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Sunday
Feb142016

#FOMO

Let me preface this post by saying that I spend a significant amount of time each week dealing with customer service emails, while listening to the customer service staff at K&L answer phone calls. A good portion of those letters and conversations finish with the words: sorry, we’re sold out. Yes, sir, you’re right: you did just get that email two days ago. Yes. I know. It’s crazy! People just went nuts for it. I’m not sure when we’ll get more. I’m very sorry, sir. If you need help picking something else out just let me know.

When you deal with customers each day who are saddened and upset about the fact that a wine or whisky they wanted is now gone forever, there’s a tendency to want to prevent similar conversations in the future. They’re typically not very enjoyable interactions because often times the customer voices a certain sense of dismay. It’s partially for that reason that stores like K&L now go out of their way to add captions to marketing emails explaining to customers the expected demand of each product. If you’re on my insider email list then you’ll know I often relate to readers the time sensitive nature of each product’s availability. On the flip side, I’ll also say when supplies are full. No hurry, we’ve got plenty. Just yesterday in the store a customer asked me: “Is there anything I need to buy now? Something good that won’t be here the next time I come?” That’s a totally normal thing for a whisky customer to ask these days because of the way certain quantities of stock seem to disappear. My response? “No, I think we’ve got pretty deep stocks on everything here right now. Just take what you need.” 

I’ve become very careful over the last few years when it comes to sales prognostication. If something’s going to fly, I’ll happily let people know. But if there’s no rush, I try not to fuel that fire anymore. As time continues to go by and I become more experienced at what I do, I’m realizing the potential damage that FOMO is having on our lives. What’s FOMO, you ask? FOMO is an abbreviation that the youngsters use these days to refer to anything as "fear of missing out," i.e. an anxiety that something exciting or interesting may be happening, but you might not get to experience it. It’s a feeling we’re all familiar with and something we’ve all experienced and it’s often now used as justification to never detach one’s self from social media or email communication. Why are you constantly checking your Twitter feed? FOMO. Why are you constantly checking your text messages? FOMO. Why are you anxiously looking for new K&L whiskey emails? FOMO. What if they send out an email about a new and exciting American whiskey and I miss it?!!! FOMO!!!!!!

If you think whiskey companies, whiskey importers, whiskey distributors, and whiskey retailers don’t realize the power of FOMO, think again. FOMO was co-opted by the whiskey industrial complex long ago, dissected in a lab, and genetically engineered before being unleashed as a super-FOMO on the global market. The reason FOMO is such an effective marketing tool for unique and interesting wine and spirits is because often times its based on reality. In many cases there ARE limited quantities, there ISN’T much to around, and we WILL sell out in seconds. That means if you want to get a bottle you’ll have to troll around on our website, slowly succumbing to hyper-paranoia as you refresh the product page over and over again, waiting for the bottle to become available. Does that sound ridiculous? Perhaps. But if you won’t do it, someone else will. There are guys willing to drop everything they’re doing each week, park themselves on klwines.com, and wait for hours just to get a $5 bottle of Pliny the Elder beer upon release. Imagine what those guys would do for a bottle of Pappy or Yamazaki Sherry Cask? 

But the real problem with using FOMO as your main marketing tool is that it isn’t a strategy built on actual desire. It’s based on fear. It’s based on one-upsmanship. It’s telling consumers that they should drink certain wines or whiskies because they’re rare rather than because they’re good. It creates a consumership that values exclusivity over quality. More importantly, it damages the equity of base brands and everyday labels, which are the backbone of the industry as we know it. Why drink something that anyone can drink when you can drink this incredible, limited edition expression that we only made twenty bottles of? But only if you act now!!! I wrote about this phenomenon years ago under the monicker "fear capitalism", but today it's moved from a burning desire to taste the best to a frenetic fear of being left behind. You don't want to be the only person who didn't get a bottle, right? 

Again, the problem for people like me in addressing FOMO and tackling it head on is that I'm here to help customers with their inquiries. That's my job. If I only have a certain amount of product and I know I have more customers than available bottles, I have to tell people to act quickly. Of course, I guess I could NOT tell them. But doing so means I'll be buried in angry emails from upset customers who didn't realize the time sensitivity of the deal (if you think those emails are few and far-between then I invite you to come sit by me for a day as we both work through these issues one by one). Let me also say this: FOMO works from the top down. The distributor comes to me each week and says: "David, the __________ just came back into stock, but we only have twenty cases. You need to tell me how many you want quickly." The importer tells the distributor the same thing. It's all FOMO from the initial creation of the product, through the supply chain, all the way to you the consumer. If you don't act now then you're going to miss out. 

But if you rely on FOMO, and all you have is FOMO, and you think FOMO is going to lead you to another year of increased profit, endless demand, and record sales, I would advise caution. The reason FOMO works for the moment is because it's real. Customers have seen the proof for themselves. The whiskies they used to buy readily are now absent from the shelf. Age statements are dropping off. Older expressions are being retired due to lack of supply. But what happens when supply catches up with demand and there's no longer a reason to scare customers into a quick sale? What happens when you continue to tell people: YOU'VE GOTTA BUY THIS NOW!, but they really don't?

I know what's going to happen. I know exactly what's going to happen. Which is why I told multiple people in the store yesterday: Relax, we've got plenty.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Feb122016

The Wild West

I talked to High West head honcho David Perkins on the phone this week for the first time in over a year. They're really cooking over there in Park City, Utah with expanded production and the addition of new stills. What I've always admired about High West is the patience with which they're waited to release their own distillates. Over the years, David and his team have created an exciting and compelling line of fantastic products that stand out from the pack, offer quality at reasonable price points, and showcase clever branding with an eye for Old West aesthetics. Perkins has created the Compass Box of American whiskey, but at the same time he has his own distillery (imagine if John Glaser was also distilling single malt on the side!). "When are going to release some of your own juice?" I asked him after chatting for a bit.

"Uh....I don't know," he said with his characteristic and endearing drawl, "We'll get around to it at some point."

"We just wrapped up the latest batch of Bourye a few weeks ago," he said later on. "We're very happy with it."

"We just got our allocation this week," I said. "I thought it was very nice—especially nice for the price considering the older rye whiskies involved."

"When are you gonna come out here and see all this?" he asked.

"I don't know," I answered. "Send me some photos in the meantime." And so he did. It does look romantic up there on the mountainside with the sunset in the background. Who's up for a road trip? We'll hit up Leopold and Cut Spike while we're at it.

And grab a bottle of this...

High West Bouyre Bourbon/Rye Whiskey $69.99 - High West's latest batch of Bourye, a marriage of Bourbon and rye adorned with the elusive jackalope - a cross between a jack rabbit and an antelope, is back for another limited run. The Park City, Utah outpost only releases the Bourye when they have sufficient quantities of the necessary ingredients, which are getting more and more difficult to secure in today's market. This latest batch is bottled at 46% ABV and consists of 9 year old Bourbon, 13 year old rye, and 17 year old rye whiskey all sourced from MGP Distillery in Indiana, formerly known as LDI and Seagrams. Considering that a simple ten year old American rye whiskey seems to be worth its weight in gold, the fact that High West has included casks of a much older heritage is no simple task. The balance between both the richness of the Bourbon and the spiciness of the rye is quite wonderful here. There are no rough edges, the flavors meander from mellow oak to toasted with vanilla, all with a backbone of peppery rye goodness. We never have the Bourye in stock for long and we're always handling questions about when we'll get more. David Perkins continues to captivate us with his American whiskey blends, now considered the gold standard of the industry.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Feb112016

Enthusiasm

There are people out there who hate enthusiasm. I've met a good number of them. They hate anyone who shows real excitement and passion simply because they find emotional outbursts annoying. I've met those people. I know those people. They also find loud noises to be irritating. They're quiet by nature. They're often easily jarred and agitated by bustling city streets or the honking of a traffic jam. I have no problem with those people—so long as they truly, genuinely, and inherently hate enthusiasm. The people that drive me to drink are the folks who bash enthusiasm because they think it's uncool to be enthusiastic. Why do they think it's uncool? Because as people they're not comfortable being honest about their emotions. They're afraid to be judged on what they really think. Their worst fear is that someone will call them out on their shit and they'll be made to look dumb in front of a crowd just for being honest. They don't really hate enthusiasm as much as they hate people who are secure in their opinions. Of course, the flip side to that are the people who offer fake enthusiasm and who are just as bad, I guess. I've been mistaken for one of those people before.

I remember a time when I was helping a customer in the store and he asked me for my opinion on a specific whisky; I can't remember which one now. When I got really excited about it he said, "OK, let's bring it down a notch. You can be honest with me." I remember thinking to myself, "Huh?" and I just kind of ignored him and kept going. But then he interrupted me again and said, "Dude, you don't have to sell me so hard on it. I'm going to buy the bottle." It hit me then that he thought my passionate and heart-felt description of this particular whisky was an act—a ruse that I concocted out of thin air meant to sway him over to the sale. That's when I realized that some people believe my hyperactive personality to be an act. But, of course, those who have known me for a while understand that I'm naturally wired to be loud. There's nothing I can do about it. When I was in elementary school I got my name on the board every single day for talking in class. When I was in high school, I was the one promoting the illegal underage boozefests on the weekend. If I was a character in a suspense film trying to silently hide from a masked killer, I would be the first one to go. Enthusiasm and energy bubbles from within my soul. Even if I wanted to do something about it, I couldn't.

So don't hate on people like that. Unless you're one of those people who pathologically cannot stand loud, enthusiastic people. In that case I totally get it.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Feb102016

The Thomas Coyne Affair

Do you remember that insane Havens merlot deal we did a while back? What about the pinot noirs of Duane Cronin? If you remember buying cases of those wines like I do it means you've been shopping at K&L since at least 2008—back when we celebrated the incredible stocks of classic California wines from producers who had either passed away or were liquidating their supplies. My wife and I probably drank 50+ bottles of the Cronin pinot noirs ourselves. They were all $9.99, had incredible maturity, and showed vintage, old school Golden State grit. What a throwback Mr. Cronin was! The current back vintages of York Creek we have from Fritz Maytag right now are reminiscent of those deals (and are incredible values on their own), but those are $30 bottles. You don't necessarily want to pop those on a Wednesday night after a long day to pair with your vegetable soup. 

What I am drinking on a Wednesday night after a long day to pair with my vegetable soup? I'm drinking a 2012 Thomas Coyne mourvèdre from Livermore; a bottle that will cost you $9.99 at K&L Wine Merchants. After the unfortunate passing of Mr. Coyne last year his family found themselves with a surplus of back vintages that needed a good home, so we reached out to his daughter Anne Marie and put together a nice little tribute to her dad. Thomas Coyne, as you'll soon find out in an upcoming On the Trail post, was a guy who loved California, loved its wines, and more importantly loved making wine in California. He had a little estate over in Livermore called Château Bellevue where he crafted honest wines made from interesting varietals grown in obscure little plots from all over the region. I sat down with Anne Marie a little over a week ago to talk about her father and get a sense of his passion. Tonight, I'm getting my first taste of what we were able to procure. Let me tell you right now: these are real, no frills, delicious California wines with character and sense of place. The low prices we'll be selling these for are merely a fraction of what they originally sold for. It's only because of Anne Marie's respect for K&L that she offered these wines to us. It's completely out of our respect for her and her father's legacy that we promised to do these last few vintages justice—telling the story, spreading the word, and relating the spirit of Thomas Coyne's passion to the lucky customers who will bring these bottles home. 

I'll tell you much, much more in the upcoming days. Right now I've got a bowl of soup and a glass of mouvèdre to get back to.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Feb092016

Faultline Bourbon Returns

It's back in the house! A new batch has landed and we're putting them out on the shelf. We had to raise the price a few bucks due to decreased supply and increased costs as a result, but we still think it's a fine whiskey for the price. Many thanks to our partners at Smooth Ambler for getting another shipment out so quickly. If you haven't had the Faultline Bourbon yet, what are you waiting for? An open invitation? I'm inviting you.

Faultline Straight Bourbon Whiskey $44.99

-David Driscoll