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Friday
Feb182011

Podcast #7 - David D and David OG Break It Down

No special guest this week, just the D squared talking smack about the whisk(e)y world.  We discuss the price of young whisk(e)y, the raging attitudes on the blogosphere, and what constitutes the price of booze in today's society.  Hopefully it's just engaging enough to keep your attention and not offensive enough to turn you off of K&L. 

Todays episode can be downloaded here.  Previous episodes are archived here and available on iTunes.

You can also listen in via our embedded Flash player below:

-David Driscoll

Reader Comments (12)

Wow! Great discussion. A few comments from the peanut gallery:


1. Young whisky. It's not about age, it's about quality. I agree that there is nothing inherently wrong with young whisky. I've had some great young whiskies; I've paid a lot for them. I thought the Kilchoman was good not great, but worth trying. You can complain about the price (and while the initial prices I saw for it were high, I think it's hard to say that what they are charging now is too far out of bounds), but the distillery isn't touting it as anything other than what it is, which is young whisky, so the consumer should have sufficient information to make a decision about buying it. What bugs me is when a new distillery (1) bottles its new make at a premium price and then overhypes it as something more than the first damn thing that fell off the still; or (2) bottles someone else's whisky and implies that it's their own "hand crafted, small batch, artisinally made" home brew. As consumers, we expect honesty, and we need it if we are going to make intelligent decisions about how to spend our money.

2. Kilchoman. As I said, I think it's decent, but not great. I wouldn't recommend it to a whisky novice, and probably wouldn't pay for my own bottle, but I would encourage serious whisky folk to give it a try, buy one for their club or split a bottle. The fact is that three years is just really young for Scotch whisky, and it tastes that way. I think they are quite promising and will probably make some great whisky in the future. Also, to be fair, on the WDJK post, while there was some silliness, most people seemed to think Kilchoman was a good choice.

3. Prices. It's a company's right to charge whatever they want but it's a consumer's right to complain about it. I understand that distilleries need to make a profit and it's hard to do, but as a consumer, I have limited funds and want to use them wisely. If I pay $100, I want to feel like it was money well spent, and I have every right to tell my fellow consumers if I think it was not. After all, how else are consumers going to learn how to spend their money than by reviews and word of mouth that assess whether a given product is worth the money. And the "it's captialism - that's how it is" argument works both ways. I'm a consumer, not a credit union for small businesses; I don't care how hard the business is and I don't want to hear sob stories about how much you spent on your distillery or how hard it's been to make ends meet. I care about getting good product, and if I pay a lot and feel that the product is of poor quality (which is different than I just didn't care for it), I'm going to be pissed and have every right to say so. It doesn't help anyone for us to treat poor products with kid gloves because we feel sorry for them. That being said, if a company is being honest and not overhyping its product, I don't think there is any reason to get on a high horse about it. If someone asked me, I would say that Kilchoman is worth trying, but maybe not at the price it's being offered. If someone asked me about one of the aforementioned new makes that is overhyping itself, I would say that they are full of shit and you should stay away from them.

4. Marketing. Buffalo Trace and Ardbeg are marketing masters who cater to an afficionado crowd. They both use special releases and a perceived scarcity to market their products (sometimes to a silly/annoying extent), they both market some young whisky (though I should point out that this year's GTStagg was 17.5 yo, not 12), but the main selling point is that they make very high quality products. In the end, you can do all the marketing you want, but there is simply no substitute for good product.

Anyway, good show and I look forward to more.

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersku

SKU! Wickedly awesome comment! Thank you for taking the time to type that. I still take issue with the "bank" attitude however. If you don't want to support it, fine, but do you take issue with the fact that other people do? WDJK was not the only other place I've read comments from people who can't get over that point. On top of spirits blogs, there are many emails I've received and in store conversations I've engaged in where people constitute the attitude that they shouldn't have to pay to support a distillery. My point is: DON'T. But is it ridiculous for a good distillery to ask that people do? I don't think it is. People ask me for money all the time and I either give it to them or I don't. However, I don't go on a widely-read blog and say, "Stupid Doctors Without Borders is asking me for money again! Why in the heck would I pay $70 to help these guys out?" I don't like it when people "speak for consumers" because I'm a consumer and I don't agree with you. I don't necessarily want great whisky at a great price. It's not my personal top priority. I want interesting whisky, and if you want to charge me $70 for it, that's your right. I pay higher prices for chicken because I want it free range. I pay higher prices for vegetables because I want them to be organic. I pay higher prices for whisky if the distillery is not owned by a giant corporation because I think it's awesome that the little guys can get it done.

One quote on WDJK reads:

"Now imagine if I convince everyone to not buy another single malt. That distillery will be forced to lower the price."

