View Full Version : Alcohilism within the industry
Not that I had any reason to believe so, but when I visited Kentucky and several of the wonderful distilleries where devoted individuals, from gardeners to master distillers, spend all day surrounded by whiskey, whiskey and the occasional whiskey, it struck me: how much of a problem is alcoholism within the industry? For some odd reason, I think it was more common (in Scotland, at least) some 50 years ago.
Is it just a prejudice/suspicion/whatever or is it not a big problem? I'm sure that if I would ever find employment at Buffalo Trace, I'd be sacked within a fortnight for stealing whisky during working hours!
Having been around the American whiskey industry for about 30 years, I would say the main difference between the liquor industry and other businesses is that everyone tends to be very sensitive to the problem in the liquor business. They are on the look out for it and every company has policies for "intervening" if an employee seems to have a problem. I have a close friend who chose to leave the industry because he decided he couldn't conquer his alcoholism within it (and after leaving it, did). Is the incidence higher? I don't know any statistics but my gut tells me it isn't, but it isn't any lower either. There are alcoholics and problem drinkers in the industry, absolutely.
Of course, most people in the industry don't actually have to drink as part of their job and, in fact, distilleries strongly discourage on-the-job drinking by people whose job doesn't require it. Also, maybe unlike some food businesses that allow employees pretty easy access to the company's products, the liquor industry does not, both for the obvious reason and for the not-so-obvious reason that, since the lion's share of the taxes distillers pay is paid on production, giving away "free" product is expensive, because all that tax has to be paid on it.
Some of the people who do have to drink for a living are, I will say, prone to overwork.
Most of the people I've met over the years in the industry have seemed responsible and as Chuck says, more than usually alert to the need not to drink too much. I can recall many representatives of liquor companies even at tastings being completely sober and evidently not having anything to drink until possibly the end of the evening when they might take a drink or two and even then not always. Part of the now image I'd say of the industry is to enourage moderation not just amongst its own staff, for evident reasons as Chuck said, but among consumers. Seagram pioneered this approach with its ads from the 1930's in which it stated that liquor is a luxury and the House of Seagram did not want a dollar from people who needed to spend it on bread and other necessities. Even allowing for a certain amount of self-interest then and now, such stances reflect a genuine social attitude and today it is more prominent than ever with the emphasis on drinking better whiskey but less, small batch products, and so forth. Obviously anyone interested in whiskey, from any angle, needs to think continually about how much, how often... And as Chuck again noted, some people will need to leave the liquor business in order to stop drinking. While some who work in the industry who have a problem, maybe most, will have to leave in order to stop drinking permanently, not all have had to do that. I know some people who work in the bar/restaurant trade who have had a problem and still stay away from drink. Some even attend festivals and enjoy talking about drink and the business without feeling the need to consume liquor. I was reading recently about one of the family who founded the famous McSorley's bar in New York. He stopped drinking at age 55 because he had "had enough" and stayed in the business after for many years, until his passing in his 80's. A side note about this bar is it operated right through Prohibition, as if nothing changed!
A side note about this bar is it operated right through Prohibition, as if nothing changed!
How did they manage that, Gary??
From Joseph Mitchell's, "The Old House at Home", published in, "The Booze Book - The Joy of Drink", ed. by Ralph Schoenstein, Playboy Press, Chicago, 1974:
"When prohibition came, Bill [McSorley] simply disregarded it. He ran wide open. He did not have a peephole door, nor did he pay protection, but McSorley's was never raided; the fact that it was patronised by a number of Tammany politicians and minor police officials gave it immunity.".
This story originally appeared in, "McSorley's Wonderfuly Saloon" published by Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1940.
