Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Does this Latest Warehouse Accident Mean Anything?

The partial collapse of this warehouse at O. Z. Tyler Distillery in Owensboro has caused the closure of Ewing Road.
After midnight on Monday morning, a whiskey aging warehouse at the O. Z. Tyler Distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky partially collapsed. About 4,000 of the 20,000 barrels held there got loose. No one was injured. The barrels appear mostly intact and no leakage has been reported.

A similar accident occurred last year, on June 22, at the Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. Both accidents occurred after very wet springs. Both are steel clad warehouses, wooden buildings covered with a corrugated steel skin. The Barton warehouse was built in the 1940s, the Tyler one was built in the 1960s.

That damaged warehouse as it appeared in 2009.
What is the impact of these accidents? Not much. There are more than 10 million barrels of whiskey aging in the United States right now, so a loss of 4,000 here or 19,000 there doesn't mean very much. And most of the affected whiskey isn't lost. Although it is a painstaking process, each barrel will be removed from the pile and inspected. Most will be undamaged and returned to storage to continue aging.

If it seems like there have been a lot of these accidents lately, consider that the amount of whiskey aging in America (most of it in Kentucky and Tennessee) has grown dramatically in recent years. Some of the warehouses that are now loaded to capacity stood underused or empty for several decades after bourbon sales collapsed in the 1970s.

The most dramatic loss at an American distillery occurred in 1996, when a fire swept through the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, destroying the distillery itself and seven warehouses. Approximately 7.7 million gallons of whiskey were lost, but even that was only about two percent of the industry's combined inventory at the time.

In May of 2000, a warehouse collapse at Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg caused a fire. Whiskey spilled into the Kentucky River, killing an estimated 200,000 fish. In August of 2003, a Jim Beam warehouse at a remote maturation site caught fire. In both incidents, about 19,000 barrels were lost.

In April of 2006, a storm damaged a warehouse at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort. Although it left the barrels exposed to the elements, no barrels were lost.

If you think these warehouses collapse too easily, consider this. A barrel of whiskey weighs about 500 pounds. A typical warehouse holds about 20,000 of them. That's about 5,000 tons!

Monday, June 17, 2019

The first brick house west of the Alleghenies was built in 1788 near New Haven, Kentucky

The first brick house west of the Alleghenies was built in 1788 near New Haven, Kentucky.

Last Friday, J. W. ‘Wally’ Dant announced that his Log Still Distilling LLC has acquired the site of the Gethsemane Distillery, between New Haven and New Hope, where his family made whiskey in the 19th century. He intends to build a new distillery there.

It’s a story that starts with that first brick house, built in part with money earned from the sale of frontier whiskey.

The house was built by Captain Samuel Pottinger Sr., who established the first outpost in that part of southern Nelson County in the spring of 1781. It was a small fort called Pottinger’s Station. For his military service to the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the Revolution and other campaigns, Captain Sam received a grant of 12,100 acres from Governor Patrick Henry. (Kentucky was part of Virginia until 1792.) Before the brick house there was a log cabin, a grist mill, and a distillery.

When Captain Sam learned that a group of Marylanders, mostly Catholics, were looking for a place in Kentucky where they could settle close together, so they could attract a priest and start a parish, he went and got them. They included Basil Hayden and Wally Dant’s ancestor, John Baptiste Dant.

Several generations of Pottingers lived in that brick house. In about 1872, Captain Sam’s grandson, Jeff Pottinger, moved the family distillery a few miles away, onto land adjacent to the new railroad tracks, at a place the railroad called Gethsemane Station. It was named for the nearby Abbey of Gethsemani.

Jeff Pottinger operated the distillery at Gethsemane as T. J. Pottinger and Company until 1888, when he sold it to Francis Head and Minor Case (M. C.) Beam. They renamed it Beam & Head.

Their next door neighbor at Gethsemane was a distillery built by Joseph Bernard Dant, grandson of John Baptiste. That distillery came to be known as Taylor and Williams, a Louisville rectifier who owned the popular Yellowstone bourbon brand. In 1910, Dant bought Beam out and the whole plant became Yellowstone until Prohibition.

