On Monday, I reported that Ten High Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey has become a bourbon blend, at least in the state of New York.
I have since heard that the switch is on in California as well.
What can we learn from this?
The obvious conclusion is that Constellation has decided to allocate its stock of fully-aged whiskey to more profitable distribution channels. It just can't spare enough 4-year-old bourbon to support Ten High as a 4-year-old bourbon. They can make more money by selling that whiskey someplace else.
Maybe their 6-year-old Very Old Barton (VOB) Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is growing faster than expected. VOB has very limited distribution but where it is sold, including in Kentucky, it is in the same league as the big boys: Jack, Jim and Evan. Or maybe they have some desperate bulk whiskey buyers making them offers they can't refuse.
They could have saved a lot more bourbon by making Ten High a straight-up blend, but this allows them to keep the word "Bourbon" on the label. Standard blends are usually four-fifths vodka, one-fifth whiskey. A bourbon blend is about half and half.
I assume that Ten High, in Barton's overall mix, is high volume, low margin. They probably calculate that a price increase will cost them more business than will a cheapening of the product. That is the kind of trade-off you make in business.
You don't do that to a key brand, but Ten High has not been a key brand for a long time. It's barely a brand at all. It's a commodity. Ten High has some base of loyal customers but it otherwise is sold on price, as it's frequently the cheapest bourbon in the store. Likewise in bars it is not a big call, but it is in many wells.
The fact that Constellation has other channels where they can sell their bourbon more profitably means the bourbon market continues to be healthy, which is overall good news for us as straight bourbon enthusiasts.
But it's still sad to see this happen, because Ten High was a major brand during the post-Prohibition golden age, and was the leading brand of Illinois-made bourbon, and because it's always sad to see a 75-year-old kicked around.