Vintage liquor ads from the 60′s. I’m a student of history, but I’ve never even heard of the terrible chair shortage during the Johnson administration…. (Great pics and commentary well worth the read.)
I saw a tweet from Watershed Distillery (one of Columbus’s two excellent micros) today containing the picture above. It seems that the Container Store has chosen to stick two Watershed bottles (Vodka and Four Peel Gin) in a display in every location in the United States. Well done, guys.
It is a well-chosen display, actually. Watershed’s minimalist labeling, and square-shouldered bottles go well with the chain’s clean-lined aesthetic, and the label colors of these two go well with the shelving and other accessories for the display.
For those of you who are unfortunate enough to not have Watershed in your market, don’t steal the displays. If you didn’t realize yourself, the batch number on these display bottles is “01″. I think there are likely more Container Stores in America than there were bottles in batch one of either of these liquids…. Just order yourself some from Binny’s.
(Mandatory legal disclaimer: My wife owns stock in the Container Store (Symbol: TCS), and I drink a lot of Four Peel….)
Negroni Week is half over already. Have you had your Negroni today?
Sponsored by Campari, Negroni Week is one of the better organized and widespread bartend-for-charity events I’ve seen so far. Participating bars will donate one dollar for every Negroni (or Negroni variant) you drink this week to the charity of that bar’s choice. For a listing of bars near you, and the charities each is supporting, visit Negroni Week’s list of nearly 1,300 worldwide. Don’t worry, there’s a geographical filter. I’m proud to say that Central Ohio has almost twenty places to get your Negroni on for charity.
A good many people, including a lot of fairly avid cocktail drinkers, don’t really know just what the hell a Negroni is. In fact, the bar world seems to be split into two distinct camps, What the Heck is a Negroni? and How Can You Not Know the Negroni? Let’s see if I can flip a few of you, dear readers, from Column A to B.
The Negroni is one of the big magilla early Twentieth Century cocktails. Invented at the request of Italian Count Camillo Negroni by Fosco Scarselli, it is a classic three-ingredient drink, and it is as easy to make as it is challenging to drink. Here’s the recipe:
- 1 part London Dry Gin (Choose a classic, juniper-forward brand)
- 1 part Italian Vermouth
- 1 part Campari
Combine ingredients (typically one ounce per serving) in a mixing glass with ice and stir well until completely chilled. Strain into an Old-Fashioned glass with large, fresh ice. Garnish with your most elegant orange peel presentation.
I say the Negroni is challenging to drink because it is when you are not used to it. Some of the bittering agents in Campari are unique, at least to my palate, and I find it a difficult ingredient to work with, as opposed to many other amari. Plenty of other people just love Camapri to death, so your mileage will vary. In the past, I found the classic recipe above to be hard to enjoy.
Bitter and stirred types, please be aware that Doug is a Bitter Wimp!
I am not a bitter wimp! Um… but I do tend to prefer drinks where the bittering is there to enhance the other flavors, rather than being the dominant player. In the Negroni, the Campari is the primary spirit, with the gin and vermouth as modifiers.
But do not give up on the Negroni, fellow not-bitter wimps. The great value of Negroni Week for me has been how it has opened up my eyes to the world of Negroni variants. I started off with a visit to Columbus’s premier craft bar, Curio, for a pre-Negroni Week kickoff. There they debuted their Negroni Week menu of five Negronis.
I will mention two of them in particular; both of which were delicious, and both of which would make a fine entry point into the Negroni arena.
The first is a Beet Negroni, with fresh beet-infused vermouth. I found, after first experimenting with them as a joke in other concoctions, that beets are really a pretty interesting cocktail ingredient. In the case of this cocktail, the earthiness mellows out the impact of the bitterness nicely, but it also damps down the clarity of the gin a bit.
The second one that I particularly liked (I tried them all), was the Sparkling Negroni, which is merely the classic recipe with an added 2/3 part sparkling wine, served in a champagne flute rather than over the rocks. This is an excellent drink all by itself, and an excellent way to temper your palate in preparation for the classic Negroni. It sweetens the profile of the drink without tipping it over, yet still leaves the rest of the flavors clear and distinct and in their original harmony.
