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My heart bleeds for SWS, Diageo, Bacardi and P-R


Gwydion Stone

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I ran across this description of a proposed seminar for this year's Manhattan Cocktail Classic, a cocktail festival held in NYC.

Cynic that I am, I couldn't help reading this with a cry-me-a-river sort of indignation at "supporting only new artisan spirits brands" at the "expense of some global brands."

I felt like I should share it here.

35. Global Brands vs Artisanal Spirits: Is Bartending a Business, a Craft or Both?

with Francesco Lafranconi & TBD Panel

Within the past decade, mixology trends paved the way to a whole new segment of the spirits business to the expense of some global brands (some in existence for more than a century) by supporting only new artisan spirits brands. Who is changing the way we drink? Savvy marketers or mixology-driven bars? Should a bar become a Holy Shrine for artisan boutique companies only, or primarily be the place for social interaction and bartender's hospitality and showmanship, while still providing the guests with their favorite tipple? Is it better to challenge the bar patrons to embrace a specific drink choice or just let them be in their comfort zone?

Let's hear what internationally renown Francesco Lafranconi, Corporate Director of Mixology and Spirit Education of Southern Wine & Spirits of America and his panel formed by leading industry guests have to say. This is a great opportunity to understand if bartending should be just a business or a craft or both?

I think he left out a question: "What percentage of the market is taken up with these 'craft' bars as opposed to the millions of ordinary watering holes?"

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That entire quote feels like it was written in some other language then poorly translated into English. I think I understand what they're getting at, but not thanks to the person who wrote that blurb. I suspect the panel itself will be equally as incoherent.

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I don't wish to antagonize Francesco but , at the expense of some global brands ? Please, we can only hope.

I suggest a counter workshop where someone outlines the strong arm approach of these same global brands ( 'you want that Avian Fashion Victim Vodka ? Lose those other rum and vodka brands now'. ) or at least we should all arm ourselves with those kinds of questions for the Q & A.

I guess they don't want to share (at all) - did they adopt the tag line from Highlander as a corporate strategy and worldview ? Are they that worried that not everyone, everywhere loves and buys their products ?

Let a 1000 flowers bloom and let the customers choose the one they like - to mangle a phrase from Chairman Mao i think we need more diversity, and cheers to those who champion the artisan brands ( even if I get banned from Tales for trashing the globals and advocating this)

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Guest Liberty Bar - Seattle

I suggest a counter workshop where someone outlines the strong arm approach of these same global brands... ( even if I get banned from Tales for trashing the globals and advocating this)

A) There can't be any workshops to counter that panel because this years MCC is all by popular vote, and the list has already been chosen. I traded e'mails with one of the administrators of the MCC this year about this voting method to pick the panels (I have a panel up for vote myself, called, "Starting A Bartending Guild In Your Community", #26), and its turned out a bit better than I imagined - but still...by popular vote? Anyway - the point is that there cannot at this point be any other panels except which are already up for a vote.

B ) It's no small thing to take on these companies/events. MCC and especially TOTC are tastemakers and incredibly important to brands, so it's no small worry to be banned. But, what would be worse is being banned by SWS. If they put out the 86 on you, then your brand has no future until you show such sales as to make it impossible for them to ignore you.

Anyway - to Gwydion's point - it's pretty incredible this panel. The fact is that I know what a Manhattan will taste like with Maker's. I know what a Vesper will taste like with Tanqueray. But, what about a Manhattan with Templeton Rye or a Vesper with Voyager gin? That's when it gets interesting, and innovation needs to happen...that SWS will decry innovation really means something.

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The reality is that the major distributors (I only know NY and that means SWS and Empire) control the market. The vast majority of even the best cocktail bars in NYC are stocked with standard, mass market products. And they intend to continue to control the market. And they will destroy craft distilling if necessary to preserve that monopoly.

I personally was very unhappy to see a session at ADI featuring an SWS sales and marketing rep.

Liberty Bar, Tempelton is not a craft rye. They buy it bulk and bottle it. Ask Chuck Cowdery about them.

