Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Anti-Potemkin: Big Bottom Whiskey.

Go to the Big Bottom Whiskey web site. Click on the "Our Story" tab. What are the first words you see?

"Big Bottom Whiskey is an independent bottler."

Wow! Finally, an American independent bottler willing to claim that role with pride instead of pretending to be something it's not.

I first used the term 'Potemkin Craft Distillery' about a year ago. It is a play on the term 'Potemkin Village' and describes a company that pretends to be a little craft distillery but is selling a product it didn't make which was, in fact, made by a great big distillery. I condemn Potemkins because they threaten the credibility of the whole nascent craft distilling movement. I probably also need a name for companies who are technically honest about the source of their whiskey but still load up on distillery imagery and emphasize their future distilling plans over their sole present business, which is bottling.

My purpose here today is not to rehash who should or should not be tarred with the Potemkin brush. It is to praise a new, small company in Oregon that has shown it's not so difficult to come right out of the box and honestly say what you are.

Which is not to say it has been an entirely auspicious beginning, product-wise. They do not call-out the source of their whiskey, a fault in my eyes, and it appears that their first offering is yet more of the very young Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI) whiskey -- bourbon in this case -- that is becoming ubiquitous. They are selling some as-is and some finished in port casks, ala Angel's Envy.

And like actors who really want to direct, their stated long term goal is to be a distiller.

So I offer this praise because just as Potemkins are a serious threat to the craft distilling movement, so creative independent bottlers are a potential boon. Many small distillers find themselves overwhelmed when the demands of sales and marketing pull them away from production. A well-developed independent bottler and blender sector would give craft distillers another potential market for their output. But for that to happen, retailers and consumers have to learn and accept what bottlers and blenders can contribute. That isn't helped by bottlers and blenders who, for whatever reason, do not embrace that role with pride.

Yes, independent bottlers and blenders are common in other countries but Americans have a bad habit of showing little interest in anything that occurs beyond our shores.

So I pause my harangues for a moment of praise, however evanescent, for Big Bottom Whiskey and its bold stance as a proud independent bottler.


sku said...

It would be great if we had some independent bottlers who took on the Scottish tradition and displayed the actual distillery prominently on the label.

Anonymous said...

Have you actually tasted the Big Bottom?

Chuck Cowdery said...

I have not had that opportunity. Have you?

Jordan said...

I'm a bit late to this discussion, but I felt like I had a couple of points to contribute. I got to try the new-ish three year old port cask finished whiskey from Big Bottom this evening. It's really solid stuff, especially for only being three years old. A nice bourbon base that meshes well with the tawny port.

I also chatted with Ted for a bit and he mentioned that the bourbon is sourced from Indiana. Given that and the mash bill stated on his website, it's pretty clear that he's getting LDI's high rye whiskey. I agree with sku that it's a shame that bottlers aren't yet willing to announce where their sourcing their whiskey from, because this juice is good enough that I'd go out of my way to look for more independent bottlings of LDI whiskey.