Someone asked me the other day who I thought the biggest dicks in the spirits industry were. I wasn't able to answer the question. Not because there aren't any jerks working in the alcohol business, but because I do my best not to interact with them, so I don't really see it. Plus, when certain people have behaved rudely towards me in the past, I think it was mainly because they were stressed out, overwhelmed at a tasting, or just plain tired. I don't ever judge anyone's overall character by how they behave during one precise moment under conditions of duress (that's for Yelp reviewers). Usually, they were nice the next time I ran in to them, or they apologized for behaving curtly.
Even if I could name someone who I thought was a terrible person, I wouldn't write a blog about them specifically. The jerks of the world don't deserve any air time. While it's fun to dig up dirt for the gossip rags, it's not something I'm interested in adding to. I'd rather write a blog about the nice guys of the booze world--people who actually deserve all the positive recognition they get. Don't you want to know who you should be supporting? So here you go. The Top 10 Nice Guy List.
10. Dave Smith - St. George Master Distiller: Few people will bend over backward for you like St. George's Dave Smith. Not only is he incredibly easy-going, talented, and creative, he's also terribly sensitive to his customer's needs. It genuinely pains him when he makes anyone's life more difficult than it is. He's the first person to come by the store to pour new samples for the staff, and he's always willing to give personal tours of the distillery for those who ask. There a few in the distilled spirits industry more genuine and kind-hearted than Dave.
9. George Grant - Owner of Glenfarclas: When you think of legendary Scottish single malt distilleries, you think of Glenlivet, Macallan, Highland Park, and Glenfarclas. The difference between them, however, is the ownership. Glenfarclas distillery has been in the Grant family for centuries and it's still being run today by a guy named George. George Grant is so nice, and so easy going, that it's easy to mistake him for a hired sales rep. For a guy with his pedigree, he's incredibly down to earth and carefree, and surprisingly easy to get a hold of. He's usually the guy behind the table pouring for you at a tasting (when's the last time the Edrington CEO did that?), and it's not uncommon for him to swing by K&L without notice when he's in the area, just to say hello.
8. Steve Ury - Whisky Blogger: As if we didn't already know how nice the man behind SKU's Recent Eats was, just get to know him a bit, or talk to other people who know him--it's almost unreal how nice this man is. Not only is he ethical, considerate, and polite, but he's also quite selfless. David OG and I once made a joke and said: "You bring a gun to a knife fight, and Steve Ury to a 'nice' fight." If more people wrote about spirits with the thought and lack of ego that Steve Ury does, we'd have a much better print industry.
7. Jamie MacKenzie - Ambassador for Morrison-Bowmore: The first time David OG and I met Jamie MacKenzie was at 10 PM after arriving on the late ferry to Port Ellen. We had dinner with him at the Harbor Inn and then embarked on what was one of the most memorable nights of our lives as spirits buyers. Jamie is so full of positive energy and enthusiasm for his job that it's absolutely contagious. There's not a bad bone in his body and he's always a person we look forward to seeing when we have the opportunity.
6. Maurice Hennessy - LVMH: The man who carries on direct lineage from Cognac legend Daniel Hennessy is perhaps my favorite person I've met in the last year. After dining together a few weeks ago, I have a completely different take on Hennessy's products. LVMH has always been a great company to work with, but Maurice took it to a new level. Like I mentioned before with George Grant, there's nothing more impressive than finding humility where you least expect it. Maurice is down-to-earth, funny, brilliantly cynical, yet optimistic about human nature. We have become email buddies since then, talking books and other non-booze related subjects.
5. Ian Chang - Kavalan Master Distiller: I've met Ian Chang on three separate occasions and all three times have resulted in admiration. The man is soft-spoken, considerate, and completely focused on making sure you feel at ease. He's so nice that, in the face of one of the rudest WhiskyFest patrons I've ever experienced, he completely kept his cool and never let the brash behavior fluster him. He's the best thing to happen to the Kavalan whisky company because his demeanor is going to create a lot of loyalty among consumers who interact with him. When you buy Kavalan whisky, it's almost like you're doing it because you like Ian so much.
4. Jean-Gabriel and Emmanuel Camut - Camut Calvados Master Distillers: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I whole-heartedly believe that the best spirits in the world are made by the Camut brothers in Normandy; and it doesn't hurt that they are also the nicest guys EVER. Gentle, caring, inquisitive, thoughtful, loving, passionate, funny--these are just a few of the words I would use to describe these two brothers. Let's not forget generous, either. If we could, David and I would spend weeks just hanging out with these guys, going through their old stocks and eating rustic dinners in their country home. When booze tastes as good as it does from a Camut bottle, it's a wonderful thing to know your money is going to two wonderful people, as well.
