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Saturday
Apr262014

Reflection

I remember taking the red-eye to Cancun back in 2008 and reading Matt Bai's new (at that time) book The Argument -- an on-the-road account of the 2007 Democratic primary race that partly focused on the role influential bloggers played and the impact of the influence they carried. I had been pretty taken by political blogs at that time with their somewhat-radical forms of writing and the youthful, exuberant energy they brought to my daily reading of current events. It was exciting to know there was a credible movement of new information that was no longer tied to mainstream outlets or major publications -- anyone could start a blog! I was so inspired by the idea that I even considered creating my own. By the time I landed in Cancun, however, I felt differently.

What Matt Bai revealed about political bloggers at that time seems rather obvious now, but was rather disheartening back then. After travelling with them, meeting up with the elite names at conventions, and listening to their conversations with politicians, Bai basically observed that political bloggers were more interested in what their virtual status could get them in the physical world, rather than actually pushing any new ideas forward. They were trend-followers, lacking in the basic foundational tenets of liberal philosophy, who really didn't even care about writing as much as they cared about attention; yet, they were being heralded as bastions of progressive thinking. I'll never forget Bai's interaction with a room full of newbie bloggers where they all run around asking one another if they're "progressive" -- it reminds me of today's "craft" de jour where everyone's telling you what they stand for, but no one actually knows anything about what they're doing.

You can tell right away when people have their own ideas, or if they're just repeating and idealizing what others have done or said. I'll know it within the first few minutes of meeting with a producer -- they either let the booze stand for itself, or they spend the entire time trying to tell me about what it is before I've had the chance to taste it. People work the same way for the most part: the more someone tells you what they're about and exactly who they are, the less likely it's the case. The tragedy of turning a genuine movement into a glorified buzzword, however, is that it takes the legitimacy and integrity out of what certain intuitive minds are doing, and clouds their work in a sea of like-minded, soulless replication. I talked to one distiller recently (whose identity I won't reveal since I haven't cleared this with him) who told me: "I don't ever want to be identified as a craft distiller again. That term lumps the work I'm doing in with a bunch of other guys who are just getting started. It also prevents me from growing my business into something larger and working on projects that are grander in scale because I'm supposedly committed to the idea of being small. I'm beginning to hate that word, actually."

While some distillers are beginning to move away from the term "craft," I'm wondering if those of us who blog about spirits will ever move away from being defined as "bloggers." What I love about whiskey blogs is that they allow for outside interpretation and evaluation of booze. They also provide havens of support for those who want to take the discussion beyond the general and into the specific. What they're in danger of doing, however, is fusing with the basic irritations of social media to the point that their general personality becomes a caricature (as referenced in my own comic strip a while back and by my pal SKU a few days ago). Basically, if there are unspoken rules to blogging and participating in the whiskey online experience, where people blindly mimic what others are doing, then it's just another version of what Bai described with the political scene back in 2007 -- and none of us want to be associated with that, believe me.

I remember the first night I got to do a radio show on the UCSD college network and curate a program with my own music. I brought in a bunch of albums I planned on playing, but the guy running the station said, "Oh, you can't play any of these."

"Why not?" I asked, rather shocked.

"Because it's...like...not what we play here. You can only play indie rock or hip-hop."

"Are you fucking serious?" I asked, with total disdain.

"Yeah, bro. You'll make people mad if you play any of that commercial shit," he replied.

"Why?"

"Because, dude. That's just...like...what we do."

No matter where you go you'll run into people who understand the "rules" and what's considered acceptable in their desired social circle, but not necessarily why this allegiance is required. That type of behavior indicates the death knell of anything cool, organic, or interesting. You can't be independent or creative if you're just doing exactly what everyone else is doing, and you can't move anything forward either. Sometimes I know I'm doing my job well by looking around to see how many people I've angered. In fact, it's only when I piss certain people off that I know I'm still doing decent work on this blog.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: there are no rules to drinking, and, by extension, there are no rules to blogging about drinking. If you're afraid to tell people you like Hennessy, or that you secretly drink Crown Royal when no one's looking, then you might as well join the online party because it's that fear that will eventually sink whiskey blogging. When everyone agrees that there are the same good whiskies, the same bad whiskies, and the same desired attributes that any serious drinker should strive for, then we're all useless.

That's when I'll sign off.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Apr262014

Lessons of the Industry as Told Through Popular Film Sequences

If you think the booze business is divided up between good and evil, right and wrong, and honest and deceitful, I have one video clip to show you. Watch Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller in the 90s classic The Zero Effect.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Apr252014

Credibility

Michael Strahan, the legendary Giants defensive juggernaut, said something quite controversial on his morning show with Kelly Ripa recently, when he stated:

“I don’t listen to those guys on the radio who talk about sports but who have never played any sports. I never listened to the opinion of someone who the last time they put on a uniform was when their mom took them trick-or-treating.

