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Friday
Mar202015

Variance - Part II

I've always driven a Honda since the time I learned how to drive. My parents drove Honda Accords, I drove a Honda Accord in high school, my first car in college was a 1999 Honda Civic, and when I first started working at K&L I bought a 1995 Honda Accord to make the commute. It wasn't until a few years ago, when one of my co-workers moved to the East Coast, that I bought his amazing 2003 Volkswagen GTI. The car was seven years old and only had 8,000 miles on it. It was in absolute perfect condition because the guy I bought it from was completely OCD about keeping it clean and beautiful. That being said, never during my time owning a Honda, used or new, did I need to bring either car in for anything other than an oil change. Yet, in my fifth year of VW ownership, not a year has gone by when I haven't needed to replace something or fix a rather pricey issue. While picking my car up last night at the garage (I needed a new thermometer in the engine), I asked my mechanic Andrew (who I trust with my life): "So am I needing constant repairs because the car is old despite the mileage, or is this indicative of a larger problem?"

"Honestly? It's because it's a VW. German cars need constant maintenance. It's part of the deal," he replied.

"So I'm trading power and speed for more time in the shop?" I asked in response.

"Exactly," he said.

It all made perfect sense to me, so I wasn't the slightest bit upset at the reality check. If you like to wear nice clothes (which I do), then you can't just throw them in the washer when they get dirty. You need to take them to the dry cleaner, which can cost you upwards of $60 a week if you go often (which I do). That's part of the maintenance. If you like to drink expensive wine (which I do), then you can't assume that just because you spent $200 on the bottle that your satisfaction is guaranteed. There are no guarantees with wine, which is why guys like me shouldn't be buying $200 bottles. If you can't afford to dump $200 down the drain, then you can't afford to drink $200 bottles of wine because you have to assume that one out of every ten bottles is corked, past its prime, was stored incorrectly, or is spoiled in some way for some other reason. That's why people (not me) buy cases of $200 bottles of wine: to protect against the bad beat. You'll probably get at least ten good bottles from a case.

Then there's the maintenance that goes along with wine collecting: wine storage, wine coolers, temperature controls, etc. By the time you're done, you've probably spent another thousand or more just making sure your wine doesn't go bad after you've bought it. That's why you have to pick and choose your battles. I'm not in for the long-term wine game. I can't afford the upkeep that a serious wine cellar requires and it isn't worth it to me ultimately. Clothing, on the other hand, is. Cars? I don't know. I don't know if I care enough about German speed and precision to justify the upkeep, but I completely understand the concept. It's no different than most luxury items, which require all kinds of extra responsibilities. It's never just about the price of admission (see the film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels where Michael Caine teaches Steve Martin about the responsibilities of having money and class). Enjoying nice things often means spending far more money than you were originally expecting.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Mar192015

The Future

Last summer we were introduced to Sean Venus, a rather unassuming Santa Cruz native who had taken over the old Sarticious distillery space just up Highway 17. His Venus Gin Batch #1 was incredible, quickly becoming one of the top-selling gins we carried. Everyone who bought one came back for a second. But Sean would have more tricks up his sleeve, including a soon-to-be-released Aquavit that blew me away when I tasted it yesterday.

The point: I really need to get over to Santa Cruz, check out this operation, take some pictures, and let you all in on the secret. I’ve been slacking on this front and I need to get my act together. In the meantime, however, check out what just arrived. Mark my words: Venus Spirits is easily the most exciting small distiller in California for the moment and will be a huge story by the end of 2015. The products are impeccable, the packaging sleek and stylish, and the expansion of expressions careful and calculated. I’m really expecting big things for Sean. Here’s what just came in today:

Venus Spirits Batch #2 Gin $36.99 – Batch two of Sean Venus’s tremendous gin uses juniper, cardamom, orange, fennel, coriander, bay leaf, sage, peppercorns, and ages that formula in American oak for a mellow and creamier profile. The orange really gives it a lift. A Negroni is definitely calling my name.

Venus "El Ladron" Blue Agave Spirit $42.99Sean has agave azul from Jalisco crushed and cooked in Mexico, but then contracts a tanker of liquid to be trucked up to Santa Cruz where he can ferment it at his distillery. He then distills a 100% blue agave “tequila” from that fermented juice. It’s peppery, savory, spicy, and FANTASTIC. So creative and so delicious. I LOVE this stuff.

