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Saturday
Oct112014

Quick Economics

Two of my colleagues and I went to see Austan Goolsbeeformer economic adviser for the Obama administrationspeak in San Mateo Wednesday night. He was incredibly animated and surprisingly hilarious. I really enjoyed his presentation. Here are some interesting tidbits he addressed that I think relate to whisky.

-Bubbles tend to form within sectors that show irregular growth. For example, if the housing market were to continue growing at a 13% gain per year that would be an incredible investment opportunity. It's such a great return on your money that you'd be insane not to invest in property! Except that growth like that tends to be followed by a sharp decline. He specifically mentioned that the greatest irregularities tend to involve things that rich people spend money on. The average price of collectable contemporary art, for example, which apparently doubled from 2013 to 2014. I think you could also include old and rare whiskies in this category.

-Austan Goolsbee does not think that Silicon Valley or the housing market in the Bay Area (which show this kind of unprecedented growth) constitute bubbles. One of the most interesting points he made contrasted the difference between Detroit and Silicon Valley. Detroit made American cars back in the past, and they still make American cars today. American car sales have plummeted, however, so that market is collapsing. In the early 1980s Silicon Valley manufactured microchips and computers. Today, however, it's mostly social media and cloud-type businesses. No one here actually makes the laptops and hard drives we use to do our business, like they did thirty years ago. His point was that successful markets and businesses adapt. If you keep selling the same thing and that thing goes out of fashion, then you've tied your fate to the current fad. Silicon Valley has continued to change as needed, constantly moving on to the next new technology, so he doesn't see the financial success of the tech industry as a bubble; rather as intelligent adaptation. If tech companies continue to succeed, then expect tech salaries to remain high. If Bay Area tech salaries continue to stay high, then expect housing prices to remain high as well.

-Recovery or return from either prosperity or recession (in other words, back to the way things used to be) can only happen if "the way things used to be" wasn't itself an anomaly. One of the jokes Austan made at the beginning of his speech was about recovery from the recession and a return to more prosperity. He said experts first claimed we would experience a V-shaped recoverydown, then back up like a V. Then, when it didn't happen, they said, "Well, it might turn into more of a U-shaped recovery with a longer period at the bottom." Then, when the following year didn't bring more gains, it turned into an L-shaped recovery, which doesn't really resemble any type of recovery whatsoever. In his opinion, the moment that economists are hoping to return to (in this case, 2005) was itself not a period of prosperity built on a solid foundation; therefore, he didn't think we would be going back anytime soon. He also added: the two predictions in the economic world that are most commonly false are forecasts for bubbles and recoveries.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Oct112014

Opposite Day (or How Not to Get Pappy)

In brief, here is my advise to help you get a bottle of Pappy this year from your local retailer. It's more of a list of what not to do, however, rather than what you should do.

"I'm a really good customer."

No you're not. You know why? Because "really good customers" don't tell people they're "really good customers." "Really good customers" don't ever have to tell people they're "really good customers." They just are. AND your local retailers already know who the "really good customers" are. Trust me, if you have to tell your local retailer you're a "really good customer" then you're not.

"I spend a lot of money here."

Everything is relative. What seems like a lot of money to you isn't to someone else. I, personally, do not believe in plutocracy, hence why we don't just give our K&L allocation of Pappy to the people who spend the most money with us. We do a raffle to keep everything fair and give people who spend more moderate sums of moneybut who are loyal shoppers nonethelessthe chance to also enjoy the finer things in life. HOWEVER, if you have to tell your local retailer you "spend a lot of money here," well.....see my point about being a "really good customer." Did you spend $197,000 here in one hour last weekend? No? Because that's what a guy from Hong Kong did. Seriously. And he never once had to tell me he was spending "a lot of money."

"I hear you guys do a raffle. How do I enter?"

Here's the thing: we do a raffle at K&L, but it's not like we're just throwing names into a hat and blindly picking people. You still have to meet a few important criteria (which we will not be divulging to you). If you have to ask your retailer about the raffle, then your chances of winning are probably zero. The people who have been shopping at these stores for years already understand how these raffles work, so they're not asking. By asking, you're giving yourself away as someone who hasn't shopped there for very long. For example, if you just found out via this blog that K&L does a raffle, then you have no chance of winning. You have to have been a part of our insider whisky list for sometime to qualify for any limited edition raffle bottles. I can promise you that other stores are doing the same thing. It would be completely stupid to give your most-prized possessions away to completely random shoppers who may or may not ever come back again. New shoppers do sometimes win, but never customers without a solid order history.

