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A Big Win for Whiskey

What the free trade agreement means for the spirits industry.

12:35 PM, Oct 13, 2011 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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Last night was the Spirit of Mount Vernon dinner held on the grounds of George Washington's estate, an annual gala sponsored by the Distilled Spirits Council and other associations to benefit the new George Washington National Library (some $200,000 was raised). The crowd included distillers large and small, distributors, diplomats, and members of Congress. A Washington impersonator, rather tall and with a booming voice, was on hand during the auction and there were even fireworks. But for a while, there was a sense of anticipation. Then came news that members of the Senate were being briefed on Iran. "That's not good," said one industry insider.

A Big Win for Whiskey

Not good because the situation was escalating? "Not good because this is delaying the vote on free trade," the insider explained. The big deal was South Korea, which, like other Asian nations, is just getting their drink on. Sales of wine and liquor are already high in the Pacific's emerging markets. But if the trade deal were to pass, a 20 percent tariff on bourbon and Tennessee whiskey would be lifted in South Korea—and as it happens, South Koreans are discovering they really like bourbon and whiskey.

Sure enough, it was announced later that evening that the trade agreements had passed and the crowd erupted in applause, much like that opening scene in Boardwalk Empire (not that it got out of hand—although I might have left too early). Retired Virginia senator John Warner delivered brief remarks while a rare Mount Vernon whiskey set was auctioned off for several thousand dollars. I drank a Glenmorangie on the rocks, but when I spotted the bottle of Godiva chocolate-flavored vodka, I knew I had to have a sip—because I would never actually pay for something so ridiculous in my life. And it was ridiculous. Ridiculously delicious. But I didn't feel good about myself the next morning.

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