Nice Guys Finish First
Someone asked me the other day who I thought the biggest dicks in the spirits industry were. I wasn't able to answer the question. Not because there aren't any jerks working in the alcohol business, but because I do my best not to interact with them, so I don't really see it. Plus, when certain people have behaved rudely towards me in the past, I think it was mainly because they were stressed out, overwhelmed at a tasting, or just plain tired. I don't ever judge anyone's overall character by how they behave during one precise moment under conditions of duress (that's for Yelp reviewers). Usually, they were nice the next time I ran in to them, or they apologized for behaving curtly.
Even if I could name someone who I thought was a terrible person, I wouldn't write a blog about them specifically. The jerks of the world don't deserve any air time. While it's fun to dig up dirt for the gossip rags, it's not something I'm interested in adding to. I'd rather write a blog about the nice guys of the booze world--people who actually deserve all the positive recognition they get. Don't you want to know who you should be supporting? So here you go. The Top 10 Nice Guy List.
10. Dave Smith - St. George Master Distiller: Few people will bend over backward for you like St. George's Dave Smith. Not only is he incredibly easy-going, talented, and creative, he's also terribly sensitive to his customer's needs. It genuinely pains him when he makes anyone's life more difficult than it is. He's the first person to come by the store to pour new samples for the staff, and he's always willing to give personal tours of the distillery for those who ask. There a few in the distilled spirits industry more genuine and kind-hearted than Dave.
9. George Grant - Owner of Glenfarclas: When you think of legendary Scottish single malt distilleries, you think of Glenlivet, Macallan, Highland Park, and Glenfarclas. The difference between them, however, is the ownership. Glenfarclas distillery has been in the Grant family for centuries and it's still being run today by a guy named George. George Grant is so nice, and so easy going, that it's easy to mistake him for a hired sales rep. For a guy with his pedigree, he's incredibly down to earth and carefree, and surprisingly easy to get a hold of. He's usually the guy behind the table pouring for you at a tasting (when's the last time the Edrington CEO did that?), and it's not uncommon for him to swing by K&L without notice when he's in the area, just to say hello.
8. Steve Ury - Whisky Blogger: As if we didn't already know how nice the man behind SKU's Recent Eats was, just get to know him a bit, or talk to other people who know him--it's almost unreal how nice this man is. Not only is he ethical, considerate, and polite, but he's also quite selfless. David OG and I once made a joke and said: "You bring a gun to a knife fight, and Steve Ury to a 'nice' fight." If more people wrote about spirits with the thought and lack of ego that Steve Ury does, we'd have a much better print industry.
7. Jamie MacKenzie - Ambassador for Morrison-Bowmore: The first time David OG and I met Jamie MacKenzie was at 10 PM after arriving on the late ferry to Port Ellen. We had dinner with him at the Harbor Inn and then embarked on what was one of the most memorable nights of our lives as spirits buyers. Jamie is so full of positive energy and enthusiasm for his job that it's absolutely contagious. There's not a bad bone in his body and he's always a person we look forward to seeing when we have the opportunity.
6. Maurice Hennessy - LVMH: The man who carries on direct lineage from Cognac legend Daniel Hennessy is perhaps my favorite person I've met in the last year. After dining together a few weeks ago, I have a completely different take on Hennessy's products. LVMH has always been a great company to work with, but Maurice took it to a new level. Like I mentioned before with George Grant, there's nothing more impressive than finding humility where you least expect it. Maurice is down-to-earth, funny, brilliantly cynical, yet optimistic about human nature. We have become email buddies since then, talking books and other non-booze related subjects.
5. Ian Chang - Kavalan Master Distiller: I've met Ian Chang on three separate occasions and all three times have resulted in admiration. The man is soft-spoken, considerate, and completely focused on making sure you feel at ease. He's so nice that, in the face of one of the rudest WhiskyFest patrons I've ever experienced, he completely kept his cool and never let the brash behavior fluster him. He's the best thing to happen to the Kavalan whisky company because his demeanor is going to create a lot of loyalty among consumers who interact with him. When you buy Kavalan whisky, it's almost like you're doing it because you like Ian so much.
4. Jean-Gabriel and Emmanuel Camut - Camut Calvados Master Distillers: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I whole-heartedly believe that the best spirits in the world are made by the Camut brothers in Normandy; and it doesn't hurt that they are also the nicest guys EVER. Gentle, caring, inquisitive, thoughtful, loving, passionate, funny--these are just a few of the words I would use to describe these two brothers. Let's not forget generous, either. If we could, David and I would spend weeks just hanging out with these guys, going through their old stocks and eating rustic dinners in their country home. When booze tastes as good as it does from a Camut bottle, it's a wonderful thing to know your money is going to two wonderful people, as well.
3. John Glaser - Compass Box: What I love about John Glaser is his class. He's a classy guy. I don't mean he wears fancy clothes, or drives a fancy car, but rather he just carries himself with dignity. He's polite, caring, mild-mannered, and concerned. He's always willing to help a friend (me, when I need it) and he's just easy to get along with. From a whisky standpoint, what I admire about John is not only his respect for the legacy of single malt, but his understanding that a beverage should be fun and drinkable, not stuffy or esoteric. That's really an analogy for John, himself.
2. John Cross - Whisky Collector: When the Whisky Advocate's Lew Bryson emailed me a while back, saying he needed a recommendation for an article he was writing about whisky collectors, I told him: "You have to feature John Cross!" (go back to that issue if you want to read about John). John Cross is not only a nice guy to do business with, he's just a nice guy--period! He's so nice that when we broke a bottle of the sold-out 1979 Glenfarclas for a customer's order, John offered to return one of his bottles back to K&L because the idea of the other guy not getting to taste it made him upset. He's so nice that once, while picking up an auction order, John found out that our Champagne buyer Gary Westby had bid on the same lot. He opened up the box right there on the counter and handed a bottle to Gary, saying, "We should both be drinking this then." In a battle of nice guys, John would almost always reign victorious. My face lights up every time he walks into the store.
1. Jim Rutledge - Four Roses Master Distiller: Was this one even a mystery? Jim Rutledge is my booze idol; he's everything I want to be when I grow up. I don't want to be a master distiller, though. That's not what I mean. I want to be calm, collected, and generous like Jim is. I want to see the good in everyone like Jim does, and not let the annoying things in life get to me. The first thing Jim does when he visits K&L is shake everyone's hand on the staff, then go right to the shelf and sign every bottle of Four Roses with a special pen so that the next few customers can have a collector's item. He personally conducts tours of the distillery if I call ahead for a customer, and is adamant about me having his cell number so that I can contact him with any concerns I have (I try to NOT give people my cell!). Bourbon tastes that much sweeter when it comes from a Four Roses bottle because Jim is the guy who made it. He is, without a doubt, the number one nice guy in the business.