It is a joke of a whiskey. It has a joke a name. It has a joke of an owner.
At some point the joke was no longer funny, however, when Jason Brown, the vulgar, loud mouth owner of Slapdick Whiskey, attacked and harassed a woman on Instagram after she made a very innocuous post about his “whiskey”. (I say “whiskey” because it is called “agave nectar whiskey”…whatever that is supposed to be).
To the credit of most in the Bourbon community, there was a resounding and virtually unanimous criticism of this joke owner of a joke whiskey. While credit should be given for the swift response and repudiation of Brown’s comments, how much courage did that really take for the Bourbon community?
No, I haven’t tried this whiskey and that isn’t really the point. Anyone who is remotely serious about whiskey would see the name “Slapdick” and dismiss it. Even if you got past the name, wouldn’t most of us lose any interest at the sight of “agave nectar whiskey” on the label? And if after actually hearing Brown’s comments, would there be any great sacrifice made in criticizing him and losing a chance at being on this guy’s Christmas card list? Is there a real consequence to the whiskey media speaking out against Slapdick Agave Nectar Whiskey? Is the consumer really missing out on anything by refusing to buy a whiskey that they weren’t likely to buy in the first place? But…
What if it weren’t a joke of a whiskey? What if it were a popular brand like…I don’t know…Bulleit? Amid accusations of abuse made in 2019 by his daughter, Tom Bulleit, brand founder, stepped back from his role as brand ambassador. Bulleit’s daughter also made allegations against brand owner, Diageo, of a hostile work environment. Bulleit continues to be a top-ten selling bourbon and is the number one seller for liquor delivery service, Drizzly.
What if it weren’t a joke of a whiskey? What if it were some highly-coveted, well-aged, sourced Bourbon? Or a single barrel from a popular distillery? Matt Landan was owner of the now-shuttered, but once popular, Haymarket Whiskey Bar in Louisville. A quick Google search will show that he has been accused of sexual assault by more than one woman and has countersued his accusers for defamation. Despite these accusations, some distilleries have sold him barrels of whiskey. Some distillery is storing those barrels. Somebody is bottling it. Some of you may have bought it. Scroll through the Haymarket Whiskey Bar Instagram account and see for yourself.
None of us are free of hypocrisy (myself certainly included) and we (and most certainly I) can and should do better. While I appreciate and join those who have spoken out against Jason Brown, let’s not pound our chests and pat ourselves on the back too much as an industry. There are other wrongs that have taken place in the whiskey world and the alleged offenders still not only exist but thrive in our Bourbon community.
Maybe memories fade. The press hasn’t had new articles on Bulleit or Landan in a couple of years. The next story on some other scandal comes along and then the next one and then everything gets hazy. And, as The Who sang in “Eminence Front”…people forget.
Maybe whiskey – the media and the consumer – has decided to collectively give the benefit of the doubt regarding mere accusations and allegations of wrongdoing. Fine.
Maybe some have evaluated the situations and determined with clear conscience that no wrong has been done. That is one’s choice.
Or maybe it’s not as easy to take a bold stand when a financial consequence is at stake or when the whiskey itself isn’t a joke to begin with.