I'm back to surfing analogies today after reading the latest issue of The Surfer's Journal and learning about the industry's fascination with new wave pioneering. In short, surfing media loves the idea of discovering a new break, especially if its in some remote area of the world. It doesn't need to be an ocean break, either. It could be a standing wave on the Amazon river, deep in the Brazilian jungle, or (as the magazine featured) a temporary break on an Alaskan bay, caused by huge chunks of ice debris falling off the side of a nearby cliff. Even if it's so dangerous and remote that one can only ride this exotic new discovery for a mere matter of seconds, the experience and the ability to say you've done it is what matters most. Capture the adventure on photo and video and you've got yourself a bit of publicity. 

Again, this all sounds very familiar.

Rather than just make a really good spirit (or ride a wave really well), it seems like the modern craft industry vision today is fixated mostly on doing something so new and different that just mentioning the concept creates a buzz. Now that we've exhausted the possible permutations of barrel aged whiskies, let's apply that same formula to everything else. Within the past week I've tasted rums matured in just about every bizarre type of vessel you can think of. I've tasted gin-like concoctions with all types of wacky botanical combinations. I've tasted vodkas made from crazy base materials and flavored with wild new combinations of taste sensations. None of them were particularly memorable (or even good), just new, but....they've never been done before! Have you ever seen anyone do it like this?

No, and maybe for good reason.

There's a part in the surf story where a few indigenous Alaskan natives show up to watch the spectacle and just shake their heads in disapproval. "Someone's going to die out there," one of them says to the reporter, questioning what the point of the activity was. We're living in an age, however, where being unique is more difficult than ever, hence more valuable as a result. It's no longer about "why?" and it hasn't been for some time. The idea of being original has been so misconstrued at this point that quality seems to be an afterthought. There's only so many piercings and tattoos you can get before you just start looking like a hot mess, kids.

-David Driscoll


Barrels Galore

Sorry for the delay here as I know many of you Four Roses fans have been awaiting details of this cask before purchasing, but it appears that with simply the age, recipe, and proof most of the barrel sold through over the New Year's weekend and is long gone. A few notes, however: the proof listed in the invoice from Four Roses was just under 120 proof, but the label says 120.2, so it's a bit hotter than we thought. Tasting it again today, I'm convinced it's one of the better barrels we picked out in 2017. If you want the whole package: maturity, richness, sweetness, caramel, vanilla, spice, power, and complexity, it's all here in spades. There's only about twenty-five bottles left at this point, so don't snooze on this much longer if you're still on the fence. 

I've got some more fun single barrels lined up for this week and next, so get ready for more fun in 2018. There's a new 9 year old Dickel barrel landing today, another Whistle Pig rye whiskey barrel, six new casks from Wild Turkey, and of course the Hampden Jamaican rum barrel everyone's been waiting for. DOG has some very old Knob Creek casks, as well. In addition, I'm unleashing a fresh sherry butt of Aultmore that should come in at a bargain price. I think we'll be picking up right where we left off in 2017. Watch for a few more cases up North of the Kentucky Owl as well. There's a lot of action behind the scenes.

-David Driscoll


Time To Change It Up

My eleventh year at K&L begins in 2018 and with it a new challenge. I'll follow up on that vague statement in just a moment, but before I do let's talk about the other big news in California today: legal marijuana. While I think a certain number of folks are under the impression they can walk into a dispensary and buy weed freely today, that's not the case. Despite the new law that voters passed, we're not even close to that reality yet because of all the bureaucratic restrictions that have been put into place, mirroring many of the strict regulations of the liquor industry. Let's talk a bit about what that means for people because you're witnessing how a controlled market is born and it's fascinating (stay with me here). 

First off, California is still very much writing the rules for legalized pot as it goes. While it's technically legal statewide, cities and counties are being allowed to write their own rules, so you'll have many places where it's completely forbidden (kind of like dry counties in Tennessee). The state is also going to limit the licenses and the locality for each operation, so it's not going to be a retail bonanza by any means. You can't operate anywhere near a school or a park, so dispensaries will likely be clustered in the least restrictive spaces. From what I understand at the moment, there have been no permanent retail licenses given out, only temporary permits that must be renewed after 120 days. The dispensaries that operate under the medical wing of the law are not in play for non-card holders. Despite the hoopla about a big victory for legal weed in California right now, there's so much red tape that many folks are afraid it's only going to motivate more sellers into the black market, rather than out into the open. Weed is legal as of this morning in California, but there are few places you can legally buy it for recreational usage as of right now. 

While the retail side of the budding industry (pardon the pun) is still trying to sort itself out, the growing side of the business is dealing with its own failed expectations. Today's Washington Post article spells a lot of the details out, but the biggest disappointment for many is the fact that California's new law did not cap the volume of each grower as was originally anticipated, meaning the market is open to large corporations to grow huge crops of marijuana. The small farmer/grower movement is what currently makes the market interesting and enticing to many (myself included), but that romantic ideal isn't quite panning out as planned according to some currently in the game. Apparently an important regulation limiting farms to one acre until 2023 (to control quality and competition, allowing for slow and healthy growth) was scrapped from the law at the last minute, seriously pissing off the state's most avid growers and completely changing the potential landscape of the new market. That's not to mention the 45% tax that will be levied on recreational usage, meaning half the profits will go back to the state middlemen. You knew about that, right? 

