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Saturday
Sep202014

In the Name of Better Relations

Last night I watched an old episode of Monsters where two men end up killing an alien they think is hostile, only to see that he's holding a sign that says "Merry Christmas" after he's dead. They walk around the corner of the hallway to find a decorated Christmas tree and discover that one of the guy's daughter helped with the festivities.

"Daddy, where's my friend Glim-Glim?" she says. "You didn't hurt him did you?"

I remember watching that episode when I was eight years old and crying uncontrollably. "If they had only stopped for a second to see he was trying to be their friend", I thought to myself. Sometimes, however, people shoot first and ask questions later. I find this type of scenario can happen often around the retail store, so I thought I'd try to explain a few things that in-store shoppers may not be aware of—in the name of better relations.

Every morning when I get to K&L, the first thing I do after dropping my wallet and phone down on my desk is head to the warehouse for stocking. It's not only about filling the shelves and making the store look nice, it's also about emptying boxes so that we have enough carry-out materials for the day. I spend at least two hours each day cutting off the tops, pulling out the bottles, and getting a stack of empties ready for the retail grind. When people buy wine at a wine store, they expect an empty box will be available at purchase time to help facilitate the journey back to their car. Boxes are always an issue for us, however. Think of it this way: they come in with twelve bottles inside, but often leave with six or seven.

The recent bag law in San Mateo County has only made this worse. By law, we have to charge customers ten cents if they would like a paper bag—even just a one bottle sleeve to walk out the door with. It's not like ten cents is a big deal, but you wouldn't believe (or maybe you would) what people will do to get out of paying it. The first thing they'll say is: well can I have a box instead? Because of this inevitable daily situation, we had to start enforcing a six bottle or more rule for all empty boxes, just to cut down on the losses. We also started paying a large truck to deliver empty wine boxes from wineries once a week—our manager coordinating delivery before the store opens each Tuesday. We began stashing what little extras we did have in the attic for winter rations, and we even ordered a set of do-it-yourself, put-them-together box kits just in case things get really hairy. It's at the point where boxes cause us a great deal of stress.

So when a customer comes in and says, "Hey, I'm moving and I was wondering if I could take a bunch of your empty boxes," we all get instantly sensitive.

"No, you can't. We need these for our in-store customers, unfortunately."

Then we both sit there, looking at the gigantic stack of boxes we've just amassed next to the register, and suddenly we look like petty assholes. Why? Because every morning there is indeed a humongous pile of cardboard that makes it look like we have boxes coming out of our ears. That isn't the case, however. It's usually only enough to get through the first hour or two of the morning. Sometimes customers will walk over and start helping themselves, only to have one of us quickly intervene and ask them what they need.

"Just taking a few boxes."

"You can't, I'm sorry."

And then we launch into the whole explanation all over again. If you knew what it took to get these boxes ready—the hours of cutting in the warehouse, the money we had to pay to get extras delivered, and the back-and-forth between the other building—constantly running to get more—then I think you would understand our sensitivity. But, of course, there's no way you would understand this issue unless you worked at K&L. Most people just end up thinking we're assholes or we're cheap. There are many assholes who work in the wine industry—people who are snooty just for the sake of it—but when it comes to empty boxes, it's just plain fear. You should see what happens when we run out. It isn't pretty.

Empty boxes: one of the many sources of frustration between retailers and customers. Hopefully now that you understand our plight, we can all work together in the name of getting your wine safely to your car without any hassle or hurt feelings.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Sep182014

Collectivism

With all the talk about Scottish independence today and the possible effect it could have on single malt whisky (I don't know anything about what the consequences will be for whisky drinkers if they secede, by the way), I thought it was a good moment to talk about the power of group mentality—especially when it comes to booze. Many of us like to think that we are independent thinkers, deciding for ourselves what we want and do not, but often that isn't the case. It definitely isn't the case for me when it comes to certain passions I exude for drinking. Like many of the Scottish voters participating in today's ballot, I'm easily swayed by the excitement exhibited by others. Let me explain:

I'm more than willing to pay extra cash for French Burgundy, even if there's a better pinot noir from California, Oregon, or New Zealand for less. Why? Because wine from California, Oregon, or New Zealand isn't Burgundy. I can't wholly explain why I'm so intrigued by the Cote d'Or, but it goes beyond simple flavor. If I was only concerned with flavor I would simply choose the best tasting wine for the price. But there's a mystique surrounding Burgundy and most of my curiosity with it stems from what I've read in books, magazines, and online forums. My desire to understand Burgundy, its complexity, and why its so coveted by collectors all over the world plays a large role in my enthusiasm. Simply put: sometimes I want to be part of the group. If there weren't so many other people out there apparently getting some huge satisfaction from drinking these incredibly-limited wines, I don't think I would be nearly as interested. I definitely wouldn't be spending that kind of cash were it not the case.

