Friday, March 29, 2013

Why Can't Micro-Distilleries Learn to Under-Promise and Over-Deliver Instead of the Other Way Around?

With a couple days to spare, the March issue of The Bourbon Country Reader is in the mail. There is so much going on in American whiskey these days, it's hard to make deadlines.

But in the mail it now is, Volume 15 Number 2. The main headline: "Some Micro-Distilleries That Are and Some That May Never Be." The key word there is 'may,' because I look forward to being proved wrong. After this issue went to the printer, I went to Louisville and spent time with some of the producers in question. I have nothing to retract but there is cause for at least guarded optimism in a couple of cases.

The most disturbing part of this phenomenon is not Potemkin Distilleries as such, it is the syndrome described in the headline above. In business, it's considered a best practice to under-promise and over-deliver. The premise couldn't be simpler, delight your customers instead of disappointing them. Regretfully, too many micro spirits producers do the opposite. They claim their special aging process makes their six-month bourbon taste better than Jim Beam's best. Their own distillery will open soon and they will eventually stop sourcing whiskey from Indiana and sell their own stuff exclusively. Their bourbon recipe has been in the family for 500 years. It was Al Capone's favorite.

And, yes, the micro-producers aren't the only ones who make shit up, but isn't authenticity supposed to be their raison d'ĂȘtre?

As an extreme example, N-th Degree Distillery, which is under construction at the Party Source retail store in Bellevue, Kentucky, has already declared conclusively that its bourbon will be the best in the world. They did this in the invitation to their groundbreaking. They'll probably be glad to know they aren't mentioned in the new Reader, but that sort of hyperbole is certainly part of the problem.

Who is in the article?

If I told you that, this wouldn't be a teaser.

In the new Reader, we also hear from MGPI, the macro-distillery behind many of the micros, about its future plans for whiskey production at Lawrenceburg, Indiana, the distillery formerly known as Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI). The trend toward producers cheapening their legacy brands to improve profitability is also discussed.

If you're into bourbon, you really should subscribe to The Bourbon Country Reader. It is produced and delivered the old-fashioned way; ink on paper, in an envelope, delivered personally to your home or office by a uniformed representative of the United States government.

Why is this a good thing? Because sometimes it's nice to sit in a comfortable chair, a bourbon at the ready, and not read from a screen. Plus the USPS needs the business.

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Anonymous said...

Richnimrod said;
I'll add to the 'teaser' my own thoughts, as far as paper and ink.
Chuck is so correct (as he almost always is) that it is just a true pleasure to sit down in easy chair; or better yet, when the weather warms, out in the sun, and have a glass of some fine dram while enjoying the newest and finest in coverage of our favorite subject. I'm always interested in the historical as well as the current and Chuck never disappoints!
Keep 'em coming, Dude; I can hardly wait.

R. Haynes said...

Ok Chuck, ya got me. I broke down and subscribed, and bought the book as well! I don't always agree with you, but I always enjoy what you write. It seems to make the barrel samples I sip while reading taste even better.

Vidiot said...

Just subscribed. can't wait to see it.

And a question: to your knowledge, is Templeton Rye still the MGPI stuff? I ran across a bottle that said something like (and now I wish I'd taken a picture) "produced and bottled by Templeton Distillers, Templeton, IA." Do they have a still, and are they producing their own product now, or is it Lawrenceburg Rye?

(I also see that Angel's Envy is extending their line to, you guessed it, a 95% rye. Sounds very familiar. Is there a list of all the MGPI rye brands out there? I'd love to do a tasting.)

Chuck Cowdery said...

Templeton is still Indiana juice and Templeton has said it always will be. They have a micro-distillery set up in Templeton, which they use (they say) for experimental runs of potential future products.

As for all of the products that use MGPI distillate, it's a long list and, since you can't get it from them, an almost impossible one to compile. For example, Bulleit rye, George Dickel Rye, Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye, Old Scout Rye, and Angel's Envy Rye are all MGPI's 95% rye recipe.

Unknown said...

What about the consumers that are being introduced to the categories Bourbon or Rye through the Micros and develop a taste for the micros?

Chuck Cowdery said...

We're seeing it already with the introduction of Beam's Jacob's Ghost, Daniel's Tennessee Rye, Heaven Hill's Try Box, and Buffalo Trace's White Dog, all inspired by the white whiskies popularized by the micros.