Strahan's rant came from a moment of frustration with those who like to analyze aspects of a profession they have never actually performed. The world of professional sports opinion is dominated by guys (all with strong opinions) who have a lot to say about what a player should or shouldn't be doing, yet were never talented enough to play the game themselves. While you can obviously make the case that some of the best sports writers are talented and wittier than many of the ex-pros looking for a second career, no one can claim to understand something they have never personally experienced better than someone who has been there. I can only imagine what it must be like to lose a football game, then have some whiney, skinny jerk in the stands tell you what you should have done.

While I have watched Full Metal Jacket, read testimonials from ex-soldiers, and watched numerous documentaries about famous battles, I have never been to war. Therefore, I would never dare to presume that I understand what men go through in such scenarios. I've also never been an African-American or any other minority race, so I'm not going to act like I get what's really going on with racism and bigotry in the world. The analogies go on and on, obviously.

What I love about whiskey (and all beverages, for that matter) is that the enjoyment of it does not fit into one of these scenarios. Anyone can appreciate whiskey on a serious level if they're willing to put in the time and the commitment. I don't have a better palate than most of my customers and I'm not capable of tasting things that other experienced tasters cannot. We're all the same for the most part, which is why amateur blogging and professional blogging have become pretty even in their quality.

However, one thing I will tell you is that I know more about how the spirits business works than most amateur bloggers out there. If you think running a whisky business is about siding with big brands versus little brands, or taking a stance against corporate greed, then think again. You can run a store that stands for those principles if you want, but you won't be in business very long. Being a retailer means you take yourself out of the equation and think about serving your customers. It's not about me. It's not about what I like. Or what David OG likes. Or what Kyle likes. It's about what the customer wants -- pure and simple. Your customers tell you what they're interested in and you do your best to provide them with it. Sure, we go and find great stuff, but if you think we're only buying what we personally would drink, then you're crazy.

You think we're anti-Diageo at K&L because we get miffed at them every now and again? You should look at our sales numbers. Since long before David and I started working here, K&L has always sold more products from Diageo than from any other beverage company (and most other beverage companies combined). Lagavulin, Talisker, and Oban are three of the most popular whiskies we sell -- period. The Bulleit Bourbon and rye whiskies fly out of here like they're $5 bottles of wine. Without Diageo we would only have half the selection we have now and our customers would be pissed! Limiting selection based on your own personal gripes is retail fascism and we're not looking to be the next Soup Nazi.

Do you think we only sell products that we love, or that we only get excited about selling things that are our personal favorites? I didn't get excited this past Christmas when I gave my mom a gift certificate to Chez Panisse because it was my favorite restaurant; I got excited because I knew she wanted to eat there and it would make her happy. The best parts about this job involve customer satisfaction, not glorifying your own ego by making bold statements about what is or isn't "good."  At least twenty times a day I help a customer find a whiskey that I personally would not purchase because I'm looking out for their needs, not mine.

If you want people to follow your opinions, drink what you drink, and respect your judgement when it comes to alcohol evaluation, then you should definitely start a whiskey blog and post honest reviews about what is and isn't good. If you want to make people happy, work with a number of different producers, find creative ways to make deals, and offer people as much variety as you can, while making sure you leave your own personal baggage out of the equation, then you should get into the spirits retail business.

For every person who hates one whiskey there are another five who think it's the best thing ever. Credibility as a retailer comes from knowing what the customer wants and giving it to them, not pushing your own personal agenda. It's our job at K&L to make sure various tastes, interests, and desires are taken care of. We'll always assess quality, of course, but we're not in the business of selling what David D and David OG like. We're in the business of selling what K&L customers like.

And they like a lot of different things.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Apr252014

Orphan Barrels -- Round Two!

You thought this was a one time thing? Heck no! We've got tons more, so if you missed out yesterday here's your chance to get back in on the 20 year old NON-WHEATED Bourbon from Diageo's Orphan Barrel series. We've also got more Blowhard, but that's not moving nearly as quickly due to the price.

Again, my apologies for the mis-information yesterday (but it seems everyone already knew what they were getting). In the rush to get the information out I should have proof-read my tasting notes. Haste makes waste. The specs on the Barterhouse are here. But quit worrying about the specs and go get yourself a bottle!