Venus Wayward Single Malt Whiskey $49.99 (1 bottle limit) Sean purchased different types of malted barley and then creates a mash at his distillery in Santa Cruz where he ferments his own wash. That goes into his still to create the Wayward single malt, which is aged in small casks, but doesn’t taste like it one bit. This is real deal single malt, eclipsed only by the Cut Spike and Westland, in my humble opinion. Very limited. Very, very limited.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Mar182015

Variance

I met with my tasting group last night for a leisurely stroll through the vast spread of new K&L Scotch whiskies. As has been the case lately, the reaction was mainly positive (thank goodness!). Getting to watch some of your most knowledgeable and loyal whisky customers analyze, critique, and nitpick through the details of your products in a private and tranquil setting is an invaluable service for me. Most importantly, it allows me the chance to experience these selections from various points of view (something I recently wrote about as the key to better retailing), to see if people react more or less as I hope or expect them to.

There was one moment, while sampling the Tobermory 18 year old from Old Particular, that I heard my buddy Scott say, "I love this whisky. I love everything about it." To which, my good friend Paul said, "Not me. I don't think I could drink a whole bottle of this." This caught my attention because Scott and Paul are two of my all-time best and most discerning customers, so hearing them diverge so adamently over a whisky was something I was interested in listening to more about. After hearing both sides of the discussion, I said to them: "And now you understand why we have to buy so many different casks. One of you loves it, the other doesn't, which is why we need variety in our selection. It can't be just about 'good' or 'bad' or 90 points because no matter how good you think something is, there's always going to be another person who doesn't agree."

"How often do people give you shit about 'bad' whisky?" Scott asked me curiously.

"It happens every single day," I answered.

"What does?" Paul asked.

"Someone emailing me to let me know how disappointed or angry they are that a whisky didn't meet their expectations," I said.

"How is that possible?" Scott asked, incredulously.

"Because whisky isn't ever going to be something we all agree on. Some people out there think this whole whisky thing is cut and dry, right or wrong, good or bad, black and white. Actually, a lot of people do. They think if the notes are good, but their experience is bad, that somehow we've lied to them. But look at what just happened here. Scott: you thought that whisky was amazing. Paul: you didn't. In Scott's eyes, I've just secured him a great bottle and he's incredibly thankful. In Paul's eyes, he would have been unsatisfied had he bought a bottle for himself. So what do you think? Am I wrong, or am I right to have bought that cask?"

"So what do you say when people get upset?" Paul asked.

"I tell them I'm sorry they were unhappy, but usually I have to stand by the whisky. For every person out that doesn't like something there are ten other guys who love it. For every guy who loves a whisky, there are ten other guys out there who hate it. There's always going to be variance. You just have to roll with that," I said.

And then we sat there for a few minutes in quiet solitude.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Mar172015

St Paddy's Barrel Selection

I'm always in the mood for Irish whiskey, but there isn't that much variety when you're talking about the production of only three distilleries. None of the three main players (Pernod-Ricard's Midleton, Cuervo's Bushmills, or Suntory-Beam's Cooley) offer single cask programs, so in order to secure something interesting we have to go third-party. That's where Knappogue Castle comes in. They're an independent bottler with connections to Cooley distillery, so we were able to use their access as an intermediary for a cask purchase. That's why—just in time for St. Patrick's Day—we were able to secure a lovely 12 year old single barrel of 100% Irish single malt whiskey exclusively for K&L. There's nothing gimmicky, or bizarre about this particular selection. It's just classic, soft, easy-drinking, top-quality Irish whiskey through and through. Only 216 bottles available from this ex-Bourbon barrel.

Knappogue Castle K&L Exclusive 12 Year Old Single Barrel Single Malt Irish Whiskey $49.99- Knappogue Castle is a third party label that bottles sourced and purchased whiskies from Ireland's main whisky distilleries. This particular 12 year old cask comes from Cooley distillery, the unloved stepchild to big brothers Midleton and Bushmills. Now that Beam/Suntory has taken over the reigns at Cooley, getting our hands on single barrels of Irish whisky has become much more difficult, so we jumped on this baby while we had the chance. This is just a delicious and classically-flavored Irish whisky through and through. Soft vanilla immediately awakens the palate, with flavors of stone fruit and sweet oak shortly behind it. The backend is creamy and rich, and the finish is malty and round. There's nothing earth-shattering going on inside of this whisky, but it's just darn tasty. It's one of the whiskies where you say, "Man, that's just freakin' delicious. Can I have another glass?" Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, this is the bottle you'll want for your celebration.

