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You’re probably thinking about how the world of wine has changed in recent years, and you’re wondering if there’s anything left to discover. You might also be looking for a way to taste the new and exciting, yet still affordable, wines that are being produced today. Well, if you live in Northern California, there is one place you might want to check out: the winery in the heart of Silicon Valley. The reason? An all-new “cult whiskey” from Jack Daniels.In late April, the Instagram account @youwouldhateit, which satirizes the whiskey industry, turned its attention to the iconic Smoke Wagon bourbon.
The account previously posted a photo of a Smoke Wagon man pulling fake silicone muscles to reveal a skinny body with MGP written on it. The latter is a reference to MGP Ingredients, Inc. (MGP), a publicly traded company based in Indiana and Kansas, with a current market value of $1.35 billion. It supplies whiskey and other ingredients to brands like Smoke Show and hundreds of other distilleries across the country.
A few days later, the account released a clip from Not Another Teen Movie in which a white-haired woman, also known as MGP, undergoes a simple makeover that suddenly turns her into Smoke Wagon.
The message was clear. Why do people love bourbon that comes from a giant factory?
The average person has no idea who the source is and doesn’t care, says Gary, the anonymous author of @youwouldhateit. You want a good whisky in a fresh bottle.
Most of the responses to his posts on Smoke Wagon support his theory. One of the best blends in the world, according to one commentator. The other only remarked: This shit is still good.
Adam Polonski and Nora Ganley-Roper, co-owners, Lost Lantern / Photo: Oliver Parini
For many in the craft beer world, good beer is basically bad beer, but that’s not the case in the whiskey world. While some beer connoisseurs make fun of Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewing conglomerate, and turn their backs on independent breweries when they are bought by billion-dollar corporations, whiskey lovers are not so outraged by ownership.
When Fortune 500 company Constellation Brands acquired San Diego-based Ballast Point Brewery in 2015, for example, beer fans resorted to Reddit and voiced their concerns.
Overall, I see this invasion of big business as a bad thing, one commentator wrote. Dozens of other people in this thread agree. My hunch in San Diegan is that it’s kind of a middle finger to the local scene, says another commenter.
Today, most of Kentucky’s major distilleries and bourbon brands are owned by international companies. Beam-Suntory may release Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark, but fans still empty the shelves at Booker’s Bourbon and Maker’s Mark Private Select. Gruppo Campari from Italy can lay claim to the Wild Turkey and Kirin from Japan to the Four Roses, but their Russell’s Reserve and Small Batch Limited Edition remain favorites.
Budweiser or Coors don’t tell a story or have a sense of place, says Nora Ganley-Roper, co-owner of Lost Lantern, an independent producer of American craft whiskey. The big bourbon distilleries certainly do. Even the distilleries owned by multinationals can boast a real family history and multiple generations of family distillers, such as the Noeses [at Jim Beam] and the Russells [at Wild Turkey].
Over the past decade, many popular brands have emerged, such as. B. Smooth Ambler, Belle Meade and Smoke Wagon. Few people know or are aware that the IHP can provide all or part of their juice.
Craft beer has made a name for itself by beating the big companies, says Blake Rieber, owner of Seelbach’s, an online store of craft spirits. In fact, some in the craft beer community dislike conglomerates so much that in 2017, the Brewers Association launched the Independent Craft Brewer Seal program, which encourages eligible craft breweries to put a seal print on their packaging.
There is no us versus them mentality at Whiskey, Rieber said.
As with any other luxury item, blue blood brands are king when it comes to whiskey. -Gary, IG: @youwouldhateit
The origin stories of craft beer and craft whiskey are very different. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, microbreweries emerged as an alternative to the dominant beers on the market, such as Budweiser and Schlitz.
Back then, innovators like Sierra Nevada offered the world rich Pale Ales, and Anchor Brewing robust Porter Stouts. In fact, in 1985, Buffalo Bill’s Brewery released the world’s first commercial pumpkin beer. It was a big change in the beer scene, which at the time was dominated by the yellow, fizzy beers from giant breweries in St. St. Louis, Milwaukee and Denver.
In 2008, Seattle microbrewery Elysian printed a slogan on the cans of its Loser Pale Ale that summed up the opinion of most other craft brewers: Corporate beer still sucks. Because of this anti-establishment mentality, many craft breweries have stepped into the industry to offer a tasty alternative. Ironically, Elysian was sold to AB InBev in 2015.
New Riff Distilling launched in 2014 / Courtesy of New Riff Distilling.
The craft whiskey industry in the United States did not appear until much later. The boom began in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when distilleries like Tuthilltown, FEW Spirits and Balcones opened their doors in New York, Illinois and Texas, respectively.
None of them were a hit with the spirits connoisseurs. Many felt that whiskey tasted young and was too expensive. Why would you buy a $40 bottle of Tuthilltown’s 375-milliliter Hudson Baby bourbon, which has aged for only three months in smaller barrels, when you can buy a full bottle of Sazerac Company’s 10-year-old Eagle Rare for about $20?
I think the most important thing is that Big Whiskey didn’t break, Rieber said.
Indeed, the renaissance of craft whiskey that began in 2010 was never a reaction to some kind of corporate bourbon culture. Moreover, they were enterprising artisans from all over the country who wanted to make local products that they could call their own, even if it took decades for them to be as good as the big brands.
Large distilleries can make it cheaper than most craft whiskey brands, says Adam Polonsky, second co-owner of Lost Lantern. Because of their size and the start-up costs and time required for a new distillery.
Building a distillery is more expensive and labour-intensive than building a brewery, so the barriers to entry are usually favourable to firms with sufficient resources. Craft breweries start at $50,000, while opening a distillery can cost millions. Even the newest and most respected craft whisky producers often rely on significant amounts of money, experience, promotional teams and lots of shiny equipment.
New Riff, for example, was founded in 2014 by Ken Lewis, a Harvard-trained liquor store owner. He invested $18 million to make it work. Starlight, which began distilling whiskey in 2013, is still an independent, family-owned craft distillery, but is located on Indiana’s largest fruit farm, founded by the Huber family in 1843, and is extremely profitable.
Of course, the resources pale in comparison to, say, Angel’s Envy in Louisville, which was purchased in 2015 by Bacardi Limited, which then built a $27 million distillery downtown.
I think the important thing is that Big Whiskey was not broken. -Blake Rieber, owner of Seelbach’s.
There’s a reason you’re more likely to find Angel’s Envy than New Riff or Starlight at your local liquor store.
As with any other luxury item, blue blood brands are king when it comes to whiskey, says Gary of @youwouldhateit. They’ve been around for decades, and when they’re not, companies like Bacardi are quick to rescue them. Rolex is not valuable because watchmakers recognize it. It has value because everyone recognizes it.
However, this does not mean that whisky drinkers are no longer attracted to independent and craft whiskies, albeit for a different reason. And that’s because the best Big Whiskeys are starting to get out of reach for most drinkers.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who drink mostly craft whiskey, says Rieber. They are tired of the limited editions of the big companies that they can never find or that are too expensive.
And so, according to Rieber, these drinkers are finally starting to move.
They always want something delicious, unique and limited, he says. This is where I think craft whiskey has the biggest advantage right now.
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