:

      Sometimes they make it for them with a new recipe and sometimes they get their barrels with the same recipe.

  17. Mr Manhattan says:

    I have had the privilege of helping to select barrels from both HH and 4R for a local liquor shop. One of the first things I learned from my elders is that the big distilleries blend down/select barrels from their warehouses to meet specific brand flavor profiles. Nothing surprising here. When we get single barrel samples however, and at full strength, we are free to select whatever set of flavors and characteristics appeal to us most. We also let the distillery know what sorts of things we’re looking for—what we liked last time—in hopes they can find “sister barrels” for us. In other words, just because someone buys some whiskey from distillery ‘A’ there’s no reason for it to taste very much like any of distillery ‘A’s brands *. A keen palate might detect the family resemblance, but there can be a world of difference between barrels. Lots of room for distinctive products here.

    Michael

    * – Within reason. An established distillery clearly has a vested interest in the qualities of the products they are selling. Barrels which are way off the mark are unlikely to be offered.

    • Jordan says:

      No doubt. I’ve read pieces about barrel tasting as Buffalo Trace and the writer noted that even two barrels sitting side by side in the same rickhouse can taste wildly different. That they’re able to get consistent products through blending is pretty astounding when you consider that.

  18. Charlie says:

    As long as you have someone like Lincoln Henderson (Angel’sEnvy) picking the whisky it’s fine. For a brand where maybe the people don’t have the experience or connections to get the right stuff, I would worry about consistency from batch to batch.

  19. thebitterfig says:

    I’m more keen blending and finishing than strict sourcing. Yes, it’s great to get other expressions of whatever whisky is out there if the spirit is good. It just doesn’t feel like it signifies anything unless there is some sort of value added, in my mind.

    However, it really makes me sad that there isn’t more between-distillery blending out there. Seems like that would be a great source of new whiskies (heck, blend ‘white whisky’ with aged spirits, so long as it tastes good). I know there are no doubt some labeling laws, but more it’s that we’ve let ‘blended’ become a dirty word. Yes, there can be absolute crap out there made of cheap, flavorless spirit plus a dash of whisky, top-quality blends ought to get more respect. High West has a few, but I’ve heard of few others. To expand on a point above, I’m much less interested in someone who acts as an independent bottler of five-year-old-BT than I would be in someone blending that 5yoBT equivalent with, well, practically anything decent. Old, young, sweet, woody, spicy, fruity, herbal, bourbon, rye, heck even corn whisky, it really doesn’t matter. Just *DO* something with it.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      A good single cask offering from an independent bottler is exciting precisely because they didn’t *DO* anything with it. Fact is, if whisky is well made, then you don’t need to *DO* anything with it but drink it.

      Not that there’s anything wrong with blending (Compass Box is great)– But I wouldn’t say that it automatically “adds value” and a lot of the time the only value it adds is in the delivery of brand consistency.

      • mongo says:

        the “well made” component of well made whisky comes at least as much from the cask maturation, and since what happens in a cask is highly variable it is not the case that non-single cask whisky is not “well made”–as you seem to imply. indeed, to take casks of varied profiles and quality and vat them together into a consistent final product seems to me to deserve as much, if not more, the descriptor “well made”.

        • Red_Arremer says:

          Sure blending is very hands on, offers great control, and quick results– And adds a step to the whisky-making process. But good single cask whisky is far from being a product of chance or nature. Coopering, cask management and cask selection are all important parts of whisky-making in their own right.

          • mongo says:

            i think you overstate the case. if cask selection were so exact a science there’d be very little cask variation, and anyone who’s had a lot of single cask whisky knows that’s not the case. i would say an excellent single cask whisky owes more to good luck whereas a good blended/vatted whisky is more fully “well made”. both, of course, involve the skills of people who can gauge when a cask is ready to be bottled/vatted/blended.

          • Red_Arremer says:

            Cask variation amongst countless casks is what makes cask selection a job and a skill. Of course some casks will turn out better than others, but there are many things that can be done to target an outcome– Witness Balvenie 15. There are the odd amazing casks and duff ones, but generally there is good deal of consistency of style and quality. Just for the sake of continuing the debate I’ll also add that, legally (generally), blending is not at all an essential element of whisky production, whereas all the cask related activities are.

  20. lawschooldrunk says:

    The more consumer information, the better.

    I’m all for it as long as there are no publicity stunts.

  21. Red_Arremer says:

    Right on LSD

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