And We're Off (What's New? - Part II)
The American psyche is always obsessed with what's new -- we love the newest phone, the new app, the new restaurant, the new app that tells us about the new restaurant -- and we see this phenomenon in presidential races. Voters say they want experience, but time after time a party nominates the guy we don't know all that well and he wins.
- Bill Maher, on Real Time this past Friday
Americans love what's new because we love to be inspired by new ideas – not just new products, but also new exposures to historic and cultural traditions that many of us lacked growing up away from our various motherlands. Therefore, we go to Europe for vacation and decide we want to be more like the French or Italians, eating locally-sourced dinners around the table instead of fast food on-the-go. We learn about German education and decide we want our kids to go to a Waldorf school where they'll learn how to knit sweaters and make furniture instead of watch cartoons. But rarely do these values, doctrines, or philosophies translate into our permanent American lives in a way that's sustainable. We buy a French cookbook, try a few recipes out for fun, but that's about as far as we ever make it. Let's face it: most of our schedules are not built for this kind of lifestyle. When you get home at 8 PM it's tough to make a wholesome, locally-sourced meal and sit around the fire afterward telling stories. That's why we embrace these new experiences abroad – because they're what we sometimes wish we could be.
We long for new things in America, but what's new can come in one of two forms: the shiny new toy that, like a child, you play with for a few hours until you're bored again and want something else, or the type of new experience that opens your eyes to the world around you and evolves into a lasting appreciation. When it comes to the world of wine and spirits there are definitely many examples of both. There are plenty of whiskies released each year that are new, simply because the marketing companies need something new to market. They know we like new things, so they do their best to give them to us (and we buy them!). But David and I have tried to shape K&L into a spirits retailer that specializes in the other type of experience as well. We're looking to discover spirits that are new to us as Americans, but not necessarily new in general. When we bring in a hot new item from over seas, we're looking to build upon tradition, history, and heritage, rather than the latest trends. We don't want our exclusive spirits to be the kind of thing you drink a few sips of and then say, "NEXT!" We want our spirits to inspire you to the extent that you want to learn more about them and continue to enjoy them for the rest of your life.
Not only do we want to widen the perspectives of our American drinking culture, we want to do it in a way that's interesting and authentic, not merely creating new opportunities for quick sales. So we're headed to Guyana tonight to find some rum. Not a brand new version of rum, or a limited edition release just to give you something exciting to buy a few months from now. We want to present rum in a new context rather than a new flavor. Why has rum played such a role in Caribbean culture since the 17th century? How does it function in modern Caribbean life and what are the traditions associated with drinking it? What else is there to know about rum that maybe we're missing here at home? More importantly, how can we make rum something more accessible and enjoyable to Americans who are longing to experience something new? We've all had a rum and coke, but maybe a bit more understanding of the process would change the perspective of those who have never given the spirit much thought beyond that one simple cocktail.
And this trip is not about coming back and saying, "This is how they drink rum in Guyana, so this is how we're all supposed to drink rum now." It's not about finding a new K&L exclusive that we can get you to buy once out of curiosity before you take a few sips and move on to the next new release. It's not a promotional ploy to cast a new light on an old dog, either. As an American, I love tasting what's new and what's next, but after a while I start feeling empty, looking at the mostly-full collection of bottles on my bar. I want to build a lasting relationship with alcohol based on an appreciation for everything I love about it and I want it to be sustainable, not dependent upon an increasingly ADD-like addiction to stimulus. Constantly searching for something new, simply for the sake of novelty, isn't going to fill the void. Eventually it gets old. I need substance, a story, and a reason to be inspired.
We're not looking to come back with the newest version of El Dorado and we're not planning on becoming Caribbean experts, desperate to showcase how much cooler Guyanese culture is than boring old America life. We're simply looking for a new experience that hopefully creates and inspires a bit of excitement among those who haven't thought too much about rum and its many possibilities.
ALSO: my friend K&L Spanish Buyer Joe Manekin is live blogging from Spain right now on the regular blog. Follow him as well! His adventures are quite interesting.