The Test of Time

I'm pretty sure I've written about this story before, but I don't feel like digging back into the archives right now, so I'm just going to write about it again. When I was a kid I had (and I still have) a friend who was exceptionally good at sports. Not just any sports, mind you, but the big ones: baseball, basketball, and football. He made each of our high school teams effortlessly and was a star forward for our championship basketball squad. His brother, while hoping to follow in these same footsteps, was not as gifted. No matter how hard he practiced, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't live up to the self-imposed expectations of his older sibling and it was very difficult for him to handle. How did he deal with it, you ask? By searching out sports and activities that few others were participating in at that time, which—by default—he instantly became the best at. In-line roller hockey. Junior rugby. These weren't sports many kids were interested in back in Modesto circa-1992. While my friend's brother managed to excel at a few of these side-sports, he became equally dismayed when no one seemed to care. The problem for him was that, unless you played one of the big three sports (or maybe soccer as well), it didn't really matter how good you were at anything else. My friend's dad was a huge sports fan, and was notorious for his sideline antics at games. What this kid really wanted deep down inside was for his dad to be as proud of his own achievements as he was of his older brother's. But.....let's be excited can you really get watching ten kids wobble around on roller blades, tripping all over one another, chasing a rubber ball around a tennis court for the very first time in their lives?

I see a similar phenomenon in the wine and spirits world all the time. People get tired of competing with other drinkers for their beloved beverages, so they switch to something less popular. It doesn't always scratch the same itch, unfortunately. We know who the big players are in the wine world: Bordeaux and California cabernet (and pinot noir to a lesser extent). We know who the big players are in the spirits game: Scotch and Bourbon. There's a reason the biggest stars within these coveted categories demand the prices they do. There's a reason the prices for your favorite beverages continue to rise. Let's put this into perspective, shall we?

There's a reason a court-side seat for a Warriors game will cost you $1200 or more, while a front row field seat for the Earthquakes (our MLS soccer team) will run you only $140. 

There's a reason a premium club seat for a San Francisco Giants game will cost you $175, while a premium ticket for our now-extinct professional lacrosse team (the Dragons) was about $15.

It's for the same reason that the bottle of 1982 Château Margaux I sold to a gentleman in the Redwood City store last night cost $700, while the incredible old Rioja I sold to another customer was under $100. 

It has to do with enthusiasm. Excitement. Belief. Or, as we call it in the business world: demand. It's the difference between an experience regarded by millions as rewarding, and one that's considered great by merely a few. That's not to say that one is better than the other, or that there's a pure qualitative difference that can be effectively analyzed. It's not an apples-to-apples analogy, nor is it an apples-to-oranges analogy either. It's only to say that a shit load of people want to go see Steph Curry hit fifty foot three pointers, just like a similar number of folks wanted to watch Barry Bonds jack 600 foot homers back in 2001. Hundreds of thousands of paying customers from all over the world are interested in experiencing that. These are the feats and accomplishments that our society values over others. These are the human skills and abilities that people will pay to see. 

As I was looking at other rare Bordeaux bottles with my 1982 Margaux customer last night, I learned that he was a newcomer to the genre looking to discover what the fuss was all about. I told him he might want to try a few of these bottles before going much deeper. "It would be a pity if you got home and popped all these big guns, only to discover you don't like old wine," I said.

"I'm not worried," he said with confidence. "These wines have stood the test of time for a reason. I want to understand why that's the case."

I knew exactly what he meant.

-David Driscoll 


More Comparative Lit

While over at On the Trail this morning hoping to explain "second wines" in Bordeaux to those folks who think fine claret is just for old rich people, I started thinking about how Bourbon drinkers already understand this concept quite well. In fact, the Bourbon industry does such a good job with its "second whiskies" that many of them are quite hard to find. Second wines in Bordeaux are like baby versions of the grand vin, made from the property's same fruit, but sold at more reasonable prices. Sometimes they're composed of grapes from younger vines deemed not quite yet mature enough to star in the big show. Much like people search out Weller 107 because they can't afford (or even find) the William LaRue, I've spent the last year going through all the second wines of Bordeaux because I absolutely cannot afford to spend $200+ a bottle for the big guns. 

