I remember back in the heyday of the single malt boom, a customer of mine who works as a venture capitalist here in Silicon Valley thought I should write a book about whisky. "You could be the next Jim Murray," he said to me. I thanked him and said that while I appreciated his confidence in me, I had no aspirations of that sort. Being a recognized whisky expert of any sort has never appealed to me personally. It takes a very special combination of ego and avarice to make it in the world of professional reviewers and while I may have had those characteristics when I was in my early twenties, I've shed most of that baby fat now in my late thirties.
Most of you are likely unaware that David OG and I were also once signed by Wendy Williams Entertainment for an alcohol-related reality show called "Whisky Business" that ended up going nowhere (for good reason). It was around the same time my client suggested I write the book. Everyone was looking to capitalize on the momentum of whisky in the media world, both in visual and print form. What's interesting is that I heard back from one of the producers last year who wanted to potentially restart the project under a different concept. "All the feedback we're getting right now is anti-expert. Viewers don't want to be lectured to, apparently," he told me.
I about fell over laughing when I heard that. No shit they don't want to be lectured to! Wine and whisky experts who use big words, write ridiculous tasting notes, and condescend to plebian tastes have always been a joke. That's exactly why I would never want to write a book of whisky tasting notes and it's exactly why no booze-related travel program has been successful since Bourdain began merging alcohol in with the food. In no way would I ever want to be lumped in with anyone like that!! The entire "serious" alcohol scene, in my opinion, is about to expire as we get to the end of a ten year cycle. After a decade of "drink this, not that," "sip it, don't shoot it," and "respect craft," I think experts, savants, and professional drinkers are going to have to hibernate for a while until the revolution comes back around in 2027. That tiny market has been flooded far beyond capacity at this point.
My goals for the last few years have been purely fun-oriented in response. I realized around 2014 that we were at the peak of a major trend and that in order to survive the eventual decline we would need to attract as many customers as possible who were interested in the actual drinking of alcohol. I began focusing more on customer service than writing. I started throwing after hours parties for my best local clients, making them the focus, rather than attending fancy dinners with brand reps and distributors looking to butter me up. I stopped going to major tasting events with the latest drink fads and devoted all of my time to securing relationships with suppliers who would be vital to our existence once the demand faded. In an age where people are relying on social media to promote their businesses, I decided to remove myself from that realm and do as much as I could face-to-face or by direct email. I wanted a foundation built on actual outreach and a work ethic, rather than an image.
I don't know how many of you have been following the story of how a troll factory in Russia managed to spread Islamophobia in Texas, but regardless of that specific example it's a business strategy being used by just about everyone right now: manipulate the internet and social media to make people believe what you want them to. I don't believe anything I read online anymore that isn't from a handful of trusted sources because just about everything today is a distortion. I don't mean that in a "the man is trying to control us," anti-authoritarian, wingnut-radical sort of way. It's just that most succcessful people in today's world have learned what they need to say in order to get what they want. A politician knows that he has to have an anti-abortion stance to get elected in a certain state, but that doesn't mean he actually believes it. That's an extreme example, but my point is that whether it's politics, news, business, or alcohol, I've learned the difference between an actual opinion and one that's designed for a certain purpose. While people debate what's put in front of them, the actual intent of those statements develops behind the scenes.
What does that have to do with whisky? Quite a bit, actually. I'm finding it quite difficult today to find business owners who actually intend to operate their own businesses for the explicit purpose of what their business is supposed to do. They tell people they're devoted to the cause, but in reality it's a different story. I know someone with absolutely no child development experience who opened a daycare because of a tax break loophole that allowed her to write off the investment. Wanna send your kids there? I know someone who wrote an autobiography simply because his financial adviser said it would help his image in the work place and increase awareness of his business. Want me to get you a copy of that page-turner ASAP? So you can imagine how many small distillery owners I've met who have no background in spirits, no real passion for spirits, but are hoping that their brand gets bought out by Remy, or LVMH, or Diageo, or some other large company so they can cash in and get out. Who actually wants to start a business and run it these days because it makes them happy?
What I'm getting at here is that hardcore, serious, no nonsense whiskey appreciation was already getting stale. But on top of all these would-be experts, we've got thousands of people who aren't experts, but want you to think they are because of what it might get them. Then you've got the thousands of new whiskey brands who want the business of all those expert aficionados and are ramping up their production as a result. But does that business actually exist or are we all just playing "world's biggest whiskey fan" online in our free time? I'm curious to find out.
In the meantime, I'm busy trying to build actual business based on actual consumers who actually like to drink. I think that's the right strategy, but time will tell.