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Thursday
Jan082015

Oban On My Mind

On a sunny, picturesque afternoon back in 2012, David OG and I drove west across central Scotland towards the seaside town of Oban; home to one of the most iconic distilleries in Scotland. Located downtown, right on the main drag, the distillery is tucked between a small hill and the road that traverses the small bay, for which the town is named after (An t-Òban means "little bay" in Gaelic). We pulled into to the tiny car park, unloaded our cameras, and played whisky tourists for a few hours. There was no business to be done at Oban; we were merely there as huge fans of the whisky. With the latest batch of Oban 18 having recently arrived at K&L, and the West Coast release of the new Oban Little Bay due to occur within the next week or so, I've been thinking a lot about our visit to the distillery two years ago. I really enjoyed that tour. Heck, I really enjoy Oban's whisky. What a great place.

The crazy thing about Oban distillery is that there's only one wash still and one spirit still. That's the same amount of wash and spirit stills you'll find at American upstarts like Westland and Cut Spike (one single pair!). With only four wooden washbacks doing fermentation, Oban is one of the smallest distilleries in the Diageo empire (only Royal Lochnagar is smaller). Its output is so miniscule that none of the whisky produced is used for the Johnnie Walker blends. As the label on each bottle states: "Only so much can be made; it is never enough." Yet, I've got hundreds of bottles of Oban 18 sitting in my warehouse right now. How is Diageo finding the volume right now? They must run that place around the clock these days!

I recently popped a bottle of the 18 for the staff to revisit, hoping to share a little passion with my co-workers. Man, that is some fantastic juice. It's so delicate and nuanced that I'm positive there are folks out there who can't decide whether it's amazing or totally boring. The soft, almost dainty fruit; the smidge of peat smoke on the finish. You can sip Oban 18 slowly, pour the whisky over your tongue, and really ponder each layer, or you could just pound glasses of it—one after the other! I plowed through two small glasses in two minutes. That stuff just goes right down. In my opinion, it's right there with the Glenmorangie 18 for best bang-for-your-buck bottle in the store (although it might be the sole owner of that title once the Glenmo takes a price hike this year).

Considering the minute output of little Oban distillery, and the pride with which the staff makes its whisky (those folks are among the nicest I've met in Scotland), I'm really interested in getting my hands on the new Oban Little Bay when it hits our shelf later this month. I've got Oban on my mind right now. I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more Oban.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Jan072015

The Perils of Choosing the Best

Since the 2015 MLB Hall of Fame inductees were announced this week, the same tired, stale, we're-never-going-to-agree discussion manifested itself in Bay Area newspapers and comment boards: should one-time local hero, and now media pariah Barry Bonds be included in baseball's most prestigious club? And, if not, then what good is the Hall if the best players aren't in it?

Our beloved Giants announcers Kruk and Kuip made their feelings known about the HOF voting process, with Mike Krukow saying he was "disgusted" by how it's currently being done and Kuiper agreeing. This, of course, prompted hundreds of other opinionated folks to come forward and give their two cents. I read the reactions for about two minutes, then I sighed and closed my laptop. How many times have I heard all of these arguments? One side says it can't be the Hall of Fame unless the "best" players are in it, and Barry is the best of all time. Barry was putting up numbers against other pitchers who were also juicing, so it all evens out. Barry would have been a HOFer before he started juicing, so induct him for the early part of his career. This isn't the Hall of Boy Scouts. The other side says if you put Barry in then you have to add McGwire, Sosa, and all the other steroid-injecting freaks. We shouldn't be rewarding bad behavior. Like Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe, these guys cheated and cheaters have no place in baseball's most hallowed ground.

Then I read an article from a columnist who said: "Stop worrying about the past and focus on the future. We just won three World Series trophies in the last five years. I, for one, no longer care about the Hall. It's all a gigantic mess. I care about what's going on right now."

I thought that was a refreshing thing to say. There are so many factors that come into play when choosing the "best" of anything; whether it's whiskey or baseball's finest players. Sitting around and arguing about it might be fun for some folks, but ultimately no one opinion will win out, so why not just walk away from it? Many baseball fans like myself get fired up about this subject because we think it means something important, but it's so much easier to stop caring! Spending this much time thinking about legacy and stature often distracts us from the great things happening around us right now. Again, much like with reviews about wine and whiskey, we're cementing absolute truth or greatness with the opinions of a chosen few. If numbers don't get you in, then Cooperstown is ultimately just a fraternity building where, as time goes by, various groups of men decide who's cool and who isn't. There's nothing validating about being a member of any group when the validity of the process to become one is open for debate.

