Bourbon “Puffery”

Last month a judge dismissed a class action lawsuit against Jim Beam Co. The lawsuit claimed that Beam’s use of the word “handcrafted” on the label of their bourbons mislead consumers. Beam responded that the TTB label approval protected them from any wrongdoing. Beam also stated that “handcrafted” is just puffery and no reasonable consumer would make a decision based on this word. What’s interesting is the judge agreed that “handcrafted” is not misleading but “mere puffery”. It’s also interesting that the “we relied on the TTB” defense was rejected.


Marketing plays a big role in the bourbon world. Every brand spins their own story. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you know the truth and don’t make purchases based on “puffery”. However, it’s getting harder to decipher the puff from the truth. Below is a list of some common bourbon puffiness.

Handcrafted – Whose hands and what did they craft?

Small Batch –  A number of bourbon barrels between 1 and infinity mixed together before bottling

Frontier Whiskey – I enjoy Bulleit bourbon and Rye whiskey but their “Frontier” label always struck me as funny. It’s made in Kentucky and owned by an International conglomerate. Where did the “frontier” come into play?

Handmade – See “handcrafted”

Full-Flavored/Fully-matured – I can imagine marketing minds sitting around a label thinking “we can just have the name and proof”, “Ok, what about instead of  saying our bourbon taste good we say it’s full-flavored” “Dave, you’re a genius. Now, we don’t have an age statement but we do have more room on the label. Whatcha got?!”

Any story about their families history with bourbon making. Unless, their last name is Noe, Van Winkle or Samuels.

Vintage – This isn’t wine. This is just a general reference to age.

What’s your favorite bourbon puffery? You may want to check out our “Bourbon Buzzwords Explained” post as well.




    Thanks for keeping on top of this chicanery. The removal of age statements is the most disturbing to me. I have been pondering how to respond, since boycotting bourbon is not an option.

    As for puffery: be on the lookout for claims that take formerly unattractive characteristics and turn them into desirable features: i.e. use of “bold” and “unapologetic” for an inadequately aged batch.

    Watch out also for increasing efforts to game the definitions around where it was made.

    I know we can’t go back to when bourbon was an overlooked niche product for hillbillies, and I do not anticipate Asia losings its taste for bourbon any time soon, but can we all agree that the sooner the nouveau riche of Wall Street move on to another fad, the better? I hear there’s an incredibly exclusive brand of Sake that is filtered through the dried manure of Wagyu cattle, and then bottled by blind Japanese virgin Geishas…

    To me, “small batch” should be limited to 50 to 100 barrels in order to account for warehouse location differences; front, back, upper, middle, lower levels. Anything more than that makes me picture a big 500,000 gallon vat being dispensed by robots. . . . . on Mars . . . . . with Matt Damon . . . . . but I digress.

    Most would agree with your definition but that’s the problem. There’s nothing regulating the word so while we assume its less than 100 it doesn’t have to be.

    As a food industry professional, I have dealt with ‘puffery’ on food packaging for years. The only people that seem to know that ‘natural’ hasn’t been defined by FDA is the food industry. I think it’s sad that marketing knows the hot buttons to hit for consumers to make purchases based on ‘fanciful claims’. I sure wish that bourbon distilleries would be a bit more forthcoming with their product pitch.

    I was reading a tag looped around the neck of a bottle of Jefferson’s last night that I had won in a drawing. It states “Ridiculously Small Batch”, but doesn’t state anywhere how many barrels the batch consists of. Anyone know? I’m curious to know how many barrels would be considered ridiculous.

    I’ve been told 3-4 or less than 10. No one really knows (unless Trey from Jeffersons would like to jump in the convo)

    “Any story about their families history with bourbon making. Unless, their last name is Noe, Van Winkle or Samuels”

    Probably should read , “last name is Noe, Beam, Samuals, Rippy, or Shapira” The Van Winkles have never made anything.

    You’re right about Beam and Shapira. I should have included them. I would consider Pappy running Stitzel-Weller credible

    The term “Hand Bottled” bothers me.. I think Buffalo Trace does hand bottle some amount of Blanton’s, but only for show to those on tours while the vast majority are bottled on a mechanized bottling line.. Even if they do hand bottle what difference does it make to the taste of the whiskey?? NONE!!

    As someone who works in the advertising industry, I am particularly aware of just how carefully selected words on the label are, sometimes for the wrong reasons. I especially despise any marketing that suggests I am “edgy” or a “rebel” for selecting their product, and the majority of whiskey marketers seem to prefer this angle. I’m nerdy as hell, I just like a good drink.

    This is funny and true. I’m an accountant that uses a 10-key daily why would anything about my purchases be “edgy”

    Frontier- I think that is a reference to Buellit making an appearance on the Deadwood TV series. So it must be frontier if Al Swearengen drank it!

    I’m pretty sure I could argue that as well 🙂

    Does it mean a singular barrel or a single barrels worth of bourbon. I.e. 1/2 of barrel A and 1/2 of barrel B equal single barrel C

    I talked to a store owner once who had a “Single Barrel” offering from Buffalo Trace or Four Roses, don’t recall which. I was a fantastic pour, but the owner told me the picked two different barrels for their single barrel which were then combined.

    When I did the tour of buffalo trace they were bottling Blanton’s. Handmade, hand bottled refers to the assembly line. Basically they have a filling station that does 6 bottles at a time and it goes on a conveyor belt. Then someone slaps the label on, then the cork goes in etc etc. The tour guide did say that they do 1 barrel into the dispensing machine at a time and it is cleaned between barrels. Pappy is bottled on this line along with eagle rare 10 year. Their “small batch” (ie buffalo trace bourbon) is 35 barrels at a time if my memory is correct.

    We’re coming down to a realty, Guys:
    All of this marketing hype – and even the Barrel, age “confirm”, proof, is not the issue, truly.
    After all is said and done, it’s what the stuff does for you_on YOUR palette:
    on YOUR tongue, YOUR nose (etc) is all that really matters – IT’S A PERSONAL THING!
    I’m always tickled about comments : “notes of caramel, oleander, over-ripe boysenberries ,
    aged corinthian leather, etc., etc.. REALY?? If you distinguish these “notes”, hat’s off to you !
    For me, it’s how the stuff connects with ME. The rest is all egocentric “puffery” (no
    offense intended – it’s just me). I JUST LIKE HOW A CERTAIN BOUBON DELIVERS, PERIOD !
    Oops – now I’m a “Bourbon Outcast”, I suppose.

    Disagree. Many of these items give you some description of the bourbon, rather than buying blind. I prefer an age statement, since I have a preference for older bourbons. Regarding single barrel bourbons, a lot harder to hide a barrel not very good, much easier to throw that into a blend.

    Yes, you must like the bourbon and some of the verbiage is marketing fluff, but I would rather have more info than less.

    Great article, and a debate we’ve been having internally as we’re building our own distillery; that fine line between keeping the human characteristic, historic character, and craftsmanship, against the productivity, safety, and modern methods of production. It’s a debate we’ve had for years, and one we’re going to continue to have to make sure we walk that line appropriately.

    There are opinions mixed in with emotion, and as controversial in philosophy as the definition of art. And although law is going to write it’s own definition (and, in the spirit industry, that means every state will have a variation), I still Think this sits across philosophy and mathematics:

    Leibniz’s law, criterion of identity, identity of indiscernibles… all these rants apply well to define the identity of the things you create. Some of which boils down to assumptions, debates, arbitrary rules, that change in the mindset of people and culture over time. Marketing exploits that weakness, but if you believe what you create, and define your authenticity, it should ring through your craft without needing the puffery.

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