I think most folks in the whiskey industry will likely agree that Canadian rapper Drake’s forthcoming Virginia Black Decadent American Whiskey is all style and will be lacking in the substance department.
Nino Marchetti – head honcho here at The Whiskey Wash – pulled no punches to give us his take on this “craptastic expression.” (I love that phrase.)
I agree with everything he says in that article. But I think it’s missing one key point. Looking beyond the packaging and marketing to discuss the possible, or more likely lack of, depth and complexity of Drake’s whiskey is missing what makes this whiskey interesting.
No question this product is marketing hype, pure and simple.
The team behind Virginia Black is well aware of what they’re doing. On this week’s WhiskyCast (episode 583), a spokeswoman for the new product is quoted as saying, “[Brent] Hocking is the founder and creator of Virginia Black, Drake is just a partner and collaborator.”
Hocking is well known in the spirits industry for launching the DeLeón Tequila brand – an unusually pure product with none of the allowable tequila additives (glycerin, sucrose, oak extract and caramel). DeLeón launched as a “luxury” tequila and was later purchased by Sean Combs and Diageo.
With Hocking’s new product, the fact that there’s whiskey inside the fancy packaging is almost secondary.
Or is it? This is what’s interesting:
It’s. Not. Flavored. Whiskey.
The 29-year-old Drake’s audience includes a lot of young females in the oh-so-coveted millennial set. This is a market the whiskey industry has been trying to figure out.
The old guard of American whiskey production seems to persist in thinking women and younger drinkers need their whiskey ‘covered up.’ So we get products like Heaven Hill’s Raven’s Lace Peachberry Whiskey and the re-launch of Wild Turkey’s American Honey.
(Not to be left out, Brown-Forman launched the 20% abv spirit drink ‘lbd’ in the UK ‘designed to be enjoyed by women’.)
Even being gender-neutral, Jim Beam’s first marketing foray into the 21+ sub-segment of Snapchat users was used to hawk their apple-flavored bourbon.
Is this because of the seemly overnight explosion of Fireball sales?
Maybe. Or maybe it’s fear of failure. Nobody wants to be the first to produce an unadulterated whiskey brand targeting females and have it fall flat.
Regardless, I’m just happy that finally someone has the balls to say, “Here, women, drink this – it’s whiskey.”
As Nino stated about Virginia Black’s marketing in his original article:
It also reportedly will bring a level of character, courtesy of the brand name, to bourbon that’s “long [been] absent” from the category.
If that character is treating female drinkers with some respect by treating them to whiskey, I’m all for it.
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Tim Knittel is a professional Bourbon educator and writer based in Lexington, KY. He has over a decade of experience inside and outside of distilleries and holds the titles of Executive Bourbon Steward-in-Residence at The Kentucky Castle and Adjunct Professor of Tourism, Event Management and Bourbon Studies at Midway University....