I loved watching Craig Biggio play in the early 90s. He was a fantastic player. I'm happy he made it this year. But he wasn't better than Pete Rose. Or Barry Bonds. But maybe getting to Cooperstown isn't about being the best. And if it isn't about being the best, then do you still care? 

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jan062015

D2D Interview: David J

When I talk about music from the 1980s with casual acquaintances or colleagues, it usually only takes a few minutes before they ask me how old I am; mainly because it's clear I'm speaking from a memory of that era. "I was born in 1979," I reply.

"But that means you were only six when this music came out!" is the shocked and awed answer I often receive. Yes, I was a child in whatto mestill remains the finest decade of music in rock history. But—let me tell you something about myself that my friends and family have long known—I remember MTV in the 80s better than just about anyone. I was a bonafide MTV addict from the time we got cable in 1985 until they stopped airing music videos in the late 1990s. While my second grade elementary school friends were listening to Greg & Steve, I was bumping Tears for Fears and Echo & The Bunnymen. My parents often had to ask the folks down at the local record shop if what I was listening to was appropriate for someone my age. I was on a first name basis with the manager of that store by the time I was eight. Sure, my brain cells have been ravaged by alcohol over the past decade, but let me tell you: from 1984 to 1997 there's nothing I can't recall about rock music.

Needless to say, when I was given the chance to talk with one of my childhood heroes (and, heck, still one of my current idols) about whisky, I was over the moon. While researching some information about a future Faultline project I'm currently working on (one that will become more apparent as the months go on), I felt there was one man who might be able to give me the answers I was looking for. As it turned out, not only was this man happy to help, he was a big fan of single malt whisky as well (and he was happy to talk about it!). David J. Haskins is one of the most influencial and dynamic rock musicians of the past forty years. The band he founded with his brother Kevin, along with friends Daniel Ash and Peter Murphy in the late 70s—Bauhaus, for those of you who don't know—basically paved the way for post-punk, goth, and industrial music in later years. There would be no Nine Inch Nails without Bauhaus. After Bauhaus split in the early 80s, David, Daniel and Kevin soon reformed under the name Love & Rockets, becoming even more of a commercial success than their previous incarnation. It was the hit single "No New Tale to Tell", sung by David himself, that captivated and converted me into a huge L&R fan.

In 1987, my mom drove me to The Wherehouse on McHenry Ave in Modesto to buy the Love & Rockets album Earth, Sun, Moon, whereafter I returned to my bedroom and listened to that tape on repeat for hours. In 1989, I distinctly remember driving back from the mountains with my dad, while bumping their new hit "So Alive" on the radio. Now, in 2015, David J and I were somehow going to talk on the phone about whisky. In preparing for the conversation I blew through David's incredible memoir Who Killed Mr. Moonlight? Bauhaus, Black Magick, and Benediction, which I highly recommend to anyone who loves music from that era, and came up with a list of questions I thought might be interesting for both music fans and lovers of fine booze. Let's hope I can get through the interview without crying or wetting my pants.

Driscoll: It’s great talking to you, David. I’m most excited because you’re an honest-to-goodness rock and roll guy who still drinks! There are a lot of guys who had to quit over the years. Most of the ones I’ve met, anyway.

David J: I’ve always enjoyed a good drink and as Tom Waits once said: “I don’t have a drinking problem, only when I can’t get a drink!” If I’m writing a song then I find that a nice glass of whiskey really helps to fuel the creative flow. I never drank when writing the book though. That was done whilst following a strict three hour per day regimen and I would only have a drink at the end of the day when I had finished writing. Generally speaking, these days moderation is the key. I give myself at least two days every week where I don’t drink anything at all and I love the clarity that comes with that.

Driscoll: What are you most into drinking these days?

David J: I’d say my standard drink is Jameson. Just plain old Jameson Irish whiskey; no ice, splash of water. I’m rather partial to single malts though.

Driscoll: Any one in particular?

David J: Yeah, I really like Lagavulin. In fact, I can tell you a funny story about the first time I tried Lagavulin if you want to hear it.

Driscoll: Of course!

