I only drink whiskey for the flavor. That's the most important part. I mean, who cares about how it's made and who made it if it doesn't taste great? I don't care what kind of bottle, box, or package it comes in as long as the quality is there.
People love to say things like that. I think it's a nice idea, being such a purist when it comes to drinking that nothing else besides flavor drives your purchasing or preferences. The reality, however, is that the story behind a spirit will ultimately make or break most sales, even to the most knowledgeable enthusiasts. In fact, it's often the most passionate drinkers who are most susceptible to the most romantic storylines. I know this because I'm one of those people.
If all we cared about were skill and precision then we all would have rooted for Apollo Creed over Rocky. If all that concerned us were proficiency and focus then everyone's favorite band would be Rush, not Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones. If simple pleasure was the only thing on our minds then we'd all be just as happy making love to a complete stranger in the dark. This is not reality, however. There are many other factors outside of quality that influence how we feel about people, places, and things.
For example, the 1945 Camut Calvados we tasted last year in Normandy was pretty amazing. However, the fact that it was the first vintage distilled after Normandy was liberated from Nazi control put that sip into an entirely different perspective. It's that amazing story, told to us by the Camut brothers about their grandfather, that literally brought a tear to my eyes as I was nosing the glass. Or look at the fact that we completely sold out of Elmer T. Lee Bourbon yesterday, as whiskey drinkers everywhere looked to honor the legendary distiller who saddly passed away this week at the age of 93. The namesake and the legacy of that man was what drove those sales - an outpour of emotion and the desire to raise a glass in memory.
That's why when I got another routine box of barrel samples in the mail yesterday from Four Roses, I wasn't chomping at the bit to go through them. Until I checked my inbox and found an email from master distiller Jim Rutledge telling me that he had gone to the warehouse and picked these samples out personally (hence the JR with the circle around it on each label). The last few cask selections we had received hadn't featured anything super exciting, so unfortunately I had gotten into the habit of telling my sales rep that we wouldn't be taking another barrel for the time being. This information had eventually reached Jim, so he took it upon himself to go down to the rickhouse and find me some barrels he thought would be extra special. That changed my entire outlook on that box of bottles sitting under my desk. Jim picked these out? Himself? Especially for K&L? Wow, that changes everything. I paid extra special attention to each sample this time around and thought about why Jim might have chosen each of them as I tasted.
When we eventually bring one (or more) of these Four Roses barrels into the store, the fact that Jim Rutledge picked out these samples will definitely carry more weight in the product description. Just like it does when Four Roses releases their Limited Edition single barrel each year. Ultimately, there's nothing like a good story to help us along with our enjoyment of life. Knowing why something is a little extra special is something we all appreciate, even if we like to say that we don't care as much as we do.