Monday, April 21, 2014

Death of the Barrel Programs?

I'm not going to go all gloom and doom here but something is amiss with various distillers and their barrel programs.  Let's start with Buffalo Trace.  While the program is still available, selections are dwindling.  Last year there were limitations on the age of Old Weller Antique and limitations on Elmer T. Lee.  This year BT is limiting the number of OWA barrels available to States.  KBD suspended their barrel program but that was due to a significant backlog.  Last week, Heaven Hill announced an indefinite suspension of their barrel program.

K&L out in California reported last week that Buffalo Trace is now limiting them to 1 case of Old Weller Antique per week and as a result, each customer is limited to 1 bottle.  K&L is no small Mom and Pop operation so that's significant news.  

What gives? I can see in KBD's case, they just need to get caught up but Heaven Hill has one of the largest holdings of aging bourbon in KY so I'm baffled about the suspension.  I'll be in KY starting Wed of this week and we have a tasting scheduled at HH so I guess I'll come out and ask for details.

For enthusiasts such as myself, this is a little disconcerting.  With my trip to KY this week, our group will top 60 barrels of bourbon / rye selected in the last 4 years.  Seeing these barrels starting to become out of reach isn't fatal but it does mean we will have to be creative and establish new relationships with other producers / bottlers.

For the average consumer, this will have little or no impact on them but for us crazy people? We'll have to see what the next year or two brings and I for one hope this isn't a permanent condition.


  1. Look forward to hearing what HH says. If anything, I would have thought a strategy of expanding single barrel programs would make more sense. I think most folks would pay a couple bucks more (I know I would!) for a bottle of something (say Old Weller Antique) that was just a cut above what is generally available. If stores were willing to pay more for barrels (which otherwise would go into batches at a lower margin), sounds like a good deal for the distilleries if you ask me? And if my competition was curbing these specialty offerings, isn't that my opportunity to take up more of that small/niche market?

    1. The barrel programs really do one thing and one thing only. Promote the brand. Of course for someone who picks a barrel of OWA, you're getting a single barrel (SB) expression vs. the large vatting of numerous barrels. I've had a lot of off the shelf and SB and of course my preference is the SB. In the case of BT, I believe supply is the issue but I'm not sure what's going on with HH. Paying more really isn't the issue and in some cases, prices are dictated by the state as in VA. I pay around $23 for an OWA which is a complete steal considering the quality of the single barrel pour.

  2. As a follow up, Heaven Hills stated position is supply as the reason they discontinued the barrel program. At this point in time, I'll take that at face value.