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This takes place far in the future. The emperor of the star empire has a lot of things to deal with, that stress him out. The treaty with Xcarus is down the toilet, the High General has just purged a great number of high ranking officers for suspected treason, and his brother tried to assassinate him, and has just ran off to planet Telstar.

He enjoys the occasional drink now and then. His favorite drink is some Terran delicacy called - what was it? Whiskey. And other hard liquors. He often buys the stuff straight from Terra, or Amon if he wants something more exotic. But, all the liquors he buys from Earth and Amon are nano-replicated, as nobody cooks on Earth. He could easily just download the prints, and replicate his own.

The shipments of whiskey the alien emperor buys are important to the plot. So, why would the emperor import when he could simply produce his own?

  • Both prints would be of equal quality, and quantity.

  • Space shipping long-range is very expensive.

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    $\begingroup$ Why would you nano replicate liquor? We already have naturally occurring fungi that do it for free $\endgroup$ – nzaman Jul 27 '18 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ The Emporor himself does not care if it is the real or other Whiskey. He simply drinks what is in his cabinet, trusting his minions, that the liquour will be fine. But his minions would rather die than giving the emperor other than the best in known universe. $\endgroup$ – Julian Egner Jul 27 '18 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ Just throwing this out there, it would be easier to make a justification if the Terran-made whiskey is produced the old-fashioned way, rather than replicated. Actual whiskey production adds minute amounts of a dizzying variety of compounds to the base of ethanol+water, under very precisely managed conditions, and continuing to undergo slow chemical changes as it ages. The result is not a single homogeneous product, but a blend of dozens of compounds that could justifiably be difficult to replicate. $\endgroup$ – Catgut Jul 27 '18 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ In the real world there are diamonds laser etched with code numbers to differentiate between otherwise quite identical lumps of carbon. Marketing. $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Jul 27 '18 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ All I can say is that us Scots would never abandon the brewing of whisky ;) $\endgroup$ – Persistence Jul 28 '18 at 6:07

29 Answers 29

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Status symbol. Plain and simple.

Doing a carbon copy is easy and cheap. But if you can afford the original one it means you have a huge load of moneys at your disposal. And those moneys are no good hidden in some bank account.

Impress your guests with what they can buy.

P.S. In a less sci-fi scenario, there are people on Earth who like to have golden toilets in their houses, just to show off how rich they are.

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    $\begingroup$ The beautiful thing about status symbols is that the more pointless and impractical they are, the better they work as status symbols! $\endgroup$ – Cadence Jul 27 '18 at 7:28
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    $\begingroup$ ‘Why yes, I do collect empty Terran whisky bottles. Why empty you ask? I drink them of course!!’ $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jul 27 '18 at 9:07
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    $\begingroup$ When you consider that all vodka is by law ethanol and water, why do people pay top dollar for expensive vodkas? It is just like L.Dutch says. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jul 27 '18 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Willk, by law in what country? And does this law allow you to call a highly purified ethanol/water solution "vodka", or does it require anything called "vodka" to be so highly purified? Where I live, some vodka producers do nothing except bottle filtered water with pure ethanol that they buy from Big Ag companies, while others opt for a more traditional process that can yield a product with as much or as little flavor as the distiller deems appropriate. $\endgroup$ – Solomon Slow Jul 28 '18 at 3:33
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed there is a good term for this, a "Velben good". $\endgroup$ – Fattie Jul 28 '18 at 14:06
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This is the basis for the real world economic theory of Comparative Advantage.

The aliens can produce any of a large number of products with their industrial capacity. Similarly, Earth can use its capacity to produce any of a large number of products.

Let's assume that the aliens can produce anything more cheaply than humans. The theory of Comparative Advantage proves that it is paradoxically cheaper for the aliens to buy some things from us, even though they can make them for less. This is because while they can produce whiskey for very little resource use, they can instead use those resources to make e.g. carbon nanotubes, which humans are so bad at making that we will trade a much larger amount of whiskey than they could have made.