After Prohibition, some of the Dants moved Yellowstone to a new distillery in Louisville. Will Dant, with Joe Head, restarted the old Gethsemane Station place as Dant & Head. They didn’t own it for long. Ultimately, it was bought by Armand Hammer, who also bought the Dant family’s original distillery, at Dant Station, along with the J. W. Dant trademark, which he built into a very successful brand. He sold both distilleries and the brand to Schenley in 1953. (Heaven Hill owns the brand today.)

Soon the Dant Station distillery was closed and abandoned, and the Gethsemane place was improved. It operated until about 1961. Whiskey was no longer made there but the site continued to be used, as a lumber yard and eventually by a manufacturer of wooden roof trusses. If the new distillery opens in 2021 as planned, it will mark the end of a 60-year distilling hiatus there.

The first brick house west of the Alleghenies was last occupied by Vienna Maria Pottinger, the youngest daughter of Jeff Pottinger. She never married and lived there alone until she was committed to the state mental hospital in about 1920. It stood empty for years, then was used as a storage shed. It was demolished in 1940.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Attention Cynics. Most Whiskey Companies Aren't as Awful as You Think

Chuck Cowdery (left) and Fred Noe. Photo by Fred Minnick
Yesterday's happy news about Beam Suntory restoring the age statement on Knob Creek Bourbon was greeted by some with cynicism, specifically the part where I wrote, "Fred Noe and son Freddie have been agitating to bring it back."

Most people welcomed the news, but a few said something like this. "Is that story just more marketing? It's not like they have any actual say."

I get it. I can be as cynical as the next guy. In this case, the reality is different, though it's a nuanced difference. The marketers are involved, surely, but the master distillers who are the face of many brands are no mere mouthpieces. It varies from company to company. In some cases the roles are exaggerated for marketing effect, but in virtually all instances the companies recognize that these individuals, some like the Beams and Noes who have been deep in the industry for generations, are a unique asset.

Valuable as the embodiment of the brand, yes, but also for their knowledge and experience, their contacts, and their connection to customers. They may not always get their way, but their suggestions are always taken seriously.

I have been in and around this industry for more than 40 years. Decision-making is generally collaborative. The top decision makers are the C-suite executive types and those aren't the people you meet at tastings and whiskey festivals. But that doesn't mean the master distillers are spectators. The ones I know, and that's just about all of them, wouldn't stand for that.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Knob Creek to Restore 9-Year Age Statement, Baker's to Become Single Barrel

You know how brands have been losing their age statements these last few years? Well, one major brand is bringing theirs back. The standard expression of Knob Creek Bourbon will once more have a 9-year age statement on the label.

About four years ago, Beam Suntory realized that with Knob's sales growth, they didn't have enough inventory in the pipeline to keep it going as a 9-year, so the age statement was gradually eliminated. Many other brands around the industry have had the same problem and done the same thing. Fred Noe and son Freddie have been agitating to bring it back. Sometime early next year, a new updated label will appear, with the age statement. (Same bottle and wax seal.)

"People maybe don't care about the age of Jim Beam white label," says Fred Noe. "But the person who orders a Knob Creek manhattan, he wants to know it’s 9 years old."

It looks like the inventory will also allow some limited releases of older age-stated Knob.

In other news, Baker's Bourbon is getting a new look and becoming a single-barrel product. That change will happen sooner, probably this fall. Baker Beam has been working with Fred and Freddie on the changes. It will still be 7-years-old (age stated) and 107° proof.

Both changes were announced this week at a Beam sales meeting.

Baker's and Knob Creek were launched in the early 1990s, along with Booker's and Basil Hayden, as the Jim Beam Small Batch Bourbons Collection.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

No Buying and Selling Alcohol on Facebook, Says Facebook for Umpteenth Time

Yesterday, all or most of the myriad whiskey pages on Facebook received a letter stating, in part, "While we allow people to talk about alcohol products we will not allow people to sell or purchase these regulated products on our site. This has always been true in places like Marketplace and Commerce posts in groups, but we will now extend this to organic content, and we will be updating our Community Standards accordingly. We are beginning to enforce this policy change on groups and pages we discover to be set up for this specific purpose."

