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.



Friday, May 24, 2019

Complete Your Chuck Cowdery Collection with My First Book, Blues Legends



Your Chuck Cowdery collection is not complete unless you have my first book, Blues Legendswritten and published in 1995. It is long out-of-print but I have a few copies, still in the original shrinkwrap, which I'm offering at the original price of $19.95.

I'm selling them through Amazon, rather than on my website, because it's a little easier for me and I don't have that many. (The ordering is through Amazon, but the books come from me.) This link will take you to the book on Amazon, where it is offered by multiple sellers. To get it from me, just make sure the seller is 'Made and Bottled in Kentucky.'

If you would like it autographed, send me an email (chuck@bourbonstraight.com). If you want a special inscription, just tell me what you want it to say. Of course, you'll also have to order the book, and make sure you give me enough information to match the autograph request to the order. Naturally, I'll have to remove the shrinkwrap to sign it.

I don't have very many and when they're gone, they're gone (although I suppose Amazon will still have the used ones).

A little bit about Blues Legends.

I call it a coffee table book for small coffee tables, as it is only 7.25" x 7.25". It is a hardcover book with dust jacket, 96 pages. It consists of biographies of 20 blues artists (listed below), with lots of photographs, most of them by my friend and legendary blues photographer Raeburn Flerlage. Until his book was released in 2000, Blues Legends was the largest published collection of his blues photographs.

I was given the opportunity to do the book because of some work I did for the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio. It was also through that project that I met Ray and was introduced to his work. We became good friends and I was excited by the chance to introduce his photographs to a wider audience. A few years later I also helped him with his book, Chicago Blues As Seen from the Inside.

Blues Legends also includes a CD with ten songs I chose, by Muddy Waters, B. B. King, John Lee Hooker and others. One peculiarity: the CD was supposed to contain "Wild Cow Blues" by Big Joe Williams. Instead it has "Every Day I Have the Blues," by Joe Williams, the jazz singer. It's a great song and performance, perfectly enjoyable, but it was a mistake.

Because I came to the blues through rock and roll, that's how I wrote the book, choosing the artists who most influenced people like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton. Happily, most of them performed in Chicago and were photographed by Ray.

As I was writing it, it was not unusual for me to write all day and then go see Buddy Guy or Otis Rush perform at a local club that evening. They were both very active in Chicago in those days.

I am grateful to the publisher, Gibbs Smith, for the opportunity and for teaching me enough about book publishing to be able to self-publish all of my bourbon books.

It was a crazy time for me. I was doing my regular freelance writing, and going to law school, and writing this book. As it happened, I was doing a three-week law school summer semester abroad on the Greek island of Rhodes when the book needed to be proofread. They FedExed the proofs to me and I reviewed them on the beach. I thought at the time, "This is how I want the rest of my life to go, proofreading my books on a Greek beach."

The Blues Legends are:

Blind Lemon Jefferson
Memphis Minnie
Big Joe Williams
Son House
Arthur Crudup
Roosevelt Sykes
Little Brother Montgomery
T-Bone Walker
Howlin' Wolf
Robert Johnson
Lightnin' Hopkins
Muddy Waters
Memphis Slim
John Lee Hooker
Jimmy Reed
B. B. King
Little Walter
Freddie King
Otis Rush
Buddy Guy

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Best Bourbons, Ever



Normally, I reject the idea of 'best.' For one thing, it's subjective. What is best for you is whatever you like best. There is no objective 'best.'

That said, here are some of the bourbons that have impressed me the most over the years.

Very Very Old Fitzgerald, 12-year-old. This 12-year-old wheated bourbon made at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery was just about perfect, as in perfectly balanced. It was generally available from the late 50s until about 1990. I’ve gone through several bottles. I have one left.

Abraham Bowman 18-year-old rye-recipe bourbon from Sazerac. This came out in about 2012. It was very limited. Very old bourbons are hit-or-miss. They miss more often than not or are okay but nothing special. Very rarely are they exceptional. This one was. I had one bottle. It is long gone.

A. H. Hirsch Reserve Bourbon, any bottling. This rye-recipe bourbon made by a doomed Pennsylvania distillery during a couple of weeks in 1974 became a phenomenon and is genuinely great whiskey too. Most of it was sold at 16-years-old but even the 20-year-old is terrific. I’ve tasted them all and still have one or two. I also wrote a book about it.

Weller 12-year-old. The closest you can get today to the taste of those great Stitzel-Weller wheaters of yore. Still made and widely available though often in short supply as its reputation as ‘poor man’s Pappy’ has spread.

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit. On the rye-recipe side of the ledger, Kentucky Spirit stands out as an exemplar. It is simply everything you want in a rye-recipe bourbon. Still made, widely available, and modestly priced for what you get.

Parker’s Heritage Collection Master Distiller’s Blend of Mashbills Bourbon (2012). On paper, it’s just a mixture of Heaven Hill’s 11-year-old rye-recipe bourbon with Heaven Hill’s 11-year-old wheated bourbon. The proportions were never revealed. To me, it is one of the best bourbons ever made and a great example of what a veteran master distiller at the height of his powers can accomplish.