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  • $\begingroup$ I really like this idea, but since the question says the shipments are important to the plot, I wonder if the story has the shipments being threatened or restricted somehow - in which case the "balance" of comparative advantage could swing the other way. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 28 '18 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ: The theory does not care which nation it is that produces the products more cheaply. In the case where each has a product it is more efficient at making, the theory of Absolute Advantage of course applies trivially. Or did I misunderstand your comment? $\endgroup$ – user25972 Jul 28 '18 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I might not have been clear enough. I meant that if the cost to the aliens of buying whiskey from Earth becomes high enough due to the events of the story, it might overwhelm the comparative advantage, after which it's in the aliens' best interest to stop trading for whiskey and start producing it themselves. This isn't a fault with your answer, but it is something the OP might have to consider if they want the shipments to keep going throughout the story. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 28 '18 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ The alternate way for OP to consider that, is will the humans require anything so important from the aliens - they would be willing to give such insane discount on whiskey that it's still favourable for the aliens to trade for it. $\endgroup$ – Bilkokuya Jul 30 '18 at 9:26
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Two (and a half) options:

A: He wants the real thing. Fake Whiskey from [alienrace]? No way, even if it tastes the same. Just like having a perfect copy of the Mona Lisa wouldn't be the same as the original Mona Lisa.

Could go a step further and give humans on earth the "copyright" terroir on whisky. Others can copy it, but can't call it whisky - similar to scotch, you can get whisky that tastes very similar to scotch, but it will never be legally allowed to be named scotch. The emperor drinking fake scotch? Unimaginable!

B: Something about the transport process makes it better - or rather makes it seem better. Maybe it's space radiation, maybe it's the launch from earth. Don't like this as much because anything can probably be replicated and you said they would have the same quality.

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    $\begingroup$ That transport process thing could also be be perceived (=status), not real. Just a matter of good advertizing. $\endgroup$ – user3106 Jul 27 '18 at 8:06
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for ‘copyright’. I think the phrase you might be looking for is ‘protected geographical status’, like Parmesan cheese or Cornish pasties. Of course, geographical isn’t quite an expansive enough word, but a similar concept can apply. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jul 27 '18 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs: The phrases used by French/Italian/etc. regulators translate as "protected origin", which wouldn't have the earth-bound connotation. $\endgroup$ – Michael Seifert Jul 27 '18 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ Definitely seems like B happens in our world, too: "It just doesn't taste the same" "In a blind taste test, nobody could tell the difference." "I can tell! It doesn't taste the same!" $\endgroup$ – GnoveltyGnome Jul 27 '18 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for space age Madeira $\endgroup$ – Dent7777 Jul 27 '18 at 18:18
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Because he trusts foreign traders more than domestic help.

There are definitely spies in his household wanting to kill him. Making things locally means trusting every person in the chain between receiving the digital instructions and being presented a glass. That might be tens of thousands of people if you count all the programmers of gadgets; there is no way to be really certain of loyalties at that scale.

The humans currently have an acceptable arrangement, especially the humans getting paid for this service who get direct access to the top tier of the empire occasionally. Also it is pretty clear if Earth was suspected of a poisoning humans would be exterminated, so their loyalty isn't as suspect.

So long as the drinks are presented in tamper evident Terran containers the service devisions of the palace have no opportunity for maleficence.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ooh.. Intriguing intrigue... $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jul 27 '18 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, but you could say the same thing about the interstellar supply chain.... $\endgroup$ – Spencer Jul 27 '18 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ The idea is good, but needs more work. Who checks that the "tamper proof" container wasn't tampered with, for example? How do you even make something that you trust not to be tampered with if you have a replicator? $\endgroup$ – Mad Physicist Jul 27 '18 at 18:46
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Maybe nobody on earth cooks anymore, but they are still on Earth, surrounded by Earths atmosphere, germs, general enviromnent and humans.

Something in the chain of processing could influence the taste of the product in a way that is hard or costly to imitate. Like the barrels influence the taste of whiskey, some naturally occuring dust particles in Earths atmosphere could influence the taste of space-whiskey. Recreating the right size, concentration and distribution of those particles could be more costly than transport or maybe more dangerous... What if the secret ingedient is the fallout of World War III?

