Friday, August 4, 2017

Coming Soon: a Limited-Edition Bourbon for $22.99



My latest for The Whisky Wash is a brief history of Early Times (ET), a 157-year-old whiskey brand made and sold by Brown-Forman. In it, I write that ET is a price brand, not well-regarded by bourbon enthusiasts, so that "there are no limited releases" of Early Times.

I was wrong.

Brown-Forman today informed me that, in fact, a limited edition of Early Times will be hitting the shelves very shortly, as in yet this summer, and it will be bourbon, not 'Kentucky Whisky.' Early Times Bottled-In-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky will be in select markets including Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Oregon at the suggested retail price of $22.99 for a 1-liter bottle.

The fact sheet for ET Bottled-in-Bond (BIB) says, "(BIB) standards introduced a new era of guaranteed quality within the spirits industry." That is not quite true. When the law was enacted, the federal government went to great pains to emphasize that Bottled-in-Bond did not guarantee quality. What it guaranteed was authenticity. It was America's first 'truth in labeling' law.

Although the Bottled-in-Bond Act became law in 1897, the heyday of BIB was the decades after WWII. Whiskey-making was curtailed because of wartime priorities, so fully-aged whiskey was in short supply when the war ended. BIB became known as 'the good stuff' because it was always at least four-years-old and 100° proof (50% ABV). The limited-edition Early Times BIB bourbon attempts to duplicate the brand's style from the 1940s.

The press materials note that DSP No. 354, home of ET, is the longest continuously-operating distillery under the same ownership in Kentucky. That is a mouthful, but Brown-Forman prides itself on the precise accuracy of its historical claims.

ET is also re-introducing its most famous proprietary cocktail, 'The Pussycat,' a twist on the whiskey sour that gets its sweetness from amaretto and orange juice instead of simple syrup. Back in the day, Brown-Forman even sold a powdered Pussycat mix.

Also notable is that the release will be in a one-liter bottle, rather than the more common 750 ml. This is a play for the bar trade, which prefers the liter size. Even though it is in a larger size, the suggested retail is a mere $22.99.

ET was a bourbon until 1983, when Brown-Forman converted it into a 'Kentucky Whisky.' To save money, they decided to do some of the aging (about 20 percent) in used barrels, disqualifying it as bourbon, which must be entirely aged in new, charred oak barrels. Because of the current bourbon boom, that may be a decision they now regret.

A few years ago they introduced a line extension, Early Times 354, that was bourbon, but it never caught fire and was discontinued. Although this is a limited edition, it may be another effort to get value-conscious bourbon drinkers interested in ET again. We'll see.

23 comments:

Richnimrod said...

Hmmm, Under $23, BIB, Liter sized bottle? I'M IN!!
As an unimportant aside, a great looking throw-back label to boot!
Heck even if it's unimpressive Bourbon, it's one I'll add to the bar/shelf, and at least use for cocktails... perhaps a 'Pussycat'.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I have learned that the liter bottle is because they will be emphasizing on-premise (bars and restaurants) distribution, so it might be hard to find at retail. However, retailers in the states where it will be available should be able to order it for you.

Erik Fish said...

You're a bit behind the "early times", Chuck :)
Oregon liquor stores already have it, at $21.95 (and no sales tax!). My local store shows ten bottles, I think I'll drive over in a bit and get me one.

Erik Fish said...

Come to think about it, now that it's a bourbon, and assuming it's likely the same distillate, should one actually expect any meaningful difference vis-a-vis the basic 100-proof Old Forester?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Same distillery, but a different mashbill and different yeast.

Gene said...

Chuck...

Did they say anything about age statement? I know it has to be at least 4 years for BiB... Great read, thanks!

VT Mike said...

Aren't there two different diameter column stills at that distillery as well?

Billy Reis said...

