Lot's of the same questions over and over again, so let's answer them here where everyone can read them together!
David – I didn't like the new ________ whisky, but others like yourself thought that it was good. Am I missing something?
I'm sure you've seen an Academy Award winning movie that you didn't like. How can it not be good, though? It won the film industry's highest honor! Personally, I didn't like The Artist or Crash, so how is it that they both won "Best Picture"? This is why the idea of taking subjective opinions and branding them with factual credibility is so dangerous––it sends the message that customer satisfaction is almost guaranteed. If you don't like it, then there must be something wrong with you because everyone else liked it––including a number of experts, right? You can't look at awards, reviews, or ratings that way, however.
As the late Patrick Swayze said to Terry Funk in the critically-acclaimed masterpiece Roadhouse: "Opinions vary." You find me five guys who like a certain whisky, and I'll find you ten who hate it. You show me a review for the worst whisky ever, and I'll show you twenty emails from K&L customers writing to tell me how much they loved it. We're never all going to agree and there will always be people who like something more than others. The only reason we're even having this discussion is because people are spending money based on these opinions and they get mad when the product isn't as advertised. That's what happens, however, when quality is a somewhat subjective issue. Expectations can easily be led astray.
David - I keep reading that there's a whisky shortage, but then I read that it's all marketing hype. Which one is it?
Good God, do I even want to touch this one? Let's handle these product by product. Why can't you find Weller 12, Weller 107, Blanton's, Elmer T. Lee, or Buffalo Trace Bourbon at K&L right now? Uhh....it's not that there's a shortage, it's because aliens landed in Frankfort, Kentucky recently and decided to raid the closest available stocks. Why is there a one bottle limit on Yamazaki 12 (if it's even in stock) and why did the price of Yamazaki 18 double? It's not that there's a greater demand for mature Yamazaki whisky, it's that Suntory bet Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd one dollar that they could double their prices and still grow their business. Why did independent labels like Black Maple Hill and Vintage 17 disappear? It's not that there's a shortage of available Bourbon for these companies to purchase, it's that they just got tired of making tons of money and decided to get out of the game.
In all seriousness, I don't think you have to worry about there being a shortage of whisk(e)y. You will, however, have to worry about a shortage of certain whiskies due to increased demand and lack of mature stock. This issue, however, is becoming a bit like climate change with plenty of people doubting its existence. The problem with both topics is that they're being presented incorrectly (on purpose). You have to be a bit more specific and clarify just exactly what's going on so that people don't say something stupid like, "If there's a shortage then why is all that whisky sitting on your shelf over there?" No one ever said there was a shortage on all whiskey, just a shortage on specific brands and products that have seen their reputations increase over the last few years (which in turn affects third-party labels and independent bottlings).
I think the more annoying part of this story is the inability of some drinkers to simply move on and drink something else. There's a lot of good available whisk(e)y out there that is neither limited, nor in short supply. Which leads me to this question...
David – With prices going up and quality apparently going down, I'm thinking about putting a halt on my whisky buying and simply drinking my supplies. What do you think? Am I missing anything?
I think that's a great idea! That's why you save your money, right? So that one day you can retire and live off of what you earned? There's no doubt in my mind that single malt whisky as a whole was better ten years ago, but there's a very simple reason for that: there was more of it available so the producers could be choosy with their stocks. Today, people are throwing millions of dollars at them faster than they can fill a bottle, so it's not the same game. It's a lot like my level of customer service has changed over the years. In 2007, you could walk into the store and talk to me about whisky for two hours if you wanted to. Today, I'm lucky if I can spare ten minutes because we're constantly getting mobbed. That makes some people sad, but that's the way things have turned. If you're sitting on a heap of whisky from 2000-2007, then there's no way anything from the current market of single malt whisky can compete with that juice: both qualitatively-speaking and price-wise. If you're disappointed with the state of the current market then you should definitely back out. My wife and I did the same thing with our house-hunting; we simply couldn't justify it and it wasn't making us happy.
Personally, however, I don't bunker bottles and I don't live my life looking in the rear-view mirror. I think that's a terrible way to find happiness. I don't have the patience, the space, or the money to save more than a few bottles and I'm one of those people who finds more excitement in the next shiny new thing, rather than the dust-covered antique. That's me, however. I'm always going to try new things, buy new things, and write about new things because that's where I find inspiration. While I lament the loss of old favorites, I find today's market twice as exciting as it was seven years ago. There's more innovation, more expertise, and more consumer education than there was when I first started at K&L. The customer is better-equipped, more open-minded, and more-knowledgeable than ever and that makes my job twice as fun. All of a sudden, David OG and I can start buying delicious, no-name casks of Balmenach 25 and Dailuaine 16 because people have finally moved beyond the big brands. We've crossed our clientele over to new categories like Armagnac and mezcal. Because of the current whisk(e)y market, we're no longer stuck in the same brown box; we've opened new doors and created more awareness for drinks in general. That's so much more fun than drinking Pappy every day.
What's that old saying? You close one door and you open another? Something like that. I would encourage anyone who's fed up with the whisk(e)y market to explore wine (Bordeaux is loaded with hot deals right now after the 2011 and 2012 gluts––that bubble has popped and is giving up the goods), brandy, or even beer (our fridge in Redwood City is jam-packed with new delicious craft stuff). It's a great time to be a drinker. Hell, it's a great time to be alive! Don't let the growing demand for one specific category of drinks ruin the party for you. Find another party. The exploration is half the fun.
With the American launch of Kavalan Taiwanese whiskey imminent, I thought it was time for you to meet one of the nicest guys in the whisky business: Ian Chang, the master blender and whisky creator for Kavalan. We've been super impressed with the precociousness of the Kavalan single malts here at K&L and I finally carved out some time to Skype with Ian and break down exactly why these whiskies taste so good. Come learn a little more about the next big thing in the world of whisky.