3. John Glaser - Compass Box: What I love about John Glaser is his class. He's a classy guy. I don't mean he wears fancy clothes, or drives a fancy car, but rather he just carries himself with dignity. He's polite, caring, mild-mannered, and concerned. He's always willing to help a friend (me, when I need it) and he's just easy to get along with. From a whisky standpoint, what I admire about John is not only his respect for the legacy of single malt, but his understanding that a beverage should be fun and drinkable, not stuffy or esoteric. That's really an analogy for John, himself.
2. John Cross - Whisky Collector: When the Whisky Advocate's Lew Bryson emailed me a while back, saying he needed a recommendation for an article he was writing about whisky collectors, I told him: "You have to feature John Cross!" (go back to that issue if you want to read about John). John Cross is not only a nice guy to do business with, he's just a nice guy--period! He's so nice that when we broke a bottle of the sold-out 1979 Glenfarclas for a customer's order, John offered to return one of his bottles back to K&L because the idea of the other guy not getting to taste it made him upset. He's so nice that once, while picking up an auction order, John found out that our Champagne buyer Gary Westby had bid on the same lot. He opened up the box right there on the counter and handed a bottle to Gary, saying, "We should both be drinking this then." In a battle of nice guys, John would almost always reign victorious. My face lights up every time he walks into the store.
1. Jim Rutledge - Four Roses Master Distiller: Was this one even a mystery? Jim Rutledge is my booze idol; he's everything I want to be when I grow up. I don't want to be a master distiller, though. That's not what I mean. I want to be calm, collected, and generous like Jim is. I want to see the good in everyone like Jim does, and not let the annoying things in life get to me. The first thing Jim does when he visits K&L is shake everyone's hand on the staff, then go right to the shelf and sign every bottle of Four Roses with a special pen so that the next few customers can have a collector's item. He personally conducts tours of the distillery if I call ahead for a customer, and is adamant about me having his cell number so that I can contact him with any concerns I have (I try to NOT give people my cell!). Bourbon tastes that much sweeter when it comes from a Four Roses bottle because Jim is the guy who made it. He is, without a doubt, the number one nice guy in the business.
At thirty-four years of age, I can begrudgingly admit that I'm now too old for most video games. I tried delving back in via the Xbox 360 a few years back, but that experiment failed miserably--there were too many new tricks to learn for this old dog. While the Nintendo Wii, with its remote control wand and motion-sensor magic briefly held my attention back in 2008, there wasn't enough substance to warrant the experience. However, when they launched the Wii U last year (with a new touch pad controller) and added in Super Mario World 3D, I was intrigued.
And I finally found the sweet spot.
It was a combination of things that brought me back to video games; a formula of: nostalgia + short learning curve + updated graphics. Super Mario World 3D wasn't only a fantastic experience; it might be the best video game I've ever played. While I enjoyed that experience immensely, the real test comes tonight when a package from Amazon will await me on my front porch; inside it, the newest incarnation of Super Mario Kart. The ability for video games to reach me on a deeper level will hopefully be revealed with this release. Let me give you a bit of context.
Picture it: the Roosevelt dorms at UCSD in 1997. It's getting near dawn. All is dark and quiet, save for a small room on the second floor of Earth Hall that has a flickering light coming out of the back window. Even from a distance, if you were to focus closely, you would smell a combination of cigarette smoke and bong water, and possibly hear some faint screaming. As you walked closer, the noise would be even more apparent. It wasn't a consistent noise, or a steady stream of rowdy voices, but rather a thirty second period of short grunts and giggles followed by one triumphant yell and a medley of moaning. It was the sound of five 18 year old punks playing Mario Kart 64 deep into the night.
"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" I screamed.
"YESSSSSSSSSSSSSS!" my roommate Kai exalted.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" chimed in the three other hoodlums.
The race had been run. Kai had won yet another round of Rainbow Road with Donkey Kong, coming back to win by securing himself a heat-seeking turtle shell at the finish.
We exited the room and spilled out into the main hall. A stomping of footsteps came up from the stairway and a mad, red-eyed woman came into the lounge. She stood there glaring at us, shaking with anger. It was our Resident Adviser, Kelly, who lived in the room underneath mine.
"Do you guys have any idea what time it is?" she said, biting down hard on her teeth.
"No, what time is it? I asked.
"It is 4:20 in the morning! I have to sleep!" she screamed at us.
"4:20?" Kai asked, with a huge grin on his face. "Yeah!! Time to go smoke some more!"
We all burst into a huge fit of laughter and began yelling again. Kelly wasn't amused.
"I'm writing all of you up for this," she announced, heading straight back down to her room in a fuss.
