We may talk of the romanticism of the cocktail hour, the gusto of the beer party, the scintillating conversation sparked by fine wines, but at the end of the day it's all a business.
I remind you, dear reader, and myself of this in light of the situation at the George Dickel distillery in Tullahoma, Tenn., where the folks in charge are either idiots or marketing visionaries.
My vote is for the latter. It's the people who have fallen for the manufactured "shortage" of George Dickel Whisky No. 8 who are acting idiotically.
Dickel stopped production of No. 8 from 1999 to 2003, thus intentionally reducing inventory. Once the normal supply-and-demand forces came into effect, Dickel wasn't able to supply enough of its tipple to consumers.
Result: Dickel recently launched an advertising campaign "apologizing" for the shortage and saying it came about because its whiskey is so popular.
That works to (1.) raise consumer awareness of a whiskey that, while a good Tennessee sipping spirit, is a pale shadow of category leader Jack Daniel's, and (2.) feed the fantasy that it is so popular the supply dried up.
Nothing wrong with controlling production of your own product, but the beverage writers ought to know better than to fall for it.
In other business:
• Cognac may not come immediately to mind when one thinks of the rapidly growing niches of alcoholic beverages. It should.
A little background. Cognac is a brandy, a grape-based product — an eaux-de-vie fermented like wine then twice distilled. By French law, supported by the World Trade Organization, the spirit can originate only in the town of Cognac and six surrounding viticultural areas.
There is more than one kind of cognac due to the variety of soils in the region. The grapes used are from several white wine varieties, principally the Ugni Blanc, known elsewhere as the Trebbiano grape. Cognacs must be aged in wood at least two years. Most producers use Limousin oak. Martell, for example, prefers the more aromatic Troncais oak.
According to the 2007 edition of "The U.S. Distilled Spirits Market: Impact Databank Review and Forecast," the market looks like this for cognac: It has posted 13 consecutive annual U.S. consumption gains.
The U.S. remains its largest market despite its popularity in Asia with 4 million cases consumed annually. A demographic shift is holding steady in which younger Americans are consuming cognac as a main drink or main ingredient in a cocktail rather than merely as an after-dinner digestif.
• German brewers and distributors haven't been able to find the key to stopping a steady decline in beer consumption in their country.
Beer consumption plummeted to a record low of 29.7 gallons per person for 2007, the eighth drop in the past nine years. Germany has 1,284 beer manufacturers, the largest number of any country, although on a per-capita consumption basis it trails the Czech Republic and Ireland.
• Massachusetts' "other cape" now has its own micro-distillery. Ryan & Wood Distillers, located in Gloucester on Cape Ann north of Boston, is billing itself as "the North Shore's first small-batch micro-distillery of premium and handcrafted spirits."
Gloucester, Mass., native Bob Ryan, 53, who has worked in the family fish processing business, and his nephew and partner David Wood, 37, a real estate attorney in nearby Manchester-by-the-Sea, have turned out their first batch of vodka.
The production centerpiece is a 600-liter Arnold Holstein still custom-made in Germany. The company is using three different grains as the basis for its vodka, which will be called Beauport Vodka. (Beauport was one of the early names for the Gloucester area.) Beauport is expected to be on local store shelves in the next few weeks. Next up is Folly Cove Rum, targeted for next summer.
(William M. Dowd covers the adult beverage world at BillDowd.com.)
c.2008 Albany Times Union