Look at that old K&L ad I found! 1984 d'Issan was $11.50 a bottle. The current 2012 release will run you more than sixty. You could get a half case of 1986 Pichon Lalande at K&L back then for less than the price of a single bottle today! For those of you who missed the glory days of whiskey back in the mid-2000s when Pappy was plentiful and we had to try and convince people to buy the Black Maple Hill 23 year old rye, know that many of us also missed the glory days of Bordeaux. I listen to my older colleagues talk all the time about how they could buy Mouton for $25 back then. However, as one of my colleagues pointed out to me this week, the winemaking in the Médoc has improved so much since that it's likely some of the lesser appreciated vintages (like 2012 and 2014 recently) would have been considered legendary back in the seventies and eighties. In his mind, it's entirely possible that some of the modern vintages are leaps and bounds beyond some of the older ones, but it's tough to know for sure (nor do I really care, actually, because I wasn't there and I'm not trying to live in the past).

For those of you who (like me) want to live in the now and enjoy what's here in front of us, I've put together a list of some pretty serious seconds; wines that overachieve in every way and hold up favorably next to their big brothers. I know you're probably going to drink a fancy bottle of whiskey this Sunday in celebration of the holidays, but you should definitely have a nice bottle of claret, too. If you're looking to expand your Bordeaux knowledge, the second wines are a great place to start. 

-David Driscoll


Believe In Your Own God

It's pretty much impossible for anyone who loves music to pick their all-time favorite song (just like it's tough for whisky drinkers to pick their favorite whisky), but if pressed I might choose the above 90's buzz bin jam "Believe" by Dig. It represents an incredibly emotional connection to a formative time in my life. I never get tired of listening to Scott Hackwith's grungy anthem about the perils of mass culture, and the desire for people to be themselves, chanting out: "we won't buy in their deception now, we won't buy what is on our plate now." This minor hit came out during my summer of metamorphosis. I was thirteen, growing out of my mainstream shoes, and looking for an alternative to the norm (of course, we all thought we were "alternative" back then). This song was my secret mantra. I would play it endlessly in my room, looking out my window at the Modesto summer sun, wondering about what else might be in store for me. I didn't know anyone else who liked Dig back then. I still don't know anyone who likes (or liked) Dig. It was my own personal touchstone and it remains so today because of that loneliness.

Of course, Dig never evolved beyond MTV's afternoon airplay. That was their ultimate limitation because that one outlet was the extent of their access. No one was blogging about Dig back then because blogs didn't exist. No one was Facebooking about it either. No one was Instagramming about Dig. No one was holding up a cell phone at a Dig concert, blocking the view of the people behind them, ruining the experience for the others around them, hoping to digitize the experience to showcase to others instead of actually experiencing it. The only way you could display your musical tastes back in the nineties was to wear a T-shirt of your favorite band. MTV and Rolling Stone were practically the only outposts. Because of those limitations, a secret could remain a secret among loyalists. An underground sensation could remain underground so long as the record companies never caught wind. Every now and then, however; something would break. I felt bad for the Seattle-born kids who privately loved Nirvana from the start. Their local band went from accessible to utterly untouchable, but that wasn't their fault. That was the result of the media's obsession. The industry was looking for new blood. They wanted desperately to uncover the next big thing—the new secret. Contrast that, however, with today's obsession with whiskey; a relatively consumer-driven phenomenon that has completely outrun the mainstream press and penetrated just about every corner of the digital age: from blogs, to Facebook, to Instagram, to Reddit, to Twitter, and beyond. People are constantly talking about whiskey, taking photos of their whiskies, categorizing the good whiskies, trashing the bad whiskies, ranking the whiskies, arguing about whisky, soliloquizing about whisky—all because they can't get enough whisky! Unlike when I was growing up, if you want to get into a hobby today there's a 24/7 online network of places where you can access and communicate with other enthusiasts like yourself.

Surprisingly, however, I hear some of these same online participants complaining about how their favorite dram is no longer obtainable and how the whiskey market is too crowded these days. It's getting too expensive. It's too popular. Whiskey has jumped the shark! Much like with the original Nirvana fans of the nineties, I feel bad for the guys who just wanted to drink their single barrel Elmer T. Lee and live in peace outside the scope of social media. It's not their fault that tens of thousands of whiskey drinkers began using digital media as a way to share their love of whiskey, dragging down their personal favorite brand as a sacrificial lamb. But for the people complaining today about the implications of mass consumption and global hysteria as it pertains to whiskey, I think some of those guys have to look in the mirror. If you're constantly writing about whisky, taking photos of whisky, talking about your favorite whiskies, ranking your favorite whiskies, and making lists of what's good and what isn't, then there's little room to complain about any of the market's current fluctuations. I mean...what the fuck did you think was going to happen? Did you think spending every free moment you had sharing photos of your Van Winkle collection with the world was going to help keep demand low, supplies ample, and prices affordable? Did you think telling thousands of readers about your brand new discovery was the best way to keep this hobby under your hat? Come on!

