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Wednesday
Apr272011

No One Cares

I've been doing a good amount of thinking lately about the merit of awards, achievements, and accolades.  People are always searching for a way to display their accomplishments, vendors are constantly putting their gold medals on the label, producers never stop talking about points, and some consumers keep bragging about what they've tasted.  There are numerous publications available now that are calling this period in time the "look at me" generation. Everyone wants to be special and, more importantly, they want you to know it.  The problem with this mentality and the irony of the situation is that NO ONE CARES.

Seriously, no one gives a hoot.  In all honesty, I've found that most people care very little about many things, but they especially zone out when listening to pedantry.  Yap, yap, yap, is all they hear and who can blame them?  If I get asked to pick out a few wines for someone, I have to be very careful about how much information I choose to share.  If I say, "these wines are fantastic," that's about as much as most people want to hear.  They wanted my selection and they got it.  When I start getting into micro-climates, soil types, and the history of the region, many customers begin staring blankly and nodding their head with a zombie-like expression - a sign that I've gone too far.  Touting one's expertise can really annoy people and as one of the less humble people of the world, I've had to learn this the hard way over the years.  The point is, however, that I've learned.  I'm still surprised by how many haven't. 

I've met with numerous liquor salesmen over the last few weeks and lately I've been more than blunt in my interpretation of the market.  "But our tequila won a double gold at the SF Spirits competition! Doesn't that help you sell it?"  No, it doesn't.  You know why?  Because no one cares.  Awards are given by people in the industry to other people in the industry.  Very few people outside the industry even know what the SF Spirits Competition is, and even if they did, they still wouldn't care.  Gold medals fall slightly under the 100 point scale on the list of the least valuable evaluation systems in spirits.

I was browsing a widely-read whisky blog the other day, and the subject was concerning a few new releases that had yet to be made available.  The author was explaining how they tasted and I was excited to get some insight.  Then I read the comments.  The first few responses were from other bloggers who just HAD to let everyone know that they had also tasted these whiskies at some special tasting somewhere.  Guess what, guys?  NO ONE CARES!  I went to the site to read this one person's take, and I don't give two shits if you tasted it last week.  Save the bragging for your Facebook page.  Take a picture in front of every bottle you've ever tasted and post it there (although, I still can't promise you that anyone will care).

I was talking to a friend on the phone the other day and she said, "I don't know why everyone thinks my sister is dumb, I mean, she got her masters in education."  I thought to myself, "your sister IS rather spacey, and as far as the master's degree goes: no one cares!"  As if a master's degree separated smart from dumb, good from bad!  I have a master's degree in German and I usually don't tell anyone because most people say, "Why?" with a frown, rather than "Wow, that must mean you're smart!"  College degrees don't mean you're intelligent, in fact, I'm not sure what they're good for these days.  Chris Rock dropped out of high school, I think, and if you've ever listened to his stand up comedy, that man is a genius!

You know what most people care about? Taste, fun, and enjoyment.  Awards, accreditation, and accomplishments might make you feel good about yourself, but they don't make you fun nor do they make you enjoyable.  If you want people to like you, be nice and don't bore them by talking about how awesome you are.  That goes for people and for booze. 

-David Driscoll

Reader Comments (19)

Nice rant! I like the fire. ; )

Seriously, great points David. It's certainly a me, me, me world out there. And if I'm 100% honest, there is no doubt that I succumb to this type of crap from time to time. Hell I do a blog about whiskey and write/video reviews and other such stuff. It's nice to remember that at the end of the day it's all about what tastes great and the fantastic stuff people are putting in the bottle, not the ribbons on the outside......or the fact that I can cross it off my list before you.

Cheers!

-jason

April 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJason Pyle

Jason - even though you do a video blog with you in it, in my book you're the one guy who can get away with it. You're just too damn nice (and remember that's what makes people like you!) Keep up the good work

April 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

Yikes. Feeling cynical lately I see. I'm totally on board with the gold medals. Given the farce that passes for most spirits competitions, these are particularly silly adverts, though I've certainly seen consumers in stores taking it into account. And you're absolutely right that no one likes silly bragging about all the thousand dollar whiskeys you've tried or how important you are. But it pains me to hear your story about being cautious about giving too much information to consumers. I do get it, and as a salesperson, you are undoubtedly right that most customers probably don't want a dissertation (or masters thesis- and I DO think it's cool that you have a masters in German), and it's a turn off and could cost you business. The sad flip side though, is that for the minority of us who do want the full benefit of a purveryor's knowledge, we lose out because nobody else cares. I've found that your experience is similar to those of many other purveyors, so that when I go to buy cheese or fish or a cut of meat, I sort of have to send subtle clues to get the salesperson to open up. Weird medals are one thing, but having a knowledgeable monger is another. If I wanted a brainless automaton to take my order, I'd go to BevMo.

