Friday, March 4, 2016

E. H. Taylor Is a Wheater?

The press release starts like this: "Buffalo Trace Distillery continues its homage to former Distillery owner Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr. with a special release bourbon whiskey aged in seasoned wood oak barrels. This 100 proof, Bottled-In-Bond, small batch wheat recipe bourbon was aged well over a decade and is a special one-time-only release."

Huh? E. H. Taylor is a wheater? And oak is wood? Who knew?

The point of this product, as Buffalo Trace (Sazerac) sees it, is the special wood treatment. "The barrels in this release underwent a variety of special seasoning processes, including barrels made from staves that were immersed in an enzyme rich bath with water heated to 100 degrees. After spending time in this proprietary solution, these staves were then placed into kilns and dried until they reached an ideal humidity level for crafting into barrels. Other staves were seasoned outdoors for six months, and still others were left outdoors for a full 12 months before being made into barrels and sent to Buffalo Trace Distillery to be filled and aged. All barrel staves were seasoned, dried, and crafted at Independent Stave Company, who consulted on this project with the premiere expert on oak maturation, Dr. James Swan."

So three different barrels, the results all mixed together. That's why there is enough for a release broader than the usual Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection (BTEC) release. Okay, that's weird, but let's get back to this wheater thing. As the press release points out, this is the eighth E. H. Taylor release. All of the previous releases were rye recipe bourbon except for one, a straight rye.

Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr. Seasoned Wood Bourbon Whiskey should be in stores by the end of the month, for $70.

So does this mean E. H. Taylor is now a wheater going forward? No, this product is this product, although it certainly means E. H. Taylor could become a wheater again at any time in the future.

In response to my inquiry about how E. H. Taylor can be a wheater, I received this reply: "While the E. H. Taylor whiskeys to date have all been rye recipe, the experimental nature of this actually fits nicely with the EHT mark. As you know, Taylor himself was quite an innovator and risk taker. When we put these experimental whiskeys away, we really never know how they will turn out - we really like this one. The profile of this bourbon is different than Weller or Van Winkle. This is an exception to the rule; in fact, we don�t have any more wheat expressions planned for EHT."

When they say, "When we put these experimental whiskeys away, we really never know how they will turn out," they are leaving out part of the explanation. When they put experimental whiskeys away they don't know if they're ever going to release them, nor do they know how they'll release them if they do. This whiskey didn't go into barrels branded as E. H. Taylor. They didn't know what it would eventually be, if anything. If they come out at all, most experiments come out in the BTEC. For reasons known only to them, they decided to put this one out as E. H. Taylor instead.

This is something new. Several brands now, including E. H. Taylor, are selling a straight rye under the same brand name as a bourbon. There is good precedent for that. Many brands did it before Prohibition. Jim Beam has done it ever since Prohibition ended. Wild Turkey has done it for a long time as well. Newer brands such as Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, Russell's Reserve, and Bulleit have followed suit. George Dickel and Jack Daniel's, which never had rye whiskeys in their lines before, now do. None of the famous wheater brands -- Maker's Mark, W. L. Weller, and Old Fitzgerald -- has ever sold a straight rye or a rye-recipe bourbon. And there has never been a brand that sold both a rye-recipe bourbon and a wheated bourbon under the same brand name.

Until now.

This is a weird dilution of the brand identity. That doesn't necessarily make it bad. Certainly no one can say the E. H. Taylor line is going for a consistent flavor. This will surely taste completely unlike any previous E. H. Taylor release. That's probably the main thing consumers need to know. Like they say about investments, past experience does not necessarily predict future results.

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