Mitchell's essay is a classic of bibulous literature. The Schoenstein book is good, too, containing many essays of interest on all kinds of alcohol and related subjects (however very little on bourbon). Some of the material is dated but in an amusing way, e.g., a Playboy black and white cartoon is reproduced which shows a Stetson-hatted burly man passing a liquor store's display window. A plain square sign is affixed to the plate glass. Behind the sign is a row of bottles. The sign reads, "For the Man Who Will Drink Anything: $2.85 A Fifth". http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
You have to wonder as well whether there is a desensitization toward liquor that might come from being surrounded by it day in and day out. Those of us who come home from a long day's toil and treat ourselves to a pour don't have to smell it all day so it's a welcome change to our senses.
Some of the people who do have to drink for a living are, I will say, prone to overwork.
I seem to remember reading (perhaps in Whisky Magazine) that the awareness of problematic drinking (outside the company) is on the agenda and that Glenfiddich distillery each year donate money to - whatever the organisations are called - which work to inform of the dangers of alcohol. To me, this seems only a cynical way of getting some "corporate goodwill" attached to the name. Is this something American distilleries also support with funds?
I would think support of Alcoholics Anonymous would be very strong. All the distiller's ads promote "responsible drinking" (eg: Maker's 'We make our Bourbon carefully. Please enjoy it that way'
The gambling industry has a very active support of the gambling equivalent (Gambler's Anonymous).
Yes, part of it is PR as you say. But, more deeply than just goodwill. It helps diffuse public backlash against the industry.
Hey, Gary, McSorley's didn't allow women in until 30 years ago! Pretty old school boy's hangout back in those days.
I think it depends on which side of the industry you refer to. I know plenty of folks in the on-premise side (bars, restaurants) who have drinking problems. I made it a rule a long time ago that I'd never drink and work behind a bar in order to keep this problem in check. There's plenty of folks in the bar biz who drink with their customers and don't always run the tightest of ships when it comes to cash in the drawer and paying bills.
I often find it hard to not "overwork" myself, even on the off-premise side of the biz. It's hard being around booze all day, tasting and spitting, then having a couple of drinks with lunch/dinner, etc. In addition, Ben and I often experiment with at least two cocktails a night. I often have to remind myself to take a day with no drinking at all, drink a glass of water in between glasses of alcohol, etc.
Overall, I haven't seen too many folks that appear to be struggling on the distillery side. I often wonder how folks like Fred Noe do these tours and drink, eat, drink and drink at dinners, festivals, etc. But Fred's a big guy and I wouldn't even fathom keeping up with him!
But Fred's a big guy and I wouldn't even fathom keeping up with him!
There's myth and legend about these guys and some of it doesn't need to be posted here, nothing bad, mind you, just a touch too personal shall we say. One I heard only recently that I did think very funny was that a certain Bourbon man who now is deceased used to practice killing a half pint, just in case he ran into someone who wanted to see if he could do it.
a certain Bourbon man who now is deceased used to practice killing a half pint, just in case he ran into someone who wanted to see if he could do it.
Reminds me of an old joke that is probably different each time I tell it.
It seems that during the golden age of American lagers (late 19th century early 20th), a brewery owner wanted a loan to expand his brewery to keep up with increased demand. He was giving a banker a tour of the brewery and wanted to impress him.
"Our lager beer is so healthful and drinkable, why I'll bet you that Hans, here, my foreman, can drink a pail of it straight away without stopping. Can you do that, Hans?"
"Chust a minute, if you please, Herr Fehrenbach," replied Hans, who then stepped though a door from the brewhouse into a side room. A minute later he returned and said, "OK, Herr Fehrenbach," proceeded to the brewery tap, drew a pailful of beer, tipped it to his mouth and drank it straight down.
The banker was suitably impressed and the owner beamed proudly with his thumbs in his suspenders, thanked Hans, and continued with the tour. Later that day, he spoke to Hans. "Thanks for the demonstration, but tell me, why did you leave for a minute before you drank the beer?"
Vell, Herr Fehrenbach, I didn't vant to disappoint you mit dat big banker man, so first I had to go and make sure I really could do it."
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