An open letter to spirit fetishists - a missed opportunity

Well - we all know that Jeffrey Morgenthaler has at times some controversial ideas. Yet he gets the major support by most bartenders - I am not sure if it is his popularity, his “connection to zeitgeist” or a combination of the two. It is funny to read his ranting about spirit fetishists (just follow the link after you have read my piece)... and it is quite humorous.

Even though I am opinionated, my position is by far not as extreme. Maybe one reason is, that I don’t live in the US, which has probably the most trend-following crowd. But I think a far more important point is, that he really missed an opportunity to showcase some real issues (except of his feelings...).

About 15 years ago, I built the then quite impressive liquor selection of the Schaelsick - the hotel bar at the Hyatt Regency Cologne. A couple of moons later, we were quite proud, on the selection... we had tequilas, rums, vodka (by then there was no “issue” with vodka) and especially whiskies, which were rather rare in Germany. We even had spirits, very few people in Germany really knew - which are now extremely popular. We were probably the first “corporate” bar, which had Grey Goose vodka (funny to think, that by then, Grey Goose wasn’t officially distributed to Germany)... we have had Ron Zacapa (when other bars had problems to list at least one sip’able rum)... it wasn’t always easy, to get this stuff, but it was no issue of the offer, rather an issue of distribution. And not only this: The Macallan was then real Macallan and didn’t cost you a kidney...

Fast forward, we do have a completely different situation. Jeffrey Morgenthaler mentioned Japanese whisky, which suffers of a significant shortage (at least on some markets), The Macallan goes already to its second “transformation of the brand” and really lost on its way a bit its personality. This doesn’t matter to most people, because now, it is the brand, which sells. Ron Zacapa, lately bought up by Diageo, cost now about 3 times as what I paid a decade ago. The six classic malts also became significantly more expensive.

This all was caused because Morgenthaler’s hatred spirit fetishists. Unfortunately most of these guys are not just about a great drink. More important for them is the brand and that people see, that they buy/consume it and brag with it.
The picture which was chosen for Jeffrey’s article shows Pappy vanWinkle whiskeys. A brand, which is nowadays greatly overestimated. Don’t get me wrong, I do like Pappy as much as the next bourbon connoisseur - but you have got to admit, that the explosion of the cost, isn’t worth the hype - not only is the product price far higher as few years back - but people are reselling vanWinkle whiskeys for the multiple amount. I have seen an article, where the selling price is about $600 - but the street price is about $1600... anyway, it doesn’t come (anymore) to Dubai.

The real question is here: are those people are really enjoying their “far too expensive” premium spirit?
Things really become out of hand - and brands are heavily dependent on their marketing. This is sometimes good- because there are still brands out there, which are fantastic, without the insane price. Think about Glendronach which, after a quite significant break is back on the market, and the good thing is, that it is more “old Macallan” than the new Macallan, and while it isn’t cheap, it is far a better (and lesser known) bargain as contemporary The Macallans. Exactly the same can be said about Aberlour (especially A’bunadh). Or Zaya rum (while there was something fishy going on, as its origin went from Guatemala to Trinidad).

I am usually against the hype and often enough people are surprised about it. I like good gin, but do we really need 10 (or 30 or 100) new gins on the liquor shelf)?

Hence, while I am also sometimes annoyed by people, who learned their liquor knowledge on the marketing representations of the brands in the new - I am far more concerned, that the good stuff just doesn’t get to the right hands. Another big issue I do have: why are so many brands focussing on duty free retail (they get exclusive products, and preferential treatment, when it comes to restricted stocks), despite the fact, that brands “are made” in good bars?

There is a lot to rant about... I do respect Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s feelings, but also think, that there is more at stake!


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