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Alcohol Consumption and Cancer Risk – What You Need to Know…

We are board-certified in oncology and may as well be board-certified in whiskey, so we are uniquely positioned to give some perspective on this topic in light of guidelines published today linking alcohol and cancer (LoConte NK, et al. J Clin Oncol 2017). (1) data linking alcohol consumption and cancer is mostly retrospective epidemiological. This means establishing cause-effect is rife with error. (2) alcohol is commonly consumed along with other known risk factors (e.g.: tobacco), marring effect of alcohol vs other contributor(s). (3) definition of alcohol use varies widely in U.S. and abroad; lumped in with alcohol use is binge drinking – a separate risk factor for many health maladies. (4) the cause of most all cancers is not well-elucidated (except for tobacco) and ascribing a single activity as a risk factor is dangerous. We at BourbonScript do not espouse excessive drinking, but thoughtful consumption. Also, living a healthy lifestyle has many benefits. This text is not meant to diminish the ASCO statement, but simply add granularity to a very complex issue.

For those interested in the complete article, it is available here: http://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/JCO.2017.76.1155

The 50 State Challenge…

For those that have followed us for a while, we are (obviously) lovers of bourbon but we also love travel, food and the finer things in life. Our jobs take us routinely to interesting places and we try to leverage those opportunities to eat and (most importantly) drink local. As I was trying to decide which bourbon/whiskey to drink tonight as I watched the NCAA basketball tournament, I had a thought…what if hunting bourbon/whiskey could be more than a challenge to find the rarest, most valuable bottle? What if it were to diversify one’s collection and drinking options to include a mass- or micro-distilled bottle or bottles of whiskey from every state? The saying is that, in life, the journey is more important than the destination. In the bourbon/whiskey world that journey could include opening horizons to local or regional products that are not routinely available in one’s local store, restaurant or bar. My inner scientist loves this as well. How do the stills, the type of barrel, the climate, even the building materials of the rickhouse affect the final product?

Having been a drinker and collector for many years now, I have amassed a collection of nearly 350 bottles of whiskey. Nearly 100 of those bottles are currently open and being enjoyed, in moderation, over time. While I settled on a ‘bottom shelf’ but truly outstanding Kentucky bourbon tonight (Heaven Hill 6 year white label), I found myself looking at the bottles and thinking about the state of their distillation. Most were obvious: Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Colorado, California, Utah, etc. Most bottles are from large, well known distilleries. However, some of my favorites come from the off-the-path places, including the whiskey from Alpha Tango craft distillery in Indianapolis, IN. That whiskey in particular may not garner the highest score from Whiskey Advocate but the story is important to me. I’ve written about Alpha Tango before. A distillery owned and operated by a disabled veteran. A female master distiller willing to stop her work at the still to give me a tour and talk about a shared love of whiskey. A small building that I’d driven by 100 times and never bothered to stop. As I sip their whiskey, which is, don’t get me wrong, a quite solid and very nice sipping whiskey, I feel more connected to the story than I do when I pour a dram produced by a mega distillery and available on every local store shelf. I hope that the challenge of the journey does more than check a box that says that I achieved my goal. I hope it brings more stories and memories, like Alpha Tango, that  connects me to the distiller’s art into which they poured their heart and soul to create.

There is a quote from Shawshank Redemption that says, “If you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further.” Maybe you, the reader, is willing to become an active participant in this journey. While I haven’t catalogued my collection to know what states I have and which I am missing, if you have a  favorite local bourbon/whiskey (preferably a craft distillery), please feel free to respond in the comments, to Tweet us or to email us. In return, we’ll keep you posted here with a tally of which states we’ve completed and a review of our finds.

Slainte!

Steve

Bain’s South African ‘bourbon’

This week’s work travel finds me in Orlando attending a conference. For those that know the local foodie landscape in Orlando, you are aware that there are some amazing dining options with truly world-class chefs. My first evening in town this week, my work colleagues mentioned dining at Disney. For those that have followed us for a while, you know that we are not huge fans of most restaurants on the Walt Disney World property. Crowds, kids, characters and noise generally do not combine well for an outstanding dining experience. As foodies, these are the experiences I crave while on the road. However, my colleagues had done some research and chosen Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Jiko describes itself as an authentic South African dining experience at Disney. I’m often even more skeptical of themed dining experiences at Disney. A little research of my own identified that Jiko’s wine cellar has one of the largest selections of South African wine in the United States. Further, their menu features many authentic dishes with recipes and ingredients imported by Jiko to meet their needs. The cocktail list also features native ingredients. For example, their margarita replaces triple sec with an African liqueur. Imagine my surprise when the waiter, having learned of our interest in whiskey, could not wait to introduce us to a master whiskey taster on site from Bain’s Whiskey. The waiter instructed that we would be tasting a South African ‘bourbon.’ As you all are aware, the “Bourbon Act” more formally known as The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits defines bourbon in 27 CFR 5.22 as originating in the United States. Therefore, Bain’s can not legally be called a bourbon.

