dp, you ask some interesting questions, most of which are likely to go unanswered..........at least by the producers. In all honesty, it is not in their interest to reveal to the drinking public what they are doing in any detail. Were I in their place, I would not reveal much about how I was making or aging my whiskey. There is really little to be gained by doing so, and it carries its own risks.............best policy is almost always to answer as little as you can, what you don't say can't be used against you or stolen for other's own too often less than honorable purposes...........relations 'twixt individuals can be and most often are honorable.........relations 'twixt commercial entities much less so.
It is my opinion that the bourbon producers are doing a creditable job these days of selling good and even excellent whiskey. No doubt some bourbons are overpriced, but we are under no obligation to buy them. I certainly do not buy Pappy 23 anymore now that its price is out of site (try $299).
As to Barrel Proof bourbons, my belief (and I have nothing concrete on which to base this belief) is that the producers are selecting some of their best barrels for these products and hence, as others have noted, they are almost always very rich in flavors. Barrel Proof bourbons are selling at premium prices and if they start putting lesser quality bourbon in their products, folks will stop buying them in the quantities they now are because, I submit to you, regular JB White, JD Black, and Evan Williams Black customers do not buy Barrel Proof bourbons. People like Bourbon Joe, gauze, and Mike buy Barrel Proof bourbons........those who enjoy bourbon more than most and know a bit more about it. Those who can take it and make it suit their taste with a bit of water.
Of course I could be wrong about all this, but it seems reasonable to me. Others who are better informed or more astute than I may know reasons as to why offering Barrel Proof bourbons is not in the drinker's interest, or is shortsighted, but not I. I must say though that the higher proof alone plays no part in my finding Barrel Proof bourbons attractive. At this very moment, however, I am drinking William LaRue Weller at 117.9 proof (no water). It is so flavorful and I am sipping so slowly, I am able to handle it, even though I usually add a mite of das vasser. I, for one, offer a market for Barrel Proof bourbons, may they be around a while yet.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas