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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

Saturday
Aug262017

D2D Interview: Paige Powell

The contemporary photograph of Paige with Basquiat's Valentine, was taken by the photographer Matthew Placek and is ©Matthew Placek.

I was in Portland a few months ago with Courtney Taylor, hosting a big wine tasting at his bar The Old Portland, when I struck up a conversation with a striking and well-dressed woman who sat down next to me, decked out in a sleek faux leather Comme des Garcons jacket and polka dot purse. Courtney had mentioned to me earlier in the day that he was expecting a friend at the party who had once worked with Andy Warhol in the eighties, and—being a huge fan of Warhol and the entire New York scene that unfolded under his stewardship—I was curious as to who it might be. My wife and I have spent countless hours in museums over the years looking at the work of the Factory artists, as well as the pop art of Keith Haring and of course Jean-Michel Basquiat. As two kids who grew up in the eighties and watched MTV religiously, the New York street scene with the birth of hip-hop and graffiti was practically our cultural upbringing. It’s one of the biggest connections we continue to have as a couple. Having gone through a bit of a Basquiat phase over the last few years, I had been looking more into his background and when the woman told me her name was Paige Powell, I about spit out my pinot noir.

Paige Powell not only dated Jean-Michel Basquiat before his tragic death, she helped launch his career by curating shows on his behalf and helping to sell his work early on. She worked at INTERVIEW magazine with Andy Warhol as his assistant and lived through adventures in New York that I can only imagine: Keith Haring, Madonna, Fab Five Freddy, all of it! She was a documenter and continues to be an archivist of that era, hosting exhibitions at galleries with her extensive library of videos and photographs. I could have cornered her for hours and peppered her with an endless assault of queries! While I didn’t want to overwhelm her upon our initial meeting, this was a woman I really wanted to talk to. We made a date to catch up recently and I finally got to ask her all those burning questions that had been building up inside me. Our conversation is below:

David: You’re someone who got to experience what is—in my opinion—the most iconic period in American art/music history: the early eighties in New York. Not only did you live it, you were close with Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, and of course dated Jean-Michel Basquiat for a number of years. Do you look back now and think: “Wow, those were the days!” or do you think people like myself romanticize it into something bigger and better than it was?

Paige: Yes, they really were the days, but I didn’t know it at the time coming from Portland, Oregon, assuming that New York City always had high voltage creativity, energy, diversity and communities of like minded people. It was a romantic urbantopia. We all explored, created and experimented doing exactly what we wanted to do without a ceiling or being fueled by commerce. We were happy just getting by doing what we loved.

David: Since this is supposed to be an interview about drinking, let’s talk about drinking. Where were the coolest bars in New York at that time and what were the popular drinks in your crowd?

Paige: I was uptown, downtown and all around. Harlem had the best nightclubs like Small's Paradise, Beverly Hills Restaurant and Lounge, Casa Blanca, the Press Club, La Famille, Blue Moon and Lenox Lounge. Upper Eastside Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel, Polo Lounge, Le Cirque and Quo Vadis, Upper Westside Café, Luxembourg, Café des Artists, Mr. Chow in Midtown, King Cole Bar at the St. Regis, Barbetta, Lutece, downtown Raoul’s, Florent, Odeon, Nell’s, DaSilvano, Emilio’s Balatto to name a few. So many, many more. Our drinks of choice were red wine, Champagne, Kir Royales, and martinis. We all went out every night to film premieres, art openings, parties, restaurants, clubs, museums, etc. What was considered a special evening was staying in at home.

Andy Warhol with a glass of red circa 1985. This photo was taken by Paige Powell and is ©Paige Powell. Any reproduction of this photograph is strictly prohibited without the express permission of Paige Powell ArchiveDavid: Who were the biggest martini drinkers in your circle? Did anyone have an affinity for one thing?

Paige: Andy Warhol wasn’t much of a drinker but he did like a vodka martini straight up or on occasions red wine. Michel Roux, who was the CEO of Carillon Importers, had Absolut as a brand. They were Andy’s biggest advertisers for his INTERVIEW magazine. Andy and I would periodically have dinner with Michel and talk about his brands and art. Absolut Peppar had been recently introduced so Michel asked Andy if he had tried it and if so what did he think. Andy replied “Yes. I think it’s great. It’s great. I love wearing it.”