Thanks to all my commenters for the good ideas.
The rich and nobles could treat whiskey like todays craft beers or wines. Depending on the location (on earth) of the production facility, the environment influences the taste in very suptle ways. Some might use actual ground water instead of replicated water, some might have containers and pipes of impure material that imbues the brew with trace elements.

Of course you can analyze the chemical composition of one brew and replicate it, but it will always be the same brew. Always the same tase. Boring!. If you want diversity, you have to get the real stuff from Earth.

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps whiskey is effected by the shipping process? and therefore this change could be down to the fact it is shipped across the galaxy, but people don't realize it $\endgroup$ – Blade Wraith Jul 27 '18 at 9:16
  • $\begingroup$ The shipping process was already memntioned in another comment. I know that shipping was the reason for regular wine becomming port wine, but I cannot find a good reason why shipping should affect liquids in high-tech containers in space or why they have to be shipped from Earth to be affected. $\endgroup$ – Elmy Jul 27 '18 at 9:22
  • $\begingroup$ My bad, didn't see that comment when i commented, seen it now $\endgroup$ – Blade Wraith Jul 27 '18 at 9:42
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like this is a particular good answer for whiskey and other alcohol; and for someone with a (supposedly) exquisite palette (and thus who claimed to be able to taste the subtlest of differences.) While sure "Whisky" is basically just ethanol and water, it is differentiate from any other spirits by 200-300 other chemicals. The fact that even today there is a 100 chemical margin of error for what is in whisky suggest that maybe even the very advanced aliens can't fully nail down the exact balance of last dozen or so just right. $\endgroup$ – Lyndon White Jul 28 '18 at 6:11
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    $\begingroup$ and then there is the diversity side; sure whisky straight from the replicator is an extremely good whisky. Infact, it is exactly the same very good whisky. Every Time. Where as if it is replicated well prior to being consumed, chaotic and eviromental factors can change it. And if you want the right chaotic factors, what better way than the have it made at the right place $\endgroup$ – Lyndon White Jul 28 '18 at 6:14
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It's all about fungibility. Just as any serious art collector would rather have the original Mona Lisa painting than a copy (even a perfect copy, that no-one could identify as "fake" by any possible tests that could be made on the artwork itself).

I'm not that serious a collector (of either artwork or fine whisky), and I wouldn't pay extra purely for the "authenticated provenance" of an otherwise identical product. But plenty of people do think like that, so it's not unreasonable to suppose aliens (and even alien emperors) might think the same.


EDIT: (Not sure if it's acceptable to say this here, but it's why I think fungibility is more important than economic advantage for the exact context...)

I fully accept that in terms of terrestrial economics, the principle of Comparative Advantage could "justify" paying more to have someone else make something you could make cheaper yourself. But obviously the costs of shipping between star systems is going to be (truly!) astronomic.

If it might cost any civilisation the equivalent of billions (or zillions - I don't know the exact number, but it would be big) of dollars to transport any given sugar-cube-sized piece of "valuable product" to somewhere on the other side of the galaxy (or maybe much further away, in another galaxy entirely), I don't think any alien smart enough to become emperor would be so dumb as to believe his economist courtiers if they tell him it's to his economic advantage to buy his whisky from the real terrestrial Scotland (or whiskey from the real Ireland).

Comparative economic advantage is all very well, but who's gonna pay the shipping costs?

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  • $\begingroup$ An interesting point is we also have the reverse. While pure water that comes from recycled urine is chemically pure water 100% H20 (or near enough). Many people won't drink it, or at least will have second thoughts. $\endgroup$ – Lyndon White Jul 28 '18 at 6:16
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    $\begingroup$ @LyndonWhite: Good luck with that prissiness! Putting aside the issue of whether Jesus actually was a historical figure, I think it's as near as dammit a statistical certainty that if He was, the bodies of everyone currently alive on earth would contain many molecules of H₂O that passed through His bladder. (Not to mention the bladders of countless dinosaurs! :) $\endgroup$ – FumbleFingers Jul 28 '18 at 12:32
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... nobody cooks on Earth

Except the guy who makes this dude's whiskey.

Why did you think it was so expensive?

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    $\begingroup$ If you go with this one the dude has to be a crazy Scotsman who lives in a cave in Orkney... $\endgroup$ – Persistence Jul 30 '18 at 9:55
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They can't replicate the barrels

Whiskey still has to be aged in barrels because replicators simply cannot capture that certain ineffable quality*.

