A whiskey using a new barrel aging concept has taken double gold at the International World Whiskey Awards. Smith and Johnson's Small Batch Bourbon took home double gold in the bourbon category and was named "Best Overall Whiskey" in the Small Batch American Whiskey category. A surprising win for a whiskey that was distilled just 72 hours before entry into the competition.
Smith and Johnson's patent-pending "barrel tunnel" approach to aging takes the new make distillate through a 300-foot-long charred oak "tunnel" that's 28 inches in diameter. Half the barrel tunnel is level 3 char, with the final half being a level 4 "alligator" char. Changing the char level midway through the whiskey's journey brings out additional wood and chocolate notes.
The tunnel rotates at a speed of 60rpm while the whiskey travels through it, giving it maximum interaction with the charred surface of the tunnel. The entire aging process takes a mere 45-minutes, and the finished product is then dumped and held for 2 days to "rest" and for sampling to ensure quality. Each Small Batch bottling contains 5 runs of 265 gallons each, 1,325 total gallons per batch. To date, the brand has seen limited distribution outside its home state of South Dakota, but with the IWWA awards, expect to be seeing it in more markets soon.
If you read the above and thought, "Wow, I haven't heard about this. I'll have to check it out." it illustrates the ridiculous bullshit that has become an everyday part of the whiskey community. It seems like countless awards are being handed to ANYONE with enough money to buy one. That's right, BUY ONE.
"Patented" methods to make whiskey using sound waves, quick aging, and other gimmicks are heralded as being able to "extract more flavor" or "drive the whiskey deeper into the barrel." Old family recipes are being discovered after lying dormant for decades, and brand backstories are filled with tales of yore and barrels that have been "discovered." It's all bullshit, but most people will believe anything you tell them, so it has legs.
I'm unsure what particular brand of BS is leading the charge in today's whiskey world, but I think the insanity of awards can encompass everything else underneath it. With all the pay-to-play awards out there today, I think it's time we step up and create the Bourbon Bullshit Awards. No money is needed. We're not taking submissions from brands. Their prior actions are all the necessary evidence to highlight the ridiculousness we are constantly surrounded by. In other words, it's time to call this crap out.
I can't wait to get everyone's feedback on what award categories we should consider for the BBSAs, but if it were up to me, here's where I would start with awards.
MOST RIDICULOUS BOURBON BACKSTORY
We've all heard them, read about them, and thought, "who the hell believes this?"
Some people have even been sued for their ridiculousness – I'm looking at you Templeton Rye.
We see barrels that have been "orphaned" in an old distillery, miraculously found years later, that surprisingly all taste like Dickel (or worse). Historic mines yield water that proofs the whiskey down, which is made in another state, and THAT'S what makes it good and worth $80 a bottle.
Or it's a decades-old recipe that was found and is now being distilled…by MGP. Rolling fields and farm animals may even abound the land surrounding the distillery whose flagship bottles come from Indiana and Canada. Whatever it may be, there's plenty of BS in brand storytelling.
"Open the bottle up, and the whiskey inside has an uphill climb to mediocrity at best."
BEST USE OF A FANCY BOTTLE TO HIDE SUBPAR BOURBON
When you insist on releasing mediocre whiskey or want to charge an insane amount of money for mediocre whiskey, you'd better have yourself a distinguished-looking vessel to hold it so the consumer thinks, "ooooh, it must be good, just look at the bottle!"
People will freak out for bottles that look like a pot still, posting their finds on Instagram or their Facebook bourbon groups. Open the bottle up, and the whiskey inside has an uphill climb to mediocrity at best.
Then you have your craft distillers who charge $200 for their "Limited Editions," going as far as to put a medal around the neck of the bottle. Not an award, just a medal. Not surprisingly, the whiskey leaves a lot to be desired, and at $200, the medal should be used to beat the person who decided to charge $200 for it.
Maybe you're a legendary songwriter who could never sing but got into whiskey. Now you're giving your diehard fans a $500 bottle of sourced Dickel that comes in a leather-bound box that looks like a book. The perfect accessory to smack whoever paid $500 for this over the head. Take that old-timey, dark glass bottle and throw a "rugged" stopper in it, and it looks like it came right out of a scene in Deadwood. Until you open it and realize that the corner of your living room where your cat decided to piss has a more appealing nose on it.
