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Tuesday
Aug292017

Peat on the Horizon

First off, let me say thanks to everyone who bought an overpriced bottle of rare American Bourbon yesterday to help our fellow Americans in need. I went over to our accounting department after all was said and done and we put in for $5000 on the Red Cross Harvey relief site, so hopefully it makes even the slightest difference. They're calling Harvey worse than Katrina at this point and there's still more rain on the way. I wanted to also point out that if you text the word "HARVEY" to the number 90999 on your phone, you can add a $10 donation to the Red Cross as part of your phone bill. It's pretty easy. They ask you if you want to confirm and then you text them your billing zip code. If I come across any other rare bottles that I think could raise more funds, I'll continue to post them here and we'll continue donating as that happens.

For those of you looking to get out of the house next week, let me invite you over to the Redwood City store on Friday, September 8th from 4 to 6:30 PM where you can meet Kilchoman owner and founder Anthony Willis, taste a dram of the new limited cask strength edition of Machir Bay, purchase your own bottle in advance of the release, and even have him sign it! How much will the tasting cost you? Nothing, of course, because we can't charge for spirits tastings per CA law. So if you're donating all your extra money to the Red Cross right now, here's something fun you can do on the cheap (unless you buy a bottle of the Machir Bay, in which case you'll need about seventy bucks). It's pretty delicious whisky and it's one of the better Kilchoman releases I've tasted in years. 

Starting tomorrow we should also have our first bottles of the Port Askaig 110 Proof Islay whisky, a brand that—as far as I know—is the brain child of Sukhinder Singh, the man behind London's legendary Whisky Exchange. As someone who's worked in the industry for quite some time, he's been able to continuously source single malt from Port Askaig (or Caol Ila, in the case of this particular batch, for those unfamiliar with your Islay ports) and run a very successful portfolio with whiskymaker Oliver Chilton, who also helps with the Elements of Islay series, etc. I tasted this yesterday and put my order in. It's a lighter Caol Ila than say the standard 12 year edition, but the American oak influence kicks up on the finish and all together it's a pretty enjoyable expression. I've always thought the packaging was top notch, so this should be a nice edition to the shelves. UPDATE: In regards to a few emails I received, I'm aware that Port Askaig bottles whiskies that are not Caol Ila. This however isn't one of them. 

Of course, the real big news dropping in September is Ardbeg's new An Oa expression, set to become the fourth permanent edition on the shelf and the first new full-time release from the distillery in a decade. Let me also tell you this: it's the best new Ardbeg I've tasted since the Uigeadail first came out. No joke. It's really, really, really good. Using whiskies aged in Pedro Ximenez sherry butts, virgin oak casks, and ex-Bourbon barrels, there's a chocolatey richness that sort of coats the edges of the malt, but the chewy center is all brine, sea salt, caramel, and classic Ardbeg smoke. I've tasted it about ten times now and I feel the same way each time I try it. I haven't been this excited about an Ardbeg whisky since my first days on the job at K&L. I like it more than the Corryvreckan, and I also like the estimated retail price of about sixty bucks. We're looking at the middle of the month for our initial allocation, so keep your eyes peeled. If you even remotely like Ardbeg, you'll want a bottle of this. Those who have grown weary of the limited editions will want to take note of the An Oa because it's definitely a return to form. It will remind of you why you fell in love with Islay in the first place. 

-David Driscoll

Monday
Aug282017

Texas Flood Relief - Round Two

Well, that first round lasted about two minutes and while the response was impressive, it's a little bit anticlimactic for me, so let's do another round of charity bottles. I just went and dug around the warehouse and wound up with these babies. Obviously, we're not charging fair market value here as this is for charity. Plus, I goofed on that last post and promised $4000 when I was only going to net $3000 (I thought I had 16 bottles at first). So now I'm on the hook for at least $4000 to the Red Cross, but we're going to exceed that here.

Let's see what happens....

Remember that 100% of all the money here goes to the cause:

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon (1 bottle limit) $69.99

Weller 12 Year Old (1 bottle limit) $99.99 - It will be the new bottle, not the one in the photo.

Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old (1 bottle limit) $1499.99 - Yes, it has the original cloth bag.

Come on! Let's do it for Texas!

-David Driscoll

Monday
Aug282017

12 Bottles for Texas Flood Relief

Alright, let's do something good for the world today, shall we? Sometimes I feel like a giant piece of crap spending all my time writing about booze gluttony while the world is going to hell around us. Let's do something meaningful. I've tracked down twelve bottles of the 2017 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch "Al Young" Edition. I'm jacking up the price to $250 per bottle as this is for charity. 100% of the money here will go to the Red Cross for hurricane relief in Texas. That means if we sell all twelve bottles, we'll be writing a check for $3000 by the end of the day. 

