Focusing on the Grey Areas

One of the subjects I wanted to start shying away from writing about this year was the topic of industry business - or at least from sounding off against what I feel is unscrupulous behavior. I know a lot of people have loved reading the rants against annoying business practices, but as enjoyable as they might be (and as cathartic as they are to write), they're giving some people the wrong idea about alcohol.

Everything I read on the whisk(e)y blogosphere these days seems to be black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, yes or no. Everything is absolute. I remember having to respond to a message board post some months ago where someone said the K&L Spirits Journal doesn't have any credibility because it's run by a retailer trying to make money. Basically, I'm not forced to uphold any type of journalistic integrity. However, while this is entirely true, it doesn't mean that anything I write is automatically disqualified because I have a stake in the game. It's not one or the other.

This type of characterization is what I'm worried about. It makes me embarrassed to be a blogger. The truth is that the K&L spirits blog exists in a shade of grey. We report the situation as we see it and write about the topics that we're interested in for the sake of our customers. The whole point of the blog is to help people that shop at K&L make more educated decisions by offering more perspective, not report the news. However, the K&L Spirits Journal is now being read by people all over the country, most of whom cannot shop at K&L due to shipping restrictions. Therefore, even though we're writing for our own customers, we end up reaching many, many others who enjoy keeping track with the latest events.

What's disconcerting me right now is the polarization I'm witnessing from enthusiasts of all types who seem to think I told them to feel this way. I recommended a bottle of Clynelish Distiller's Edition to a customer the other day who told me, "that can't be good because it's from Diageo. They make super commercial slop." Uhhhh......well......this is really good. Not that I don't have my own gripes with Diageo, but I'll always put that aside for the sake of the customer. Clynelish is one of my favorite distilleries. It's definitely not a mass-produced single malt. It's fantastic. Another situation came when I tried to recommend a bottle of the new Peyrot 18 year old Cognac to someone in the store. "That has boise in it, though. You said to avoid those." Well.....I did say that boise is often used by producers trying to turn crap brandy into drinkable brandy, but I also said that some producers do it right. It's not necessarily absolute.

This is the same scenario that merlot found itself in after Sideways and blended whisky after single malt became popular. Merlot is bad. Blended whisky is bad. Didn't you hear? Yes, all of it. Every single drop. There are no good ones. I always remember David OG's comment to a customer when he said, "Petrus is made from merlot. Are you saying you don't like Petrus?!"

Ultimately, I don't want to offer any more ammunition for generalized and misinformed ideas about alcohol. When you write passionately sometimes people misinterpret your enthusiasm. My goal is to be more responsible this year. We're going to be offering some pretty interesting, behind-the-scenes reports as our travel plans take us abroad. Hennessey is definitely on my visitation list for Cognac because it's such a polarizing brand. Popular culture celebrates it to no end, while Cognac enthusiasts piss all over it. You ask anyone about Hennessey and it's either the best thing ever or the most overpriced, overrated hooch on the planet. I think the truth lies somewhere in between and I'd love to get to the bottom of it.

That's what I'm focusing on this year. The grey areas. As a consumer advocate (for K&L consumers that is), I want people to think critically and without prejudice if possible. That's not to say I won't step in if they're heading in a direction that will ultimately leave them dissatisfied. It's just to say that I think I'm partly responsible for giving some customers the wrong idea about booze. It's not black or white. Some blended whiskies are slop, others are magical. Some boise-laden Cognacs are heavenly, while others are a poor excuse for the name. Some whiskies will last forever, while others will oxidize quickly. Sometimes I simply report an interesting story, other times I might want you to buy something that we found in Scotland. Sometimes I taste a whiskey and it tastes great, then I revisit it later and it's not as impressive. And vice versa.

Not everything can be quickly summarized and easily categorized. This isn't science. Booze is an experience and there's room for many different interpretations.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll