Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Booker's Rye: Is Whiskey Over?
Last week, Beam Suntory hosted a group of some of the highest profile whiskey bloggers and journalists at the Jim Beam Distillery for a tasting of Booker's Rye. Needless to say, I wasn't invited, but you can read about it on Chuck Cowdery's blog or Bourbonr.
The news that emerged from this press junket was that the new Booker's Rye will be a cask strength, 13 year old rye using a higher rye mashbill than Beam's other ryes and that it will retail for $300. Now, the bloggers who Beam hosted seemed to think this was a great rye, and I have no reason to doubt that (well, except...Beam), but $300 is a lot of money.
American whiskey prices have been heading in this direction for a while now. Wild Turkey, Michter's and Willett have all been pushing the envelope on prices, but $300 for a 13 year old rye is pretty extreme. In addition, the fact that this is Beam is important because they are the biggest game in town and have the power to set the standard for things like this. That being said, I'm not here to argue whether it's a fair price or not; those arguments have been made ad nauseam on numerous blogs and forums. Yes, the whiskey market is hot right now, yes there is a dearth of aged rye on the market, yes if it was reasonably priced it would just get bought up by flippers and resold for even more.
What saddens me is how out of reach these whiskeys have become for the average drinker. Sure, there are still plenty of decent, affordable, everyday whiskeys out there, but it used to be that someone could get really into American whiskey and taste some of the special stuff without shelling out three figures. Those days are clearly on their way out.
I never set out to write a blog about hard-to-get luxury items. While I've tasted and reviewed rare and expensive whiskey, the bulk of what I've written about has always been stuff that I think most of my readers could buy without breaking the bank. I don't have the stomach or the wallet for a world where $300 rye is the norm.
For my blog, this is an existential question. Should I still be blogging about whiskey at all or is it now akin to blogging about beluga caviar, yachts or Lamborghinis? As I said, there are decent, affordable whiskeys out there, but I've already written about most of those, and how many blog posts do you need about Four Roses Single Barrel? After nine years of blogging, maybe I should just go ahead and call it a night before I hit the double digits...or transition into Sku's Recent Brandy.
So, I have some questions for you. What does the $300 Booker's Rye mean for American whiskey? Is it a big deal or am I overstating it? Is there anything in the whiskey world worth discussing or reading about anymore or should this be the end (at least for me)? I eagerly await your responses.