Thursday, September 22, 2016

Another One Bites the Dust


Say goodbye to the Knob Creek age statement. Labels without it could start to appear next week. "We have good inventories but with the growth we’re seeing, we are going to take the age statement off so we can keep the taste profile the same," says Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe. At first the whiskey will not change at all, as there is enough 9-year-old Knob in the pipeline for the time being, but with the growth they're seeing it was either drop the age statement or go into heavy allocation.

This can work because Knob actually finds itself with an over-abundance of whiskey more than 9-years old that will mix well with younger Knob to keep the profile the same. Based on inventory already in the pipeline, they will be able to grow the brand and maintain the profile but only if they are not bound by the age statement. Something had to give.

Older doesn't balance younger with any kind of mathematical precision. You don't get a 9-year-old flavor by mixing half 10-year-old with half 8-year-old, but that is a shorthand way to describe the process. More and more large distilleries are doing this, as they find themselves with various quantities of whiskey across a large and widening age range.

The age statement change only affects the standard Knob Creek expression. The Single Barrel Reserve will continue to have an age statement and the rye, which never had one, will continue unchanged. Nothing else is changing.

Inventory tightness also makes future 'special' Knob releases, like the vintage-dated 2001 expression in distribution now, unlikely.

No one likes to see an age statement go away, but it is part of the times in which we live. Beam has both the inventory and the expertise to keep making whiskey with the same flavor profile in ever larger quantities indefinitely. That is the goal, anyway.

To Knob fans, Noe makes this pledge. "I will taste every batch. It won’t be Knob Creek unless I say it’s Knob Creek.”

You might want to set aside an age-stated bottle just to see how well he does.

28 comments:

Sam Komlenic said...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.... Charles Dickens

It seems like he was describing the bourbon boom, doesn't it? Man, I understand how and why we've gotten to this point, and it likely isn't over yet, but it gets harder for me to take every time something like this happens yet again; especially since Beam went to bat for this brand's integrity just a few years back.

Welcome to the New World of American whiskey, kids. Though I long for the days of increasing age statements and stable prices, I remain excited by the entry of new distilleries and brands into the marketplace, all thanks to the exploding popularity of our native aged spirits.

Be sure your seat belt is fastened, keep your hands inside the car, and hang on for the rest of the ride!

Cranecreek said...

Here! Here! Sam K. puts at as well as one can and speaks well for what I am sure many of us feel.

Anonymous said...

Since distilleries have been increasing production, do you think that with time as inventories stabilize, the distilleries will once again bottle bourbon with age statements? Or are we seeing the end of that era? I guess as long as the product remains of high quality, it's not a huge issue.

Tadas A. said...

I noticed already a year ago that the age statement for the standard Knob Creek expression had disappeared in European market (https://www.thewhiskyexchange.com/p/1164/knob-creek-small-batch).

Booker's Bourbon is also getting younger. It used to be 7+ years old, now it is getting barely 6 yeas old. The current batch in LCBO stores in Canada is 2016-01E 127.7 proof and 6 year 1 month old.

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

Very well put, Sam. So far most of the whiskies I drink, whose age statements have disappeared, have maintained their profile, and their quality (for the most part). But it's always a sad day when it happens, because you really just don't know what will happen next. I suppose I prefer that to a sudden proof change, massive unavailability and/or a huge price increase. But how will it play out?

I lived through the cigar boom. When it all shook out, my favorite cigars remained high quality (though the price had increased). Most of the bogus startups, trying to profit from the boom, are no more. And, by and large, the new players are actually bringing quality, and variety, to the table. If bourbon goes in that same direction, I think we'll be OK.

Just one thought before I hit "Publish". During the cigar boom, many of the top brands struggled with supply, but the best of them didn't increase production (with the resulting drop in quality) or push prices to obnoxious levels. Some of them made line extensions with very high price points, though--that's fine in my book. Others took the low road. Fortunately for me, enough of the former stuck around, and those are what I smoke. Seems they were what I was smoking most before the boom. I expect something similar will happen in bourbon. And when things settle down, I'll be drinking a lot of whiskey from Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey, Buffalo Trace and George Dickel. Not much different than what I drink most, now.

andrew stravitz said...

