The history is also fasinating because there seemes to be something of a "frontier mentality" in the industry that hasn't completely left yet. Lots of examples of distillery owners saying things like "ah jes wanna make good hooch like ma' pappy used ta make". I would guess the fact that alot of distilleries are privatly owned (Barton's, Maker's Mark) might be a contributory factor. Also according to Jim Murrey, alot of distilleries that have been bought up by big companies are allowed to "do their own thing" (Wild Turkey, George Dickel) as opposed to being turned into "whisky factories". On one hand, if someone buys a distillery, they must have liked what it made, but I thought bigger companies would be more profit driven, and be less tolerant of smaller econemies of scale.
All in all, a fascinating read, and a fairly cheap book.
Frodo wrote:...I would guess the fact that a lot of distilleries are privatly owned (Barton's, Maker's Mark) might be a contributory factor. ..according to Jim Murray, a lot of distilleries that have been bought up by big companies are allowed to "do their own thing" (Wild Turkey, George Dickel) as opposed to being turned into "whisky factories". ..
Alas, not true on either count. Barton Brands is part of Constellation, Maker's Mark is Allied Domecq-cum-Fortune Brands (Jim Beam) after the in-progress deal-making. Only Heaven Hill (the Shapira brothers, whose family was the original owners) is privately held, while Buffalo Trace is part of Sazerac, largely owned by the Goldring family.
As for being allowed to "do their own thing", well -- Jack Daniel's (Brown-Forman) recently lowered its proof to 80 from 86, after having lowered it from 90 several years ago. Wild Turkey's (Pernod Ricard's) suits have recently ordered the dilution of master distiller Jimmy Russell's namesake "Russell's Reserve" from 101 to 90 (it's already on the shelves in Kentucky, and soon will be everywhere). In neither case has the price been reduced, so we're buying less whiskey, more water -- they're price increases in disguise, while also lowering the distillers' taxes per unit sold. George Dickel (Diageo) has only been distilling again for 18 months after a 4-year layoff because of overstock and declining sales. Money, it seems, is at least of equal importance to the whiskey.
As for Murray's description of the wet/dry scenario in Tennessee -- well, it's laughable. I live in a 'wet' county NOT one of the three he incorrectly states there are, and I'm surrounded by others. Much (though, granted, not all) of Tennessee is 'wet' these days -- and has increasingly been for some time -- and even the so-called 'dry' counties, in most cases, allow beer sales. Liquor licenses in Tennessee require a police jurisdiction for enforcement, and many rural counties have only a county-wide sheriff's patrol/jail.
Murray's book is quite readable and full of valuable information -- but it's tiresome having to fact-check so much of it before you can believe it. That's what editors/researchers are for.
Frodo wrote:Lots of examples of distillery owners saying things like "ah jes wanna make good hooch like ma' pappy used ta make".
Sorry - I got these kinds of quotes from Dave Broom's Whisky Handbook not from Jim Murray's book. Classic Bourbon is more about the industry and it's constituants, and how they fit together as opposed to current (not historical) figures in the industry.
Dave Broom's Whisky Handbook is about people who work in the whisky industry and their thoughts about it. It is a collection of snapshots to illustrate the diversity of thought and opinions out there from marketing and sales to the people who make the whisky to those who own or run the plants.
Jim Murray's Classic Bourbon centres on the history of the American whisky industry and the key players in it's development. This is the strength of the book. The corperate intrests that own the distilleries are identified but you have to read through the chapters instead of having this information readilly accessable.
The weakness of the book IMHO are the tasting notes. There are a few expressions Murray clearly doesn't like (ie Old Grand-dad 114, Early Times Premium, WL Weller Special Reserve, ) but there are too many expression that he likes that I can't figure out. Examples are the basic Wild Turkey, and especially Basil Hayden which he raves about. When I read MJ's tasting notes I felt I understood what he likes and why he likes it. MJ's prejudices show, but I feel they are transparent. And apart from the sherry monsters, my taste buds tend to be in agreement with his. Murray seems to have very good things to say about alot of whiskies that I suspect taste ordinary (the "house" versions of almost everything).
