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« The World's Best Whisky Tasting? | Main | Finally Here »
Wednesday
Jan232013

Too Much Positive Re-Enforcment (makes Jack an annoying whisky)

I have a problem with the way we analyze quality with booze. I've made that pretty clear on numerous occasions. I've always had a problem with awards, yet I've felt the need to dole a few out in order to give recognition to brands or producers I feel strongly about. I want them to get the recognition they deserve.

However, I have an entirely new problem with awarding medals or titles to wine and spirits: it's giving producers the idea that their product is better than it actually is. I'm no stranger to positive re-enforcement. I grew up in a gaggle of overachievers, many of whom believed the world existed to celebrate their eventual achievements. We believed this because we won trophies and awards that helped to cement this idea in our brains. However, when we actually went out and tried to get a job based on our "Who's Who Among America's High School Students" certificate, we were laughed out of the interview. That was the wake-up call for me. I realized I wasn't nearly as special as I had once believed.

I've watched the generation after mine struggle with the exact same dilemma, only worse. Now I'm watching it happen with booze. Immediately after a product wins some kind of recognition, I get an email in my inbox requesting that I reconsider my stance on their spirit.

Dear David,

I know that you haven't carried our products in the past, but seeing as we just won a Silver Medal at the Nassau County Spirits Convention, we think you might want to reconsider.

Guess what? I don't. I didn't like your product then (that or I didn't think I could sell it at K&L) and I still don't like it now.

The above scenario is a garden variety response, representing a mild and generic example of what can happen when a company wins a meaningless spirits award. I've dealt with much worse, however. After last year's Good Food Awards, a competition that merely recognizes producers for making quality booze without artificial ingredients (and of which I am a chairperson), I was chewed out by a gin distillery for not carrying their product after they received an award. They literally said, "We won the competition. You are one of the judges. Why are we still not on the shelf at K&L?"

Becaaaaaause........no matter what a panel of judges thinks, says, writes, or tweets, I still cannot find a consumer audience for your product. When I relayed this message back to this producer, things got nasty real fast.

The indignation after being told that you still don't have what it takes, despite a manila folder full of awards, certificates, and accolades, seems to be too much for many producers to handle. My question is this however: who's fault is it? Mine for letting you know that in an industry full of booze, I don't like yours as much as I like these fifty other products? Or perhaps the industry of spirits awards for leading you to believe that your product was better than it actually was?

You got a high SAT score? You got straight A's? You went to Berkeley? Great. Do you taste good on the rocks and come at a wholesale price that I think offers a competitive market value? Oh....you don't.

"But I won an award!!! People think I'm good. Don't you get it?"

I get it just fine. The question is: do you?

-David Driscoll