Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Jefferson's and the Amazing Nonexistent Distillery

Jefferson's Small Batch gives me a good excuse to talk about two weird things about bourbon. One, there aren't many distilleries out there, and fewer who aren't part of some distillery empire. Off the top of my head, the companies that own distilleries (and their distilleries in parenthesis, followed some bourbons they each put out):

- Heaven Hill -- Elijah Craig, Heaven Hill, Rittenhouse Rye, lots of weirdly named smaller releases like Rebel Yell
- Fortune (Beam, Makers) - Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Knob Creek, Old Crow, Booker/Baker's, Old Grand-Dad, tons of other stuff
- Four Roses/Kirin - Four Roses
- Brown-Forman (Woodford Reserve, Brown-Forman) - Woodford, Old Forester
- Sazerac (Buffalo Trace, Barton) -- Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Van Winkle, Blanton's, Barton, 1792
- Campari (Wild Turkey) - Wild Turkey

... with Diageo (Bulleit, and they also own Johnny Walker, Smirnov, Guiness, Crown Royal, Seagrams, etc, etc, look at their terrifying wikipedia page I'm tired of listing things) possibly distilling as well (though as far as I can tell they use Four Roses whiskey). There are several smaller companies that bottle whiskey bought from the big guys and from distilleries that have gone out of business (there are a TON of them), and the folks who bottle Jefferson's are likely among them. Heaven Hill and Brown-Forman sell a bunch of stuff to these smaller companies.

Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, who put out a ton of stuff including Corner Creek, are the biggest and most ubiquitous of the "bottlers pretending to be distillers" trend of whiskey. There is no Corner Creek Distillery, no matter what the bottle claims. In fact, if a whiskey claims to be made at a distillery with the same name as the brand name of the whiskey, odds are it isn't, unless it's one of the big flagship brands (Beam, Maker's, Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey, Woodford). That doesn't make the bourbon itself suspect -- to the contrary, I quite enjoy bourbon bottled by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, especially Rowan's Creek and ESPECIALLY Black Maple Hill. I'm not sure on the exact line of who Mcclain and Kyne, "makers" of Jefferson's Reserve, exactly are, but considering how little information they have on their "distillery" (distillery tourism is a big deal these days, so companies make sure to advertise if they can), I'm 100% certain that none of their whiskey is made by them; they might be even affiliated with Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (who are out of Bardstown, not Louisville, so that kind of points to them being an independent entity).

  Over the years, lots of distillers have gone out of business. One of the most famous among bourbon drinkers is Stitzel-Weller, run by the Van Winkle family. They are known for their unparalleled wheated bourbons (remember, bourbon is mostly corn, usually with some barley and either wheat or rye added in the initial grain mix). The Jefferson brand name has got a lot of press recently about releasing a 17-year-old version which contains some of the last of the Stitzel-Weller bourbon (the distillery went out of business around 1991-92). While this hints at a quality product, especially if you like Stitzel-Weller bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle, but it doesn't tell us exactly what the quality of the bourbon in question is -- the truth is in the tasting. I haven't, however, tried the 17-year version; for all I know it could be delicious!

However, the pedigree of the 17-year-old Jefferson's Presidential Select doesn't necessarily carry over to the Jefferson's Small Batch or Jefferson's Reserve. The younger whiskeys, as far as I know, have none of the old Stitzel-Weller juice and come from other sources. So, while I'll try to keep my dear readers up to date on what's going on behind the scenes with newer releases, remember that whiskey makers are liars -- but like all great and loveable liars, they give us something we truly want.

1 comment:

  1. Lucas:

    Ken here. I'm a long-time Scarborough, ON based bourbon and american rye lover and collector.

    I hope to touch base with you.

    Email me at malt87@hotmail.com