As we all know, there is a shortage of old whiskey. Whiskey producers are dropping age statements left and right. Sometimes age statements just disappear, other times they are replaced by something else, like Macallan's color scheme. Lately, however, it appears that a deceptive new tactic is being practiced by Sazerac, the parent company of the Buffalo Trace, Barton and Bowman distilleries.
Very Old Barton is a popular six year old bourbon available in Kentucky and adjacent states. It's known and loved for being a high quality, affordable bourbon. New bottles of Barton no longer say 6 years old, but they still prominently display a 6 on the neck label. Similarly, this newly approved label for Old Charter, formerly an 8 year old bourbon, now simply shows a number 8 without stating it is "8 years old." This is similar to what Sazerac did a few years ago when they introduced Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star. There is a 10 year old Ancient Ancient Age which is quite popular but getting harder to find. It is very easy to mistake the 10 Star for the 10 year old.
I contacted Sazerac and they had the following comment:
We have moved some brands away from age declared statements because delivering a consistent taste profile is more important than the age statement to our customers. In the case of Old Charter, sometimes that means 8 years old, sometimes 9, sometimes 7. We were finding that we had barrels that were 7 years and 10 months old that tasted closer to standard than barrels at 8 years and 3 months but could not use them due to the age statement and consequently in these tight inventory times we were running our customers out of stock. That issue is now solved. That being said, Old Charter will continue to average 8 years old for the foreseeable future and the same can be said about VOB, it will continue to be a 6 year old whiskey for the foreseeable future.They also told me, "At this time, we do not have plans to remove age statements from any other brands."
I'm not thrilled with the growing scarcity of age statements, but I understand it and appreciate the dilemma that distillers are in. However, replacing the age with just a number is dishonest and unworthy of a company like Sazerac. It's true that there are other whiskeys that use number designations, but most of them, such as Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 and Maker's 46, never had an age statement.
If Sazerac wants the flexibility to use younger whiskey, they should take the number off the bottle altogether. What they are doing is deception pure and simple, and they should knock it off. Then again, maybe they were just sore at being left off of my Worst Whiskey Company of the year award for 2013 and are trying to get an early start for this year's competition.