I met with my tasting group last night for a leisurely stroll through the vast spread of new K&L Scotch whiskies. As has been the case lately, the reaction was mainly positive (thank goodness!). Getting to watch some of your most knowledgeable and loyal whisky customers analyze, critique, and nitpick through the details of your products in a private and tranquil setting is an invaluable service for me. Most importantly, it allows me the chance to experience these selections from various points of view (something I recently wrote about as the key to better retailing), to see if people react more or less as I hope or expect them to.
There was one moment, while sampling the Tobermory 18 year old from Old Particular, that I heard my buddy Scott say, "I love this whisky. I love everything about it." To which, my good friend Paul said, "Not me. I don't think I could drink a whole bottle of this." This caught my attention because Scott and Paul are two of my all-time best and most discerning customers, so hearing them diverge so adamently over a whisky was something I was interested in listening to more about. After hearing both sides of the discussion, I said to them: "And now you understand why we have to buy so many different casks. One of you loves it, the other doesn't, which is why we need variety in our selection. It can't be just about 'good' or 'bad' or 90 points because no matter how good you think something is, there's always going to be another person who doesn't agree."
"How often do people give you shit about 'bad' whisky?" Scott asked me curiously.
"It happens every single day," I answered.
"What does?" Paul asked.
"Someone emailing me to let me know how disappointed or angry they are that a whisky didn't meet their expectations," I said.
"How is that possible?" Scott asked, incredulously.
"Because whisky isn't ever going to be something we all agree on. Some people out there think this whole whisky thing is cut and dry, right or wrong, good or bad, black and white. Actually, a lot of people do. They think if the notes are good, but their experience is bad, that somehow we've lied to them. But look at what just happened here. Scott: you thought that whisky was amazing. Paul: you didn't. In Scott's eyes, I've just secured him a great bottle and he's incredibly thankful. In Paul's eyes, he would have been unsatisfied had he bought a bottle for himself. So what do you think? Am I wrong, or am I right to have bought that cask?"
"So what do you say when people get upset?" Paul asked.
"I tell them I'm sorry they were unhappy, but usually I have to stand by the whisky. For every person out that doesn't like something there are ten other guys who love it. For every guy who loves a whisky, there are ten other guys out there who hate it. There's always going to be variance. You just have to roll with that," I said.
And then we sat there for a few minutes in quiet solitude.