The (over)aging of bourbon?

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The (over)aging of bourbon?

Unread postby angelshare » Tue Dec 21, 2004 8:29 am

I think we all agree that bourbon CAN be overaged (don't we?), but I was wondering what folks thought about the price and quality of the highly aged products that are out there and the process of "extreme aging" in general. Some random thoughts/questions I have:

1) I like EC 18, but it's almost like it is transitioning from bourbon to another beverage. It's heaviness and woody bite are unlike anything I've had, and it is clearly a different animal than the younger (but still old in bourbon terms!) EC 12. EC 18, BTW, is the oldest bourbon I've ever had.

2) Even if a distiller with great expertise (e.g., Julian Van Winkle) has a very active hand/palate in monitoring the aging/flavor profiles of their bourbon, can they still put a limit on the diminishing return of aging? IE, would Mr. Van Winkle say "23 years is about all you can get out of any bourbon before you ruin it"?

3) How does HH sell an 18 yo for $30-35 when you would expect to pay $100 and up for a similarly aged product from elsewhere? Do they just have that much old whiskey laying around?

4) Is there a mashbill that promotes graceful old aging?

5) What products have you had for which you've thought high age was a gimmick? Also, some of you are much more familiar with export stuff than I, and I've always wondered about such a gimmick being used in foreign markets.

6) I've gotta ask: how IS Pappy 23? Is it three years and $100-150 better than Pappy 20?
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Unread postby OneCubeOnly » Tue Dec 21, 2004 9:42 am

I like EC 18, but it's almost like it is transitioning from bourbon to another beverage.


Agreed. I've noticed many discussions about EC18 mention its "cognac-like character." I'm not sure I'd paint all long-aged bourbons with the EC18 brush though.

would Mr. Van Winkle say "23 years is about all you can get out of any bourbon before you ruin it"?


Perhaps. He'd definitely be a good resource for the effects of aging/over-aging, as he discussed how he put his rye into stainless tanks. Evidently he was starting to notice the effects of too much time in barrels.

How does HH sell an 18 yo for $30-35 when you would expect to pay $100 and up for a similarly aged product from elsewhere?


Fantastic question! And not only that, they go through all the logistical hassles of doing it as a single-barrel as well!

Is there a mashbill that promotes graceful old aging?


Most of the discussions I've seen argue for wheaters. The thought is that a wheated recipe handles the long aging better. The Van Winkles sure seem to think so!

Aging is another one of those distiller's crafts which is probably more art than science.
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Unread postby cowdery » Tue Dec 28, 2004 4:36 pm

Something that bugs me a little about some of the older bourbons is that they are whiskies that have been stuck in some cool corner of the warehouse and have simply aged very slowly, so while they may truly have 12 years (for example) of calendar age, there's nothing to indicate it in their taste and they, effectively, aren't more than maybe 6 or 8 years old in terms of their true maturity.

But there are and always will be dopes...I mean, people...who simply buy numbers, whether it be ratings or aging, and figure the higher number must be better.

Along the same lines, I wonder about the distilleries who are doing wood management, lighter chars for example, to prepare certain barrels for long aging. I'm not sure what the point is, except to play into the observation of the previous paragraph, which is to come up with a whiskey that can legitimately put "20 years" on its label, and not taste like a campfire.

Don't get me wrong, Julian and the folks at Heaven Hill have opened our eyes to the pleasures of very long aged bourbons, even if the products challenge our fundamental ideas of what bourbon should taste like. Untimately, it's about something tasting good and not bad. As simplistic as that sounds, there isn't a formula for it. You just have to put it in your mouth and taste it. Or, to use the sports analogy, that's why they play the games.
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Unread postby bunghole » Tue Dec 28, 2004 6:42 pm

Age is relative, and yes bourbon can easily become over-aged. I think the 18 year old Elijah Craig Single Barrel is a classic example of an overaged bourbon.

The so called 20 year old A.H. Hirsch is so over-aged I wouldn't pay more than a half penny a gallon let alone several hundred dollars a bottle. The best "pot stilled whiskey" to come out of the old Michter's Distillery was their standard bottling. Better than than the 16 A.H. Hirsch and far better than the 20 year old expression.

