Drinking to Drink - Part VI

I was practically drooling last night after I read this article in the Chron about a group of Bay Area restaurants deciding to include 20% service fees automatically. I could not wait to see that comment field. I could not wait to read the ridiculous, faux outrage from diners about tipping, and how they would never eat at one of the restaurants listed. I quickly scrolled down to the bottom of the page. To my sheer delight, it was everything I hoped it would be.

"Thanks for the list of restaurants not to eat at," one commenter wrote. I read that sentence and then I laughed out loud. I let out a huge, hearty, belly-shaking laugh that emanated from my inner soul. I texted my friend Thad and wrote, "You sir, have fucking balls!" What none of these people realized—too busy scrambling sanctimoniously to make their very important opinions heard—is that these restaurants were rejecting them; not the other way around. Or maybe they unconsciously did realize it and they were reacting to that rejection. What this group of eateries was boldly stating to difficult customers everywhere, behind a cover of economic speak and minimum wage discussions, was simple: WE DON'T NEED YOUR BUSINESS.

The idea of automatically adding 20% gratuity to the bill would instantly weed out all of the people not willing to pay it; first problem solved. Then, of course, it would quickly piss off all the haughty, hard-to-please, super-critical, I-may-or-may-not-tip-you-depending-on-how-I-feel diners who complain about everything and make life difficult.

"Well, I would never eat at a place that charges me a 20% fee just to have a meal," someone complained.

"GOOD!" these restaurants were thinking. "That's exactly the point!" These owners are not interested in these commentors or their business; hence, why they did what they did! These outraged patrons don't want to eat there. These businesses don't want them to eat there. Everyone wins! The fact that these restaurants are outright saying this, however, is really getting under some skin. As an American business you're supposed to bend over backwards for customers. You're expected to listen to all their criticisms, and—most importantly—care about their concerns. To blatantly put your hand out and say: "We have enough loyal customers already who don't mind tipping 20% automatically. We don't need anyone else, thank you," is an affront to cheapskates everywhere. It's a slap in the face to folks who never had any intention of going to your restaurant and tipping you, but now won't ever get the chance.

But there's a message for whisky drinkers buried underneath all of this (actually, a message for consumers of any kind): not every business wants your business, nor do they need it. If a company isn't willing to change, it may be specifically because they don't want you as a customer.

Let me give you a retail example. If a guy came into K&L specifically looking for batch #42 of Aberlour A'Bunadh, didn't see it on the shelf, and asked us to look in the back for that number specifically, I would probably go to the warehouse and have a look. If this situation started happening multiple times a day, however (like it does now on the phones), I would stop doing it. We don't have time to dig through all of our backstock looking for specific batch or cask numbers on labels. Customers are welcome to look through what we have out on display, but I'm not going to call the warehouse, stop one of our operations guys from his important task, and bother him with an endless scavenger hunt. We're too busy for that. It's not to be insensitive, because I understand that people want these specific bottles. It just isn't something that we're interested in spending much time on. If we lose a certain amount of business because of that, then so be it. We're willing to lose that business because, ultimately, the guys looking for specific batch numbers are generally not repeat customers. They're usually guys calling around from store to store, looking for the best deal. It's a stand that we have taken with our customer service department for the purpose of giving better and faster service to the people that are actually shopping with us frequently. By not getting bogged down in boxes, I have more time to spend with customers on the sales floor.

So when I hear whiskey drinkers complain that brands don't listen to them—that whisky companies aren't giving them the information they want—I don't think it's that they're not listening. If anything, they're forced to listen to demands for lower prices, more transparency, and honest labelling all day long from passionate whiskey fans everywhere—via phone calls, emails, and angry blog posts. It's just that many companies don't care about those issues enough to make those particular changes. More importantly, it's not worth them doing what whiskey geeks want them to do in order to capture that particular subset of business. Knowing that many whiskey collectors are not brand loyalists, and maintain a devotion to the cause rather than the company, I don't think many brands want much of that business. Whiskey companies aren't looking for one-and-done shoppers. They're definitely not making whiskey for the purpose of analyzation and contemplation (although they may enjoy it, too). They make whiskey so that you'll drink it, enjoy the way it tastes, and then come back for another. If you're not part of that formula then you don't really have much pull when it comes to demanding better standards. You're already not drinking their whiskey, so what do they care about what you think?

Bar Agricole and Trou Normand are full just about every night. More than enough people are eating, drinking, having a good time, and gladly paying 20% at the end of their experience. Those restaurants are not worried about losing business they don't need anyway. They're focusing on maintaining the standards that have given them the popularity they now possess. By weeding out the customers they don't want, and the burden these people place on their time and energy, they're now giving even better service to their faithful and supportive core of consumers. I think most booze companies are following that same game plan.

-David Driscoll


And, Yes...

...I do often work from home once the day is done. Especially this time of year. It's too busy to unplug. The life of a K&L spirits buyer is never led off-the-clock.

-David Driscoll



Only one person found the easter egg in today's email. 

