Tales of The Dusty (Part 1) - Old Taylor

Words by The Bourbonator

There is a romance attached to anything old and whiskey is no exception. That point in which a bottle moves into a decade granting it the title of ‘vintage’ or to coin the colloquialism, ‘dusty’ is something that has created a sub-genre within the American whiskey community of which I have fallen for hook, line and sinker. It was a sample of Wild Turkey 8 Year Old 101 from the 1970’s a few years ago that peaked my interest. “This tastes fanstastic” I thought as I pondered why it tasted so far removed from today’s iteration. Though this was no isolated example, many of the bourbons of the 1970’s-mid 90’s I have tasted since have a richness in flavour that coat the palate with a paint roller soaked in butterscotch and now I’m smitten. What’s the point of being in love though if you can’t shout it from the rooftops? Like a Shakespearean play, I’ll be using this blog as my sonnet and regaling you with ‘Tales of the Dusty’ from my balcony in Verona laptop at home.

Part 1: Old Taylor

Old Taylor is a brand that has stood the test of time, changing hands a few times through the decades whilst remaining synonymous with exceptional bourbon. Colonel Edmund Hayes Taylor Jr. was a pioneer of American whiskey. A descendent of two U.S. presidents he had originally pursued banking and political interests before leveraging from his 16 year tenure as Mayor of Frankfort to revitalise a flailing whiskey industry that had little to no confidence from consumers due to lack of regulations around quality. He used his connections within government and the state senate to pass the Bottled-In-Bond-Act of 1897 mandating a higher set of standards that the industry would adhere to. Taylor started and owned seven different distilleries throughout his career, the most successful being the O.F.C. and Carlisle distilleries, the beginners of today’s Buffalo Trace Distillery.

The Old Taylor Distillery, located South of Frankfort was built by E.H. Taylor in 1887 and was known for being the first to produce one million cases of Straight Bourbon whiskey. It later became a showcase for bourbon making in Kentucky with an ornate construction made from limestone with castle-like turrets and beautiful gardens making it a tourist attraction to the public.

Colonel Taylor passed away in 1922 and National Distillers purchased the Old Taylor Distillery in 1935 where they continued to produce there until 1972 when It was sold again to the Jim Beam Corporation.  Beam continued to store and age bourbon in the warehouses there until 1994 when the space was declared surplus and remained empty for many years. After a few failed attempts by outside investors to reopen the now dormant and decaying distillery, it was eventually purchased in 2014 by ‘Peristyle’ who announced plans to restore and reopen the distillery under the name ‘Castle and Key’ whilst employing the first female Master Distiller since prohibition. Marianne Barnes, former Master Taster for Brown-Forman has set to work producing a native Kentucky botanical gin there to be released in 2018 prior to releasing their own Bottled-In-Bond bourbon.

Today, the Old Taylor brand is owned by Sazerac who purchased it from Beam Suntory in 2009 with distillation continuing at Buffalo Trace. The label on the bottles remain relatively unchanged and have retained that nostalgic aesthetic, though each one now comes in a presentation tube that prevents any of these from becoming ‘dusty’ again.

As you can see, whilst the storied history behind the label has remained unchanged, the juice has been subject to the interpretation of three separate distilleries. In my humble opinion, the bourbon was at its best at the original Old Taylor (Castle) distillery operated by National Distillers, exemplifying that  deep caramel and maple sweetness that causes even the hardened bourbon drinker to go weak at the knees. This was released at 86,  bonded 100 and a rare 101 proof all with an age statement of 6 years but as was typical of the glut era would contain distillate above its years.

If you find yourself in the boondocks of some far flung US town and stumble into a liquor store stuck in time with no access to the internet, look for those yellow labels, turn the bottle on its head and look for the year, is it pre-1994? Then look at the back label and locate the first 5 digits above the barcode, does it read ‘86259? If not, is there a distillery code DSP-KY-19 on the front label? If you can check off any one of these, it’s pretty much guaranteed that what you have in your hands is juice from the National Distillers era. Then buy a lottery ticket and make sure you’re not struck by lightning when you step outside.