We've also got a new barrel of American whiskey in stock—a soft and gentle Kentucky Bourbon from Jefferson's. This isn't going to wow any of your bold, cask strength, Stagg fans out there. This is for those of you who want something mellow and soft.

Jefferson's K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Reserve Very Old Bourbon $45.99 -Jefferson's is one of the few negotiant bottlers left that still has access to real Kentucky Bourbon. Most other second-party labels have moved on to MGP (formerly known as LDI) distillery in Indiana, which makes delicious whiskey, but is rather ubiquitous in today's market. This single barrel from Jefferson's mature stocks is one of the softest, more supple American whiskies we have in stock. The focus is clearly the creamy corn and the richness of the spirit. There's a bit of an herbaceous note on the finish, hints of dried leaves and tobacco, but it's still just a hint in the soft wave of oak and vanilla. In a store full of "cask strength" and "high rye" selections, this barrel clearly stands out from the pack. This is for those who like their Bourbon smooth.

-David Driscoll 

Monday
Mar162015

D2D Interview: Taylor Knox

When you think of the great power surfers of the world, the guys who ride with precision and dynamism, you think of Taylor Knox. He's one of the purest, old school technicians of all time; the guy who others surfers cite as their number one influence when you ask them who their favorite surfer is. Not necessarily one for fancy tricks or the latest modern maneuvers, Taylor is renowned for his style and strength—he'll charge a wave and draw a pure line through the water, carving from rail to rail with precision and power. Not only the world's greatest and most famous breaks, but also huge, massive waves that would scare the daylights out of most folks. In 1998, Taylor was photographed riding a gigantic fifty-two foot wave at Todos Santos along the coast of Baja—a ride that would quickly go down as one of the most significant paddle-in waves ever ridden. Not only is he incredibly adept, skilled, and influential, he's also fearless. In 2011, at the age of forty, Taylor was inducted into the Surfers' Hall of Fame. In the world of surfing, the man is a legend.

While Taylor definitely has a taste for tequila, his real passion is beer. In 2010, while surfing in Puerto Rico, Knox was approached about becoming a spokesperson for a tequila brand, but found the idea didn't really mesh with his surfing lifestyle. Beer, on the other hand, seemed like far less of a stretch. You surf, you come in from the water, you have a beer. Why not be part of a brewery instead? That's when Taylor, and a group of other action sports stars, banded together to spearhead Saint Archer Brewery in San Diego—a craft operation whose beer we now proudly feature here at K&L. Knowing of his affinity for booze, I decided to reach out to our friends at the brewery and ask Taylor his thoughts on drinking. He was more than happy to comply.

In this edition of Drinking to Drink, we talk about Taylor's favorite surf spots, what to drink at each of those places, and the importance of moderation in both imbibing and life itself. Previous editions of the D2D series can be found by clicking here, or by visiting the archive in the right hand margin of this page.

David: How did you get involved with Saint Archer Brewery? Have you always had a thing for beer?

Taylor: I think it all goes back to when I was younger. I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico where cold beer is the thing. It’s also the dream of California, you know? You go surf, you come in, you have a fire on the beach, and you have a beer. Drinking has always been a part of surfing—obviously not abusing alcohol, but the enjoyment of it goes hand in hand. Growing up, my father was always very strict with me. He always told me, “You’re not drinking anything until you can legally drink.” So I didn’t really start drinking very much until I was in my late twenties. That’s when I began to understand the difference between good beer and the cheaper stuff you usually get when you’re younger; when you’re just happy to have whatever’s around.

David: What was the revelation for you?