To me that's not just complaining about price, that's trying to convince me that I shouldn't like it either.

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

David, as a rule, I only speak for myself, and I would never criticize someone else for buying or not buying something, but I do recommend whiskies that I enjoy and I will reserve the right to criticize those that I think are not priced fairly for their quality.

I don't have any problem with paying a premium for a small distillery that can't take advantage of the economies of scale that are available at large distilleries; that is as it should be. I do have a problem with people (and I'm not saying you are doing this) telling me that I should hold my criticism of quality or price because the product is from a small distillery.

"I don't necessarily want great whisky at a great price." Really? Maybe that should be the K&L slogan ;) I think it depends how you define "great." I like tasting new things, good, bad or middling, but I don't want to pay a premium for a crappy whiskey. That doesn't seem too controversial to me.

As I said, I'm not a bank and distilleries aren't charities. I buy something if I want to taste it. If I want to help people, then I'll donate to Doctors without Borders.

And like you, I also pay more for farmers market vegetables and free range chicken and locally roasted coffee and bean to bar chocolate...because they taste better. I'm happy to support family farms and small producers by doing this, but if their products sucked, I wouldn't do it.

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersku

I think we state pretty clearly in the podcast that there are plenty of bad whiskies that do not merit this support. No one is arguing against criticizing whisky including us. However, I don't think anyone would call Kilchoman a bad whisky, so that's not really relevant here. They obviously won the award for best artisan whisky, so no one is asking you or others to pay to support bad whisky. Yet, there are still plenty of people who will not support Kilchoman because of the price and the age. And YES for me personally getting the best value for my money isn't foremost. Brora is a terrible value, yet that's what I prefer to drink. Springbank, my favorite distillery, is also a terrible value compared to other whiskies of similar age and quality. Ardbeg 10 is a fantastic value (and when we get it down to $39.99 will be an insane value) but I don't really ever feel like drinking it.

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

Jeez, tell us what you really think.

This ironic, banal, Van Winkle fan offers-up a bit of counterpersuasion for your perusal:

From the Buffalo Trace Oral History Project, developed by the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries. April 20, 2010 interview with Julian Van Winkle III.

"We (Old Rip Van Winkle) are basically still using the Weller recipe. Our barrels, again, are stored in a different area than the Weller, so you're gonna have a little different product at the end of the day. And our relationship also, with Buffalo Trace, is we, Preston and I, get the pick of the best of the barrels. We have first pick of the wheated whiskey, so obviously we taste every barrel before we bottle it. So we'll pick our group of barrels that we want; if there are any dogs in that bunch of whiskey barrels we'll just throw those out and they (Buffalo Trace) may use them in another product, or a Weller product, or whatever they so choose to do. But we get the first pick of all that (wheated) production. "

That information is readily and publicly available here:
http://www.nunncenter.org/buffalotrace/2010/08/12/julian-van-winkle-iii/

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRN

RN,

That is an interesting tidbit that I'd never heard from the horse's mouth. I think we may have been a little harsh on the VW because it's a little too easy. Anyone who has tried both the weller and van winkle know that there is a significant difference there in terms of quality. What I think I meant to imply is that the inputs are essentially the same. Clearly there is some serious selection going on, but the COG should be pretty close. Having the van winkles so closely involved with the selection of the whiskey makes a big difference and should justify a price disparity to even the harshest critic. What that disparity should be is governed by the market and since I can't keep the stuff in stock for more then 30 seconds I'd say the market has spoke. Thanks for the comment.

February 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid OG

David OG,

Thanks for the response. And I understand that you guys probably had not heard that, and that you were speaking off-the-cuff. But the Van Winkles are just as serious about cask selection and blending as "the little guys," that these blog discussions are so passionate about raising the profile of. In several of these podcasts--such as those featuring John Glaser and Neyah White--David D has expressed the importance of acknowledging the unheralded effort, and the important dynamics behind, cask selection and blending... the genuine heavy lifting (not merely distillation and ingredients) that goes into any whisky's unique flavor profile. A point that I strongly agree with. But to praise all the so-called, "little guys," and then dismiss the exact same efforts at work behind a privately owned high-profile brand while citing marketing, or hysterical customers... that seems unauthentic. So while I agree that the Van Winkle brand garners more than its fair share of off-putting frenzied enthusiasm; to take a set of inaccurate assumptions and completely surrogate them for whatever is actually behind the Van Winkle's justifications for pricing in relation to their costs of goods, while arguing that the "little guy" deserves a pricing pass, smacks of subjective interest. There is no irony in supporting what Julian and Preston are doing, even if their partnership with The Sazerac Company disqualifies them from being romantically esoteric, artisan, or "little."

