Mainstream Whiskey

Mainstream Whiskey

The news is booze

Thoughts from... | 17 Jul 2015 | Issue 129 | By Fred Minnick

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If you subscribe to this magazine or have even picked it up in your local bookshop, you are likely to have more than a passing interest in whiskey. This magazine falls in the food, lifestyle, hobby and luxury categories for retailers. In other words, you're not opening these pages for news that will impact how you vote, your power bill, oil prices, etc. This is not mainstream media.

Historically, the mainstream media has not covered whiskey. The business media follows whiskey's publicly traded companies and occasionally, political reporters find whiskey-related bills up for vote. But Scotch, Bourbon and Irish whiskey typically do not capture the interest of normal people.

All of this is changing.

Whiskey is beginning to leapfrog the enthusiasts and become interesting to everyday consumers, even those who don't even drink. I first noticed this trend during the Maker's Mark proof-lowering debacle in 2013. The story made above the fold front page news, trended on Twitter and was the No. 1 business story on Google News.

I brushed the Maker's story off as a slow news day, but we saw this repeated with the Tennessee barrel law fight. Then Suntory acquiring Jim Beam, the rise of Japanese whisky and the potential impact of Scottish independence on whiskey. Finally, of course, the Pappy Van Winkle saga from the lack thereof to the thievery that's now become a Kentucky drama akin to the popular TV series Justified.

Another common storyline, I fully admit to playing a role - Women in whiskey.

In the past two years, CBS This Morning, The Today Show, The Atlantic, Forbes, and many others have covered the burgeoning trend of women drinking whiskey or working in distilleries. The industry fallback on this women-in-whiskey trend, of course, are those offering up the 'sexist' angle, adding women now vote, too: Are we going to cover that?

But long-time spirits publicist Laura Baddish suggests the media is simply fascinated with the whiskey genre and the coverage is more about the whiskey interest, not one particular trend. "What's surprising is that it is mainstream and covers all media pillars - from trend and style to business, to women in whiskey and travel," says Baddish, who is the national Four Roses publicist.

Perhaps the mainstream media is just now discovering what we've known all along - that whiskey is much more enjoyable than politics. Or perhaps these journalists are moving in on our turf, looking for free whiskey? Wait. Maybe this mainstream media isn't a good idea; I might be out of a job soon.

One thing is for sure, reporters are not going away!

"As long as the thirst for whiskey is constant, it will continue to make headlines," Baddish says. "As new distilleries open and new brands come on the market, there will be more fodder for the press. I don't put whiskey and soda in the same context - that category isn't doing too well right now. Instead I would like to think of whiskey as a permanent part of our drinking culture that will not get knocked down by the next latest and greatest spirits fad. It is the American brands that are being discovered here in the US and all over the world, and that phenomenon should continue for quite some time."

About once a quarter a major whiskey news story trends No. 1 or 2 in Facebook and Twitter, meaning people click on the stories and increase its rank. The news industry sees this and knows clicks equal advertising, so they start assigning beat reporters to the whisky industry. The Associated Press now has a beat writer assigned to the Bourbon industry, while the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and New York Times have reporters following major brands and even breaking news stories.

The next news cycle might include information about organised crime. Oh, wait, that's the current news cycle with the Pappy Van Winkle theft story that has more than 200 reporters covering it. All of this proves, the world loves a good story.

Yeah, whisky has a lot of stories to tell.
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