And I think education is important too. Sam Simmons, the Balvenie Rep, was a doctoral student studying Ezra Pound and modernist literary aesthetics. And know, he doesn't going around touting the fact, and surely his clients don't care, but I like to know people's interests and I like talking to smart, well-rounded people (which isn't a matter of what degrees you have, but they can be a good measure).

April 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersku

Well, I'm not talking about you Steve! What I mean is that you should only give people the amount of info they desire. I want to hear what people think about whisky and what they know about it, but only when I am in the mood. You need to be aware of what it is they want to know, and make sure they want to know it. Nothing is worse than listening to someone go on and on about something when you never asked them about it in the first place.

I also figured it had been a while since we did a good rant on here :)

April 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

David, really, who cares about your rant? ;)

I will tell you as a consumer that double-gold this, gold that, are so incredibly meaningless to me. It really seems like it's the participation trophy these days, because there's hardly a shelf talker that doesn't celebrate some award the whisky has won.

Honestly, for me, third party tasting notes tend to go a long way if I'm interested in a blind pick off the shelf. In that respect, Wally's here in LA is nice if I want to go down the totally blind pick route, so I can at least try and strike the mood (and, given that I'm at Wally's in this example, subsequently pay about 15% too much). Producer notes are just ridiculous; they're either flowery or ignoring a bigger elephant in the room.. (yeah, it's sweet with notes of citrus and dried fruits, but it ultimately tastes like Ferdinand Magellan's shorts...)

-RC

April 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRegularChumpington

Right! Who really cares! Seriously! I mean you guys care because you came here to read it, and I care about what you have to say, but if you sat down with your friends tonight and said, "OH MAN! I read this rant today by this guy David, and he started calling out people in the whisky industry...." you'd have everyone glossy-eyed and bored in 2 seconds!

SKU - your key phrase on degrees "he doesn't go around touting this fact." That's the issue. If you use it as the reason why you are special, then I probably don't want to be your friend. People need to be more than just their title or position. They need to be fun and interesting beyond their achievements!

April 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterDavid Driscoll

David, agreed that no one likes a blow-hard or a braggart. In terms of the sales, I'd be interested to know how you judge if you're talking to someone who cares about the micro-climates of the particular region or someone who just wants a recommendation and then wants to get the hell out of the store. Do you always err on the side of the latter until you have evidence of the former? You guys probably do a better job of catering to the spirit geek crowd than almost any other store, so you must have some way to figure out who wants you to geek-out and who doesn't.

Oh and for some reason, the one place that I feel like they always assume you are a massive geek and want the maximum amount of information is high end espresso bars, and yeah, I occasionally do find it obnoxious.

April 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersku

SKU- basically you just nailed it. If someone wants more info you go with it, but you let them ask. Don't want to overwhelm anyone. Surprisingly enough the time when I really have to hold back is when I'm doing an educational tasting. People come to you to learn about whisky, but they didn't realize how much they didn't know, and now that they've found out they're not interested in knowing anymore! :) If they really want to geek out I send them to the blog or put them on the email list.

April 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

When i first started 3 years ago, I sent out samples here and there for tasting notes, recommendations, points, accolades you name it...then I went on doing some big trendy consumer events. Along the way I have also sponsored a couple silent auctions as well. And in the end well...I came to the conclusion it was totally useless. A waste of my time, a waste of my money, a waste of samples. Competition helps the people who are putting them together make a little money; it also help the producer of this basil cupcake infused vodka 37 times distilled - I need somebody to explain me how one can distill many times using a coffey still btw - that the world so badly needed make the project looks legit.
Medals and points end up being seen as a ploy to help sell something that might not be so great (after all if it was really good, it would need medals), and rightly so.

Providing real, no BS knowledge to the consumer and letting him/her taste: there is nothing above it.
And if one is asked about more specific things ref the product, one should (be able to) satisfy the consumer's needs, with balance - like a good spirit - adjusting to one's interlocutor's expectations.

Being humble and honest is key cause no company, no man, no product is irreplaceable (even more so in our business).