Picked up a bottle in Kentucky last nite at Party Source. I did not realize it was 1L. Price was as u reported, very reasonable, which leads me to ask is the few dollars per bottle, if even that much ,worth the downgrade? I guess as you said Chuck they probably regret the decision now.
I'm also interested in what you said about different stain of yeast for ET. How many different yeasts does Brown Forman use for all there expressions? (Woodford,OF,JD ETC) I know 4 Roses uses 5 different strains but I thought they were the exception and everyone else typically uses 1 proprietary strain.

Chuck Cowdery said...

So many questions. Woodford and OF use the same recipe, same mash bill, same yeast. ET uses as different strain, as does Jack Daniels.

I believe there are two columns at the BF Distillery but I don't recall exactly.

No age statement, and it probably is just a little more than four years old. Remember, too, that as a BIB it all has to be from one season. No mixing in older whiskey, as is done for most bourbons.

Erik Fish said...

I picked up a bottle of the new ET last night. This is pretty good stuff. If it does become a regular issue and remains available, it may join my Very Old Barton BIB at $16.95 as a table bourbon way underpriced for the relative quality it offers compared to "premium" stuff.

Billy Reis said...

I guess I should have read your article in Whiskey Wash before replying with my questions. Good article, as usual, with all the historical background I love from your articles. Are you a regular contibutor there? If so I need to bookmark it.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I typically do one exclusive piece per month for The Whisky Wash. They also periodically republish some of my blog posts (with permission).

David Montgomery said...

I have a bottle of the ET 354 bourbon, but I don't think I ever opened it.

Robert Skula said...

I have two bottles of the 354 as well, which I have no opened yet. I can do some math on were this juice came from. . .

Brown-Forman Marketing conversation may have gone like this:

354 750ML $14.99 does not sell, omg what are we going to do with all these barrels? Oh I have idea, why don't we hold the remaining barrels till they are 4 years old and release them as BIB?

Does this sound like it could be the case?

Erik Fish said...

"354 750ML $14.99 does not sell, omg what are we going to do with all these barrels? Oh I have idea, why don't we hold the remaining barrels till they are 4 years old and release them as BIB?"

Clever, but highly unlikely, I'd think. 354 was stopped three or four years ago, and given the volume of juice Brown-Forman moves annually, including the bourbon internationally, I don't think they'd bother playing silly games like that, especially not after that long a time. I also think, and Chuck can correct me on that if I'm wrong, but bonded bourbon has to be bonded from the start, all four years; you can't just take any 4-year bourbon and decide to bottle it at 100 proof as BIB.

Robert Skula said...

I think most of the BIB requirements are pretty easy. . . The only two hard requirements are aging in the fed bonded warehouse, does it cost more to do so or are all the Brown Forman warehouse fed bonded? Then they just need to dump barrels from the same season, I am sure each barrel is tagged making this simple.

Chuck Please opine

Chuck Cowdery said...

All of the warehouses are bonded now. That is not an issue. Hardest part is keeping to one batch, i.e., season.

Erik Fish said...

How does this actually work practicalky nowadays? Do the large distilleries self-certify, or are there actually still federal agents who go around physically checking the warehouses and barrels?

Btw., I just noticed tonight that it says both DSP-KY-354 and DSP-KY-414 on the new ET-BIB bottle. Does Brown-Forman have two separate plants? Chuck, do you know the story behind that?

Chuck Cowdery said...

There are agents, but they don't 'live' at the distilleries. "It's done with computers," is the answer I always get. As for the two DSPs 354 is the distillery, 414 is the bottling plant.

Anonymous said...

"Although the Bottled-in-Bond Act became law in 1895, the heyday of BIB was the decades after WWII."

Wasn't it 1897?

Chuck Cowdery said...

You're right, thanks.

Billy Reis said...

BIB. Made at one distillery during one season...etc. That one season, does it mean what it used to -Jan thru June and July thru Dec or is it obscured due to the fact that most distilleries shut down only when nessesary?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Same as it ever was. Spring is Jan-Jun, Fall is Jul-Dec. It doesn't matter when or if there is a shut down.