David J: It was in the early 90s and I was in LA working on an album with T-Bone Burnett. He had invited me out to lunch at this organic restaurant that he was raving about. I ordered a salad. When it showed up, however, I noticed that there—amidst the leafy greens and vegetables—was a big, furry moth with its wings splayed and curly orange antennae soaking in oil. This wasn’t a normal moth either, this was something exotic—like from a museum. It was huge. At first I wasn’t sure if I was hallucinating or not, so I looked at T-Bone and I said to him, “I’m sorry, T-Bone, I know you said that this place was organic but I think this is bit much! Look at this salad and tell me what you see?” “Oh my God!” He exclaimed. So we called the waiter who also said, “Oh my God!” and whisked the plate away immediately. “So sorry, sir! You can have anything you want on the menu for free,” said he, but by then I had lost my appetite. So we split out of there and at T-Bone’s suggestion went down to a local liquor store where he bought a bottle of Lagavulin. As we sat in his car in the parking lot, he described the three stages that we were about to experience: the initial palate, and then the soulful glow, and finally the warm expansive finish with all the peat smoke. “It’s eternal!” He passed me the bottle and I took a swig then passed it back to him and he followed suit. The description was accurate and it’s been a favorite ever since.

Driscoll: I think it’s great that you remember exactly where you were when you first tried Lagavulin. One of my favorite things about booze is that we often link some of our favorite memories to what we were drinking at the time.

David J: Yes, unless we drink far too much and then we can’t remember anything at all! Fortunately this has hardly ever happened to me.

Driscoll: And there are some great moments in your book where you talk about drinking: the time you and Daniel Ash were driving to a show, opened up cans of Carlsburg in the car and then, when they were half empty, filled the other half up with Cognac. The time when Nico met you and the rest of Bauhaus at the studio with a bottle of mezcal. The time you were holed up in New York with those Swedish girls, eating hamburger meat and drinking vodka. Those are great memories and great stories!

David J: And also the time I met William Burroughs at his house in Kansas and he took me on a snake hunt, while drinking huge tumblers of vodka and Coke.

Driscoll: That, too! We all have such great memories of where we were during special moments. Like we all remember the first time we got drunk.

David J: I’ll tell you that story. When we were little kids, my brother and I used to take nips from the miniature bottles that my mum collected—we would fill them with water afterward so that she wouldn’t notice—and I remember the time when a friend of ours came over when our parents were out and we all got drunk on Bell’s Whiskey. This was in 1972 so we were in our early teens. We were blasting Bowie’s "Ziggy Stardust" and having a whale of a time. By the time my parents came home we were absolutely blotto. Our friend had passed out on the carpet, my brother was puking up in a wastepaper basket and I was watching the room spin. My mother couldn’t help but laugh hysterically about the whole situation—although you could tell she didn’t want to—but my dad wasn’t too pleased at all. That’s when our little pal was sent home with his tail between his legs; and his head between his legs, too!

Driscoll: It’s great that you were interested in the bottle of 1988 Blair Athol we did with Signatory because that’s the distillery where Bell’s is made.

David J: Well then it looks like I’ve come full circle!

Driscoll: Have you ever had to go out on the road with other musicians who don’t drink? I can’t imagine what it would be like to travel and not feel comfortable drinking around other folks who are trying to get sober. In your book, you mentioned Trent Reznor’s no-drug policy while touring with Nine Inch Nails in the late 90s. That didn’t apply to alcohol, did it?

David J: No, certainly not (laughs). I really can’t imagine doing a show without having a drink or two before hand just to take the edge off. I have played shows where I was stone cold sober and it feels very strange indeed. The worst thing though is when you’ve had too much and it impairs the performance. You feel like you’re cheating the audience and yourself. That hasn’t happened in a very long time I’m pleased to say.

Driscoll: What was the drink of choice when on the road? Was there an alcohol of choice with Bauhaus that maybe changed when Peter Murphy was no longer with the group?

David J: We definitely started drinking more when touring as Love and Rockets than we did as Bauhaus. Although, we always really liked Champagne when we could afford it. We would have a crate put by in the studio, which we would pop once the album was done. One time Peter necked all the bottles during the two weeks we were working—this was when we made The Sky’s Gone Out. We went to enjoy that satisfying celebratory end of the session carousal and there were just empty bottles and discarded corks (laughs). We called him “Lord Champagne” after that. With Love and Rockets the poison of choice was Screwdrivers.

Driscoll: Vodka was big in the 80s. That was the drink, right?

David J: Yeah, it was. I drank a lot of vodka at that time, but later—in the 90s—I switched over. To the dark side, you could say. Speaking of which, what was the deal with that Bauhaus whisky I saw online?

