Lessons From France, From the New Year

My body is still shell-shocked from the trip to France, and my mind has yet to really settle down and mellow out, but nonetheless there are deals to be done and bottles to be sold.  Getting back into the swing of everyday blogging has been difficult for me because there are many things on my mind that need to be expressed in just the right way.  I've actually already written and deleted two posts that sought to cover this same topic, but were a bit too detailed and uneven.  The spirits industry in France is facing many of the same obstacles as Scotland and the U.S. in terms of supply, demand, and innovation.  There's a huge term paper on the subject just sitting in my brain right now, but it wouldn't be the most interesting read.  Perhaps bullet points are the best way of keeping all the facts neat, easy to understand, and succinct?

• Booze is big right now.  Big brands selling brown booze (alliteration is more fun to read) are completely caught off guard right now by how well their product is selling. While they don't want to miss out on lucrative sales, they also don't want to invest too deeply if we're drinking inside of a booze bubble.  What if Cognac producers were to increase production to keep up with demand, but then demand suddenly went away?  There are more people drinking single malt, Bourbon, and Cognac right now than ever before.  Is it going to stay that way?  What are companies doing to keep up with demand.......?

• Prices are going up!  That's right.  If people want this booze so damn badly, then why should we give it away? ("we" not being K&L, but actual liquor companies).  Unfortunately, there are going to be more price increases in 2012.  The general question I hear from customers is, "Are prices going down due to the economy?"  The opposite is true.  Prices are going up because demand is high and supply is low.  At least supply is said to be low.  Don't think that other companies haven't been watching the Pappy Van Winkle sweepstakes with interest.  The idea of a perceived shortage could also be very lucrative.

• If prices are going up on our favorite brands then what are we to do?  Luckily we're in a great situation with our direct import spirits.  Our single malts and brandies are going to be fantastic alternatives for people who want to try something new.  Building relationships with small distilleries and farmers seems to be a good move right now.  These are the same guys that the larger companies are turning to in order to fill the gap in supply. 

• Blending is important.  We were completely convinced that single barrel Cognac and Calvados would be exactly what these categories needed to increase interest.  While we found a few diamonds in the rough, there were mostly average specimen.  However, when blended together, some of these spirits took on new life.  I can completely see why Charles decided to bring in a blend of Michel Huard's Calvados rather than a single vintage.  The sum is far greater than the parts when it comes to many of these finer brandies.  I look at the beauty of these components when mixed together and I think about how much I like the new Glenmorangie Artein for the same reason.

• What is value when it comes to booze?  Is value taste?  Is value age?  Is value rarity?  Is it a combination of all three?  What if something tastes amazing, but it's cheap to make?  What if something is expensive to make, but terrible to taste?  What if it's made by hand, but tastes like crap?  What if it's mass-produced, but tastes better than the hand-crafted?  I'm witnessing the co-option of the "hand-crafted" term and watching it get slapped on labels as a sales pitch.  "Is it organic?"  Yes.  "Is it small batch?"  "Is it single barrel?" Yes.  But we're asking the wrong questions.  "Is it good?"  Well.....it's hand-crafted.  We're on the hunt for good hand-crafted spirits.  That's why we're having K&L fly us all over the world.  Instead of asking about how small the production is, perhaps we should be asking the producers if they know how to distill.

Just some things to think about.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll