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DI's Lucy Britner: A vintage approach
Published:  14 April, 2011

Is it possible that consumers are looking to express their individuality through the medium of drink? Or is the desire for non-conformity, or ‘inconsistency’, born out of endless marketing messages about providence and craftsmanship?......

By inconsistency I mean single-barrel reserves, vintage years and special editions, rather than a consistent age statement or blended product that is supposed to taste the same the world over. I know special editions are nothing new but usually they are limited to the upper echelons of imbibing – the travel retail plinths or the expensive hotel back bars.

But lately it seems even more affordable drams are putting their individually shaped arms in the air and pointing their uniquely boney fingers toward their individuality.

On a recent trip to The Glenrothes with Berry Bros & Rudd, I got into a discussion about the company’s vintage approach to age statements with Berry Bros & Rudd Spirits CEO Jeremy Parsons. He said of the approach: “Rather than a rebellion against age statements, it’s a way to differentiate ourselves.

“If you do what everyone else is doing, it’s a bit tough. And since we started, others have copied so we must be doing something right.”

The exclusivity sits very well with Berry’s wine culture and a specific vintage also gives customers something new to talk about.

Not to mention giving Berry’s a product that will sell out, become extinct… be desired by collectors.

And it’s not just a scotch phenomenon. Jim Beam’s master distiller Fred Noe was in our office the other day. He was telling me about the launch of Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve – a response, he said, to drinkers “looking for inconsistency”.

The 60% abv whiskey is non-chill filtered and sells at a $10 premium to Knob Creek. Noe added: “People are interested in small-batch, barrel reserve whiskies. In my father’s [Booker] time it was much more about consistency.

“The product has just launched in the US and it’s getting a great response.”

Noe joked: “I call it the crap chute – when you pull the cork, you never know what you’re going to get!”

Though I suspect it isn’t crap.