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Friday
Apr292011

Morality Issues With Booze

As I move into my weekend, my head is once again spinning as I take some time to contemplate the issues of the week.  So many different encounters, so many interesting conversations, so many questions I have for myself and for others.  Rather than toss and turn in bed while I try and push them out of my brain, I'm going to release a little of it here:

-If you love a company's whisk(e)y, but loathe the company that makes it, should you continue to drink it?  Can you separate a company's actions, policies, business model, or politics from their product?  This is a morality question that extends far beyond booze, but it doesn't really come up with liquor because the inner workings of the business tend to stay hidden.  I'm not here to expose them or judge them either, but it wears on me sometimes.

-What are the issues that would cause you to stop drinking a certain whisk(e)y? Besides price. Everyone can get priced out eventually, so that doesn't count.

-How many people actually care about the politics of booze as long as the booze keeps flowing and it keeps tasting good?

-Are hard-to-find, special releases exciting or just frustrating?

-Besides flavor, what are other factors that go into the enticement of a bottle? Does a company's image effect sales or are they irrelevant? (We're not talking distilleries here, but the companies that own them).

-David Driscoll

Reader Comments (10)

Were I an imbiber of Irish whiskies and beers, any firm donating to the IRA or other such organizations in either Ireland would not have my custom.

I will no longer drink POM juices, nor consider Fiji Water (which I don't buy due to massive water rights and carbon footprint issues), or any other product whose firm is owned/influenced by Lynda and Stewart Resnick, about whom I can wax for too boring long regarding their shady practices. Justin Vineyards & Winery is their latest acquisition, but most of their products are out of my price range or off my palate. They are also heavily involved with Teleflora, so another way of getting flowers to those who I still send flowers to will be found.

I don't want to buy anything over which there is violent conflict, such as diamonds (as if!), "conflict minerals" and chocolate from African farms using slave child labor (I'd rather stay away from anything involving poorly paid & unhealthy labor, child or adult). I don't want to contribute to human rights abuses, injustice, or the like. If I found that Laphroaig was currently involved in anything nefarious, I'd stop buying it, and mourn the loss.

There are US firms I won't patronize because of their policies, political leanings or donations. Won't be buying Arco gasoline anytime soon--they're owned by BP. I don't even ask for a glass of water or use the restroom at Domino's Pizza or Carl's Jr. due to their political contributions, and Target may also be off the list.

I wish I could get at least a dram of some of those legendary HTF special releases. It would help were I in the UK, or even in Europe, where direct purchase of these gems is possible. How in heck do I find them over here, or get them to come to me, given US laws on direct purchase by consumers of booze? I do have some UK friends who are freelance IT journalists, who we see several times a year when they're in the Bay Area for conferences and other work, and they can bring me a bottle now and then IF I can find a particular gem WHEN I can afford it.

David, I don't suppose *you* can arrange to get bottles now and then to be sold legally to K&L so that your fans can buy them? I know SF/F fans who for years brought back bottles of Tullamore Dew when it was banned in the States, and now the spirit seems to be Stag's Breath liqueur. I'd rather have Macallan's Amber, now out of production, blast it, any day, over Stag's Breath. I'll drink local mead, when I can't get the British stuff.

I don't know enough about most companies who own vast quantities of distilleries, wineries, or vineyards, to say if they have any influence over my choices. Other industries, yes: In-n-Out's owners are very Christian, but they seem to practice what they preach. Trader Joe's has always struck me as ethical, customer-centered, and a good employer--I will check into those mixers you wrote about. Nob HIll was a family run grocery chain that seemed to be a good employer and a good citizen, and I was happy that when Raley's (another family firm) bought them and Bel-Air, no store was closed, nor were any employees let go. Same thing happened when Cosentino's Market (used to be three or so, but they gradually closed) in San Jose was bought, at the last minute, by Lunardi's (yes, another family-run chain), none of the employees at that store were fired or had their hours cut.

I do prefer to buy from ethical firms who are also producing/making available good product. I like *knowing* what's behind what I'm buying, and love shopping at Farmers' Markets for that connection. Hey, these days, food & beverage shopping is a major social outlet for me, as well as delighting my eye and future meals.

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterA. Marina Fournier

A. Marina - What a great, thought-out response. Thanks for taking the time to write that. I think the farmer's market approach is where I am headed in my own personal booze consumption. I can get plenty of great booze (single malt, bourbon, rye, vodka, gin, brandy, eau de vie, rum, tequila) from either St. George, Germain-Robin, Osocalis, Old World Spirits, Charbay, and the newly minted 1512. If I need to feed the Scotch itch, I can buy directly from the best distilleries in Scotland, which happen to be independently owned: Springbank, Bruichladdich, Glendronach.

I just hope I never have any negative dealings with Gruppo Campari. That would break my heart.

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

Well.... the first thing which came to my mind ties into both this topic and your "Diet Drinks" post yesterday: corporate beverage producers that participate in the hucksterism of television entertainment-based brands, and the promotion of hyper-sweetened ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages, both make me very uncomfortable. And I'll primarily address the former by saying I believe it is socially irresponsible to use the word, "girl", or the words, "skinny girl," in the marketing of a super-chuggable alcoholic beverage.

A local grocery store has a larger-than-life-sized cardboard image of Skinny Girl's creator--thoroughly photoshopped, to enhance her impossibly thin figure, fake boobs, slinky skirt, and long legs--right next to their ready-to-drink alcoholic beverage aisle where I recently witnessed two teen-aged girls (whom happened to be standing beside and admiring this cardboard cut-out from an adjacent produce aisle) staring at the image of this woman whilst casually discussing their up-coming high school graduation and prom dresses. No pun intended, but it was a sobering experience. I left wondering what impacts the persuasive imagery of Skinny Girl will have on a generation of teenage girls whom are already so culturally groomed to be obsessed with being viewed as objects of hyper-thinness and sensual beauty.

