There's a lot of crazy stuff going on in American whiskey right now. Let's take a look at a few of them.
Pricing - American whiskey was once the value spirit for us common folk. We could sip really good to great Bourbon and rye for less than $10. Now, due to the demand, new releases carry Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices (MSRPs) north of $100. Will we ever see the return of the good and cheap pour? As long as this demand continues, MSRPs will continue to rise. But this pricing makes us old school consumers expendable.
Celebrities - Just in case you needed a reason to drink whiskey, they now come celebrity approved. You've got beach whiskey, a flavoured whiskey brought to you by country music stars Jake Owen and Gavin DeGraw. And thank goodness, there's a rapper bestowing his amazing palate to us mortals. With Virginia Black Decadent whiskey, Canadian rapper Drake presents Indiana made MGP whiskey. And who can forget Mila Kunis for Jim Beam, branding those barrels on the television? Of all the celebrities affiliated with American whiskey, Kunis is actually the most believable. After all, she really does drink it.
Cinnamon whiskey - If you've read my column, you know I'm not a fan of flavoured whiskey. But thanks to Fireball's popularity, spirits companies would be foolish to not enter into this market. The problem is brands are marketing 'cinnamon whiskey' as its own category. Spirits professionals have worked extremely hard to educate the masses about whiskey, from how it's made to the tasting profiles. I'm not looking forward to the consumer question: "Um, yeah, so I was wondering what grade of cinnamon are they using in the special reserve Fireball?" Ugh.
Box packaging - In an effort to separate themselves in the marketplace, Wicked 87 Light American Whiskey is in a box versus a bottle. Yes, a box that looks like a rusted gas canister. I have serious ethical issues with this packaging. To suggest we whiskey drinkers would drink from a gas canister, the audacity!
The end of consumer complaints - The sourced whiskey market faced an unprecedented barrage of legal action due to the lack of proper labelling. Class action lawyers pursued lawsuits against brands for consumer deception, often citing the missing state-of-the-art distillation requirement on American whiskey labels. These actions have come to pass, and the whiskey brands were largely victorious. Now, the only people who will hear our complaints are our own social media audiences. I think the lawyers are done settling whiskey consumer scores.
Crowdfunding - Despite all the whiskey enthusiasm, brands are resorting to crowdfunding to build their distilleries and buy whiskey. I talked to a banker about this strategy, and he says it's a sign that big money investors are unwilling to take a risk on upstart distillers. That means, smart people see an end to whiskey growth or the market is becoming saturated. Either way, new blood seeks your money, even the $1 bill folded and crusting under your couch cushion.
Internal drama - Whiskey brands are becoming reality shows. Since Chip Tate's very public separation from the Balcones Distillery in 2014, there have been many public whiskey departures. On the larger brand side, MGP's Greg Metze, 1792's Ken Pierce and Four Roses' Jim Rutledge all retired within a year of one another. Rutledge and Metze pursued their own ventures, and I'm not sure what Pierce is doing. On the drama side, WhistlePig founder Raj Peter Bhakta faces a board-influenced ousting that's playing out in America's oldest court, Delaware Chancery Court.
End of blogs? - There's an unfortunate cycle amongst the whiskey blogs. We're losing them. Blogging offers little reward and about as much money as recycling used gum wrappers. But bloggers are an important aspect to whiskey transparency. So, you, reader, do us all a favour and start reading good whiskey blogs.
Without bloggers willing to call out bad ideas, you might as well sign up for a $400 celebrity-endorsed, paint can-packaged light whiskey finished in a used cinnamon barrel. Giddy up.