This is similar to another whisky writer giving the standard Jameson top marks. Now I like Jameson - don't get me wrong. But to hold up the standard version and say that it's something special, well I would call into question what else he likes that's ordinary to me. I like the basic Jim Beam, and can drink it staight, but I wouldn't recommend it to others wanting to try a good bourbon, nor would I drink it if I wanted something better than ordinary.
I know there's an subjective element to taste, but I can't imagine people on this board agreeing that basic Wild Turkey is "good but uninspiring whisky" (Murray, 1998:198). And I haven't heard good things from this board about the basic Four Roses (yellow label), yet Murray seems to give it a decent review.
Although the tasting notes in the book I consider suspect, the strength of the book is the history of the industry and here it delivers IMHO.
Frodo wrote:I would guess the fact that alot of distilleries are privatly owned (Barton's, Maker's Mark) might be a contributory factor. Also according to Jim Murrey, alot of distilleries that have been bought up by big companies are allowed to "do their own thing" (Wild Turkey, George Dickel) as opposed to being turned into "whisky factories".
My apologies for this quote. I inacuratly atributed this to Jim Murray when it was actually my impressions/interpretation from passages in DB's Whisky Handbook. Apologies all, and my thanks to TNbourbon who caught this!
Thanks for stating your corrections and for drawing my attention to this book. Last year at the Spirit of Toronto, I steered clear of the Bourbon exhibitors because I just didn't know where to begin (a case of feeling intimidated, ignorant and generally overwhelmed - I also get lost in malls ). As I plan to attend this falls Spirit of Toronto, I don't imagine I will feel so out of the loop because of the comments made on this website as well as general book references.
Maybe TNBourbon could recommend a good Bourbon book to read for beginners. It would be appreciated.
Actually, Harlan Wheatley (distillery manager - Buffalo Trace distilleries) was one of the most easy-going presenters around. No pretentious snobbery, no "my distillery is better than yours", just struck me as someone who loves what he's doing. He consicely explained how the stuff is made, and illustrated the difference between wheated and non-wheated bourbon, and what the taste difference was like. I highly recommend his as a presenter, and if you have a blather with him at the tasting kiosk, I'm sure you won't be disapointed.
Wendy wrote:...Maybe TNBourbon could recommend a good Bourbon book to read for beginners. It would be appreciated...
Whiskey Mag contributor Charles K. "Chuck" Cowdery's own Bourbon, Straight would be a fine entry into bourbon, enjoyable either to a beginner or enthusiast, because Chuck -- with whom I've had the pleasure to enjoy a tipple or two during Kentucky Bourbon Festival events -- has both vast knowledge and a down-to-earth storytelling style.
You can order it from Amazon.com, or from Chuck directly here:
He includes tasting notes, and his own observations about why most whiskey ratings are bunk.
Best of all, it was published within the last year, so it is generally up-to-date.
I think it is worth noting that the book was published in 1998, which is a long time for whisky and a lot of the expressions have changed over that time. For example his assessment of Noah's Mill 15YO changes significantly in later reviews. Now that Van Winkle and Weller Bourbons have moved over to Buffalo Trace, we will see how their flavour profile changes over the next few years ....
I think it is worth noting that the book was published in 1998, which is a long time for whisky and a lot of the expressions have changed over that time.
Great point Bamber. Classic Bourbon was published in '98 - and with all likelihood built from notes a few years older still.
JM's Whisky Bibles (2004 & 2005 editions) fill some of the timing void - and with the third edition due out this fall the Tasting Notes will be more in line with current production. Jim has added several hundred expressions each year and with his tour through North America (West) this spring he focussed on both Canadian and US distillers; plenty of updates pending...
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