Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tween Whiskey - An Endangered Species?

Once upon a time, there were dozens of American whiskey options in the 8 to 12 year range.  Many people, including bourbon guru Chuck Cowdery, consider that to be the "sweet spot" for bourbon, when the new charred oak has had a significant impact but hasn't yet been overexposed.

These days, though, while there is plenty of really old whiskey (mostly thanks to Diageo dumping loads of old bourbon on the market), 8 to 12 year olds are becoming scarce. Distilleries are dropping age statements left and right. Both Eagle Rare 10 year old and Elijah Craig 12 year old recently moved their age statements to the back label in small print, a move many see as a precursor to eliminating the age statement altogether.

So what's left in the world of 8 to 12 year old age stated American whiskey that are in regular release in the US market?  Here is my attempt to list them all.

Jim Beam
Jim Beam Signature Craft (12 yo)Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest (multiple varieties - 11yo)
Knob Creek (9 yo)
Knob Creek Single Barrel (9 yo)

Brown Forman
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (12 yo)

Bulleit 10
George Dickel 9 (retail selection barrels only)

Four Roses
Single Barrel Retail Selections (vary from 8 to 12 yo)  

Heaven Hill
Elijah Craig 12
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (12 yo)
Evan Williams Single Barrel (9 yo)
Henry McKenna (10  yo)
Very Special Old Fitzgerald 12 yo

Sazerac/Buffalo Trace
Eagle Rare 10
Old Rip Van Winkle 10
Van Winkle Lot B (12 yo)
W.L. Weller 12

Wild Turkey
Russell's Reserve 10

Independent Bottlers
Cacao Prieto (Widow Jane 8 yo Bourbon)
Frank-Lin (Old Medley 12 yo, Old Beezer 10 yo)
Luxco (Ezra B Single Barrel 12 yo)
Michter's (10 yo bourbon and rye)
New Riff (OKI 8 yo bourbon distilled by MGP)
Smooth Ambler (MGP - wide variety of bourbon & rye)
Willett (a number of bourbons and an 8 year old MGP rye)

I have to say that's a paltry list, especially compared to what was available just a few years ago.  Did I miss any?


ShooterFlatch said...

HH still has the VOF 12 but limited distribution. Or maybe gift shop only. Just bought one there a couple of weeks ago. Rumors of its demise abound though. Along with the AAA10.

Anonymous said...

excellent stuff!!
though i have yet to find this one: i think elmer t lee is between 8-10 though i am not sure if it has an age statement.

Unknown said...

Buffalo Trace's PR confirmed to me there is no more AAA 10 year in an email exchange.

sku said...

ShooterFlatch: Thanks, hadn't seen that one is so long that I forgot about it. I'll add it.

Anon: ETL is NAS. I'm only going on age statements here because, as you know, they can change the age of NAS whiskey any time.

Bobby: Interesting. Last I heard they were still making AAA 10yo in liters.

sku said...

Bobby: Looks like you're right. Off the list it goes.

kallaskander said...

Hi there,

as to Knob Creek 9yo...



Mark said...

William Larue Weller, while a bitch to find, is typically a 12 year old Bourbon each year.

Anonymous said...

Four Roses private selections are 8 to 12 years.

Jay Erisman said...

Hello Steve,
At the considerable risk of self-promotion, and noting that the product is only sold in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, I would point out that our O.K.I. Straight Bourbon whiskey carries an age statement of eight years. (The juice is actually nine years, and our label will be updated when we reorder labels.) This is Indiana juice, the 35% rye bill, bottled unfiltered and 97 proof. (We also do a few single barrels of it.) Sorry it is so scarce!
Cheers— Jay Erisman, New Riff Distilling

Alan Minor said...

I suppose it depends on how you define "regular release," but Old Medley 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is another whiskey to add to the list.

sku said...

Thanks Jay and Alan. I've revised the post to add those bottles.

Funky Tape said...

If you consider OFBB in 'regular release' then I suppose you have to open it up to all the other fall releases like PHC, etc.

