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Thursday
Dec262013

Great Expectations

The whisk(e)y world is feeling a little Dickensian right now (or maybe it's just me after attending the Dickens Fair at the Cow Palace last weekend). Depending on who you talk to (or listen to, or read) we might be living in the best of times for whiskey drinkers, or the worst of times (or both simultaneously if you read A Tale of Two Cities). For me, it's a matter of expectations: the greater one's expectations are, the more likely one is to find disappointment. That's why managing expectations has become the absolute, number-one, prime focus of my job here at K&L--making sure the customer knows what to expect and to make sure it's what they're expecting. Heading into 2014, the world of fine spirits appreciation can be whatever you want it to be–it all depends on your outlook.

Some drinkers out there see nothing but unfortunate events before them, yet young David Copperfield didn't let any of those mishaps stop him from living. You simply do the best you can with the cards you're dealt. The world isn't always fair, but what can you do about it other than move forward in spite of it? I met many unhappy whisk(e)y drinkers during 2013 who lamented the fact that their precious commodities were becoming harder to find and more expensive. The competition from budding whisk(e)y enthusiasts was taking all the fun out of their hobby. But, of course, no matter how many times Estella told young Pip she had no heart, he couldn't help but yearn for the unattainable–unable to see any other beauty around him. Or perhaps the situation is more like Miss Havisham–living in the past, jilted by the changing whiskey industry, and bent on ruining everyone else's good time as well.

But hopefully Christmas time has helped us to become more thankful for the wonderful spirits we do have, and not bitter about those we don't. Ebenezer still lurks out there among the disdainful (for those claiming UPS ruined their Christmas, I've got two words for you: SHOP EARLIER -- it's all about expectations, remember, and to expect UPS to save Christmas for you when millions of other people are sending gifts at the last minute is a bit unrealistic), but young Tiny Tim's spirit still shines through in others. It's a matter of choice in these choicest of matters. You can tell the rest of the whisk(e)y world "Bah humbug!" and go home to your castle of prestige bottles, but ultimately you're likely to be wandering the streets alone; looking on through a frozen window while those enjoying themselves celebrate their companionship with whatever means available.

Because to assume that the spirit in the bottle determines the man, the occasion, or the quality of one's experience is to become the most Dickensian of Dickens's many antagonists. The easiest way to prevent that is to manage one's expectations, no matter how great they may seem, and this is the best time of the year to do that. I'm making a list of my new year's resolutions and number one on that list is: try to simply enjoy what you have, rather than constantly strive for more. To expect the world of the world is a recipe for disappointment. To expect more from yourself is a better, and more managable, path to happiness.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Dec232013

Whisky-Related Movie of the Month: Breakfast at Tiffany's

I would kill to go to a cocktail party like the one Holly Golightly throws in Breakfast at Tiffany's–everyone dressed up, dancing, talking, socializing, and drinking brown booze straight from a highball glass. I've longed to host a similarly-themed soirée where I offer no meal, no ice, no beer or wine, and no cocktails: just various bowls of snacks and handles of Bourbon, Scotch, and gin. Girls: get your Kate Spade dress on and your hair up. Guys: sport a tailored suit and slick that hair back. We're gonna drink some serious booze and we're going to look damned good doing it. Just because we're in our evening attire doesn't mean we can't get a little nuts. Music, a packed room, and a little hooch to loosen us all up.

I love the aesthetic of straight liquor in a small highball glass, hence why I've begun discarding my Riedel Sommelier single malt glasses and the various Glencairn varieties I've picked up at tastings here and there. I never use them and they're taking up valuable space in my bar. Those glasses might provide me with the ultimate aroma and the best possible flavor experience, but they're also ugly, stuffy, and no fun whatsoever. There's no sense of style in most "serious" whisky glassware. To me, they're the drinking equivalent of socks with sandals–comfortable perhaps, but that's about it. We in the liquor industry would all be doing ourselves a favor by watching Breakfast at Tiffany's again and reminding ourselves why we drink in the first place. Because it's fun?

By the way, if you are looking for beautiful glassware, Kate Spade offers fantastic barware as well as fashionable women's clothing. I've bought Champagne glasses, a bottle chiller, and various bottle openers from them over the past few months. And, if anyone is willing to host a party like this and invite me, I will gladly provide all the liquor.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Dec222013

What Type of Whisky Drinker Do You Want To Be?