(Between you and me, I'm pretty sure we'll sell all twelve so I'm writing the check as we speak)

If this works out, I'll find some more bottles tomorrow and we'll do it again. To be clear, we make nothing on this. We'll donate our cut and the profit earned entirely to the cause. Who's down to buy rare, delicious, impossible-to-find American whiskey while helping our fellow Americans in need?

Four Roses "Al Young" Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon (one bottle limit) $249.99 - While this is indeed for charity, we still have a one bottle limit per person. 

-David Driscoll

Monday
Aug282017

News & Notes

What a weekend for TV! I feel like I watched an entire season of Game of Thrones last night in a single episode, while simultaneously waiting an entire season (and lifetime) for last night's breakthrough in Twin Peaks. Then you had a number of great moments on the VMAs, including quite a powerful one with one of Robert E. Lee's descendents. What was not entertaining, however, was the continuing news coverage coming out of Texas, so hopefully by the end of the day I can whip something together to help. I'm going to dig some interesting bottles out of the bunker and see if we can make something positive happen so we can get a check out to the Red Cross ASAP. We've got a lot of people who read the blog these days, so I think we can be creative here.

Speaking of lots of people, a big thank you to everyone who cleaned us out of the Benriach close out bottles last week. We had a ton of inventory, so to see it disappear that quickly was quite spectacular. It's because of that response that we get offered deals like that, so the more we can prove to the industry we're the best place to bring large volume opportunities, the more we're likely to see. While it's nice to get an email every now and again about my writing, this blog only has the attention of the industry because of the way that it positively affects sales. That's the only way you move the meter in the booze business. You can be the best writer in the world, but if no one actually acts on your advice then no one cares. Not selling something is the easiest thing in the whole world. Paul Giamatti told the world in Sideways that he wasn't drinking any "fucking Merlot" and the entire Merlot industry went into a ten year decline. That's how sensitive the drinking public is to negative recommendations. Telling people what you hate is simple because no one ever gets called on that. It's getting people excited about booze that's difficult because you have to actually advocate and put your reputation on the line. Without an excited and interested core of customers, we wouldn't be able to operate the way we do, so thank you again from the bottom of my heart.

Speaking of being excited, we've got two California-distilled single barrels of rye whiskey coming into stock this week. One from a producer you most definitely know about, the other maybe not so much. As we're getting pickier than ever about what we buy from small "craft" distillers, you can guess that both of these whiskies had to be pretty good in order to convince us to go all the way. I'll have more details about those whiskies as they arrive.

For those of you who are familiar with the Port Askaig label, a privately-bottled Caol Ila expression, it's finally available in the U.S. I've definitely smuggled a bottle or two back in my suitcase over the years, so I'm going to taste the American iteration later today and likely order a few cases into stock. Watch for that.

I have a lot of wine buying and management duties to take care of this week as well, so my ability to update and post may be compromised, so watch the website for more new arrivals or send me an email if you have any questions. I'm going to try and get some charity bottles on the blog later today for the Red Cross, so stay tuned on that front as well.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Aug272017

Amused to Death

Amusing Ourselves to Death, the seminal work of Neil Postman, seems to be finding its way back into the public mindset again, more than three decades after its initial release, due to the current relevancy of the author’s prophetic words. I only know about the book because of my longtime affinity for Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters who wrote an entire album based off some of Postman’s prescient political predictions. In the Trump era, however, many of his previous criticisms about the role of television in politics and the end of public discourse are being re-examined. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse quotes Postman’s work numerous times in his new book The Vanishing American Adult, and The Atlantic recently published a piece about what Postman might have thought about our modern age. Intrigued by some of what I read in both the aforementioned texts, I decided to run over to the library and check out the book, looking for more specific insight into Postman’s ideas. After reading most of the text, it’s clear that while he and I never would have been friends, we do share some strikingly similar philosophies about the role of information and how the incessant flow of it may not be the best thing for our brains or our virtue. 