The rest of this week is a great time for you to visit your nearby serious cocktail joint discover the Negroni. Many have their own variants for you to try if you feel a little hesitant about diving into the big, bold, bitter original. But make sure you try at least on of the original before your experiments are done. I’ve found the classic version of the Negroni to be a heckuva lot of fun. With the right gin, and a good sweet vermouth like Antica, it is a marvelously balanced, refreshingly bright aperitif. It is still bitter as hell, but with only a little acclimation of your taste buds it becomes readily apparent why this is one of The Classics.
I feel a bit like Kevin Bacon today, folks.
There is a sudden surge of panic stricken articles and posts out there proclaiming the “Whiskey Apocalypse“, and that the world is on “the Brink of a Whiskey Crisis“. No less luminary a publication than Esquire suggests you start hoarding.
Everybody freak out! Run in a panicked mob down the street to the nearest taverns and drink all the brown grain liquor before someone else does! Just let me get out of the way first, since I don’t want to be crushed flat like a cartoonish Chip Diller.
All clear? Good, for those of you still here, instead of lying face-down on a bar top, clutching the last empty of Jim Beam in your desperate fingers, let’s calm down. Yes, there is a whiskey shortage. It has been going on for some time. It is only going to get worse for years to come. This is not news.
As near as I can tell, the latest round of hand-wringing over how you won’t even be able to buy a Manhattan in a few weeks stems from this press release by Buffalo Trace, a company which has recently become the indisputable king of marketing by media hype. It is entitled “BUFFALO TRACE DISTILLERY UPDATES BOURBON INVENTORY SHORTAGES”, and every article written recently about the coming Bourbon Dust Bowl seems to lead back to it. The writer should get a raise. There is precisely one item of news in the seven paragraphs, and that is that Buffalo Trace has hired a new distribution guy… OK, a new “full-time barrel allocation manager”, a move that is apparently part of their already existing business plan, not some Hail Mary pass to preserve the Republic.
What is going on with Bourbon, and other premium American whiskeys, is called Capitalism and Market Forces, and everything is going to be all right. Can we please get straight what is going on? Several things that are commonly being freaked out about in the stuff being written in this latest wave of bourbon hysteria are either incomplete, or misunderstood.
First off, there is the question of what is causing the shortage. Most people realize there are two sides to this, the supply of the product and the thirst for it. The proximate cause for the “crisis” comes from the demand axis of the graph. There has been, and will absolutely continue to be, a huge increase in the numbers of in the numbers of bourbon drinkers, and how much they drink. But it isn’t because of this guy:
It’s because of these guys:
If it was just the current Cocktail Renaissance fueling whiskey demand, the demand spike would be much smaller, probably already peaking, and possibly a bigger problem for the industry. But half the world’s population is only now having its first taste of bourbon, and at the same time it is gaining access to the means to buy its subsequent tastes. It is a reasonable bet that foreign desire for American whiskey is going to continue to drive up demand. I suspect that this is actually a good thing. Human industry handles long-term growth in demand very well over the long haul, thank you. Look it up. (Kids, that’s a turn of phrase people used before “Google It” came into vogue. To “look something up” you bike down to a storefront search engine called a “library”. Be sure to stop off at the malt shop on your way down.)
Demand spikes, as we would be looking at if this were really a hipster led issue, lead to bubbles. Bubbles lead to crashes. Crashes lead to economic dislocations and bankruptcies. Bankruptcies in the whiskey business lead to orphaned barrels of good stuff being sold off at fire sales and being diluted with water and caramel coloring and put in Early Times bottles. No one wants that.