Whisk(e)y drinkers go through the same type of evolution that most children do--from young, excited, and bright-eyed, to sarcastic and anti-authoritarian, and eventually into a more reserved and experienced status of self-awareness (hopefully). It's fascinating to watch, actually. As someone who talks to dozens of different drinkers on a daily basis, and hundreds more via email, it's interesting to see where each particular person is in their development. Some people are hard to read because they're simply asking for advice, not telling me what they think. Others are constantly talking about themselves and have no interest in what I have to say whatsoever. Whiskey can be one of those things we allow to define us--something we take pride in understanding and want to share with others. Some of us want to be experts and to have people think of us as such. Others just want to enjoy themselves.

Not everyone sees themselves the way others do, however. I've learned a lot about myself by watching the behavior of others. Then I'll go out to shop for clothes or something and realize I'm doing to one sales clerk exactly what I didn't appreciate from one of my own customers. Whoops! What a hypocrite I am! We're all human after all. To see where you're at on your path to whiskey enlightenment, try taking this little quiz I've put together and see how you score:

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1) You're browsing the whisky selection at your local retailer. A sales clerk you don't recognize asks you if you need help with anything. You answer:

a) Actually I do. Have you tasted the new Glendronach cask strength? I was wondering how that was.

b) I just got back from Scotland actually and my friends and I went to a few distilleries and we tasted a whole bunch of old and rare whiskies that don't make it over to the states. I've pretty much had everything available in the U.S. so I was checking to see if you guys had anything like that.

c) Yeah, I've got a list of the Whisky Advocate's "Best Whiskies of 2013," and I was hoping to get one of each.

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2) You're curious to see if you can track down a bottle of the new 2013 Brora 35 year old release, so you call your local retailer to see if they'll be getting any. You say:

a) Hi, I was wondering if I could put my name down for a bottle of the new Brora if you thought you might be getting any.

b) Hi, I'm a big fan of Brora and I've been collecting whisky for the past few years and I've managed to get a bottle of Brora from every single release so far. I thought the 2011 release was better than the 2012--have you tasted them? I told myself I wasn't going to buy one this year because the prices are just stupid, but I read Serge's review and I think I still want to try and get one. Any chance?

c) Hi, I'm looking for the Brora 35. You don't? Well do you know where I can get one? What other stores? Can you get me their phone numbers? No, I've never used Wine Searcher. Can you just call for me?

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3) Your local store is releasing a new allocation of Pappy in a few weeks. You're curious to see if you can score a bottle. You go in, talk to the spirits buyer and say:

a) Hey, sorry to be a pain in the ass--as I'm sure I'm the 500th person to ask you about this--but do you think there's a shot at getting a bottle of Pappy this year?

b) Yeah, I mean, I heard Pappy was coming out, but it's going to be super hard to get. I'd take a bottle if I can get it--even two. I think that stuff is like super-overrated and it's totally not worth all the BS you have to do to get one. I mean--I've had Stitzel-Weller whiskey so many times already, I probably don't need another one. But, nevertheless, I'd like to get one, so can you put me on the list?

c) Hey where do you guys keep the Pappy? Is it like in a jewel case or something or is it all in the back? I heard it came out this week so I know it's gotta be here somewhere. Can you get me a bottle of Elijah Craig 18 while you're at it?

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4) You go out for a drink with a friend to a local whisky bar. The bartender comes up to take your order. You decide to order some Four Roses for yourself. You tell the bartender:

a) I'd like a pour of the Four Roses please. Thank you.

b) Hi, can I get a glass of the Four Roses? It's totally one of the most underrated whiskies available today. I know people are always trying to find Pappy--God, it's so annoying--but I think Jim Rutledge is the best distiller in the business. We actually went out the the distillery last year and took the tour with him. Amazing guy. Amazing whiskey.

c) Hey, can I get a glass of the Four Roses and a shot of sweet vermouth on the side? (You turn to your friend and whisper) "Dude, if you order a pour and the vermouth on the side it's two bucks cheaper than ordering the Manhattan off the cocktail menu!"

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5) You're checking out at the liquor store and the person ringing you up notices the bottle of Glendronach 12 in your basket and says, "Nice choice." You respond with:

a) Thanks. I'm a big fan as well.

b) Yeah, I've been drinking this for years, before anyone knew about it actually, but now that Glendronach's getting popular I'm a little annoyed that everyone's drinking it too. Hopefully it doesn't become the next Macallan.

c) I know. I only drink the best.