To give you an idea of what kind of guy Postman was, he hated television and he was deeply skeptical of people who had too much fun. Clearly, some of his old man tendencies run counter to my own personal values. Reading his work reminds me a bit of staying home sick from school and being lectured by my grandfather, who would kindly volunteer to stay with me while my parents were at work. I remember one time—when I was about seven—he wouldn’t let me get out of bed until I had finished an adult crossword puzzle from the newspaper, then when I cried because I couldn’t do it he told me I “lacked perseverance.” That really lit a fire under my ass. Postman’s book is titled Amusing Ourselves to Death because he thought that society in the eighties had become too concerned with entertainment and that a city like Las Vegas—a city I adore—embodied that national stain. Like I said, it’s clear that he and I wouldn’t have gotten along all that well. I didn’t always get along with my grandfather either for similar reasons, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love him and respect the hell out of him; especially because today I can see how those tough lessons built character. Looking back at Postman’s work now, I’m struck by certain observations that really hit home with me, especially at they pertain to our endless information cycle. 

One thing to know about Amusing Ourselves to Death is that it’s based on the premise that Huxley’s premonition about the future was—in the end—more accurate than Orwell’s. He wrote: “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared is that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who would want to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.”

Reading that gave me the chills. It’s everything that keeps me up at night distilled into a few sentences. I have this fear that soon no one will care about why a wine or whiskey is interesting. They'll want to know the bullet points and the reasons it will impress their friends, but not anything beyond that. There's too much to know these days, so can you just summarize it into a score? Is it good or bad? It goes on:

“Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

And what did Postman blame for bringing us to this brave new world? The telegraph of all things! The first invention to bring people more information than they actually knew what to do with, at a speed so fast they didn’t have time to actually process and understand its importance. He wrote: “Prior to the age of telegraphy…what people knew about had action-value. In the information world created by telegraphy, this sense of potency was lost, precisely because the whole world became context for news. Everything became everyone’s business. For the first time, we were sent information which answered no question we had asked.”

Can you imagine what Postman would have thought about the internet and social media in today’s world? Probably the same as my grandfather, were either of them still living today. Postman valued books, not just for their capacity to organize and present information, but also because of the time involved in both writing and reading them; time that was necessary to properly analyze, scrutinize, and understand meaning—“to discuss their contents and make judgements about their merit.”  He added: “The telegraph is suited only to the flashing of messages, each to be quickly replaced by a more up-to-date message. Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation.”

That's how wine and whiskey are often appreciated today, as quick data points and ten second summations. And then the kicker:

“To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing of lots of things, not knowing about them.”

Reading this made me think of a question that I touched on the other day, albeit not nearly as eloquently, asking: what’s the point of information anymore? Do we want to actually enrich our lives through learning or is everything just a game to see who knows the most things? Is all of life just a giant trivia contest where people race to be first? Is it just one endless cycle of Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me? Don’t tell me because I want you to know I already knew! If you tell me, you might think I didn’t know. But I did know. And if you wouldn’t have told me, I could have told you. And if I had told you first, you would have seen that I already knew. 

It’s about winning.

I’ve been just as guilty of that petty desire in my life as anyone, wanting to be the guy with all the answers; arguing for the sake of it. Maybe that’s why this issue bothers me so much. I’m embarrassed by my behavior as a shallow teen and now I have this giant chip on my shoulder as an adult. I was raised in the high school era of credentialism where the purpose of life was the accumulation of awards under a constant state of competition, incessantly and neurotically adding accolades to my college resume on an endless quest for validation. It led to nothing but entitlement for my generation, a horde of young adults thinking they were good at everything, questioning authority but unable to provide any real solutions or answers as to why they were doing it. That’s what I grew up thinking information was for: to distinguish myself and win the race. I saw that phenomenon continue while I was a teacher. Now the same tendencies have taken over the wine and spirits industry.

Postman’s summation was thus: “Where people once sought information to manage the real contexts of their lives, now they had to invent contexts in which otherwise useless information might be put to use.”

Information was once something we looked for when we needed help or wanted answers, but today it’s often for our own amusement—hence the name of Postman’s book. It’s for crossword puzzles, Trivial Pursuit, and proving other people wrong. It’s for cocktail parties where we try to make ourselves look smart and appear educated.

Of course, like any good liberal, I’m only picking out the stuff from Postman’s book I agree with and ignoring the rest. The rest of his book criticizes people like me who love show business and stare at the TV all day long, ceasing rational thought while watching the lives of others unfold on “reality” programming. If I read too much into his words, I’d emerge with little self-esteem as Postman was suspicious of big personalities and people who use jokes to convey important information. He thought spiritual devastation would come from a smiling face rather than a hateful one. That last sentence may not be as applicable in today’s political environment, as we’ve quickly learned that today’s political leaders can have two faces, but he was right about one thing in today’s America: “When serious conversation becomes a form of baby talk, when a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk.”

-David Driscoll