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Wednesday
Feb082017

On the Road Again

With the frantic holiday season firmly in the rearview mirror and another new year upon us, it's time to set out on a number of new adventures. Gin has been a specialty of the K&L spirits department for the last decade, but I can safely say that no gin (even the North Shore #11, Berry Bros. No. 3, and St. George Faultline editions) has ever taken K&L by storm the way Four Pillars has. When the sales of the Rare Dry edition began eclipsing single malt stalwarts like Ardbeg Uigeadail and Lagavulin 16, we knew we were dealing with something truly special. But the best part about Four Pillars is that, in a new world of capitalistic curiosity where consumers tend to buy everything once and then check it off their list, we have clients coming back to the Rare Dry over, and over, and over, and over again. It's that good. As someone who declared brand loyalty dead in the spirits game ages ago, I'm now seeing a small crack in that fiercely independent facade. The reason people gave up on brands a decade ago was because smaller companies were outhustling them in terms of quality. They realized they could drink better by looking outside the narrow window of corporate monopoly. Now, with the consolidation of the indie market and a new genre of "craft" spirits exploiting the idea of "small batch" to holy hell, I think modern consumers are beginning to gravitate back towards those safety nets once again. Four Pillars has firmly established itself over the last year as one of the great new brands within in our spirits department and I think that foundation will help carry the company over the the next decade. 

Because I believe in Four Pillars so wholeheartedly, I'll be getting on a plane later tonight bound for Sydney. I'll have a brief layover before catching a connecting flight to Melbourne, where I'll then head out to the Yarra Valley and the distillery. I'll be in Australia for the next nine days learning more about the brand, meeting with some of our direct import wine producers (like Oakridge!!), and—of course—making a new batch of Faultline gin with Stuart and the gang at Four Pillars. What's crazier than the amount of traveling I'll likely be doing this year is the amount of traveling I've already had to turn down! I guess people actually read this blog, huh?

I'll be live here the whole time and over at On the Trail as well. I'll probably do the more detailed professional work there, while using the spirits blog for quicker, more loosely-styled updates.

The open road awaits!

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Feb072017

A Blend of Ideas

We had a lot to discuss with Suntory's master blender Shinji Fukuyo this morning in the San Francisco store. While I snapped a few photos, Andrew Stevens (the booze man in the SF store, if you didn't know) waxed philosophical about the trends he's noticed in the retail environment. I threw out a couple of zingers as well, for instance: why even sell Yamazaki to retailers at this point? Give it all to the bars and restaurants who will sell individual pours to the public and maximize the impact of each bottle. Do I really care at this point whether I get my six bottles of 18 year? Those bottles mean very little to our overall sales numbers in the grand scheme of things. Another deep thought I shared: do you think the guys who shell out for the Yamazaki Sherry Cask edition are the ideal Suntory customers, or do you think they're more often than not just trophy hunters who have never bought one bottle of Toki or Hibiki and have little interest in supporting the general Suntory brand? Because in my experience, the guys who lust after Yamazaki today have no interest in Toki; yet that's the very whisky Mr. Fukuyo is most interested in promoting right now. It's an interesting situation because Toki was made specifically for the U.S. market. It was made with the interests of the American drinker in mind, but it's definitely a primo session whisky if there ever was one. It's the type of whisky you drink in a Highball or on the rocks in large volumes. But do our customers in America still drink that way? I don't know. I get the feeling most people want Japanese whisky these days because it's rare and exotic rather than because it's delicious. That synopsis begs the question: can you build a new foundation of whisky drinkers on something like Toki? Something that stresses drinkability and finesse over rarity and age?

"We're all gonna find out together!" I said with a big grin as we shook hands on the way out. Both Andrew and I were honored by the visit and the chance to exchange ideas with Suntory's head honcho. I'm hoping we didn't overwhelm him!

