Golden Guides

I have a pretty vivid memory when it comes to the early 80s; especially considering the fact I was only four in 1984. I remember that year quite well because it was when I got my first Golden Guide––a series of pocket-sized books about nature, originally released in the 1950s. Stars was my first acquisition in the catalog and it sparked in me an interest for reference books that was insatiable. I would eventually collect just about every entry there was––Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians, Cacti, and even Tropical Fish––and I was proud of this collection. Last night, as I went to sleep, I thought back to an afternoon in 1986 on our back patio when my parents had friends over and I showed one of the women these books. I watched as she flipped through the pages, ran her fingers over the images, and made comments like, "Oh, now isn't that interesting." In retrospect, she was obviously patronizing me the way most adults do to small children, but at the time I loved it. A warm sensation went through my body as she showed enthusiasm for my things.

A normal kid would have presented this woman with one or two books and then gone back to playing with his toys. I, however, went back to my room to get a new Golden Guide each time she was done looking at the current one (despite the fact that she was only looking at them to be nice). Considering I had at least thirty different Golden Guides at this point, this must have happened about thirty consecutive times––and each time, despite the fact she was having a conversation with my parents, she would give me the same positive attention and look at each entry with the same level of detail. I think there was actually a moment where I thought I was doing her the favor by showing her all these books. Can you imagine that, however? Going over to your friends' house for dinner, showing their kid some attention, to the point that he goes back and literally brings out every single toy he has, so that you can continue to validate his possessions for about two straight hours? What kind of kid does that?

You could chalk that behavior up to the solipsism of an enthusiastic young person, if you really wanted to, but deep down I know what was really going on: it was the budding seed of narcissism planted deep inside of me––an enjoyment of the idea that everything I had to say and do was important without taking into consideration the feelings or needs of others. It's only solipsism if it eventually disappears. My narcissism did not, however.

While I don't consider myself an extreme narcissist, there's no denying that, when you look at the personality checklist listed in any basic psychological evaluation of the condition, I fit a number of those qualifications, if not all of them. But, of course, to write a blog everyday you have to have some narcissistic qualities, otherwise there would be no way you could keep it up. The main reason blogs fail, in my opinion, is because the author eventually loses interest after receiving little to no response to his or her words. However, when you're a narcissist, you never believe that's the case (or you quit because you don't want to believe that's the case). There was an article in the New Yorker a few weeks back about how tech CEOs never think their company is the one that's going to fail, and how this confidence is almost a requisite attitude for capitalism right now––otherwise, why would people continue to start new businesses when the odds of success are stacked so highly against them? Only a narcissist could believe so boldly in his or her own abilities.

And only narcissists would believe that people want to constantly read updates from their lives, see pictures of their vacations, and hear long, drawn-out stories about something funny that happened to them this past weekend. And only narcissists will get upset, on the verge of tears, when you criticize them or call them out on this behavior, forcing you to eventually acquiesce and tell them they are actually a nice, genuine person in the face of all that rage. They like to argue, to correct others, and to dominate the conversation, but don't you dare try to out-do a narcissist at their own game––they can dish it out, but they absolutely cannot take it. That's why blog comment fields often turn into name-calling, one-upsmanship, and general negativity. Narcissists didn't start writing blogs so that some jealous troll (because that's what every negative reaction must be the result of--a jealous troll) could crap all over it.

My attempts to out-grow my narcissistic skin have made generous leaps and strides over the last few years, but in recognizing my own tendencies I've become hyper-aware of this behavior in others. It's because I'm so ashamed of my own past transgressions that I tend to take a zero-tolerance policy towards others. However, giving a blog to a narcissist is like giving a bag of heroin to a junkie, or a book of matches to a pyromaniac––I'm not always sure that receiving attention from tens of thousands of people is good for my own personal growth. The only way I'm able to maintain my composure is by outlawing any photos of myself and turning off the comment field (which helps me to avoid positive feedback––which is what 75% of it is: "Nice post!" "Good job!")