MOST RIDICULOUS MARKETING CAMPAIGN
Where do we even begin? How do you sell bad whiskey? Marketing.
How do you hype mediocre whiskey? Marketing.
How do you appeal to newbies? Marketing.
What pisses off experienced bourbon drinkers? Marketing.
Some of this falls into the brand backstory discussed above. Still, others may have a legitimate story but then choose to undertake something that a focus group said, "ooh, that's nice!"
The one campaign that seems to stand atop the hill for this one involves not just one, not just two, but TWO HUNDRED FLAVORS to be discovered in JUST ONE BOTTLE of bourbon. Then you have others who don't have a marketing plan, so to speak but announce themselves as the Pappy Van Winkle of a state outside of Kentucky. It then becomes the pull quote for that brand.
Let's not forget that when you take a brand that bourbon enthusiasts covet, that people continually shower with praise and roses, and blatantly rip-off their concept to sell a different brand, it will rub everyone the wrong way.
"You got any in the back?"
MOST OVERHYPED BOURBON
You got any in the back? What else needs to be said here? We all know which bottle wins this category. I don't even need to say the name. This one wins the (horse) race by a mile.
MOST ANNOYING HABIT BY THE BOURBON CONSUMER
They're all annoying, so it's hard to pick just one. This could be a three-way tie between crotch shots, gunshots, and watch shots. Where is the logic even at with those?
Who the hell thinks, "ooh, let me get my firearm and my liquor together because what could possibly go wrong?"
The watch shots make me think, "What time is it? It's time for you to sit down and act like an adult."
The crotch shot thing, though, who even started that?
Who said, "I'm gonna put this here bottle between my legs in the driver's seat of my car and make sure everyone knows I got it."
Who cares? Go home, open the bottle, have a drink, take a picture of said drink, post wherever you want. Why the need to do it the moment you get in the car? Unless, of course, you're going to defile the bottle in the same position after you snap the picture, which wouldn't surprise me with some of you.
Then you have photos of bottle collections that are 90% unopened. Hundreds of bottles on the wall, but try to find more than 10 that are opened. There should be a bourbon police force that comes around and confiscates those unopened bottles. I'll be the chief.
Where do all these photos show up, though? In Facebook groups and on Instagram. The FB groups get more of the "hey, found (insert standard Buffalo Trace product here)!"
I'm sure liquor store employees would vote for the "do you have any Blanton's?" moron coming in five times a day. "Got anything special back there?" You, who have never stepped in this store before, expect the staff to give you an allocated bottle (if they have one) because you asked?
No, now go home and drink your Cleveland Whiskey.
"This could be a three-way tie between crotch shots, gunshots, and watch shots."
CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENT OF A PRODUCT
When whiskey grows in popularity, you'd better believe celebrities will get in on the action. Some of them have done it right, like Sammy Hagar. But let's face it, when it comes to celebrities and liquor, NOBODY has ever come close to hitting the home run that Hagar did.
Now more than ever, celebrities are getting into the game by putting out their own whiskey. Retired football players, whose insanely annoying commentary has ruined many a Sunday morning pre-game, can be found with their own bourbon brand that they launched because they wanted it "be smooth and so forth." Then there's the previously mentioned songwriter who could never sing, taking a bunch of sourced Tennessee whiskey and putting it in a fancy bottle.
But the winner here has to be Coach Jason Brown, whose Slapdick agave whiskey has made recent headlines not because of anything positive.
When a respected whiskey blogger and industry veteran, A Lil' Dab of Bourbon, posted an image of the bottle, label front and center, with the caption "Well… this is quite the start to the week," Brown started harassing and bullying her online. At least until she called him out for his BS and EVERYONE in the whiskey community came to her defense and criticized the brand and the coach. Then one state's distributor dropped the product and canceled all orders. That was in 48-hours.
Since then, more has come to light on additional harassment by the coach and his fans, all of it wholly ridiculous and disgraceful. Sor for Coach JB, I think he deserves not just a Bourbon Bullshit Award but a Jackass of the Year award as well.
After co-hosting the Bourbon & Banter podcast for the past 18 months, I've come to realize just how much bullshit is happening in today's bourbon and whiskey world. As such, this has become a bit of a soapbox for me. But you know what? We talk about it all the time, so it's time we all call it out!
I encourage you to reply below or reach out to us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Let us know what categories we missed or who you think should win a Bourbon Bullshit Award. You know, if they were real. 😉