Not to mix metaphors, but my take on gimmicks in the world of liquor is this: if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it’s probably a whole heap of steaming bullshit.
Now, here’s what makes this tricky: everything unusual isn’t necessarily a gimmick. It’s just that after some time of evaluating good things, you start reading the back of labels or new product reviews with your head pre-cocked, skeptical of oddball methods of making spirits the maker claims really makes a difference in the outcome of what goes in the bottle.
An example of a legitimate thing, and not a gimmick: when you smoosh agave with a giant stone wheel, it does produce a different, better taste than when agave is thrown into stainless steel shredders. Similarly, the wild, uncommon types of agave that some old forager has to find on the side of a mountain really can produce strange and interesting varieties of mezcal that are worth the price of admission. Whodathunkit?
In other cases, the jury’s still out. Does aging something at sea or near the shore give the spirit salty and briny qualities? I think it can, though others say it’s a myth. Does water source have an impact on the quality of a vodka? Perhaps it could, depending on the source of the water. Does the “Tennessee whiskey” process of charcoal filtration actually create a spirit any different than a regular-ol’ bourbon? I say no, absolutely not, although others would fight me over it. Stories for other days.
Togouchi, though? Top-notch gimmicky bullshit. For reference, this is whisky that actually gets produced in Scotland and Canada, then it gets shipped to Japan where it’s blended and aged in an abandoned railroad tunnel because of its constant temperature and humidity levels. This process apparently “Naturalizes” the whisky and allows them to call it Japanese with a straight face. I mean, don’t take my word for it.
Why bother? As you might know, the fastidiousness of the Japanese over a matter of decades to perfect Scottish techniques of distillation has resulted in a number of bottles like Yamazaki, Hakushu, Chichibu, Hibiki, Yoichi, Nikka, and Miyagikyo garnering worldwide acclaim. The issue is that demand has been far more than supply, and a new breed of “me too” outfits have rushed in to court buyers wanting a Japanese whisky they can actually afford now that prices are skyrocketing.
But you know it, I know it, and they know it: the consumer isn’t going to go online and research where Togouchi comes from. Instead, they’re fully aware that buyers are going to see a bunch of Japanese characters on the side of a bottle and connect the dots in the way that seems most sensible. “Oooh!” Someone will excitedly cry: “I’ve read about how good Japanese whisky is!”
Of course, if Togouchi actually tasted good, it might be able to hang with the big boys. And in fairness, it isn’t all bad—there are some fleeting moments where there’s a nice orange blossom and peach flavor combination that balances sweet with bitter. The problem is that it’s all scattered to hell by the barely-aged grain whiskey in here. Most of the time, this stuff tastes intermittently burnt, grassy, and sour.
Now, as an entrepreneur myself, I understand doing whatever it takes to get your foot in the door. The problem is that this stuff absolutely sucks at the price point. To me, it tastes like a $15 blended whiskey marked up to the $45+ dollar level, yet the average consumer will look at the price tag and think they’ve found a bargain to end all bargains.
Don’t get suckered.