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Sazerac: just remove the damn numbers

Posted on by Eric Burke

In my real life, I work in marketing. I’ve spent every day for the last 12 years trying to get people to buy things. Sometimes it was hammers as I did ads for hardware stores. Sometimes it was expensive medical equipment when I worked for an ad agency that specialized in such things.

Marketing gets an often undeserved bad reputation. We are the ones who have studied how to convince people of things. And since those things almost always involve money, we get the blame when we do our job too well. 

As a designer, I’m hyper-aware of the difference between convincing people and tricking them. I skirt the line almost all the time and I get extremely upset when I’m asked to cross it. I never forget that the people I’m convincing are actually people. It’s easy to reduce customers to numbers. To see them as nothing more than a line on a spreadsheet. Especially since when the numbers get bigger, you know that your paycheck is safe for at least a little longer.

So it was with extreme agitation that I noticed a sneaky little trick that the Sazarac company was pulling. I first became aware of it when the Fleischman’s Rye label went from saying “Straight Rye Whiskey” to saying “Mash Rye Whiskey.” I believe it’s supposed to be read as Rye Mash Whiskey, but that’s because the designer was either asked to do it wrong or convinced themselves that the larger rye would draw attention first.

I got angry when I found that I liked the Old Charter: Aged 8 Years and realized it had sneakily been replaced by something labeled: Old Charter: 8. The marketing department had removed the words Aged and Old, but left the 8. They tricked me. I was angry. I decided to to prove that they were sneaking an inferior product into the supply chain and trying to trick the numbers…err…customers into believing that nothing had changed. 

By an odd coincidence, I bought one out of the last batches of Very Old Barton, 100 proof: 6 Year Old before the switch to “Very Old Barton, 100 proof: 6.” So the last time I was in Kentucky I picked up a bottle of the 6. I’ll be very honest I had an agenda. I wanted to prove that these guys were no good liars.

On Sunday, I set up a double blind tasting with the 6 Year Old and the 6. I threw in a pour out of the bottle of 90 proof 6 year I had on hand to confuse the issue even more. Below are the results. 

Disclaimer: I bought all of these bottles. The 90 proof was bought at Binny’s in Bloomington, IL. The 100 proof NAS was purchased at Liquor World in Bardstown. The 100 proof 6 year old..I’m guessing it was at a Liquor Barn, but it was long enough ago that I don’t remember which one. I’m leaving this info out of the notes so as not to tip my hand as to which is which.

Bourbon 1

Nose: Sweet. Bubblegum. Grassy. Dried corn.

Mouth: Hot and sweet. Like a sugar cookie mixed with grain.

Finish: Some warmth. More dried corn. 

Bourbon 2: 

Nose: Predominately a lumber pile. Oak. Under that is some bubblegum.

Mouth: Thin. Dried Corn. A bit of bubblegum. 

Finish: Gentle, but with a lingering bitterness.

Bourbon 3: 

Nose: Vegetal silage. Sweet bubblegum. Oak.

Mouth: Some heat. Bitter oak tannins. Vegetal. 

Finish: Silage. Gentle. A lingering unpleasant bitterness.

Thoughts: Upon finishing my notes, I’m positive I know which are which. I’m guessing the thin mouthfeel of 2 means it is the 90 proof. And because of my bias, I’m pretty sure the vegetal silage one is the NAS and the sweet tasty one was the older version. 

I was correct on the 90 proof. That was indeed number 2. But I had the others completely backward. It turns out, I really disliked the 100 proof age stated version (number 3). It was bitter and tannic. And this isn’t a new phenomenon. I liked the 86 proof much more than the 100 the last time I reviewed them. But the NAS version (number 1)? I liked that one a lot. It was sweeter but still had the burn that let me know the proof was there.

So what does this mean? Well it lends credence to Sazerac’s claim that they wanted to age these to taste not age. If the 6 year is overaged, I’m happy to have one that isn’t. But I’m torn. They are still deceiving people. I hate being tricked almost more than I hate bad whiskey. But I have a solution.

Sazerac: just remove the damn numbers.