Oh, the hooch that goes into a barrel is easily replicated. But there's no substitute for barrels, and time, for finishing the product.

The barrels don't replicate very well, either. Would you age whiskey or wine in a barrel made of Trex?

They could build the barrels on another planet, but that means hauling wood from Earth. (The particular wood species dislike growing on other planets, and even when successful, tend to yield an inferior product.)


* which might not actually exist.

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  • $\begingroup$ What about just replicating the white oak barrels (for bourbon), then charring them? Or replicating the peat for Scotch, and then aging the raw product locally? $\endgroup$ – Doug R. Jul 30 '18 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ @DougR. Presumably they tried, and got a big thumbs-down from the whiskey and wine snobs. See "barrels made of Trex". Or Monsanto trying to convince foodies that GMOs are good for you or HFCS is sugar. $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 30 '18 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ Ahh...but is Trex molecularly identical to white oak? Frankly, just about any answer that allows replication of some sort other than something like the Treaty of 30487, economics, or general snobbishness, will have a hole big enough to drive a truck through. Heck, why couldn't His Imperial Majesty just be a penny-pincher who tells everybody he imports the finest Terran Bourbon, but then secretly replicates the same bottle of Pappy Van Winkle over and over again in the basement? $\endgroup$ – Doug R. Jul 30 '18 at 20:12
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This question reminds me of the novel "Year Zero" by Rob Reid. In it, one of the highest beliefs that aliens have is that art be consumed according to the laws and customs of the creator (and thereby hilarity ensues when they try to license the MP3s of all of humanity).

By the time of nano-replication, I'd expect that the current trend of copyright law and DRM would have continued such that humans would only allow copies to be made that are appropriately licensed and had royalties paid to the creators. That way, not only are creators compensated for their creative work, but they can properly maintain their trademark and make sure that nobody else is selling knockoffs but calling it the real brand name. And digital piracy of the plans would be unthinkable, because it'd be so at odds with the laws and customs of the creator's world.

I think the result of this is that the cost of properly licensing a nano-replication center to print a real Terran whiskey brand (including having the real brand QA people there to ensure the plans are executed appropriately) could be substantially more than even the high cost of interstellar shipping. Even for the quantities that the emperor would want to have in stock, it's just so much cheaper and easier to have it shipped than to set up a proper licensed replication facility.

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Because the Treaty of 30487 with Earth forbids off-Earth production of whiskey, and there's enough benefits for the Empire to make it unwise to violate the treaty. (Insert discussion about the Earth entities of 30487 who disagreed on off-world Scotch as needed.)

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  • $\begingroup$ This is actually the best answer I've seen. Certain Terran delicacies are protected by treaty. Period. You can't produce a real whiskey like Bourbon off-world, but you can replicate enough Scotch to float a supertanker if you want to. :-) $\endgroup$ – Doug R. Jul 30 '18 at 18:18
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Would royalty on Terra serve or consume "sparkling wine" rather than "champagne", something that requires a certificate of origin? Even assuming that the king would have the legal power to forge certificates? And assuming that nobody could likely tell the difference?

Where is the point in being emperor if good enough is good enough for you? How would that command respect and a sense of decorum?

You say "ok, but in private?". Do you really think that you'll catch royalty in private eating a kebab wrapped in filthy paper with plastic forks? How is that not going to become the talk of the servants?

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In your world you can replicate almost everything, and in real life many countries can survive without trades with others, but those trades help the economy.

He buys whiskey from Earth, but Earth buys many other things from him (technology, medication or other delicacies, can be anything). He knows that if he stops buying their liquor, Earth will stop buying from him and get those items somewhere else.

As the emperor, everything he does is to keep a good relation between all the different planets members of the star empire and keep a prosperous economy. Those trades with Earth help to maintain this good relation.

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Because no two batches of liquor ever taste exactly the same.

Due to local growing conditions the organic materials will contain more or less trace elements from the atmosphere and the soil which when combined with the aging process (materials plus environment) yield a unique flavor that's ever so slightly different each time it is made.