The challenge for the distillers is going to be balancing pricing with the new demand, not getting too far out in front of the price wave and getting a reputation for being over-priced or gougers, nor too far behind and becoming competitively disadvantaged because of all the money left on the table. Most of these guys are damn sharp businesspeople. So be happy that the economic health of the people who make the good stuff is largely assured, as long as they manage their businesses well and don’t bollix up a good thing. If they do, screw ‘em, it’ll be because they deserve it for being bad at capitalism.
So no, demand pressure is not a new thing. Nor is it a bad thing. Yes, bourbons are going to get a bit more pricey in the next few years. And yes, when Buffalo Trace’s new full-time barrel allocation manager or one of his colleagues at other distilleries mess up, you may find your favorite bottle is not available during all given runs to the package store. But prices for bourbon will not get out of control, and supplies will not run out. Why? Because this exists. And so does this. And many others.
In the long run, demand for bourbon will in fact be easily satisfied. Why? Because, Malthusians (Motto: Being utterly wrong about our core beliefs since 1798!) aside, the world is not running out of corn.
Most people understand this last fact at a deep core level, so this current mini-hysteria wave has felt the need to discover two new, completely unheard of things that will not ever let bourbon production catch up to demand. Barrels and angels.
Yes, not only are there ravening hordes of hipsters, roaming Williamsburg and guzzling Knob Creek like there is no tomorrow, but also God has sent a horde of Angels to punish us for our wicked ways by stealing half of all bourbon made from inside sealed barrels before it can be bottled! To hear all these writers go on about the Angel’s Share, you would think this was something new that presents some sort of barrier to increased whiskey production.
You might equivalently say that we will have difficulty producing more milk in the future because we have to pump it out of cows. We have always had to pump milk out of cows, and always will. Likewise, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and the rest of the gang have been swilling barrel-strength Jack Daniels since the day Jack first put his whiskey in wood. Transpiration losses are simply a part of how whiskey is made. They are known and expected and nothing out of the ordinary, and they don’t make it take any longer to make a good whiskey.
If you are wondering how this sudden rash of heavenly drunkeness became a concern to anyone, may I suggest you check a certain press release mentioned above?
Nearly the same goes for barrels. Yes, American cooperage operations are stretched tight right now, but in truth, they have been for a long time. Overall, cooperages are getting bigger, at a responsible rate in reaction to demand. We are not running out of white oak for making them either. (One of the ways that the US does a far better job of decreasing net carbon dioxide emissions than any other industrialized nation on Earth is our aggressive program of re-forestation. That’s right, folks! Drink more whiskey and you can help stop Global Warming!) Distill all you want, the coopers will manage to make more barrels.
Again, yes, increasing demand for barrels and for corn will put pressure on prices as well. It doesn’t help that the government keeps spending our money on turning good corn into bad fuel, but again, not enough to really matter in this situation.
So what is a drinker to do?
First, do not follow the recommendation of Esquire. Don’t rush out and put all your ready cash into cases of booze. That is a bad idea for the market and everybody else around you. When consumers start to hoard en masse, they end up causing the very circumstances they wanted to hoard to avoid. You get a huge spike in demand, which causes outrageous prices and shortages all over the place. So don’t hoard, or my whiskey drinking self will end up like Kevin Bacon—squashed under your spooked feet.
And in case your response is, “Hey bub! Every man for himself,” don’t hoard because it is stupid for the hoarder, too. A stock of booze, while it doesn’t go bad, is a non-productive asset. It is not going to appreciate faster than the market. It does not improve with age. And the money you spent on it, you could have saved or spent on something you use to make yourself more productive, either of which would give you more money to spend on the same booze when it is more expensive later. In the mean time, your spouse will be yelling at your during the intervening years to give them back their storage space.
If you are going to hoard some whiskey, lay down something like Jim Beam or Jack. Should the apocalypse come, that shade tree mechanic you need to fix your car so you can get out of town in front of the zombie horde will just as happily take a bottle of that as he will a bottle of Angel’s Envy Rye.
