Supernova Sneak Peak

I got my little sample pack of Ardbeg's new 2014 Supernova release yesterday—complete with foam space shuttle. At 55%, I'm utterly taken aback by how gentle the whisky comes across on the palate. There's so much peat that everything just kinda evens out, then turns into a lovely butterscotch candy on the finish. You would think it was 47%—maybe 48%, but definitely not over 100 proof. It's an incredibly balanced whisky considering that its purpose is to blast you with smoke and peat.

As the nation's top Ardbeg account we will be getting plenty of Supernova, but there will be a one bottle limit upon launch—no pun intended—so if you're looking to stock up you'll have to get more elsewhere. Watch for the notice around September 15th.

-David Driscoll


Black Maple Oregon

I've been busy lately. With the hectic schedule I've been operating, I had simply forgotten about CVI Brands in San Carlos (just down the street from our Redwood City store); especially after the Black Maple Hill relationship transitioned from Kentucky to Oregon. Paul Joseph, who owns the Black Maple Hill label, had been working with Kentucky Bourbon Distillers for years—churning out a number of now-legendary Kentucky Bourbon expressions (and now long, long gone as well). We’ve been doing business with Paul for more than a decade, but for some reason tasting his new whiskies just fell off my radar of things to do. Then I noticed that David OG had already started selling the new BMH selections out of Hollywood and they were selling like wildfire (even at double the old price). I made it a priority to go see Paul this week and see what the situation was with the new label.

The first thing I asked him was, “How long did it take to find a new supplier for Black Maple Hill once you learned that KBD was terminating the relationship?”

“Fortunately, not long,” he said. “But it had to be the right fit, so I was willing to look forever if need be.”

I took a sip of the Bourbon, and then the rye. My eyes widened. They were way better than I was expecting them to be.

“These are quite good!” I said, not hiding my surprise. And I was surprised.

“Of course,” he replied. “We wouldn’t put the Black Maple label on anything that wasn’t good. I would have waited ten years before releasing more whiskey if that’s what it would have taken.”

Paul had already been distributing the Stein Distillery whiskies in California, but they were all two year old expressions that didn't "wow" me. Tasting them again side-by-side, the BMH selections were decidedly better. Way better.

“Are these older?” I asked.

“Yes, they’re both a minimum of four years old, but there are older whiskies married in. That was my first question for them,” Paul said, “’Do you guys have anything older we could use?’ And it was clear upon tasting them that the guys at Stein knew what they were doing. It really starts improving at four years in wood.”

The Bourbon is terribly deceiving. It smells super “crafty” on the nose, but the palate is soft and rich, mellowing out beautifully with a flurry of baking spices. The rye is the same, but with more herbaceous notes and a bit more oak and a hint of sweet cherry on the finish. I know very little about the Stein distillery, but I’m now suddenly curious to know more. Paul is a very resourceful guy, so I don’t know why I doubted his ability to regroup with Black Maple Hill after the KBD relationship ended. I saw Oregon and just assumed: “craft”, but there's more going here than just new oak and white dog.

Seeing that Black Maple Hill has always been more about the “unknown” rather than the “known,” I’m sure these new expressions will continue to intrigue whiskey drinkers in search of something new. The mystery has always been part of the appeal.

Black Maple Hill Straight Oregon Bourbon Whiskey 750ml (1 bottle limit) $79.99

Black Maple Hill Straight Oregon Rye Whiskey 750ml (1 bottle limit) $79.99

-David Driscoll


Industry Updates (Thoughts)

I read this week that Heaven Hill will be launching a new 15 year Bourbon exclusively for their gift shop and that the asking price might be around $250 per bottle. This falls right in line with what I've been hearing around the industry at the moment; that we might be in for a huge sea change concerning one of Kentucky's unspoken whiskey rules: Bourbon is supposed to be cheap. Now there's no law written on paper that regulates what Kentucky whiskey should cost, but there has without a doubt been a collective attempt from the larger players in the industry to maintain Bourbon's blue-collar roots. It's a source of pride among many distillers we've met over the years, as fine Kentucky whiskey has always transcended social class. The result of this unspoken policy, however, has allowed for gigantic mark-ups on the secondary market, as scalpers continue to buy up the inexpensive stock of Kentucky's most affordable (and desirable) expressions, and more than quintuple the price for these now hard-to-find bottles.

When will we finally hit that watershed moment when a number of Kentucky producers say: enough's enough?

Soon, maybe. And you can't really blame them. If Pappy 15 sells for $500 on the secondary market, why should $400 of that profit go to a greasy scalper, instead of to the Van Winkles and Buffalo Trace who actually produced the product? That's what the Bordeaux producers said to each other in 1995 and things have never been the same for the wine industry since. If you're not a wine drinker, here's a bit of background for you:

1995 was a great vintage for Bordeaux. The wines were (and still are) amazing, the prices were reasonable for the level of quality, and the scores from critics were through the roof. At the same time, however, California had producers like Harlan, Dominus, and Opus One selling out their Cabernet-based wines (that were not nearly as revered as their Bordeaux counterparts) for double or even triple what most first-growths were going for. On top of that, there were loads of wine speculators getting rich, buying Bordeaux futures at first-tranche, pre-arrival pricing and tripling their money on the auction market when the wine actually showed up. There were some serious rumblings in the Medoc after that. In 1996, after another fantastic vintage with more outstanding press, the Bordalais started looking around to see what their wines were selling for at auction and on the grey market. They said to each other: "We're leaving millions of dollars on the table by not raising our prices." Latour was sellling its wine for $200 a bottle, only to see that same bottle sell for $800 at an auction later that year. By 2000, which was considered to be the "vintage of a lifetime" in Bordeaux (until 2005, and then followed by the "best vintage ever" in 2009), many Bordeaux producers had tripled their prices, and the wines still sold out quickly. That's when things started to explode.