Perhaps the value to the aliens, therefore, is the differences in the various batches.

Thus, with a replication technology, your existing batches will not run out (unless replication can't duplicate the subtle flavors for some reason) and with copyright laws, replication may be restricted to only those who own the appropriate key code providing an artificially limited supply.

Thus, owning a complete set of "years", batches from each year of a given brand, and thus completing one's collection, may be the competitive drive to collect and own.

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In order to nano-replicate something, you first need something to nano-replicate. So that suggests that you require laws or regulations that encourage the original production of products (otherwise you'll be a very stagnant society with nothing new being developed - why go to the cost and expense of making a new thing, if all your competitors simply nano-replicate it once you've done it).

So whiskey becomes part of the legal framework around replication, where its one of many "products of craft development" that is legally not eligible for the run of the mill replication.

A slight mod to this is to tax replication, so the stuff costs as much as the original. Whereby replication is designed to fulfil only scarcity or difficult transport circumstances. In such a case, the Emperor would go for the original just for the cachet of getting the best, but also to support the original manufacturer, as replication would be seen as "2nd best" for the hoipolloi only.

The other way round this is to ensure that the Emperor likes many different whiskeys, and replicating the same old brand is just not his style. Hence, instead of replicating his existing cellar, you have to import the variety from source. This stops being true once his cellar is fully stocked, of course.

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    $\begingroup$ "otherwise you'll be a very stagnant society with nothing new being developed" - so none of the star empire's citizens have heard of crowdfunding or publicly funded research? Sounds like Earth would be much better off selling them those ideas instead of whiskey. $\endgroup$ – Ruther Rendommeleigh Jul 28 '18 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ @RutherRendommeleigh Possibly, but I think "open source software" is a better view of an alternative - but only a relatively few products come of that that are the same quality as commercial stuff, i wonder if the impetus would be the same if the profit motive behind much crowdfunded stuff was removed (as the CF is generally only there to seed a real business) $\endgroup$ – gbjbaanb Jul 29 '18 at 14:21
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Time dilation. Even a molecularly perfect copy will be believed to be lesser by some segment of a human marketplace compared to the “traditionally made” version. But aging whiskey takes time. Travel near light speed is a great way to stay young while whiskey ages. And Earth, being a relative backwater of the galaxy, is unlikely to be drawn into galactic wars, so it makes a fine whiskey cellar.

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  • $\begingroup$ But if the whiskey is being transported near light speed, then it will experience less aging due to time dilation. $\endgroup$ – Kyle A Jul 28 '18 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ I think the idea is the other way around: the whiskey ages naturally on earth, while the drinkers travel around the galaxy. $\endgroup$ – Erik Jul 28 '18 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ Kyle: Erik has it correct. $\endgroup$ – SRM - Reinstate Monica Jul 28 '18 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ Time dilation, according to special relativity, is observed by each of two observers moving relative to each other. In other words, if I see you aging slower than me, you will see me aging slower than you. It’s not asymmetric. I’ve always been puzzled by how many people can’t understand this. $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Jul 28 '18 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ WGroleau — it isn’t symetric when the one who accelerated away returns to the original frame of reference. $\endgroup$ – SRM - Reinstate Monica Jul 29 '18 at 1:36
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Legality and content filtering.

There are various recreational substances around the galaxy, but there are large differences in what's legal where. Alcoholic drinks are one of the things that are illegal in a lot of inhabited planets, though obviously not on Earth (which is by far the largest producer of them).

Despite the ban on substances like alcoholic drinks, space is huge and it's effectively impossible to enforce a ban on importing this stuff. It's therefore well-known (but difficult to do anything about) the rampant smuggling of it.

The only thing the governments of the different planets can do is limit the ability to produce alcohol on their planets. Some planets opt to enforce that all nano-replicator have a government-controlled filter on what substances can and cannot be produced. (This is also used to stop other illegal stuff, like creating unlicensed weapons and similar.) While alcohol itself cannot be blocked outright (since it's an important chemical), they can filter out most known variations of alcoholic drinks.

You can still, in theory, produce something similar by having the replicators create various (individually legal) constituent parts and essentially add them together yourself, but that's cumbersome and doesn't really come close to the real deal. Still, this is what some of the poorer people do get have their alcoholic fix.

