American whiskey

09 November, 2012
Chris Morris, master distiller for Woodford Reserve

Chris Morris, master distiller for Woodford Reserve

The launch event for the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience planned for the heart of Kentucky’s biggest city reflects the bourbon industry’s growing confidence and was attended by Kentucky lieutenant governor Jerry Abramson and Louisville mayor Greg Fischer, who said: “This is a great project, not only because of Heaven Hill’s significant investment and the jobs it will create, but for the history that is being reclaimed as the bourbon industry returns to Main Street in downtown Louisville.”

Having responded rapidly to the challenges at home and won acceptance in their homeland, American whiskey’s big boys are now turning their attentions to international markets, and they’re doing so with two very different approaches.

Taking a leaf out of the craft distillers’ books, they are bringing innovations to market. Products such as Woodford Reserve Double Oaked and Maker’s Mark 46 are premium whiskeys which use advanced toasting and charring techniques and virgin oak staves to enhance flavour, while Jim Beam Devil’s Cut is a rich and full version of Beam made by using water agitation to ‘sweat’ whiskey spirit out of the barrel’s wood once the rest of the whiskey has been dumped.

Branching out

The bourbon industry has also been prepared to branch out from traditional bourbon production and to bend its own rules by making whiskey using wine cask finishes and in barrels made out of all sorts of woods, including maple and hickory. 

But with stocks limited and allocated, the American invasion might well come from the other end of the market. 

New fruit-flavoured drinks such as Wild Turkey American Honey, Jim Beam’s Red Stag, Honey and Spiced and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey have created a knew and popular drink category and look set to open American whiskey brands up to a new generation.

“We had huge success with Red Stag, which is infused with black cherries,” says Jim Beam’s master distiller Fred Noe. “These drinks aren’t for everyone but they may well play an important part in introducing those who didn’t care for bourbon before to come to our brands.”

Jack Daniel’s takes its Tennessee Honey brand seriously enough to make its Australian launch one of the biggest in its history. 

All the evidence suggests that once the door has been reopened through these routes the core brands will be given a new lease of life. At that point expect poor American cousins to start making a lot of noise.

And no doubt telling Scotland to move over and make some room. 

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