September 5, 2013 by Bourbon Empire
Whisky Advocate recently put FEW Spirits’ Rye Whiskey into the top 10 of its Fall Issue Buying Guide. That actually means something. Whisky Advocate is one of the more even-keeled sources of whiskey advice out there. It stands well above a growing mass of blogs and other websites tripping over their own exuberance to gush about whatever free bottle of mediocre whiskey they recently got in the mail to review.
Whisky Advocate gave FEW an 89, which means “good to very good.” I think that FEW’s rye is the best whiskey they put out, so it’s good to see them getting some credit, although I was a little confused by the rating. I’ve tasted lots of other 89s on WA’s scale that I find much better (and some in the low 80s that I find better). That’s just me, and the rest of this conversation can probably be filed under “subjectivity.” Part of the fun of being a whiskey geek is debating the goods and bads of such things.
But I think it’s worth putting some additional context around that score. At the liquor store down my street, FEW’s rye costs $65 per bottle, nearly three times the price of regular old Buffalo Trace bourbon, which scored 90 on WA’s scale. Elmer T. Lee was on the same fall buying guide, coming in at 90 points for $30/bottle. FEW’s rye is only two points above Rittenhouse Rye, which I regularly see for about $20/bottle, and like just as much. The Whisky Advocate Website is full of other American whiskies–including numerous expressions of Evan Williams Single Barrel–that all score the same or higher than FEW’s rye but cost considerably less. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I don’t want to rag on FEW — its rye is worth trying, if not just for the sake of conversation. However, the price issue raises a question of survival for FEW and other new microdistilleries. For that price, FEW’s rye will never become a mainstay in my liquor cabinet with the myriad of other tasty alternatives available.
Repeat business is incredibly important to building a brand, and it’s difficult to see how FEW and other microdistilleries with similar pricing structures will keep customers who can get comparable stuff for a fraction of the price. Lots of folks are rushing to try all the new products flooding the market right now. What happens to brands if things cool down and consumers settle into grooves?
I could be wrong here–perhaps the Internet will keep the whiskey world whipped into a frenzy and buyers won’t fall into a fatigue. Maybe this is a new normal and my attitude about what whiskey should cost is outdated. But if I’m not wrong, I’m curious to know if newer distilleries will drop their prices or just go out of business?
I don’t want the latter to happen — the variety offered by the craft boom has been a welcome change of pace. I want to see what microdistilleries do next, particularly when they can afford to give their whiskies more time to age and can get a little bit of elbow room to really do things right. I realize they need cash to get up and running and I want to support them, but it’s hard to justify buying stuff like FEW’s rye more than once, and that raises a lot of questions about where the craft movement is headed.