Let fools spend their money where they may. I know better, and I hope you do too.

:arrow: imaknowsolderisn'tbetter :shock:
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Unread postby Strayed » Wed Dec 29, 2004 12:12 am

imaknowsolderisn'tbetter


I'M older.
And I'm better.
So're you...
Just ask Vickie :lol:
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Unread postby Strayed » Wed Dec 29, 2004 12:16 am

The wonderful thing about American whiskey (of which bourbon is one expression) is the range of palettes it can satisfy. Some people like relatively young whiskey, and feel anything over six or eight years old is pushing the limit. They want a whiskey with some brass to it. They want to hear those hot, sweet Memphis horns. Others enjoy all those barrel notes. Crank up those Fender boxes; pop that fretless bass. We have a bottle of Martin's Mill (get the Route 66 reference here?) our friend Koji brought us from Japan. TWENTY FOUR YEARS of rompin' stompin' oak, and absolutely delicious. Mike says so. Chuck says so. And neither of these fine gentlemen are in love with that over-oaky flavor that I particularly enjoy: Rowan's Creek, EzraB, Pappy20 (the real one), Noah's Mill, Corner Creek, Turkey 12.

EC18 is actually pretty light for an 18 year old bourbon; I think it's distinctive flavor profile has more to do with the way it's fermented and distilled than how long it's been aged. There is a flavor characteristic that I can only describe as "old-style bourbon", that USED TO BE common in bourbons made before the nineties. If you taste bourbon, not "premium bourbon", but just regular four- and six year old bourbon, from the sixties and seventies, there is a distinctive flavor that's not there anymore. Except EC18. That flavor might be objectionable to you. I think probably many people really don't like it. But for those of us who do, it's got it.

I think Chuck Cowdery hit the nail square on the head when he said that a goodly portion of the bourbon-drinking population seem to be overly-impressed with big numbers. Oooh, 12 years. Oooh, 20 years; that must be better! Hubba-hubba; 44-D! Nine inch nail. Sure. And Linn's right, too. Twenty year old Michter's is simply ridiculous, considering that their finest product was intended to be a quarter that age. And even for those of us who like old, oaky whiskey, one taste of REAL Michters will convince you of that fact once and for all (although the 16 yr version of Hirsh isn't bad... at half the price, though)

But of course the (embarassing, perhaps) fact is that the most popular bourbon whiskey in the world, this year as it has been every year for decades, is Jim Beam white label. Four years old. Eighty proof. More expensive than some; less expensive than most. The world's favorite bourbon. Could it be that we afficianados don't really even like "bourbon"; what we really like is what our distiller/bottler/heros produce as "premium whiskey"? Think about this... Chuck Berry is certainly one of the masters of rock'n'roll. Yet his only #1 record was... "My Ding-a-Ling". The WHO's only #1 record? "Squeeze Box". Regardless of how important those bands were, to understand rock'n'roll, you need to be familiar with other songs than those. But you also have to understand that Jim Beam white label pays the bills for the stuff we really enjoy. And it does so because more people enjoy drinking it than any other bourbon whiskey made.

Humbling, isn't it?
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Unread postby bunghole » Wed Dec 29, 2004 6:38 am

Of couse I agree that folks have become numbers driven clammering for ratings. This is especially true in the cigar world. The older is better syndrome is just part and parcel of the scotchification of bourbon as are higher prices along with fancy bottles and boxes. Oooooh looky it's sooo pretty and old and high priced! It must be great! And just look at these ratings! WOW! :roll:

I admit that I am biased towards younger more lively bourbons, but there are plenty of extra aged whiskies that I adore; Pappy 20, Stagg, Eagle Rare 17, A.H. Hirsch 16, SAZ 18, Van Winkel Rye that states 13 years of age but is much older. I think these expressions are proof that age is relative and not linear.

:arrow: ima :smilebox:
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Unread postby White Lightning » Wed Dec 29, 2004 7:27 am

While in more cases than not it is a numbers thing and one must be careful to weigh price vs. actual return in flavor, I can't say it's ALL bad.