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Though it's a little disheartening to see such a calculated, concerted effort to squelch the influences of craft distilling, it's hardly surprising.

I don't really think you can blame an industry for wanting to protect it's marketplace presence - no matter how widespread or how proliferated. If you're waiting for a large, sales-driven company to become magnanimous and generous to it's competitors, good luck

To me, the real "missed-boat" on the part of larger companies (especially distributors) is the sales opportunity that gets squandered every time they fail to involve a niche, craft company in their portfolio. Every rep that works for one of these outfits has a cheap, flavored vodka line. A spiced rum option. A boutique vodka or gin. An exclusive single malt. A high-end Bourbon. What sets an RNDC rep apart from a SWS rep if it's not having something completely different to talk to a mixologist, owner, or bartender about? Not much.

Largely speaking, we're not for the huge-volume, "feeding trough" bars anyway, are we? One of the largest vodka movers in my market goes through 10 cases of 1/2 gallons of Absolut a week, but that'll never be our business. We know it. So does Absolut. So if you're the RNDC rep - don't take me in that bar. Take me into the guy across town who cares about quality, who wants something new. Take me into the bar you never go in cause the Diageo rep has that business "all sewn up". (Of course he won't talk to you about cheap-ass vodka. Try getting your foot in the door with something your competition DOESN'T have.) USE me to circumnavigate all the objections about why they won't talk to you, SELL the shit out of me where you can, and THEN talk about Spiced Rum and Bazooka-Gum Flavored vodka when the time is right.

I wasn't at ADI to see SWS represented there, but I'm certainly not disappointed by it. There are more groups out there to educate about what we do (and our true worth in the marketplace) than just our customers.

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Yeah, sorry i forgot it was too late for another workshop. But we certainly could spice up the question and answer period ( assuming they allow one).

But personally I very much agree with Liberty, I know exactly what they are going to taste like so why would I bother ? Same reason I shun but others love McDonalds .

Most bar serve the same damn stuff. I can walk into a bar and tell you who sells to them by the bar instantly- same tired stuff in the same order of display even.

Who wants cookie cutter sameness ? The Vodka Bots and their ilk can stay in those bars I'll go somewhere else. Otherwise what is the point of going out?

I think it will shake out somewhat like the craft beer movement- go to the corner watering hole for the same old yellow stuff ("which I wouldn't drink if they ran it throughout the horse twice "to quote my grandfather) or go somewhere where they and their customers care about what they drink.

It just is incredible to me that Southern wants all the marbles in some ways, but more incredible from a Public Relations stand point that they would want to try to publicly try to sell this point of view. Makes Microsoft seems almost free market by comparison. They have a bad enough reputation why tarnish it publicly even further?

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Anyway - to Gwydion's point - it's pretty incredible this panel. The fact is that I know what a Manhattan will taste like with Maker's. I know what a Vesper will taste like with Tanqueray. But, what about a Manhattan with Templeton Rye or a Vesper with Voyager gin? That's when it gets interesting, and innovation needs to happen...that SWS will decry innovation really means something.

Who drinks a Vesper with Tanqueray? Not Bond.

Panel idea is fine, it should just have been balanced: included both corporate large distillers AND artisan distillers.

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Just check out last year's Diageo fiasco with the North Carolina ABC board, as reported in the Charlotte Observer.

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/01/05/1162037/agents-abc-board-liquor-company.html

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/01/05/1162037/agents-abc-board-liquor-company.html#

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/01/14/1179052/nc-liquor-regulator-adds-to-pressure.html#

Who's got who in their pocket? These ABC boards are the ones who allow new products to be sold in the state.

Sharon

Virgilina Distilling Co.

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DD and swb have it right. A $9000 tab for 28 people? That's one damn expensive restaurant. And the people at that party ordered the most expensive stuff cause they knew Diageo was paying for it. And for Diageo, that was pocket change. A small price to ensure continued $11 million per year in their pocket. But now, they don't even have to pay! Who will Mecklenburg County turn to for spirits? There's almost no one else.

As I tell people, "Only crazy people distilleries start." and I thought that was just about the licensing process.

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