When it comes to whiskey writers, Chuck Cowdery sets the standard for our profession. He delicately walks the fine line of connoisseur and journalist. I first met Chuck on a Canadian Mist whisky press trip and was surprised he didn’t mention he was a member of the Bourbon Hall of Fame or author of several whiskey books, including Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey. Then again, Chuck needs no introduction, especially from himself. I’ve long admired his writing and now it’s my turn to ask him a few questions. In this edition of Fred’s Friends, Chuck and I talk whiskey.
You started out in the PR side of whiskey writing. How has the average whiskey PR person changed the past 30 years?
I was more on the marketing than the PR side, primarily in sales promotion, so I didn’t have much contact with writers. The biggest change in 30 years is that people are actually writing about whiskey now. Thirty years ago, there were a couple in the UK but no one here. When I got into the business, whiskey was dead. I worked on many distilled spirits products but few whiskeys, because whiskeys were barely even promoted back then. Even when I started American whiskey writing about 20 years ago, I was a lone voice crying in the wilderness.
You’ve been quite critical of whiskey companies procuring juice from distillers and slapping a non-distiller distillery company on the label. Do you think there should be mandatory accuracy-in-label laws with whiskey?
I’d rather see a free market solution, where consumers do a little research, learn to be a little more skeptical, and then reward straight shooters and punish the frauds. People will only stop lying when lying stops working. Of course, this solution requires people to read my writing to get the straight facts.
Why are you on Facebook and not Twitter?
It’s a matter of time allocation. Nothing I’m writing about is so immediate that Facebook is too slow for it. I’m a one-man shop. I can’t do everything.
In wine and beer, we see bloggers popping up every other day. But, in whiskey, fans don’t really create blogs and leave the writing to professionals. Do you think we’ll see more whiskey consumers bring opinions to blogs?
There are many whiskey bloggers who are in no sense professionals, but probably nowhere near as many as there are with wine and beer. It will probably grow along with the growth of micro-distilleries, which tend (if they’re smart) to be more local and individual fan-oriented.
As whiskey writers, we all have a go to whiskey or whiskies. What’s yours and why?
I like Buffalo Trace a lot, especially among rye-recipe bourbons. I love wheaters and there Heaven Hill’s Larceny may be my new favorite. All of my go-tos are pretty standard bourbons, middle-shelf you might say. Others are Knob Creek, Jim Beam Black, Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage, Wild Turkey 101, Woodford Reserve, and Four Roses Single Barrel.