David: I would have killed to go to Mr. Chow back in the day. What was the scene there like? What would you guys eat and drink?

Paige: The room was and is still like a gorgeous and dramatic theatre with beautiful lighting, warm, welcoming and always terrific liveliness and fun. It was a favorite hangout for artists. We rarely ordered off the menu having the chef concoct a variety of dishes for our table. My favorite were the mounds of crispy spinach seaweed and the black mushrooms. I’ve been vegan for twenty six years, but I know that I ate fish at Mr. Chow earlier. We would all have a ritual Kir Royale: it was pretty, delicious, elegant, festive and it tasted fancy. Then we moved on to Champagne and red wine. Andy Warhol and I started a blind date club with our friend Tama Janowitz and we often entertained there. After dinner, there was always lots of uneaten food left and Andy would have the servers pack it up and as we walked west on 57th to head uptown, he’d leave it on the corner next to a garbage bin for a homeless person.

David: I also remember you pointing out to me that your awesome leather jacket was actually faux leather. Are you an animal lover?

Paige: I'm a long time animal activist and I support numerous local and global animal welfare issues. I think it would be a better world for all if people stopped eating meat. 

David: Today you’re back living in Portland, your hometown, and you’re still involved with the art scene there. How have your tastes in beverages changed over the years and what do you prefer today?

Paige: I’m a red wine appreciator and I love the many wonderful Oregon pinot noirs just twenty-five miles from Portland. I imagine it must be somewhat like Napa Valley fifty years ago with interesting clones from small vineyards like Vidon. I love Italian Super Tuscans and Barolo’s, French Burgundy and Bordeaux. I enjoy learning about wines especially from New Zealand, Chile, and other varietals like South African Pinotage. In California, I like PlumpJack, Scribe and other small vineyards. For cabs, I like Stag’s Leap, plus the reds from Alexander Valley, Russian River, and Healdsburg. When I was a nineteen year old student studying in Avignon we were just fifteen kilometers or so from the Châteauneuf du Pape vineyards. We would go to the tiny casual cafés where the students hung out and the CDP was served as a table wine.

David: You cut your teeth on real juice! Do you keep a cellar today or do you live bottle to bottle?

Paige: Neither. I wish I had a cellar like Pamela Sutherland, my sister who lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills making wine in her tiny pastoral. She belongs to various small, off-the-path wine clubs in Oregon, Washington and California. She went to Mondavi’s Davis Viticulture and Enology school. I’ve really learned so much about wines going with her to various vineyards and being around her other wine making pals. I do though have a little collection of wine that she organized for me online. She tells me when to drink what bottle and marks them for me.

Paige shows some of her recent shots to Courtney and his wife at the K&L wine event in Portland

David: One of the hot topics today in the booze industry revolves around the ever increasing prices for collectable bottles with the people who do have big cellars. When a bottle of wine or whiskey sells for $50,000 you have to wonder if anyone will ever drink it! As someone who was close with Jean-Michel Basquiat, what do you think about the current prices being paid for his paintings? Do you think art is still being appreciated for its message, or is it now just about owning something perceived as important?

Paige: Both. Art will always carry messages and certainly there are some collectors who only collect what they perceive as a prestigious prize.

David: I often look at art, fashion, and music as comparative analytics for the way people continue to perceive wine and spirits. I think image and perception play a huge role in the way people choose to drink. Andy Warhol was obviously a visionary in understanding the way the public interpreted these impulses. What were the biggest lessons you learned from working with him and where do you see those influences today?

Paige: “Work is fun and fun is work,” Andy Warhol once told me. And work was fun and fun was work, the way it should be.

David: Have you continued to take that motto forward into your work today? What are you currently working on that’s fun?

Paige: Yes, I am currently in a group show at the Cooley Gallery at Reed College entitled (self), that features the work of twelve local and international artists. It runs from August 29th-October 1st (http://www.reed.edu/gallery) and includes original ephemera and polaroids, as well as many postcards that I received from Jean-Michel the '80s. The material is in the process of being archived at Thomas Lauderdale’s 1891 loft building. Lauderdale is the founder of Pink Martini, as well as a pianist and composer. Also, there’s a 70 minute BBC documentary about Jean-Michel Basquiat to be released in the UK and Europe in October 2017, and in the USA later in 2018 with my photographs and video, and an interview with the Director David Shulman in addition to Jeffrey Deitch, Francesco Clemente, Fab Five Freddy, Maripol, Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel’s sisters and others who knew him well. Then I’m off to the Barbican opening in London for BASQUIAT: BOOM FOR REAL September 20 and will have a photograph that I took of Jean-Michel in the museum catalogue.

