As we were closing down the Redwood City store yesterday, my co-worker Jeff Garneau said to me:

"Life isn't black or white; it's complex, and nuanced, and difficult to understand. Not everything is instantly clear. The same goes for wine or whisky. But there's no doubt that as a society we've gravitated towards the mindset that anyone who tries to sell you on complexity is trying to pull one over on you, which is why there's an insistence to simplify things."

I thought that was a brilliant statement.

-David Driscoll


Auriverdes Preview

We're still a month away from the U.S. release date, but I managed to get a sneak peak today at Ardbeg's new "Day" release for 2014: the Auriverdes. Bottled at 49.9%, the whisky was reportedly aged in casks with specially toasted heads, creating a richer, bolder flavor profile than the standard Ardbeg expressions. Let's see for ourselves....

The nose smells like standard Ardbeg with the brine and the peat, but without much added richness. The peat and smoke explode on the palate, much like they do with the other Ardbeg whiskies. My first few sips didn't reveal much added depth (even though I really liked the whisky), but I kept at it and came back later to see if maybe the whisky would change on me. It did.

The second time around I got the blast of Islay goodness, but the vanilla note was much more apparent. It's there, it's just buried under all that spice. It's like a Werther's Original covered in phenolic powder -- it's not really clear what's at the core until you get under all that peat. The finish lasts for quite sometime, too -- almost going menthol after a few minutes. I definitely get the idea of Auri (gold -- as in vanilla) and Verdes (green -- as in peat), so overall I think the whisky accomplishes what it sets out to do -- and it's quite tasty.

I've heard this should clock in around $99.99, which is great because we don't need more $100+ whisky right now. We need some solid $50-$80 options, but at least it's not more than $100. Ultimately, you're not getting more quality than what you're paying for (because when would you ever get that in the single malt realm?), but you are getting a solid Ardbeg release that offers something new from the distillery, if not wildly different and experimental.

Personally, I enjoy the Ardbeg Day and Laphroaig Cairdeas releases more when they keep the whiskies more traditional. The Auriverdes is classic Ardbeg, through and through, so it falls into that category. I'd rather have something good that I'll enjoy drinking than something bizarre that simply tries to be outside the box. I think most people will be quite happy to get one when they arrive.

-David Driscoll



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' 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.


"Because, dude. That's 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


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



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