Thursday, June 13, 2013

Some 'Right Now' Solutions to the NDP Whiskey Problem

Who made me?
When brands are created using bulk whiskey from a major distiller but the producer tries to convince you they're a craft distiller, that hurts real craft distillers. It also hurts consumers, who pay for something they aren't getting. 

Here are some easy steps craft distillers can take to protect consumers and themselves and separate the makers from the fakers.

First, create a very simple statement, one a Potemkin distillery can't make. If craft distillers can informally agree on a standard wording, all the better. Then put it on everything, certainly on your product labels, web site, Facebook page, etc.

Here's what Balcones uses: "100% of Balcones whisky is mashed, fermented and distilled at our distillery. We never resell whisky from other distilleries or source aged whisky barrels for blending under the Balcones label. This is authentic craft whisky. It has not been chill-filtered, colored or otherwise unnecessarily tampered with to ensure that its full aroma and flavor are preserved. As a result, you may notice a slight haze or sediment in the bottle - signs of the rich oils and esters that we have not removed so that your whisky can be enjoyed at its best."

The last two sentences are probably superfluous, but the rest is right on target.

Second, start putting 'distilled by' on your label. Stick your DSP number in there too. Although it's usually not required, it's something the feds regulate so if someone falsifies a 'distilled by' statement, they could lose their license.

Third, whatever you do, keep it simple and keep it standardized. Do it exactly the same way every time. Then publicize it. Send every whiskey blogger the press release. Encourage your distiller friends to do it too. Everyone can tell consumers that all you have to do when you see a new 'craft' product is look for that statement. If you can't find it you should be very, very suspicious.

Who knows, that might be all it takes.


Anonymous said...

Your passion and insight on this issue has been extremely informative. Thank you so much for pulling back the curtain on an important distinction. That said, this NDP backlash feels extremely overblown. A few brands using misleading marketing is inexcusable, confusing and unfair to craft distillers. However, the discussion has inadvertently become polarizing and given a scarlet letter type distinction unfair to those who finish whiskey using creative, envelope pushing techniques to release an entirely new beverage.

Just because a winemaker didn't grow the grapes doesn't mean they can't make stunning, critically acclaimed wine. Even some of Napa's benchmark brands like Caymus and Quintessa have contracts with growers. Few wine drinkers care how their grapes are sourced. They care about what's in the glass. Why, then, is a whiskey brand looked down upon for taking raw ingredients and making a great product ... and a living? Clearly, that's not the point of the discussion but it feels like it's veered that direction.

As a bar/restaurant owner and "Beverage Director" I think it would be much more instructive for to steer the public conversation back to the problem. Deceptive marketing. Name names. Affect change. Pressure to be authentic is powerful. More rules and regulation, in my opinion, are rarely the answer.

"NDP" is a huge brush in this conversation that is starting to paint a distorted picture. Imagine how unfortunate it would be if consumers decided to dismiss great whiskeys from High West, Angel's Envy or Smooth Ambler because they took raw ingredients and made them phenomenal in a way few others can.

- BB

Anonymous said...

Richnimrod said;
Chuck, again you've come up with a consumer and craft-distiller friendly way for all to see what's what. I'm amazed that so few craft distillers have'nt jumped to something like this a long time ago. For those of us who will pay a little extra to help a 'real' craft distiller get a leg up, it seems like a no-brainer.

Chuck Cowdery said...

The only people who can't put up a true statement about how their product is made are the ones who don't want to tell the truth.

Anonymous said...

BB, even your note stretches the bounds of honest debate. How does whiskey already years in the barrel qualify as a "raw ingredient"? This is exactly the kind of prevarication I believe Chuck and others are attempting to expose. How would noting the source of the distillate on the bottle injure any of the NDPs you call out unless you feel their business depends on portraying themselves as distillers?

On a related note, I'm don't think that adding unspecified quantities of rum to off the shelf rye by dumping it into rum barrels qualifies as making "phenomenal" whisky in a way few others can. Nor does it justify charging $75 IMHO.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting how someone points out Angels Envy and another immediately assumes it their new Rye.

Yes they charge $70 for it. It may be a little highly priced, but guess what? You don't like it, walk away. LOTS of people do, including myself.

What the first poster was probably referring to was the Port finished Angels Envy. That is one which the majority of people who have tried it, really truly liked it. Not everyone as not everyone likes everything. But if you have an issue with the way the Henderson's don something, why don't you ask them about it? I have seen Wes and Kyle post on here numerous times....


Kent said...

Healthy, purposeful organizations have been based on far less than your suggestions, Chuck.

The practice you describe (a labeling convention) isn't going spring up without formal organization. It needs to be consistent and reviewed. It has similiarities to the UL code, the Good Housekeeping seal, and a score of others. Those things happened when the affected companies organized.

If this is seen as value to the craft distillers, it's perfectly legal (and not necessarily burdensome) to start a nonprofit with standardized labeling as the goal. (They'll need to steer clear of anti-trust issues, like pricing - again, that's not hard to do.) They may already have such an organization.

The principle point here is a set of membership requirements that qualify them - as creators of their own product from start to finish.

_cl said...

I agree with BB that the NDP situation is overblown. The issue is not NDP whiskey. The issue is NDP marketing.

The solution is information, not painting a scarlet letter on all NDPs. Doing that is just as misleading as some of the NDP marketing that creates the impression that the product is craft whiskey.

I like the Balcone's approach for marketing its whisky as its own. I also like the Smooth Ambler approach as they are up front about the source of their older whiskey and how they add value.

