‘Bourbon Empire’ Reveals Smoke & Mirrors Of American Whiskey

on 05/05/15 at 10:15 am

Booze News

9780670016839_custom-f6af410e5df314f2680d56a86ecceeb5e41e0155-s300-c85Craft bourbon, like craft beer, is in the midst of a boom: In the past 15 years, the number of distilleries in the U.S. has surged from just a handful to around 600.

Why are Americans buying more bourbon? According to author Reid Mitenbuler, one reason is that we’re being seduced by clever bottles and throwback labels. Along with enticing branding, some of these bottles of “craft bourbon” boast hefty price tags. Take Pappy Van Winkle, a craft bourbon with “family reserve” editions that retail for thousands of dollars.

And yet “the term ‘craft’ is little more than an ambiguous buzzword,” Mitenbuler writes in a new book, Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey. Behind all the craft buzz, Mitenbuler says, are actually just some “carefully cultivated myths” created by an industry on a roll.

According to Mitenbuler, many of the newer bourbon brands are actually just spinoffs of factory brands: Knob Creek Distillery, for example, is owned by Jim Beam and made at the same plant as the mass-produced Beam. But you’d never know, since they’re packaged to appear different, smaller and therefore more rare. What’s inside some artisanal-looking bottles may be startlingly close — and in cases exactly the same — as the mass-produced stuff.

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