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Friday
Jan112013

Letters to the Editor

Wow! I missed some drama while I was gone! David OG just tore Diageo a new A! You can see how difficult it is to be both a whisky fan and a whisky salesman. We're torn between our livelihood and our own personal emotions. Sometimes we just can't take it and we have to blow the whistle. Has Diageo just reached its Netflix moment by almost doubling the price of Talisker 18? The only people who can decide that are the customers buying their products.

In other news, I received this thoughtful email from a man named Weston Renoud who just started reading the blog. He was responding to the post about "haters." I thought this was quite insightful:

...on to your discussion of "haters." I feel you focused a bit too much on perception and presented a veiled argument for persecution. Perceptions often originate from experience, and I think you brushed under the rug the behavior of the wider scotch, wine, and food enthusiast communities. Frankly I think any community that doesn't make a concerted effort to be accessible will involuntarily become exclusionary. I think a better discussion to have than categorizing misconceptions of scotch drinkers (which is preaching to the choir) would be to discuss inclusionary behavior.

Too often I get irritated by fellow scotch drinkers who are drawn to the cachet of scotch but have little appreciation for it. They often have no idea how it's made (which is why they'll buy based on color) but are happy to extol it's qualities. This is not unique to the scotch community, this is the syndrome of the "newly initiated," which lives in the spectrum of the fanboy/fangirl.

I think there are a couple simple steps that could improve the situation of the persecuted scotch drinker.

1) Don't preach to the heathens. If someone isn't interested you can't convince them to get interested. Sit back and enjoy your scotch. This is like the evangelicals putting the bible on their lap to witness. If someone engages you in conversation with a question they'll likely be much more receptive to your story.

2) Demystify. If someone does express interest explain the process of making scotch. It is not that much more complicated than beer (leaving subtleties aside). Empowering someone with knowledge is a quick way to make friends.

3) Use straightforward language. Language can be powerful in more ways than one. Using language or meanings that someone isn't familiar with is a quick way to run them off. My father-inlaw likes scotch but isn't well versed in the language used to describe it. Discussing a heavily peated scotch I said it smelled like a campfire and he was instantly grinning. He felt empowered with language he not only could understand but held strong associations with. From there we started to discuss peat and the malting process.

I just realized this is sounding preachy. Really, I appreciate your blog and your passion. You sound like a great guy to sit down and have a scotch or dinner and some conversation with. I will looking forward to your future posts.

I think what wasn't implied enough in my original post was the idea that whisky connoisseurs can be victims of their own community's exclusionary behavior. I think point 2b covers the issue of the everyday Scotch guy who wants to drink something nice, but is getting lumped in with the pedantic know-it-alls. Believe me, if there is anyone who is more vehemantly against his own community, it's me. I hate all the wine snootiness, the bullshit pairing rules, and the people who use their knowledge as a way to make themselves feel superior. If anyone should be persecuted, it's these people, not the haters who are simply reacting to what they're feeling. However, I think it's important to understand why haters hate if you're going to avoid these confrontations. What I think Weston explains very well is how to appease these haterisms. 

 -David Driscoll

Wednesday
Jan092013

This is the end...

So I usually leave the incredulous ranting to Driscoll, but today I just can't help myself. We've all heard talk about whisky prices going up. Old & rare prices are astronomical. Old Pulteney 21 year went up $20 in a matter of weeks after winning Best Whisky of the Year. Every few months our Macallan rep informs us that the range will be taking a price increase. Sometimes $3 sometimes $5, occasionally we'll see larger price jumps $10-15 a bottle on the high-end.  But today, I've just seen the beginning of the end.  It is truly sad day for all single malt lovers and a clear picture of how the whisky companies plan to move forward. I would call it abuse, but they call it business.