However, in this day and age, the internet is like a giant playground for people like me; it's an entire society built around narcissism. My generation--the kids who grew up thinking they were special and better than others--definitely fulfilled its prophecy: to create more opportunities for self-adulation. However, the irony of all this social media is that part of being a narcissist is not knowing what people really think about you; it's simply part of the disease. You don't know what people are thinking because you're convinced that everyone is enjoying what you have to say (plus, you're too busy thinking about yourself).

But when you talk all of the time and think you have funny stories to tell, most people are not enjoying what you have to say. Most of the time they're waiting for you to shut up.

That's why I approach the Spirits Journal with more trepidation these days. It's only over the last five years that I realized how deeply my narcissistic roots reach. So while I like to believe that my blog is the exception to all that hot air out there, that's exactly what my narcissistic personality wants to believe: that I'm the exception.

But that's what all of us who write blogs have to believe. Otherwise there would be no blogs. There would only be straight-forward news and reference books; only Golden Guides.

-David Driscoll


K&L Spirits Journal Podcast #30 – George Grant


George Grant, the owner of Glenfarclas distillery, calls in for a brief chat and talks about growing up around a family-owned whisky business, the benefits of remaining small, and why certain vintages of Glenfarclas can taste different than others.

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.

-David Driscoll


Internet Break

Well, my ambitious attempt to document my drinking through each day of the World Cup has already failed. We've been absolutely slammed in the Redwood City store––to the point that I can barely come up for air and have a quick beer, let alone make fancy cocktails and decant great bottles of wine.

I hope you've all been enjoying the games and not checking the internet––not because you want to avoid the results, but rather because, at a time like this, with so many great matches on each day and so many fun ways to drink along with them, you should be enjoying the moment and not checking spirits-related blogs.

I'm going to sign off and enjoy these games rather than try and tie them into new posts. I need a bit of a rest and there's nothing like a few days off to catch your breath. I should have a new podcast up within the next day or two. Look for that!

Enjoy your Father's Day weekend!

-David Driscoll


Drink Your Way Through the 2014 World Cup: Day 2

I've got a big night of drinking planned for Friday because I have to work all day until 7 PM, but then come home to watch three straight World Cup matches while drinking profusely through each one of them. It's not going to be easy.

Let's take a look at the schedule:

Friday - June 13th

Mexico vs. Cameroon

I have no idea what to pair with the Cameroon side of this card alcoholically-speaking, so I'm just going to begin the night with a Paloma (as pictured above) -- a big glass full of tequila and grapefruit soda with ice to represent the Mexican side of the match. The Paloma is one of my favorite cocktails in general, and seeing that I'm married into a large Mexican family, I'll be rooting heavily for El Tri in this game. I might need two Palomas, however, to get that excitement up to the proper level; three Palomas if Cameroon pulls out the win.

What tequila will I use? Probably the Pura Sangre Blanco $25.99 because I'm currently smitten with its unique agave flavor, although it's tough to beat the value on Enrique Fonseca's other brand, Cimarron. That one's only $15 a liter and it's plenty good enough for cocktails.

It's gonna be tough to pace myself for the next game with so much action expected in this first bout.

Spain vs. Netherlands

There's a lot of room for fun with this match-up (and for serious intoxication). Spain obviously runs the full gambit of wine, beer, and spirits, while Holland pretty much has Jenever--the Dutch version of gin. If I'm feeling spry after the Mexico game, I might do a Bols Genever martini (or you could use Anchor's Genevieve, but that's not really from the Netherlands now, is it?) with Valdespino "Inocente" Fino Sherry instead of vermouth. If you've never used dry sherry as the wine component of your cocktail, you might want to give it a shot. It's so much nuttier, saltier, and more expressive than a number of aperitif-style wines like Lillet and its the same basic ingredient: fortified white wine.