Taylor: Understanding how the ingredients make a difference and who’s making it, of course, was part of the process. When I started to get into it, and the craft beer movement started to explode in California, that’s when Josh Landon—who was my agent at the time—approached me. I had previously been approached to be part of a tequila company, and so he said, “Let me think about this for a minute. A tequila company, eh?” So we thought: there are definitely a lot of surfers who like tequila—myself included—but you don’t necessarily get out of the water after surfing and start chugging tequila. It’s just not something you do, or that I do, at least. On most days when I’m done surfing I have a beer, so we thought: why don’t we start a beer brand based on our lifestyle and the people that we know in the industry? And that’s how it all got started.

David: Would you say that beer is an easier fit for the surfing lifestyle than other beverages?

Taylor: For sure. One or two beers after a long day of surfing is commonplace, especially when you’re travelling. Let’s say you’re in the tropics or down in Mexico where it’s warm: you’re definitely looking for a cold beer more than anything. I’m not looking for a warm drink, that’s for sure (laughs).

David: Plus beer is universal, and it seems that every country has their own version of it. No matter where you are there’s probably a beer close by.

Taylor: Right, it’s just an easier thing to find. You’re not going to drink a shot of tequila after a long day in the water when you can have a nice, cold Tecate or Negro Modelo—which is my favorite Mexican beer.

David: Sports and beer definitely go hand-in-hand. I went and played golf for the first time in a very long time recently and I was reaching for a cold can of Modelo myself. I was not reaching for a warm glass of tequila.

Taylor: (laughs) You and I feel the same there. Plus, you can’t drink much tequila without getting totally wasted. A lot of time you want to have a few drinks, but you don’t want to be totally shitfaced at the end of the day.

David: In 1990, when you were nineteen years old, you entered the World Amateur Championship surf competition in Japan. Was this your first major exposure to the wider world of surfing?

Taylor: Yeah, it was the biggest amateur event that there was in the world. It sets the stage for you as an amateur. It’s kind of the last thing you do and then you’re ready. It’s like in college football: you go to the bowl game and then you turn pro. That’s the biggest bowl game in amateur surfing. If you do well you can go from an OK contract to making double that.

David: And you finished fourth in that contest, which was a big deal.

Taylor: It was a really big deal because Kelly (Slater) was in it and, as you know, Kelly’s the best surfer of all time. I ended up beating him in the semis to make the final—God, that was so long ago! I was definitely an underdog and I don’t think many people were counting on me making the final. It was pretty cool, being able to beat him in that semifinal. I ended up getting called for interference at the end, which was a bummer because I would’ve placed second had that not happened. But, whatever! (laughs)

David: Were all eyes on you after that happened? Did the brands start calling? Did the sponsors start rolling in?

Taylor: It definitely elevated me. The sponsor I had at the time had made me an offer before that contest, and afterward it was twice as much. I was making $1200 a month, which in my world was fantastic because I was making nothing before that (laughs).

David: And you were doing the thing that you love.

Taylor: Right, it’s funny looking back—I was thinking, “Man, what am I going to do with all this money?”

David: That event obviously put you on the map, but you ended up surfing at a world class level for the next twenty years. You never looked back. You retired in 2013, right?

Taylor: Yes, but I’m still going strong. I get paid to be an ambassador now.

David: What do you attribute your longevity to?

Taylor: I attribute it to staying fit, staying in shape, and doing the form of meditation that I started about thirteen years ago. That’s probably what helped me out the most. I was always known to be a guy who trained hard when I was young, and that obviously helped—I still train all the time to this day. I put out training DVDs even—that was awesome. But later I learned that the body follows the mind, and I thought, “Wow, I’ve never really paid attention to that side of things.” Once I started doing this form of meditation—called Kelee meditation—it was probably the best thing I’ve ever done for my life. It wasn’t just about surfing anymore. I had some relationship troubles early on, just normal guy stuff, and was dealing with some personal issues, so the meditation just helped me to stay grounded, to stay within myself. It also taught me how to look in the mirror, to focus on what I wanted to change in my life without doing something drastic like becoming a vegan, or wearing a red robe and shaving my head (laughs). I had the misperception that that’s what meditation and yoga were all about.

David: It’s funny that you bring this up because writing this blog has had a similar effect on me. It’s forced me to analyze what I’m saying and why I say it, which has in turn forced me to analyze my behavior. I don’t ever assume that others have gone down a similar path, nor do I want to sound preachy, but it’s great to hear what you have to say about self-realization because, despite the fact that booze is the ultimate guise here, it’s a big part of what these interviews are about for me. How does your enjoyment of alcohol fit into the balance between training and meditation?