This set off the usual firestorm of what passes for conversation on these pages, many of which sprinkle the commerce with misogynistic and scatalogoical commentary. None of this is new. Except in Kentucky and a few other places, the secondary market for alcohol is illegal, and in those few places where it is legal it is restricted.

The state beverage alcohol agencies that are supposed to enforce these laws rarely do, but they will lean on companies such as Facebook, eBay and Craig's List to get them to clamp down on the peer-to-peer commerce that takes place on their platforms.

It's never easy. This iteration won't be any different from the many previous efforts. Participants in the secondary market are a determined and persistent lot. Many are in denial about the criminal nature of their hobby, but they might be better off if they thought more like criminals. Successful criminals don't try to justify what they do, they just focus on not getting caught.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Before You Hit the Links this Summer, Check Out the New Reader

Byron Nelson (left) and Ben Hogan.
Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan are considered two of the greatest golfers of all time. Their accomplishments on the links will live forever in golf history.

Sadly, the golf course where those two legends got their start looked about to vanish in the mist five years ago. Golf just isn't as popular as it once was and golf courses all over the country, public and private, are struggling. Even famous courses, steeped in history, are often unable to resist the trend.

Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, where Nelson, Hogan, and LPGA legend Sandra Palmer all got their starts, closed its doors in 2014. No one was interested in operating it as a golf course so it was probably going to be redeveloped. Then along came an unlikely saviour, a growing craft distillery.

The story of how Texas bourbon makers Firestone & Robertson saved Glen Garden from the bulldozers is our feature story in the latest issue of The Bourbon Country Reader. And that's just the beginning. This young distillery is taking 'Texas-made' to the limit, with locally-grown grain and a proprietary yeast taken from a pecan nut, which just happens to be the state tree.

Current Reader subscribers should receive their copies in a week or so. New subscribers can get on the bandwagon by clicking here.

Michter's Distillery, which traces its roots back to 1753, is also in our sights. They've finally opened their downtown Louisville visitor experience and acquired 145 acres of rural land for expansion. Their first house-made bourbon is about to turn 4-years-old and they've just made some major changes to their distilling team.

Founded in 1994, The Bourbon Country Reader is the oldest publication devoted entirely to American whiskey. It is a charming mix of news, history, analysis, and product reviews. Do you worry that advertising spending influences coverage in other publications? No chance of that here since The Bourbon Country Reader is 100 percent reader-supported. It accepts no advertising.

To experience The Bourbon Country Reader for yourself, you need to subscribe. Honoring history, The Bourbon Country Reader still comes to you exclusively on paper, in an envelope, via the USPS.

A subscription to The Bourbon Country Reader is still a mere $20 per year for addresses in the USA, $25 for everyone else. The Bourbon Country Reader is published six times a year, more-or-less, but your subscription always includes six issues no matter how long it takes. For those of you keeping track, this new one is Volume 19, Number 4.

Click here to subscribe with PayPal or any major credit card, or for more information. Click here for a free sample issue (in PDF format). Click here to open or download the free PDF document, "The Bourbon Country Reader Issue Contents in Chronological Order." (It's like an index.)

If you want to catch up on what you've missed, bound back issue volumes are available for $20 each, or three for $50. That's here too.

If you prefer to pay by check, make it payable to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, and mail it to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 3712 N. Broadway, PMB 298, Chicago, IL 60613-4198. Checks drawn on U.S. banks only, please.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

For Father's Day, a Deal on Subscriptions to Bourbon+ Magazine

Bourbon+ is one of the places you can find me, other than here. Fred Minnick, my brother in bourbon, is Editor-in-Chief. Fred tells me they have already earned the number two position in the whiskey magazine marketplace, according to people who watch such things, in just a year. And they're trying to grow even more.

He also says my "Back in the Day" column "is our most popular amongst our base." He's buttering me up so I'll tell you about a special offer they're running, just in time for Father's Day, which is 15% off a subscription for you, your dad, or anybody, really. Use the code BFATH19. The offer is only valid for US subscribers and for one year.

This is my most recent column.