[Something really important to consider here is the public research contribution to the spirits industry versus the pharmaceutical industry. In the spirits industry public research lifts all boats and works as its supposed to. In pharma public research gets coerced into a patent that can not lift all boats. Pharma companies from around the world flock to the U.S. to take advantage of public research they can funnel into protected patents. The spirits industry should likely be a template for how things should go yet the work does not continue and instead is from a bygone era.]
Recently, long time blog hero, the super star linguist George Lakoff, wrote a wonderful article explaining the rhetoric of the Trump campaign and at the end made some strategy suggestions for democrats. The big one was to take the time and highlight what public resources have done for private companies (republicans are in denial) and one of the supreme examples may be the spirits industry. Trump remember, did try and sell vodka.
This blog, home to my obsessive collecting of papers on spirits research, is more or less a shrine to great public works. I will boldly claim that this modest blog has also become the biggest source of advanced educational material for the new arm of the distilling industry that is domestically approaching $1 billion in market value (and a very significant employer). I did it all mainly by collecting public works that were either lost or taken for granted and making them more accessible, very much a la Aaron Swartz. I do write a lot of original material and annotate papers I find, but it is nowhere near as valuable as the original public works (I’m even hiding some of the best stuff). A large part of why I do it is because I want to start my own private business and I can only do this if I draw from public resources.
Articles continuously get released in reputable publications that claim that no significant public works have been conducted on topics as specific as barrel aging but that is so far from the truth. The IRS at one point in time was even advanced enough to conduct studies of whiskey aged in plywood barrels for four years. There was even an eight year follow up I have yet to recover. Public researcher John Piggott has done eye opening work on the topic that informs many of the world’s great whiskeys.
Another very timely topic is the accelerated aging of spirits, and constant junk articles repeatedly claim very little work has been done on the subject. These authors have yet to discover the definitive literature review and bibliography of famed U.C. Davis professor Vernon Singleton published publicly in Hilgardia. Our private companies are either botching it by not using public resources or we are an entire generation removed from anyone even aware of pragmatic publicly financed works that support entrepreneurship. Private business is clearly not reaching its potential by using public resources.
Origins of public research in the alcoholic beverage industry go back very far and it would be great to put focus on rum distiller and Victorian genius, the Great Agricola, W.F. Whitehouse who convinced the British Government to award prizes for essays that led to agricultural advances. He recognized early on that a high tide lifts all boats. I’m still searching for three prize winning essays on Guyana rum production from 1879 that exist in pampthlets that were the precursor the amazing public Guyanese journal Timehri. Last year following leads in my Agricola post I tracked down and annotated a vast collection of public works (newly digitized) that showed how Jamaican rum came to be from the public agricultural projects of the Sugar Cane Experiment Station of Jamaica. This was all complete with time stamps and first names that very completely tell the story of the birth and evolution of the Jamaican rum style squarely placing all advancement in relationships between the public and private companies.
The same public and private relationships can be seen elsewhere around the world such as in the papers on Sri Lankan Arrack I had a lot of fun profiling.
[I’m actually at the beach running a pop-up restaurant so don’t expect much. I may bounce around a bit then try to tighten it up.]
In a brilliant paper I haven’t released, public research by the famed James Guymon (1950’s or 60’s) gave neutral spirits production a 2% economy which the private company Seagrams was the first to employ and has since made them hundreds of millions of dollars. Other large vodka producers no doubt have benefited and the recurring benefits of a single published paper (that is basically lost) must be approaching a billion dollars in created value.
The modern tequila industry was rapidly built on significant public research that helped private firms modernized and scale up to meet global demand. I say rapid because in other industries the trickle-over is slow and often takes decades, but in spirits, private companies have capitalized surprisingly quickly.
Brazilian Cachaça, and many other spirits around the world (Scotch and near everybody actually), rapidly used public research projects to overcome the ethyl carbamate problem in spirits after it was labelled a toxic congener and cleverly set up as a trade barrier to prevent importation. There were very large Cachaça companies but the work was commissioned by the Brazilian government to help all of its private companies expand into new markets. Cachaça production currently sees some of the most advanced public fermentation studies conducted anywhere to help increase quality so exports can grow.
Rum got its next leg up in the 1940’s from the publicly commissioned works of Rafael Arroyo and the Sugar Cane Experiment Station of Puerto Rico. The fortune of the Bacardi company, and near every long established rum producer is based on Arroyo’s public works and the public works that followed from the Rum Pilot Plant (these papers are not easily accessible but I do have their definitive annotated bibliography). Private American rum producers have been reinventing the wheel (poorly) because Arroyo’s works were absolutely lost until I recovered and republished them with the help of Boston Public Library. Arroyo’s seminal text on distilling which I think is the greatest out there (and I’ve read everything) was intended to be given for free to private companies and yet I have the only accessible copy. Countless commercial distillers read the Bostonapothecary and only one has asked me to share Arroyo’s book.
Gin may be the only spirits category to resist being built on a public foundation and I’ve ended up being the only source for the few public works. I am still sitting on the greatest public work which was the gift of the Seagram’s corporation before WWII and its appendix contains their spectacular botanical assessment protocols that should be the foundation of quite a few new American distilleries. Private American industry would have a lot to gain if old school style agricultural bulletins were written to aid new american producers. I’m dreaming of doing a youtube video series on the Seagram’s techniques (but I need some money to finance the rest of the tools).
Quite a few public works exist on the subject of Vermouth and this very blog launched a lot of ships when it made them re-accessible with the help of the Boston Public Library. Quite a few companies have acknowledge finding their confidence and getting their start by reading the papers I’ve dug up. Quite a few popular authors have also used the public documents as the cornerstone of their privately published texts.
Its not hard to see that public work is the pulse of the ever evolving spirits industry. It has been and always will be. I’ve even skipped over quite a few spirits categories and not even discussed wine which is where things really get staggering.
I’m already exhausted and I didn’t get deeper into the wild contributions of the IRS laboratories (which had their budgets cut and basicaly no longer exist) and their amazing contributions under super star chemists like Peter Valaer. I mentioned two U.C. Davis figures but not yet even Maynard Amerine who made the most prolific contributions.
We’ve taken the relationship of public resources to private business for granted. Private businesses are clearly missing opportunities and a big step to help them will be to re-expose and re-publish the works which are public property. It would be of amazing use to see others in the spirits industry start to properly recognize prior public works and for other industries to take Lakoff’s advice and meditate on their use of public resources.
Private companies should demand easy access to public resources that benefit them and newly emerging (or re-emerging) sectors should demand new public resources to help them build a foundation and tackle their problems.
I wish this wasn’t so soberly written but WTF America, Get it together.