Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Very Old Bourbon Problem

Recently, someone I know asked for recommendations for a gift for a "bourbon-loving friend" in the $100-$150 price range.

First, I'm happy to report for those who don't know, that despite bourbon's current popularity and consequent increase in prices generally, $150 is still a princely sum to spend on a bottle of bourbon. You can, of course, spend as much as you want. Instacart recently offered me (unsolicited) a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 20-year-old for $1,950. 

But back to that $100-$150 range. If the store where you shop has any bourbons in that price range, the likely justification for the price is age. Anything aged more than 12 years probably will be rare and expensive. 

But buying that 20-year-old something (not Pappy) might be an expensive mistake? Why? Because very old bourbons, while they have a following, don't appeal to every bourbon drinker. I know, because I'm one of those people. They are a very different taste. 

I don't seek out very olds because I usually don't like them. They're too woody, too acrid, too sooty. The wood overpowers everything else. In most cases, the whiskeys are not balanced. 

This applies to most limited edition releases, which is just as well since they're rarely available when you want them to be.

There are exceptions. The George Dickel Bottled-in-Bond is very drinkable at 13-years-old, reasonably priced at about $40, and generally available.

If you're shopping for a gift, and this is by no means limited to bourbon, it helps to know some of the products your recipient normally enjoys. If they tend to like the very olds then great, but if their taste runs more to standard bottlings then the most appreciated step-up might be something in the same range. Age-wise, the sweet spot for me is eight to twelve years. Most people who like a good solid four- to six-year-old will like that same recipe in an eight- to twelve-year iteration. So give the Jim Beam drinker a nice bottle of Knob Creek, give Kentucky Spirit to the Wild Turkey drinker, and so on. 

The 'older is always better' myth persists. You know better. 


Unknown said...

I appreciate your comments, Chuck. I agree that some of the olds aren't that great - my bottle of Elijah Craig 18-year-old was not fabulous, especially for the price.

Unknown said...

Agreed. Too much time in the barrel ruins the bourbon for me. Most of the time six to ten years tends to be my sweet spot.

Bill said...

I think the current version of Dickel Bottled in Bond is 11 years old? I know it has a different age statement than the version that won the awards when it was introduced.

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

Bill the first version was 13 years old. Apparently the newer version is 11 years old. I'm still buying the first version, but given how good that is I will have no hesitation buying the 11 year old product.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the "aged in a cooler" exception for the Pappy. Oh, please, say it aint so.

ZX said...

I'm against reselling whiskey for profit on principle, but I must admit if I could go back in time, I would sell my bottle of Pappy 20 (bought at MSRP in 2014) in a heartbeat. Nose? Amazing. Palate and finish? Bitter oak. I would give maybe $30 for it based on a blind tasting based on the nose. Not knowing it was Pappy, I might have used it in cocktails. OTOH, I think the 10 and 15 are amazing.

Anonymous said...

Not gonna lie, the only things that I would pay money to drink that is older than me are Madeira, a solera sherry (how do you really date those anyway?), and a very few Scotches. All things in their time.
regarding earlier comments:
I've had the newer Dickel B.I.B., and I will buy it again if I see it on the shelf. On the other hand, I'll try once any bottled-in-bond from outside KY for novelty value alone. On the grasping hand, I'll not put good money after bad.

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

Finally bought the 11 year year old release of Dickel BiB. As much as I liked the initial 13 year old init initial release, I think the new bottling is even tastier.