The World of Whiskey Through Think Tank's Eyes

Like most think tanks, the Competitive Enterprise Institute relies on celebrated scholars and detailed research papers to achieve its goals. But it is also using a popular but less conventional tool to achieve its aim of celebrating the free market: short films.

Its latest effort, “I, Whiskey," explores the history, manufacture and sale of the liquor in just seven and a half minutes. It features interviews with Garrett Peck, a historian whose recent book includes "Prohibition in Washington, D.C." and "The Prohibition Hangover," specialty producer Rick Wasmund, whose Copper Fox Distillery makes an applewood aged whiskey in rural Virginia, as well as bartenders and patrons at the Jack Rose Dining Saloon, an upscale bar in the District of Columbia's hipster Adams Morgan neighborhood that has 2,687 bottles of whisely on its walls.

The film is a subtle celebration of the creativity and diversity of small start-up businesses, like micro-breweries and small distillers - and of free market economies that allow them to flourish. It can be seen online at https://cei.org/content/i-whiskey.

Peck said the film is a celebration of American innovation and community. "Americans innovated when they started using corn, which is what they had, instead of the barley Scots used, creating the foundation for bourbon," he said. “Americans tend to be social drinkers, drinking whiskey - or wine or beer - around a table.”

Produced on an $80,000 budget crowd funded from 107 donors, the film helps fulfill one of the goals of CEI’s founder, Fed Smith. When he retired as the group's head in 2013, he told the Washington Post: "I recognized that intellectuals were dour, and that the war was going to be a long one. In warfare, you need R&R; in our world, that means having fun while you fight. And we do have fun.”

This is CEI’s second short film. "I, Pencil," was based on an influential 1958 essay by popular economics writer and educator Leonard Read, was a first person narrative, from a pencil's point of view, of how it was made without any central planning, from wood, graphite, rubber, and clay transported from many different continents. Thousands of students read the short essay in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Milton Friedman based an episode of his "Free to Choose" PBS series on it, and more recently it was the basis for an episode of NPR's popular "Freakonomics" broadcast.

Both films were produced by Amanda France of CEI. In addition to receiving more than 500,000 views, “I, Pencil” has been used by teachers, including middle-school instructors from Africa. Although "I, Whiskey" has only been available since Oct. 11, she's already had a request from college professors for transcripts they can use in classrooms.

France says she's "bracing," in today's climate, for someone to eventually complain that the film triggers people or promotes drinking, though no one has - so far.

Bill Thomas, the owner of Jack Rose bar, loves the film: "Amazing what they could capture in 8 minutes. It's a good balance of the history of whiskey making and of the modern whiskey drinker - they just captured the energy of whiskey culture."