Thursday, January 21, 2016

Despite Previous Denials, Elijah Craig 12 Drops Age Statement


After a lot of internet chatter from various sources over the last few days, Fred Minnick went on the record with the news that Heaven Hill will drop its 12 year old age statement from Elijah Craig, which will now be NAS (no age statement).

We all know the drill by now. A company claims that they had to drop the age statement because they are short on old whiskey and that they need the flexibility to blend in some younger whiskeys but that the average age will still be around the same, and it will taste the same. For the first few months, maybe a year, it does taste pretty much the same, but after that, it drops off quickly. Then, maybe a few years later, they release a limited edition age stated whiskey at double or triple the price. It's like the plot of the new Star Wars movie: totally formulaic following a very predictable script.

But here's the rub that makes this one extra slimy. Last year, Heaven Hill got rid of the "12" on the front label of Elijah Craig and moved it to the back. Many saw that as a sign that the age statement would soon be removed altogether. Heaven Hill's Bernie Lubbers addressed these rumors on his blog (he also mentions Eagle Rare's similar move with their ten year old, but Eagle Rare is made by a different company):

Eagle Rare (Buffalo Trace), and Elijah Craig (Heaven Hill Brands) have both come under some criticism lately for a label change. The age statements of 10 and 12 years have been moved to the back label. In the case of Elijah Craig, we put a barrel on the front, and emphasized Small Batch more. Well my goodness when you read some of the threads online you’d think were drowning people’s puppies, or are doing something SO devious that we are just trying to hide that we will definitely take the age statement off, and SOON.
Well we are NOT being devious, or trying to be misleading in any way. Whether the age statement is on the front or the back, or in writing, or in numbers, every drop is still 12 years old – PERIOD. There might be a time where we are faced with a decision of whether to take the age statement off completely, or leave it on forever. But these are just decisions you have to make in real time when reality raises it’s head and you’re faced with either keeping a whiskey at a certain age, or taking the age off, and trying as best as you can to keep the flavor profile the same.
That was on June 2, 2015. Despite Lubbers' attempt at face-saving caveats, I would say that taking the age off seven months later is "SOON," and that is, indeed, pretty devious. This saddens me as Heaven Hill has always seemed to be honest with their whiskeys and their information. Lying to consumers is bad business and doing it in a condescending way makes it that much worse.

From now on, I will give zero credence to any statement coming from Heaven Hill. Hell, given that Lubbers went out of his way to deny it, maybe they are drowning puppies.

See more good stuff on the Elijah Craig debacle, and a somewhat contrary view, from Red White & Bourbon, who brought my attention to the quote above. 

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

That HH or any producer would be under serious pressure regarding their stocks comes as no surprise to me in this bourbon boom time. This kind of flip/flop thing from a major producer, that reduces customer confidence in them gives the newby folks a leg up. To me, that's a good thing.
-Dan

Anonymous said...

I just saw a Knob Creek Small Batch bourbon that said Patiently Aged not aged 9 years. Looks like another one may be going NAS

RandallDJohnson88 said...

as Long as old antique doesnt lose its 107 age statement im happy friend, AMA

Bourbon Scout said...

Maybe HH can do what Sazerac did with Very Old Barton and Old Charter and just leave a random 12 on a bottle full of 8-10 year old whiskey.

M Olson said...

As a substitute you might pick-up a bottle of Old Fungible next time you shop for a bourbon. You can buy it in generic form, the latest being Elijah Craig Small Batch NAS. These generics are found everywhere on the bourbon shelves these days, interchangeable almost identical expressions. What distillers are marketing to ordinary enthusiasts has become just bourbon, its all the same, just ordinary indistinguishable fungible alcohol, with little to separate one bottle from the next. If an 8 to 12 year old bourbon tastes the same as a 12 year old bourbon, then it's nothing more than a fungible commodity for distillers to deceivingly market to consumers. Old Fungible, no longer 12 years old, simply 4, and just as good as everything else on the shelf!

Joshua said...

The real problem is true enthusiasts care but distillers know that most of their market these days is full of consumers who just want the hot thing and don't care if its 12 years old, 25 years old, or 2 months old, as long as someone important says its good then its off the shelf and gone even if the distilleries are liars, cheats, or what not.

Unknown said...

Seriously Randall, your shtick has gotten old. STFU

Anonymous said...

Let us not forget the passionate defense and pride that Bernie gave us (well, at least I got it in person with a few dozen others and it sounded rehearsed) for the addition of the age statement to Bernheim Wheat. Quite frankly, it was repeated multiple times by both Bernie and Craig how they were trying to be different by adding an age statement rather than removing it. Showing the industry who was doing things the right way, IIRC the verbiage that was used,

Very annoyed, but sadly not surprised at all. We all knew this was going to happen when they moved it. Heck, would anybody bet money on Eagle Rare keeping the 10 year statement? What odds would I have to give you for you to take that bet?

Cheers,
Andy

Funky Tape said...

To HH's credit, they did put an AS on Bernheim Wheat, brought back EC18 and added Pikesville 6 year in about the same time.

But yes, the level of mistrust from the producer all the way to the retailer continues to grow as quality falls off a cliff and prices float away. It's a bubble and more and more capital will get sucked in until it gets so saturated it just blows up. Damn fun to watch, though!

Anonymous said...

They tried not to drown those puppies, but dammit it had to be done... they were facing a decision! C'mon... but on your big-boy pants, Sku. Facing decisions is fucking terrifying! I mean real time raised it's facist head, man.
Also, I hear John Goodman may or may not beat the shit out of Bernie's red corvette.

Anonymous said...