Chuck has said elsewhere that age statements will only return to popular releases if the distilleries over produce. I'm curious what the likelihood of this is. Seems implausible, but don't really know.

schlimmerdurst.net said...

Yeah, as "Tadas A" already mentioned - here in Europe, we have to live without age statement on this one (as on other Beam products, like the Basil Hayden's, which says "artfully aged" instead of an age) for quite a while now already.

Crown Point Marc said...

Everyone just needs to stop buying whisk(e)y for a couple of months and let distilleries get caught up.....everyone except me of course.

C'mon people, you can do it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for letting us know Chuck.

The problem I have is that Beam can now legally fill bottles labeled Knob Creek with its 100 proof white label "backwash" juice. This is so unfair to the consumers and fans.

If Beam was a stand up company it would also be dropping the price of Knob Creek considerably and immediately.

How long until Beam comes out with a statement like this:

"Beam is changing is Knob Creek label to a blended whiskey. It will still be 100 proof. Importantly, Beam assures us that Fred will be tasting each batch of the blend and will ensure each blend tastes just like real Knob Creek. The price of Knob Creek is not expected to rise significantly at this time"

I will see if I can pick up a few bottles of real Knob Creek, but will not be buying any of the no age statement juice. To me its would be foolish to pay big money for what could be 4 year white label, plus, it would be wiser and less expensive to buy a 1.75 of white label. Maybe that is what Beam wants us to do, buy 1.75 bottles of white label.

Sad day for sure - the bastardization of a formerly great bourbon.

Wild Turkey 101 here I come!

Weaver said...

I have a 1.75l bottle set aside just for the purpose of "seeing how well he does".

Michael Kelley said...

Jesus wept.

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

Annon said, "Beam can now legally fill bottles labeled Knob Creek with its 100 proof white label "backwash" juice. This is so unfair to the consumers and fans."

Well it would be unfair if they actually do that. Do you have any evidence of Beam taking that tack? I'm thinking you might want to actually see what the product tastes like before passing trashing it. You sound like someone who trashes a movie/restaurant/music release, though never having seen it/eaten there/heard it.

Beam has always been pretty upfront (as far as I can remember), and they were upfront in this move. I seriously doubt they will be filling Knob Creek with inferior whiskey. But unlike you, I'll wait to see what happens.

Weaver said...

Hmmmm....speaking of 4 YO juice, WT 101....not a bad alternative if it comes to needing an alternative.

MadMex said...

If the age statement drops should the price drop too? I think so. It is not the same, for better or worse, probably worse. Flavor/Taste profile is a joke to justify keeping the same price using younger juice.

Sam Komlenic said...

Beam made this move because of skyrocketing demand. What sense would it make for them to lower the price on a brand that's so popular it can't keep up with a 9 year age statement?

The price will stay the same because of US and what WE are demanding from the distiller.

Weaver said...

As far as I can tell they have not lowered the price Sam, at least not in my neck O the woods.

Anonymous said...

Weaver,
According to Jimmy Russell who ought to know, WT101 is between 7 and 8, not 4 years old.
Regards,
Dan

Weaver said...

I stand corrected Dan....actually the age most atributed to it is "a blend of 6,7 & 8 year old stock. When I called it a 4 YO it was just my lame attempt at making a point

Anonymous said...

So now that the new and improved Knob Creek is starting to flow, what happens to all the awards and medals that the real Knob Creek won? Do they go in the garbage can?

The advertising for the new Knob Creek really can't mention awards and medals it has won, because it is a totally new product and by itself has won ZERO awards, and it is starting from scratch on the awards counter.

Sure will be interesting to see how the new Knob Creek will be advertised, especially if the advertising mentions awards and medals that were won years ago by the real Knob Creek.

Chuck Cowdery said...

The Chevrolet Impala changes every year. It's still the Chevrolet Impala.

Anonymous said...

And yet a 1979 Chevy Nova is very much not at all like a 1985 Chevy Nova. One is a rear wheel drive beast and the other is a crappy hatchback.

Erik Fish said...

Why do people have to be such drama queens? As you say in your follow-up post, it's entirely predictable, but in my experience, the doom and gloom hardly ever pans out.

"The advertising for the new Knob Creek really can't mention awards and medals it has won, because it is a totally new product..."