In 1996, a bottle of Haut Brion would have cost you $189 on pre-arrival. In 2009, we sold them for $1100 (and they sold out in minutes). That's almost a 600% increase in a span of fourteen years without any increase in quality. 1996 and 2009 are both outstanding vintages. The only force that drove that price up was increased demand and the fact that Haut Brion was tired of missing out of profits it felt rightfully belonged to the Chateau (the exact same situation we're seeing in Kentucky). With Bordeaux as a historical example, my question now is: how much longer will Kentucky Bourbon producers hold true to their working-class morals before the urge to raise prices and reap those profits becomes irresistible? 

I've seen signs of weakness beginning to show themselves over the last few weeks. We've been working behind the scenes with a number of producers, and prices for whiskies we had agreed to purchase for one price are now suddenly double what we had originally agreed upon ("things have changed," they tell us). Then this story popped up in the headlines yesterday. Let me say this clearly: I have no clue what's happening at Balcones, but the way the story reads leads me to believe that there's a difference in philosophy between the guy making the whisky and the people looking to profit from it. There's a lot of money to be made in the American whiskey business right now, and with bottles of single malt selling (quickly and easily, mind you) for triple of what comparable bottles of Bourbon sell for (wholesale, that is), I have to imagine it's just a matter of time before that final straw breaks the camel's back.

Before you jump to any conclusions about this situation, ask yourself this: if you made your own whiskey that you sold to friends for $30 and discovered that your friends were secretly selling those bottles for $100 behind your back, how would you react? Let's say you didn't immediately disown all those friends, but instead entered into a business arrangement, selling those same bottles to them for $100 and making that profit for yourself. But then you found out they were now flipping those same $100 bottles for $200! That's what happened to the Bordalais in the 1990s and the prices just kept going up from there. 

I know for a fact that if we were to take our 2014 allocation of Pappy and sell those bottles for quadruple the regular asking price, we would sell it all out in seconds. Luckily, David and I are in control of that pricing and how we allocate those bottles. But what if a new ownership group came in and said, "Fuck that -- you make as much money for the company as possible. That's your new job. Nothing left off the table."

I'm wondering how much longer it's going to be before those types of investors start saying similar things in the Kentucky board rooms. My co-worker told me recently that the Yankees started using StubHub to accurately set the price for their season tickets, no longer allowing that extra profit to go to secondary scalpers. How much longer before Kentucky distillers start using WineSearcher and Ebay to accurately set the wholesale price for their whiskies? We'll have to wait and see! 

 -David Driscoll


Fall is in the Air

The late-evening light of Fall is powerfully nostalgic for me. I'm currently at home nursing a glass of rye with a huge ice cube, while I monitor emails and place more orders for the week. I've got both the front and back doors open, so I can hear the breeze gently ringing the wind chimes on my neighbor's porch. There's a slight chill in the air—just a hint of Fall making its way through my apartment.

I love it. I'm ready for Autumn, and—like a New Englander transitions from white khaki to heavy woolI'm ready to transition from white spirits to the heavier browns.

This bottle of Willett is definitely getting me in the mood.

-David Driscoll


Hot Summer Drankin'

It's been a hot Labor Day Weekend on the Peninsula and there's no A/C in my old school townhouse apartment. The only way to cool myself down last night was to dump glasses of Roca Patron over ice and drink them down until I no longer knew how hot it actually was.

It's been lazy around here. My wife hurt her knee last week, so she can't walk; meaning we've been home-bodies in our stuffy living room, sinking into the couch as the hours continue to tick by. Yesterday evening we watched seven straight episodes of The Twilight Zone on Amazon Prime streaming while the stifling heat slowly turned the fresh berries from the farmer's market into a pool of mushy goo. There's an episode in season three with Charles Bronson and a pre-Bewitched Elizabeth Montgomery as the last two people on a post-Apocalyptic planet. Amazing!

But what to do with all this melted fruit today? Easy! It's time to drink it all up!

If you've got a well-stocked bar you'll never find yourself without an easy solution for dealing with leftovers. I broke out the bottles of rum and mezcal and started whipping up some Labor Day morning cocktails.

First I took all those mushy strawberries off the plate, threw them into the stainless steel mixer with some gum syrup and fresh-squeezed lime juice, and muddled them down into a thick liquid. Two ounces of rum, some ice, and a few shakes: BOOM! A finely-strained strawberry Daiquiri for the Mrs! 

And for me? I took some of those spicy peppers, muddled them into a glass of V8 juice, added some black pepper and Mexican Tajin spice (the secret for this recipe), the leftover lime from my wife's Daiquiri, and two ounces of mezcal from my buddy Jake's Don Amado expression. Voila! A Bloody Maria to start the day with my cold pizza still sitting on the coffee table.

Yes, folks: we really live this way each day. We don't just work at a liquor store; we live the liquor store lifestyle.

-David Driscoll