People

The bourbon question

In this round table we asked two prominent members of the bourbon industry and Whisky Magazine readers about the future of bourbon.
Panel
Chris Morris Woodford Reserve CM
Julian Van Winkle Old Rip Van Winkle JW
Jonathon Di Blasi Bergen, Norway JB
Troy Egan Victoria, Australia TE
Christopher Watkin Lincolnshire UK CW

Q:How is the bourbon industry reaching new drinkers?CM:The bourbon category is doing two things, really. Firstly it is attracting new drinkers by presenting itself with quality, innovation and a contemporary attitude. Secondly it’s keeping and growing its current base of bourbon drinkers for exactly the same reason. In the case of Woodford Reserve, we believe consumers, regardless of their category preference, are attracted to the brand because of its handcrafted production and taste complexity but also because it is promoted as a very mixable, very “easy to adopt” brand that fits their lifestyle. The secret is understanding that consumers are now, more than ever before, buying brands and not categories.JW: I think as more press about high-end bourbons is published, new customers are always available to try something new. Many bourbon drinkers are familiar with only the mainstream bourbons and larger brands.So as new bourbon offerings are made available these customers are trying them out and liking them because they are so different to what they are used to drinking.JB:Well I think it would help to offer different shaped bottles, various labels, personalising bourbon for all ages not just the old man anymore. Helping people understand it’s something they want to taste and enjoy.TE: One cannot deny that with the advent of the internet and companies creating product websites, they have effectively achieved global marketing at a cost far below what once was and to complement there is a ‘new’ generation of technology users who have no problem in using the internet as a formidable resource for research and expanding one’s global knowledge.Thus with the use of new marketing technologies and techniques, new consumer avenues are opened.CW:Word of mouth. People want the cool of malts but are afraid of them. The Scotch industry must not be afraid of bourbon. The path of many a malt Anorak started with a Jack Daniels.Q:Can the bourbon industry keep up with increased global demand?CM: In regards to Woodford Reserve the answer is yes.We have planned for success. Unlike many bourbon brand companies we produce all of our own bourbon and therefore have control of our destiny.JW: I disagree. There is no way that the bourbon industry can keep up with the global demand. One reason is that there is so much potential for the high-end bourbons because of all the new possible markets around the world. The other reason that older high-end bourbon will never meet demand is because sufficient supplies of bourbon to supply the demand in the world today were not distilled years ago. Ten to 20 years ago, distillers had no idea that older premium bourbon would be in such high demand as it is today. It will take years for the supply to catch up with the demand.JB:Of course it can! The American machine! Whatever it takes to keep up with business, they will! They’ll market new and exciting bourbons to reach out to new and old customers alike.TE: I do agree, however this would be predominately controlled by the ‘big bosses’ of such companies. If the bosses are not up to scale on global trends then of course they wouldn’t know to either change or offer more variations in product along with increasing supply into the market.I believe the way things are going within the liquour industry the larger companies are going to be losing market share to more of the boutique producers and as such the smaller producers will be probably more affected by increase in demand.CW: Keep making the stuff is the only way! I believe they can. It only takes three years to make a decent bourbon. Those poor Scots, it takes at least 10 years!Q:What innovations can producers come up with to keep drinkers interested in the catergory?CM:Bourbon by nature of its production definition is limited in its innovative capacity.The Woodford Reserve Distillery has certainly been the most innovative by replacing the continuous distillation process used at the other distilleries in Kentucky with that of a pot still process. It is also the only bourbon distillery to triple distill its product. Our own cooperage crafts a unique barrel for the distillery and we mature our product in the last warehouses that use the 1874 ‘Patent’ cycling process. So in a real sense Woodford Reserve has innovated by looking to the past for our inspiration.JW: I think the bourbon enthusiast would enjoy something different than what is on the market. This would include specially aged bottlings, whether they are aged in a unique situation in the warehouse or aged in different woods. Also, unfiltered, barrel proof bottlings are always interesting and will attract interest among bourbon drinkers.JD: I think the way forward includes selling casks, organising visits to casks, and bottling your own cask with your name on it.TE: For me there is only one way...masterclasses. Held by the master distiller/blender themselves. I believe this is the best way as it involves chatting to the actual person who made the product.CW: Bourbon is popular for its heritage as much for its taste. The challenge for our American cousins is to retain those old world values, keeping the current drinkers and attracting new ones.A mix of price points and styles will enable those mid 20s people who drink Jack Daniels to progress to say Woodford Reserve or the new young Sazerac Rye, but will still accommodate us anoraks who don’t mind spending £80 on a Sazerac 18 Years Old.