Second, there is lots that drinkers and bartenders can and will do to alleviate the issue. Look into rum… and gin… and brandy… and so on. Lotsa good stuff to drink out there besides American whiskey, people. That’s called responding to a market signal. It fixes things. And in the process, tunnel-visioned whiskey aficionados may remember the rest of the world of fabulous spirits. Try coming up with some uses for less popular spirits. Convince the hipsters that Seagram’s VO is the PBR of whiskey, and the ironic lifestyle requires consuming nothing else in their (not your or my) Old Fashioneds. Do all that, and the industry will be healthy, your bank account will be healthy, everything will work itself out in a few years, and I can still buy Bourbon without a bank loan I can’t get anyway.
I was out shopping for rum the other day, and as I passed down the aisle of the liquor store, my eyes fell upon an eye-catching bottle that I didn’t recognize. It was in the brandy section, so I bent down to examine closer, and my eyes beheld the following product: Twenty Grand Vodka Infused with Cognac. The shelf tag, in addition to revealing that this new item was already marked down, proclaimed it to be “Good as Money.” Apparently two dollars a bottle less money than initially thought…
Possibly the dumbest liquor product I've ever seen on a shelf. pic.twitter.com/fibjrJj42z
— Doug Winship (@dawinship) March 4, 2014
I squatted there in the middle of aisle, stunned. My mind whirled, trying to grasp how you could make a product that, aside from its merely tacky vessel, is stupid in nearly every possible way.
Let’s start with the marketing stuff. The name is Twenty Grand. Um. Why? Is this some magical number that the Culture has decided is the price of class?
Well, it might be.
An old guy like you would probably have missed a cultural marker like that….
Well, if so, the Culture is wrong. Unlike anyone misfortunate enough to purchase this product, I have actually had twenty grand in ready funds lying around from time to time during my long toil upon this Earth. At none of those times did the “Beautiful People”, despite my culturally significant bank balance, “Hit Up” “My Digits” with invitations to go clubbing.
Perhaps the beautiful people are not as dumb as they look.
Further, what kind of catchphrase is “Good as Money”? Have you seen money? I’m not drinking anything like that.
I’ll forgive, or at least leave aside, the bottle’s stopper, which looks like a cheap doorknob and is nearly as big, because it is not totally hideous at first glance, and because I like stoppers on liquor bottles and like to encourage the practice.
Instead, I will put on my Font Nazi hat and bitch about the label instead.
What the hell is this supposed to be, with all the background engraving, faux aged border, and “anti-counterfeiting features”, a bearer bond? Now, I will grant that, given the whole Good as Money theme, it is a clever conceit. But a bond like this should have little coupons that you tear off each time you consume an ounce of this fluid. Turn in a label’s worth of coupons and get a pony or something. Because anyone sad enough to have drunk a bottle’s worth of this is sad enough to deserve a pony.
This is the frilliest main font ever devised by man. At full size, it is nearly impossible to read, and when it suddenly changes color and shrinks toward the bottom it becomes not so much illegible and practically invisible. Then we get an abrupt, pointless typeface change for the one word on the bottle that you could read from the other side of a bar, especially in bad lighting after a round or two. You are changing the typeface and color on your label in the middle of the name of your product? Or is the name simply Twenty Grand, with “vodka infused with cognac” being the product type?
And what a confusing product type that is! Is 20K a vodka or a cognac? A dessert topping or a floor wax? As their website asks, “uptown or downtown”? It sure looks like they want it to be a Cognac. It is the only legible word on the label. The bottle and stopper, and the material inside all look Cognac-y. But it is worded like it is an infused vodka. Does half the team think that it has to be a “vodka” because that’s all the Wall Street suits who are funding them want, while the other half think the only people who will buy it want “cognac”? Perhaps the group all met in Synergy 224 while getting their MBAs. Most likely, honesty (with some help from the FTC) compelled them to call it Vodka infused with Cognac.
And now we get to the meat of the issue. The actual alcoholic beverage inside the bottle.
An important disclaimer here: This is a totally unfair post, in that I have not actually consumed any Twenty Grand myself. I am not going to. Don’t send me any. My liver only has so many miles left in it, and I won’t waste so much as one of them on Twenty Grand Avenue.