There were many nights like this one over the next few years; laughing, drinking, yelling, screaming, and loving the competition that the Nintendo race vehicles brought out in us. Mario Kart wasn't just a game for us back then, it was a way of life. To this day I still share numerous inside jokes with some of my older friends that revolve around that game. If Mario Kart 8 can even come close to rekindling a bit of that magic for me, I'm probably going to spend many a teary-eyed evening in front of the TV.
So you know what I'll be doing tonight: I'll be grabbing some take out, a few bottles of wine, and heading straight home once we lock up the shop. The Wii U will be on, I'll be figuring out the new controls, and hopefully grinning from ear to ear as I remember the good old days of racing; likely texting a few of my friends about the experience. There are few things in life that go as well with drinking than a great video game.
Come 11 PM, I will definitely be drunk, and likely loud. Luckily, my wife can't write me up for that kind of behavior. That's the one good thing about growing up.
Drama, drama, drama! I loves me some drama!
But, really, how much drama are we really going to start by selling the Singleton 12 year for $27.99?
Some, but not a whole lot.
Let's turn it up a notch. Let's drop our Ardbeg prices. Let's drop them so low that we're even lower than those mom and pop stores that practically give it away just to get you in the door to buy something else. Let's drop it like we did when Ardbeg brought the new motorcycle a few weeks back. That seemed to make everyone happy. But instead of doing it "in-store only" let's open it up to the entire K&L customer database!
In celebration of the new Auriverdes and the fact that Ardbeg has remained one of the most consistent single malts in terms of quality and price, I'm going to make K&L not only the best Ardbeg retailer in the nation (because we're already that, if you didn't know), but also the cheapest (which we weren't until this moment). It's important to us here at K&L that some of the best whiskies on the planet remain affordable and within reach of all our customers; the fact that Ardbeg can taste this good, yet be this inexpensive is a pretty terrific thing for consumers.
I know my friends at Ardbeg are going to cringe when all this low Ardbeg pricing sends people into hysterics, but it's not because I hate Ardbeg that I'm lowering these prices; it's because I LOVE Ardbeg that I'm lowering these prices!
Don't you see?! I'm doing it because I LOVE YOU! WHY CAN'T YOU SEE HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU AND THAT WE SHOULD BE TOGETHER FOREVER???!!!!
All stalker-ish jokes aside, I want everyone to load up on the fantastic new Ardbeg Auriverdes and take some of the other expressions as well. These "dramarama" prices are only good, however, until midnight tonight! We can't afford to do this for more than a few hours, so at 12 AM PST I'm changing the prices back!
I'm guessing these will sell very fast, so I wouldn't spend much time deliberating! We're already the nation's top account for Ardbeg without this pricing. I can only imagine what's going to happen now:
Ardbeg Auriverdes Limited Edition Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - In the realm of what is now a bi-annual certainty -- these limited edition, get-them-while-you-can, special release bottles -- Ardbeg has almost always reigned supreme. They've brought more intensity (the Supernova), they've brought extra spice (the Alligator), and they've even played around with cask finishing (the Galileo). The thing about Ardbeg, however, is that their whisky is already perfect how it is, so why mess with perfection? Why tweak it or finagle with it? Why not just celebrate it? That's what this year's Auriverdes is all about -- a celebration of the 2014 World Cup with a new, softer, more supple version of its peaty goodness. Inspired by the Brazilian flag (Auri - gold, Verde - green), there's nothing weird or new going on with this whisky, just impeccable execution. It's also a whisky of green peat and golden oak with big, bold smoke and a soft mocha finish. The 49.9% proof intensifies the spice, but the vanilla wins in the end. More important than any of the marketing, however, is the quality. This is the best new Ardbeg in years -- period. No tricks, no gimmicks. Just good. That's reason enough to celebrate.
To all of our Chinese-speaking customers out there, we have something to tell you about the new Kavalan whiskies. Our Taiwanese-born Angie An just told me:
K&L Wine Merchant 新貨上架, 是讓當台灣人的我驕傲的一天. 這瓶金車威士忌是讓蘇格蘭人都掉了下巴 前幾年在蘇格蘭威士忌盲飲比賽中得到冠軍! 噶瑪蘭 (Ka Va Lan) 這瓶威士忌是從台灣宜蘭生產出來的, 而他的名字也就是宜蘭早期的本名. 這瓶頂級指揮(從網站) "投入雪山山脈純淨甘甜的天然水源，經過二次蒸餾，僅擷取10%酒心，以高規格、嚴謹的態度熟成。金車頂極指揮威士忌以單一麥芽之姿，精選八種不同風味酒桶，呈現複雜又乾淨的多層次風味。46度無冷凝過濾，無添加焦糖，原色純味" 喝下去口感真的很讚! 生為台灣人或威士忌愛好者在死前一定要試的一瓶!!!
If you need more information about our spirits and your preferred language is Chinese, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
We're so excited about these new Kavalan whiskies we're willing to tell you in any language we can!