Monday, February 2, 2009
Is Ten High No Longer A Bourbon?
First Blagojevich, now this. How much humiliation can Illinois take?
Ten High Straight Bourbon Whiskey has been demoted to a blend, at least in some markets.
Hiram Walker’s Ten High Bourbon was, in its heyday, a proud product of Peoria, Illinois. It was made there at the largest whiskey distillery in the world. Peoria, Pekin and other Illinois towns had significant whiskey industries on both sides of Prohibition.
Ten High was popular as one of the better cheap bourbons. The name refers to a barrel storage location at least ten ricks high, as barrels in the upper part of the aging warehouse mature faster. It was always just a name, never an actual barrel location promise, but it was meant to communicate quality.
Hiram Walker was the Detroit grocer who created Canadian Club whiskey in the 19th century, at his distillery across the border in Canada. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Hiram Walker and Sons, Inc., then owned by a guy named Harry Hatch, decided to reenter the newly-legal U.S. market in a big way. Their Peoria distillery made Walker’s DeLuxe and Ten High, both straight bourbons; Imperial Whiskey, a popular blend; and other Hiram Walker products.
Peoria paid off for about 35 years, until the American whiskey market suddenly tanked in the late 60s. The distillery closed in 1981. (Today it makes ethanol for ADM.)
They had actually stopped distilling there several years before and then slowly emptied the warehouses as the whiskey in them matured. Ten High production then shifted to Kentucky. Eventually, Hiram Walker was sold for parts and Ten High was acquired by Chicago’s Barton Brands, whose obituary I wrote a few weeks ago.
Recently a friend of mine in upstate New York bought a bottle of Ten High and, when he got it home, discovered that instead of "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey," the label said, "Bourbon Whiskey - a Blend."
Straight bourbon is all whiskey. A bourbon blend is about half whiskey, half vodka.
Some people like that sort of thing, but since vodka isn’t aged, blends are much cheaper to make.
My friend was told by his whiskey monger that the straight has been discontinued. He wondered if this was some depredation by the brand's new owner, but I assured him it can't be Sazerac's fault, as that deal won't even close for another month or so.
The Constellation Spirits web site still shows the only available expression of Ten High as being the 80-proof straight bourbon. So does the Binny’s web site.
The bourbon is still one of your better cheap whiskeys. I can’t speak for the new blend.