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Feb072017

Post-Brexit Luxury

This cask introduction really needs very little explanation. Just know this: I was offered similar casks this week for prices nearly triple the cost below. Personally, I'm not interested in an entire cask of Macallan for $800 or more per bottle. But for $299.99? That I can do. Especially when it tastes this good. I sold twenty bottles within ten minutes of putting this product on the K&L web page. I expect a mushroom cloud when the email launches later this week. Macallan is still a very popular whisky. I can't keep the standard 25 year in stock even at $1700 a bottle. I wonder what's going to happen when those same guys see this offer?

1993 Macallan 23 Year Old "Old Particular - K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky $299.99 - This single cask of barrel strength Macallan 23 represents our biggest coup yet in the post-Brexit Scotch era. We're living in whisky world where Macallan 25 now costs $1700 per bottle. If the distillery even offered a cask strength edition of that expression it would easily be over $2000. Yet somehow, someway, we've managed to secure a single barrel of 23 year old Macallan at full proof for a shocking $299. One of the main differences you'll find in the Old Particular offering is the lack of sherry influence, which would normally be the calling card of the distillery version. Rather than toffee and cakebread, this single hogshead cask highlights the finesse and fruitiness of the Highland legend. With ample vanilla, dried apricot, oak spice, and plenty of sweet malted barley on the finish, the flavors are dialed up at 110.2 proof, so a bit of water is recommended. Macallan is one of the most graceful and effortless whiskies in the world, qualities that have cemented its status as the elite Scottish single malt distillery. We have to imagine this will be the last time we're able to offer a whisky of this status at this price. Having just gone back to find more this past month, prices were upward of $800 per bottle for casks of the same maturity.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Feb062017

A Breakout Addition

As I was getting ready to send out the email for the 2014 Domaine de Chevalier I mentioned in this morning's post, I noticed this paragraph in a review of the vintage by Vinous head critic Antonio Galloni:

Most importantly, 2014 is a very consumer friendly year. The market for Bordeaux tends to divide between those vintages that are considered ‘great’ and are therefore subject to massive price speculation, and those that are ‘average’, which are seen as much less desirable by many marker constituents. This market dynamic creates a significant opportunity for savvy consumers to pick up any number of gorgeous wines at fair prices. Two thousand fourteen is an ideal vintage for consumers who buy wines to actually drink them (because prices should mostly be favorable) and members of the wine trade who have a commitment to serving those consumers. The 2015s, and most likely also the 2016s, will be surrounded by much more market hype. Some of that enthusiasm will be warranted, some not, but what is almost certain is that both vintages will be more expensive in bottle than the 2014s.

Note the sentence: "for customers who actually drink them"?

That's exactly what I was talking about in the State of the Union post on Friday. With Bordeaux it's already common knowledge that many people are buying for reasons other than consumption.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Feb062017

A Breakout Moment

Why is the K&L Bordeaux group hanging out at Domaine de Chevalier, smiling alongside owner Oliver Bernard and his sons? Because we all knew what was imminent at the time. The wines of this underrated Pessac-Léognan property have been too good for too long to remain a secret and, having tasted through the upcoming offerings during our visit, we were all taken aback. With two incredible vintages at the "secret garden" in 2014 and 2015, along with pricing that—compared to the similarly-rated Médoc properties—is about half of what it should be, we all knew 2017 was going to be Chevalier's time in the spotlight. That reality hit home last week when the 2014 vintage was rescored by Vinous and the Domaine came out the clear winner, dollar for dollar. If you've ever been interested in collecting a few Bordeaux bottles for your cellar, this is one of those moments when you have to act. I spent all day Friday locking down allocations from France, trying to catch the negociants before their weekend, to make sure we had enough wine for a big email today. As is the case with Bordeaux, you have to order and pay in advance, but let me tell you: this wine will not be $49.99 by the time it makes it here in bottle. Expect $70+ or more once the other retailers get their hands on some inventory. I put in my order on Friday for a case.

Remember when Old Pulteney 21 won "Best Whisky in the World" and the prices doubled overnight? This is going to be a similar moment for Domaine de Chevalier. When the fifty dollar Bordeaux gets the same rating as the hundred and fifty dollar Bordeaux, you know you've got something special. I've got the full story here over at On the Trail if you're intrigued. 

-David Driscoll