Tag Archives: Whiskey

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.

Whiskies of The World 2015 – Atlanta (pt. 1)

It’s been a few weeks since the Whiskeys of the World event in Atlanta, and while I apologize to the event’s organizers for the lateness in my write up, it’s been nice to ruminate on the experience. I’ve been to a lot of these types of festivals over my whisk(e)y drinking life and they all have positive and negative aspects. I’m going to start off by talking about the event itself and then move on to some of the specific whiskeys and whiskies that spoke to me in some way.

(Edit: This post ended up being a lot longer than I intended so, I’m going to separate the event review from the spirits reviews, breaking it up into two posts.)

As previously stated, I’ve been to a lot of events like this one. However, this is the first one I’ve tackled since moving back to Atlanta. All my basis for comparison comes from my eleven years in New York City. From larger events like WhiskyFest to smaller events like Whisky on the Hudson and the Bourbon and Bacon Festival, I managed to keep busy during the festival season. I watched as the scene changed, as the consumers became more knowledgeable, and the faces in the crowd began to take on more diversity.

I bring all this up, not to tout my experience level, but to point out a short fall in the local scene. While Atlanta is certainly behind New York, the crowd is closer to catching up than the exhibitors. I saw men and women of various ethic backgrounds all coming to the tables looking to be educated, and many who were already educated and hungry for more. Unfortunately, many of the ambassadors where not that knowledgeable about the products on the tables. I thought we had advanced past the concept of “pour bunnies” and hired guns dressed in a kilts. Now don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with having pretty girls or roguishly charming dudes pouring me a dram. I do, however, expect them to know a little about what’s in the bottle. I’m not expecting everyone behind the table to have encyclopedic knowledge of whisky in general, but if you are going to hire an actor to pour for you, give them a script (and a good one!). There are some really great ambassadors out there. I’d like to see more of them make it to Atlanta.

There were also a number of exhibitors who clearly did not want to be there. If the brand ambassador can’t get excited about the brand, no one is going to get excited. As is to be expected (or at least hoped for), the craft distillers tended to know the most about their products and to be the most excited. It was an all out party at the Palmetto table. I’m hoping that next year the rest of the exhibitors up their game. Otherwise, people are going to lose interest.

Now, with all that grousing, you would think I didn’t have a good time. Well, I’m just a curmudgeon. I had a pretty good time. There were a good number of whiskies represented. I enjoyed the smoking porch. And I realize that, to the brand ambassadors, we live in a lower tier market. Some folks don’t have enough faith that Atlanta can be a whisk(e)y city like Chicago, New York, or San Francisco. Well, frankly, those folks are lazy and full of crap. We here at Whisk(e)y Apostle proselytize as a hobby, and we turn people on to whisky all the time. Imagine the ground we could cover if we got paid for it!

Honestly, I want to thank the organizers of Whiskies of the World for bringing an event of this size to Atlanta. If you look at the other cities on their list, the only first tier market is San Francisco. I don’t know if this is an attempt to capitalize on the under served markets or if there is a legitimate desire to bring markets like Atlanta into the top tier. Either way, I think it’s awesome.

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 and news about future Whiskies of the World events go to their website.

Whisk(e)y Search Engine

As many of our readers know, Richard and I have been discussing a comprehensive whisk(e)y search engine for years. Our idea was to aggregate tasting notes from dozens of sources and create a system where you could answer a few questions about your taste preferences and bada-bing bada-boom, the engine would spit out some suggestions along with tasting notes and where to find your dream dram. Well, last year (maybe the year before) Diageo released a very rudimentary application that basically did the same thing. It was very primitive and only included whiskies in the Diageo catalog, but we had been beaten to the punch. Clearly, our goals are greater than our free time allows.

A few weeks ago, we were dealt another blow when we were contacted by Kyle Espinola of Business Development at FindTheBest.com. FindTheBest now has a whisky search engine. I don’t feel beaten by these guys. I’m happy to see that someone has had the time to do what we could not (and it’s not Diageo this time). Their search engine is good. It is very similar to what Richard and I can’t seem to put together.  I like it.

There are a few glitches in the system (a quick search for top Irish whiskey produced a link to Pappy Van Winkle 20yr), but overall, the functionality and interface are quite nice. Some of the most interesting aspects of the application are the comparison functions and the ability to search by tasting notes. To me, tasting notes and comparisons are far more useful than a straight up rating system.

The only complaint I really have is that I feel like the ratings tend to be too high. However, they aggregate their ratings from The Beverage Testing InstituteThe International Wine and Spirit CompetitionThe LA Whisk(e)y SocietyProof66.com,The San Francisco Spirits Competition 2010, and The Wine Enthusiast Magazine to get an average and I don’t want to open the “ratings” can of worms again. They also drop the lowest rated whiskies from the system. So if you want to see how Old Crow stacks up against Ten High, you will not find anything. They are “FindTheBest” after all and not “CompareEveryWhisk(e)yKnownToMan”.

So, please, check out the whiskey search engine. It’s pretty fun. whiskey.findthebest.com/

Also, you can check out their guest blog on Whisky Intelligence.

-Matt

Barriers for New Whiskey Drinkers Part 2 (Matt)

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.

-Matt