STAYING ON TOP OF THE SHELF
With the success comes pressure on shelf
space as bourbon’s popularity has fueled
innovation. For retailers and on-premise
operators, it means tough decisions as
to what brands to carry and how best to
train staff on all the variants. “It’s the little
things that separate one bourbon from the
next,” according the Maker’s Mark Master
Distiller Greg Davis. Selling bourbon re-
quires an appreciation for those nuances.
With that in mind, below is a guide to
a range of labels—separated into the lead-
ing brands and notable small-batch prod-
ucts—each with a story, plus a sense of style.
Bourbon, as its most basic, is a whiskey dis-
tilled in the United States from a ferment-
ed mixture of hot water and grain mash
containing at least 51% corn. The exact
mash bill is often kept secret by the distiller,
but general proportions are usually known
and can be very useful when selling; when
a consumer prefers a particular brand it
makes sense to recommend similar styles
based on the mash bill.
LEADING BRANDS
Largely driven by price, these brands
make up nearly half the American straight
whiskey category and are growing a
collective 4.8%. Jim Beam is the leader,
bolstered by the runaway success of the
flavored Red Stag line. Evan Williams,
which just this year announced a new bottle
design with Evan Williams’s signature
blown into the glass, has had success with a
line of flavors as well as their Single Barrel
Vintage Bourbon and 1783 Small Batch.
The Samuels family’s first line extension
paid off: Maker’s 46 (a $10 premium to
Maker’s Mark) added 50,000 cases to the
franchise. And by quickly defusing the
debacle over the shortlived plan to lower
the proof of the flagship, Maker’s Mark is
still cruising along and, like many in the
category, hoping they can keep up supply.
Brands below are presented in order of
descending volume.
JIM BEAM
[ HIGH RYE ]
Jacob Beam created his first batch of corn
whiskey, called “Old Jake Beam,” in 1795,
and production has stayed in the family for
seven generations. It wasn’t until 1933 that
the bottle bore the name “Jim Beam” to
honor James B. Beam after he revived the
business at the end of Prohibition.
EVAN WILLIAMS
[ TRADITIONAL ]
Kentucky’s first commercial distiller, Evan
Williams emigrated from Wales and
began selling his bourbon in Louisville
in 1783. The brand is now overseen
by Heaven Hill’s father-and-son Master
Distillers, Parker and Craig Beam, using
the same process and traditional recipe.
MAKER’S MARK
[ WHEATED ]
Bill Samuels Sr. tried jobs as a banker and
a car salesman before he had the idea of
creating gourmet bourbon in 1954. His
wife Marjorie collected 19
th
century Co-
gnac bottles and pewter, which inspired
the name (collectors always looked for
quality or “the mark of the maker”). She
also designed the bottle, label and red wax
seal. Now overseen by Rob Samuels.
WILD TURKEY
[ TRADITIONAL ]
Founded in 1869 by the Ripy family, Wild
Turkey got its name when a distillery ex-
ecutive took some samples on a wild tur-
key hunting trip in 1940. A year later, his
friends asked him for “some of that wild
turkey whiskey” and the 101-proof brand
was born. Master Distiller Jimmy Russell
has overseen production since 1954.
OLD CROW
[ TRADITIONAL ]
In 1835, Old Crow bourbon became the
first bourbon to use the sour mash process,
invented by Dr. James C. Crow. Today,
this process is a standard part of bourbon
production. Old Crow was a favorite of
famous historical figures like Ulysses S.
Grant, Mark Twain and Jack London.
OLD GRAND-DAD
[ HIGH RYE ]
The Hayden family began distilling
in 1840. Colonel R.B. Hayden created
Old Grand-Dad in 1882 in honor of
his grandfather, Basil Hayden, who was
known for using higher percentage of rye.
During Prohibition, Old Grand-Dad was
one of the few distilled spirits allowed to
be prescribed as medicine.
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se l ec t i ons
BOURBON
Leading Brands
The Buffalo Trace Distillery
in Frankfort, KY, was recently
named a historic landmark. It’s
no museum, though: about 1,500
experimental barrels are resting
in their warehouse. One recent
Experimental Collection release
featured bourbons that had initially
gone into barrels at different proofs
(125, 115, 105 and 90).
[ TRADITIONAL ]
70% corn, roughly equal parts
rye and barley
[ HIGH RYE ]
higher percentage of rye over barley
[ WHEATED ]
wheat used in place of rye
GENERAL MASH BILL TYPES
1...,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30 32,33,34,35,36,37,38,39,40,41,...120