"I got a bottle of Pappy last year and would love to get one again."

If you got one last year, then I'm definitely going to give it to someone new this year (who didn't get one last year and might never have been able to get one previously). You might want to keep that bit of information to yourself.

"Hi, I was wondering if the Pappy is here yet?"

The more you call, email, or ask, the more annoyed each store will get. Having a retailer loath your existence will definitely not help you get a bottle of Pappy.

Bottom line: actions speak louder than words. Just be a cool dude and don't constantly try to prove yourself through words. I find that people who tell me they're smart are usually pretty stupid. In fact, usually when people feel the need to tell me something about themselves, the opposite is usually true. Trying to bully your way into a bottle of Pappy with bravado is going to get you nowhere.

Just play it cool.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Oct102014

Important Wine Tasting in RWC

If you've got five bucks and fifteen minutes, then it behooves you to drop by the Redwood City store tonight between 5 and 6:30 PM tonight and taste the Te Whare Ra selections with winemaker Anna Flowerday. These are some of the best direct-import wines we have at K&L and the Sauvignon Blanc might be the best we have from any region of the world. Ryan Woodhouse, our new Southern Hemisphere wine buyer, has done for our Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa wine department what David OG and I did for the booze. He works his ass off because he loves what he does and it shows in his commitment to his category. Two years ago I wouldn't touch most of the heavy-handed shiraz wines and overly-grassy white wines from down under; today, however, I think his discoveries are some of the most exciting wines we have at K&Lperiod. With the direct-import pricing we get from using our own middleman, these wines are insanely inexpensive for the quality. Come by tonight and you'll see exactly what I mean (plus, we've got the winemaker herself in town).

Te Whare Ra makes Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. All of them, plus maybe a few extras, will be available in tonight's event. For $5 you can't drink any better than this in the entire Bay Area. If you even remotely like wine, then you should come by. These are crowd-pleasing expressions that will excite even the most general of drinkers, while simultaneously stunning the more-experienced aficionado.

Get your ass over here tonight!

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Oct092014

So Many Customers, So Few Bottles

Distilleries, importers, distributors, and retailers: we all have the same problem. We have to decide how to allocate the most desirable of our products. Springbank, for example, has to decide how many cases of each rare release they'll send to Germany, Holland, the U.S., China, and every other market where Springbank is sold. Each importer in each country wants as many cases as possible, obviously. Once the U.S. importer gets its allocation, in this case Pacific Edge, they have to decide how many cases to send to each distributor in each statewho also want as many cases as possible. The distributors in each state then have to decide which bars and restaurants deserve the most bottles. Which accounts have been the biggest supporters? K&L? Marty's Corner Liquor Depot? We then get our allocation, from which we have to make the exact same decision. How best to allocate these bottles? First come, first served? Lottery? Best customers? Who knows what the best system is?

One thing I know for sure is that the "one bottle limit" we have going now doesn't work for shit. When I send out my own notices for things like Supernova or the recent High West "Midwinter Night's Dram", I sit there like a hawk; watching the queue until each bottle has been purchased and deleting the orders of those who go back and purchase again. There are all kinds of tricks people try to get more than their fair share. They use different accounts with different credit cards. Their brothers, wives, and sisters create accounts and order the same product (which is why you'll see orders for John Downing, Brian Downing, and Susan Downing all in a row). One guy this week got around our Blanton's one bottle limit by getting his wife out of the car to come and do her own purchase ("But I hate Bourbon," I heard her say as she walked in). He asked, "I can do this right? Have her buy one?" I told him yes, but that I also tend to remember faces; especially when they come back later and ask for something special. He wasn't quite sure how to take that (and he bought two anyway).

The Pliny the Elder beer situation is also becoming like thisguys creating fake accounts and doing all kinds of tricks to try and increase their two bottle per week lot. We've also started to see secondary market flipping, which is really pissing us off. If you knew what a gigantic fucking pain in the ass it was to allocate bottles and make sure these things got distributed fairly, then you would understand our anger when people pull this kind of shit. We know who they are, so don't worry about them getting in your way here at K&L. I'm just wondering if they know that we know (FYIyou guys won't be winning the Pappy raffle). In any case, I've been talking to a number of distributors and distilleries about this issue lately and they're just as annoyed as we are. It's no fun, let me tell you. Bottle flippers are one of the biggest reasons that whisky prices for rare items have risen for the average consumer.

