Monday, April 9, 2012

Weller Antique Is Not Being Discontinued.

Several whiskey-enthusiast blogs and web sites are reporting that Weller Antique, a wheated bourbon produced by Sazerac at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, is being discontinued. The ostensible source is none other than Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace Master Distiller, speaking at a tasting event in Dallas, Texas.

Two different individuals who attended the event have written that he cited limited amounts of wheated bourbon barrel stock as the reason. As reported, his exact words were, "Weller Antique is going away."

So your humble correspondent asked the Buffalo Trace PR department about the reported incident. Through them, Mr. Wheatley denied making the statement. Both he and the PR department assert that, in fact, Weller Antique is not going away and there are no changes to the Weller line underway.

The two witnesses are knowledgeable, veteran whiskey enthusiasts. There appears to be no reason to doubt them, nor to doubt the denials by Mr. Wheatley and the official spokespeople at Buffalo Trace. How to explain the discrepancy? Many possibilities suggest themselves. Most fall well short of the conspiracy and duplicity suggested by some members of the commentariat.

One would think that the denial is enough, everyone assumes there was some kind of misunderstanding, now cleared up, end of story. But that's not how it works among people afflicted with whiskirexia nervosa, a condition whose principal symptom is an unreasonable belief that no matter how many bottles of whiskey you already have, there is one more you desperately need. Paranoia is a typical reaction to conflicting stimuli.

One problem with the notion of Weller Antique being discontinued is that there is no reason to do it, nothing to be gained by it. Buffalo Trace only has two lines of wheated bourbon, Weller and Van Winkle. Van Winkle is extremely popular and profitable, but it's also tiny and intends to stay that way. They can make appropriate increases to Van Winkle production without robbing Weller. So why would they discontinue Antique?

One theory is that they are going to push all wheated bourbon production into Weller Special Reserve, which conveniently lost its 7-year-old age statement not long ago. By using younger whiskey and diverting whiskey from Antique, they can produce a lot more Weller Special Reserve, cheaper and thus more profitably. Antique was always just the high-proof version of Special Reserve, after all, 53.5% ABV instead of 45% ABV.

It's not a good theory, necessarily, just one that rationalizes the conclusion.

The Weller line, which also includes Weller Special Reserve and Weller 12, may not be big where you are but it's huge in Texas and everyone knows you don't get between a Texan and his or her bourbon. It's not healthy.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Chuck,

This is the 2nd time we've recently had a "stopping production - not stopping production" statement retraction.

In the 1st case, WT101, the retraction was that it was a misunderstanding and what was said was that 2012 production would be VERY reduced (probably none would reach the store the WT folks were at) and that it would begin picking up in 2013 and be back to normal in 2014.

Did Harlan's denial attempt to explain why he was quoted as he was (and did he deny any of the other statements about VW provenance that were attributed to him)?

Tom Helt

Chuck Cowdery said...

Neither was a retraction. More like a clarification, or correction of a misunderstanding. As for Van Winkle, I'm staying out of that minefield.

cooperedtot.com said...

Well, I'm glad to hear that the rumor isn't true.

Justin Victor said...

It seems to me that Buffalo Trace (Sazerac) has a unique marketing strategy with many of its whiskies. When you look at the market in the US and closely examine the top selling "rare" and "limited production" bottles, I would assert that most of them are coming out of buffalo Trace. (Van Winkle, antique collection, experimental collection)If that's not marketing I don't what is.

This hullaballew about Weller could simply be more marketing hype. Otherwise, as Chuck offered, I feel like there would have been a retraction, or an apology and correction and not just alot of double talk.

Just last year there was a similar comment made and taken out of context about Laphroaig 10 year old stock being nearly depleted and future bottles therefore were going to be expensive and/or very hard to come by. Simon Brooking of Laphroaig quickly jumped on that, made the correction, sited where the mistake was made and how the comment had been taken out of context, advised that stocks of whisky were in fine supply and that peat heads will find their whisky on shelves in long supply.

My impression of Buffalo Trace is that they do not subscribe to many of the same philosophies that other producers do. They market their hooch in different ways, and quite successfully at that. But what really makes it hard to simply drop BT products due to disagreeable marketing tactics is the fact that they make some damn good whiskey.

Thus my love/hate relationship with the Trace continues.

T Comp said...

I'll judge by achievement and American whiskey and its choices are better than ever. Business plans can be viewed as conspiracies and screwing the public but the market is the truth. Dylan started playing electric and Paul is not dead yet.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chuck,

I recently found some Weller 12 (1.75 liter) that is laser dated 2006. For starters, the bottle shape is slightly different than the current. This one is taller, more slender and contains the embossed cross wheat. Besides that, the bourbon within the 2006 is AT LEAST 2 shades darker than that current juice. I have already opened this bottle up and wow, it is like drinking a different bourbon, from the nose being richer to the finish having distinct characteristics that just smack you in the face. I just wonder if this is Bernheim distillate or possibly a combination of older S-W? It simply does not taste like BT juice.

Brian

Chuck Cowdery said...

Sounds right.