I'm a big advocate for medical marijuana and I've seen (and felt) its soothing effects first hand. Even though I know it could create havoc for the alcohol industry here, I'm rooting for the market to succeed because I know that marijuana needs educators and ambassadors just like wine and spirits do. The more people learn the real ins and outs of THC, CBD, and all the various strains that help with various ailments (like the general stress of California living), the better off we'll be. However, the new California law doesn't seem to be encouraging some of the more passionate voices in the marijuana community. I thought this was a great quote from the Post article:

“We have this great irony of the people who moved up here because they didn’t want to participate in capitalism. They didn’t want to participate in the greater system, and they’re being asked to jump into it headfirst, and that’s not why they got into this."

That's the thing about industry. Very rarely does it allow much room for passion and harmony. It's mostly about revenue and finding new ways to survive the endless onslaught of expenses and increased competition, which completely eliminates all the romance for many. That's a reality I've had to deal with in the booze game over the last few years, hence I decided that some aspects of my job at K&L are going to change in 2018. Much like some of the aforementioned growers, I didn't get into the alcohol business to become a capitalist, nor did I ever have any intention of working with spirits. My original passion was wine first and foremost and it's wine that I continue to consume in my private life while I write publicly about whiskey and other distilled goods. 

I'm planning to get a little bit of that original passion back this year and it's going to start very soon. Get ready K&L wine club members.

-David Driscoll


Farewell to a Friend

This has been a rough day for us at K&L. Jim Barr, "the Master" as we've called him for longer than my tenure at the company extends, passed away today after a valiant battle with cancer. Since I received the news earlier this afternoon I've been trying to think of great stories I could tell, or a few adjectives that would help others understand what an individual he was, but I don't think mere words at this point would do him justice. I'd never met anyone like Jim in my life before working at K&L and I don't think I'll ever meet anyone like him again. He was a living, breathing character from a comic strip come to life, a memorable and loveable savant from an offbeat comedy film. He made me laugh every single day that I worked with him and I'm pretty sure he hated me for the first few years I knew him. Jim was a great judge of character, which is why he saw right through my bullshit right away. I remember the day he called me out: "You're an arrogant, self-centered kid; aren't you?"

But he said it with a twinkle in his eye, like he did most things. 

It took awhile, but we eventually bonded. I worked with Jim for over ten years at K&L, but Jim spent thirty years with the company, growing in legend and stature as time continued to pass. Everyone knew him in Redwood City, from the casual shopper to the regimented regular. He had customers and clients in their eighties and nineties coming into the store all the time, asking specifically for him, unwilling to even consider the recommendations or advice from my fellow colleagues. For good reason, too; Jim was indeed a wine master. He wasn't just a wine store clerk or your average sales associate. Jim was a wine pioneer in many ways. In the early 1990s, after an inspirational trip to Burgundy, he purchased a piece of land in the Anderson Valley and decided to plant Pinot Noir. People thought he was nuts, but fifteen years later he sold the property to Husch and the winery still uses Barr's Nash Mill designation today for its single vineyard expression (I wish to God I had a bottle of it to drink in tribute right now). Beyond his expertise, however, most of us youngsters at K&L got a real kick out of picking his brain. He had interesting and insightful opinions about both wine and life, if you bothered to ask him. He was hilariously kooky in an almost innocent manner, an endearing trait that I took great relish in bringing out of him whenever possible. I don't know if he ever really understood how funny he was.

What ultimately bonded me to Jim was not a mutual appreciation for what we liked, but rather a shared hatred for the things that we didn't. We never really clicked in terms of out similar interests, but man did we both have it in for the things that we loathed. I used to love coming into work in the morning with a real juicy tidbit from the news. I'd lay it on Jim thick: "Did you hear about.....?" He'd look at me in horror, shake his head, and the onslaught would commence from there. We'd vent about politics, world events, wine experiences, and society in general. It would go on all day; sometimes for weeks. Eventually we'd work through whatever frustrations we held in common and by the end we'd be laughing. When I think about how much time I've spent with Jim in the store it's almost inconceivable. K&L colleagues are like defacto relatives; I've spent more time with Jim on the sales floor over the past decade than most of my friends and family combined.

I went to visit Jim at home this past Saturday. He was resting on the couch, his eyes closed and it was clear he was tired. I tried to keep the conversation light, but eventually he turned to me and said intently: "Make your mark now, David. That's all I have to tell you."

I dodged the intensity of that moment, responding with something lighthearted and whimsical to deflect from the emotion I felt in that instant. Less than a week later he was gone. I know I speak for everyone at K&L right now when I say we're never going to recover from his absence. Jim Barr was K&L for thousands of customers over the past three decades. He was a kind, generous, unpretentious source of knowledge for people who loved wine and enjoyed the simple things in life. Few people took the time to bestow the care and attention for wine appreciation that Jim did, which is what we all loved about him. 

We're going to miss him dearly.

-David Driscoll


Kentucky Redux

(UPDATE: Start watching for this on Thursday as apparently our delivery schedule was altered by the Monday holiday)

I'm off to Las Vegas this morning where I'll be recovering for the next three days, but that doesn't mean I didn't prepare some fun deals for all of you before leaving! Keep your eye on the new product feed tomorrow because I'm expecting part two of the Owl frenzy to start some time Thursday afternoon. There should be a healthy number of bottles available, so keep your eyes peeled. Also, I saved my best Four Roses single cask of the year for last: a nearly-11 year old (10 years, 9 months, to be exact), 119.9 proof beast of a barrel under the OESV recipe. There might be a few other limited knick knacks as well that make an appearance, so hopefully you've got time to be vigilant. I'll be out in the desert drying out (literally and figuratively as I've got a nasty cold and likely won't be drinking), but I know you all can handle yourselves at this point.

I'll be back just before New Year's Eve to assess the damage. I'm expecting a big, smoking crater hole where all the Kentucky Owl rye used to be.

-David Driscoll