story time

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A story crossing the AP wire this morning reports that a “lost” cache of McKinlay and Co. whisky, shipped to the Antarctic by British polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton a century ago, will be excavated and (possibly) re-created by Whyte & Mackay, the drinks group that now owns the distillery. Two crates of whisky were discovered buried in deep ice in 2006. According to the story, Whyte & Mackay's master blender, Richard Paterson, believes the whisky could still be drinkable.

Drinkable or not, it’s got a great story. I recollect that some time ago there were rumors circulating about “lost” Champagne bottles being salvaged from the wreck of the Titanic. Another relatively recent story involved beer being created from hop seeds found in an ancient Egyptian tomb.

Anyway you look at it, a great story is an asset if you want to sell an alcoholic beverage. Which is probably why over-zealous marketers get inspired to create a story to be attached to their often-forgettable products. Sometimes it works. Think Bartles & Jaymes. Aldo Cella. Alice White. Sometimes it doesn’t. Enter Exhibit A – Wily Jack.

Wily Jack is a new line of $8 varietals from Diageo. California chardonnay, cabernet and zinfandel are the first releases, and all three are remarkably mundane, as far as wine quality is concerned. But the story really launches things into another dimension. The voluminous PR kit opened with Chapter One of the Wily Jack story:

“The sun's last hurrah laid long shadows across the barren plain. Wily Jack sat on a weathered outcropping enjoying his new freedom. The city, a distant blur on the horizon, couldn't reach him here. Tomorrow he would continue west, but tonight he would lie on his back and watch the stars spin tight circles around an unknown point in the infinite sky.”

The PR package included Wily Jack recipe cards, with The Man in silhouette, contemplating his next meal. Hmmm... should it be “Grilled Salmon with Horseradish-Mustard Sauce”? “Grilled Steak with Porcini-Red Wine Butter”? Nah - tonight, to accompany my new freedom, I’m a-goin’ with “Grilled Chicken Skewers With Romesco”! Just for good measure, the thoughtful PR folks included a Wily Jack branding iron with the wines – presumably to keep those pesky rustlers from stealing his salmon.

But wait, there’s more! A female interest is added in Chapter Two:

“She studied his face hoping to find a single clue that would help shape her decision. His penetrating eyes said everything and nothing she needed to know. This was not a time for self doubt. Her well-honed instincts were rarely wrong. They were sure that her full house would win the hand. Her well-honed instincts had never met Wily Jack.”

And finally, in Chapter Three:

“He let the line drift slowly with the current. The cold morning air froze his fingers to the rod and reel. There was barely enough light for Wily Jack to see the lone steelhead just beyond his reach. There was barely enough light for the lone steelhead to see Wily Jack just beyond his reach. It was a stalemate they both could live with.”

Wily Jack has not yet made it onto the Diageo website (I guess he’s ridin’ and ropin’ and grillin’ out on the range) but he’s got a Facebook page, and you are invited to submit Chapter Four, with a grand prize of $5000. If it were up to me, I’d send the Wily Jackster down to Antarctica to help schlep up the stash of scotch. Forget the damn wine. Scotch is better with romesco anyway.

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