The most important contribution that independent distributors provide us with is access to up and coming products and young, hip producers. Think of it as an exact parallel to the music world - there's no Nirvana or Soundgarden without Subpop and there's no Pavement without Matador. The independents take the risk on the could-be precocious and if they become superstars, then they were the pioneer. Remember that Hangar One vodka used to be distributed locally by Lou Bock until they went national and signed with Young's. The problem with the big boys is the size of their catalogues - they simply have too much product to promote. Not only do they have a gigantic inventory, but their representatives are more focused on sales than knowledge. Most of the time I know ten times more about the products than the guys selling them. Can you imagine if you went shopping for a mattress or a TV and you had to tell the salesman about his own stock?
When I taste with with the smaller guys, I get excited. I know I'm in for a treat when they show up holding a bag full of new samples they've scoured the countryside for. Also part of the process is the education, as they feed my passion for learning with their own passion for teaching. We really look forward to meeting up with one another and it feels more like hanging out with friends than running a business. For that reason, I felt right at home when I attended the pre-opening party at the new Bar Agricole last week and saw a room full of people I love talking booze with. One of the most impressive aspects of Thad Vogler's new project is the fact that he has completely eliminated the major distributors from the game. Southern, Pacific and Young's have zero products available on the shelf. No Grey Goose, no Stoli, no Beefeater's, no Patron, no nothing!! In the old days of liquor distribution someone would have definitely "paid them a visit" about such proceedings and it's possible that Bar Agricole would have suffered some "tragic accident" as a result. In today's brave new world, however, it's possible. Just like it's possible to post your own music on the internet and make your own money.
Bar Agricole has great brandies like Dudognon and Duffau instead of Hennessey or Courvasier. They pour St. George's new agricole rums instead of Bacardi or Appleton. I find it amazing that today, because of the path blazed by independent distributors, there is a large enough audience for these underground products to support a full-time nightclub! As far as K&L is concerned, I don't see the need to cut the big guys out of the picture, but they definitely are not our focus. It's important to give people a choice, but also to stick to what you do best. As a specialty boutique kind of store, I find it interesting when people complain about our lack of Jack Daniel's 1.75 liter bottles or the fact that we don't sell Seagram's. There are literally ten stores within a half mile of here that sell these products, so why do you need us for that? At the end of the day, I like the fact that we're a place people can come to for knowledge and information as well as a general passion for booze. A store like K&L would never be possible without the independent suppliers we work with.