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Market Watch: Pushing Bourbon’s Boundaries

September 27, 2022

As Bourbon’s profile continues to rise among both seasoned and novice spirits consumers, distillers are innovating within the category’s defined production guidelines by experimenting with cask finishes, original blends, and new ingredients.

“Our Bourbon portfolio is focused on having a brand and an expression for every legal-drinking-age consumer, no matter what their level of knowledge or love of American whiskey is,” says Jon Marks, senior director of global small batch whiskies at James B. Beam Distilling Co. He notes that someone who isn’t a regular drinker of American whiskey would be drawn to Basil Hayden, with its light flavor profile and spicy finish, while Knob Creek offers an older age statement to showcase its depth of flavor. Exploring innovations in cask finishes can be found in brands like Legent and Basil Hayden.

“Cask finishes have been a hallmark of Scotch and Japanese whiskies for years and have been one of the most interesting ways they develop unique flavors out of their base spirits,” says Marks. “Blending is another lever we’ve explored, as we’ve looked to brands like Little Book or Legent, which marries Kentucky Bourbon making with Japanese blending techniques.”

Brown-Forman has invested substantially in the Versailles, Kentucky-based Woodford Reserve distillery over the past decade, which has allowed Woodford to keep up with demand as it branches out with new releases. In June, Woodford Reserve introduced the latest release in its Distillery Series, Toasted Oak Oat Grain ($60 a 375-ml.). From a base of its Oat Grain Bourbon, originally released in 2018 within the Master’s Collection as the first Kentucky Bourbon to have oats in the recipe, the latest edition undergoes a second maturation in toasted new oak barrels. “We continue to investigate how a double-oaked barrel finish impacts different mashbills,” says Chris Morris, master distiller.

Nashville-based Sweetens Cove is also exploring beyond the boundaries of traditional Kentucky Bourbon with its latest whiskey, Kennessee Bourbon ($59 a 750-ml.). The blend of Kentucky Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey was created by master blender Marianne Eaves to honor both classic styles of whiskey. Founded in 2020, Sweetens Cove is named after a golf course in Marion County, Tennessee that was bought in early 2019 by Peyton Manning, Andy Roddick, Tom Nolan, Rob Collins, and real estate developers Mark Rivers and Skip Bronson.

As the oldest Bourbon-style whiskey maker in Texas, Garrison Brothers Distillery’s small team continues to learn and innovate new processes for unique takes on the spirit. This July, the Hye, Texas-based distillery rolled out its second annual release of Guadalupe Bourbon, a limited release, 53.5% abv Bourbon finished in imported tawny port casks.

“Over the past decade, craft and emerging brands have been innovating in the space with their products and methods, driving change and pushing boundaries in a category that to-date has been focused on heritage and set rules that resulted in very little variation or change,” says Craig Johnson, vice president of marketing for the American Whiskey Collective at Pernod Ricard USA. “More brands are opening up outside of Bourbon’s traditional Kentucky home, and that expansion will only continue.” Market Watch has more on innovation in the Bourbon category.

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