Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Is Black Maple Hill The Next Pappy?

David Driscoll is the spirits buyer for K&L, a chain of booze stores in Northern California. He makes regular blog posts and podcasts, reporting about new products and trends in spirits. He writes extensively and well about whiskey.

The K&L spirits blog, written mostly by Driscoll, has been added to the blog roll of this blog, if you look to the right and scroll down. The blog roll shows the five blogs with the most recent posts. The K&L spirits blog is called 'Spirits Journal.'

Driscoll is not afraid to stir the pot. Last Friday he wrote about Black Maple Hill, which he believes could be the next Van Winkle. Today's post is called 'The NAS Dilemma.' It's provocative stuff.

Driscoll, like any large retailer in a major metro, has a good feel for market trends, even more so for being in always trendy No. California. I appreciate that he told it like it is about BMH, that it's a non-distiller producer (NDP) that won't or can't reveal its sources, and that scarcity and perceived scarcity are driving the market.

You can't give BMH much credit for any of that. They are the beneficiary of forces largely outside of their control.

The older folks among us have lived through two very different bourbonian periods. In the pre-boom era, we had gallons of good, cheap, glut-era whiskey from numerous NDPs, some better and more ethical than others. We could buy whatever we wanted at will, whenever we wanted, and turn our noses up at the rest.

Was that the golden age? Maybe, but it wasn't sustainable. Now whiskey is hot and newbies are flooding the market looking for 'experts' to tell them what is 'the best,' so they can avoid any heavy lifting on their way to connoisseurship. Plenty of self-proclaimed 'experts' have appeared, eager to oblige. They don't try to educate, they can't, they don't know anything. Instead they just pass along recommendations they have heard, like Van Winkle.

That's not Driscoll. He knows his stuff and when he's uncertain about facts, he does the necessary research. Plenty of other people out there do not.

Since the instant experts need a second act, and Van Winkle has become nearly impossible to find, the search is on for the next Van Winkle. It has to be expensive to be good, and hard to get, the older the better, high proof is good too, and a Van Winkle-like back story doesn't hurt, if it can be boiled down to a few easy-to-remember bullet points.

BMH is as good a candidate as any.

And so a fool and his money are soon parted.

In addition to availability problems, the loss of age statements, and higher prices; other unpleasant by-products of the current boom have been eBay, flavored whiskeys (honey, cherry, cinnamon), white whiskeys, celebrity whiskeys, and quasi-whiskeys (blended whiskey, spirit whiskey).

On the other side, how great is it that the LDI 95% rye finally saw the light of day, even though it took a creepy outfit like Templeton to do it?

I'm old, and crotchety by nature as you all know, but I understand that dynamism usually accompanies success. They need each other. So we need to embrace change in general, even if we choose to reject some of the specifics.


darylld911 said...

I read Dave's post this morning and came to the same conclusion - wow, blunt but completely honest (and accurate I think!) The purists will find this all appalling, but they are a very small percentage of the marketplace - and these companies which produce the spirits they love are running a business. As a relative newbie bourbon enthusiast, I'm more interested in how it tastes to ME than who distilled it (although knowing something about who, what, where, when does help you to make a more educated guess as to what you might like).

BG said...

Why do you say Templeton is creepy? Just curious, I don't know much about them but see their bottles in the stores from time to time.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I talk about some of it here. Use the search function, near the bottom of the right column, to find more. Bottom line, their marketing is very misleading about their product and its origins.

sku said...

I'm a big fan of both K&L and Driscoll's blog. It's really the only blog that gives the retailer perspective which is very interesting. Driscoll's a straight shooter and is surprisingly candid about the whiskey and companies. David Othenin-Girard (aka, the other David) who is the spirits buyer for the LA store is also a great guy and also contributes to the blog, though less frequently than Driscoll.

M Lange said...

Tell us how you really feel, Chuck!
I've always thought the standard Black Maple Hill small batch was a perfectly fine bourbon, but I agree that the extra aged stuff is priced pretty insanely high. A friend recently got a bottle (I think it was 18 year?) that was pretty good stuff, but I have no idea what he paid for it. It was probably a lot more than the bottle of Even Williams Single Barrel 2001 that I got at Woodman's in Madison, WI for $20, and which is quite a bit better in my humble opinion.
One of the things I like about American whiskey is that, even during this current "hot" period, you can get excellent whiskeys like EW Single Barrel or Weller Antique for under $25, and very good ones like Very Old Baron or the standard Evan Williams for under $15. What other spirits category can offer that quality at that price? If you can sort through the hype, you can find amazing value.

Lazer said...

I like David D's blog, thanks for adding it to your list. He reminds me a lot of Brandon Walsh. Its like if Brandon grew up and became a spirits buyer for K&L he would be David D.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I'll tell you exactly how I feel, M Lange. The same way you do.

The Bitter Fig said...

Question (and this might have been answered elsewhere), but what was LDI doing with their rye before it really took off? Just making it and storing it in case someone wanted to bottle it under their own label? I'm not being facetious, I'm just curious about why there seems to be a reasonable stock of aged 95% rye.

Chuck Cowdery said...

That's a very good question. The LDI 95% rye recipe was developed by Larry Ebersol when he was master distiller at LDI and LDI was owned by Seagrams. It was an ingredient whiskey in Seagram's Seven Crown and other Seagram's blended whiskey products. When LDI became independent a few years ago, it continued to produce the Seagram's blends for Diageo under contract, and was free to sell any leftover whiskey on the open market. Now, in addition to the blends, Diageo is buying it for Bulleit Rye.

Chuck Cowdery said...

With apologies to Larry, it is Ebersold, not Ebersol.

Brad G. said...

My heart sank last year when I read this post. I had discovered Black Maple Hill three years earlier and it was my favorite bourbon. I always kept a bottle in the bar and would often retreat to my front porch with a glass after work. The small liquor store near my house stocked BMH and I was one of the few customers buying it for a long time.

Sadly, the prediction in this post appears to have come true. The liquor store near my house hasn't received a bottle in two months and the store across town has removed the tag from the shelf completely. One guy at the liquor store heard rumors it is only available in Kentucky now.

Black Maple Hill is a great tasting bourbon and I am glad they have been successful with the brand but I sincerely wish they would continue supplying the stores that loyally sold this product for years.

At the very least they could send a few bottle to Melrose Wine & Spirits in Nashville and write "for Brad" on the outside of the box...

Has anyone found a decent BMH substitute?