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Sunday
Feb162014

Why I Like Wrestling Analogies

One of my co-workers said to me yesterday, "You wrote another blog post comparing whisky to wrestling?"

Yes, I did.

It's just too similar. If you read the content of whiskey blogs and message boards, it's absolutely identical to the subjects being discussed on their wrestling counterparts. It's the exact same thing going on now in both industries with growing dissatisfaction among the diehards weighing in against the economic growth of a company.

- You've got insiders who know what's going on in the industry, and casual fans who don't.

- These insiders (smart fans who keep up on the internet) appreciate the product on an entirely different level and they want to uphold certain standards that maybe aren't as important to the casual fan.

- When the companies cater to the mass general audience, putting aside desires of the passionate smart fans, it drives them absolutely up the wall.

- The companies (or company as the WWE dominates wrestling these days) sometimes have to decide between taking care of their loyal, outspoken super fans, or what they think will sell to a larger audience and generate more revenue (this has actually been turned into a storyline on current WWE television).

- The smart fans absolutely cannot understand why their beloved company would cater to people who don't love the product as much as they do. Why aren't their desires, as diehard groupies, taken more seriously?

- Wrestling enthusiasts scream for Daniel Bryan, but instead they get John Cena. Whiskey enthusiasts scream for mature, full proof whiskey, but instead they often get 45% without an age statement. In both cases, the people in charge think it's better to go with a general appeal and a broader market.

- In both cases, the super fans are stuck. They don't want to stop consuming their beloved product because it's an important part of their life, but it's becoming more and more aggravating to watch it devolve in to something lesser than it once was.

- Both groups represent a very small portion of the overall consumer market, despite the fact that they're the loudest and most passionate. This is a key reason why their needs are rarely put forward as a priority by the people pulling the strings.

- Smaller companies are always more equipped to handle the needs of these super fans, but they're often difficult to maintain due to revenue needs and start-up costs. They almost always go under or get co-opted by the larger companies. Wrestling super fans had ECW, until the WWE bought it out. Whisky fans had Bruichladdich, until Remy Cointreau purchased it.

I am one of many wrestling fans who is completely unhappy with the current WWE product, so much so that I hardly watch a full program anymore. However, I'm so passionate about wrestling that I can always be hooked back in by something new and exciting, in the hope that it might get good again. I love reading about what's happening next on the internet and what might be in the works for this reason. I think many whiskey fans are the same way.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Feb162014

The Doctor Is In!

Is there a doctor in the house? (I must have used that line 50 times when talking about Bill Lumsden, and it never gets old!) There will be this coming Thursday in Redwood City when we present the master of whisky creation behind both the Ardbeg and Glenmorangie distilleries in our tasting bar. Dr. Bill will be on hand from 5 PM until 6:30 where he will be pouring the brand new Glenmorangie Companta, finished in red wine casks, and talking about how he came about creating the flavor profile for the whisky. He'll also be pouring two other selections along side it (maybe the Signet and something else?).

We'll have extra Companta bottles that we'll be releasing at that time to customers in the store. Any extra bottles we have will be available online after that point. Bill should have a special pen on hand as well if you want him to sign your bottle for you.

Look for Kyle if you have questions. He'll be running the show in my absence. Come on down and hang out at the store with Dr. Bill! He's always a lot of fun.

That's this Thursday, February 20th, from 5 PM until 6:30. It's free, of course.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Feb152014

What's New? 

I think, for me personally, the best moment in wrestling history was when Chris Jericho debuted on Monday Night RAW back in 1999. It was such a big deal for us wrestling geeks (there are as many wrestling blogs, as there are whiskey) who were waiting for him to break out and it marked the beginning of a new era in the war between WWF and WCW -- when wrestlers would begin jumping ship back to the WWF. However, Jericho's entrance was so good and so thrilling that we became addicted to it. The excitement of seeing a new face on Monday night's best wrestling program was such an incredible high that nothing else became as important to us rabid fans. We couldn't wait to see who else might show up and if someone didn't, it was kind of a letdown. The WWF knew they had to keep the fresh faces coming to take advantage of this increased interest. Today's whiskey companies are following the same gameplan.

What's new? Do you have anything new? Any new whiskies coming out this week? Oh. That's it? I've already had that. What do you have that's new?

I've been hearing a lot of this lately. There have been so many new whiskies released over the last few years that I feel we're in a similar situation as the wrestling version I described above: we're not happy as whiskey fans unless we have something new and different to drink -- good or bad. It's not just about separating ourselves from the pack, either. If a new whiskey is good, we can talk about how awesome it is, do whatever it takes to track it down, and tell our friends we finally got a chance to taste it. If it's bad, we can talk about how overpriced it is, how it's just another example of bad marketing, and how whiskey isn't as good as it used to be. In either case, it's something to do and that's what the passionate whiskey community out there wants -- a buzz. The online wrestling world at that time wanted the exact same thing, and it's an eerily familiar feeling -- the way that in-the-know excitement turns casual fans into serious fanatics (I converted at least thirty of my friends into serious wrestling geeks by simply explaining to them how exciting this all was and why). For many people, whiskey is exciting because there's so much out there to experience and they want to experience it all. The more new experiences there are to try, the more they want to try them. Buying the same bottle twice isn't even a consideration. It's more about that wave of energy that lights up their day when a new product gets released.

