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From Whiskey Boom to McConaissance

On the heels of the Matthew McConaughey’s New York Times interview, Richard asked me if I wanted to write a “Whiskey Manifesto” for the site after being long absent from the public discourse. Richard is right when he says the interview is crap and the video is damn good. I don’t know if the interviewer came in with a predetermined agenda or an inherent dislike for Mr. McConaughey or if everybody’s cooler older brother really came off that douchey. Also, like Richard, I bristle a little bit at the ad agency doublespeak about “selling.” Whether you’re selling a product, a story, or an experience, you’re still selling. Whether you hire a carnival barker or an ad (wo)man, you’re still trying to move product.

Most of my adult life, I worked at a place whose primary focus was selling “brand experiences” (not what I did there, but that was their primary focus). I spent a lot of time sitting in meetings where Creative Directors and Strategists would spout the same rhetoric about authenticity and not being “sold to” about Boomers and GenXers as they are now saying about Millennials. These are not generational affectations, this a fundamental human condition. No one enjoys condescension and a good portion of the buying public is smart enough to understand when you are talking down to them (and often when you’re talking down to other demographics as well). Rarely did the word-salad-faux-Ted-talk strategy sessions churn out anything but pandering and recycled ideas. There were a few inspired moments, but they were depressingly far apart. On the few occasions where I fell within the target demographic (whiskey drinkers for instance), the strategy often showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the already imbedded culture within the demo. These misunderstandings often went all the up the chain to the multi-national beverage conglomerate that hired us in the first place. Where the New York Times article feels like the Wild Turkey campaign is falling into the same traps I’ve seen a thousand times, the video suggests a deeper understanding, not just for the brand, but for the culture of whiskey drinkers. There seems to be a concerted effort not to alienate the market that already exists in an effort to chase one that may never coalesce. There is a reverence for the spirit and the heritage of Wild Turkey that feels genuine.

I’m not angry about the assertion that Millennials are the target audience for this campaign. Honestly, it’s their time. Aging boomers and rising GenXers gave us the whiskey boom, the micro-distillation rage, and the innumerable whiskey blogs. In a way, it’s up to that peer group to continue momentum from the initial ground swell. The ad agencies missed us while they were busy boosting birthday cake vodka, cherry flavored everything, and “whiskey for women”. I’m more upset that they missed the point the first time around than I am to be skipped over now.

I suppose, so far, this is more of a whiskey in advertising diatribe without much to do with whiskey itself. I agree with a lot of what Richard has to say, so I’ll try to be brief. He points out that “We founded Whisk(e)y Apostle on the belief that there is a whiskey for everyone,” and I still mostly believe that. I have only met a few people that have not been able to find a whiskey they enjoy and I think it largely comes down to a lack of willingness to try something. They have a predetermined opinion about what whiskey is (often built on a bad experience with some rotgut brand or other) and they are not interested or willing to give it another chance. It’s also quite possible that I’m wrong. I have a hard time with that though. I love whiskey in many styles and countries of origin. I love some that don’t even taste like what I would call whiskey and some I hate for the very same reason. Strangely, it’s often those weirdos that help me pick up the stragglers waiting to join the whiskey parade. Whiskey is such a diverse class of spirits, it’s hard to believe that someone could write it off in its entirety. I guess, when you are incredibly passionate about something, it’s hard to understand why someone else can’t find the same joy. Maybe McConaughey says it best when he says in the video, “If we’re for you, you’ll know.” I knew whiskey was for me on my first sip, but that’s not everyone’s experience. I’m also innately curious. When I find something I like, I want to learn as much as I can about it, I want try every variety, and I want to share it with others. Even if I don’t like something all that much, I sometimes test it out more that your average person would just to make sure I don’t like it. Not everyone has my sense of curiosity or experimentation. And that’s okay. I’m willing to do the research/testing and share my findings.

I only halfway agree with Richard about whiskey not being an acquired taste though. He’s right that people find whiskey when it’s their time. However, that first sip of whiskey that speaks to you often opens the doors to other drams (some you may have even tried before and didn’t like). Personal tastes change, but so does our ability to parse out flavors, smells, and mouth feel. That’s how you acquire a taste for whiskey, not from dogged repetition, but from finding the one you already love and branching out from there. Some folks will never branch out. They’ll be Jim Beam or Wild Turkey drinkers all their life and never try Four Roses or Old Forester or Buffalo Trace. That’s who the advertisers want; the lifelong, brand-loyal, everyday drinker. That’s not what I’m about, that’s not what Whisk(e)y Apostle is about. We are looking to share a dram with curious folk (in all senses of the term) and folks with a sense of adventure. If that sounds like you, pull up a chair and settle in. It’s going to be a long and beautiful night.

Whiskies of The World 2015 – Atlanta (pt. 2)

And now for the spirits part of my Whiskies of the World review.

My strategy for the night was to survey what the non-Kentucky Southern distillers had on offer. Does, as Andre Benjamin put it, “the South got something to say,” or is it just organized noise. Before I start talking about the spirits on hand, I want to point out that this type of event is not necessarily the best place to acquire detailed tasting notes on a variety of whiskies. There are a lot of distractions and you inevitably develop palate fatigue regardless of your degree of restraint.