In the same spirit as it not being level headed to simply buy into and play the numbers game, it's equally limited in thought to wholesale disregard that certain well aged bourbons do in fact earn their keep.

Have any of you had Weller 19 before?

Nuff said - for me at least.
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Unread postby angelshare » Wed Dec 29, 2004 8:22 am

Strayed wrote:over-oaky flavor that I particularly enjoy: Rowan's Creek, EzraB, Pappy20 (the real one), Noah's Mill, Corner Creek, Turkey 12.


Of these, I've had RC, Ezra B, NM and WT 12. To my palate, WT 12 is VERY different, but I think I get the flavor you're describing in the first three - I think of it as a distinctive woody "zing" on the mouth that is absent in all other bourbons of which I can think except perhaps EC 18. Noah's Mill, as best as I can recall from having it a couple of years ago, REALLY has it.

I have a bottle of unopened Corner Creek which will be tried after Tina is back to full tasting capacity. This is the rule for bourbons new to both of us.

I also think of Kentucky Vintage as having this "zing," although it's been a couple of years since I've had that, too. We have a bottle we picked up a few months back - maybe I'll taste that one soon as a reminder. :)

EC18 is actually pretty light for an 18 year old bourbon; I think it's distinctive flavor profile has more to do with the way it's fermented and distilled than how long it's been aged. There is a flavor characteristic that I can only describe as "old-style bourbon", that USED TO BE common in bourbons made before the nineties. If you taste bourbon, not "premium bourbon", but just regular four- and six year old bourbon, from the sixties and seventies, there is a distinctive flavor that's not there anymore. Except EC18. That flavor might be objectionable to you. I think probably many people really don't like it. But for those of us who do, it's got it.


I haven't tasted much "old style" bourbon. I have a couple of bottles that I haven't tried yet - WT 8 year in a turkey ceramic decanter, a bottle of bonded Beam bottled in 1972, and a bottle of Hancock's Reserve from the late eighties. Do you think any of these would likely have that flavor of which you're speaking? I've been waiting on the right mood/occasion to open one (like a gazebo gathering), but your statement intrigues me!

But of course the (embarassing, perhaps) fact is that the most popular bourbon whiskey in the world, this year as it has been every year for decades, is Jim Beam white label. Four years old. Eighty proof. More expensive than some; less expensive than most. The world's favorite bourbon. Could it be that we afficianados don't really even like "bourbon"; what we really like is what our distiller/bottler/heros produce as "premium whiskey"? Think about this... Chuck Berry is certainly one of the masters of rock'n'roll. Yet his only #1 record was... "My Ding-a-Ling". The WHO's only #1 record? "Squeeze Box". Regardless of how important those bands were, to understand rock'n'roll, you need to be familiar with other songs than those. But you also have to understand that Jim Beam white label pays the bills for the stuff we really enjoy. And it does so because more people enjoy drinking it than any other bourbon whiskey made.


A great analogy! I view it as follows:

Jim Beam white is okay. Not great, but, for the price, an okay bourbon. I have a bottle on the shelf right now. Not open, but it's there. What JB has accomplished in JBW is a simple, light flavor that appeals moderately to a whole lot of people, much like a great band with great complexity occasionally produces a catchy pop tune that appeals to the masses rather than an impassioned minority who are enthusiasts. But it still might be a good tune.

I am very impressed by something like WT 101, which seems to be enjoyed by the masses, but is appreciated by many enthusiasts as a really good example of bourbon. That is real artistry. To carry the analogy a bit further, WT to me is like The Police or Nirvana of whiskey - I have no idea how they got so wildly popular, but they are obviously appreciated on many levels by many people.
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Unread postby Brewer » Wed Dec 29, 2004 11:33 am

angelshare wrote:
What JB has accomplished in JBW is a simple, light flavor that appeals moderately to a whole lot of people.