-David Driscoll


Lost in the Shuffle

For those of you who shop online and don't ever make it to our Redwood City store, this is the liquor aisle. The long, and eclectic shelf that houses most of our spirits selection. If you live nearby, this is where you spend most of your time browsing.

I, on the other hand, spend most of my time back in this room; this long, packed, overflowing warehouse of liquor that requires constant attention and maneuvering. It's a lot like Tetris back here. With all of this booze flowing through, it's easy to lose track of what comes in and out. We do our best to keep you up to speed via the blog and email list, but we do forget things from time to time.

I was walking around the store this morning with my camera when I saw this Longrow 10 year that David OG worked out an amazing price for. The 100 proof is such a great whisky and it's been a while since we had it for sub-$100. At $65 it's a great bottle. We probably should have sent an email about that when it came in weeks ago. 

Then there are all these new Japanese things we've got trickling in, like new Shochus made from brown sugar and sweet potatoes. For $25 they're super fun, but I've been struggling to find the necessary time to write about them.

Of course, with the current fascination for sherry-aged whisky, I've been working out some deals for fantastic sherry-matured Spanish brandies. Gonzalez Byass Lepanto's Gran Reserva for $45 brings layers of rich sherry, opulent sweetness, and decadent Oloroso flavor. I hope I can write it up at some point.

The best new deal in rum is the English Harbour Antigua for $26.99. It's very similar to the Cadenhead's Green Label we just had for $40, but at $13 less per bottle. Pot still molasses funkiness with just enough richness. Sip it, or mix it. You're good either way. At some point, I'll give you a longer description, but at the moment I'm swamped! 

And I'm really loving the new A.D. Rattray packaging. The Stronachie 18 (which is really just Benrinnes 18) looks much more elegant in the new blue box. Our Benrinnes 17 cask now being sold out, this is the next best thing. I really love that little distillery. Then there's the new Cask Islay black box package that is 100x better than the cardboard tube they used in the past. Plus, it's now labeled as single malt whisky, so maybe it's 100% Laphroaig now? I'll have to do some research.  

The new A.D. Rattray blend package is also vastly improved. I'm kind of obsessed with blended malts that offer precise ingredients. 1989 Tamdhu, 1991 Strathmill, 1991 Cragganmore, and 1992 Mortlach. That's fun.

Speaking of transparent blended malts, where the hell did this come from? Did I even order this? I can't remember anymore. I just went into the back room and there it was; appearing like magic from under a box of stuff. Chapter III is here complete with a list of exactly which casks were used in the Punch Bowl.

It's easy to get lost in the shuffle at this time of year. Considering we're expecting our new drop of Signatory casks next week, it's going to get even tougher to keep our heads above water. A photo might be the best we can do!

-David Driscoll


Three New Wild Turkey Barrels

The madness continues! I told you Fall was going to be nuts—multiple blog posts per day, tons of new hooch, bottles selling in minutes, pure mayhem! How in the hell is one person supposed to afford (let alone drink) all this new stuff?!! I don't have the answer to that question. I'm just here right now to tell you about more bottles that you absolutely, positively must have. I'm up for a breath of air with this blog post, and then I'm back down to the sales floor again where shopping carts full of new arrivals need to be stickered and stocked. Here we go:

Round two of our single barrel Bourbons from last September's visit to Wild Turkey distillery have finally arrived! If you don't recall all the buzz, we were full of excitement following an intimate barrel tasting with both Jimmy and Eddy Russell. We hadn't planned on taking any single barrels from Wild Turkey, yet we left Kentucky with more WT whiskey than Bourbon from all the other distilleries combined! The profiles of the Russell's Reserve selections are much more mellow than some of their Kentucky brethren. Think candy corn rather than spicy oak, and rich vanilla rather than peppery rye. At 55% they're brimming with gusto, but never do they overpower the palate.

Russell's Reserve K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #15 Kentucky Bourbon $59.99 - Barrel #15 is the softest of the three new releases, gliding down the palate like a liquid beam of butterscotch, and flurrying on the finish with notes of cinnamon and clove spices. It's a dangerous Bourbon that deceptively disguises its 110 proof profile with soft and supple sweetness. A fantastic gateway bottle to the Wild Turkey style and a whiskey you'll think about all day long, sitting in the office, waiting to get home and pour another glass.

Russell's Reserve K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #17 Kentucky Bourbon $59.99 - Barrel #17 is the superstar choice for me, although both 15 and 18 have their own merit. I can't promise that everyone will be as enamored as I am. That kiss of candied sweetness, balanced beautifully by a second wave of spice and vivaciousness is just pure heaven. The woodier notes come towards the back, but quit just before they turn bitter or overpowering. They took this baby out of the barrel at JUST the right moment. Any longer, and it's too much. Any less time, and we're not getting the same level of richness. One bad-ass bottle.

Russell's Reserve K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #18 Kentucky Bourbon $59.99 -Barrel #18 is also the most powerful of the three, so those in search of big, bold flavor should go with this bottle. You still get the sweet caramel corn notes that scream Wild Turkey, but there's definitely more of a rye note on the finish. A great contrast to the other two casks, but only for those who like intensity. It's more in the Willett style and that's definitely a good thing.

-David Driscoll