 

Whisky, the secondary market and auction sites – how to fix a broken system

Words by @The_Bourbonator

[This blog post represents the views of @The_Bourbonator and not necessarily those of the British Bourbon Society]

Ten years ago, I watched a television program about how eBay enabled you to sell anything. The presenter proved his point by flogging a piece of old blue fishing rope he had found on a beach in Truro to a man in Croydon who needed something to tie up his tools. Fantastic I thought at the time: online auctions connect people and their needs, whatever and wherever they may be. Fast forward to 2017 and online auction sites have become a trusted method of buying and selling all manner of things, including whisky. Indeed, in the past couple of years, a whole load of online auction sites have sprung up specifically catering for whisky. Is this a good thing for whisky drinkers?

If you're looking for 'dusties', categorically yes. I recently purchased a Wild Turkey 1997 release from an online whisky auction site. Being an old release, finding it on the shelf at a reasonable price was impossible so auction was the only way to go. The price was good, the service was slick and the bottle arrived a few days later. There was also the reassurance that someone at the auction site, who hopefully knew what they were doing, had checked over the bottle to make sure it wasn't fake. No complaints there. 

Where it all starts to get a bit grey is when bottles that have only just been released are instantly resold online for many multiples of the RRP (or MSRRP if you’re American) on the secondary market. Now, I fully accept it's a free market: a seller can sell their property for as much as the market will bear, a buyer is free to pay as much as they want and, of course, the auction house will take a cut of the sale proceeds so everyone benefits? Taking this all at face value, yes but this doesn't mean the current system is good for whisky drinkers. The ability to quickly and efficiently re-sell bottles online using auction sites has undoubtedly contributed, at least in part, to the sad rise of ‘flipping'. Rather than bottles being bought to drink, flippers will clear the shelves of interesting releases with the aim of immediately on-selling for a quick buck. This creates artificial supply shortfalls and means whisky drinkers end up having to chalk up far more if they want to drink limited releases. This doesn’t sit right with me.

A secondary market will always exist as long as demand outstrips supply, which for the foreseeable future will always be the case for limited edition bottlings but should it be as easy as it is now to flip new releases? What I find difficult to stomach is seeing bottles of the 2016 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection continuously appearing on auction websites for many multiples of their retail value. Flipping means that limited edition bottles are increasingly only available to those with very deep pockets.

Should our beloved spirit be associated with this type of practice? If you agree with me that it shouldn't, what can we all do to stop bottles being flipped as short term investments? Here are a few practical suggestions for consumers, retailers and whisky auction sites that would make things fairer.

1. Consumers: don't buy new releases at secondary prices! If you get hold of a limited edition bottle from a store, share it with your mates. If the demand isn't there, flipping will go away.

2. Retailers: implement clear and transparent stockholding policies on how limited releases will be sold. These could include limiting sales of limited releases to one bottle per customer and immediately releasing stock rather than bunkering it only to release at a later date with a significant price hike over the RRP/MSRRP. Master of Malt has previously been complimented on this blog precisely for having such a policy, which is described on their website here and here. MOM's creative way of selling limited releases, by the dram, raffles and auctioning them for charity, isn't to everyone's taste but it does disrupt flipping. Royal Mile's recent decision to clarify their stockholding policy is another step in the right direction. A clear stockholding policy is particularly important when a retailer and whisky auction site are owned by the same company, given the obvious risk of bottles bypassing the store and being sent straight to auction.  

3. Online auction sites: auction sites voluntarily implementing a policy of not selling new releases for at least 12 months is perhaps wishful thinking but at least such a step would force flippers to take a longer term financial risk than they do today.

To sum up, auction sites are great to find dusties and other bottles that are not available to purchase through normal channels, but seeing newly released bottles being flipped just makes me despair. American whiskey, once thought of as a drink of the layman, is now increasingly likely to be found in a lawyer’s office in a crystal decanter. I can’t imagine Harvey Spector doing the Kentucky Chew with Fred Noe!