Through an incredible and widespread collective effort, the internet has created an easy-to-follow road map to instant connoisseurship with an overall readership that professional publications like the Whisky Advocate and Whisky Bible could only dream of! The combined contributions of uncounted collectors has ranked and rated what's worth drinking on a level that I don't think we'll ever really appreciate. Personally, I think it's absolutely incredible!! What a feat! But, then again, I'm not complaining about the outcome. I like seeing more people get into whiskey. I'm enjoying the growth. I don't really give a shit about what I can't get these days because it's not as if we're running out of good things to drink at K&L. I can always find something tasty and affordable if I want to, and the participation of new drinkers is only fueling our ability to dig deeper. It's funny though: the same people who have collectively donated millions of dollars of free advertising to the whiskey industry through unpaid blogging and social media posts, consciously or unconsciously helping to spread the word and sustain the whiskey boom, are often the most sarcastic and sardonic about the outcome. Ironically enough, it's their very participation in this medium that has helped carry the torch!

If people actually wanted to increase the availability of aged Bourbon, Japanese whisky, and fine Scotch, they would completely withdraw from the internet; no photos, no posts, no tweets, no comments—no nothing. If you want people to forget about something it's probably not a good idea to constantly remind them of what's happening on Twitter. But where's the fun in that? How can we impress and impart our beliefs onto others without constantly sharing and bragging about them? In the song "Believe," Dig singer Scott Hackwith asks: "Why won't you look all around yourself, try to live in your own special life?" Back in 1993, I curled up in a ball on my bedroom floor and thought about that line over and over. I never dreamed of sharing my thoughts or opinions about that private musical experience with the masses because it was a personal and internal struggle. "Why don't you believe in your own God?" he continues to chant over and over as the song builds to a final crescendo. Today, however, everyone has the ability to share their beliefs with thousands, if not millions, of other people with the simple push of a button. We love telling people what's good, what we think, and what they should do with that advice. The masses eventually comply, and we continue to preach.

And the market responds to that collective effort in turn. 

-David Driscoll


Cold War Frost Thinning

While we wait patiently for the Cuban embargo restrictions to ease up and for the impending war between Pernod-Ricard and Bacardi over who gets to use the "Havana Club" brand name to heat up, I invite you to check out the second batch of our impeccable 17 year old edition of Faultline "Caribbean rum, a dynamic distillate that offers the best of both worlds: the richness and vanilla-laden flavors of Spanish style rums with the ester-driven fruit and funk notes of the Caribbean pot still character. This little number from Sancti Spiritus has something for everyone, from cocktail drinkers, to Tiki fans, to whisky nerds, to people who just want to drink something new and interesting. It's full of cola, and fruit, and earth, and loads of rummy cane character. I'm pretty excited to have this back in volume. We're getting ready to send the email offer out shortly, so I'm also excited to see how the public responds to this. I'd like to continue building our rum department around interesting and value-oriented selections like this, slowly and methodically. It would be great to see a wider audience for fun stuff like this at K&L. If you don't feel like buying a whole bottle, you can head over to Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco for a pour. I hooked Martin and the gang up with a few bottles for the back bar. 

1998 Faultline 17 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Caribbean Rum $79.99

-David Driscoll


New French Brandy Arrivals

After watching our store get utterly decimated yesterday, I was about to give way to despair and succumb to the all-encompassing madness of the holiday season, but then I saw a lone figure in the distance. Suddenly, I had a feeling of hope. He was tall and handsome, carrying what looked to be a large box of supplies. An aura surrounded him and he seemed to bring light to where there was once only a growing darkness. Who was this heavenly figure coming to rescue us in our hour of need? Why, it was my friend Charles Neal who quickly swooped in to save our struggling French spirits shelf just when all was beginning to seem lost. Now instead of an empty and picked-over selection of leftovers, I've got a beaming, full, and exciting presentation of new Cognacs and Armagnacs from Raymond Ragnaud, Jacques Esteve, Baraillon, Ognoas, and Maouhum! We're fully stocked and ready for you today. I'm going in to work extra hours today and tomorrow, so come on by if you're interested in looking at these new arrivals. Weekends? Who needs time off in the middle of holiday shopping? Not me!

I've got the breakdown over at On the Trail this morning. I think all you whiskey drinkers will want to snatch up the 28 year old Baraillon folle blanche edition, ASAP.

-David Driscoll