Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Deconstruction Of Black Maple Hill.

The memo above just came into my possession and I knew it would be of interest here. It illustrates my contention that although whiskey companies will rarely tell an outright lie, they will twist themselves into pretzels to mislead you or, at least, avoid telling you the whole truth.

Black Maple Hill (BMH) is a line of very pricey, very small batch, extra-aged bourbons and ryes. It has been around for about ten years. I'm not a big BMH guy myself, but I know many people who love the stuff. BMH whiskeys have a great reputation.

The brand is owned by CVI Brands of San Carlos, California. CVI does not operate a whiskey distillery. The bourbon and rye it sells as BMH was made by someone else. About that there is no dispute.

The money line in the memo above is this: "Black Maple Hill has no connection whatsoever with Heaven Hill."

Let's review what we know.

The earliest BMH releases were bottled for CVI by Julian Van Winkle III at the Hoffman Distillery (DSP-KY-112) just outside of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. According to VWIII, that was 'his' whiskey, i.e., wheated bourbon from Stitzel-Weller.

When Julian left Lawrenceburg, BMH went to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD) in Bardstown (DSP-KY-78), where it remains to this day. Like CVI and Van Winkle, KBD is not a distiller. No one will say who made the whiskey KBD bottles as BMH. There has been speculation that some of it is from the Medley Distillery in Owensboro, which stopped distilling about 20 years ago. And there has been speculation that it's Heaven Hill.

Here's why:

KBD operates out of the old Willett Distillery in Bardstown. Heaven Hill is right across the street. The folks at KBD get all pissy when someone says that all of KBD's whiskey comes from Heaven Hill, but they can't plausibly deny that most of it comes from there. There is nothing wrong with that. A non-distiller producer has to get whiskey from somebody. KBD and Heaven Hill have a long beneficial relationship.

So KBD has relationships with both Heaven Hill and BMH, but there is no relationship between BMH and Heaven Hill. Fair enough.

But saying "Black Maple Hill has no connection whatsoever with Heaven Hill" is not the same as saying "there is not one drop of Heaven Hill-made whiskey in any bottle of Black Maple Hill." Although true literally it certainly would be disingenuous if, in fact, KBD is using Heaven Hill whiskey for BMH.

If it's not Heaven Hill, then who made it? As readers of this space know, the list of possible suspects is a short one.

If CVI intended to be transparent and, therefore, credible in refuting "the Bloggers and Tweeters on the Internet," they wouldn't just deny a corporate relationship with Heaven Hill. They would announce who actually makes their whiskey. That's what people want to know.

By refusing to answer they encourage the "pure speculation" they claim to deplore.

And that is also why I don't have very many bottles from non-distiller producers like CVI and KBD in my personal portfolio. You just never know where they've been.


Jason Pyle said...

Chuck, very nice post. I have disagreed with you on a couple of producers that you have called "Potemkin" in the past. However, that does not mean that I disagree with your cause to get distillers to be more honest and forthright with consumers.

It's very interesting that CVI had a perfect opportunity to state who did make BMH and lift the veil on some of that mystery. But they chose not to. And also, I believe the folks at KBD to be great people, but I'd sure like to see more transparency and less talk about "getting this old Willett Distillery up and running soon......"

Justin Victor said...

Once again, great insights Chuck. But it leaves me with more questions, like good reporting should. Who is KBD? I looked at their website and perused the brands of bourbon they offer. I have never seen or heard of any of these whiskies before. Do they make all their own juice? Are they a real distillery of just a bottler of bourbon?

Chuck Cowdery said...

KBD is a broker and bottler, not a distiller.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Why would the morons at CVI who released this go out of their way to say, "We won't tell you who we bought our whiskey from!"?
Is the problem really from bloggers and tweeters or from members of American whiskey related websites who want to know what's in their bottle?
I love quite a few Heaven Hill whiskeys and CVI/BMH can suck it!!
Why didn't they keep their rye-holes shut?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Thank you for schooling them.

Anonymous said...

I may reschool them by asking them what the letter means. There will be a whiskey tasting soon with someone pouring Black Maple Hill.
I realize the person there probably won't be from CVI but WTF.
You only live once.
After rereading the letter, they say that BMH using HH whiskey has NO BASIS IN FACT.
I don't believe it.

Anonymous said...

I know someone who went on a trip to distilleries in Scotland with the distiller of Old Bardstown. This person claimed Black Maple Hill is Old Bardstown juice.

Anonymous said...

Black Maple Hill is made by the Willett Distillery in B

Chuck Cowdery said...

KBD/Willett in Bardstown bottles BMH but they don't distill it.

Kyle M said...

Was told today that Black Maple Hill has been discontinued for now so grab any bottle you can!

Anonymous said...

Is BMH still being bottled for sale, if so where can I get a bottle or case? Thanks