The short form take away is what I expected, the best “craft” bottlings where (at least in part) MGP products. Most of the stuff actually produced on premises was very young and tasted like it. I’m always torn about craft whiskey. I support it in concept, but rarely is it executed well enough to justify the price tag. That being said, there were a few whiskeys that I enjoyed.

Thirteenth Colony’s Southern Rye Whiskey was a revelation. It doesn’t taste like any other rye on the market, but not so much so that it loses its rye-ness. There is the spice you would normally expect in rye, but the mint that usually hangs in the back like a ghost is very forward. The whiskey is finished with French Oak spirals which gives it an added sweetness. The end result is akin to a Mint Julep. Perhaps next Derby Day, I’ll skip the muddle and just throw some of this in a glass. Thirteenth Colony admits to mixing MGP in with their own make for some bottlings, but I cannot remember if this is one of them.

Palmetto Whiskey, located in Anderson, SC (coincidentally where I spent the first few years of my life), produces a line of flavored “moonshines” as well as three whiskeys (Whiskey, Rye, and Wheat). I tried a few of their straight “moonshine”, a couple of their flavors, and their Whiskey. The moonshine is what you would expect of white whiskey, nothing mind blowing. The flavored offerings, flavored with real fruit juice, were sickly sweet but that’s probably the point. The whiskey, however, was delightful. The nose on this was outstanding. It was very bourbon-y on the palate. There wasn’t a lot of complexity, but that could have been palate fatigue.

One last Southern craft whiskey that I’d like to talk about is John’s Single Malt Whiskey from John Emerald Distilling Company in Opelika, AL. They had two bottlings with the same label, but I was told that one had spent marginally more time in a barrel than the other. Oddly, to my palate, the younger one tasted better. Tasted excellent, in fact, for such a young spirit. Does this mean that John’s Single Malt will never get better or that it has a lot of potential? I’m not sure, but I’d like to find out. I want to keep checking in with these guys and see where it goes.

I’d like to give a shout out to Corsair’s Barrel-Aged Gin. It’s not whiskey, but it is from Tennessee and it’s pretty delicious.

Moving away from my central directive, I thought I’d check out the two Nikka offerings that Richard had recently reviewed. Richard preferred the Coffey Grain to the Taketsuru 12 year old. I felt exactly the opposite, but it was also the very last thing I drank. So, I’d like to do another side by side to make sure.

Thanks to Whiskies of the World and Becca at 360 Media for hooking me up with a press pass. I’m forever grateful.

For more information on Whiskies of the World and a schedule of future events go to their website.

If you are a distiller or represent one and would like for Whisk(e)yApostle to do a formal review on any of the whiskies in your line, please contact Richard.

Event Notice: Around World Whiskey Tasting at Holeman & Finch

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PURCHASE TICKETS

Travel the globe with Whisk(e)y Specialist Casey Teague as he tastes you through Whisk(e)ys from four of the seven continents. We will begin in Ireland, the birthplace of Whiskey distilling, where the unique style of Pot Still Whiskeys was created after a tax was placed on malted barley. Then on to Scotland where the Scots know the Irish invented Whisky, but they perfected it. We’ll then sample a wee dram of hand-crafted, French Whisky followed by new, exciting Indian Single Malts. As we continue to head east, we will sip the revered Japanese and Australian Whiskys that are now redefining Whisky as a category. Finally, home to North America for old and new styles of American Whisk(e)ys. All of this, plus light snacks and lunch for $100. To purchase tickets click here.

Whisk(e)ys
Greenspot Irish Pot Still
Bastille 1789 Blended French Whisky
Aberlour 16 yr Speyside Single Malt Scotch
Kavalan Taiwanese Single Malt
Hakushu 12 yr Japanese Single Malt
Hibiki 12 yr Japanese Blended Malt
Amrut Cask Strength Indian Single Malt
Sullivan’s Cove 13 yr Bourbon Cask Australian Single Malt
Alberta Rye Dark Batch Whisky
13th Colony Georgia Rye
Col. E. H. Taylor Cured Oak B.I.B. Kentucky Bourbon

Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza – Fall Tour 2012

Extravaganza Tour 2012 Round 2! Here’s a quick note from the folks at the SMWSA along with event information.

Ladies and Gentlemen are cordially invited to enjoy a connoisseur’s evening featuring rare & exceptional single malt, Scotch and unique whiskies from around the world. The evening includes a delicious dinner buffet as well as a selection of premium imported cigars for our guests’ later enjoyment. The Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza brings the discerning enthusiast the opportunity to sample the participating whiskies in a sophisticated and elegant environment with genuine camaraderie and knowledgeable representatives from each participating distillery.

All events from 7:00pm-9:00pm. Registration begins at 7:00pm. Business casual, Jackets preferred. No denim or athletic attire.

You can order tickets either by calling 800-990-1991 or going to this link. Tickets are $150 for none Society attendees but don’t forget to use your Whisk(e)y Apostle discount code (WA2012) to get $15 off your tickets. If you’re ordering online it goes in the “promotional code” box.

Drink wisely my friends,

Richard