Friday, January 2, 2015

The biggest problem with bourbon

is diversity.

One thing is the flavour gap. Compared to single malt most people think that bourbon are more similar. This is true, but with some experience you can distuinguish flavours in bourbons better. So the more you drink, the more you get back. If you include ryes you get a bigger flavour gap. Not as big as single malt, but this is due to single malt using a lot of different types of cask and also peat.

No, when I say lack of diversity it's the diversity of different bottlings. I suffer from this personally. I am in charge of a few bourbon tastings in Denmark. Just coming up with a different setup once a year for an annual tasting is tough. Mind you, most of the things I want to present has to be a little more interesting than common stuff like Jim Beam White and Bulleit. It has to be something new and exciting. But the lack of diversity makes me struggle just finding bottles to present.

I could organise a top single malt whisky tasting every week from now on and 20 years in to the future, All different bottlings and all interesting special bottlings. Every week. Probably twice a week if I wanted to.

With bourbon I struggle to do one tasting a year. I know the selection in Denmark is not as big as other places, especially like the US. But the selection in the US is also quite mediocre. Not the quality of the bottles but the amount of different bottlings. I have been visiting many shops selling whisky in the US, and it's not like the bootles are jumping into my basket

The main reason for this is fewer distilleries and fewer independent bottlers and the added fact that both destilleries and bottlers do not bottle that many different interesting things. The only distillery that has a bigger setup is Buffalo Trace.

When a distillery do bottle single barrels they tend to bottle very similar stuff (Like the Evan Williams SB, or the Four Roses SB)

I reckon SMWS, an independent bottler of mainly scottish single malts, bottles more diffrent new stuff than there is bottled new bourbons

One thing I omit from this discussion so far, and which must be included is the explosion of new small distilleries all over America. Hundreds of distilleries, most very small, make bourbon today.

But most of this is too young to be considered. It can also be hard to find except locally. But maybe there is hop for the future. Some of this stuff will grow up and be very interesting in the future. Some of it allready is. If you can find it.

But end of the day, festivals, private gatherings and tastings will be centered around single malt. There just isn't enough interesting bourbons out there to match it. 

It's a shame. I love bourbon. Most of of my bourbon collection is multiple bottles. If you want the good stuff you need to stock up. Single malt wise, I tend to have only one of each. There is just so many different bottlings and it's impossible to keep track. How many different new bottlings of single malt is released every year. I reckon more than 3000

As a bourbon drinker this is probably not a very big problem. There is always good bourbon to be drunk. But as an entusiast, it's hard to gather people for bourbon, when there is 3000 bottles of single malt to be tasted.

I wish there were more bourbons for us entusiasts. It could be fun.

It doesn't help either that bourbon is so popular these days that the most interesting bottlings is getting vacuumed of the shelves. Who wouldn't want to organise a van Winkle vertical?


  1. As you point out, the biggest problem is concentration. Although most Scottish distilleries are owned by half a dozen companies there are close to 100 different plants producing whisky. In the USA (and Canada) the concentration is worse because, not only are there few companies, the number of distilleries producing significant amount of alcohol is very limited (perhaps half a dozen).

    What's interesting is that the industry in Japan is also very concentrated (# of companies and # of distilleries) YET there appear to be a significant number of different expressions coming to market - albeit in relatively small volumes. I think this is because Japanese distilleries have been set-up to produce different styles of whisky (column and pot still) AND they use different types of wood for maturation.

    Even if the number of American distilleries increased, they would still be somewhat limited in the diversity of taste profiles due to the new oak requirement for barrels. When the majority of the taste of whisky comes from the wood, and you are only allowed to used new charred oak barrels to produce "straight" whiskey, there will not be much diversity in taste.


  2. Does Canada have the same policy regarding virgin casks?

  3. No. Canada uses a lot of ex-bourbon barrels in fact