You can download this episode of the Spirits Journal podcast here or on our Apple iTunes page. Previous episodes can be found in our podcast archive located on the right hand margin of the page. You can also listen via our embedded Flash player above.
You've always gotta make an effort to try new stuff if you're in the retail game. You never know what might surprise you or catch you off guard. Here are some of the newer things we've brought in this week that we really enjoyed.
Traverse City Straight Bourbon Whiskey $35.99 - Located in Northern Michigan (near the Canadian border) is the Traverse City Whiskey Company which will officially open its own distillery this year (in 2014). In the meantime, they've partnered with a midwestern distillery to distill their own recipe, which is aged in new American oak for at least four years. The whiskey is definitely more traditional in style, reminiscent of some of the other LDI Bourbons on the market (I'm guessing it's LDI juice because the website said it was "created with the help of midwestern distiller."), but the grains are more pronounced and the flavor is a bit fruitier. It's a fun addition to any line up.
Arkansas Black Applejack $49.99 - This is made by a husband and wife team from Northern California who used Clear Creek's distillery to make a family recipe for applejack. They wanted to create an American applejack using the famous Arkansas Black variety of apple, so they purchased the fruit and had it sent to Stephen McCarthy in Portland who helped them distill it, along with some Golden Delicious fruit thrown in. The apples were fermented and distilled at Clear Creek distillery then put into American oak and aged for two years. The result is a robust and assertive spirit that definitely falls into the applejack category and not the Calvados brandy style. Each bottle is from a single barrel. The apple flavor is front and center, but there's more gusto behind it. For cocktail mixing, this is a must-have.
Lovell Brothers Aged Georgia Sour Mash Whiskey $35.99 - Lovell Brothers Sour Mash is made by Carlos Lovell, whose family has been bootlegging moonshine out of Georgia since the 1960s. Now at 84 years of age, Carlos has decided to make his operation legit, creating Ivy Mountain Distillery with his daughter, Carlene. The Sour Mash is made from Georgia corn and aged in American oak barrels. It's still quite young, but there's at least a unique and interesting whiskey character going on already. It's a distillery you'll want to keep an eye on.
Rhum Clement Barrel Select Martinique Rum Agricole $29.99 - This is one of the best deals in rum--period! A select group of barrels is chosen for the Clement Agricole Barrel Select and whoever is doing the selection is doing a great job. The richness is off the charts, but while its supple and round in the mouth, the flavors are never overly sweet. The hint of agricole earthiness comes in at the end, reinforcing the special agricole flavor from Martinique. This is a great segway into the agricole category and a must-have for any serious rum fan.
Bummer & Lazarus Gin $29.99 - This lovely new gin from the Raff Distillery on Treasure Island celebrates the lives of the two most famous dogs in San Francisco history. Luckily for us, it does not take it's flavors from the same story! Instead, they begin with 100% grape brandy from California. This is redistilled with a wonderful mixture of botanicals, Juniper Berries, Orris Root, Coriander Seed, Angelica Root, Bitter Orange Peel, Lemon Peel, Cinnamon Bark and Licorice Root. The product is an fully balanced, yet full powered gin with spicy undertones and a subtle finish. Just like the namesake, Raff Distillery has created something absolutely endearing and uniquely San Franciscan! The story of Bummer & Lazarus from Raff Distillery, "Bummer and Lazarus were two stray dogs that lived in San Francisco in the late 1800s. Bummer rescued Lazarus from a fight and from that point on they never separated. Most of the time, back then, strays were killed on site because dogs outnumbered humans 2 to 1, but Bummer and Lazarus were so loved that there was a separate statute allowing the dogs not only to roam the city, but downtown San Francisco where NO dogs were ever allowed. The reason for this was these were the best ‘ratters’ in the city. When Lazarus died over 30,000 people attended the funeral and when Bummer died Mark Twain wrote the eulogy."
In addition to the gin from Raff Distillery, we've got their new absinthe which is also fantastic. I'm going to have to get over there and check out this operation because I was super impressed with both selections.
This is a fun one, too.
Bittermilk #2 Elderflower Hops Tom Collins Cocktail Mix 17 oz $14.99 - These are pre-mixed cocktail compounds without the alcohol added. The company is out of South Carolina. I think the #2 is out of this world; a mixture of lemon juice, water, cane sugar, elderflower, elderberry, and hops. Just add gin and you're really in business. The barrel-aged old fashioned is pretty dynomite as well if you don't want to buy a big bottle of vermouth and bitters.
Whoohoo! Lots of drama last week! A robust four-figure quantity of Ardbeg gone in just a few hours!
How are we going to top that?
We can't. But we can still have more fun; especially since it's now officially June and the summer months mean rum cocktails.
So how about a HUGE reduction on 10 Cane Rum, which is now being made on Barbados?
10 Cane Barbados Rum (elsewhere $30) NOW $13.99 - 10 Cane Rum is now being produced in Barbados, but the quality is still outstanding -- especially at this hot new price! Despite its light golden color and mellow flavor, this is a rum for mixing. Daiquiris, Mai Tais, you name it -- even basic Cuba Libres with Coke! At this price you can afford to experiment and you're not even sacrificing quality. The hint of vanilla makes it a rocks-sippable delight, but the pure cane flavor lets you know this isn't the cheap stuff.
Time to mix! I'm getting a six pack of 10 Cane and a case of Fever Tree Ginger Beer after work. Has anyone else had the FT Ginger Beer? It's like fucking crack! I can't stop drinking it!