February 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRN

RN

I agree that to give one a pass and indicate another is unfair, but I don't think that's at all what we were saying. The fact we presented is that the Weller 12 and the Van Winkle 12 are both 12 year old products made by Buffalo Trace. My point is that the same people who complain about Kilchoman are the same people who DON'T complain about this type of disparity. OTHER people give the Van Winkles the benefit of the doubt, while doubting the efforts of the little guys. I have no problem paying $50 for Van Winkle products, but I don't understand why the guys complaining about every nickel and dime seem to forget about the obvious examples. The little guys NEED the benefit of the doubt.

February 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

David D,

I agree with your distaste for all the disparaging vitriol against the prices of some up-and-coming distilleries. Some of their commentary borders on irrational. And I agree that some of the phony marketing shenanigans typical of bigger distilleries get a complete pass from the very same folks. And those are not polar, or binary, issues... there is a multivoice of shady gray natterers with bones to pick lurking about those sites. Also, just as I have no objection to Buffalo Trace selling Weller and Van Winkle from the same spigot and allowing the Van Winkles to charge more for their attentive babysitting; I have no objection to Kilchoman (or any other proprietor facing market realities) pricing their products as they require. But it did not seem to me that all you and David OG were appealing to is the fact that Weller and Van Winkle share DNA. The appeal called into question whom gets a pricing pass and why; and the implication was that the Van Winkles are primarily beneficiaries of Buffalo Trace's marketing and opaque answers to inquiries about the differences between Weller and Van Winkle. Except that Julian himself is out there explaining the differences to anyone who'll listen. So that appeal didn't seem terribly persuasive.

Look, I support K&L, I love this Blog, and I agree the attack on Kilchoman pricing is ridiculous. But even if your narrative concerning need-based artisanal pricing is 100% valid--and it may be--it's still not the kind of narrative that any artisanal distiller seems in a hurry to get out-in-front of themselves: "So good highly evolved consumers do our dirty work!" Now that's harsh, but my point is maybe the toughest part of bringing even the most well crafted spirits to market is creating a strong, cohesive mythology (brand, hustle, etc.) that persuades a multitude of purchasers in such an eclectic, capricious market. Maybe insane quality born of tireless hands-on effort and passion falls a bit short when nobody besides folks like you are sharing their stories. Maybe bigger voices in the spirits blogosphere are doing these folks a disservice by idly allowing their commenting mignons to tear craft whiskies to shreds on their blogs. I don't know. But I do know that effective marketing is just as integral to artisanal survival as elbow grease, second mortgages, and uncompromising quality. Yet I don't hear many of those artisans defending the narrative of their own craft... which could make the case for their pricing without even addressing pricing. Brand loyalty may be dead, but unfortunately marketing is not.

February 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRN

RN

That's interesting that you felt that way from the podcast. I don't really feel like Pappy Van Winkle benefits that much from Buffalo Trace's marketing. I feel that the Van Winkle whiskies benefit from the misinformation spread by other websites and producers. If you go to Straight Bourbon you'll see multiple threads of conversations about Van Winkle, with everyone claiming to know what it actually is. As soon as one person says they know the real story, another person chimes in to prove them wrong. In any case, the point is that I'll have to be more careful about how I word things because I didn't at all mean to say what you think I said. When I re-listened to it I was hearing what I was thinking rather than taking another point into view.

On a separate note, I would never question your fondness towards K&L or love of our blog because you wanted to disagree with me or call us out! I love that you took the time to comment and voice your opinion because it makes me stop and think about things. I've been thinking about your first comment all day!

My next blog article is going to be about the lack of perceptible humor or lightheartedness in text. You can't see that I'm smiling when I type all these comments, but I am. If you read only the words it all sounds like a bad-natured argument.

Please, please keep pointing out the things we don't get right.

February 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

David D,

Ah... you're right that I wasn't considering the buffoonery that goes on at Straight Bourbon... at all. I try not to consider Straight Bourbon as often as possible. I interpreted the discussion as analyzing why enthusiast have no problem with Buffalo Trace/Van Winkles seeming tight-lipped about two similar products with very different prices, but those same enthusiast severely chastise craft distillers for the relationship between the price and age of their products. And in that scenario I disagreed that the Van Winkles are really all that hush-hush about their partnership with Buffalo Trace.

Glad to know you (and David OG) have fun with these discussion. And these podcasts have been sincerely interesting.

February 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRN

"Girls, girls ! You're both pretty!"
- Roxanne Ritchie (T.Fey) "Megamind"

Snagged St.Geo apple finish. Superb buy.

Let's talk about the real cost problem: price of shipping.

May 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermorlock

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