When you peruse the shelves of your local liquor store, seeking maybe Rum, Mezcal or Gin, you're most often confronted with generic labels identifying only the very broad categories of spirits. For example, you'll see "Gin" but no other signs breaking down that category into different styles or types. At best, the Whiskey category may see a bit more differentiation, though even that provides only slightly less broad general categories like Bourbon or Scotch.
Each of these broad spirit categories likely includes dozens of different brands as well as a number of different styles and types. For example, within the general Rum category, you'll find French, Spanish and British styles, yet when is the last time any liquor store sorted and labeled their Rum section into those different styles? When is the last time you visited a liquor shop which provided separate signage for Barrel-Aged Gins? Probably never to either question.
How does a consumer navigate this morass of choices? It's not easy unless you know the categories well, which often leads an uniformed consumer to select just the brands they know., which may often be the large commercial brands which everyone knows. Instead of seeking out something different, they go with the safe choice. The consumer can speak to the employees of the store, seeking advice and recommendations. However, they are not always inclined to do so, sometimes preferring to be approached by the staff. What else might help these consumers?
It might be beneficial if there was better signage on the shelves, a more clear demarcation of the different styles and types of spirits. At Thirst Boston, one of the presenters, Benjamin Melin-Jones, mentioned that it would be good if liquor shops would separate rum into the three basic types, to help consumers understand the different types. And if a consumer had a preference for a specific style, they could more easily find those rums which fit within that style. This idea is a good one for all spirit categories and it is true that most liquor stores only use generic categories which are almost useless to the average consumer.
It would be nice to see clear signage separating Mixto Tequila from 100% Blue Agave Tequila, or London Dry Gin from Old Tom Gin, or Wheated Bourbon from High Rye Bourbon. This would better help consumers differentiate the various spirit types and it might also perk their curiosity about different types they didn't know about. They might also be a bit more adventurous in the brands they select. If the brand they usually purchase is in the Wheated Bourbon category, then maybe they will try other brands in that category, feeling a bit more secure to make that purchase. It could also lead them to ask the employees more specific questions about the various types. Maybe they enjoy drinking certain Gin but aren't sure what a n Old Tom Gin tastes like so they ask about it.
Why don't liquor stores use more signage for their spirits? First, it is much easier to use only a small number of broad category signs. It would take more time and effort to better differentiate the spirit types but I think the benefits would be worth it. Second, some stores want consumers to ask them questions, so they intentionally keep the signage low. Though that sometimes works, it also fails with other customers who'd rather just buy what they know rather than seek out a store employee to question.
Let's see liquor stores take a more proactive role in helping to educate consumers by providing more detailed signage for their spirits, breaking them down into specific styles and types. Show consumers that all rums, tequilas, gins and other spirits are not the same. Show them that the difference between the various brands is not just about price points.
Do you know any liquor stores who actually do provide more detailed signage for their spirits?