Is Your Spirit Brand Bartender-Certified?
- by Andi Whiskey
Little fact about my background:
I've been running a beard care and tattoo care brand for 10 years as of October this year.
We have an incredibly loyal following who I personally feel close with and love.
And in October of 2017, I opened a barbershop in Nashville, TN, attached to our warehouse where we manufactured all of our skincare. It was going to be the metaphorical "tasting room" to our "brewery". The products were made next door, then used in the barbershop.
And for it to be successful, I knew I would have to hire expert barbers who knew their trade. So I did. I brought on our initial shop manager, who had managed shops for decades, and then became a barber school teacher, and then she found me. She knew the craft from the inside and out.
She helped me bring on my first few barbers, and taught me what to look for to find good ones. I leaned on her expertise, and the expertise of the new barbers we brought on to help me build a truly exceptional shop.
And we were exceptional. We were a tiny shop in a warehouse in an industrial park next to a cemetery. There was no reason for us to be there, and I was told by my business mentors that I shouldn't "pursue business ideas for the sake of being creative."
Despite that, before we even opened doors, we were booked out for a month. Once we opened, after just 6 months of doing our thing, we started to attract the attention of country music producers and artists in Nashville.
Soon, after a year of being open, we were THE barbershop for NFL Titans players, famous musicians, the founder of Crocs, and so on. And if you were traveling to Nashville from another city and making plans for while you were out there, our barbershop was one of the recommended things to do while you were in town.
And our success was all because I leaned on the help of experts at their craft to do their thing.
On the other side of the warehouse doors, I had my beard care brand still growing. It saw success thanks to the barbershop, not just from product sales, but because I had experts right there on my team who gave me constant feedback from using the product and listening to the clients in their chair.
We had "barber-tested" and "barber-certified" on every piece of marketing and every label we could put it on. I wanted our customers to know that the experts in the field had been involved in us creating our product and they had approved.
In the hair care industry, it's incredibly common to see "salon tested" and "barber approved" on labels. Brands want consumers to know that the experts have given them the thumbs up.
So my question is...
Why don't spirits brands care about the frontline experts of the spirits industry?
I'm not talking about the spirits competitions. You can take your awards and plaster them on everything, and it'll still mean next to nothing to the end consumer. They don't know about WSC or who Fred Minnick is most of the time. (And the consumers who know about Minnick, well, they have polarizing thoughts on his opinions).
I'm talking about the bartenders of the industry.
Your consumers might not know or care for Minnick's opinions, but they do know the bartenders at the bars they frequent. They see their faces, they might know their names, they might even drink with them on their days off.
Let's take Jane, your potential best customer. Between the 2023 SF Spirits Comp and Boone from the speakeasy bar down the street who knows Jane's favorite gin and that she prefers it in a gimlet, but when she's with friends, she'll take it in a dry martini... who do you think she's going to listen to when she wants to try a new gin?
What might bartender-certified mean to the industry?
If that phrase were to be used, what might it mean?
Well my hope is that it's used authentically and honestly. And here's what I think it should mean:
- Bartenders have tried your spirit and shared their thoughts.
- It stands up in a cocktail without needing crutches like extra bitters or elderflower liqueur to be palatable for guests.
- Your brand has listened to bartenders, taken their feedback, VALIDATED their thoughts, and acted accordingly.
- Your brand has been public about following proper industry techniques, trends, and respecting the cocktail world by doing things right.
- Your brand regularly gives nods to the true experts in the industry, the bartenders who put in 8-14 hour shifts selling your product to guests, the ones who have sweat it out in the well and learned shelves worth of product knowledge in order to serve their guests best.
I know this is a newer concept. I hope this definition matures and grows as the industry does.
I know my beard care brand could have survived without barbers. But it could not have served my customers as well and grown like it did without my leaning heavily on the experts in the industry.
I want to see brands listening to the true experts of the industry: the bartenders who have their fingers in the juice daily.
Can we get there?