Those with a bit more money buy it on the black market (although the quality of the stuff is often questionable and it's sometimes just homebrewed stuff that they label as being from Earth). The richer people simply get it directly from the source themselves to avoid the hassle. It's slower and a lot more costly, but the quality of the stuff more than makes up for it.

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Because the design changes

No two barrels of whiskey are the same. In fact, no two distilleries are quite the same - and this isn't because some are incapable of copying the others, it's because they all have their own unique spin on the product. This gives them a distinct difference from their competition, even within the same product.

For instance, what's the difference between Tennessee whiskey and Bourbon? The difference is that bourbon is filtered ever-so-slightly differently, resulting in a new blend of flavors. Everyone making any product (from music, to movies, to liquor, to food, to cars, etc) mixes and remixes what came before, and adds their own unique touches that make it a distinct product. It's a huge feature of humankind!

So if you're running a galactic database of synthetic recipes, do you really want to go through and accept/vet/distribute every single distillery's recipe? For every new distillery? Of course not, nobody needs that kind of hassle. So everyone gets a few dozen "standard" recipes in their replicators, and the rich are able to experience a wider and fuller variety by buying direct from the source. And in turn, the rich create trends that are added to the standard database, then the rich find some other obscure recipe to enjoy, and then that gets added - rinse and repeat.

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Because there is some spirit in real thing.

It's the same thing we have with fake meat. It's great and all but there is something that make it distinguish from the real thing. Maybe the entropy? Carbon copy put things in same amount in same space while the natural whiskey tend to make pockets of taste and so on.

Also the thing that was an issue with those shakes that supposed to give you daily amount of calories, carbs, fats and protein with exactly macro elements you need. People started to complain that drinking it make them sick. All the things that supposed to be there were present, the human digestive system shouldn't mind but somehow it lacked the chewing.

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    $\begingroup$ Whiskey has for sure spirit in it ;) $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jul 27 '18 at 7:48
  • $\begingroup$ that's the joke :) $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jul 27 '18 at 7:53
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    $\begingroup$ The question says Both prints would be of equal quality, and quantity $\endgroup$ – user3106 Jul 27 '18 at 8:06
  • $\begingroup$ That's the thing. They said and proved that those meal replacement. They were identical with food. Laboratory tested. But somehow it make people sick. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jul 27 '18 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ That's the spirit! :) $\endgroup$ – Manoj Kumar Jul 29 '18 at 10:37
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It's an emotional thing. I'd dare call it a spiritual thing. Not that the emperor is aware of this, not consciously. But quality, man, can't be reproduced with machines. Those gentle Terran whiskey nano-replicators, they put love into what they do. They use their hands. Those whiskey cases shimmer with a little bit of Sol. And nobody needs to be able to see it or mechanically analyze the liquid contents in order to feel it. I think the question can be, why that irrational leaning towards the real thing? What soft spot does this tendency reveal, and where does that come from? Deeper, deeper, with character development, always. It's a question that allows for a backstory, and maybe it would never be included directly in the story, but still enriches the narrative and characters. It's a subtle undercurrent of a detail that can thicken the mythic broth of the empire.

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Intellectual property (IP).

When replicators were invented, and the price of physical goods became to plummet, businesses found a way of IP-protecting replicator recipes, and enforcing such a protection (by military means, if need be). So while the Emperor could download the recipe, he would risk a bloody war with the Terran anti-piracy agency. Or just download useless code, which is encrypted beyond recognition. Licensing the recipe would be prohibitively expensive.

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Some people can spot the synth stuff a mile away. It just doesn't have that, je ne sais quis

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/je_ne_sais_quoi

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The same reason that people claim to be able to tell the difference between digital and analog recordings of something.

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  • $\begingroup$ There's actually a material difference in that case though, digital recordings, at least the ones on first generation CDs, lack a lot of high and low frequencies that, while people can't directly hear them, have an interactive resonance with the audible notes in a piece. In short digital music is, or at least was, in fact missing something. $\endgroup$ – Ash Jul 30 '18 at 12:41
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  • a) Artifical production is too perfect compared to the original.
  • b) Buying from the source makes it safe.

a)

We have examples of this in the real world. Artificial diamonds are dirt-cheap compared to natural diamonds, despite being of a higher quality by all rational standards. But the impurities are exactly what makes natural diamonds desireable. Well, that and the DeBeers manipulations.