From Bain’s website, they column distill and age their single-grain, 100% South African maize (corn) whiskey in first-fill bourbon casks for 3 years and follows this by a second aging in first-fill bourbon casks for an additional 18-30 months. The result is a smooth 86 proof whiskey.

Nose: butterscotch, caramel, chocolate

Entry: sweet, buttery

Finish: short with chocolate, toffee, caramel

Score: 85 (B)

The experience, however, was much greater than a grade of B. The gentleman who we met with was presented to us as a ‘master taster.’ Together, side by side we sipped the Bain’s and discussed the flavor profile. The beauty of whiskey tasting was reflected in the different flavors we each detected. While I thought, consistently in fact, that I got these beautiful full-bodied chocolate notes, he described it buttery like popcorn. Here, we agreed on ‘buttery’ as an adjective to describe this nicely mid-brown whiskey. As we have so often noted on our Twitter feed, whiskey brings people together and builds relationships. The 10 minutes we spent enjoying the Bain’s became a teaching moment for my colleagues as to how to ‘properly’ taste whiskey and a topic that has continued this entire week. I’d score the experience a 100 (A+).

Bain’s is available in the US with a retail price of ~$38/bottle.

For love of the craft…

As a work traveler, I look for opportunities to learn, to experience and to drink whiskey wherever I go. One week may offer a tour of a mega distillery, the next may bring a tasting at a small liquor store or drinking mass produced bourbon at a sporting event. However, locating the out of the way or largely unknown distillers is a true joy and thrill of the hunt. I have been driving by a craft distillery called Hotel Tango in Indianapolis for months…maybe, dare I say, years. The story of the distillery is unique. They are the first distillery owned and operated by a disabled combat veteran. On this slow work day, I stopped in and met Maggie, their master distiller for a tour of their distillery and a discussion of their products.

Maggie shared that Hotel Tango began with unfinished spirits. Vodka, rum, gin and moonshine formed the foundation of their hard liquor distillations with limoncello and orangecello other additions to their family of spirits. On this day, Maggie had a batch of moonshine heating on their 150 gallon still with the wonderful aroma of cooking mash filling their small distillery room. The moonshine is a true 100% corn whiskey bottled and sold unaged. Predictably, it has a very distinct moonshine nose to it and the bite of a corn whiskey.

While Hotel Tango will be moving to a larger facility soon with mash tuns and additional stills, their current location has offered the opportunity to experiment with one-off products that have, undoubtedly, helped to develop their loyal customer base. I learned that their distribution is currently limited to 5 or 6 states with Texas serving as their 2nd largest market. However, the new location will allow them to expand in size and volume and reach many new markets.

While we discussed their current whiskey which was released in November of 2016, Maggie shared that it is a blend of 3.5 year bourbon sourced from Ohio and their own 1 year aged whiskey. It is a 90 proof, smooth whiskey. It finished with a nice rye flavor profile on the back of the tongue. Impressed by its flavor profile, I brought home a bottle and look forward to pouring it this weekend! I inquired about bourbon and learned that their first batch of bourbon is aging in the warehouse and will be ready for distribution within the next few months. I look forward to the opportunity to my return visit and sampling this new addition.

Beyond discussing production and spirits, Maggie and I had visited about the state of the bourbon/whiskey boom. Maggie shared that she believes we may be at the tail of the peak of the boom but believes that there will be an additional peak beyond the valley that is surely in the future. Like many distillers, she was quick to add the need to project the marketplace many years, if not decades, into the future. Until then, Hotel Tango will continue producing craft runs of spirits, made by hand, enjoyed by spirits lovers and cultivating a following that will likely only grow as their production increases in the months and years to come.

For more information on whiskey tango and their founder/owner Travis Barnes, visit: http://www.hoteltangowhiskey.com. Thank you for your service to our country, sir. To our shared love of whiskey, we say Cheers!

A Master Distiller’s View on Bourbon Pricing

**At the time of this publication, Beam has revised their price increase schedule for Booker’s. New prices will be phased in over the next 2-3 years.** However, the interview that follows still reveals an interesting perspective from a competing master distiller. All comments are used with the permission of the master distiller.

 

Beam’s upcoming price increase for Booker’s is old news now having been announced a month or more ago and reviewed, analyzed and critiqued by every blog post, commentary and whiskey magazine in circulation. With Beam’s official statement now internet fodder, I interviewed a master distiller about Beam, Willett and how changes in pricing affect sales.