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For every time you answered A give yourself one point. For every B answer give yourself two points. And give yourself three points for each C answer.

5 to 8 points: You're comfortable with yourself and your understanding of whiskey. You're not afraid to ask questions either because you don't see asking a question as a sign of weakness or stupidity. You also don't feel the need to let others know that you're smarter than you may appear. You've found whiskey peace.

9 to 11 points: You understand whiskey, you've obviously done your homework, and you know what you're talking about, but you're not comfortable with that knowledge yet. You can't help but use each interaction with someone who works in the trade as an opportunity to show what you know, rather than simply interact on a more friendly basis. After more people start behaving this way towards you you'll likely become more self-aware and hold your tongue more often.

12 to 15 points: You seem to know something about whiskey, but you also seem to lack basic human relations skills. There are many other whiskey drinkers out there besides yourself, but this has yet to dawn on you. You're likely to rub people the wrong way and ruin your chances of finding great bottles rather than improve them.

I have gone through this entire evolution myself. I was once a young punk kid who thought he knew everything. Then I was a young punk kid who knew a little. And now I'm just a punk who tries to listen more often.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Dec212013

I Do Not Have $1600 To Spend On Whiskey

...but if I did I might spend it on this. I got the chance to taste this privately with Suntory a while back. It's got loads of plummy sherry and that amazing sandelwood accent you get from Japanese oak. I've always been very impressed with older Japanese whiskies and the Yamazaki 25 follows that trend. It also comes with its own private dojo

One bottle only. That was our yearly allocation.

Suntory Yamazaki 25 year old Japanese Single Malt Whiskey $1599.99

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Dec212013

Three Gifts of the Magi -- Part II

Yesterday, just days before Christmas, three wise men rode into the parking lot of the K&L storage warehouse, guided there by a bright light in the sky. They had heard about a shortage of great whiskey on our shelves and had ridden thousands of miles to bring gifts for one retailer; one they had heard would save mankind from its Bourbon drought. There would be no frankincense, gold, or myrrh in these gifts – los regalos de los tres Magos. Instead, three barrels of incredible Bourbon from one of the best distilleries in the world: Four Roses. The gifts of the Magi will not last long. They can only feed so many mouths, unlike the loaves and fish.  

I thought we were done for the holiday season with new alerts, but the guys in Kentucky really got things done quickly after our visit this past October. That’s why we’re about to repeat our (now annual?) “Three Gifts of the Magi” –three fantastic new barrels that have arrived just in time for Xmas!

Three barrels of Four Roses have arrived, tasted by our spirits department at the distillery, directly from the Cox warehouse facility with Jim Rutledge himself. To make matters confusing, we ended up picking three fantastic barrels of the same Four Roses formula (OBSO), when there were ten different recipes to choose from. We couldn't help it--our palates were simply drawn to the bold, woody flavors of that whiskey.

Four Roses K&L Exclusive Single Barrel OBSO (BN 4-1H) Cask Strength Bourbon $59.99 - This eleven year, one month old barrel--being the oldest--is the richest and sweetest of the three. It brings the sweet vanilla and the baking spices in waves. A solid cask that should sell quickly given the provenance, age, and the quality. Really good stuff. 

Four Roses K&L Exclusive Single Barrel OBSO (US 55-1P) Cask Strength Bourbon $59.99 - This nine year, eleven month old cask managed to proof itself down to a respectable 53.5 percent and starts off with a red-fruited flavor before immediately headed into the more herbaceous and peppery realm. Pencil shavings and old fashioned Bourbon goodness on the finish bring the experience to satisfying climax. This is a punchy little whiskey that sticks to the tried and tested flavors of American Bourbon and does it very, very well. 

Four Roses K&L Exclusive Single Barrel OBSO (US 59-6M) Cask Strength Bourbon $59.99 - This 10 year old (on the nose) cask of Four Roses bursts right off the bat with high-toned cinnamon and baking spices, before moving into more of a rye-based flavor. The high proof overpowers a bit of the nuance on the finish, so make sure to add a drop of water. On the nose, there are aromas of heavily toasted oak and pencil shavings. This whiskey was simply made for ice cubes or high-end Manhattans.

-David Driscoll