However, there hasn't been a lot of new, every-day whiskey on the marketplace and that's not a coincidence. There's plenty of affordable whiskey available. Good affordable whiskey, too. But the new stuff? The exciting limited editions and heavily-hyped releases? Those are going to cost you. The WWF quickly realized that their big moments were being given away for free on cable television and made a few significant adjustments. Since Jericho's arrival almost fifteen years ago, the WWE (as it's now called) has saved all major comebacks, new arrivals, and big returns for pay-per-view television events. If the Rock is going to come back for a match, it's going to happen at Wrestlemania, not on Raw. If you, as a wrestling fan, want to see what's new and be a part of something fresh and exciting, you're going to have to pay extra for it. The same goes for whiskey drinkers (and fashionistas, for whom all of this is nothing new).

We're at the point right now where any new whisk(e)y is selling quickly just because it's new. Just because it's something different than what you can usually get. If there is a burst to the bubble coming (which I don't see, yet), I think it's going to happen when people get tired of having to do what it takes to keep whiskey exciting for them personally. The WWF eventually ran out of new wrestlers to sign and had to work with what they had. For those casual fans tuning in just to see what would happen next, this marked the end of their interest because they never really cared about the product in the first place, just the excitement surrounding it. If some people out there are only interested in new whiskies and limited edition releases, what happens when they become too expensive or hard to find? Does that make them more exciting, or does that ruin the buzz?

How many people out there are just tuning in to see what's next? And how long can the whiskey industry keep coming up with fresh faces?

-David Driscoll

Friday
Feb142014

Plight #2

 After showing this to a friend, he told me there actually was a website called All Things Whisky (.com rather than .net, however). I was trying to make up a random blog name, but that's diffifcult these days with so many whisky blogs!

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Feb132014

The Road to El Dorado: Guyana Preview

On Monday night, David OG and I will be boarding red-eye flights to Miami where we'll catch a morning connection to Trinidad. After a seven hour layover on the island, we'll finally catch our last flight into Georgetown that evening. Almost twenty-four hours later we'll finally arrive in Guyana -- the home of Demerara Distillers and El Dorado rum. We'll only be in South America for three days before we turn right around and fly back Saturday morning. Yet, we're willing to do what it takes to get there because both David and I have a strong feeling that rum is due for a big resurgence and that the lynch pin of that movement is going to be the Demerara Distilling Company Ltd. No other producer of rum has a legacy like DDL and no other distiller is in a position to make as serious of an impact on the booze industry.

We'll get into the history of rum distillation in Guyana later; about how production dates back to the 1670s and how all the estates have now been consolidated into one company. We'll also break down how each of their four stills works and how long they've been in operation. I'm sure we'll learn more in-depth and fascinating details once we're physically there and those details will definitely be more interesting when supported by photography. What makes Demerara Distillers an exciting company to work with goes far beyond tradition, heritage, and history, however. We're partnering with a producer that is self-owned and is not part of a larger corporate group. They make the ultimate decisions about any future developments without having to worry about how those actions are going to affect other parts of their whisky, brandy, or wine portfolios. They're not looking to expand their empire or join up with another beverage group. They're looking to do one thing and one thing only at Demerara Distilling Company: make really good rum.

And they make a lot of rum. About 20 million liters worth a year, of which 75% goes to bulk rum sales abroad. They make their money up front on the white goods, which allows them the freedom and the ability to concentrate their full attention on making sure the other 25% is as brilliant as can be; the rum that eventually goes into the El Dorado expressions. DDL has so much rum laying down in its warehouses that it's actually reminiscent of where single malt whisky was fifteen to twenty years ago -- when producers would carelessly dump older barrels into their standard twelve or fifteen year expressions to add richness and texture. When you buy a bottle of El Dorado 12, 15, or 21 year, you're not just getting the bare minimum of maturity. They're definitely blending in older rums to these expressions because they have plenty of rum to do so with. This also means you're not going to pay all that much, either (we currently have the 12 year for $25.99, which is just crazy considering how good that rum is).

What makes rum such an intriguing spirit is that it offers drinkers the best of both worlds: light, fragrant, and flavorful white rums for mixing cocktails, as well as dark, barrel-aged rums of various maturity levels that allow for contemplative sipping. Despite our trip to Barbados last year and our continued work to source interesting casks (like the very expressive Faultline St. Lucia), I feel like we don't really understand rum's true potential. More importantly, I feel like because of our lack of understanding, we haven't been able to clearly communicate to customers how amazing rum can be and why we find it so compelling. That's why I'm going to get on that plane Monday night and brave the long trip south to a small country tucked between Venezuela and Brazil, just north of the equator. It's the most historic rum producing region on the planet and the Mecca of molasses for serious rum distillation.

Demerara sugar is some of the most-coveted due to its crystallized form and caramel-like flavor. The molasses from the refinement process of Demerara sugar, however, is only sold to one customer: Demerara Distillers. The only company allowed to distill rum from Demerara molasses is DDL and the quality of that molasses plays a large part in making their rum so delicious and flavorful. I want to better understand sugar and molasses and how they can affect flavor. I want a better breakdown of column still distillation vs. pot still distillation and how maturation in severely humid conditions creates a different flavor. I want to experience the blending process first hand and decipher between different types of rum distillates. I want to process that information, write it down, document it with my camera, and share it with all of you. That means I've got to go to Guyana.

In my personal opinion, DDL is going to be the epicenter of a serious tremor that will soon shock the booze business. With pricing and availability continuing to frustrate whiskey drinkers, I think rum is poised to play spoiler to what has so far been a very small party.

-David Driscoll