What’s With the Cheap, Expensive Whiskey Trend?

Sitting inside while watching the snow come down through the window I’m convinced is why man invented whiskey. Now that rye whiskey has made a resurgence, I can enjoy the weather the same way my Pennsylvania ancestors did, before that failed nanny state experiment known as Prohibition nearly killed this local style forever. But when it comes to rye, there’s some things appearing in the market place I don’t understand.

There’s currently several market attempts to essentially pass off as high-end product something that closely resembles moonshine. The first one I’ve tried recently is Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye. This is a new rye brand that’s made locally right next door in Bristol, and while I think this rye has great potential if aged more, my first reaction was that it was bottled before its time. Dad’s Hat also make a white, un-aged whiskey product. I noticed the other day Jack Daniels is making one as well that sells for close to 40 dollars (!!!!) a fifth at the local state store.

I have no issue with the idea un-aged, or little aged whiskey products, but white whiskey is usually referred to as white lightning, or white dog. It is what you end up with after multiple distillations of the mash, but before the whiskey goes into the charred, white oak barrels which is where, over time, it turns from white lightning into whiskey. Whiskeys that were un-aged, or aged too little, were previously relegated to either the bottom shelf, or bottles that said XXX that your Uncle kept hidden out behind the woodshed.

I get nostalgia for the good ol’ days when our alcoholic ancestors drank motor fuel, but I’m just not going to pay a premium for something that’s not far from what grandpa used to store in the bathtub in case the Treasury men came knocking. Old Overholt is a perfectly fine rye whiskey for the price. Bulleit is also making a decent rye for less money. I currently have in the cabinet a Knob Creek rye that I like a lot. There’s a lot of companies starting to manufacture decent rye whiskey. But I don’t get the idea of selling un-aged or poorly aged products and charging top shelf prices for it. Surely this is a fad?

UPDATE: Uncle explains the origins.

UPDATE: The more things change, the more they stay the same:

Besides, the Whiskey Rebellion didn’t really have as disastrous an effect on Monongahela as is often portrayed. It could be argued, in fact, that it was the best thing to happen to American whiskey since the Revolutionary War popularized the substitution of American products for such “loyalist” items as tea and rum. The imposition of the excise tax may have made distilling prohibitive to some individual farmers, but for the commercial distiller the result was the elimination of an entire class of competition, and at a cost that could be simply added as an expense to the final price.

18 thoughts on “What’s With the Cheap, Expensive Whiskey Trend?”

  1. It’s cool. I’ve even seen the stuff sold in mason jars, to complete the authentic look. Having been offered the real deal when I traveled to WV for work many years back, yeah, I wouldn’t pay premium money for what is essentially bad vodka either.

    1. I’ve seen the mason jar stuff at the state stores, and while it’s priced a bit high for my liking, it never occurred to me that you could make 40 dollars a bottle making moonshine.

  2. Once Pabst Blue Ribbon became a fad and a hipster brand, anything’s possible.

    Next up: Night Train as vintage wine!

  3. Popcorn Sutton’s family sold his recipe to Hank Williams who started producing it here in TN. After it’s explosive success, everyone else started making shine.

  4. “. . .it never occurred to me that you could make 40 dollars a bottle making moonshine. . .”

    I’m just passing along family oral history that I have no way of verifying:

    My immigrant grandfather was a bootlegger in Schuykill County before Prohibition. According to his children, he made whiskey so good, from grain that he grew on his own farm, that he could pass it off as imported Canadian whiskey, and sell it for $5 a bottle, back in the ’10s, almost a century ago. I have no idea of the recipe, nor could I verify the price, but consider that $5 was probably about half a week’s wages for most Schuykill County residents back then. So, by comparison $40 today does not seem so eye-popping.

    Of course I can still remember drinking nickel beers — small, sure, but a nickel — and never would have believed a day would come when I’d spend $25 – $30 in a night sitting in a pub. I remember when $3 a night was a bit frivolous.

  5. I suspect that a good part of the popularity in the past 3 years has been the show Moonshiners.

    I have tried a couple of the brands of ‘shine in the state stores and it is not bad. But the commercial, aged rye stuff is far better!

    1. I guess this is what I get for cutting the cord :) I didn’t know there was a popular show. There’s one way you can drink moonshine if you’re really inclined, and that’s by making moonshine.

      1. “. . .that’s by making moonshine.”

        But there’s good moonshine and bad moonshine, I think the main difference being, whether it’s distilled from freshly malted grain mash, or if it’s sugar-whiskey made by recharging old mash with a fresh dose of sugar.

        Per my little oral history above, new whiskey made right can be quite good, without aging, but whiskey made by stretching the ingredients can be pretty bad.

        My dad used to dismiss all vodka as “potato whiskey,” and wouldn’t even bother to grab a bottle or two when they were loading it on Russian ships to send to the Soviet Union during WWII, when he was working longshore.

  6. There’s always a trend train passing and no shortage of unoriginal people who are willing to jump on and brag. Wet shaving, vodka, and cigars were all trends that came and went. This too will pass.

  7. Also there are a TON of people getting into “boutique spirits” on the heels of the Microbrewery trend.

    The only problem is if you end-goal is a 4yo or 8yo or longer spirit, you need to pay for a warehouse for those years before you see a dime in return. So they’ve taken to selling the white stuff while the brown stuff goes brown.

    This leads to stuff like Boston’s Own “Bully Boy Organic White Whiskey” http://www.bullyboydistillers.com/bully-boy-whiskey.html

    Of course this isn’t the stupid cheap corn whiskey traditional shine is, and given that its made from Organic grains, yeah the stuff isn’t cheap.

    It also doesn’t taste much better than the stuff I buy for cheap.

    1. ^^ This. To start up a craft distillery costs upwards of a million dollars, and 10 years is a long wait to see a return on that investment. In addition to the cost of raw materials and warehousing, if you’re in Kentucky you also need to pay taxes *up front* when the spirits go into the barrel. So many new distilleries are producing other products (gin, brandy, and white whiskey in particular) to keep the lights on in the meantime.

      Also interesting to note that in the “resurgence of rye whiskey”, over half of the ryes on the market (Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye, Bulleit Rye, Dickel Rye, Willet Rye, etc) come from the same commercial distillery, LDI in Indiana.

  8. The only one that make sense to me (so far) is the Jim Beam “Jacob’s Ghost” stuff that is aged 1 year in uncharred white oak barrels. Is mostly clear, cheaper than the Jim Beam Bourbon, and tastes a whole lot better than Jim Beam. Tastes almost like a mid brand Irish Whiskey.
    Try it-

  9. This is the same trend as bottled water. Why would anyone pay more money for water than the gasoline they put in their car? Especially when you can get it practically free out of the tap? Our nation is blessed with clean potable water delivered right to your sink, for pennies. Having lived in places where you could die drinking the water, it just sickens me what our nation takes for granted.

    1. Philly water might be safe, but it’s pretty disgusting taste wise. A hint of metallic with a bouquet of muddy river bottom, is how I’d describe it. I’ve been in places I’d gladly drink the municipal source, but I don’t blame anyone around here for not wanting to drink the tap water.

    2. I’ve drank well water around this state that reminds me why Sulfur and Iron are associated with Hell and Damnation.

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