Sammy Hagar and George Clooney have tequilas, naturally, and Ryan Reynolds has a line of gin. Dan Ackroyd's got a vodka, Marilyn Manson owns an absinthe, and Danny DeVito has a fucking limoncello. Obviously, the world of celebrity-owned boutique booze lines is flourishing. And I've only got two questions:
What the hell is a boutique liquor?
Are any of them any good?
It's been a weird week and, trust me, this issue isn't going to help things at all. In this issue:
What We're Learning: Celebrity Booze
What We're Reading: The Way of Whisky
Down the Rabbit Hole: Derivations
Let's get to it.
What We're Learning:
What, exactly, is a boutique liquor? As it turns out, it's pretty much whatever you want it to be.
Boutique bourbons, artisan rums, or whiskeys are the quickest way to capture a spirit-lover’s attentions. Each offers a unique flavor profile and often benefits from the extra attention paid to it by its creator.
Boutique should mean that the spirits produced under that rubric are not mass-produced. What that actually means, in terms of legal limits and production quality, is incredibly nebulous, with laws varying from place to place and in different families of booze. And there’s no denying that we are in the midst of a craft liquor boom.
So, when Willie Nelson tells us that he's making his own whiskey (Old Whiskey River, which currently has a respectable 3.57 out of 5 on Distiller.com) what he really means is that he has lent his name to a small batch production of a custom bourbon - in other words, it is a real boutique booze.
The trouble comes with trying to define small batch and boutique. Licensing issues aside, anyone with the money can create a new line of booze. Acquire some ingredients, contract with a distillery, hire a marketing team and you're off to the races.
These boutique brands seem to come in roughly three flavors:
pre-produced small batch or premium liquor purchased by a celeb as an investment (George Clooney)
custom made and produced to the celeb's taste and / or specifications (Matthew McConaughey)
re-branding by a major producer and celeb partnership as a means of promotion and market differentiation (P. Diddy)
What that means to us, the consumers is - unless your favorite celeb happens to have some expertise in brewing, fermenting, or distilling, it's important to look into who is actually making the booze.
And here we have kind of a chicken-and-egg situation: Are there a lot more small batch, small production liquor producers cropping up because of the interest in artisanal products, or are there more artisanal products because new producers are popping up everywhere? The answer, of course, is yes.
Whenever there is a boom of any kind, investors advise getting in quickly and staking out territory. (This report from Inc. is a fascinating take on why this is a good time to buy in.) In this particular case, there is the additional cultural cache of fun and excitement around booze which lends itself well to the celebrity endorsement. Further, it's a clear case of win-win for both the celeb and the producer - the celeb gets to promote a fun, quirky, lifestyle product that ups their brand and the liquor producer gets the boost of a celebrity endorsement that helps move their product.
All of which leaves us with the question - is any of it any good?
I have yet to try any of these brands for myself, but I did find a good list of articles aimed at helping us figure out which ones are worth trying:
Bartender School - 10 Celebrity Alcohol Brands To Try
Culture Cheat Sheet - George Clooney, Danny DeVito, and Other Celebs With Their Own Alcohol Brands
What We're Reading:
by Dave Broom
Japanese whiskey has, in the past two decades, gone from "wait, what?" to "world's finest." There are a lot of books that can tell you why; there are even more books that can tell you which ones you ought to drink and how they came to exist, etc. But I've chosen this book, The Way of Whisky, because it's as much a travelogue as it is spirits guide.
Dave Broom is an expert in whisky. His other books consist of titles like Whisky: The Manual and The Wold Atlas of Whisky. Plus, he's a Scot, which is the only reason he can be forgiven from dropping the e from whiskey (for a real answer to why there are two different spellings, re-read Learned #22).
If I'm being completely honest, one reason I prefer this book over some of the other tombs out there is the packaging. The Way of Whisky is a handsomely bound, reserved, subtle volume. Some of the other books available are a little bit too bloggy for me; they have good information and are worth the read, but they're not the ones I bought in hardcover.
But, back to Japanese whisky. Because of, or maybe in spite of, the current boom, the classic distilleries are getting a lot more attention. Broom's book is a tour across Japan to the different distilleries and he discusses what makes them different from each other and unique in the world. He helps the reader understand what makes a good whisky and what makes one truly something special.
This book is a really nice gift for anyone interested in whisky, Japan, or where and how they intersect.
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Down the Rabbit Hole:
There are almost as many liquor-derived goods and drinking utensils as there are artisanal brands. Here are a few interesting cases:
Soaps & Candles
Food & Snacks
Stuff & Stuff
I guess what I’m saying is, I’ve got a birthday coming up in just eight short months…
That’s it. Stay strong, stay healthy. Learn something.