Bourbon: Thinking outside the barrel

21 August, 2018

Noe adds: “If you want to grow then you’ve got to plan long term. If you lay the whiskeys down now and age them to make sure you have the supply first, then you can meet the demand.”


The legendary distiller predicts that premium bourbons which have been aged longer, maybe with a higher strength or alternatives to chill-filtration, could be the next step. This poses an even bigger issue for a category with current supply struggles. But one trend which could be a solution rather than a hindrance is wood finishing.

Noe says: “Secondary ageing is a big thing, we’re looking for new innovations to see what people like. There are a lot of things we’re working on and a cooper has shown me a few techniques, which you could call ‘wood science’, demonstrating what can be done with wood to affect our whiskey after it’s been aged to home in on more specific flavour profiles. If we’re going to innovate it needs to be approachable.”

Noe’s son, Freddie IV, the eighth-generation Beam distiller, recently added a corn rye malt blend at cask strength to a different bourbon which the pair seem chuffed with.

Another success story from the Beam household is the release of Jim Beam Double Oak. It came out two years ago and one of the advantages it has over other whiskeys is that it uses double ageing to give an older taste profile over a shorter period of time.


From one legend to another. Eddie Russell, master distiller of Wild Turkey, has been on board with secondary finishing throughout his time in charge of the company.

Russell says: “I’ve been playing around with different types of barrels for years and I’m about to release a whiskey finished in 30-year-old sherry casks. I think it’s taken so long for the bourbon category to catch on because, traditionally, the big brands didn’t want to copy what scotch does. But if we want to keep people’s interest in bourbon then we need to innovate.

“It’s important to take small steps with innovation. For example, with these sherry casks I only bought three of them and then went 13 months before I decided it would work.

“I can’t play with the recipes because my dad (Jimmy Russell) would kill me, so I’m experimenting with different char levels because coopers are now learning how to get different flavours from the juice by using different chars. I’m using what I’ve got and just trying to do something a little different, it’s really exciting.”

The year 2018 is significant for the Wild Turkey brand as it marks 101 combined years of Eddie and his father, one of the most iconic whiskey producers in history. 101 happens to be the flagship range of Wild Turkey, getting its name from the alcohol proof and, despite the family’s long history within the industry, (Eddie) Russell is delighted to see it changing.

He says: “Our industry was so narrow-minded and focused for such a long time that it wasn’t until the late 2000s when the target market begun to change from just 40-year-old men.


“The great thing is that now our new customers are 21 to 40-year-old men and women, and their obsession with single barrel bourbon is crazy right now. I put aside 450 single (or private) barrels so people can come and taste right out of the barrel and pick whatever they want. I’ve been doing it for five years and was one of the first to do it, and now on-trade locations are buying an entire barrel.”

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