It has been a strange couple of weeks in the bourbon industry, as first Maker’s Mark announced that they were lowering the abv of their product from 45% to 42%, then a week later announcing that they weren’t going to change their abv after all. The reversal of their decision came after a frankly astonishing outcry from bourbon drinkers, all of whom seemed to feel disappointed at the thought of any change being made to this much loved product. The amount of press that this generated, as well as the buzz on facebook and twitter, highlighted the passion that people often feel about the brands they choose to drink.
I’ll admit that I was tempted to write an article straight away, not to jump on the bandwagon, but to put across both sides of the story. Sometimes brands feel that they have no choice but to change their products, to react to demand or even profitability, and sometimes a change does no harm at all. That being said, any changes to a brand, be it the packaging, the price, the recipe or the abv, can have an adverse effect. I decided to hold off on writing my article until emotions had calmed a little. Unfortunately by the time it was written, Maker’s had reversed their decision, but I still think this is a discussion worth having, so below you’ll find some of my thoughts on the American Whiskey brands that have changed their recipes over the last few years and the effect it can have.
Firstly may I apologise for the length of time between updates, but as it has been ‘Bourbon Heritage Month’ I felt I should dedicate myself to promoting this fine spirit in various countries across Europe! Last month I shared with you a few things that everyone should know about Bourbon, so it seems only right to share some of the Bourbons I enjoy drinking. To be honest, for me narrowing it down to just 11 has been challenging as there are over 80 Bourbons in the b&t drinking room at the moment. Of those 80, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a bottle that hasn’t been opened, and most of them get enjoyed on a regular basis.
In tackling this task, I considered breaking them up into different styles to make sure that Bourbons with high rye, corn or wheat recipes were well represented, but somehow that didn’t balance out, as I tend to be a little biased towards rye heavy Bourbons. Then I tried breaking them down by distillery, but there are just too many distilleries! Doing it by price seemed like a reasonable course, but once again I didn’t find the balance I was looking for, so instead I have done something a little less formulaic. Below you will simply find a selection of Bourbons that I like, with a description, and a cocktail for each. There is everything from super premium to entry level Bourbon, some made with wheat some with rye. There are lots of Kentucky Bourbons, but also a few from newer distilleries in other parts of the US. The main thing that they all have in common is that they’re tasty examples of this fine and versatile spirit.
So what makes a visit to an Area of Outstanding Alcoholic Significance (AOAS) an exceptional experience? Why would you want to give up your precious holiday time for a busman’s holiday? Would it really be worth your time to travel half way around the world to have a booze related holiday?
I guess for me the answer depends on how seriously you take your interest in spirits. If you are a bartender who likes to party hard then visiting a small city with a small nightlife may not be your scene. If you are a cocktail snob, then visiting the places where drinks were once made famous can be a disappointment when you realise their glory days are long since over. If however you are willing to invest a little time to meet a few interesting characters and can have an open mind about learning a thing or two about your favourite spirit, then the idea of visiting an AOAS might not be so crazy!
I know I promised daily updates during our stay in Kentucky, but between spending the days seeing bourbon being made, learning about bourbon’s history, tracking down hard to find bourbons to bring home and then going out and drinking bourbon… well there has hardly been a moment to spare!
Our goal of visiting all the major distilleries is still (just about) on the cards, but our time here has led us to realise that we are going to have to make another trip out here. There are two more distilleries gearing themselves up for visitors and there are a few bourbon history experts who are worth sitting down and chatting with… but our time here is almost done.
With Tales over, hangovers recovered from and New Orleans left as a distant memory in the rearview mirror, we have finally made it into the heart of American Whiskey country. As we drove from New Orleans the countryside slowly changed from monotonous swampland (how and why anyone settled this area is a mystery to me) to heavily forested flatlands, to wooded hills and finally to more open farming land with rolling hills stretching as far as the eye can see.
Our original plan was to hit Kentucky and do ‘the bourbon trail’ but someone told us that we might be pleasantly surprised if we stopped in at Lynchburg to check out Jack Daniel’s. So that’s where we find ourselves on a hot and sunny Tennessee afternoon. After a quick pit stop in town for a bite to eat at the bbq caboose (if you get there try the pulled pork sandwich!) and to stretch our legs it’s up the road to the main attraction.