If I'm too drunk, however, I might just sip the sherry from a small glass and skip the Genever. With Australia vs. Chile still to go, I'm definitely going to be opening a bottle of wine at some point and I'll need the stomach space for that sucker.

Chile vs. Australia

A battle between two wine-focused regions! Chile has a number of fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon wines, some lovely Carmenere selections, and a few Malbecs here and there. Australia has as much diversity as the United States. The choices are endless. What to do?

I'm sticking with white wine as this is the last match of the night and I have to work in the morning. After a few Palomas and the possibility of a heavy Genever-based martini, I'm going to have to keep it lean and mean.

I'm going with our outstanding Oakridge Local Vineyard Series "Barkala Ridge" Chardonnay $24.99 as it's one of the best K&L imports we carry from any country. The volcanic soils of the "ridge" give this wine a crisp and mineral-driven backbone with all the acidity I'll need to stay awake for a third match.

Hopefully, I can make it through all this hooch in the matter of a few hours, fast-forwarding the commercials on my DVR!

-David Driscoll


More From the Mailbag

Here are some more repeat questions from the Spirits Department inbox:

David - Do you think there's a conflict of interest being both a retailer and a blogger?

Good question! Let me say this: those who feel that retailers are automatically free from criticism or are less responsible than independent blogs or publications are absolutely crazy. Retail is a neverending onslaught of people giving you feedback about your service--day and night--either in the store, via the telephone, or in an email.  We are the people dealing directly with the consumer every single day! As a blogger and a retailer, I do double-duty. Hell, I spend 15% of my day answering questions from people who have no intention of ever shopping at K&L. If a blogger says he likes a whisky and someone buys a bottle based on that opinion, the worst thing that could happen to that particular blogger is an unhappy email or disagreeable comment from the person who feels the information was inaccurate. If I say I like a particular whisky and a customer buys the bottle based on my opinion, that person will bring that bottle right back to the store and demand a refund if the selection doesn't work out. If our reviews and opinions are not accurate, we lose customers, which means we lose money and possibly our jobs. If we mislead people, we deal with the resulting wrath face-to-face, not anonymously via some made-up handle on a message board.

Ultimately, we are the people who deal with unhappy drinkers when a bottle doesn't work out, even if they bought the bottle based on Robert Parker's review. If you think unhappy shoppers are writing the Wine Spectator asking for a direct refund on the bottle they purchased, they're not; they're going back to the store where they bought the bottle, no matter whose opinion influenced the decision. That means we're apologizing for a "bad" bottle even when we didn't recommend it. You can imagine what happens when we're directly responsible. It's the same argument with the comments on the blog. I laugh myself silly every time someone says the lack of a comment field shields me from criticism. You think people don't call, email, or walk into the store where I work? You think people don't complain directly to us about mistakes or misinformation when we get it wrong? It's tough to say there's a conflict of interest in whisky reviewing when the person recommending you the bottle is 100% liable for your overall satisfaction.

David - Why do you think Jim Beam gets left out of serious discussions about Bourbon by collectors and enthusiasts?

That's a great question. I don't think it's solely a matter of quality because most of their higher-end expressions (Booker's, Baker's, Knob Creek, Basil Hayden) are tasty, reasonably-priced, and sell very well. People like Jim Beam whiskey. I think the reason they don't get more love from the insiders is due to their size. When you're the biggest producer of anything it's difficult to tap into the niche market. Big, commercial rock bands don't get much love from insider music fans. Big, commercial movies don't get much love from independent film geeks. There's no way to be cool with the discerning crowd that prides itself on its eclectic and out-of-the-ordinary taste when you're the ubiquitous brand.

I'd say it has something to do with that, but I definitely know a few people who feel like Beam's whiskies are a bit lackluster when compared to other brands. Personally, I'd say any gap in quality has shrunk significantly over the last year, however. I've noticed a decline of quality in a number of noteworthy brands, while tasting a few over-achieving Beam whiskies. The Knob Creek Single Barrel, for example, I thought was much better than I ever expected it to be.

-David Driscoll