A couple of thoughts that I had while reading the recent posts. It seems to me that the average American palate is basically unsophisticated. Bland is good, flavor is bad. This applies to food and beverages, IMHO. Since I began exploring micro-brewed beers quite a few years ago, I'm constantly amazed that people still buy Bud, Miller, Coors, etc. The micros have such variety and flavor. For those that like Bud, etc. that's fine. Have your Bud. But it seems that with all of the variety of bourbons that are out there, people would explore others besides JBW or that TN beverage, Jack Daniels. Once again though, whatever floats your boat is OK with me. I just find it odd!

Regarding overally aged products, I recall Mark and I talking about Classic Cask's 21 Year Old rye (I believe that's the one we spoke about) and how we imagined it must be overly woody. However, Mark had a bottle, and one fine day we sampled a variety of ryes. We were totally amazed at how tasty the 21 Year Old was. We're both looking forward to tasting the 22 YO version. So, it seems to me that there are over-aged products out there which may be overly influenced by wood that some will like, some not. On the other hand, there's relatively old bottlings that do not seem to be adversely affected by the oak, and are quite excellent. All in all, I guess the fun is in the journey and exploration! :)
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Unread postby White Lightning » Wed Dec 29, 2004 6:03 pm

Dear Abby. . . :reindeer:

Angelshare:
What it almost sounds like you are saying is basically I should give up the Omaha Steaks and succumb to the Salisbury TV dinner tray fanfare. Forget that I prefer root beer or a clear soda to Coke. Coke pays the bills so maybe I'm just delirious and don't even actually like soda - I'm just hopelessly weird and like other - I guess... Time to trade in the 67 Pontiac - It's Toyota all the way baby!

This JBW thinking is exactly why the top selling ""beers"" in America can not legally be called "BEER" in Germany. Think about it. . . beer crafting came here on the Mayflower. If you took (in particular) the JBW analogy back to it's place of origin with beer - you'd have a tough sell on your hands which would grow exponentially by the square mile headed Eastward.

Alas... I hope enough of you do buy into this. . . I limited the term to *enough* - so that maybe the price falls but there isn't a complete disappearance on things like VW20, Sazerac 18, Jefferson's Reserve, VWFR Rye etc!

More for me makes me more happy! :cabbage:
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Unread postby angelshare » Wed Dec 29, 2004 7:50 pm

What it almost sounds like you are saying is basically I should give up the Omaha Steaks and succumb to the Salisbury TV dinner tray fanfare. Forget that I prefer root beer or a clear soda to Coke. Coke pays the bills so maybe I'm just delirious and don't even actually like soda - I'm just hopelessly weird and like other - I guess... Time to trade in the 67 Pontiac - It's Toyota all the way baby!


??? I'm not sure when I said this, but I certainly didn't mean it. I think Strayed made the initial comment about JBW and, perhaps, the taste of the majority of bourbon consumers defining what bourbon is today. I haven't decided whether I agree or disagree with that, although I found it a very provocative and interesting view. Also, I'm not sure that I agree that shifting units of mediocre bourbon is required to subsidize the good and great ones, although I certainly see the substance to that argument. EG, without JBW, there would likely have been no Booker's; BUT, was JBW NECESSARY for Booker's to evolve? I'm not sure.

I only meant to say that:

1) I think I can see why Jim Beam is so popular. It's light and simple. As Bob pointed out, Americans love that! Having said that, a lot of folks elsewhere must like it, too.

2) I think Jim Beam is "okay" for the price. Honestly, I've had only a few bourbons I would actually call "bad," and I don't think JBW is bad whiskey. I don't drink JBW with any regularity, but at a cash bar event, if JBW is the only bourbon available, I will have it and enjoy it for what it is. If a guest at my house wants JBW, I will join in if asked. Admittedly, my palate is unsophisticated, but I taste what I taste. Some of you here know I have a pathological attraction to IW Harper, also 4 years old. Some young whiskies taste fine IMHO.

3) I'm intrigued that WT 101 does so well when JB white is number one on the mass palate. I think it takes an artist of great skill (ie, Jimmy Russell)to create a bourbon that appeals highly to enthusiasts and general consumers alike. I think WT 101 is LOADS better (and different) than JBW. I will add that I think Maker's Mark is a middle ground - better than JBW, but also better marketed than any whiskey of which I can think. JBW may be the top seller, but MM sells all they make, which is also quite a business feat.