The impurities in whiskey might add to the taste, for example, in a way that cannot easily be reproduced digitally. Even if the humans use high-tech in the process as well (whatever nano-replication is), they still employ some of the ancient elements, e.g. storing it in old wood barrels for a time, etc.

b)

There are obviously assassination plots in your story. Poison has always been a favorite thing. By going to Earth himself and personally picking where he will buy, from whom and which bottles, the Emperor can minimize the chance that anyone interferes with the liquid before he consumes it.

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Maybe there is something else, other than, or in addition to whiskey, in what he buys? I'm thinking more than the worm in a bottle of tequila here...

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If all he really wants is Whiskey then there's no real advantage to buying an Earth brand except to be able to point at the export license etched into the body of the bottle when in company to prove he can afford the long range shipping. If he wants Scotch on the other hand then by law and definition that must be distilled in Scotland and aged at least three years in an equally local oak barrel. Similarly if he wants real Champagne he must import it from France because that's the only place that makes it, by definition.

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Because the prints for the really good stuff aren't available on the open market.

The scotch distilleries keep the sacred prints locked up in their fortress breweries, so the only way to get any is to buy it from them as a finished product.

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Do you have any idea how hard it is to build a nano-replicator?

It took a hundred breakthroughs in a dozen fields from inventors all across the Star Empire. Tens of thousands worked to perfect the first model, and many more have worked on it since. It is the apex of technology, a wonder of the galaxy that no single mind can hope to understand.

But this also means that the emperor can no longer trust nano-replicated foods. Too many people have been involved, any one of which might have slipped in some secret backdoor or vulnerability. It would be just possible, with ruinous cost, to comb through all the designs to verify that it is secure, but that would only replace trust of one group with trust in anther, and in any case their work would span decades.

So for now, the emperor imports his drinks, where he can oversee the entire supply chain with relative ease. He lets everyone think it's for status, or vanity, or a quirk, or whatever other conclusions they might draw.

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Maybe it's for the same reason some audiophiles still swear by Vinyl for the ultimate music experience. Vinyl records that vibrate a tiny needle to reproduce sound sound great, but a Digital format with a high enough bitrate reproduces the sound perfectly every time. And yet Audiophiles will often claim that the sound reproduction from vinyl is superior. They will use terms like "warmth" and "depth" and "tone" and they all seem to know what each other means, yet there is no real consensesus and objective measurement for "warmth" when it comes to sound. The same can be said for Whiskey. The recipes for various liquors are as dependent on environmental factors as anything else. The wood for the barrel, what was in the barrel before, the searing technique used, the water, how much rain the field got the year before, and on and on and on. To most people, they can't tell the difference between Makers Mark and Jack Daniels, but they will try to speak of "bouquet, fruitiness, tannins...." So your emperor may be a guy like that. The nano replicator may be able to exactly duplicate every chemical, every substance, every ratio perfectly. That's not going to stop a snob from claiming to 'Know the difference.'

It Snobbery.

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He's using the shipments as a tool to take care of a few objectives.

His annoying brother-in-law - can't summarily execute him, so make him an officer or trading agent in charge and send him on these long back and forth trips. Replace brother-in-law with "mother-in-law", "husband of the woman he wants to bang", etc. as appropriate.

Punishment duty for both Space Navy and Space Marines. No women (except aforementioned mother-in-law...), can't drink the cargo, nothing to do... cleaning details and inspections, plenty of PT, etc.

Covert communications - he's working with whatever Terran government(s) on some plot for something... Covert transportation - he's smuggling his family and good associates out to live on Terra, or smuggling some Terrans back to Planet X. Or just Covert Missions in general. "No need to follow thatone, that's the Barmaid, looks like the Emperor has sent out for another bottle of Old Crow". In reality, ship is nano-making a few cases of "cargo" and running whatever covert mission is required - pick from above list, add military, whatever.

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