Monday, February 10, 2014

Reader Poll: Younger, Weaker or Harder to Get?


Last week's list of bourbons that have lost their age statements got me thinking about the problem distillers are facing in the current market.  I'm sure most companies would rather not remove age statements or lower proof, but they feel they have to in order to meet demand.  Meanwhile, enthusiast consumers get frustrated over younger and weaker whiskeys on the one hand but also about scarcity of brands that haven't lowered their age or proof on the other.  From a producer perspective, I can see how it seems like a no win situation.

So, what would we, as consumers, prefer?  Let's assume that there is not enough of a beloved whiskey to meet demand.  The company producing the whiskey faces the choice of taking off the age statement, lowering the proof or making no changes, but making no changes will cause scarcity which, of course, encourages hoarding and flipping at higher secondary market prices.  So, as a consumer, would you rather see a brand:

1.  Take away the age statement;

2.  Lower the proof; or

3. Maintain the age and proof even though it will cause shortages and make the whiskey harder to get.

Respond in the comments.


30 comments:

Shane said...

I would prefer if they left everything the same, including the price, and let scarcity speak for itself. Too often, when the company leaves the proof and age it seems like the retail price sky rockets, too.

Steffen Bräuner said...

Harder to get

Most people have lots of bottles bunkered anyway

Steffen

will s. said...

I'd rather they raise the price, but seeing as how that isn't an option, make it harder to get.

I hate seeing brands/age statements go away, as they are harder to recover than price point. This too shall pass, the bourbon bubble is already showing signs of strain.

sam k said...

Given a choice of only one, I'd much prefer that the age and proof remain and the product become somewhat more scarce (Has anyone noticed any kind of shortage for Maker's since their issues??). But then we've got to be willing to accept higher price increases, which seem to be coming regardless.

As a second option, I'd prefer they remove the age statement and keep the proof. I've been a big fan of Evan Williams 1783 for more than the 10 years that they used to put on the label, and have not noticed any decline in quality since they pulled the age statement.

Dropping proof is a death knell for me as a consumer, as I rarely buy any whiskey under 86 proof.

Jim M said...

I agree with Will - I'd rather the producers embrace the free market and let price dictate the allocation of scarce resources. Why they aren't taking the piles of money sitting in front of them is a mystery.

Since that's not an option, I also favor making it harder to get, but allocated more fairly so people can't hoard. Limit purchases to 1 per customer and take away distribution from retailers who game the system.

Harry said...

Do not lower the proof; it changes the taste profile too much, making the reason I buy a particular brand invalid so I'll stop buying it and stick with my other dozen or so brands on hand. If the traditional age statement goes away (like "6 years" is changed to an undefined numeral "6"), take off the misleading 6 and tell us what's the youngest, anyway, and let us taste a bottle or two. If price drifts up too much, you may lose me for awhile, but I'll come back when either the general market catches up or production catches up or taste profile stabilizes.

sam k said...

Another thought, expanding on my comment above: the only time I can't accept a drop in age is when the product falls below 4 years of age.

It has happened to Old Crow, Benchmark, Old Overholt, and Heaven Hill. At 3 years (or the preferred "thirty-six months"), they're all too young and much less acceptable.

I find it a particular shame for Overholt, which was never anything but Bottled in Bond from its original Broad Ford, Pa. distillery.

Anonymous said...

3. And hope the 'bubble' one day fizzes out.

danz said...

3. Maintain age and proof; but also consider a line extension without an age statement, which could take some of the pressure off of limited aged stocks by allowing some younger bottles out in the same family. That won't make everybody happy, but nothing will. However, that has a chance of keeping some bottles in the family available and capable of being more quickly replenished, while also keeping the integrity of the original.

Prices: From what I've seen, the three-tier system is the biggest culprit. If producers could sell directly, the distribution system would be more manageable, with fewer layers of people trying to take a cut.

sylvan said...

1) Drop age statement IF you can keep quality up, obviously there are limits to how young of a whiskey you can use.

2) Increase scarcity.

3) NEVER drop proof; you're literally just adding water.

Carlton said...

Maintain age and proof. Shortages and excess inventory are inherent in any product with such a long lead time between production and sale. It seems to me that "satisfying demand" is the whiskey companies' euphemism for "selling all we can, even if it isn't as good as what we used to sell." Once a whiskey starts down the NAS road, it is too easy to chip away at quality in the name of the bottom line.

WTK said...

Maintain proof and age, let the market price adjust for shortage of supply.

cevie said...

Agree with most of the comments already up. Never lower proof. Even if proof was significantly dropped on all whiskies I like, I wouldn't buy one. I would drink more wine and cognac rather than buy my whisky more watered down. I'd consider buying a slightly younger bottling from a few favorite distillers, but would still want an age statement.

Mark said...

I'd rather see the product become more scarce than see the proof or age statement dropped.

@cevie - question for you - would you drink 80 proof cognac over a whiskey that had its proof dropped from 100 or 90 to 86? The vast majority of the cognac out there seems to be 80 proof.

Alex said...

Maintain everything and deal with the scarcity. I don't know of anyone giving up on a brand completely because of its scarcity--it certainly doesn't hurt Buffalo Trace and Van Winkle.