Poppycock. It's going to be the almost exact same Knob Creek. What will happen is that Beam will start sneaking younger barrels into the dumped batch starting with homeopathic quantities while carefully observing consumer reaction and sales numbers. They'll keep doing that until there is either a discernible negative effect or they've achieved a sustainable level, just like any smart business. As long as the consumers are happy and can't tell the difference, what difference does it make? It's a beverage after all. An age statement isn't magic, its effect is mostly psychosomatic. Some of the best bourbons, like Blanton's or Four Roses, never had an age statement. They stand on quality. Knob Creek can and most likely will too.

Yagami Kisaragi said...

>Since distilleries have been increasing production, do you think that with time as inventories stabilize, the distilleries will once again bottle bourbon with age statements? Or are we seeing the end of that era?

Well, the sad thing about this is the fact that this can actually be achieved quite easily - if we actually stopped drinking so much bourbon. The general rule of thumb about age statement is that they usually go up when the demand is low and it usually goes down (or more recently, disappear) when the demand goes up. It's not something restricted to bourbon either - it's happening in the world of Scotch as well.

As Chuck described in an earlier post, however, this is also a good thing - it shows that bourbon (actually whiskey in general, it seems) is doing well and gaining popularity. To quote Chuck, "business is healthy, new distilleries are opening, existing distilleries are investing, and everybody is working". We'll just have to see how good of a job they do when they say they're going to maintain the taste.

EllenJ said...

Anonymous said...

"So now that the new and improved Knob Creek is starting to flow, what happens to all the awards and medals that the real Knob Creek won? Do they go in the garbage can?

The advertising for the new Knob Creek really can't mention awards and medals it has won, because it is a totally new product and by itself has won ZERO awards, and it is starting from scratch on the awards counter."

Hee, hee. Do you mean the same way that Pappy Vin Wankle has lived off that 99/100 Beverage Testing Institute rating it got around the end of the last century? The 20-year-old wonderful elixer in the greenish-colored bottle that was neither Stitzel-Weller nor even a wheated whiskey? The one that Julian told us, in early 2002, was already depleted and what he was bottling (back in the old Commonwealth distillery in Lawrenceburg) was a very good product but quite different from the original. The label didn't change, though. It was still 20 years old. But it wasn't the same whiskey. So now we'll have Knob Creek (admittedly not in the same class) WITHOUT an age statement, but carefully vatted to preserve the current flavor of the product. That is, after all, what most distillers consider their ultimate objective... to maintain unwavering consistancy. Really, it's us whiskey nerds who seem to abhor "commonly obtainable" bourbon and fear that the really good stuff must certainly suffer it is to be produced on a larger scale.

And then, of course, there are those of us who remember when Knob Creek (arguably a better bourbon, especially at barrel proof) was thought of as ersatz, second-shelf Booker's, bottled for the masses :=))

P.S. - Fantastic comments, SuperSam! But then, what would I expect?

Cranecreek said...

I am getting conflicting views on this development,on the one hand it is no big deal. The product will be just fine and I will never notice. Then I read that Fred Minnick has said "this has always been one of my easy to find brands,so this news is troubling. Buy as much as you can now." I think I will not subscribe to either of these options but given the many age stated bourbons that are available, I will go that route.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap you guys. This has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with a whiskey shortage. It is an old whiskey overage that has caused the problem. Old whiskey is piling up faster that Big Gulp can invent new stories about it, so they are forced to blend it with newer whiskey, to maintain the flavor profiles.

It is absolutely amazing how gullible the average consume is.

Sam Komlenic said...

To Anonymous above: Bullshit. If they were adding whiskey to Knob Creek that was older, they could still keep the 9 year age statement.

Where is this recent "old whiskey glut" conspiracy coming from? Those with older stocks are bottling them and selling them for ridiculous prices every day. Why would anyone blend them into less expensive bottles? I hear a cuckoo clock in the background...

EllenJ said...

Anon, I don't think that's the case here, but you bring up a good point. The whiskey glut of the '80s may have been responsible for the focus on age in the nineties, but a lot of that was also due to the Japanese market which demanded old, OLD bourbon. That market is gone now, and today's
main customer expansion target is likely to be more concerned with Knob Creek being available and tasting like they expect it to than what age it is.