Wild Turkey and Russell’s Reserve

One of the problems with being heavily involved and associated with the Scotch whisky industry is that people assume you’re less inclined to entertain a glass of bourbon in your hand.  Far from it, I’ve long enjoyed a good bourbon.  And, whilst it doesn’t feature prominently on my CV, I have in fact worked as a brand ambassador for Jim Beam and hosted my fair share of bourbon or American whiskey appreciation nights and tasting events.

A few years ago, I indulged my love for American whisk(e)y by taking a trip to the USA with the specific intention of visiting the distilleries of Kentucky and Tennessee.  Courtesy of my involvement in the industry, I’d been hooked up with trade visits with the likes of Makers Mark, Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses and Jim Beam.  However, it was on a Saturday afternoon in March that I made an unscheduled and unannounced detour to Lawrenceburg to visit the Wild Turkey distillery in Kentucky.  I rocked up to the Visitor Centre to book myself in for a casual tour.  And there, in the middle of the room, happily chatting to all and sundry was the legendary Jimmy Russell.  The Jimmy Russell.   This was the bourbon equivalent of walking into Glenmorangie and bumping into Dr Bill Lumsden, or swinging by Bruichladdich and saying g’day to Jim McEwan.   I was more than a little surprised that the man was spending his Saturday afternoon in the visitor centre, much less standing there purely for the purpose of talking to casual visitors. In an instant, you got some insight into (a) the man, and (b) Kentucky hospitality and charm. We shared a brief conversation. “Always happy to welcome an Australian here,” he said. “You’re a very important market for us” he explained.

I subsequently enjoyed a very interesting and entertaining tour of the distillery, and more than enjoyed the little tasting they put on for me afterwards.  I left the distillery with a very different view of Wild Turkey and a newfound sense and understanding of the brand.

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The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve

In the good old days of looking at a whisky brand’s portfolio, it used to be an easy affair to identify and speak about the brand’s “flagship” expression. This was the main expression; its biggest seller; the one that was a constant in all markets and carried the brand. Each of the other expressions in the portfolio were usually older, rarer, and less-often seen.   If you can think back 15 years ago, it was an era where most brands had their ubiquitous 10yo or 12yo flagship expression, and then some brands had an 18yo or a 25yo to offer the connoisseurs some choice.

As the single malt market started to truly boom (and bloom) during 2000-2007, many brands’ portfolios started to widely diversify. Finishes or Extra Matured expressions became more prevalent; a wider and more populated range of age statements appeared; and in the last few years, many brands added one or more NAS expressions to the range. More recently, for some brands, the flagship expression you see may depend on what market you’re in.

Most of this activity is due to marketing and sales opportunities; and some of it is simply cask and stock management: Either dealing with what stocks are currently available, or taking steps to ensure that supply will meet demand in future years.

If you read enough whisky literature, opinions and noise, you’ll be aware that some brands are already having to make hard decisions to ensure supply keeps up with demand. Cutting various product lines or removing an expression from a particular market. Many bloggers assume this is a new phenomenon, but no, it’s been happening for a while. For example, it was back in 2004/05 that Macallan discontinued its 15yo in order to keep stock back for its more lucrative (and popular) 18yo. More recently, we’re seeing an increasing number of NAS expressions being put forward and marketed, in an attempt to take pressure off the 10yo or 12yo aged statements.   Enter Glenlivet.

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