Friday, January 8, 2021

Local, Craft Whiskeys Hold Pride of Place, at Least in My Neighborhood


North Buena Deli & Wine is a joint in my neighborhood. They have good sandwiches and are right next to a good bar, The Bar on Buena. Klein's Bakery and Café is right across the street, so it's a pretty tasty intersection, where Broadway crosses Buena.

All three have online menus, naturally. I was just browsing North Buena's. My interest was primarily sandwiches, but part of my pathology is that I can't look at a liquor store (or bar, or restaurant) and not look at their bourbon list if they have one. It's a pretty obvious truth of retail that you can read a lot into what a retailer chooses to sell. It tells you how they view their business and their actual and prospective customers. The more limited their offering is, the more it tells you.

This may not be everything they stock in the store, but this it what they list online under "Bourbon Whiskey." It's a short list, just six items.

  • Koval Bourbon Whiskey $49.99. (Koval is nearby, maybe a mile west.)
  • FEW Bourbon Whiskey $49.99. (Also local, a few miles north in Evanston.)
  • Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey $34.99
  • Maker's Mark Bourbon Whiskey $29.99
  • Four Roses Bourbon $24.99 
  • Woodford Reserve Bourbon Whiskey $37.99
Under "Rye Whiskey" they offer two selections.

  • Koval Rye Single Barrel Whiskey $45.99
  • Low and Slow Rock and Rye $29.99 (Not local, but from a small producer in New York. Also not whiskey.)

The most interesting fact is that, on such a limited menu, three of the eight offerings are from local craft distilleries, and their products are the most expensive products on the list. This is where the best craft producers are right now. This store believes its customers want artisan and local, and are willing to pay for it. You will find FEW and Koval products next door at Bar on Buena too. North Buena Deli & Wine also features Koval and FEW gins.

The rest of the bourbon list tells you what national brands their customers are buying, the space in which (at least to this retailer's way of thinking) FEW and Koval play. Bulleit, Woodford and Maker's are high end offerings (but still mainstream) from Diageo, Brown-Forman and Beam Suntory, three of the industry's giants. Most bourbon fans won't be surprised to see the Four Roses name, but might find it curious that it's the so-called 'yellow label' expression, not the more prestigious small batch or single barrel. That's why it's the least expensive bourbon on offer.

People who buy bourbon at North Buena are doing so for convenience, after they get off the #36 bus on their way home, while picking up a Sicilian (Prosciutto, Genoa Salami, Capicola, and Provolone cheese on a 6" or 9” French Roll. Topped off with red roasted peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and our Italian dressing) and some Joe's potato chips. This is Chicago, after all. There are several other places to buy booze within a few blocks in any direction, so this is a neighborhood place with a very definite idea of who its customers are and what they want.

And what they want, in addition to tasty sandwiches, is locally-made craft spirits.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and How It Got That Way

For the last few issues of The Bourbon Country Reader, we have been running a series of "How It Got That Way" features. This time we look at the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, including an exclusive interview with Sazerac President Mark Brown about the impact of this iconic collection, now in its 20th year.

We also ponder the question "What Is Truth?" as it applies to marketing communication about American whiskey. There is true, false, and something in between.

It's all in the new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader. Current Reader subscribers should receive their copies in a few days (or weeks, depending on how the USPS is feeling). New subscribers can get on the bandwagon by clicking here.

Born in 1993, in the 201st year of Kentucky statehood, The Bourbon Country Reader is the oldest publication devoted entirely to American whiskey. It is a charming mix of news, history, analysis, and product reviews. Do you worry that advertising spending influences coverage in other publications? No chance of that here since The Bourbon Country Reader is 100 percent reader-supported. It accepts no advertising.

To experience The Bourbon Country Reader for yourself, you need to subscribe. Honoring history, The Bourbon Country Reader still comes to you exclusively on paper, in an envelope, via the USPS. Doing our part to keep the USPS solvent, we use only First Class Mail.

You may notice that this issue, mailed on January 2nd, says "December, 2020." Can't blame the USPS for that, that's 100 percent my fault, to prompt me to get another one out on schedule in February. Hey, it says "idiosyncratic" right there on the first page.

A subscription to The Bourbon Country Reader is still a mere $20 per year for addresses in the USA, $25 for everyone else. The Bourbon Country Reader is published six times a year, more-or-less, but your subscription always includes six issues no matter how long it takes. For those of you keeping track, this new one is Volume 20, Number 3.

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