Colin here. While every industry and ad agency likes to talk up their storytelling bonafides, spirits rely on stories to sell more than nearly any other vertical. Painstaking work goes into crafting narratives about the aging of a perfect blend, just so, in a cask, repurposed from another spirit (like sherry), and charred precisely to imbue a wood flavor. It’s meant to feel evocative and romantic. And to some extent, it’s true: some spirits really do require incredible amounts of time and labor, blending terroir, process, and years.
For better or worse, it’s also the cornerstone of so much creative that comes out of the industry. How many Youtube and branded content videos have you seen about a cask master in an apron painstakingly inspecting the barrels and laboring with various contraptions?
Even a lower-priced rock and roll whiskey like Jack Daniels has an artfully told story: limespring cave waters that “impart a variety of minerals to the water which contribute to the character of Jack Daniel’s,” is combined with “pallets of hard sugar maple five feet high and douse[d] in raw unaged whiskey before setting the wood ablaze” until “the inferno peaks at over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit before burning down into smoldering embers. These pellets are then raked over until finally cool and ready to slowly mellow our Tennessee Whiskey.” It doesn’t hurt that these tales also make for good visuals.
It is all a dramatic attempt at creating differentiation and an emotional connection to the brand that is ultimately meant to ensure you call out Jack Daniels next time you want a whiskey. As Felix laid out in the Wine Happiness Edition, taste can be easily controlled by emotions and expectations.
Why is this interesting?
While most whiskeys mature in oak barrels for at least five years — and some for 30 years or more — Bespoken Spirits, founded by Aaron and material scientist Martin Janousek, uses technology that extracts the key elements of the barrel that enhance aroma, color and taste in a matter of days, according to the company's website.
The company says the technology also enables users to customize different flavor profiles for their whiskeys, and avoid a phenomenon called "angel's share," in which up to 10% of the spirit evaporates from the cask. Bespoken sells this technology, as well as a portfolio of custom spirits, to consumers.
Their approach is about “rapid aging,” which skips all of the laborious processes I outlined, something they say is more environmentally friendly and in tune with what younger consumers want. This may be true, but the taste promises remain to be seen. The FT cited analysts who have argued “that accelerated aging may struggle to replicate processes such as oxidation and esterification, which produce fruity aromas.”
We’ve written several editions on aging and patina (it seems to be a recurring theme for us). The open question is can technology supplant what used to require time and complicated processes in favor of clean, clinical efficiency.
One of my favorite columnists, John Gapper, hits the nail on the head: “But you get what you pay for, and those buying decades-old whisky, aged in sherry or bourbon casks, are purchasing — and tasting — more than chemicals in dark spirits. They are consuming the fragrance of the past and something ineffable that they do not even grasp, but still appreciate. Technology does not taste like that.” (CJN)
Partner Post: WITI x Brightland
Since it launched, we've been fans of Brightland, a new olive oil brand started by Aishwarya Iyer (profiled in MMD here). It’s a new consumer brand that feels soulful, has a clear aesthetic vision, and tastes really good. The olives are grown from a family farm on the Central Coast of California and Iyer’s vision is to show people the benefits of authentic olive oil, a far cry from the dusty, dark green bottle sitting in the back of a cabinet. This product is designed to be front and center in your kitchen and with your cooking. Plus, it fits nearly every lifestyle: vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, Keto, Paleo, Atkins, and Mediterranean. Arise is their new product, a limited edition 100 percent Basil Olive oil. The tasting notes are smooth, herbaceous, warm, and peppery, with hints of clove and undertones of mint and anise. Brightland offers subscriptions to all of their products, and are kindly offering WITI readers free shipping with the code WITIARISE.
Dystopian photo of the day:
Created by damming a river and flooding what was once farmland, this toxic lake in Mongolia is a dumping ground for waste byproducts from smartphones and consumer gadgets. The entire BBC piece is worth a read. (CJN)
An interview with the founder of open source investigations outlet, Bellingcat (CJN)
New Filkins piece in the New Yorker (CJN)
The FT looks at the urban centers hit hardest by COVID (CJN)
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
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