Saturday, May 10, 2014

KDA 'Fantasy Camp' Starts Wednesday

The Kentucky Distillers' Association (KDA) likes to describe its Kentucky Bourbon Affair, which begins next Wednesday, as "a fantasy camp for bourbon lovers." Fantasy camps are a thing. The term usually describes an expensive meeting of has-beens and wanna-bes which due to its high cost is a true fantasy for most, reality for only a privileged few.

The true theme of the Kentucky Bourbon Affair, therefore, is insiders versus outsiders, and the only way to be an insider is to pay KDA, either in cash or fealty.

That is how KDA plays the game. It's not enough that insiders win, outsiders must also lose.

An article in the Louisville Courier-Journal this past Tuesday put that strategy on display like never before. In it, KDA President Eric Gregory is quoted as follows: "What makes our Kentucky Bourbon Affair unlike any other whiskey event in the world is the fact that Kentucky distillers are hosting this, not an event firm or some other group," Gregory said.

"Event firm" is a dig at FSA Management Group, which along with Bourbon Review Magazine, had the nerve to produce the Bourbon Classic for two years running without KDA's permission.

It's no secret that the name at the top of KDA's blacklist is Sazerac, which operates the two big Kentucky distilleries (out of ten) that don't belong to the KDA. That's understandable, since member dues used to be the sole revenue source for the KDA, before it became an event firm. The estimated take from the 3-day Affair will be about $400,000, which will be used to promote the member distilleries even harder.

The KDA doesn't have an exclusive franchise to promote bourbon and bourbon tourism, and most of those other individuals and groups have no gripe with Sazerac, its Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, or its Barton 1792 distillery in Bardstown, but anyone who fails to treat Sazerac and its properties like pariahs risks the KDA's wrath, which usually comes on little cat feet in the dark of night.

This crazy bourbon boom, which nobody saw coming and nobody can claim credit for, should make everyone happy. It looks like there should be plenty of opportunity to go around, but when the stakes go up, the powerful get greedy. "We're the goose that lays them," think the big distillers. "Why shouldn't we keep all the golden eggs?"

The thing is, that's our gold, not yours. Bourbon buyers and bourbon drinkers and bourbon tourists created that wealth, not you and your politician buddies. Remember, not 20 years ago you were drowning in the stuff and if you continue to kick regular, day-to-day bourbon fans to the curb, China and India won't save you.


sam k said...

Good point at the end, Chuck...the vaunted BRIC countries' economies are already slowing dramatically. We guys drinking $20-plus bottles remain the strongest base for this industry.

A few years ago I didn't understand it, but now I'm starting to appreciate Sazerac, Buffalo Trace, and Barton's independence from the KDA.

EllenJ said...

I haven't been posting to blogs lately, and what's going on in the world of American spirts (read: bourbon for this purpose) has been basicallly pi$$ing me off for some time.

But what I see happening here is just simply pathetic, to say the least. I have actually come to the point where I no longer purchase bourbon from KDA-associated distillers and, although I certainly wouldn't publicly recommend that anyone join me in doing such a thing, I find that limiting my choices to the fine products of Buffalo Trace, Barton, and several craft distillers not based in the bluegrass state leaves me with a completely satisfactory selection of American whiskey to drink.