Tuesday, July 23, 2024

This Band Puts Costco Liquor to the Test, One Shot at a Time

In 2017, one of the most sought-after bottles of Scotch came from none other than the Kirkland Signature collection, aka Costco’s house brand. That was five years ago, before whiskey prices (and the prices of drinks overall) started to soar, before celebrity tequila and its inflated costs took over and before “dupe” culture, fueled heavily by e-commerce and influencers, reached its peak.

Today’s drinkers—beyond the whiskey nerds of Reddit—are skeptical about the cost of a cocktail. They’re teetering on the edge of a recession. They have questions. And so Kirkland Signature has been thrust into the limelight again, shepherded by an indie rock band from Maryland who dare to ask: Can it Kirkland?

In one TikTok after another, the setup is the same. Johnny Hohman, bassist of Never Ending Fall, stares directly into the camera from behind a pair of red sunglasses. “Hello, and welcome to our series, Can It Kirkland,” he announces, “where we try to determine the difference between name-brand and Kirkland.” Then, band members, each given a contestant number, take turns taking shots from handles of, say, Tito’s or Maker’s Mark alongside an affordable Costco counterpart, guessing which is which to the tune of the series’ theme song, which Hohman says they made “very drunk at 3 a.m. one night.” While the internet is full of sleuths uncovering where Kirkland sources its spirits, the band doesn’t wade into these investigations; they, and the new generation of Kirkland drinkers, are more concerned about getting the most bang for their buck.

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@neverendingfall Can it Kirkland? We had to try this one again… it didn’t end well. @nevschulman @kamiecrawford we love you. Who should we have on next? #costco #kirkland #fyp #xyzbca #canitkirkland ♬ original sound – TheNeverEndingFall

The taste tests don’t exclusively feature spirits—Never Ending Fall has compared mango hard seltzers, boxed wines and even waters—but for obvious reasons the experiments involving shots tend to be the most popular, like the one putting Grey Goose to the test. (Kirkland vodka, which went toe-to-toe with the brand, and its gin, which was tasted against Hendrick’s, are the rare “Can Kirklands,” where none of the bandmates could accurately guess which shot was the name brand.) And sometimes the band explores other drinking questions, such as: Does frothing your tequila make it smoother? And what happens when you make your gin “thick?”

For Hohman and the rest of the band, the explosive popularity of the videos is surreal. Never Ending Fall has been a group since they formed for the fourth-grade talent show 15 years ago; “I have baby pictures with some of the guys in the band,” Hohman says. Prior to internet virality, “we kind of just did the whole circuit where we played all the bar gigs—you know, you go to a bar and see a cover band playing, that’s what we did for, like, 10 years.” The TikToks started as an inside joke between friends last year and snowballed into an account with nearly half a million followers and 15 million likes, and a community of people around the world who, according to Hohman, have become friends through their fandom. Many of the fans know the band members better as “contestants” in the challenges rather than as musicians. “Everyone always forgets the Can It Kirkland guys are a band,” says one of their TikToks; a comment on a snippet of a music video reads, “I would never have thought contestant #2 had lead singer energy, this is awesome!” But the band doesn’t mind. According to Hohman, “It’s a dream come true.”

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The videos have been so popular that Costco’s CEO, Craig Jelinek, has even been asked to weigh in. “My daughter recently showed me a TikTok presentation about ‘It can be Kirkland,’” TV host Jim Cramer clumsily shared with Jelinek on CNBC. “Younger people are discovering that the Kirkland brand can be better than branded!” It is true that Costco has become a millennial fixation. Much has been written about Costco’s cheap, “inflation-proofhot dogs, for example, about which former CEO Jim Sinegal apparently said, “If you raise the [price of the] fucking hot dog, I will kill you.” In the age of $20 cocktails, and alleged cocktail catfishes, perhaps Costco’s reliably priced $12 gin is a younger generation’s version of the $1.50 hot dog.

Has Never Ending Fall gotten better at guessing over time? One fan and Redditor actually charted the progress, and, well, the answer is no. But they have developed some strong opinions. The most surprising of their taste tests, according to Hohman, compared Kirkland’s añejo tequila with Don Julio 1942. “The difference in price should be a dead giveaway… But [1942] actually just tasted more disgusting,” he says. And though Hohman says he typically sticks to beer when going out, these days, “if I’m at the club or the bar or something, I’m not going to waste my money on more expensive tequila,” he says. “When it’s $10 a shot as opposed to $20 or $30 a shot, I’m like, OK, yeah, I know what to do.”

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