David Perkins - Pioneer?

There's a lot of contraversy on the blogosphere right now concerning the Malt Advocate's awarding 2010 Pioneer of the Year to David Perkins - proprietor of High West.  People are asking the question, how can he be a pioneer if he didn't make the whiskies?  Go to these blogs if you want to read the entire thread of the argument.  I offer this in contemplation and then I'll let David defend himself later on our podcast this week:

Using a different analogy, let's look at the Bay Area's esteemed chef Alice Waters - considered a pioneer in cooking.  What is her claim to fame?  She said that people should use fresh ingredients, grown locally, without pesticides.  Her recipes are basic and simple.  She is worshiped in San Francisco for this.  I personally love her cookbooks and her philosophy.

But is she the first person to ever do this?  Aren't there farmers and people living all over the world who have been doing this for thousands of years?  Heck, my father-in-law grew up in Mexico and was FORCED to grow and cook with his own local "organic" food - it was necessity not a trendy choice.  Yet, people consider Alice Waters a food pioneer for doing exactly that.  Some people like my wife do not.

The U.S. is a different place than the rest of the world.  Traditions of growing local vegetables in the motherland were lost when a new generation discovered TV dinners and fast food.  Agro companies began pumping pesticides into our food to make larger, shinier produce that lost its nutritional value as well as its taste.  Alice Waters simply said, "let's go back to what we originally did" and started a food revolution - if you think that a revolution means doing what millions of other people had been doing their whole lives.

The United States, however, isn't the same as other countries so being a pioneer here can sometimes mean pointing out the obvious and doing something that seems relatively easy.  David Perkins simply said, there's a market for good rye whiskey - "why don't I just buy some rye whiskey, blend it, and sell it?  I'll open my own restaurant, distillery, and whiskey bottling operation."  Sure, the distilleries that made these whiskies could have blended them themselves, but they didn't.  By taking these products and creating the High West whiskies, David merely pointed out to them that they had some fantastic product on their hands, made it into a tasty cuvee, and gave us something delicious.

To me, being a pioneer can mean taking an industry in the proper direction for growth, even if the direction itself is lacking in novelty.  The original pioneers helped lead the U.S. west, although the land was not undiscovered or unused (Native Americans can effectively ask, why are these people called pioneers?)  David Perkins obviously saw that rye was going to be big, took the appropriate actions, and did the job effectively well.  There are plenty of other rye producers that are out of stock right now because they did NOT see this boom coming.

I'm closing up shop right now and I just sent my wife a text telling her I'm not going to go to her Oscar awards party because I'm sick with a cold and I can't get shake it.  My wife sent me a reply saying that I'm still sick because I'm supposed to be lying down in bed and resting instead of working.  She ended the message with, "maybe I should market that idea and be the next Alice Waters."  

Ha ha, but maybe she's onto something.  

-David Driscoll

David Othenin-Girard