Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Wherein I Talk to Bloomberg About NDPs
I did this interview last summer. I recall it was a hot day and we had to turn off the AC at Scofflaw (3201 W Armitage) because it was too noisy. Bloomberg posted the finished five-minute video today with a story headlined "Bourbon Bait and Switch. What's Really in Your Glass?" I don't know if the video has seen the light of day before now, but this is the first time I've seen it. I should lose some weight.
Be sure to read the short article too. It's a little more up-to-date, noting that Four Roses stopped making Bulleit Bourbon at the beginning of last year. Bloomberg did a good job with both the article and video.
Between articles like this one, and excerpts and reviews of Reid Mitenbuler's new book, Bourbon Empire, the popular press is once again all abuzz with shocking news about non-distiller producers (NDPs) and the misleading tales they tell. Of course, none of this is news to regular readers of this blog, my newsletter, or my books, particularly my most recent one, Bourbon, Strange, which was published in September of 2014. The media likes to hype as 'unknown' information that is well known, just not widely known. You know better.
Despite the publicity, there are more Potemkin Distilleries today than ever. Why? Because stories sell and making them up is cheap, certainly cheaper than actually building a distillery and making whiskey yourself. I don't favor more regulation of labels, although the regulators need to do a much better job applying and enforcing the rules they already have. Many Potemkins break with impunity the rules about identifying the state where the whiskey was distilled, and about how old the whiskey really is if it is less than four years old.
For other things, consumer education is the best solution. If the consumer knows Templeton Rye is made in Indiana, not Iowa, and buys it anyway, no one is harmed.
But getting true information to the people who need it is hard. When you're not spending money making whiskey, you have a lot more to spend on marketing and most whiskey consumers get most of their information from the marketers, either directly or indirectly through bars and liquor stores.
If consumers are to be educated, they have to play their part too. Much would be solved if more people were just a little more curious about where the products they buy really come from, although I'm sure many of us are afraid to know. In today's multiple-channel media universe, multiple-channel messaging is the only way to reach a large number of people. Accurate information about American whiskey is available here and elsewhere if people bother to look for it, but an outlet like Bloomberg can put it in front of many more whiskey buyers than I can. In this case, both the story and video are original reporting too, not just a rehash of other published media reports like most of what you read today online.
Enthusiast publications such as WHISKY Magazine and Whisky Advocate do a good job, even though they are supported by whiskey advertising. The people who write for them as well as their many very knowledgeable readers won't stand for any whitewashing. Whether it is them or the fat guy in the red shirt, all any of us has is our credibility. If you want to know the truth about what you are drinking, your best bet is to get your information from a variety of sources and stay at least a little bit skeptical about all of them.