Hey, you entrepreneurs!
If the Cerberus of cynicism and pessimism has shown up to your doorstep lately, or if the Serpent of Eden begs you to cut a few corners for short-term success that circumvent your values, then I mean you to take heart! Find your myths, and follow them with dogged passion. You can’t half-ass it either, if you want to conquer Humbaba. You owe it to yourself to hold to kingly standards and lofty ideals even if you perceive a sly, underhanded world not otherwise playing fair.
Let me recant just a wee bit of our story with the Baltimore Whiskey Company (BWC)'s journey to straight rye as we try to hold to our Baltimore Whiskey Mythology in a whiskey climate full of the horrific gorgons. Gorgons - I'm talking about the whiskies rushed through small barrels into bottles at silly prices (ok maybe they’re not so bad as gorgons); Sirens – producers of pretty, pretty bottles without adding underlying value; and, the deprecating Loki – the catty critics who may at any point try to undermine our own confidence by talking about whiskey market bubbles and unleveled playing fields.
Myths aren’t just pretty stories. The internet’s homeboy Wikipedia says it so aptly:
"To the source culture a myth by definition is "true", in that it embodies beliefs, concepts, and ways of questioning to make sense of the world."
This reason is why you need myths to believe in. They are the best part is what you hope to be. And when you're in the dark, your own myths will guide you straight and pump you up.
As for our distillery here in Baltimore, sitting in medias res, things go most radically. Distributors pick up cases, we hit the pavement pushing our products, tours are given weekly, and Bob's our uncle. But early on... well it’s easy to be fooled in today’s booze economy - I'd like to give two web stories in support.
The juggernaut Pabst Brewing Company recently published a sob story advertisement in the Baltimore Sun of the title “Thrown Out at Home,” wherein Mr. Boh (essentially PBR with a Baltimore brand sticker on top) laments the removal of Pabst from Camden Yards. National Bohemian, Baltimore’s fermented beverage mainstay, left manufacturing in Baltimore some years ago in 2006, and now the product is manufactured in the Midwest. What can we say? The stuff still kills it in Baltimore: it’s cheap, the Nattie Boh guy looks super cool, and ordering up a Boh is simply habit. Today’s world of whiskey also wears a soggy albatross around her neck – Chuck Cowdery’s blog post “Your Craft Whiskey Probably Comes from a Plant in Indiana” is a few years old, and only truer today than when it was written.
Look at our the success we could add to the BWC bottom line: if we jacked our prices up just so we could sing the sweet Siren’s tune, “We’re craft, so people, bend ye over and pay craziness.”; if we joined the market that is glut like fat Shelob of sourced MGPI whiskey; or, if we were already filling up Thor’s fabled drinking horn with over-oaked spirits we had aged in small barrels... See, if you look at the distillery's bottom line (and consequently our ability to afford really cool rare bottles of whiskey), each of those, options starts to look pretty darn good.
To keep the straight and narrow when we started work for our Baltimore distillery in 2013, we hashed out our myths. While growing up into the 2016 whiskey economy, the BWC pursues some virtuous practices, proudly turning our backs to the idea that it is fiscally disadvantageous to avoid cheating our myths. We have other myths too, but I wanted to point out the three spirit myths the BWC lives by where it looks like we might actually find short-term success by breaking
-Price our spirits fairly (we won't overcharge for our products' "craftiness");
-Manufacture all of our spirits line (we don't source whiskey); and,
-Age whiskey in full-sized, 53 gallon barrels (we don't small barrel age).
(If you want to argue any of the above, just shoot us a message and we’ll tell you why those are our myths).
These days, we regularly receive Epic Gut-Checks: having another chat with a liquor store owner who is tired of being unimpressed with craft whiskeys; answering questions from distillery tourists about why we rock ‘n roll; or, imagining asking a dear friend to pay a false premium on a spirit you produce….in each case, our myth is just too easy to live up to. I liked how Dan Carlin put the matter in a recent podcast of his where he used the myth of American ideals as analog to Superman... Superman doesn’t get to cheat! He has to save the people who are getting in harm’s way and beat the bad guy. Kind of with a hand tied behind his back!
Fellow Myrmidons, I put it to you that your "legendary status depends on sticking to a few precious tenets," and if that doesn’t get you stoked up to crush… well you might think about seeing an old time Medicine Show about some elk horn extract or something like that. Snake oil? Meantime, we’re going to keep our own "Made in Baltimore, Maryland Rye Whiskey", sitting in big barrels and keeping all of our spirits prices good enough so that when our friends and family show up to buy, we sleep easy knowing that they’re getting great value. We’re not the Master Mariner himself, but in trying to be, we’re a much better BWC.
As entrepreneurs, the hardest thing you'll find about playing at Hercules is to do so before anyone is looking. It took us fully two years, three months, and two days to go from concept to live distillery. And we bled cash for 355 days from the time we obtained financing and the date of our first sale. Counting the number of true fans of the distillery during those times would yield a list comprising a huge proportion of friends and family members, so we didn’t have the validation that our story and our values even mattered. During the Orphean walk to legitimacy, most of your time will be spent out of the public eye - best to keep steady, or your prized vision will vanish before your eyes.
Yeah, the strategy sounds funky stuff, "But Ian, I just care where the rubber meets the road, not about no Argonauts!", but you may just need some funkiness to really buy into yourself. Can you imagine if Black Sabbath ever held a concert where the audience didn’t feel like Ozzy bought into his own act? What about when Connor MacGregor won his title – yeah he was a complete ass, but did you ever feel like he wasn’t completely invested in his own delusions of grandeur? We definitely pump ourselves up at the BWC all the time. Your own myth might seem silly, or difficult, or invisible, but I’m telling you lads to pick yourselves up and GET IT.
Maybe scoop up some beard products from Journey Seeker... or don’t you think that Odysseus anointed his curly beard after he killed 108 suitors?! Big thanks to Journey Seeker for giving me the opportunity to guest post.