I have a plastic handle of AAA 10 yr that was bottled early 2014 so I assume that was the last of it.

I still see 8 yr Ridgemont 1792 out there but its of course a goner.

Also, isn't there some black label Jim Beam stuff aged 8 yrs on the market currently, or did they kill that?

sku said...

Funky Tape, Beam killed the Black Label age statement.

I didn't include PHC because, as you know, it is different every year, sometimes in the age range (as last year's and apparently this year's) and sometimes not whereas OFBB is pretty much always the same.

Brandon said...

So, what's your take on the reason for dropped age statements in this age range? Are producers holding more barrels back to age longer and sell at higher ages now that older bourbon is so in demand? Or are they bottling everything they have regardless of age to get more bottles on the shelf now while bourbon is hot? (There doesn't seem to be any lack in supply of the recently age-dropped bottlings on shelves.) Curious what you think...

sku said...

Excellent question Brandon. I think the answer is both. Clearly, age statements (and whole brands) are disappearing because there is not enough aged whiskey to meet demand and companies want the flexibility to use younger whiskeys.

But there is also more whiskey available at the very top of the age bracket than there used to be, which makes me think that companies are aging smaller amounts longer because they know they can charge huge premiums for very old whiskey. (Witness the replacement of reasonably priced Elijah Craig 18 with excessively priced Elijah Criag 20+ year olds).

So whiskey in the tween years is getting squeezed from both sides, and of course, the 8 to 12 year bracket I'm using here is sort of arbitrary. I just picked it because there used to be a lot of bourbon in that category that's gone. I could have gone up to 15 and had pretty similar results with only a couple more whiskeys added to the group.

Anonymous said...

Widow Jane currently has an 8 year age statement.

Old Beezer has a 10 year age statement.

But neither of them has widespread distribution.

Sam Komlenic said...

I know this doesn't fit your parameters, but Old Ezra from Luxco carries a 7 year age statement, it's readily available, and costs less than $20.

The bottom shelf (yet very drinkable) Sam Clay from Heaven Hill is stated as 6 years and can be had for $20 a handle!

A couple of age-stated yet affordable outliers!

Anonymous said...

I suppose the Belle Meade Sherry Cask Finish (9 yr) doesn't qualify as readily available...

truck!zero said...

Henry McKenna Single Barrel

Anonymous said...

A bottle of formerly occasionally available for about $50 Old Fitzgerald Very Special 12 Year Old, bottled in 2013, sold last week for $369, before buyer's premium and sales tax, at Skinner's. Read it and weep.

Anonymous said...

I noticed that Elijah Craig 12, which had been selling for about $24 late last year, is now going for $30 or more at local retailers. Sigh ...

I guess even at that price I'd better stock up now before it disappears altogether, or gets replaced by a new 15-year version at double the price.

Anonymous said...

...and, as has been widely reported, the "12 Year" designation has been moved to the back label, like Eagle Rare 10 Year Old. Who wants to lay odds on how long before either or both of those Bourbons become NAS?

MadMex said...

Henry McKenna's 10 y/o single barrel. Knocked one out this week - and for under $30.

Anonymous said...

EC 12 is running $35 in metro New York. This is the new stuff without "12" on the front label.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that distillers would apparently rather sell Elijah Craig NAS or Eagle Rare NAS than charge more $$ to keep the current products with age statements.

Is this a reflection of dwindling 10-12 year old stocks? Or have they decided to lock up existing stocks for a few more years so they can come out with uber-expensive 15 to 20 year old whiskies?

Anonymous said...

Are there any bourbons left that still carry are statements of 6 or 7 years? I can't think of any. Very Old Barton and Fighting Cock have both dropped their 6 year statements, and Old Weller Antique and Weller Special Reserve have dropped their 7 year statements. Is anyone left?

sku said...

Anon, you're right that they are fast disappearing, but there are still a few. Baker's is still 7 years. One of Smooth Ambler's standards is a 7 year old from MGP. As far as I know, Old Taylor is still 6 years old. There may be a few more.