Michael Strahan, the legendary Giants defensive juggernaut, said something quite controversial on his morning show with Kelly Ripa recently, when he stated:
“I don’t listen to those guys on the radio who talk about sports but who have never played any sports. I never listened to the opinion of someone who the last time they put on a uniform was when their mom took them trick-or-treating.”
Strahan's rant came from a moment of frustration with those who like to analyze aspects of a profession they have never actually performed. The world of professional sports opinion is dominated by guys (all with strong opinions) who have a lot to say about what a player should or shouldn't be doing, yet were never talented enough to play the game themselves. While you can obviously make the case that some of the best sports writers are talented and wittier than many of the ex-pros looking for a second career, no one can claim to understand something they have never personally experienced better than someone who has been there. I can only imagine what it must be like to lose a football game, then have some whiney, skinny jerk in the stands tell you what you should have done.
While I have watched Full Metal Jacket, read testimonials from ex-soldiers, and watched numerous documentaries about famous battles, I have never been to war. Therefore, I would never dare to presume that I understand what men go through in such scenarios. I've also never been an African-American or any other minority race, so I'm not going to act like I get what's really going on with racism and bigotry in the world. The analogies go on and on, obviously.
What I love about whiskey (and all beverages, for that matter) is that the enjoyment of it does not fit into one of these scenarios. Anyone can appreciate whiskey on a serious level if they're willing to put in the time and the commitment. I don't have a better palate than most of my customers and I'm not capable of tasting things that other experienced tasters cannot. We're all the same for the most part, which is why amateur blogging and professional blogging have become pretty even in their quality.
However, one thing I will tell you is that I know more about how the spirits business works than most amateur bloggers out there. If you think running a whisky business is about siding with big brands versus little brands, or taking a stance against corporate greed, then think again. You can run a store that stands for those principles if you want, but you won't be in business very long. Being a retailer means you take yourself out of the equation and think about serving your customers. It's not about me. It's not about what I like. Or what David OG likes. Or what Kyle likes. It's about what the customer wants -- pure and simple. Your customers tell you what they're interested in and you do your best to provide them with it. Sure, we go and find great stuff, but if you think we're only buying what we personally would drink, then you're crazy.
You think we're anti-Diageo at K&L because we get miffed at them every now and again? You should look at our sales numbers. Since long before David and I started working here, K&L has always sold more products from Diageo than from any other beverage company (and most other beverage companies combined). Lagavulin, Talisker, and Oban are three of the most popular whiskies we sell -- period. The Bulleit Bourbon and rye whiskies fly out of here like they're $5 bottles of wine. Without Diageo we would only have half the selection we have now and our customers would be pissed! Limiting selection based on your own personal gripes is retail fascism and we're not looking to be the next Soup Nazi.
Do you think we only sell products that we love, or that we only get excited about selling things that are our personal favorites? I didn't get excited this past Christmas when I gave my mom a gift certificate to Chez Panisse because it was my favorite restaurant; I got excited because I knew she wanted to eat there and it would make her happy. The best parts about this job involve customer satisfaction, not glorifying your own ego by making bold statements about what is or isn't "good." At least twenty times a day I help a customer find a whiskey that I personally would not purchase because I'm looking out for their needs, not mine.
If you want people to follow your opinions, drink what you drink, and respect your judgement when it comes to alcohol evaluation, then you should definitely start a whiskey blog and post honest reviews about what is and isn't good. If you want to make people happy, work with a number of different producers, find creative ways to make deals, and offer people as much variety as you can, while making sure you leave your own personal baggage out of the equation, then you should get into the spirits retail business.
For every person who hates one whiskey there are another five who think it's the best thing ever. Credibility as a retailer comes from knowing what the customer wants and giving it to them, not pushing your own personal agenda. It's our job at K&L to make sure various tastes, interests, and desires are taken care of. We'll always assess quality, of course, but we're not in the business of selling what David D and David OG like. We're in the business of selling what K&L customers like.
And they like a lot of different things.