Anything else is just screwing the consumer out of the greed to sell more. I understand the arguments for raising the price, but I feel that's a little too opportunistic. But I understand that's not how capitalism works.

When they created the stock, they certainly were hoping they could sell all of it at prices that were reasonable back then. Their predictions came true, and they should be happy to sell all their stock at their planned price--they can now sell their planned X number of bottles at Y price.

That's a business success, and they can incorporate the current environment into their predictions for future production levels.

Anonymous said...

Life's problematic enough without fretting over some distillery PR horsesh*t. I've been a whisk(e)y fan since 1996 and have learned there isn't a single product so beloved that once altered until it becomes an entirely different product with the same name (looking at you Russell's Reserve, Wild Turkey and Eagle Rare), or becomes comically allocated (Van Winkle/Antique Collection), or becomes ridiculously over-priced (Mac 18, Elijah Craig 20/21), that I invest any further time, $, or effort finding and buying. There's always something else delicious and interesting to buy with great flavor, price, and availability... always.

Anonymous said...

They should take what stocks they have, put it in smaller bottles, add the up charge for extra handling, labor, materials, etc so that we have a chance to buy the age and proof combinations we have come to love, and "give up" our ability to get it in larger quantities than we might otherwise prefer.

Anonymous said...

Retain the proper aging for the products that have been defined by that age statement. The corporate people are playing a risky game when they try to play games with educated consumers. "We age it to the proper flavor" is spin like we hear from shifty politicians. We can reasonably expect price increases and shortages when demand is up, but what we do not want is a decrease in quality while being told it is the same. There are mass produced bourbons that never had age statements that we know are being stretched because the consumer expects to see that brand on the shelf, but if your brand is based on the fact that it has always been aged a certain period of time and you change that, you've changed too much. So a few more dollars or an occasional shortage, OK, but if you produce a lesser product I believe you will find that consumers might just start looking to the guys that have made the commitment to stay true to their to their brand - and their customers.

Anonymous said...

Consumer influence isn't just off-the-shelf small-ball supply/demand microeconomic behavior. It's also about frustration with the status quo and the consumer right to demand higher quality, more diversity and more price competition.

Step 1: Elect a functional Congress and lobby them more effectively than the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America. Demand Congress and the FTC dismantle the three-tier system--or at least blow-up the rampant consolidation that's gone on in the wholesale liquor distribution industry over the past 10 years.

Step 2: Halt the domestic M&A activity of giant global liquor producers and level the domestic price competition playing field.

Step 3: With fewer monolithic producers and less (or no) colossal distributors, the U.S. retail universe no longer revolves around a few enormous online retailers and big-box retail/wholesale stores. Who, incidentally, have become super cozy with producers and distributors over the past decade.

Unknown said...

Great question. Love your blog. The easy answer for me is leave it be and let us fight it out for whatever is produced. If the choice was lower proof or remove age statement, I'm okay with ditching the age statement if the flavor is about the same. I prefer really high proof (think GTS), so if you mess with my proof, I'm out.

Bourbon Fight Club said...

I'd much rather they leave it like it is and not remove the age or lower the proof. I love GTS and WLW. As many have said, it is likely this is another bubble. I personally wouldn't mind if they raised some prices to help deter the hoarding and the flipping. When the bubble breaks, those of us who love the aged, higher proof bourbon will still be here while many others will move on to the next new phase which I hear is a skinny martini with half gin and half vodka. Cheers

Anonymous said...

#3-because it's a proven product, why change it? In most cases, the distillary already has a less superior product on the shelf, why add another?

Alex said...

While I agree the three-tier system should be dismantled, which would allow more flexibility, I don't believe it would lower prices. Why wouldn't the brands just grab the extra profit or only drop the price a little when everyone has been paying $30 a bottle, or whatever, forever.

Furthermore, I don't know how you can "level the domestic price competition playing field." The giant liquor producers already own most of what's worth drinking. Price competition will never happen. Do any of the large cell phone service providers charge less than their competition? No, why would they? Everyone company has its major brands, and if you want to drink Bailey's Irish Cream, Campari isn't going to satisfy. And people who want Grey Goose don't want Pinnacle.

Lastly, the largest retailers will always be "cozy" with producers, just like Walmart has the lowest prices, because size and sales volume equals negotiating power. The alternative is state minimum pricing, which doesn't work for other reasons.

Chuck Logsdon said...

Drop the age statement.

A large number of people have have consistently shown that they will hoard when things get scarce even if they never tasted a drop of a particular bottling.

I'd rather have the product available to me than it have an age statement.

Anonymous said...

Option #3, but I would rather them raise their prices.

Anonymous said...

3 . Maintain the age and proof > Sell 375ml bottles or even 50 ml samples.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter what half-measures consumers would rather see, U.S. whiskey exports have grown so profoundly over the last decade, 519% to Brazil alone, that being a mulinational Spirits corporation is like printing money and spending it on winning Powerball tickets everyday. Lucrative exports mean less supply, less supply means higher prices for domestic customers. Our lose-lose is their win-win.

Eli R. said...

#3 if ABV or age drops then price should drop. Although that's never the case

politicalidiot said...

Never compromise quality, raise the prices if necessary.

JML said...

I would prefer they drop the age statement, it doesn't have too huge of an impact on taste and is mostly marketing anyways.