You can find more of Paige Powell’s work here:

paigepowellphotography.com

@paigepowellofficial

@paigepowellarchive

-David Driscoll

Friday
Aug252017

Single Barrel Old Forester

While Driscoll is exploring the deepest warehouses in Kentucky setting us all up for a stupendous holiday covered is sweet bourbony goodness, I’m back here at K&L sittin’ pretty with some new barrels that have just arrived. Two have all but sold out on their own merit within days, but you might be lucky enough to grab a snort of the Eagle Rare if you’re quick about it. It’s an incredible age when you can sell out of an entire cask of whiskey without ever lifting a finger. It’s obvious that our customers and the drinking public crave uniqueness. It’s not enough to just give them something delicious anymore. We can do delicious all day long. With the excellent Mckenna 10 Year BIB or Russell’s Reserve Bourbon each clocking in at $28 and a number of other options at ridiculously affordable prices, you’re still able to drink extremely well without having to shell out, but if you want to drink something special you’ve got work for it.

The single barrel selection remains the ultimate experience for many bourbon drinkers. There’s something unique about the experience of uncorking something that you know you won’t ever taste again. The proverbial snowflake fallen from the heavens and by the good grace of god just happens to have landed right on your tongue. It’s that knowledge that you have something that will never exist again. It’s that special feeling of, you know, feeling special that makes these barrels move. Our reputation for picking out cherries over the last decade hasn’t us hurt either.

To start we have the first in what will be a trio of stupendous casks that I picked up during my visit to the Old Forester plant in April. I’ve been working to get into Old Forester for years and was extremely lucky to get a great tour of the old facility, see one of the few working thumpers in the business and get a better idea of the inner workings of this facility that’s responsible for a number of great whiskies that are released every year. What’s known as the Early Times Distillery or the Brown-Forman plant was originally built right after prohibition to supply the growing Early Times brand which they had acquired during prohibition. At the time the Old Forester brand was made just up the street in the facility which now houses the corporate offices, bottling and storage facility for Brown-Forman.

In the 1950s, the plant was completely overhauled and production of the premium Old Forester brand moved to this sparkling beacon of efficiency. Now the sparkle may have worn off, but the distillery still makes some serious juice. This is a large scale facility featuring 10+ 42,000 Gal fermenters and two large column stills with thumpers attached. These large stills are all crammed into a tiny space. The thumpers are named for the knocking sound that they make as the steam from the columns is directed into the unusually shaped stills without condensation. There the steam hits a pool of water which quickly condenses and redistills the spirit to a much higher proof through the pressure and heat being forced into the chamber. The noise it makes is haunting. Old Forester considers the thumper one of the most important aspects for getting the signature smooth flavor of their bourbons.

We see interest growing daily in Old Forester as it represents some of the finest values in the industry, which is why I'm excited to bring you this cask:

Old Forester K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #2023 Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whisky $39.99

Whether the well received Prohibition 1920 or the excellent every day values like the 100 proof, there’s no question that the distillery's status is on the rise. When we finally got into the distillery in spring of 2017, we found a very classic operation using a proper souring room, like you'd find at Four Roses or Wild Turkey, and two of the only thumpers left in Kentucky. The result is one of the smoothest, easiest to appreciate bourbon on the market. This great little cask of Old Forester was dumped on July 28th, 2017 and distilled on November 1st, 2012. Incredible how much depth and complexity they achieve after only 4.5 years, the result of several cold winters in patent warehouses no doubt. The nose is toasted brown sugar, fresh mocha and herbal mint. On the palate, a sweet entry that remains super soft and sweet in the middle building toward a dark baking spice on the finish. A long lingering black cherry note persists for a while after that. This whisky is so overt and approachable; almost any drinker will be able to appreciate the wonderful nuance and great drinkability here.

-David Othenin-Girard