Part III Conversation with Reid Mitenbuler
NBD: So are we in a Golden Age of Whiskey or are we in a bubble?
MB: A little bit of both. I was talking to a friend about this about whether we are in a true golden age right now. If I could go back to any age in whiskey history, when would I go back? Part of me would go back to the early 2000s. It’s not just about Pappy—I’ve had plenty of Pappy. I had a friend who had a lot of it and anyone who asked he would give them a mini bottle. Half the people would think it’s good but it’s no big deal, while the other half’s eyes would roll back in their head and basically die. In the 90s it was the same with Scotch, you wouldn’t think twice about buying 18 or 20yr old because it wasn’t that expensive. Then you had the 60s, with the Whiskey Lake and the big glut years. Back then you still had more producers with different varieties. The 50s and 60s was perhaps another golden age. Today, I would argue we aren’t in a golden age because the demand is far outpacing the supply. To be in a golden age you need the ability to walk into a liquor store and the good stuff is available and you don’t have to do this big hunt for it. But we could be on the brink of one. People aren’t talking about gluts, but producers are coming up with more supply, and maybe in a few years we could get to a more balanced supply/demand dynamic. When the craft distilleries get better, get rid of the small barrels, age their stuff longer, then, we could be on the cusp of another golden age.
NBD: It seems that a lot of people are investing in new distilleries or brands, do you think now is the right time to invest in one?
MB: A lot of people have asked me similar questions, and I think it is a little late. There are a lot of people who have established the marketing and branding—branding is huge. It might be more important than the product itself. I was looking at a new brand that crowd-sourced $86k and were boasting about it.
NBD: You can’t open a distillery with $86k.
MB: I was looking at that number and thinking they need to multiply that by a hundred to do it right. From a business perspective, $86k, you can romanticize, but you can’t pay your bills with that. I look at some of the more promising craft distilleries and they are extremely well funded. It looks like there is family money behind a lot of them. I was ordering burgers with a friend of mine at a bar and we orders beers from Firestone-Walker brewery, and the story behind it is it’s the Firestone Tire guys. He could do whatever he wanted with it, and he didn’t care about the money, he just wanted to make awesome beer.
NBD: I’m sure they make money, they make phenomenal beer and their limited annual releases like Parabola, Velvet Merkin are always great.
MB: Yeah, and I’m extremely impressed by them. My friend basically said they weren’t too worried about the money side of it because of the funding, and he just wanted to focus on making the best product. The guys out there who have the capital are in it to win it to make the best possible product.
NBD: Seems like the way you used to spend a lot of money if you were rich was buy a vineyard and start a winery. The old adage of how to make a small fortune in the wine making business is to start with a large fortune.
MB: Yeah, or as a retirement project for a lot of guys.
NBD: Do you listen to any whiskey podcasts?
MB: I was just on WhiskeyCast and was also on Mark Bylok’s podcast, that was pretty fun. Mark Gillepsie is very professional, very nice guy. He has a career in news and he is very polished.
NBD: I listen to both of those and I agree Gillepsie’s WhiskeyCast is very professional, but I derive more enjoyment from Bylok’s; it’s just more fun. My wife also will allow me to play his in the car because she likes Jamie Johnson—mostly because Jamie says she goes to bed early and my wife can barely stay up past 9pm.
MB: Ha ha, very funny.
I will post Part IV, the conclusion to my interview with Reid Mitenbuler, later in the week.