Today, I tried to buy Talisker 18 year. This is a moment I look forward to every year, it only happens once or twice. Talisker 18 year has long been considered one of the finest values in Single Malt. It may not be an A+ whisky, but it's really very good and for under $90 it is a true "value." That’s its thing, the whole shtick, a lot of whisky for not a lot of dough. So, of course when it comes around we buy as much as we can fit in our small warehouse. While we've seen price incremental price increase on this product over the years, the market has happily absorbed them without much trouble, until today. The order went through as normal price quoted at the same rate we received last time, but when the product was actually delivered, my operations guys were confused. Had they shipped 6 packs instead of 12 packs? What's going on with these prices? My problem is not that no one told me the price had doubled, which is what the distributor assumed, my problem is that anyone think that this whisky is worth $150. It’s a freakin’ travesty. Their excuse is the whisky shortage. For years, whisky companies have relied on the so-called whisky shortage to justify price increase, but today the gouging has officially begun. The truth is there is no whisky shortage. The shortage is of whisky that's actually worth what you pay. There’s plenty of crappy cheap whisky out there. There’s a deluge of super expensive choices that only a select few can afford. There is, however, a shortage of good whisky that is not wildly overpriced. Anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something that is well…overpriced. I mean I'm trying to sell you something too, but this is honestly not a moral quandary. We just WON’T do business this way. We’re not going to sit here and say, “well this whisky used to be one of the best values in the store, but well now it’s just good whisky that’s super overpriced.”

 At a certain point, these companies are going to stifle the business that they’ve come to rely on, but we’re not going to sit here and help them with it. They say, “Hey guys, we’ve raised the price every year and no one has stopped buying. Why don’t we just take the next ten years of price increase now and take those profits immediately? There’s a whisky shortage after all. People will pay anything for this stuff. I mean we're still making less money on this than when we dump it into Johnnie Walker. No one will notice.” Unfortunately, we HAVE noticed. I mean I was literally prepared to buy nearly 200 hundred cases of Talisker 18 year. I'm not sure who is going to be able to sell this stuff at this price, but I can assure you that I will be laughing at whoever does. The only way to move this product at this price is by ripping off your customers. Eventually, every bottle of Talisker 18 year at the old price will be sold, if it hasn’t already. All that will be left is this new product at an outrageously high price. It will all seem like a normal thing, “Talisker 18 for $150. Well, Macallan 18 is $180, so this seems like a deal!” But it’s not. In the end you’ll still be getting ripped off. I love Talisker 18 year. I really enjoy it. Now I'm sad because it is dead to me.  And it should be dead to you too. Please find and buy all the 18 year you can at the old price because anyone who buys it for $150+ is a sucker.

Tuesday
Jan082013

OK, Now I'm Leaving

No computer for the next four days. See you all for more blogging this weekend!

Check out SKU's Recent Eats in the meantime. He's been reviewing K&L brandy as of late (and doing a damn fine job of it, I must say)

-David Driscoll

Monday
Jan072013

What Makes Haters Hate? (Part I)

Oh the many times I've been deep in the midst of a passionate ode to one of our many wines or whiskies, only to watch the eyes of an annoyed companion roll wayside in their contempt! -The K&L Bard

I've been there. I'm sure many of you have been there. You're gushing about your passion for quality booze and someone says, "It's just whisky." Not to us! For me, alcohol is my biggest hobby, not to mention my profession. I derive oceans of enjoyment from delving into the history and the production methods, while building relationships with the people who make it. I'm not asking anyone else to care as much as I do, but I at least want to share with others what I feel makes good booze so exhilarating. Some people have a problem with that, however. It bothers them that we care so much about something they don't.

We're not alone either. There are many other people who feel this way about their own personal interests. Shoes. Traveling. Pizza. There's a guy in San Francisco who makes amazing pizza at a place called Una Pizza Napoletana. He's dedicated his life to making the perfect pie, so much so that he was written up today in the SF Chronicle. You wanna know what the comment field said?

It's bread with cheese on it. Sure, good food is nice but why do people get all religious about it?

Sometimes people don't get it. Sometimes not getting it makes them feel defensive. Feeling defensive causes them to speak out. Speaking out makes them a hater.

However, the mentality of a hater isn't a simple one. You can't just pigeonhole these people into one type of group because not all of them are the same. I've been thinking extensively about this subject as of late and here is what I've come up with. We'll start with the following scenario:

Let's say you're at an every-day, working-class bar. You pull up a stool and you ask for a glass of Scotch. Everyone else in the bar is drinking Dewar's, but you ask for the fancy stuff because you don't want Dewar's. People in the bar immediately glare at you for doing so. Why is this happening?

1) In their mind, we think we're better than them. The first thing that haters tend to think about people who enjoy fine spirits is that we think we're better than other people. Sometimes this is true, so you can't necessarily fault them for their stereotypical view. There is a good deal of wine and spirits afficionados who buy expensive bottles to make themselves feel superior. However, haters are usually unable to decipher between drinkers who simply enjoy good booze and people who want to impress others, so you're going to feel the wrath regardless of which group you fall into.