Barterhouse 20 Year Old Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey $89.99

Old Blowhard 26 Year Old Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey $169.99

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Apr242014

Six New Dickels For You To Pick(le)

I am very excited to tell you about these six new casks that have just arrived. They are without a doubt the most exciting single barrels of American whiskey we've been able to buy in some time. I don't think I've been this pumped since our first barrel of Four Roses showed up, mainly because these six barrels of Dickel mark the first time we've had something new and different to offer in a very long time.

Just like with Bourbon, corn is the main component for Tennessee whiskey and it's important in particular because of Dickel's 84% corn mashbill that results in a full-bodied, creamy sweetness, setting it apart from its Kentucky brethren. While no one really gets overly-excited about the mellow, mild, reduced flavor of Dickel #8, I can promise you that when that flavor is concentrated into a single barrel and bottled at 103 proof, it's a much more dynamic experience.

The point is: these barrels are freaking delicious!!! 

Here is something you need to know before buying these bottles, however:

1) They are wide, squat bottles so if you're shipping these we have to pack them separately into a different box.

2) While the 12 pack box these bottles arrived in clearly dictates which barrel these whiskies came from, the label unfortunately does not. We have therefore stickered each bottle with a barcode and barrel code to make sure you can tell which whiskey is from which cask.

Let me also say that I don't think any one barrel shines over the others. They're all very similar in profile with only subtle differences. The first description is only longer because I'm cutting out the intro on the other five (it's not because I like it more!).

George Dickel K&L Exclusive 9 Year Old Single Barrel 03L29 G78-2-26 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 -- Production methods really haven't changed at George Dickel distillery since 1959, nor have the practices -- they've been making old-fashioned Tennessee whiskey from corn the only way they know how. That's why when Dickel announced they would begin doing a single barrel program with retailers we were amazed (and excited). Just like with Bourbon, corn is the main component for Tennessee whiskey and is important in particular because of Dickel's 84% corn mashbill that results in a full-bodied, creamy sweetness that sets it apart from its Kentucky brethren. It also passes very slowly though charcoal after distillation, allowing it to pull out all the impurities they don't want in the whiskey, resulting in a soft, mellow, and smooth spirit. But now imagine all that sweet corn richness from a single barrel at 103 proof! Barrel G 78-2-26 has an instant hit of big bold vanilla spice and rich barrel char before mellowing out into a creamy candy corn palate, accented by more baking spices. The higher proof really brings new life to the richness, bringing a boldness reminiscent to the Pappy Van Winkle Bourbons, which also combine that potency of sweet with heat. There isn't enough whiskey like this to satisfy the pent up demand. I'd buy 100 barrels of this if we could.

George Dickel K&L Exclusive 9 Year Old Single Barrel 04F29 L56-5-5 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 -- Barrel L 56-5-5 is more like a Bourbon than any of the other five casks we found mainly because it starts off with that pencil shaving aroma and wood-driven character before the sweetness hits. The mid-palate turns more herbaceous, but the higher proof and the sweetness from the corn prevent it from overtaking the experience and throwing the entire profile out of balance. The finish is a flutter of barrel char and caramel. Lovely stuff.

George Dickel K&L Exclusive 9 Year Old Single Barrel 04F29 L56-6-20 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 -- Barrel L 56-6-20 brings more spice and barrel richness than sweet corn, however, and explodes into a barrage of mint, anise, cinnamon, and herbaceous goodness -- all without sacrificing the inherent creaminess. This is the exact profile that Bourbon fans are lamenting the loss of these days -- that bold spice that's equally matched by barrel richness. The finish is all burnt vanilla and creme brulee. YUM!!!!

George Dickel K&L Exclusive 9 Year Old Single Barrel 04L28 N54-3-6 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 -- Barrel 04L28 N54-3-6 has lots of graham cracker goodness with plenty of spicy barrel char action. There's a burst of sweet vanilla on the mid-palate and more toasted oak on the finish. It's a tad less sweet than the other five and even a bit of an amaro note on the back end. This should be a big hit for Manhattan drinkers.

George Dickel K&L Exclusive 9 Year Old Single Barrel 04L430 N55-3-2 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 -- Barrel 04L430 N55-3-2 has a concentrated core of charred oak, caramel corn, and big spice. The palate explodes and the high proof balances out the richness perfectly. It's a match made in heaven.

George Dickel K&L Exclusive 9 Year Old Single Barrel 3L29 G78-5-8 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 -- Barrel 3L29 G78-5-8 has lots of wood tannin and dark oak goodness, but a bit of burnt sugar and creme brulee on the backend. This is most nuanced of the bunch, but that's not saying much. It still explodes at 51.5% ABV and still brings the sweet corny goodness, albeit in a more subdued manner.

-David Driscoll