Dive In Head First (Think Later)
I remember my first production job in college. I did the videography on a commericial shoot in San Diego for a local TGI Fridays-type of restaurant I won't mention the name of the company (because they're still in business), but the founder was the boyfriend of a girl I knew in the UCSD film department. Independent film and video production was hot in the late 90s. Swingers had just been released, Apple had just come out with the iMac DV (an affordable home video editing suite), and Hollywood was looking for the next big (cheap) indy darling. People were looking to get into the business, so my friend's boyfriend decided to invest tens of thousands of dollars into creating a production company. He created logos, shirts, bought expensive cameras, and created a website. There was only one problem: he didn't know anything about production. That's what he needed me and my friend for -- to teach him how to use all that stuff.
When the fever of a new phenomenon hits and the electricity is in the air, there are always a few people with extra money on their hands who look to dive into that excitement head first -- especially Americans. I mentioned this to Komal Samaroo, the chairman of DDL in Guyana, at dinner and he laughed out loud. "This is very true!" he exclaimed. Apparently Komal has been approached by a number of Americans over the past few years who were interested in buying or investing in the distillery. Some of them even flew out to visit. But after a few minutes of conversation it became clear that these romantic notions were perhaps a bit misguided. "I just tried El Dorado 12 last week for the first time and fell in love! I knew right then I needed to be a part of this business!" Or something like that.
"They didn't know anything about our history or our stills. They didn't know anything about the spirits business, but they were ready to offer millions!" Komal said.
There are people out there with extra cash on their hands looking to spend it on booze. Booze is hot, it's compelling, it's experiencing a huge renaissance and inspiring people everywhere to get involved in some shape or form. This captivating hysteria isn't just limited to deep-pocketed investors, either. There are guys opening distilleries who don't know how to distill. There are people spending thousands on Pappy who have never tried another Bourbon. To true spirits fans this type of behavior can be insulting because it demonstrates a lack of respect for the craft. It can't be that hard to distill something, right? Why start with something entry level when you can start with the best?
"Didn't that bother you?" I asked. "That people were attempting to purchase a historic distillery with centuries of tradition, yet they didn't know a thing about it?"
"Of course it bothered me," Komal said. "You want to purchase our brand, you're ready to invest millions, yet you don't know anything about us? What does that say about a person's judgement?"
I still get solicited at least once or twice a month by people who want to buy me lunch or take me out for a drink. I've stopped doing it because, once we get there, it's clear that what they're really looking for is unpaid consultation. "So, David, we're looking to build a distillery and we wanted to get your advice. What spirits should we make? What type of still should we buy? What do you know about rye whiskey?"