Monday, January 12, 2015

New Year's Wish List

Happy 2015 to everyone in whiskey land.  Here are some of my whiskey wishes for the New Year.

Parker's Heritage Rye:  Heaven Hill's Parker's Heritage Collection has experimented with all kinds of mashbills: rye recipe bourbon, wheated bourbon, a blend of rye and wheated bourbon and even wheat whiskey.  But they've never done a rye.  How great would it be to see a ten year old, cask strength version of Rittenhouse?  Of course, up until about five years ago, all their rye was still being made by Brown Forman, so they may not have enough old stock for a ten year old, but I'd happily settle for a cask strength version of the regular Rittenhouse Rye.

Older, Age Stated Ardbeg:  Ardbeg used to have a 17 year old, but now the only age stated bottling in their regular lineup is the 10 year old.  What a huge surprise it would be for this year's committee bottling to be, say, a 15 year old.

Someone Who Gives a Shit Buying Wild Turkey:  I'd argue that Wild Turkey is currently America's most underperforming distillery.  The Turkey used to be one of America's great whiskeys, but since Campari bought it in 2009, they've done almost nothing right.  I'd love for another company to buy this distillery and make it live up to its potential.

Diageo Stop Insane Pricing:  Everyone's prices are too high, and I'd love to see them all come down, but Diageo is the king of insane pricing.  What if they actually brought their prices back to earth and offered us a deal on this year's special releases?  I'm not saying they should be selling Brora or Port Ellen on the cheap, but they could at least throw a bargain or two into the mix for us regular folks. 

Balcones Drama: Go Away!  So far we've seen Balcones founder Chip Tate sued by the Balcones Board, then he was sued by his own lawyers, and now he's suing Balcones' master distiller and his wife. Unlike most whiskey bloggers, I've never been a partisan in this battle and don't have a preference for one side or the other, but for God's sake, make it stop before it becomes a reality TV show.

Great, Affordable, Old Brandy.  I figured I should have one New Year's wish that I thought would actually come true.  Here's to another year of amazing brandy!

What's on your New Year's wish list?


Matt Dodor said...

I want to see brandies, agave spirits, and rum develop and market products targeted specifically at Bourbon drinkers. As a consumer I am looking to transition away from Bourbon and Scotch, but I do not think the other spirits are releasing products that specifically target drinkers ready and willing to jump off the bandwagon and diversify.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see artisanal distillers pricing their one and two year old whiskies lower than four roses single barrel. There is just no way I can justify purchasing new, young, untried distillers at such high prices when there are superb 100% spot on alternatives that are priced lower and with substantial reputations for quality, etc.

While the whiskey renaissance is real and fantastic, the idea of paying so much for young whiskey from brand new players is just not a reasonable one. A one year old whiskey from a new unknown costs more than a 12 year Elijah Craig? Huh?

I understand that these new distillers are tying to recoup their investments, etc, but this is the greatest problem with this segment. Their quality tends to be good to very good, but their pricing is ridiculous. Belle Meade is perhaps the worst offender. Most of their product is MGP (their distillery is new). They now have a single barrel 9 year available which I've seen for 55? A single barrel mgp for 55?
Hello? Ridiculous pricing.
I want to buy it, but just can't justify it.
I'd love to see more reasonable pricing from the new folks in the marketplace.
-Frustrated Bourbon Person

Funky Tape said...

I'm with Frustrated above, but don't agree on the quality.

To me the good old days of bourbon are fading fast as all the garbage produced from cheap GMO corn in the early 2000's is now being bottled and sold at premium disconnected from the quality. I'm not talking about inflation or gouging, I'm talking about smearing lipstick on a pig and selling to the swelling mob who will drink anything anyone says is 'good.'

Great point about Turkey. They will either have to retool their brand or get more competitive. You can't try to slip a 'Diamond Anniversary' by at $125 to the loyal enthusiast who's still chasing Rare Breed from the 1990's.

Also, who needs to go away is Diageo not Chip. Sure the drama is a bit too much to handle at this point, but its fun to back a Man and not some suits in a corporate trying to fatten their spread on purple Kool-Aid.

tanstaafl2 said...

I would love to see a way to get better access, either by getting more variety in my area or by having greater access to stores willing to ship (and allowing them to do so legally). Or both!This would include in an ideal spirits Shangri-La some mechanism for greater access to international sellers at realistic shipping prices, too.

None of this will ever happen of course but this is just wishful thinking after all!

Anonymous said...

Agree 101% about Diageo. Perhaps my favorite whisky right now is Lagavulin 12, but it just pains me to no end to see how Diageo makes this a limited release and charges almost double what they do the the standard Lagavulin 16. In any sane world the cask strength 12 would be about the same price as the 16.

Justin said...

I have had that same thought about a PHC rye release. I would grab as many as I could.

Campari, if I'm not mistaken, has dumped tons of money into wild turkey. More capacity, new visitors center. Not sure what more they can do.

Diageo needs to be put to sleep. Rapacious bastards the lot!

Agree on balcones. Bad situation all around.

Great post Sku!

Anonymous said...

A return of age stated 7yo Evan Williams
Wider availability of 6yo Heaven Hill BIB

Anonymous said...

About 10 years ago I found an Arbeg 17 for $70 at a risky dinky mom and pop here in central Texas. I drank it right away.

Anonymous said...

Chip was out-hustled and swindled out of HIS booming, baby empire. Balcones is dead to me. Long live Chip.

