Savvy investors know that when the general pubic hears about a hot stock, that usually means it's done. Some of that is insider hubris, of course, but trends go through phases and mass popularity blunts leading edge by definition.
In one of the early reviews of Jack Daniel's new unaged rye, Kevin Gray of Cocktail Enthusiast writes that the product "helps to legitimize the unaged whiskey category." Does it? Or does it mark the beginning of the end?
Let's leave aside for a moment the absurd decision of the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to classify Jack Daniel's Tennessee Rye as a neutral spirit. We all know what it is, even if the increasingly irrelevant TTB does not.
Kevin Gray is clearly a fan of micro-producer white whiskeys, especially since he thinks the new Daniel's rye delivers "easy-drinking mellowness." Everything is relative.
Whether from micros or majors, most white whiskey is simply white dog, spirit straight from the still that's hot and harsh and badly in need of long years in wood.
Gray's analysis of the marketplace is intriguing. "For Jack to be playing in this space at all means something. It shows that the [white whiskey] category isn’t just for fringe players who cannot afford to let their
whiskeys sit in barrels for upwards of four years. But a category worth the
interest of the industry’s biggest brands."
As he notes, Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill, and even Maker's Mark have toyed with unaged products, but this Daniel's rye and the impending Jacob's Ghost from Jim Beam take it to a different level due to the immense power of those two brands.
Gray hopes "this doesn’t hurt the micro distillers. Companies like Death’s
Door, Finger Lakes and Woodinville
each make a fine unaged whiskey. But with Jack Daniel’s and others on the
playing field, it could raise interest and visibility of the category as a
whole, thereby helping the small guys gain a better foothold."
One white whiskey producer confided surprise at the Daniel's and Beam moves, because he is beginning to think the whole white whiskey thing is just about played out. Whether or not it is would seem to depend on how consumers respond to the Daniel's and Beam products.
Meanwhile, micro-producers might want to think about installing filtration systems. Though still extremely harsh by fully aged whiskey standards, the new Jack Daniel's Rye is certainly milder than a typical white dog due to the charcoal mellowing all Daniel's new make receives. Often described as a jump start to aging, charcoal mellowing tempers, transforms, or removes many of the harsh congeners responsible for white dog's challenging taste. Beam's Jacob's Ghost is actually one-year-old bourbon that has been extensively filtered to remove its color and harsher flavors.
Unless you prefer a spirit that takes off the top of your head, both are an improvement over the typical micro-producer white whiskey.
Does any of this bode well for micro-producers, as Gray hopes? Or is it the death knell for their white whiskeys?
It could be both. White whiskeys may need to change. Luckily, the ability to reinvent oneself quickly should be a micro-producer advantage. Instead of trying to make their products more palatable with short aging in little barrels, micro-producers might try filtration. It's a completely natural, legitimate, and historically authentic way to process whiskey, and it doesn't take years to work.