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« Podcast #9 - High West's David Perkins | Main | Clynelish/Brora Dream Tasting »
Saturday
Feb262011

David Perkins - Pioneer?

There's a lot of contraversy on the blogosphere right now concerning the Malt Advocate's awarding 2010 Pioneer of the Year to David Perkins - proprietor of High West.  People are asking the question, how can he be a pioneer if he didn't make the whiskies?  Go to these blogs if you want to read the entire thread of the argument.  I offer this in contemplation and then I'll let David defend himself later on our podcast this week:

Using a different analogy, let's look at the Bay Area's esteemed chef Alice Waters - considered a pioneer in cooking.  What is her claim to fame?  She said that people should use fresh ingredients, grown locally, without pesticides.  Her recipes are basic and simple.  She is worshiped in San Francisco for this.  I personally love her cookbooks and her philosophy.

But is she the first person to ever do this?  Aren't there farmers and people living all over the world who have been doing this for thousands of years?  Heck, my father-in-law grew up in Mexico and was FORCED to grow and cook with his own local "organic" food - it was necessity not a trendy choice.  Yet, people consider Alice Waters a food pioneer for doing exactly that.  Some people like my wife do not.

The U.S. is a different place than the rest of the world.  Traditions of growing local vegetables in the motherland were lost when a new generation discovered TV dinners and fast food.  Agro companies began pumping pesticides into our food to make larger, shinier produce that lost its nutritional value as well as its taste.  Alice Waters simply said, "let's go back to what we originally did" and started a food revolution - if you think that a revolution means doing what millions of other people had been doing their whole lives.

The United States, however, isn't the same as other countries so being a pioneer here can sometimes mean pointing out the obvious and doing something that seems relatively easy.  David Perkins simply said, there's a market for good rye whiskey - "why don't I just buy some rye whiskey, blend it, and sell it?  I'll open my own restaurant, distillery, and whiskey bottling operation."  Sure, the distilleries that made these whiskies could have blended them themselves, but they didn't.  By taking these products and creating the High West whiskies, David merely pointed out to them that they had some fantastic product on their hands, made it into a tasty cuvee, and gave us something delicious.

To me, being a pioneer can mean taking an industry in the proper direction for growth, even if the direction itself is lacking in novelty.  The original pioneers helped lead the U.S. west, although the land was not undiscovered or unused (Native Americans can effectively ask, why are these people called pioneers?)  David Perkins obviously saw that rye was going to be big, took the appropriate actions, and did the job effectively well.  There are plenty of other rye producers that are out of stock right now because they did NOT see this boom coming.

I'm closing up shop right now and I just sent my wife a text telling her I'm not going to go to her Oscar awards party because I'm sick with a cold and I can't get shake it.  My wife sent me a reply saying that I'm still sick because I'm supposed to be lying down in bed and resting instead of working.  She ended the message with, "maybe I should market that idea and be the next Alice Waters."  

Ha ha, but maybe she's onto something.  

-David Driscoll

Reader Comments (6)

"David defend himself" - No need, David did not give him this award. No the person who should be doing the explaining is John Hansell, but hey it's his award to do what he wants with; I just don't have to agree with it.

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterwadewood

That's true.

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

David, I do think what Perkins has done is pioneering..........for the American Whiskey Industry. Take a look at the Scotch Whisky industry. You have a 100 or so distilleries in a much much smaller area. The brokered whisky business is a part of that industry. Now look at the US. Here you have 7-8 companies with a dozen or so distilleries producing 90 percent of the product in the U.S. And when someone sources something people in the US get all bent out of shape about it. For me, I think David Perkins has demonstrated we make some pretty great whiskey in this country and when someone has the where with all to source it and blend it the right way, the results can be fantastic. John Glaser was/is a pioneer. And while you could argue Perkins isn't doing much different than that, considering the backlash and ire he's taken on, I find his a very pioneering vision. David's the first guy that's really taken a "blending" approach.

To me John Hansell got this very right.

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJason Pyle

Jason - I agree. David and I will discuss tonight and I'll post the conversation this evening

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

I've noticed that dissonance, "how can he (Perkins) be a pioneer if he didn't make the whiskies?", never precedes the fully fleshed-out dimensions of a counter-pioneer. Anyone can superficially scrutinize High West, but cherry-picking some facts and properties while disregarding others only fosters tension. And that tension, the most fashionable objection to this award, rests in the implication that there is something flawed with the foundation of Hansell's "pioneer" reasoning. That Hansell's wiring is so faulty he counterfeited a happy accident for pioneering virtue. But to agree that David Perkins' best interest were so obviously served by acquiring aged whiskey for bottling, while simultaneously ignoring any risk he took, and discounting his creative process by claiming High West is just something that anyone else passionate about whiskey could have become; omits that not everyone as passionate about whiskey--whom themselves could have thrived more prosperously by venturing into Utah with barrels of whiskey--actually acted on those conceptions, took that risk, had that creativity, and therefore missed that opportunity. Perkins, and other folks at High West, pioneered better lives for themselves by fulfilling an opportunity others missed-out on... not an opportunity that no one else could have conceived of. A not-so-subtle point that Hansell made from the outset. So to argue Hansell is wrong by definition solely because High West hasn't done something that you or I couldn't have conceived of; that is just semantically hi-jacking the pioneer category altogether and false-flagging it as if it originally sailed as, "Inventor of the Year."

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRN

RN- well said. I have that same idea written down on my list of subjects to discuss later on with DP

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

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