And for an NDP to create the impression that they are a craft producer - well, personally I don't like it but that doesn't mean they can't do that as long as they don't lie. It's marketing for chrissakes!

Some people do buy products for the story, not the marketing, and they like it that way. This happens even for whiskey distilled by the bottler. I don't think that red wax and higher price make MM any better bourbon, but it sure looks nice on the shelf. ;-)

I agree with BB - taste what is in the bottle and determine if the experience is worth the price.

And if the original distiller producers want to use a label statement as Chuck proposes, well, that's fine, too. Personally, I would like that information. But, in the end, that's just marketing, too. It doesn't mean their whiskey is any better than the NDPs.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chuck Cowdery said...

No one is proposing a guarantee of quality. The objective is merely a guarantee of authenticity.

Anonymous said...

Foghorn Leghorn Would Say......

I Say

I Say

I Say

It's Not Officially Bourbon 'Til I Say It's Officially Bourbon.

Nuff Said

Anonymous said...

Anonymous ...

I'll take a stab and assume you're denigrating Angel's Envy Rye. A tough anti-NDP position to take when, whether you believe in critical acclaim or not, Spirits Journal just named Angel's Envy the world's top spirit.

As both part of the trade and a consumer, I'm the first to admit feeling duped by brands like Whistle Pig. Canada is not Vermont. However, they do say "bottled by" right on the label.

My position is fewer rules and more education. If it doesn't say "distilled by" then it isn't. Push for honest marketing and call it a day. If the distiller Lincoln purchased from to make Angel's Envy could have made something as great (and profitable), my guess is they would have. Only Lincoln did. I think us whiskey drinkers are better for it.

- BB

Anonymous said...

For the record, I think the Angel's Envy rye is a tasty beverage. That isn't the point. In fact many, maybe even most, of the NDP products are good. If the non-distiller producers were selling crap under questionable pretenses we wouldn't be having this discussion, the market would dispense with them.

The point is, moving whiskey between a small number of barrels doesn't make you a craft distiller. Craft distillers make a significant investment and incur substantial risk as they hone their craft on the journey to create a product that the market will embrace and which will eventually turn a profit. The costs and risks associated with being a small craft producer require them to charge a premium price for their products. As consumers, many of us are willing to pay that price in support of these efforts in hopes that we will not only get a palatable product, but that we are supporting diversification in a market we are passionate about.

When an NDP through either omission or commission leads the market to believe that they are part of this craft movement, they ride the coattails of those that are. In most cases they are charging the premium prices without incurring the same level of risk and expense as their genuine counterparts. Consumers taken in by these fictions are not lending support to the craft distillers they intend to support. That is the issue that many of us have with the NDPs.

I think Lance Armstrong provides a very apt analogy. Lance is not considered a cheater because he didn't complete the Tour de France course ahead of the other competitors, he did. He is considered a cheater because he did it in a manner materially different than the way he portrayed. The same goes for some NDPs, they are not frauds because they aren't bottling palatable whisky, they are frauds because the way they are getting the whiskey into the bottle is materially different than they way they portray it as being done.

Josh said...

I think the DSP number is the best idea. It is something only someone that knew what they were looking for would recognize and it creates the safeguards we all hope to eventually have.

Chuck, have you ever talked to large distillers and found out how they feel regarding NDPs? NDPs theoretically have a negative fiscal impact on crafts, but it also seems like a legitimate second source of income for the big guys that are providing the juice. I mean, it's not all KBD and LDI, the big brands have a dog in the fight as well.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Most of them care about the integrity of the industry, of course. No one wants to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. So they hate the fakers as much as we do. Fakers undermine the legitimate heritage of the majors. But, yes, they all sell into that market. (Not KBD. They're a buyer.) It's their safety valve, and a robust bulk whiskey market means good margins for what is otherwise an inventory adjustment.

Anonymous said...

The DSP number would help, but people would still get confused. We already have to put a DSP on the shipper cases fro TTB purposes. The bottlers we all use have DSP numbers and many people would just assume that because it has a DSP that it was distilled at said DSP.

Chuck Cowdery said...

To work, the DSP number must be presented as part of a "distilled by" statement.

Anonymous said...

One Thousand......

One Thousand Cases.......

Chicken Cock Whiskey On The Loose.

Owner of Chicken Cock offering $10,000.00 reward for information leading to arrest (and recovery) stolen whiskey.

Further details available via internet on NBC News.

Unknown said...

I think your idea about posting the DSP is right on target.
If we follow the example of Tequila where the NOM (basically - for non industry or Tequila geeks - that is registration number of the distillery that made the Tequila and very easy to look up not only the distillery but all the products they produce for anybody or any bottle from their distillery no matter what label or who is selling it), it would provide a source, lineage or genealogy of a whiskey. Like the NOM it would allow you to track down or identify other products made by the same distillery if you wished to explore various expressions or variations of the distilleries style ( which I am guilty of with tequilas to see how using the same basic techniques and equipment you get various expressions and levels of quality. You could much more easily explore the whiskies family of related products which could benefit the other resellers( or conversely allow you to more easily identify those you might not like either of course )

Alex said...

A "distilled by DSP" would certainly remove all the mystery. I cant imagine why it isnt already required. Still, it is kinda fun to track it down or guess.

Dog Trainer Girl said...

I was wondering if there is actually a designation of what makes a "craft" distiller? With beer I believe it is the size of their output. Additionally the distillers I think a lot of people want to support are not just local, but the independently owned small businesses. A local, "craft" distiller can still be owned by a corporate behemoth. A lot of this information takes a decent amount of work to discover.