On Friday morning, I went to hear David Wondrich and Wayne Curtis talk about New England Rum in a talk entitled "Medford Gold." Instead of a summary, I will behoove you to read Wayne's And a Bottle of Rum book. And if you want supplemental learning materials, go taste the Old Ipswich, Privateer, and Berkshire Mountain rums like we did. Wayne and David's conclusion was that the new style of New England rum has the consensus flavor of molasses notes and a dry tang at the end. There was even a suggestion that New England rum should fight to get its designation back and join the ranks of Bourbon again.
The middle talk of the day was held at the Citizen Public House which hosts one of the larger whisk(e)y collections in town. This made the perfect setting for the session entitled "Whiskey and the Bar" given by Sean Frederick, Chad Arnholt, and John Gertsen. While we did taste six whiskeys, the true meat of the talk revolved on how to teach customers about whiskeys. Indeed, it was a bartenders' take on the spirit and not the distillers' story.
Selling whiskey can be broken down into 4 points:
1. Confidence - The right attitude and approach is needed for salesmanship.
• Genuine enthusiasm and honesty.
• Need to stand behind the products you love.
• Learning needs to be incremental.
• Optimistic mindset: there is a whiskey for everyone.
2. Product Knowledge - Knowing what sets each spirit apart.
• How is the whiskey made including what grains are used, pot vs. column stilled, all malted or grain neutral spirits mixed in, filtered or not, age in barrel, barrel type.
• Knowing the profile: sweeter, spicier, peated, hot/high proof.
• Understanding terroir especially with Scotch.
• Do not think about whiskey in one or two dimensions. Think three: mash bill (sweet to spicy), proof, and barrel. There are also intangibles like locale.
3. Be a Good Shepherd - Keeping people close to their comfort zones.
• Know which are good gateway products such as those with lower proof, lighter, more grain & less barrel. Often Irish works well here.
• Educate but do not be overly aggressive.
• Take your own tastes out of the equation.
• Just because a person drinks it, does not mean they want to learn about it.
• Do not leave them with a headache: quantity, strength, and the amount of food they have had that night should be taken into consideration.
• Thread your selections so one whiskey order will lead into the next logically. i.e.: connecting wheated Bourbons into a flight or succession.
• Ask the customer if they are here for one whiskey or for four. Knowing the path length is important.
• You cannot go backwards in whiskey profiles, so as Misty Kalkofen says about spirits tasting, "Don't blow your wad." Leave yourself room to navigate.
• Know your blind spots and do not bullshit guests.
• Do not just ask what they like, but why they like it.
• Know your mass market brands -- you need to know the basics before the esoterics.
• Ubiquity does not necessarily mean poor quality.
• Do not be a whiskey hipster -- just because a lot of people like it does not mean it isn't worth drinking.
• Getting the bottle on the bar is your friend. Let them read the label, take photos to put on Twitter/Facebook, use Google on their phones to learn more. This will allow you to help other guests as they make their decision or drink their glass of whiskey.