The Spirits Are Restless

‘Lest you think that I have gone over to the Dark Side and am practicing the rituals of the occult, we should clarify that you are reading a weekly missive about adult beverages so the headline is not a cheap ploy to grab your attention, it is rather a short descriptor of what will be disclosed within this report about adult beverages. (Okay, so you saw through that and you know that the headline is, in fact, a classless attempt to grab your eyes and at least a piece of your mind. You deserve better than this.)

It seems that the big American problems of adults dealing with sex and alcohol, sometimes together, continues. This struggle between what we want to do and our Puritanical heritage has been with us since Plymouth Rock. We know what we want and for some reason feel guilty because of it. The French, Spanish and the Italians have no such delusions about passions and actions. Their attitudes of “let’s just get it on and then head for the confessional” seem to have worked for hundreds of years.

Our most recent bout of “cleaning up our act” resulted in the 19th Amendment to our Constitution and tossed us into an era of Prohibition of Alcohol. This historic action was followed by the 21st Amendment, repealing the truly unfortunate earlier action. Those dramatic measures continue to reverberate through our society today more than 80 years later.

As we address this issue, our neighbor, the Great State of Alabama, is fighting with its baser instincts on whether to get the state out of the alcohol sales business and privatize their state-owned liquor stores. The bill was defeated by the legislature – as it has been repeatedly for many years.

Olympia, Washington, which I always thought was a bastion of libertarianism and freedom, has just expanded their downtown Alcohol Impact Area (AIA). That means that a large section of downtown Olympia bans more than 64 labels of alcoholic beverages. Other cities in that part of America, such as Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane, have also designated parts of their central districts as an AIA. 

This ying comes in the midst of yang, a mushrooming national demand for craft beer and bourbon. America may even be approaching a crisis about bourbon. There is such high demand that rumors are afoot about running out of America’s whiskey. Bourbon is an aged distillate and only time can bring it around to the delightful and pleasurable beverage it is.

When too much bourbon is consumed, replacing the supply can only be done over a period of years, not weeks. The recent upsurge in consumption has caused some bourbon distillers to bring out the abacus and the calendar and start calculations. The upshot is that there likely is no need to panic and fear, unless….

Several years ago, industry rumors were rampant that Remy-Martin’s Louis XII Cognac was in short supply. Since this elixir required the inclusion of cognacs that are over 70 years of age, there appeared to be no easy fix to increase supply. There are just not a lot of 70 year old cognacs laying around. So the masterminds at Remy hit upon a solution: raise the price to slow demand.

An interesting “fix” for a spirit that, at that time, was already priced north of $1400 a bottle. By raising the price to over $1800 a bottle, the folks at Remy: (choose one) A) dampened demand due to the high cost; or B) caused widespread panic among consumers who could afford the cognac at any price.

You guessed it. The raise in the cost of Louis XIII affirmed the market’s perception that the cognac was indeed in short supply and maybe even in danger of extinction. There was a “run” on the brand and shelves were emptied twice as fast as before the price increase.

Today, there seems to be a good supply of the brand, but the retail price is in excess of $2500 per bottle. It is, unfortunately, my favorite cognac. I have not had any in years.

So if the rumors persist that bourbon is in short supply then a variety of scenarios can occur. The price of bourbon may rise. Bourbons made with shorter aging requirements are going to succeed. New bourbon styles may be developed which work around the current manufacturing laws and bring about not-quite-historically correct brands. Stay tuned.

All of this comes at a time when science is riding to the rescue, or so it seems. Former art teacher, Bryan Davis, has stumbled upon a way to make rum that contains all the attributes of a 20-year old in just 6 days. I won’t go into the chemical assessment here (even if I could) but Davis claims he can turn out the age equivalent of a spirit in a ridiculously short period of time.

We cannot speak from experience, and only have Davis’ word on this, but it does present a lot of possibilities, if it is true. More can be made in a shorter period of time at a lower cost. No flaw in that statement, again, assuming it is true.  Davis is flying in the face of government and industry laws that require certain aging under specific circumstances if the product is to be labeled a particular way.

But, hey, laws are made to be changed or broken. At least in Louisiana that is the case. Also, more and more New Orleans and Louisiana are looking like the best outpost for appreciators of adult beverages.



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