Taylor: Moderation is the key to everything. I used to train too much. I don’t want to drink too much. When I come home now I don’t want six light beers, I want one tall double IPA. I’m fine with that, and I’m not guzzling it; I’m sipping it. Life got so much better when I took some of the excess off. Excess means excess in anything. I can’t surf eight hours a day, every day, like I did when I was a kid. My body gets sore after that much. I can do it for a few days if the waves are good, of course, but when I was younger it was all day, every day with no stretching. It’s all about enjoying life at this point; more isn’t necessarily always better.

David: That definitely sums up the way many people feel about alcohol as they get older.

Taylor: Right, that’s why I got into the craft scene. I’d rather have one really good beer than three shitty beers. I’ll happily pay extra money for that one nice beer.

David: That’s been the revelation for many drinkers over the last five to seven years: a lot more people realized they’d rather have one good cocktail than two shitty ones. Rather than five shots of shitty Bourbon, they wanted one nice glass to savor. Because of that mindset, the industry has been able to grow and nurture a new community of small producers who can cater to that desire.

Taylor: It’s crazy. It’s like everything has gone up in quality. In San Diego, craft beer is just the thing now. The people I’m seeing aren’t walking out of the store with lower-level stuff. I see them walking out carrying good craft beer, which is cool.

David: I went to college in San Diego in the late nineties and the only place I ever saw Stone was on the commuter train along the coast going north to LA. Now it’s everywhere.

Taylor: Right, now it’s like a giant multi-million dollar company!

David: How has working with Saint Archer affected your appreciation for beer?

Taylor: It’s been super fun. With wine you have sommeliers, right? So hanging out with our brewers has been such an educational process in a similar way. I had no idea that different types of hops are harder to get than others, and that there are premiums on them. You’ve gotta be on a list just to get some of them. It’s a lot like getting certain grapes for winemaking, right?

David: Or like getting a Cannibus Club card (laughs). All the different strains!

Taylor: Right! The one thing I do have going for me is my palate; I can taste the differences between all these strains and relate them to what our brewers are saying about the beer.

David: And that has increased your appreciation for drinking?

Taylor: Yes, and also learning about what these guys go through. What they do for different mixtures and how the fermentation time affects flavor—all that stuff. Every time I go down there I’m asking all these questions: Why are you doing this, and why are you doing that? So much thought goes into it. It’s so technical. The beer world with all the different malts and then the ciders—it’s a lot to work with! I still have a lot to learn.

David: What’s the coolest place you’ve ever had a beer while surfing?

Taylor: I think one of the coolest places to have a cold beer is at Teahupoʻo. You have to get out there with a boat and it’s a real heavy wave. Do you know where I’m talking about?

David: No, I don’t actually. Fill me in.

Taylor: So on the tour they have a contest in Tahiti and it’s called Teahupoʻo or “end of the road”. It’s probably the heaviest wave on the tour and you can only get out there via boat. Where the boats park themselves, it’s so close to the wave—within like thirty feet of it—that you can actually get spit of the barrel and jump right on to the boat. It’s so unique. I’d say that’s probably one of the best spots—to be on a boat surfing all day with the captain, who’s got a cooler full of cold beer right when you come in. Then you go into the hut, ride back to shore, and watch the sun go down. It’s pretty amazing.

David: Is that one of the spots they visit in The Endless Summer 2? It’s been a while since I’ve seen that movie, but I remember a scene with them surfing right near a boat.

Taylor: Oh, you’re talking about Tavarua in Fiji. That would actually be my second favorite place. It’s just an incredible spot to have a beer; plus you’re out in the tropics, so you’re already hot. It’s boiling outside, you’re overheating, and you get that barrel on your last wave that takes you right up to the boat where you grab a beer. What a perfect day.

David: Who’s someone memorable that you got to have a drink with while doing all this?

Taylor: For me, it’s the local people wherever I’m at. In Tahiti, I have some good friends who are from the area. Getting to share these experiences with them is what I enjoy. Even though I can’t speak the language, there’s still the universal language of a smile, a sunset, and a good beer.

-David Driscoll