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Issue 41 - Is bourbon coming of age?

Whisky Magazine Issue 41
July 2004


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Is bourbon coming of age?

Is there a perfect age for American whiskey – and are different age expressions driving the market or in danger of harming it?

The world of bourbon faces a major dilemma – how does it reverse years of decline and make such a proud drink acceptable again but do so without sacrificing the very qualities that make the product so special in the first place?

Not easy. The emphasis on tradition and heritage are what sets the category apart, but they present a potential stumbling block, being as they are just a short jump away from words such as ‘old fashioned' and ‘dated.'

With total sales half what they were some 50 years ago when Bill Samuels VI started making a different sort of bourbon, the sector has been crying out for something to kick-start a renewed interest in whiskey.

And there is growing evidence that it has found it. Small quantities of individual bourbons, some aged for longer than bourbon has been traditionally and some bearing an age statement, are proving to be more than a passing fad.

And with some stylish bottle design bourbon makers have shown that they can move some of the product off the bottom shelf and in to the premium whiskey category. More than that, as the American market learns more about Scotch malts and understands the concept of ageing, so the discerning drinker is starting to appreciate what they have in their own backyard.

But it's a steady as you go approach for the producers of Kentucky. They are acutely aware of the risks involved in producing special bottles. After all, if a number of customers pay top drawer prices for something that is old and the bourbon ...

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