Bourbon Goes Mainstream


February 14, 2017

As an author, I receive a lot of mainstream media calls. People want to know how I became a whiskey writer, what’s my favourite, who’s suing who, and really, I get asked anything there is to know about whiskey. NPR, BBC, CBS This Morning, Fox News and many others have brought me on their airwaves just to talk whiskey. Every time, it’s an honour and privilege and leads to me continuously pinching myself to make sure my life is but a dream.

I also use these interviews as a barometer for mainstream whiskey understanding. Five years ago, reporters wanted to know the five biggest myths in Bourbon. No 1, of course, being that Bourbon had to be made in Kentucky; Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States. So, the media was in its elementary phase of learning.

Three years ago, they were interested in non-distiller producers acquiring sourced whiskey and deceiving consumers with phony backstories, which led to lawsuits and industry drama. They were also digging for dirt in general and looking to tell the story of women in whiskey. This gave me the distinct impression the media loved the whiskey drama and looked to promote women.

Now, most reporters know Bourbon can be made anywhere, that most legends are useful but not true; that sourced whiskey is not a dirty word as long as the bottler isn’t deceiving folks; Bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels; and oh, by the way, women have always been a part of the whiskey world. Whiskey’s dipped so far into the mainstream consciousness that media understands the basics and know what to Google or have a Bourbon book to help with history and the drama.

I believe the American media is taking the next step in whiskey coverage. They’re digging deeper.

Recently, American Public Media’s Marketplace interviewed me about the Bourbon secondary market. This is our country’s most-important business-related national radio show, and the reporter, a Bourbon drinker, had a strong knowledge base, but the secondary market was a dark hole. The secondary market is how many people acquire rare Bourbons since they can’t buy them through normal channels. In most cases, it’s a consumer-to-consumer purchase. For Whisky Magazine, I’ve covered this world in great detail, from the cash-earning flippers to its frustrations.

So, if the mainstream media is starting to cover the juicy details of whiskey’s ugly underbelly, where will they go next?

I presume they’ll start covering the possible end of the bubble.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, modern media humans (remember, there are media robots) turn everything into a narrative. Whether it’s sports, politics or whiskey, they want a story. As industry goes, the story revolves around money, a beginning, a middle, some drama and the colossal fall. The greater the industry and more beloved, the greater the fall and the greater the ratings/clicks.

Reporters are never satisfied when I tell them the Bourbon bubble is not about to bust. But they’re intrigued when I give my analysis as to how it can bust: dropped age statements, proof lowerings and flavoured whiskey don’t help in my opinion. They rub their hands when I drop that Bourbon has a lot to lose if President Trump’s full trade policy is initiated in which he pulls out of NAFTA, a trade deal that reduced tariffs for Bourbon in Mexico. Wait, what? Bourbon can be tied to political drama?

Yes, and I predict you’ll start to see Bourbon in political coverage as well as the pop culture gossip. Bourbon has the celebrities – Mila Kunis for Jim Beam, Matthew McConnaghey for Wild Turkey; and the upcoming movie Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle is centred around an Old Forester product, the Statesmen. Whiskey even has sports covered – Jack Daniel’s is the main NBA sponsor.

Thus, Bourbon has the superfecta for mainstream media – never-ending cynicism toward its success; politics; celebrities; and sports.

Yeah, American whiskey offers the modern narrative, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.