Richard asked me to contribute my thoughts on the plight of the fledgling whisk(e)y drinker. What can I say? Richard did a pretty thorough job. I can tell you that my biggest beef is with the internet (yes, I see the irony).
Like Richard said, when we came up with the idea for our Whisk(e)y Apostle, there were not a lot of folks out there doing the same thing. Through a series of false starts and general laziness, we got started right at the beginning of the blogger boom. Now, there are almost as many whisk(e)y blogs as porn sites (so I hyperbolize, I’m from the South). If you throw a cat in Brooklyn, you’re bound to hit at least one blogger and if they don’t blog about music or design, they blog about spirits or cocktails. That’s just the environment in which we live. Now, I’m not coming down on blogging per se. Blogging puts the power (or at least the voice) in the hands of the people. In order to avoid a lengthy discussion about populism, let’s just say that’s a good thing for now.
So, if ‘power to the people’ is a good thing, what am I bitching about? Well, the sheer amount of information sources available can be daunting for the first time consumer. There are some informative blogs, some entertaining blogs, and a few that are both. There are also blogs where the writers have very little knowledge of their subject and act as tools to disseminate false or inaccurate information (not intentionally, I’m sure). Some are even tools of the corporate machine. So, where does one go for accurate and well-presented information? Certainly not the sites from the distilleries, distributors, and corporate overlords.
Three or four years ago, most distilleries did not have individual websites. Now, even the small guys have sites loaded with flash animation, fanciful stories, some esoteric tasting notes and little else. If you want a good fairy tale, these are great sites. If you want some solid information on what is actually in the bottle, forget it. There are some exceptions to be sure, but distillery websites often drive me mad with their lack of information shrouded by flashy graphics and pastoral photos of moors and mountains.
In this internet age, we have to be more careful about what we believe and what we repeat. Someone who once was a lonely voice ranting in the darkness may now have 200,000 followers on Twitter. I’ve heard bartenders, liquor store personnel, and customers alike spouting half-truths and fallacies as if they were fact. At times, I may have done the same. And, for that, I apologize.
Marketing in general can be minefield for even the educated consumer. Many consumers believe that an age statement is an indication of quality, but they don’t really know what it means. Some believe an age statement to be the oldest or average age for the whisky in the bottle. In actuality, it’s the youngest whisky in the bottle (no matter what country you are talking about). Other terms like small batch, single barrel, pure malt, blend, blended malt, single malt, and single grain can further through a wrench in the works. This is especially the case when terms like “small batch” does not have a legal or agreed upon meaning. Jim Beam has an entire “small batch” line. When you produce as much whiskey as Jim Beam, a relative small batch is still quite a bit of liquid. What Does John Know had a great thread about this very topic recently.
While I think the shear amount of information (good and bad) out there may be daunting, it is also one of the greatest boons to the whisk(e)y novice. The same can be said for other challenges. The variety of bottles on the shelves can be dizzying in a place like Binny’s (Metro-Chicago) or Liquor Mart (Boulder, CO) or at specialty bars. However, this can also mean that you are more likely to find one that you like. Once you find one whisky (or whiskey) that you like, I promise you will find others.
Drink well, drink responsibly.