With the launch of their first liquor brand, an upstart company called Fabulous American Beverages (or FAB, if you’re feeling suicidal) is going where no other whiskey-maker I know of has purposefully gone before: Ladies Night at the Jersey Shore.
Kansas Spirit Whiskey is intended "to appeal equally to men and women who typically enjoy vodka," according to Paul Goldman, who was inspired to create the brand while on vacation with his wife, who complained that whiskey "was for old men" and "wasn't cool." All due respect Paul, but I sure hope she's either rich or gorgeous because she ain't much in the intelligence department. For the moment I'll set aside the catastrophic decision-making involved in basing the marketing of a major liquor launch on the offhand opinions of someone who apparently has no real experience in a basic bar, let alone the liquor game. I’ll even set aside the fact that you let your wife tell you what to drink (for now). I’ll just say the obvious: Basing your marketing campaign on the premise that whiskey “isn't cool” is the single most moronic statement I have ever heard in this industry (and trust me I’ve heard some doozies).
Say you’re selling Spam. The Spam is probably fine. It might even be great, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys the beguiling mixture of ham and pork in a shaped meat product. To each his own. But don’t sell it by saying steak “is, like sooooo over.” You know why? Because steak doesn’t suck. And everyone with half a brain knows it, even vegetarians. You wanted to throw your weight around, put someone down. But you literally chose the coolest liquor in the world to insult. And guess what? Whiskey doesn’t care. That’s what makes it cool. The only other liquor that’s anywhere near as cool is Tequila. But Tequila’s always been too crazy to really be cool. Tequila will cut you for looking at its woman, then laugh while the cops drag it off to jail, and spit at you during the trial. And trust me you don’t want to pick on Vodka either. Dude doesn’t have much of a personality, but I swear he goes to the gym twice a day. You want the nerd of the liquor crew? Try Gin. You can give Gin an atomic wedgie and the worst it’ll do is scream that his daddy will have you banned from the yacht club. But insulting whiskey says far more about you and your own insecurities than it does about the quintessential American spirit.
"I wanted to get whiskey out of the middle-aged living room and onto the beach and into clubs," said Goldman, who last month launched his breakthrough product in two beachgoing club-hopping party meccas, Kansas and Missouri. Plans are apparently afoot to roll out soon to similar hotspots across the nation. Look out Idaho!
To achieve the desired non-whiskeyness in Kansas Whiskey, Goldman and the team at FAB harvest amber winter wheat, a lighter grain than the corn, rye and barley used to make most other American whiskies. Then they distill in column versus traditional pot stills, resulting in a spirit that is "flawlessly smooth." Or, as it's also known in the business, "vodka." They marry the final distillate with "premium artisanal whiskey" and – voilà – whiskey-flavored vodka. Let’s do some shots and turn Branson upside down!
The Kansas Whiskey press kit that accompanied my complimentary sample contained a preview of the brand’s upcoming guerilla marketing campaign, which suggests the demographic the company intends on targeting. It features a series of close-up shots of straight-from-central-casting hipsters with copy that underscores the brand’s “unconventional approach to messaging.” Because the old rules don't apply to Kansas Whiskey. A new day is dawning, and it's all good, yo, so long as you're not some slobbering 30-plus codger drinking that awful whiskey-flavored whiskey on a Barcalounger. Aren’t you whiskey drinkers dead yet?
One page boasts a triptych of young trying-too-harders – black guy with a huge ‘fro and oversized plastic-framed glasses, Asian chick with vintage paisley top and platinum-dyed bob, and a white guy with bed-head who would fit in perfectly with the guys from Grizzly Bear, if he could only be bothered. The ad promises whiskey “for us” that is “astonishingly light” and has none of that awful “middle-aged yuck factor.”
Which is what leads me to believe that these people have never been to a bar. At least not a bar with hipsters in it. Because if you had, you would know that hipsters drink two things. Pabst Blue Ribbon and Jack Daniels. This in itself is aggravating enough, but if you think you’re going to fool the young folk who take themselves too seriously, think again. They might be idiots, but they’re not stupid. The last thing a true died-in-the-wool-cap hipster would ever embrace is a product specifically designed for them, as that would fly in the face of their carefully cultivated sense of irony.
Unless, in a stroke of true, 3-dimensional-chess-playing brilliance, Goldman has created a brand that hipsters will embrace precisely because it’s marketed to them, and is therefore so lame it becomes cool again. “Oh look at me, I’m drinking Kansas Whiskey, because I’m so totally a hipster.” But something tells me he’s not that smart. Something tells me that if he were here, I’d pour us both a tumbler of Michter’s and he’d tell me all about how his wife never lets him do anything fun, and always makes him dress up in a hoodie and skinny jeans before she’ll so much as give him a peck on the cheek. And I’d listen like a good friend should. And suggest we go up on my roof deck where the view is better and point out the hill you can see if you stand right up on the corner parapet, where my father gave me some very important words of advice. “Son, women are the single best thing in all this blue, beautiful world. But never let 'em tell you what to drink.” Then I’d shove him off into space and out of his misery. Hush now Paul, the hard part’s over. You’re going where she can’t hurt you any more.
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