Phrases like ‘artisanal’ , ‘authentic, ‘small-scale’ and ‘hand-picked’ are now commonly used when it comes to craft offerings. As this trend in artisanal alcoholic drinks continues to boom, how can this be promoted to diners? By Ben Canaider
The early 20th-century American novelist, poet and playwright, Gertrude Stein, once said all too cynically of her childhood hometown, Oakland, California: “There’s no there there…” She was a grown-up, living in Paris, when she said this, surrounded by très très there, one can only presume. Looking back on Oakland, she saw not so much its vapidity, but perhaps, well, nothing deep. It seemed like a fake sort of place.
That longing for thereness is something we may all want. And in all sorts of strange ways. Not just in the cities in which we live, but also in our own domestic architecture; even in the food we buy and eat, and the wine and other drinks we imbibe.
While we might not be able to tell the difference in smell and taste between a chardonnay and a sauvignon blanc, we damn well won’t buy or drink the stuff unless it’s ‘real’. Unless it has the there there. Unless it has an authentic story.
This kitchen-sink psychology is something any liquor licensee can use to great advantage when compiling a wine, beer and spirits inventory. It certainly works well on menus, where no dish’s principal ingredient is not nowadays geographically provenance, and whose animal husbandry is not virtue-signalled: ‘Black Bridge Ridge Creek wallaby cutlet, certified free-range and organic, reared according to biodynamic lunar cycles.’
This consumer demand for ‘realness’ has been building for some time, of course—for nearly 100 years. From 1924 when Rudolf Steiner first gave his eight lectures on the need to farm without chemicals, or even machinery and Rachel Carson’s powerful 1962 book, Silent Spring, detailing how chemical-clad agriculture was going to kill the environment; to the USA’s ban of DDT in 1973 and Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi’s lyrics, “Hey farmer, farmer put away that DDT now; give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees, please…”, the artisanal, the real, the authentic is what we now want, particularly in maybe the most ridiculous forms: affordable and arguably unnecessary luxuries, such as wine. To go back to where this extemporary opening thought began, maybe Gertrude Stein can explain the ridiculousness: “Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.”
That shouldn’t stop you from leveraging what is not so much a trend as a reality, however. Authenticity sells. And here are some ways to do it.
While we might not be able to tell the difference in smell and taste between a chardonnay and a sauvignon blanc, we damn well won’t buy or drink the stuff unless it’s ‘real’.
Just remember one important thing, though, please. The truth helps.
l The big, ubiquitous liquor brands might be splashing the jargon and the catchphrases around, but anyone can do that. A multinational company may rebrand its entry-level whisky as ‘1000 Sporrans Hand-Crafted Speyside Organically Malted Naturally Carbon-Neutral Whisky’, but 101 out of 100 customers are going to see through that bit of insulting cynicism pretty quickly. Like straight-away quickly. Stock the genuine handmade whisky, though—such as an Australian whisky?—and the features and benefits that come with a product that is small-scale and genuinely handmade will do most of the hand-sell for you. All you have to do is stock it, and subtly mention its qualities on lists and specials’ blackboards. Telling stories— not lies—about wines and beers and spirits, their origins and their journey, builds the there.
l Original, personal experiences also cut through the cynicism of brands that label themselves ‘artisan’ but don’t have a lot of detail behind that claim. Winemakers that run small brands, who have close relationships with their growers, and who are prepared to spend a night running a dinner in your restaurant—these are the people who bring a reality to the wines your customers drink. There’s a link, an understanding, a connection. It makes that wine your customer’s wine. Their wine. Their very own there. And it’s likely to be a wine that a customer will drink for life. What a concept…
l Using your wine list and other drinks lists to highlight regional, seasonal, local, and those more immediate and human elements to any beverage’s production also helps build a rapport between a customer and the drink. And it is invariably a drink the customer needs in order to understand the world—and themselves—in a more meaningful and forgiving way. Sell someone a fake news, fake artisanal, fake handmade, twice-hopped, vintage yeast, bottle-riddled pale ale named after some made-up convict and they only feel they are part of the machine. They are living in someone else’s advertisement. Sell them a pale ale made by a couple of people in a small brewery about five kilometres away and hey, who cares if it’s a bit malty or if it’s a bit hoppy or if it pours pure froth. It’s real.
l Finally, and at a much more pragmatic level, the sorts of beverages that are more artisanal than not are also less likely to be loss-leaders in big liquor stores. Your customer base therefore does not have comparative price data. The mark-up between the drink’s LUC and your on-premise cost can thereby be—oh, how ought one put this?—commercially proud?
Any idiot can sell another idiot an idiot beer. An informed and truly international restaurateur sells a discerning customer a unique experience. There’s short-term money and no pride in the former; there’s dignity and the long term in the latter.