On a routine recent stop at one of my favorite local liquor stores, I ran into one of the most prominent master distillers in the bourbon business. Fortunate for me, his appearance was not well advertised and no one other than the owner was in the store. We had met previously and after some polite pleasantries about business and what’s coming in the near future from his own mega-distillery, I asked if I could ask him some questions regarding the state of recent announcements in the bourbon world. A conversation that began with politically correct ‘stock’ answers quickly evolved into his personal feelings about some of these changes and, having been pre-warned that I’d like to use his answers in a blog post, he asked that if I used his comments that I refrain from naming him publicly.

Bourbonscript (BS): What are your thoughts on Beam’s announcement of a significant price increase for Booker’s?

Master Distiller (MD): Remember that when the bourbon boom began, distilleries were not prepared for the increase in demand. After we recognized that the increasing demand was more than a passing fad, most of the major distilleries added additional capacity. We added employees, we added stills, we added rickhouses, we added bottling capacity. Given the age of most bourbons commercially sold today, most distilleries entered into, minimum, 20 year plans to meet the perceived demand. This is true for _______(his own distillery) and for Beam and most everyone else. If I recall correctly, Booker’s is 6-8 years aged which means that a plan to have enough barrels of the right age and enough bottles on the shelf in 2017 would have been laid out in 2009-2011. So, if we take the press release at face value, this means that Beam either significantly failed in planning for their 2017 release or they are going to have an excess of barrels aged in the range that they need for Booker’s. I’d be more comfortable if they announced that, effective immediately, they were reducing production translating into reductions in availability in 2023-2025. What I think they’re doing by reducing bottling in 2017 is increasing inventory of those additional barrels that remain in their rickhouses, which means that in 5-10 years, we see Beam release an aged, production-limited expression akin to Buffalo Trace’s BTAC series. A Booker’s 17 or Knob Creek 17, maybe. They’ve already had some success with this with their Rye release this year. Beam has lagged behind other producers in not having a ‘flagship’ top shelf brand and while many are criticizing them for attempting to make Booker’s that brand, I think you have to look to the future and what they intend to do with those remaining barrels for your answer on creating a premium brand.

As for the price increase…bourbon drinkers know Booker’s. They know what they have always paid for a bottle and unless you can convince them that the quality is significantly better (which it won’t be), sales will dip as those loyal supporters change to lower priced labels that they perceive to be of similar quality. Look for sales of Rowan’s Creek, Noah’s Mill, Makers 46, etc. to increase as sales of Booker’s drops.

BS: Buffalo Trace’s price increases on Pappy Van Winkle doesn’t seem to have affected sales.

MD: Pappy was already a limited production premium brand before the bourbon boom began. Yes, you could find bottles on the shelf in many stores because consumers weren’t willing to pay high prices for bourbon. Now, it’s the face of bourbon and every distiller and every distillery is attempting to reproduce the success of Pappy. You can’t compare Booker’s and Pappy because the cache is not there for the brand.

BS: What do you think of distilleries charging secondary market prices in their gift shops?

MD: We’ve always sold our products in our gift shop at MSRP as have many of the other distilleries in Kentucky. If there was any markup, it was minimal in an attempt to not compete with the local liquor stores that are our life blood. Beam began doing this a few years ago with their Heaven Hill limited releases and with their Elijah Craig aged expressions. Now, we’re hearing that Willett is selling their Family Estate series at secondary market prices. I suspect this is an effort to curb the resale of their releases and bring some of those secondary market profits back to the distillery. I commend Drew for seeing the opportunity to increase profits for the distillery. However, that greed can also destroy a brand. None of us are supportive of stores that price gouge or flippers who sell our products on the secondary market but, the bourbon boom will end at some point and our research shows that public opinion of distilleries and of those of us that make the bourbon is better if we prove that we have stood with the consumer instead of only attempting to make a quick buck. I’d rather a consumer be angry at a flipper that sold them a bottle for three-times retail than me for selling it to them at that price in our gift shop. I hope that when the bourbon boom ends those consumers keep coming back and buying my bourbon over the competitor’s because they see that we didn’t try to screw them over just because we could.

BS: Tell me more about your thoughts on stores that price gouge.

