...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, June 20, 2016

No Whisky Consumer is Ever Really Powerless, and a review of Booker's Rye

It sucks when you can't afford the thing you like.  It sucks worse when you feel powerless over this inability to purchase your desire.  Thus the commodification and premiumisation of whisky sucks.  It sucks the simple pleasures away and replaces them with the reminder that you are impotent in the face of large outside forces.  You feel anger because the stuff you like has been taken from you.  So you react.  Either you buy things you can't afford anyway.  Or you rage about these offenses against mankind on the corner of every online avenue.  Or you recognize that, damn, you've become emotionally dependent on an inanimate object, and that the people and systems that created this thing do not care about your existence.  And then you're left trying to figure out how you got to this point.  But rather than confronting this personal issue, you find it much easier to complain about prices, publicly swear you're not going to feed the market animal, and then quietly continue to buy whiskies at many times the rate at which you'll consume them.  Trust me, you'll be angry again.  Very soon.

This is my review of the new limited edition Booker's Rye, now selling and selling out for over $300.  Many many thanks to The Whiskey Jug for this sample.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Booker's
Type: Straight Rye Whisky
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: known only by a dead man, apparently
Age: 13 years
Batch: 1
Alcohol by volume: 68.1%

There are so many dessert elements in the nose: toffee pudding, vanilla pods, almond croissants, milk chocolate, and toasted coconut.  Then there's something in between creamsicles and orange sherbet.  Puffs of wood smoke here and there.  Occasional moments of old oak framing the spirit.  Sometimes there's a hint of maple.  The palate leads with caramel sauce.  In fact its texture is almost as thick as caramel sauce.  Roasted almonds.  Tart raspberries and tart cherries.  Maybe some sour fruit candy.  Again, some wood smoke.  Rolos infused with cayenne pepper in the finish.  More of the caramel sauce, with tart berries and cherries.

What do you pay for when you buy a whiskey?  Are you buying the story?  Are you buying the packaging?  Are you buying the exclusivity?  Or are you just buying the fluid in the bottle?

We put our trust in the producers that the information on the label is correct, that the whiskey is X years old, so-and-so abv, that it's "Straight", that it's bottled-in-bond or a single barrel.  These are regulated by a government unit, but it's an entity that can't even get its own rules right when approving alcoholic products.  And that's just the label.

Then there's the story.  Story is essential, or so a revered whisky writer said publicly to a group of craft entrepreneurs a couple years ago.  So story is what we continue get, from both the little guys and the big guys.  Sometimes (if not the majority of the time), there's no truth behind the story.  Rather than take one element of a product and exploit its indispensable nature, many companies support the marketing approach of The Complete Lie, horking up a sticky web of effluvium to capture revenue.

But sometimes the tale may be true.  Booker Noe probably did make this one batch of high-rye rye whiskey before he passed away, taking the recipe with him.  Maybe this is legitimately limited and scarce.  Does that thrill you enough to entice you to pay triple the price of what you'd normally see for a pre-pubescent rye?  And speaking of the listed age, there isn't much 13yo rye out there to begin with, so does that get you to pay considerably more than you would for an 8yo rye?  I'm not talking about market forces.  I'm talking about the human behavior behind those forces.  I'm talking about we, the micro.

But am I anything more than superficially part of the 'we"?  Whisk(e)y pricing doesn't make any sense to me.  People buying whiskies at five to ten times the rate they consume the stuff doesn't make any sense to me.  People piling up credit card debt to buy things just to keep up with the cult doesn't make any sense to me.  I can't relate to any of this.  It's been years since I felt the ache of this consuming addiction, and I don't feel like I'm missing anything by not committing to the chase.  Does this make me a bad whisky blogger?  Does this make me unreliable?  Am I no longer part of the club?  Frankly, my dear, I don't give a fuck.

Booker's Rye is one of the best ryes I've had, comparable to the finest of Willett/MGP and Buffalo Trace.  While its nose is tremendous, its palate is merely awesome.  While I usually have issues with overbearing oak in whiskies half its age, that's not the case here.  The oak merges and heightens the well-matured spirit.  What a treat!  Would I buy it for $300?  No.  Would I buy it for half that price?  No.  But, though I've never paid $100 for an American whiskey, I would probably break that rule with this one.  The scarcity and the story do not move me as much as the whiskey itself does.  So I could recommend it at $100.  If the backstory affects your wallet's emotions and enhances your buying and drinking experience enough to pay thrice that amount, have at it.  But don't get angry when the next rye with a three-act structure enters the market with a $400 tag.  Especially if it's another rye by the same company.

Availability - Primary market? Good luck with that. Secondary market? Aplenty.
Pricing - $300 is the floor, there is no ceiling
Rating - 92