New “Old” Bourbon May Miss the Mark

There’s a new…I mean old…no, new bourbon in town.  Early times a brand owned by Brown Forman is re-entering the bourbon market.  Probably best known as the distiller of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey Brown Forman also distills quite a lot of other spirits, including Early Times Kentucky Whiskey.  Early Times has been part of the Brown Forman portfolio since they purchased the company back in 1923.  In the 1950s Early Times was the best selling Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey in the world.  Things being what they are the world shifted around and thoughts followed and in 1983 Brown forman decided to abandon the Bourbon brand and instead give themselves the latitude to age their whiskey in part in used barrels to produce a mellower product that the market might embrace.

So Early Times Kentucky Whiskey was born, and Early Times Bourbon was retired.  They have decided to resurrect the brand with Early Times 354 Bourbon, but I’m not so sure they are giving it a fighting chance in a very competitive market…

They are making three crucial mistakes in my estimation:

  1. First they are trying to compete directly with Jim Beam White Label.  Beam has had a corner on the big bourbon market for decades.  I’m not saying this shouldn’t be a goal to be competitive, but they even went to the extent of doing blind taste tests to “prove” that their whiskey was superior.  If this is their target it will take them decades to dethrone Beam, and I’m pretty sure it won’t happen.  Plus Beam White Label isn’t that good as far as bourbon goes.  Sure it is better in a pinch of you are drinking well drinks or at a wedding, but it isn’t a go to for the aficionado.
  2. It isn’t small batch.  Bourbon drinkers today are looking for that next great bourbon whiskey experience and drinking a bourbon that is made 1200 barrels at a time isn’t what most of the movement into the bourbon market has been about in the last 15 years. And finally;
  3. Its 80 proof.  Wawah!  Yes they make this entry into the “Barely Bourbon” category.   If you will recall on my “Whiskey Purchase: A Buyer’s Guide” The first rule is always buy a whiskey that is over 80 proof.  This is because You need to get into the 86-90 proof range for the flavor to really be released.  I remembered I compared Alcohol to Salt in whiskey where the right amount releases flavors that were understated without the salt.  Same for bourbon, you need enough alcohol to really accentuate the flavor, and in my experience 80 proof doesn’t get it done.

So that is why I think this new entry will be destined to fail.  They are aiming low, and that is always the wrong place to start.  I’ll be reviewing this once it comes out, along with the Early Times Kentucky Whiskey I’ve had in the bunker for over a year.  I’ll let you know my thoughts when I get a taste…now where is that Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve?…


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2 Comments on “New “Old” Bourbon May Miss the Mark”

  1. January 31, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    Don – nice post and a couple of comments. First, since I’m such a nice guy, send me an e-mail and I’ll pop off a sample of Early Times KSBW from 1979 to you. Your comment to avoid 80 proof whiskey is mostly correct for current releases. In the case of the 1979, it’s 80 proof and loaded with flavor and has a very nice finish; blows away anything 80pf in today’s market. It would be interesting for you to do a vertical of the ET 354, ET Whiskey and ET KSBW. If it’s true that BF is pitting this against JBW, then I’d like to meet the genius that came up with that plan and give him the Trump snake strike “your fired!” Two things BF could have done with this whiskey that would have made it interesting, include an age statement and do what you suggested, make it at least 86pf. The packaging is cool but if the bourbon is low shelf, it’s a non-starter. For those that like a little trivia, the “354” included on the label refers to the Distilled Plant number where the ET comes from (DSP-KY354)

    • Don
      January 31, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

      Wow Greg, That would be great! I’d love to do a vertical tasting with the old and new. I’ll also through in the Kentucky Whiskey just to round it all out. Should be very interesting. I too am disappointed that KSBW doesn’t seem to make the grade at 80 proof. It is very interesting to me that I have had several very flavorful scotch whiskys at 80 proof and Americans can’t seem to pull the flavor from bourbon at 80 proof. Of course I’m not complaining about 90 proofers, etc, but I’m not always in it for the alcohol and a lower proof bourbon with tons of flavor would be a very nice go to at times. Oh, yeah…I’ll get you that address! Thanks a lot. 🙂

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