Anonymous said...

On Diago pricing: I kinda hate to be the cold economist, but if the stuff sells, then the price wasn't too high. I have a bottle of Lagavulin 12. It sounds like the Lagavulin-loving Anonymous above me does too, as do many folks (probably) reading this blog. If we buy it, then they priced it right. (Granted, I probably won't rebuy soon at that price given the just-as-good-and-much-less-expensive Laphroaig 10 CS, but they sold me one!)

My wish list:
*That Talisker 57 North become generally available in the US. (This is a pretty selfish wish: Talisker 57 is the last remaining OB that’s I’m super interested in and haven’t had yet.)
*That Big Peat’s Christmas edition be sherried, not just cask strength. Doesn’t that just make sense for a Christmas dram?
*That Springbank release a salty all-bourbon expression (though I guess the new organic green label along these lines). I love the Springbank distillery, but I don’t love how big a role sherry plays in so much of their bottles.
*That Bruichladdich return to releasing their Port Charlottes at cask strength. Given the popularity of the PC5, PC 6, etc. line, I’m really surprised they’ve shifted their core releases down to a disconnected series of NAS bottles diluted to 46-50%. Make a PC2015, a PC2016, etc.—that wouldn’t be too different from what they do now, and it’d be more fun! I think it’d be a market success too. Bruichladdich, be the Islay distiller that’s badass enough to release all your peated stuff at cask strength!
*That Cooley resumes Connemara special releases. You used to see these in the pre-Beam days, like when they did the Turf Mor and Bog Oak. Those are fun and I’d like to see them again, even if they don’t get wide distribution.
*That Ireland finally stop diluting almost everything down to 40%.
*That more half-bottles and sample packs become available.

--Ol’ Jas

sku said...

Great lists everyone!

Florin said...

More cask strength rye from that factory in Indiana! Glad to see Smooth Ambler join Willett this year on this very short list! As long as Greg Metze is around and as long as there's plenty of MGPI rye on the shelves, there's no reason there shouldn't be a cask strength bottle sitting next to them. It doesn't have to be 9 years old, 3-6yo is perfectly fine! And it certainly doesn't have to be $100!

Stilldaddy said...

I second the availability of more small sample bottles. It would be nice to not spend a lot to simply try something (when you don't have well stocked whiskey bars around).

I would also like to see wiser, more discerning consumers who nimbly navigate through marketing to weigh only truthful, relevant matters when making purchases (in all areas, really). I believe that would help the whiskey market improve significantly.

Andrew said...

What specifically has Campari done with Wild Turkey that rubs you the wrong way SKU? They spent several hundred million upgrading and expanding the distillery, added a great new visitor's centre, have in 2014 STARTED a single barrel program when several companies have debated closing theirs, increased rye production, and added several limited edition and year round products to the WT and Russell's Reserve lineup. Diamond Anniversary may have been weak for some people, but frankly, Wild Turkey is doing just as good as any other company, unless you define sucess as having an annual, limited edition, cask strength bottling, in which case Jim Beam and Barton distilleries are also owned by someone who "doesn't give a shit about them".

sku said...

Andrew, first off, quality of all of their products has declined steadily. I don't know if that's due to using younger juice or some other production issue, but I've definitely noticed it.

Second, one of the first things they did was water down the 101 rye, one of the best deals in whiskey. Yes, they brought it back, but it's very limited (I don't know that I've ever seen it on a retail shelf) and more expensive.

Third, reliance on over-priced, low quality gimmicks like Forgiven and Diamond Anniversary.

Wild Turkey used to have a great range of quality, affordable products. Even the basic 101s were great, and their special releases, like American Spirit, were excellent. I can't say that any Turkey product I've tasted in the last five years was great.

Yes, Campari is spending money, but I don't give a shit about visitor centers, and what's the use of expanding production if you're not making great whiskey? It probably just means there will be a lot more American Honey.

Steve said...

Agree with Frustrated Bourbon Person and Funky Tape above.

My opinion is that the craft movement is a majority stakeholder in the inflation of American Whiskey pricing. The category was popular, people were open to trying new things. Craft distilleries are born. Underaged juice is sold at high prices to offset the burden of a young company entering a marketplace, sacrificing quality just to get something out there to jumpstart revenue. After all, the public is eager to support the market. Big business takes note - why should they be selling 10yr aged whiskey for $30, taking the tax hits, etc, for aging said product when the little guy down the street is selling 2yr whiskey for $50? Sure, maybe they will do far more volume at $30 but they still see an opportunity to keep sales volume and add and extra $2-$5/bottle. From there it's just up up and away with the prices. It gets worse when the big guys then pump out new brands of 80-proof, $30/gallon crap and then use muscle to flood the distributors with these brands to keep craft off of the shelves. Heck, there was a Democrat and Republican Bourbon a few years back for crying out loud!

Sam Komlenic said...

I can't buy into the theory that craft distillers have exerted such influence on the market that long-established distilleries owned by multi-national conglomerates are using them as a benchmark to move their pricing upward.

I believe it is simply the dramatically increased demand for their products from all angles. If you can't ramp up production to meet 100 percent of demand, price the product accordingly so as to make an equivalent profit without making substantially more.

Low prices are gone for now for various reasons, and craft pricing may be a small factor, but it's not driving these decisions.

Anonymous said...

Legalize home distilling ... in California first !