Driscoll: You mean the post I did with the “Dark Entries” video?

David J: That one, yes.

Driscoll: I thought the name “Dark Origins” was rather sinister and the bottle was rather gothic. Plus, I thought the mysterious hooded figure on the canister looked like you a bit. That was one of the really interesting parts of your book, by the way. The openness with which you talked about that night at graphic novelist Alan Moore’s house and your experiences with the occult. I thought it turned your book from just another memoir about music into a really telling and honest presentation of who you are as a person.

David J: Well, it’s an essential part of the story and I feel that it’s important to talk about everything and to be honest when you’re writing. That attitude is something that is certainly endorsed by Alan. Also, and I don’t want to sound pretentious, but when you can look unflinchingly at all experience and not shy away from the dark and the taboo then that is very valuable and it is how we learn about life and being human and what that really means. With the taking of drink and some drugs can come an intimation of transcendence and the divine. Although I think that illumination can only be a pale, pale shadow of complete enlightenment but valuable none the less. It’s that whole thing of Arthur Rimbaud’s "systematic derangement of the senses".

Driscoll: That reminds me of the part where you talk about drinking absinthe in Prague and were visited by the Green Fairy in a vision.

David J: Right; that was an extraordinary experience. Have you ever seen the lady?

Driscoll: No, but I completely agree with you about absinthe being an entirely different drunk; a totally different feeling. The first time we drank absinthe as a store when the ban was lifted in 2007 was quite special. We were all so happy and communal that evening. I remember people calling me later that night, after leaving my house, just to let me know how happy they were. It was unreal. Each person felt the need to reach out; successively, and unprompted.

David J: The effect of absinthe is certainly quite narcotic. There’s a spirit there with which it is possible to commune I am sure and like most of these spirits, mescal and mushrooms come to mind, she needs to be approached with respect.

Driscoll: What’s one of the more special moments you’ve shared with someone while drinking? Maybe one that wasn’t in the book?

David J: Ok. Back in the early 90’s I had just arrived in New York City to work on a solo record and when I got into my hotel there was a message at the front desk from my friend, the producer Hal Willner, inviting me over to his his apartment. ‘Come over. Alan’s here!’ it said. I knew that Hal had been working with Alan Ginsberg and I thought, ‘could it be?’ I made a B-line down to the East Village, picking up a copy of ‘Howl’ on the way. Sure enough, when I arrived, there was Ginsberg sitting on the sofa! He patted the seat next to him and I sat down. What followed was a fantastic evening of poetry, song, and very good wine.

Driscoll: I would have loved to have met him. Is there anyone that you haven’t met, someone that you wish you could have shared a drink with?

David J: Leonard Cohen. I would love to share a bottle of red wine with him in his little kitchen. Also, possibly Shane MacGowen. Although I fear that I wouldn’t get out alive!

Driscoll: I think it’s great that you got to spend so much time with Genesis P-Orridge. That’s a guy I would love to have had a drink with. Back in the Throbbing Gristle days. I remember seeing the video for “Discipline” as a high school kid in Modesto. That blew my mind.

David J: Now there’s someone who has fully embraced the whole notion of the questioning taboo and the systematic derangement of the senses. To an heroic degree.

Driscoll: What’s the drinking plan for tonight? I don’t want to keep you much longer. You’ve already been so generous with your time.

David J: It’s no bother, really! I’m enjoying this, it’s a bit different from the interviews that I usually do. In fact, it’s making me feel like pouring a wee dram right now. Although, it’s a bit early for me, I have to say. I like to wait until at least five o’clock these days. Unless I’m watching English football early in the morning at 6 AM. Then it’s down to the pub for a pint of Guinness.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Jan052015

Drinking to Drink: The Interviews

Many of you longtime blog readers know thata few years backI started a series of posts called "Drinking to Drink"; focusing on the fun and practical side of drinking, and away from the technical, stuffier side of spirits like single malt or Bourbon. That series resonated with a number of people, to the point that even now most of the email responses I get from readers have something to do with those articles. Then, of course, there's the long-dormant podcast that fizzled out almost as fast as our in-store spirits tastings. While it was a fun experiment, and I'm shocked at how many people have downloaded each episode (in the tens of thousands), there are a number of problems with the audio interview. One: it often makes the interviewee uncomfortable knowing that they're being recorded live, which can lead to awkward conversations. Two: there are a number of technical issues that I don't have time to perfect, and that ultimately limit the quality at which I can produce the show. Three: many readers (aka listeners) don't have time to carve an hour out of their busy schedule and listen to two people talk about booze, but they can skim through a printed interview while taking a break at work or by checking their phone in line at the bank. The amount of people who have read the written interviews I've posted is more than double the amount of folks who have downloaded the podcasts. Typing out the conversations versus posting the audio was an easy answer.

