If Evan Haskill Isn't "Bourbon Famous," Then What Am I?
The recent bourbon boom has not only helped the spirits industry, but it’s created an entire movement of bloggers, enthusiasts, and everyday critics. Instagram is flooded with pics of booze and cocktails with followings well above the 10k mark. There’s also monthly whiskey subscription boxes, craft distilleries popping up in almost every single state, and any and every type of ‘Bourbon and (insert any random noun like Bacon, Blues, BBQ, or Bowties here) Festival’ every weekend in a select city near you! In the grand scheme of this 8-generation whiskey business, and with the help of technology and social media, the trend of discussing bourbon has played a tremendous role in the Bourbon Boom itself. True, there are legit Bourbon Celebrities in this industry. Michael Veach, Chuck Cowdery, and Fred Minnick, to name a few, are the 3 Wise Men of this industry. They have made an entire career out of researching, teaching, and writing about the history of Bourbon. It will take a good two years of daily reading to get through just their collection of books on the subject!
But what about the likes of Seth Brown – or, our beloved creator of the ABV Network? Steve. Evan. Linda. Peggy -- who technically belongs with the big boys up above. And many others who have jumped into this field out of thin air over the past 3 years? They’ve come to the scene with no prior bourbon knowledge or experience – just a great respect for the spirit and an eagerness to want to be ‘the voice’ of it. They created podcasts, written articles, created whiskey societies, grown their followings and published books all in the name of loving bourbon. They are the Leaders of the New School. They have massive followings, the Master Distillers and all the brand reps know them by first name. They get retweeted and sign autographs for adoring bourbon fanatics across the country. Their efforts and influence are why bourbon is so popular. What they discuss on their platforms, taste and review, and products they promote generates profits for the industry. It feels like a hobby, but it’s work that may not yield a ton of revenue (not yet at least), but rewards itself with respect and prominence.
So where do I fit in with this?
I’m just The New Kid on the Block. I jumped into the bourbon scene about a year and a half ago when I realized there was little direct consumer marketing geared towards people of color outside of the Urban Demographic in the spirits industry. I created Black Bourbon Society as a way to cultivate an audience that looked like me – mid 30’s, college-educated, African American professional/entrepreneur, who loved to drink whiskey but preferred to be in bed before the 11 o’clock News came on. It was my idea that if I created the audience that reflected me; the bourbon industry would recognize its value and invest more resources in cultivating a more sophisticated African American consumer and collector. Afterall, African Americans spend about $3.3B a year on wine, spirits, and tobacco. The statistics are there, but the faces were not visible to the industry. Although I’m not a household name and terribly suck at Instagram; I have inserted myself into this industry and become that face.
I guess you could call me a ‘Bourbon Newbie’. I’ve befriended all the right people on Facebook (because again, I’m better at FB than IG), show up to as many industry events as I can afford, and genuinely approach the people in this field with an eagerness to collaborate and soak up all of the knowledge (and whiskey) I can get my hands on. I served on the Diversity Council for TOTC last year, have received press for the events that I produced across the country, became an Executive Bourbon Steward and am headed to Camp Runamok for an all intensive bourbon experience in the Fall. I’m packing my bourbon resume with as many accomplishments that will fit on the page. People are starting to recognize my name when they see it, but more importantly, they are starting to recognize the value in the 2300+ members I’ve recruited in the past year. Even with all of that, I have a long long way to go to before I can say, ‘I’m Bourbon Famous’.
No, I don't have Fred & Chuck’s cell phone numbers programmed in my phone, but I have met them and love them. I’ve never even been to Kentucky – although I’m headed there with a group of my members next month. I don't even have any ‘unicorns’ in my collection but whoever feels pity for me, send me a bottle please! Point is, I’m nowhere near Evan’s status. He is indeed Bourbon Famous. He has the pictures, the popularity, the press, the collection, and the following to prove it. I look to him and the other ‘Leaders of the New School’ for advice on how to navigate this industry and how to make my individual mark within it. I’m just glad that they’ve welcomed me and are including me in the lively dialogue around our Native Spirit. One day I’ll be Bourbon Famous like Evan but for now, I’m really enjoying being the protégée…
Published April 1, 2018 in Bourbon Zeppelin Newsletter