April 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNP

Nicolas! I just met up with the most respected distributor in CA last week and he said the same thing. They don't send their products in for the medal competitions, to the magazines to get rated, or to the writers to get reviewed. They only taste the people in the liquor stores so that they can hand sell it if necessary. We'll be taking the same approach with all of our casks from Scotland and with your cask of Cognac we're buying. No need to get it reviewed and rewarded - we already know it's good and our customers trust us!

April 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterDavid Driscoll

anyone read the february wine spectator single malt "guide"?

time to give D2 a group hug.....keep it going. no rant = boring!

April 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpaul

I think I was in the store on Monday when one of these conversations took place. Something about how cartons of Patron would sell and none of the dude's tequila would sell despite getting *random* award at *random* competition. Generally people come in and they already know what they want. They window shop for a while, but then they pick up their bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label and they walk back to the register. Newer single malt drinkers may be the one small-subset bucking the trend...We're constantly reading blogs like this for op/ed updates and tasting notes for new/rare expressions. Even so, the sngle-malt crowd is tiny compared to the rest of the market...the people who only drink Black Label, Crown, Patron or Belvedere...

Awards might make a small difference with online sales when you can filter your searches with them. Joe Blow surfs to BevMo with no idea what he's looking for. He wants a chardonnay, but that's all he's really sure of. One of the first things he might do is click on the side-menu to only show chardonnay, and then only the ones that rated 90+ in Awesome Winefest 2010 Competition...

April 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEugene

Eugene - Right on: the single malt crowd is small. Every niche hobby group is not a representation of real life. Hence the theme. If you go to a party an start waxing about the mash bill of your drink, people are going to start moving away from you rather quickly.

April 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

Eugene brings-up an interesting point about the relationship between bullshit accolades and online shopping. Those of us old enough to have geeked-out on whiskies before the emergence of online stores can attest that no one (well, most people) gave a crap about spirits awards and numerical ratings 'back-in-the-day'. Previously, you established a relationship with a helpful brick-and-mortar purveyor and he/she got the credit (and your return business) for listening to your wants and turning you onto something fabulous. Now that Internet-based tasting experts have savvily overwhelmed the space that local spirits proprietors once occupied, I can see how a newly-minted whisky enthusiast could feverishly over-analyze purchases (brand experiences) online and then subvert the comment fields of social media sites to validate wasted anxieties. Which, in a world so thoroughly dominated by misfortune and want, is a decidedly shallow testament of the times.

April 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRN

RN - that was an awesome response. Just awesome.

April 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

Okay, I definitely hear everything you guys are saying about medals and points. Just to take the opposite view for a sec...what suggestions would you give to someone who is interest in a new category of spirits (let's say, whiskies from the non-Big 5 countries?) or is maybe interested in what some of these newer US micro-distilleries are putting out there. How do they make purchase decisions and guard against buying a complete lemon of a spirit? I'd argue that even if spirits competitions are flawed, it would feel safer to put down $40 on something that won a double gold medal over something that didn't. Even if it doesn't amaze...at least you'd be reasonably confident that it wouldn't suck. So long as you understand the limitations of competitions/medals/points as flawed systems, I think you can still get some value out of them. As a consumer.

Get cher flaaaaaaaaaaaaamethrowers out!

April 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDai

Dai - that's the whole point. A medal still doesn't mean that it doesn't suck. There are PLENTY of sucky spirits out there with medals, just like there are plenty of stupid people out there with PhDs.

I think the only way is to go to tastings and try for yourself. Or find a reviewer who likes what you like and listen to them i.e. John Hansell, Paul Pacult, etc.

April 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

I can't say I've bought something just because it's gotten a medal or a high score. Someone told me early on that it's bull. Going to tastings and trying for yourself, or finding a reviewer that you like are good ideas, but I think slightly more casual spirits drinkers aren't going to go to those lengths. It's not always easy to find out about tastings/events, and it's an investment in time to do extensive research on reviewers and match them up to your tastes. I guess that's their loss.

I think the smart thing to do is to never count on one piece of information. Cross-check it with other data points. Hey, I'm interested in trying Irish whiskies. Redbreast touts a medal on their packaging, that's cool. Oh hey, I like and respect John Hansell. He named it his Irish whiskey of the year, neat. Let's do some research, oh hey, almost everyone who reviews it online had good things to say. Okay, that gives me enough points of reference where I can go out and feel like I'm getting a solid product. Then I can make my own decision about whether I like it, and recalibrate the amount of weight I give to those data points.

May not work for lesser known products, you'll have a scarce amount of data points to consider.

April 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDai

That's a good idea too. The more you know....

April 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

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