So the podcast is dead, but I'll continue to transcribe the conversations for the blog; that much I concluded needed to be done more than a year ago. The question that was pressing on me, however, was who should I continue to interview (if anyone at all)? Over the past seven years I've met a number of interesting people working in this industry, but I've also met a number of interesting customers; folks who I recognized or knew from their celebrity status. Many of them have become acquaintances, which has in turn led to amiable relationships. Why not interview some of these people, I thought? I know I personally would be interested in hearing how a love for booze played a role in their experiences. A love of all things alcoholic doesn't necessarily mean you want to understand how a column still works, or what the fermentation times are at Buffalo Trace. It might simply mean you're interested in what other people are drinking and why they are drinking it. 

I've said repeatedly over the last few years that the specs (meaning the age, proof, cask number, and name of a distillery) won't necessarily guide us towards better drinking. They can help us come to terms with pricing, but the quality will always remain in doubt until that first sip is taken. That being said, I thought it might be nice to conduct a few interviews with a few recognizable folks who like drinking, have interesting things to say and stories to tell, but don't necessarily take it as seriously as some of us. They're not searching for the gleaming bottle of Pappy, or cask #2363 of 1987 Highland Park from Signatory. They're just folks who enjoy their hooch and have decided they wouldn't mind if I asked them a few questions about it. 

These are people you'll recognize, and hopefully will be interested in hearing from. I thought maybe we should mix it up, rather than continue down the same trodden path. We started with director Steven Soderbergh a few months back, and I figured: why stop there?

Let's give it a go, shall we?

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Jan042015

Sick Drinks 

I hate getting sick; mainly because it happens so rarely these days I forget how draining it is. After teaching elementary school for so long, with little kids smearing germs on my bare hands right and left, my immune system is made out of steel. Getting sick at this point in my life isn't so much a biological battle with disease, as it is my inner conscience acting without my input or permission. I will sometimes go weeks without taking a night off from the sauce, so every now and then—when I refuse to be a responsible adult and give my kidneys a night off—my immune system will pull the rug out from underneath me and teach me a lesson. "You're not going to give your liver the vacation it needs? Fine, we'll take care of that!" it says in bold defiance of my wishes. Then—presto!—I'm sick. The problem with pulling a little stunt like this during busy December, however, is that my immune system also understands I'm needed at work, so it's torn between physical and financial security. It let's me off the hook—until January 1st, that is.

I got home from work on December 31st, the last day of the holiday season, ready to pop a bottle of Champagne and celebrate the end of another successful year at K&L. I was primed to rage; to really get a heat on, until my immune system scoffed and said, "Are you fucking kidding me? You've been boozing it up like Caligula all month long, you jerk! We need a break, buddy, and we're taking it now." And just like that—poof!—I felt the tickle in my throat. 

"Uh oh," I mumbled. "I think I need to go lay down."

"You're going to bed at nine on New Year's Eve?!" my wife asked, shocked and incredulous.

It was a good thing I did, however, because I have been holed up under a blanket ever since; sicker than shit. The thing I really hate about being sick is not being able to drink. I love drinking. It's my job, my love, and my life. When you take it away from me I'm forced to drink things like tea or juice, which can be interesting and delicious in their own right, but not in the same way as booze. I've never been much of a Hot Toddy person, but I decided to make one last night after deciding that being sick didn't mean I couldn't drink, it just meant I was limited to a specific genre of drinks: sick drinks. I grabbed my bottle of 1996 Giboin Fins Bois Cognac, a bit of honey from the fridge, and a lemon from the tree out front. I boiled some water, threw all four components into a mug, and sat on the couch watching some Werner Herzog documentary about life in Siberia; the heat from the mug warming my hands; the balance of sweet, sour, hot, and boozy goodness mellowing the stuffiness in my head.

Once again, I realized that drinking well is just a matter of understanding your situation and your condition. Let the moment dictate the drink and receive it with an open mind (and mouth). Go with the flow, and let the good things in life come to you. Because they will. Hot Toddies are delicious. I'm going to have one again in a few minutes.

-David Driscoll