I don’t actually have to taste it, because Mr. Vuitton has. Mr. Vuitton is a YouTuber who vlogs about Louis Vuitton products from his blank-walled apartment with laundry stacked on top of his Louis Vuitton bags in the background, all while wearing Ed Hardy shirts.
His video review of Twenty G will either be the best or worst 11 minutes of your life you have ever spent on YouTube.
Whether you watched that or not, I’ll discuss it a bit as a lead back to my thoughts on Twenty Grand. First, how about that cinematography? I’ve never seen a clearly practiced and polished video style that consists of a continuous, unedited mirror selfie shot which keeps the phone unerringly blocking the view of his mouth. I genuinely admire his dedication to his craft. He held that phone up for eleven minutes! My arms would fall off. But then I’m old.
The video tells a tale actually—the tale of a man who may not have the most extensive liquor knowledge, but who does in fact appear to have a fine and developed sense of taste and smell. It is a tale of a man who is excited by a new product, who tries it for the first time on camera, only to discover that the phrase Good as Money is true in the sense that I spoke of above. Our hero doesn’t want to be mean…
You used to be like that,
didn’t you, Doug?
He doesn’t want to be mean as the stuff assaults those excellent senses of taste and smell, or perhaps he just doesn’t want to admit to himself or his viewers that he has wasted twenty seven dollars that likely tasted better than the Twenty Grand in the bottle.
Some epic, revealing quotes:
It’s a vodka, obviously. [Snif]Yeah. Ah…damn. Yeah. It’s… of course, the smell is alcohol. [grimace] Yeah… it’s, uh, it’s gonna be rough, guys! Sh*t…
[Sip]Yeah. [Forced grimace] It’s sweet. It’s, um, really, really sweet. There’s an, um, thickness to it. It’s is definitely not vodka. It doesn’t taste like vodka. Doesn’t feel like vodka.
Yeah. I can taste the vodka. More like vodka and… syrup. You could really call this “vodka, mixed with honey” or syrup…
The earnest hope in his voice when he decides to throw in some ice is endearing.
Yeah, I’m sure this will be… This’ll be definitely a lot better.
You will be shocked to watch as his hopes are dashed.
I kept thinking I’d abandon the video after each new moment of pathos, but it just kept on going so hilariously I couldn’t stop. Bear with the attempt to remove the plastic shrink-wrap from the stopper with one hand, while the other holds the phone, the rest is worth it.
Listen, I feel for the guy. I’ve searched desperately a time or two to find something nice to say about a dog product, either on this blog or in person. I just think he should learn that it is wise to know what you are reviewing before you review it, especially if you are going to act as if it is live TV.
As I said before, Mr. Vuitton appears to have a much better senses of taste and smell than I ever had, but I knew what he was going to taste before he ever opened that bottle, and I (again) have never experienced the stuff. Because old age and experience beat youth and talent every day. Before my brain had finished processing what I was looking at in that aisle, I knew. The words Early Times were flashing in my brain.
Scores of bottles in that same store that call themselves Blended American Whiskey could just as well have labeled themselves as Vodka infused with Bourbon. They look just like Bourbon, just as 20K looks just like Cognac. The marketing theory behind blended whiskies is that they are smoother and more approachable than the full straight stuff. The truth is that vodka is cheap as hell to make, and faster than it is cheap.
Twenty Grand is not vodka infused with cognac, it is cognac diluted with vodka, at somewhere between 1:1 and 6:1 vodka. But vodka is clear and flavorless, so if that’s all you served up, you’d have a very pale-looking and pale-tasting product. To get the color and flavor back, blenders add colorants and flavorants, mostly caramels of one type or another, to the mix in an attempt to counterfeit the natural ones occurring in the wood-aged product of the base premium liquor.
American blended whiskey makers have had decades of experience and the millions spent in the Lost Laboratories of Seagram’s Gone By to perfect the mix of sugars and colorants needed to make a pleasing and visually satisfying counterfeit for a light bourbon.