2) Knowing more about something than someone else can cause dissension. Some people don't like it when you understand something they don't. Science. Art. Music. Literature. Pop culture. Booze. However, this point needs to be further subdivided. 

a) You don't really know anything and you're faking. I know many people who think that wine is wine and beer is beer. Anyone who thinks a bottle of beer should cost five dollars is crazy and/or stupid. They're just acting like it's better because they want to feel cool or superior (see point #1).

b) You're being a pedantic know-it-all. Some people don't like to be lectured or have anything explained to them. There are plenty of pedants who feel the need to brag about their heightened sense of culture, so again you're being unfairly stereotyped if you're not one of these people. Even if you sit and drink your fancy single malt quietly, they're not going to be able to get past the idea that you know something they don't and that makes you a know-it-all. Otherwise, why would you be drinking that?

c) You actually do know something and they're jealous about it. I feel like this scenario is the least likely to happen, but it's the most commonly-used retort when dealing with a hater. "They're just jealous." Anyone who actually says that is probably wrong, but it can be true. People don't like the idea that they may be missing out on something. Most people who are curious about a new experience will seek that experience out and try it for themselves. Some people will not. Those that don't will sometimes experience anger towards those to do because they have the means, courage, or desire to follow their curiosity. This can result in a general defensiveness, as in, "Whaddya wanna go to that fancy college for anyway? I didn't go to college! You think you're better than me?" (again, see point #1)

d) They like whisky too and they feel they're in a competition with you. Some people are in a competition to know the most, be the smartest, or live the most authentically. Who knows more about Bauhaus architecture? Who knows more about singer-songwriters from the 1970's? Who knows more about whisky? If you order something they're not familiar with it could make them uncomfortable. What do you know that they don't? Grrrrrrr........

3) The idea of dedicating so much time to one thing is ridiculous. I hear this one all the time. "Who would spend so much time thinking about wine? It's just foolish." However, that point of view can easily be turned around on just about anyone so it's a pretty dangerous thing to say. I can just as easily judge the way someone else chooses to spend their time, as well. That being said, people who work hard, have kids, mortgage payments, medical bills, and are facing other serious issues in life may be offended by someone who dedicates their free time to whisky. You can't always blame them.

4) Your enthusiasm for whisky is very uncool. Ironic, hipster culture hates enthusiasm. If you're enthusiastic, you're not paying attention. You might be in a bar full of bearded, twenty-something, basket weavers who are drinking Dewar's because it's antiquated and not currently popular. Here you are, drinking your single malt, all enthusiastic and shit. So uncool.

5) They're simply bitter people who hate everything. You are in a bar. The chances that many people around you are drinking simply because they're mad at the world are very high.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Jan052013

Vacation (kind of)

I'll be in the Redwood City store today, but then I'm outta here for a week. Here are some things you'll need to know in the meantime:

- Wednesday night tastings start back up next week. We'll have St. George in the SF store pouring their Aqua Perfecta fruit brandies - pear, cherry, and raspberry. Not that they were ever anything less than wonderful, these products are better than they've ever been. We retasted the pear at this year's Good Food Awards and it was jaw-dropping. Colorado's Peach Street Distillery will be in Redwood City. They've got two new gins, done the old bathtub way, and one of them comes in a liter bottle at 55%. I quite like it in a high-octane Negroni. They'll also have their Peach Street Bourbon on hand, which I have yet to taste, but have heard good things about. You won't want to miss this.

- I'm expecting delivery of three new Four Roses casks at any time. Keep an eye out for those. If they land while I'm gone I will try to post from the road. They're all so good I know they'll sell through quickly, especially because people want new Bourbon like nothing else (and there is nothing else this good, believe me).

- Starting today, we'll be able to store booze in our main warehouse, which marks a huge victory for David and myself. We've purchased a new license (thanks to the upswing in booze sales) so those of you who ship will be able to get your bottles much faster. Normally they have to be transfered to the shipping department via one of our three retail outlets, but that will soon be phased out. Exciting times! Straight from the shelf, into a box, to your front door!

- I talked with LVMH yesterday and they said to expect the new Glenmorangie Ealanta at some point within the next few weeks. This will be a 19 year old release aged in heavily charred American white oak. I've tasted it. It's fantastic. Exactly what you expect. This should run around $125-ish. Don't quote me yet.

Enjoy your week. I might post something before next Saturday. I might not. We'll see how it goes!

-David Driscoll