‘Not Your Father’s Bourbon’ Is Not Bourbon

You can’t argue with the name. My father drank bourbon and rye his whole life and I guarantee he would not go near this stuff.

Despite the name, this new product from Pabst Brewery isn’t really bourbon at all. It contains bourbon, along with vanilla and other additives. The label says it is ‘Bourbon Whiskey with Natural Flavors,’ officially it is a ‘whiskey specialty.’

The press materials credit Wisconsin’s Minhas Distillery as the maker. Minhas is in Monroe, in what used to be the Joseph Huber Brewery. But it appears unlikely that the bourbon component of this product was actually distilled there. The clue? The label says ‘Produced and Bottled by Small Town Craft Spirits, Monroe, WI.’ Use of the word ‘produced’ instead of ‘distilled’ almost surely means it wasn’t distilled there. There is no way to know for sure, but most likely it is very young bourbon made by MGP in Indiana.

(PRNewsfoto/Small Town Craft Spirits)

But wait, wouldn’t it have to say ‘distilled in Indiana’ on the label? And if it’s young, less than four years old, isn’t an age statement required? No and no, because the product isn’t classified as ‘bourbon whiskey,’ in which case those things would be required. As a ‘whiskey specialty,’ anything goes. The ‘bourbon whiskey’ component has to meet the most basic requirements for bourbon whiskey, but that is about it.

So, to sum up, not bourbon, not craft. The only thing true is that your father would probably hate it.

Pabst Brewery owns this product. This Pabst, of course, has nothing to do with the brewery owned by Captain Frederick Pabst in the 19th century, except the name. That company effectively died in 1985. The present company is based in Los Angeles. This Pabst makes and distributes a portfolio of famous beer brands, including Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. It operates a tasting room, museum, and small brewery on the site of the old Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee.

Small Town Craft Spirits is the distilled spirits division of Small Town Brewery, located in Wauconda, Illinois. They had a hit with a flavored malt beverage called Not Your Father’s Root Beer, which caught the attention of Pabst who, in 2015, signed a distribution agreement with Small Town, and bought a piece of the company.

Pabst has a lot of distribution muscle. No doubt this product will be widely distributed. Binny’s, the big retailer here in Chicago, already has it ($27.99 for a 750 ml bottle). Not Your Father’s Bourbon is getting a lot of publicity and, in most cases, you’re just reading the press release. Now you know the rest of the story.

‘Whiskey specialty,’ the official TTB category into which this falls, is a big catch-all that includes finished whiskeys such as Angel’s Envy and most of the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, as well as flavored products such as this one and Red Stag by Jim Beam. Where this one crosses a line is putting ‘bourbon’ in the name. To the consumer that conveys the message, ‘this is bourbon,’ even though it isn’t. Legally, the call is very close to the line. Which side of the line it is on is unclear.

My father and mother were very frugal. They bought the cheapest Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey in the store, but ‘Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey’ had to appear on the label or they were not interested. It is a simple test that still works today.

Bourbon of the Mont Club
About the author

Chuck Cowdery

Charles K. Cowdery is an internationally renowned whiskey writer, specializing in American whiskey. He is a Kentucky Colonel (Patton, 206) and a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame (2009). He is the author of multiple bourbon books, including Bourbon, Strange: Surprising Stories of American Whiskey, and is a regular contributor to Whisky Advocate Magazine. Chuck is also the editor and publisher of The Bourbon Country Reader, the oldest publication dedicated exclusively to American whiskey.

  • David Meier

    Chuck, This kind of thing really irritates me! I have been rejected on label approval many times for EXACTLY the things these guys and MANY others are getting away with! I did a close up view of the label on a press release and even the press release says this is BOURBON! This is NOT bourbon because of the requirement that NO ADDITIVES are allowed in bourbon! The one loop hole is what is known as a “fanciful name” and if that name is “Not your father’s bourbon” then it MIGHT be legal, but the side of the label says “86 Proof Bourbon”!

    I see products labeled “White Whiskey” or just “Whiskey” that is clear as water, which is debatable if it qualifies as whiskey since the TTB’s description of whiskey is so vague (“Having the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to whiskey”). Pretty sure no one will say whiskey is clear, but in any case ALL whiskey needs an age statement if less than 4 years aged.

    This is the kind of thing that will ruin the “craft” whiskey/bourbon movement. And the TTB needs to be consistent across the board with their label approvals. I do not want to label my product like the ones that are incorrect because we want to be completely clear on what we have to sell. This practice borders on deception which according to the TTB is not allow (you may not be misleading or deceptive on the label).

    This follows in a long list of products that are incorrectly labeled and pulling the wool over people’s eyes. Too bad most of the public are sheep and will buy this stuff one time just to see what the fuss is about.