I know a few producers who have doubled their prices because they were tired of all the B.S. The fever pitch keeps getting hotter.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Oct092014

Fall Arrivals

It's Fall, which means it's time to start getting ready for tons of new whiskey releases. I saw that BevMo sent out a huge teaser email yesterday about the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (apparently they're also moving to the raffle system, so forget about walking in and finding one on the shelf). This in turn sparked about 100 emails and calls to K&L about our allocation. "BevMo has it," people whined. No, they don't. They're just preparing you for disappointment like we are. You'll have to jump through hoops, play their games, and prove yourself worthy, just like you'll have to do with us. Collectable whiskey is no longer something people just put on the shelf, at least not in California. When the biggest mass-market chain starts raffling off their BTAC, then you know you're in an entirely new era of booze consumerism.

But while the anxiety builds and people start wondering how they'll ever be able to continue on in life without a bottle of George T. Stagg (oh, the humanity!), let's look at a few things you can get right now that are pretty great, too.

High West K&L Single Barrel Rendezvous Rye Whiskey $69.99 - Easily the best rye whiskey we've carried in years. The extra 19 months in wood added extra richness and rounded this baby out, turning the normally-fantastic Rendezvous into a woodier, richer speciman. It's slam dunk rye whiskey, capable of standing with some of the best limited releases we've seen lately. It's not quite Sazerac 18 good, but it's pretty close. Three bottle limit per person, and I don't expect it to last through the week. I'm not even going to include a bottle shot or description on the product page because it won't be here long enough to justify doing so. Bottled at 100 proof.

During the build up to WhiskyFest, we had a visit from Canadian distiller John Hall, the founder of Forty Creek and a helluva nice guy. I had never tried any of his selections, nor did I know much about how they were made (because I don't know anything about Canadian whisky). In what little time I had to meet with John, I was really blown away by both his knowledge and passion as a producer, and how amazing these whiskies tasted. They're not Crown Royal, let's put it that way. John told me something very poignant when we spoke: "Scotch whisky was in the gutter, then there was a revival. Kentucky whiskey was going through a downtime, then they had their revival. Canadian whisky is ready for its own revival now. There's a new renaissance coming."I believe him. The Forty Creek whiskies have depth, and nuance, and real grain character. They're not just sweeter versions of LDI-style rye.

What really shocked me was the fact that Forty Creek distills and ages each grain separately (corn, rye, and barley) to create individual whiskies, which are then blended together. Thanks to John, we now have a Canadian whisky selection in Redwood City. Here are the three new selections we brought in this week. The following descriptions are John's own notes:

Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve Canadian Whisky $23.99 - Using a selection of rye, corn and barley grains, Hall distills each grain separately in a traditional copper pot still to create a spirit that is bold and complex. The difference is that Forty Creek Copper Pot is amped up in flavour delivering a deeper and richer taste profile. Patient extra ageing takes place in white oak barrels, and careful selection of whisky stocks (John Hall, Forty Creek).

Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve Canadian Whisky $46.99 - A few years ago, I had the opportunity to purchase some outstanding bourbon barrels from Kentucky. These barrels are excellent for ageing whiskies because they are “seasoned”. This means most of the fresh harsh oak tannins have been removed and what remains is all the good stuff, such as the softer oak tannins, wood vanillas, sugars and the toasty, smoky, spicy aromas, as well as the caramelized flavours from the heavy charring of the inside of the barrel. After ageing my rye, barley and corn whiskies in their own special barrels, I decided to bring them together as a meritage, and placed the three whiskies into the bourbon barrels. This double barreling allowed the whiskies to hang out together and take on the subtle qualities offered by the bourbon barrels to enhance the finishing of the whisky (John Hall, Forty Creek).

Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve Canadian Whisky $54.99- I have worked with many types of oak barrels, first as a wine maker and then as a whisky maker. Every wood, whether it is from a bourbon barrel, port barrel, sherry cask, French, Balkan or American oak, creates a distinctive taste expression. As a proud Canadian whisky maker, I have always been curious what a Canadian whisky would taste like aged in a Canadian oak barrel, because most Canadian whiskies are aged in American oak.To my delight, I discovered some massive Canadian white oak trees that were growing only 40 miles from the distillery! They must have started growing just before Confederation in 1867 because they were 4 feet in diameter and over 150 years old. The selected trees were harvested from a sustainably managed forest employing the principle of “no tree before its time.” This forest has a mixture of young trees coming up in the understory, mature trees in full productive vigor, and old trees whose growth has slowed. These older trees block sunlight and rainfall from the younger trees and when over-matured, need to be removed. I thought I could give them a second career as whisky barrels. Canadian and American white oak trees are the same species. However, the cooler growing conditions in Canada result in slower growing trees that are more dense than their American counterparts. Consequently, the aromas and flavour profiles of Canadian oak are very different due to the Canadian terroir. This is truly an iconic whisky. Canadian whisky, aged in Canadian oak barrels, harvested from trees that first rooted themselves in Canadian soil 150 years ago during Confederation (John Hall, Forty Creek).

I really enjoyed both the Double Barrel and Confederation expressions, and I thought the Copper Pot was great for the price. They all have this chewy, kind of supple note that I usually find in wine-finished whiskies. They're very distinctive. You wouldn't ever confuse them with Scotch or Bourbon.

Davin de Kergommeaux, who knows more about Canadian whisky than everyone else combined, also has great reviews on his site here if you want more info.

 

Besides Canadian whisky, another booze subject I know very little about is Dutch Geneverthe original gin. However, I was recently given a book called Genever-500 Years of History in a Bottleby Veronique Van Acker and it's full with all kinds of fascinating info. I knew so little about Genever that I didn't realize it's actually Begian; all the distillers simply had to move to Holland due to a 1919 prohibition law that lasted until 1985. In fact, part of the reason Belgian beer became such a dynamic industry is due to the ban on serving Genever. Genever actually has AOC appellations in both Belgium and the Netherlands where the grain must be grown in certain regions, or made in specific ways. I still have a long way to go before I become somewhat competent, but I am really into these right now. People have long asked, "How do I drink these? Do I mix a martini like normal gin?" The answer is: you can if you want to. But, apparently in Belgium, it's all about a beer and a shot. Just a glass of Genever, neat. Considering these are basically malt and grain whiskies with a bit of juniper, that makes sense. Some are aged in barrel as well, making them almost Irish-like in character. The ceramic bottles also have their own insanely-complex history. Hopefully I'll have some time to circle back and get more into this later because it truly is fascinating. It's enough to make you buy a bottle yourself, that's for sure.

The story of Diep 9 Genever is particularly interesting. During World War I invading German armies stripped Belgian genever distilleries of copper stills and piping, melting down the metal for shell casings. This brought traditional genever production to a halt, almost ending a national tradition in Belgium. The distillery's founder, Frans De Moor, lost his life in 1914 when he refused to relinquish his copper pot still to German occupiers. He was executed in full view of the public on the town's bridge and stabbed with a bayonet to ensure his death. After seeing Frans De Moor shot and stabbed to death, his wife, Anna, rebuilt the distillery in defiance. Four generations later, Stokerij De Moor continues to handcraft genever from first grain to last drop, preserving the time-honored tradition of using copper pot stills, premium grains, and all natural ingredients.

Diep 9 Genever Young Dutch Gin $29.99- Double-distilled in 52 gallon batches from rye, wheat, and malted barley with nine botanicals added. More like traditional gin in its character, the difference is mainly the lack of peppery flavors and a much richer, creamier profile. Lovely as a shot. Way too easy to drink at 35%.

Diep 9 Genever Old Dutch Gin $34.99 - Same as the above but aged in French oak for two years to add richness. This is also at 35% and drinks like a barrel-aged gin meets Jameson. I like it very much.

And lastly you've got the revamped fruit eau-de-vie portfolio from our friends at St. George. The Alameda distillery began as a fruit-based operation, taking the German traditions of Jorg Rupf and putting them into practice with local California fruit. What Lance and Dave have now done is basically subsidized and refocused the project in order to make the brandies more accessible. You now get the 750ml bottle with new label and classy new package for the old 375ml price. The spirits are just as fresh and amazing as before, and at this price you can afford to mix with them. I've been making pear Sidecars all week, and the Raspberry Smash I made this past weekend was dynamite. They've also added two liqueurs: a spiced pear and a high-acid raspberry. Both are crazy good.

St. George Pear Brandy $39.99

St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur $32.99 - Like Xmas in a bottle. Watch out.

St. George Raspberry Brandy $39.99

St. George Raspberry Liqueur $32.99

-David Driscoll