And beyond that, I'm equally offended by this product's claim to be a "healthier" version of a classic margarita. Seriously? Skinny Margaritas are "more healthy" than margaritas? They may be less caloric, but we all know (toxicologically speaking) the supremely healthiest margaritas are the margaritas that we never drink at all. And I'm no temperance advocate, but that use of the word 'healthier' strikes me as so off the rails that it practically begs mature, rational adults to view its use with deep skepticism.

As to whether a company's image effects sales; I can tell you that all of the spirits/wine/beer products that I avoid(ed) are generally produced, sold, or marketed by Anheuser-Busch InBev, SABMiller, Molson Coors, KKR, TPG, CEDC, Brown-Forman, Beam, Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. I don't claim to have never bought their products, nor vow to boycott any of their products in the future, but I do go out of my way to avoid supporting the messages and imagery of huge brands in general (public or private). Especially those I find deceptive, offensive, or socially irresponsible.

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRN

RN- You are well versed in this!

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

(I'm only answering the question about limited release spirits, since A. Marina Fournier hit the other issues spot on earlier.)

I personally find them very fun and exciting...for me, they aren't that hard to get, since I'm a few blocks from both K&L and another good spirits emporium that usually have a few of these unique items. Doing blind tastings with friends, then designing new cocktails around these is something I quite enjoy. A few of these limited release items have become my favorite in their genre (Rusty Blade barrel aged gin, Jefferson Reserve 18 K&L exclusive bourbon,) while a few others (I won't name these) were quite sub-par to my palette, and eventually mixed with Diet Coke for taking to ballgames (er, I mean for watching games at home, yea.)

So I'm the guy who comes into the SOMA store, heads directly to the spirits, and either turns away within a minute, or buys 2 of the same of one of these special releases. Thanks for making them so easily available to me! :D

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreg J

That's a great perspective Greg, thanks for that. Let me ask you this: what if it's a special release and each retail store in the country only gets a few bottles? What if the Malt Advocate writes up that this whisk(e)y is the best of the year, but there are only 300 bottles available in the U.S.? Is that exciting or annoying?

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

David, I find that more exciting than annoying, personally. I like sampling the ephemeral and nascent in all things, spirits included. I will put out some reasonable effort to try and grab it, including looking locally (within 10 miles of home) or maybe trying to get a friend to buy elsewhere, but I won't go crazy and drive to BFE, or pay more than retail+shipping online just to try it.

But there is a bit of a balance there: I want to try something that is not specifically designed at the outset to be desirable based on scarcity, but instead something limited because it's an experiment isn't a proven contender yet. Or something that was a partnership between a distiller and a spirits aficionado (like your K&L exclusives)...there has to be authenticity in the presentation, or I'll sniff out a pure marketing ploy pretty quick.

Hope that helps clarify. Cheers and happy Friday!

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreg J

That's very helpful insight Greg. Thank you.

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

Frankly I find most of these limited releases annoying rather than exciting. I'm in a city that really only has two liquor stores (3 locations total) that would carry any of these releases, and my chances of picking any of them up are about 1 in 100. I was lucky enough to grab the 2010 Stagg release because I dropped in for another purchase and the two bottles they were probably allocated were still in the case. Then take into account people who will walk in and purchase the entire allocation of limited bottles, and then go to every other liquor store in the city and do the same, and now my odds of getting these "gems" are next to nothing. I think I've resigned myself to the fact that I will never get to try any version of the Pappy Van Winkle line. Maybe I'm just bitter. I feel like they aren't releasing as many bottles as they can specifically to drive up hype, but how many people are they turning off with their marketing tactics?

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAllen

I know this is an old post, but I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents.
I try to avoid companies whose business practices and political leanings I disagree with. There's a reason I don't buy Chick-Fil-A even though it's delicious. I find the owner's personal views and political activities offensive and dangerous to the rest of society. I suppose the tipping point for me is whether or not I simply disagree with a company, or whether I find what they do actually immoral.

I think that an immoral manufacturer is one of the few reasons I'd stop buying a whiskey. The other one would be if I found a whiskey that is in the same category that I like more, or is a better value, or whose business I want to support.

I really like supporting local businesses, mostly because I like keeping my money in my community, where I benefit from it.

I certainly do care about the politics of alcohol, but I must admit that it's not a huge concern of mine unless it interferes with the things I like to drink

Finally, I find special, limited releases usually exciting, but they can definitely be annoying as well. As long as the limited supply isn't solely designed to drive up the price, and is the result of production issues, or the release being an experiment, then I don't mind. That's why I hated the Diageo Manager's Choice releases. For all I know they were all superb whiskies, but I don't believe for a second the idea that these were the very very best single casks in the entire distillery. It was quite obviously simply a way to squeeze out a lot more money than they would have otherwise gotten. The supply was only limited because Diageo decided to limit it. That said, I like it when the supply is (occasionally) limited enough so that you have to do some legwork to find it. I don't mind calling a dozen stores, or driving around or putting my name on a waiting list. It separates those who want it badly enough to put in the time and effort from those who don't What I can't stand though, is when the manager or employees of a store hide bottles under the counter for themselves and their friends without giving the general public a fair shot at some. That really annoys me.

August 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris

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