As for the Pontiac, before you trade it in, let me make an offer! :lol:

This JBW thinking is exactly why the top selling ""beers"" in America can not legally be called "BEER" in Germany. Think about it. . . beer crafting came here on the Mayflower. If you took (in particular) the JBW analogy back to it's place of origin with beer - you'd have a tough sell on your hands which would grow exponentially by the square mile headed Eastward.


Also a provocative and interesting thought. I think one of the reasons there are very few "bad" KY straight bourbon whiskies is that, legally, you can't deviate very much in terms of ingredients and aging techniques and still use the term KSBW. Still, JBW is made differently than whatever Evan Williams was distilling in the late 18th century. Mike, Chuck, Linn, and anybody else here who has been mining the archives of bourbon history more than I (that may be everybody!)...what do you think 18th-19th century bourbon distillers would think of JBW?

Alas... I hope enough of you do buy into this. . . I limited the term to *enough* - so that maybe the price falls but there isn't a complete disappearance on things like VW20, Sazerac 18, Jefferson's Reserve, VWFR Rye etc!


If mass produced mediocre bourbon IS required for subsidy, I agree! In terms of voting with my dollars, JBW is a loser. The bottle I have on my bar was a gift, and otherwise we probably buy one bottle every two years or so. BT gets a lot of our disposable income!
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Unread postby White Lightning » Wed Dec 29, 2004 10:36 pm

If I mistook you I'm sorry - forgive me -I'm very much a cynic - surely you figured that out anyway.

I pretty much knew what you meant and was jabbin - although I wouldn't break my neck to make JBW my daily fix. Perhaps it is better than I give it credit for. I wasn't overly impressed when I tasted it and haven't really given it much more thought. Your probably absolutely correct about it's worthiness, problem is I have more than enough other utility purpose bourbon and keep a strong supply of other things that supplement between the gallons of over-aged things I enjoy when appropriate.

While I have to agree there are certainly a number of over aged bourbons - let me pose this question - Does anyone have a take or feeling as to whether or not there are bourbons on the market that you detect might be under aged or rushed to maturity through purposeful warehouse placement? In other words are there bourbons that you suspect would appeal more to your taste had they been aged a couple more. . . and perhaps @ a lower warehouse level?
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Unread postby OneCubeOnly » Wed Dec 29, 2004 10:54 pm

are there bourbons that you suspect would appeal more to your taste had they been aged a couple more. . .


I've got a dynamite example of this: the standard Ancient Age. To me, it tastes like it's missing everything a bourbon should be. I don't think it's just because it's made from low-end barrels...it tastes like it needs more barrel time.

As much as I love the more mature/higher end BT bourbons, the regular AA doesn't do a thing for me.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Thu Dec 30, 2004 10:58 am

It would be a mistake to think that a distiller could set out to make 300 barrels of bourbon and turn them all into a 20yo product. There are simply too many variables in the barrels for this to happen. When I was at United Distillers they decided that they were only going to sell "premium" bourbons and they sold off all of their "bottom shelf" products. This was their first big mistake. Not every barrel of whiskey they made was worthy of the "premium" classification. This does not mean that they made bad whiskey, but they made some that simply did not age well.

Stitzel-Weller under the Van Winkles had the perfect system. They made a single mash bill of a wheated bourbon. They sold Cabin Still at 4 to 5 yo at 90 proof. Rebel Yell was 5yo and 90 proof. Old Fitzgerald was bonded and usually 5 or 6 yo. W.L. Weller Special Reserve was 7yo and 90 proof with Weller 107 (the original barrel proof) was also 7yo. Old Fitzgerald 1849 (originally Weller 1849) was 8yo and 90 proof. These were their base products. From the whiskey made for these products they were able to pick barrels for Very Old Fitzgerld, or Very, Very Old Fitzgerald or Very Extra Old Fitzgerald or the Very, Very, Extra Old Fitzgerald. They needed all of these other products to have the "honey barrels" needed to bottle these premium brands of Old Fitzgerald.

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