Like Andy was saying above, there is no way that they would have bet on keeping the 12 year on the bottle.

This has been in the works since they changed the old label and put the 12 on the front with Small Batch surrounding it. Then they moved it to the back while re-branding it under Elijah Craig Small Batch. No-one that reads this blog would have been convinced that they were not taking it off all while they tried and dismissed this for the past two years. Obviously most people are not enthusiast like us so it might not make much of a difference in their sales.

Jay

Curt said...

The bottle of Eagle Rare 10 yr I just bought a month ago did not taste anything like you would expect for a 10 yr, nor did it come close to what I remember from a purchase a couple years ago. I can certainly understand that stocks of aged bourbon are dwindling and I can understand that brands are not anxious to advertise that they may be cutting corners as a result. But deception is never going to be the right answer. Just level with people and tell them exactly what you are bottling. I will not buy another bottle of Eagle Rare and I will not support any distiller or producer that uses deception rather than a frank and honest label.

Gary A. Turner said...

Unfortunately not surprised by this move - I remember hearing that HH issued a statement that it wasn't dropping the 12 yr age statement, but didn't see Bernie's post then. That to me is perhaps more disappointing than the age statement drop. I saw that as inevitable, but figured their statements meant it was perhaps further out than we thought (if I were a betting man, I'd have set the over/under at 18 months).

Anonymous said...

Heaven Hill didn't lie, yes they said they were not dropping the age statement but in the future who knows. Shockingly, for some reason in the hottest bourbon market in history, a sub $30 12-year old bourbon seems to fly off shelves, so what are they supposed to do, triple the price over night, you would destroy them in a blog if they did that claiming they were ripping off consumers. So what are they supposed to do. Move was obviously to provide flexibility. At sub $30 for evern a 8-year bourbon is cheap is a steal. But the 12 year Cask Strength looks like that is staying 12 years and they said "it will STAY 12 years" in a public announcement. Why don't you post that public statement you said they lied in on your blog when the 12 year was put on the back. That maybe too mainstream journalism for you to do as you can sit back in your undies bashing companies without proof from the safety of your computer.

What if this produces a better tasting bourbon, one that is so balanced and so good, you would pick it over any other NAS or AS brand. Would you still whine and complain. Isn't the job of the distillers, and an honest one, the Largest American Owned one, job to produce the best bourbon? Saying you would have to have an AS or what not is like saying I like buying that bottle becasue it is pretty. It is what is in the bottle that counts.

Gary A. Turner said...

Reply to Anonymous - What are they supposed to do? Not bother with moving the 12 to the back for 7 months and just scrap it. One, would have been cheaper for them (changing labels has a cost - why absorb that cost twice in such a short period of time?) Two, don't make such a play about "we're not dropping the age statement soon" - and then do exactly that. I agree that what's in the bottle counts - the AS dropping is expected I think in this environment (or some price increase, or shortages). In fact, with historic high temps, I think some AS dropping is going to happen just to try to hit the same profile - and I welcome that. Just don't do some silly migration of the AS and tout it isn't happening - when it is happening.

That is the chief complaint.

Anonymous said...

Gary, I agree but the company didn't lie, that is what SKU said. Postponing the eventual removal sure, but not many bourbons are not growing at outrageous figures so perhaps it was.hoped this altered label would last longer and it didn't. I think the company wanted flexibility but to say Heaven Hill LIED is just pretending what everyone knew it was going to be removed eventually at some time, But the company didn't write about it or tell some magazine it was never going to change. But it did come out when it was removed and walked everyone through why they did it rather than everyone catching them after the fact. That is integrity. SKU is just being a baby and feels slighted, but I bet he has no idea how to manage 12 year supply of bourbon barrels when 12 years ago the bourbon industry was almost dead.

MadMex said...

That last line is killing me. I agree. Puppies beware. Mind your step.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous must have a very different definition of "SOON" than I do. I'd say "soon" in lowercase is about 1-2 years, but "SOON" in all caps is 1 year to six months. Trying to be cute and aloof like that made Bernie look like an ass. He should have just stayed in his lane and explained why instead of criticizing rumors of the eventual removal which turned out to be true. We all knew it was going to go away soon. Bernie still stood up and said we were being unreasonable and paranoid for worrying. Whether on purpose or not, he said one thing and then another thing happened.

Iron bottom said...

Looks like Fighting Cock's 6 yr age statement is gone also. When will be labels be gone too?

Anonymous said...

I don't let anyone off the hook for saying one thing and then doing another, but I don't understand the outrage over all the microscandals about which whisky is going NAS next when the real scandal at the heart of it all is that the industry's position on age, which makes NAS possible ("age matters in whatever context we say it does") is the fundamental problem and most people don't speak against it. It is simply IMPOSSIBLE that the relevance of age to whisky is marketing/label dependent - wake up folks! Age matters to whisky because, lo and behold, that's the reason it's aged in the first place; it's NOT an 'irrelevant" process, or else newmake WOULD taste like 20 year old. If consumers really don't know that age is one of the factors that matter to whisky character (and to ALL whisky, not just on some case-by-case basis, selected at the whim of industry label makers), then they're as much a part of problem as whisky producers, and experts (and the ever-present apologists), who pretend that they don't know.

Anonymous said...

If it will really be 8-12 years old, then the label should state the age of the youngest bourbon in the bottle, namely
8 years. If the label has no age statement, then everything in the bottle can legally be 4 years young and Jim Beam white
label will be a cheaper and probably a better option. So if a company says it will be 8-12 years old, but label does not state any age, then
all one knows for certain that he has a bottle of 4 year juice and that's it.