MD: Tell me where they are! We get reports on stores that price gouge every day. To a certain degree, it is the prerogative of the store to set the price of their bottles at whatever they want to charge. The free market will dictate whether or not consumers will pay their price. Some of the price guidance stores get comes from the distributors but many owners watch the secondary markets and think they can get away with charging those prices. If you’re in New York City or Las Vegas or Los Angeles, you might sell a $2000 bottle of Pappy, but in central Kentucky, no one is buying it in a retail store at that price. We’ve been clear that we are opposed to stores that sell our products at prices higher than what we recommend. Look, we know when we produce an limited release product, not every store can have a bottle on their shelf. We want those bottles in the hands of the bourbon lover that will drink and enjoy that product. It’s our craft. It’s our art. I want my bourbon to be drunk not stared at on a wall someplace. A store charging secondary prices means that the average bourbon lover can’t have access to that bottle. It means that it doesn’t get enjoyed except by a store owner who wants it to decorate their wall. That’s not why I do what I do. I assure you that we take claims of price gouging seriously and we have our own employees and our distributors investigate these reports. If you know of a store that received bottles of an expression every year then you saw them charge secondary market prices and now they’re not getting any from us, it’s because I’ve slashed their allocation.

BS: Do you think the market can sustain high prices for bourbon indefinitely?

MD: In the near term, yes. The demand has continued to increase each year. With limited supplies and significant demand, people will continue to pay whatever the market commands to obtain a bottle of their favorite bourbon or the bottle of bourbon that they perceive to be a idol others will be impressed by. We continually evaluate the marketplace as we plan for each new batch of bourbon we produce. As I said earlier, we have to plan many years in advance and predict what we think the market will support at that time. I’m still planning for a busy bourbon market in the early 2020s. However, the boom will end. There will be a time, probably within the next 10 years where there will be more product than demand. When that happens, I wouldn’t want to be the guy that staked my retirement on investing in bourbon. There will still be premium products and there will be a limited market that will pay for those products. I expect you’ll see top shelf bottles sitting on the shelves of stores like this.

BS: Thanks for taking a few minutes to talk with us about the state of the bourbon market now and in the future.

 

 

 

Welcome to BourbonScript

Welcome!

We’re happy you’re here! While you can read who we are on the ‘About’ page, we’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a bit about the BourbonScript brand.

Like many of you, we are first and foremost lovers of bourbon/whiskey. Both of us are board-certified oncology pharmacists and trained scientists with expertise in cancer research and the clinical management of patients with a wide range of cancers. After long, successful careers in clinical practice and academia, both of us transitioned to roles within the pharmaceutical industry. As such, we both travel extensively which affords opportunities to visit, tour, hunt, and sample whiskey in distilleries, restaurants, bars, and yes…even on airplanes, in airports and hotels.

Why should you care about what we have to offer? As the bourbon boom has taken over the distilled spirits industry, bloggers and self-proclaimed experts have arisen overnight. That’s not us! We’ve been around for a while. This is our second blog site, our Twitter presence has been in existence for 2+ years and we’ve actively formed relationships with the whiskey industry for many years before we moved into the online space. We’re proud to note that across our social media presence, we’ve built a base of over 2,000 followers in a little over 2 years. We’re followed and frequently contacted by distilleries, distillers, whiskey educators, publishers and whiskey destinations for our insights gained from sampling thousands of bottles and barrels of whiskey while traveling around the world. We’ve been invited to whiskey events, to write whiskey reviews and blog posts, to provide whiskey education, and are very frequently asked for the ‘best place to find/drink/buy whiskey’ in more cities and countries than we can count. We’ve even been invited to participate in the distilling process at craft distilleries. Most importantly: people in the industry know us!

We view ourselves as whiskey travel experts. Further, we view ourselves as scientists who pursue whiskey with the same scientific method and evidence-based approach that we would apply to cancer research. Tell us more, you say! We’ve conducted ‘experiments’ on whiskey aging, storage, blending and infusing whiskies (think serial dilutions of flavors to volume of whiskey and types of whiskeys…wheaters versus ryes, scotches, etc.). In the future, we’ll expound upon these experiments and others to share some of our scientific approach with you.

What can you expect here? Our geographies are very different. Myke is located in Arizona and travels the west coast and Steve is in Kentucky living the bourbon trail life and traveling the east coast and central United States. Throw in some occasional international work travel and personal travel and we have the beginnings of what we believe is a somewhat unique perspective on the whiskey industry. Along the way, we’ll provide reviews of bars, restaurants and distilleries from around the world. We’ll share tips for finding the best places to drink during your travels. We’ll share our own whiskey travels and a passion for finding the out of the way and off the beaten track places to enjoy a dram. We’ll share rumors and news cultivated from our contacts in the industry (for those that have known and followed us for a while, we’ve been the first to break several stories on new releases, changes at major distilleries, etc.).

We are also always happy to hear from you, our readers, on what you’d like to hear more about. Have an upcoming trip and want to know where to drink? Visiting the bourbon trail and want to know where to go, eat and stay? Have an idea for a whiskey experiment? Let us know!

Again, welcome and enjoy!

Steve and Myke – The BourbonScript