On Monday, I asked readers if they would rather have companies face whiskey shortages by lowering age, lowering proof or not changing anything which would cause shortages. The responses was overwhelmingly in favor of not making changes to age or proof and accepting shortages. Some even recommended raising prices before tinkering with the product. Between age and proof, commenters seemed most offended by lowering proof.
All the comments are worth a read, but I thought the majority sentiments were summed up well by Carlton:
Maintain age and proof. Shortages and excess inventory are inherent in any product with such a long lead time between production and sale. It seems to me that "satisfying demand" is the whiskey companies' euphemism for "selling all we can, even if it isn't as good as what we used to sell." Once a whiskey starts down the NAS road, it is too easy to chip away at quality in the name of the bottom line.
There were some contrary views. Chuck Logsdon favored dropping age statements.
Drop the age statement. A large number of people have have consistently shown that they will hoard when things get scarce even if they never tasted a drop of a particular bottling. I'd rather have the product available to me than it have an age statement.
In general, though, people felt not only that companies shouldn't drop proof or age, but that companies who do are not being straight forward with consumers. As one anonymous commenter stated:
Retain the proper aging for the products that have been defined by that age statement. The corporate people are playing a risky game when they try to play games with educated consumers. "We age it to the proper flavor" is spin like we hear from shifty politicians. We can reasonably expect price increases and shortages when demand is up, but what we do not want is a decrease in quality while being told it is the same. There are mass produced bourbons that never had age statements that we know are being stretched because the consumer expects to see that brand on the shelf, but if your brand is based on the fact that it has always been aged a certain period of time and you change that, you've changed too much. So a few more dollars or an occasional shortage, OK, but if you produce a lesser product I believe you will find that consumers might just start looking to the guys that have made the commitment to stay true to their to their brand - and their customers.
So, whiskey companies, I hope you are listening. Your consumers would rather have trouble finding your products, or even pay more for them, than have you fool with the age statement or proof.