How To Craft an Independent Whisk(e)y Label

Wow, I've been sitting here all day in a post-Wrestlemania hangover, bloated from the remnant carbs of over a dozen beers, sedated by the mild headache that has ranged from dull to acute over the last few hours.  In my brief time away from the computer, it appears there has been a macro-Pappy scandal on the micro-blogosphere - something about Buffalo Trace distiller Harlan Wheatley mentioning the source of the older expressions.

Here's my take on this situation:

If I were an independent bottler like the Van Winkles (i.e. a company that does not actually MAKE any whiskey, but instead buys it from others) I would run my business in the following manner:

- I would have a great label with something traditional on the front (i.e. Pappy smoking a cigar).

- I would only bottle fantastic whiskies, no low end stuff or bargain bottles for lower price points.

- I would definitely make myself as rare as possible (sell as little as I could to still make a profit) to keep demand high.

- I would have no advertising and make sure that all our press came from word-of-mouth (that way people will exaggerate the hell out of every detail, further adding to the legend of our brand).

- Finally, I would NEVER, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never come clean about where we got the whiskey from. 

The last point is what drives whisk(e)y geeks absolutely livid, but guess what?  All this talking about Pappy Van Winkle - where it's from, who made it, is it still SW juice, etc - only helps the Van Winkles sell more Van Winkle whiskey!  It's absolutely genius. 

If you look at all of my personal requirements for a hot, independent whiskey brand, you'll notice that the Van Winkles nail every single one of them.  Do you think Black Maple Hill would still sell as well as it did if it said "4 year old Heaven Hill" on the label?  HELL NO! (That's not saying that it is, either).

In the end, catering to the internet is the absolute worst thing a brand could ever do.  I love the whisky blogs, the message boards, and all the chit-chat, but in the end we're less than 1% of the people actually buying these whiskies.  The other 99% percent don't care in the slightest.  If you want to make money as an independent bottler, you'll cater to the 99% and hope to placate the savvy internet fans. 

Did any one else watch WCW wrestling at the end of its existence?  If you thought the whisk(e)y geek online experience was rabid, you have no idea what the online professional wrestling, super-geek cabal is capable of.  They single-handedly tricked a multi-million dollar company into thinking they represented the majority of the paying fan base and the company responded by attempting to please a handful of bloggers.  WCW went down the tubes just as soon as that happened because no one else watching had any idea what the hell was going on.

Personally, I don't give a hoot who made a whiskey, where it was made, or if the label directly states the correct stats.  If it tastes good and it seems fairly priced, I'm in.  The Van Winkle whiskies satisfy both my requirements for delicious whiskey at a reasonable price, and my requirements for running a solid independent label, were I actually in charge.

Keep up the good work, boys.

-David Driscoll


A Real Pappy Update and Some Wild Speculation

As you may have figured out the Estonian inventory is now safely rerouted to sunny California!  We've officially received our allocation of Van Winkle, by that I mean I know how much we will be getting, NOT that the inventory is in stock - SO DON'T CALL THE STORE ASKING FOR VW.  Whisk(e)y Club members you should know the drill by now. It will go the same as last time so when you get notice be sure to clear your schedule.  Of course, the spring allocation will be tighter than ever before, although it looks like we're getting a little more of the 12 year, which probably won't excite you hardcore S-W fans. Speaking of which, the bourbon gossip pages (yes, there is a whisky geek equivalent to TMZ) are rumors about the contents of the VW 20 & 23. While it might all be hearsay, the internet is a buzz with speculation about the provenance of these highly regarded bottlings. I would encourage anyone speculating about the provenance of current Pappy bottlings to take a deep breath and take a look at Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery's explicit statement that "all of the Van Winkle’s whiskey production now takes place at Buffalo Trace," and that "Julian, III has continued with the Van Winkle tradition of producing the highest quality wheated bourbon available." What more do you need to know? I think we need to all get comfortable with the idea that if something doesn't explicitly say where it is distilled we cannot assume anything about it.  If Buffalo Trace was contracted to make wheated bourbon for S-W as early as '81, can we really say which whiskey is which?  Those stocks would have been the property of Diageo and not Buffalo Trace.  If that's the case, would these have been considered S-W at that time?  Perhaps they've only bottled Pappy from S-W stocks distilled at Buffalo Trace?  Who really knows at this point? I think the real issue should be how it tastes and if you want to be sure that what you're drinking whiskey that comes from the Stitzel-Weller Distillery than you should buy this:

Very Old Fitzgerald 8 Year Old Straight Bourbon Bottled in Bond 750ml $999.99

-David Othenin-Girard


Kurani Sends One Out To The Ladies

We know there's such a thing as a whisky expert for girls (see Kyle in the above video).  The questions he asks, however: Is there such a thing as whisky for girls?


The Clynelish is on the Shelf

After an amazingly positive pre-arrival campaign, our two newest casks of Chieftain's have arrived - a 30 year old Brora from a Sherry butt, along side a sister cask of 21 year old Clynelish, also aged in a Sherry butt.  Whereas the Brora sold out immediately, we had more of the Clynelish to offer and still do!  Both whiskies are quite similar in that both offer a glimpse at what Clynelish tastes like when the Sherry component is isolated (remember that Brora is just the old Clynelish distillery with a different name).  The oiliness and waxiness of the Clynelish is there, but it quickly becomes integrated with the richness of the Sherry - until it ends up drinking more like 21 year old Springbank, rather than 21 year old Clynelish.  It's absolutely fascinating to see what Sherry-aging does to one of the great unsherried malts.  Much like the 27 year old Clynelish we bottled with A.D. Rattray a few years back, this Chieftain's bottle really needs water.  It needs a lot of water.  Even a few drops do absolutely nothing - the fire completely overwhelms the flavor.  A teaspoon to a tablespoon works wonders, opening up the fruit and bringing the alcohol into balance.  You almost get an extra half bottle of booze because it's like Clynelish concentrate.  There are about 200 bottles left and they are on the shelf in Redwood City as of now.  SF will get their bottles tomorrow, while LA will have it next week.

-David Driscoll


Tastings Tonight!

Tonight in Redwood City we'll have a sneak preview of the Glenglassaugh/PVI dinner we'll be hosting later at Donato's.  Val from JVS will be here to pour off some fantastic single malts before we head over to the restaurant.  Unlike the dinner event, this tasting is open to everyone and is free!

San Francisco will host Osocalis Santa Cruz Mountain brandies. 

Free as always!  From 5 PM to 6:30 PM.

-David Driscoll