Frank Bruni and the Comic Edge of High End Spirits Marketing
For those with a penchant for doubting the appeal of precious and pretentious marketing, I refer you to today's edition of Frank Bruni's "Tipsy Diaries" column in the New York Times. Today, writing under the headline, "Celestial Come-ons and Other Booze-Selling Ploys", Bruni examines the trend in the spirits business try to differentiate new products by turning them into cartoon characters masquerading as super premium, must-have sauces. If any one knows pretension when they see it, it's Bruni, who served as the Times restaurant critic for five years.
As usual, Bruni deploys his urbane, soft wit to peel back the most absurd layers of his subject matter. In reviewing the new Kentucky Whiskey that was sent his way (in a corked vial, no less) Bruni observes,
"There is, for starters, that name: Angel’s Envy. I’ll try not to type it as often here as I’ve murmured it to myself, chuckling each time at its reach, its sheer celestial hubris. When you call something Angel’s Envy, you’re inviting mockery and sowing the seeds of disappointment, because you’ve basically promised nothing less than liquid rapture: heaven on the rocks. What were the runner-up names? Zeus Juice? XanaDew?
The wine industry is of course fairly adept at shoving products on to the market that are meant to attract our attention with either chuckle-inducing or momentous proprietary names: "Fat Bastard", "Bitch", "Dominus", "Magnificat". The idea, like with "Angel's Envy", is to convince us without having the benefit of tasting, that what's in the bottle must surely be tasted for the sake of not letting a chance at greatness pass us by….or at least to chuckle us into popping a cork.
It appears that the spirits folks are bent on outdoing the wine folks.
And why not? Over the past few years, there has been a decided shift in the spirits industry that has put the focus on "handmade", small batch, limited edition, and specialty spirits that, while sometimes mocking their category, have also produced some momentous products. Americans of a certain type seem to be taking to the notion of super-duper premium whiskey, Rye, Gin, etc.
Today, Bruni is surveying the comic edge of this shift in the spirits business with his report on "Angel's Envy" and Vodkas with the names "Puriste", "Devotion" and "Xellent". But it's not entirely unlikely that tomorrow he'll be surveying the most recently introduced top-end entries in various spirits category that truly do move the needle on quality, but without the pretentious names. Despite the eye roll-inducing discoveries that Bruni highlights today, it is an exciting time to be a spirits tippler who enjoys sampling the products of real artisans. They are coming to market fast and furious.
And if you haven't followed Bruni's foray into the world of cocktails, spirits and New York drinking culture by way of his "Tipsy Diaries" I highly recommend you make a point of it. The column was launched in mid-2010. Bruni's prose, reflections and observations on the spirited world are always great fun to read. He is a very good writer. I know this because I'm always pissed when I get to the end of his column. I suspect the 43,000+ who follow his Twitter stream at @FrankBruni enjoy his observations also.