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

David Driscoll