Twenty Grand? The color is perfect. To my knowledge, this is the first Blended French Brandy of its kind, and I doubt that the good folks at Citispiritz of Wilson, Wyoming have the kind of resources needed to reproduce the decades and millions it took to get as far as Early Times. Bravo to them for trying, I suppose. Or jeers to them for giving the Pernod-Ricards of the world ideas….
A final disclaimer: As I said, I haven’t tasted the product myself. And Twenty Grand has absolutely the least informative liquor product website to be found on the web. It consists of good photography, bad recipes, and no frigging text to speak of at all! My description of what 20K is and how it is made is merely my own informed speculation. And if you can’t get Twenty Grand Vodka infused with Cognac near you, perhaps you could find their new product: Twenty Grand Rosé. It is vodka infused with flat Rosé Champagne!
Confession time: I am one of those people who watches the Superbowl for the ads. In fact, I usually DVR the Superbowl, and fast forward through the game to get to the commercials. Why? The last time I watched a sporting event live in which a team I actually cared about won that game was literally in 2011. Sportsfans, pay me to become an avid fan of your team’s biggest rival….
But I still like the ads. Each year, the ad companies trot out their best ideas, and there always some heartwarming, hilarious, and weirdly fascinating results. Sure, there are still clunkers, but the ad industry’s winners ratio in Superbowl ads is way better than the motion picture and television industries’. And a zillion people watch them, which is why companies spend so much to run those ads. And then, the best ones get replayed endlessly on YouTube for weeks thereafter.
All of this has led to a new peripheral phenomenon in recent years, the Ad You Won’t See On The Superbowl!11!!1! Companies or causes craft an ad to submit to the network to run on the Superbowl which is rejected. Usually its subject matter is self-evidently controversial enough that the NFL realizes testosterone-hyped families across America will get into literal fights over it and be unable to watch the other commercials. Sometimes the ad is perfectly innocuous in subject matter or product, but has a stray moment of unacceptable language or a gratuitous nip-slip or something.
The point is, the ad was deliberately crafted to be rejected. Then the marketing company can run off a press release, filled with High Dudgeon™, about how the ad was banned. If, as is usually the case, it is a political cause, they scream “the NFL doesn’t want you to hear this TRUTH!” And all their supporters rush out to tweet the YouTube link, and they get two million hits. If it is a product, they usually scream “the NFL censored our ad because it was so racy!” Then all the pubescent boys (here meaning males over the age of 12) rush out to watch the video for the nip-slip that ends up not being there anyway.
This is a very successful guerrilla marketing tactic. These advertisers don’t have the money, or at least don’t have it to spare, to afford an actual ad on the Superbowl. It is also an increasingly obvious tactic, and even your average low-information American is beginning to see it for what it is. (Guys will still click on that nip-slip ad link anyway. We’re predictable.)
But most people now realize that the advertiser’s ad is actually not on the Superbowl because they don’t have the money as opposed to having been “banned”, and now we see the next phase in the game. The Ad You Won’t See On The Giant Game We Can’t Name Because We Are Such a Plucky Little Group Who Can’t Compete With The Big Money Guys, So Go With Us Because We Are Artisinal And Stuff style advertisement.
Enter Newcastle Brown Ale, the PBR of the UK. An elderly working class brand now enjoying a hipster-fueled resurgence. This plucky little brand has released this “Behind the Scenes” video of their Superbowl ad that won’t be, starring Anna Kendrick of Pitch Perfect. The whole thing is about how Newcastle’s reach exceeded their grasp and they couldn’t afford to run their ad on the Superbowl (along with some unconvincing worry about whether she is hot enough for a beer commercial), and now she has to go back to making indie movies or something. It is funny. And trust me, listen carefully to her description of the ad. It would have gotten all the YouTube hits.
Cute, huh? And a great, creative way for a small company to leverage the Superbo… Giant Game With The Trademarked Name hype to their advantage. America really is the land of opportunity, huh?