I spend half of my work day helping whisky drinkers find different/cheaper/interesting alternatives to the whiskies they already know and love. "If you like this, then you should try this." Customers interested solely in flavor are happy to receive this advice and are crucial to our independent barrel business. However, there are plenty of other drinkers who want the name as well as the flavor. It's not necessarily "cool" to be a brand name shopper when it comes to whisky, so no one likes to admit that. In my mind, though, desiring a particular brand over a "superior" flavor doesn't make someone a label whore entirely. I get why people want Pappy. Everyone's talking about it all the time! Doesn't that make you the least bit curious if you haven't had it? For many drinkers, the enjoyment of tasting and experiencing certain big name spirits is simply the satisfaction of entering into a larger group dynamic. 

Let's look at this phenomenon through a different analogy. Let's say you show up to the office and everyone's talking about the latest episode of True Detective. You don't watch the show, so you're unable to offer your opinion about the previous night's events. You notice that everyone else, however, is enjoying the communal conversation. They're bonding over a shared experience. All of a sudden, you feel a desire to check out this show that everyone is talking about—both to see what all the fuss is, and to bond with the office group later that week (this is the case for me both with True Detective and red Burgundy). Jumping on board with the latest trend doesn't necessarily make you a band-wagoner or a poser (acting like you were there from the beginning does, however). True enjoyment isn't always about appreciating each element on the purest, most-unadulterated level possible; though some wine and whisky drinkers will tell you the opposite, that you should be drinking something less-coveted. It's like someone telling you, "Actually I watch Top of the Lake instead of True Detective because the writing's better, the acting's more believable, and it's pretty much the same show except it doesn't have all that ridiculous hype." In the end, it's all a superiority contest anyway.

So when I ask one of my colleagues if they've had any good Burgundy lately, and they say, "No, I haven't, but there's this great new vintage of Eyrie pinot noir from Oregon you should try," I don't get all that excited because I'm not always looking for a Burgundy substitute, or a cooler, less-cliched alternative. It's no different than when I try to steer a Bordeaux customer to Rioja, or a Bourbon drinker towards Armagnac. Some people are looking for a specific experience, rather than the best possible flavor—me included. That's not to say that I don't ever drink purely based on flavor and inherent quality. I drink a number of wines, spirits, and cocktails based solely on flavor. But sometimes, I admit, I do buy bottles of extremely expensive red Burgundy solely for the name, and the experience of drinking that name. That way I can speak somewhat confidently about Burgundy when I have a conversation with someone about it. You can't have an educated dialogue about something you've never experienced, can you?

I've read many opinions about the Scottish vote today. A few of them claim the "yes" advocates are making a naive choice based on the group fervor for independence, rather than carefully considering the possible consequences of economic sovereignty. I don't know enough about the situation to say either way. What I can say is that people don't always know what they want in life until others who exude a certain passion help to enlighten them. Going with the group isn't always the naive decision. I wasn't born with a thirst for Burgundy; it was nurtured slowly through my years working around other passionate thinkers. The same might be the case for Scottish independence. 

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Sep172014

News and Notes

Here's what's going on in the Spirits Department this week.

- New peated Benriach cask is here. It's awesome. Like single barrel, cask strength Talisker 18. You can check out the post from Tuesday for more notes. 

- New K&L Exclusive vatting from Michel Couvreur will be here by the end of the month. It's a very sherried whisky with Islay whisky added in for extra peat. This is the bottler in Burgundy with the gigantic cellar built into the side of a mountain. Click here if you didn't catch that post from this past Spring. We're really pumped about this.

- Glenfarclas K&L Exclusive whiskies should also be here by October. Considering the 1983 Family Cask is selling for $350, that 1990 at $150 on pre-arrival looks like an even better deal. I'm guessing that's why a bunch of orders were put into the queue yesterday.

- Signatory Part II hits at the end of October and there are nine new whiskies on that container. Get ready to get your mind blown. Now that Highland Park 25 is $500 and Macallan 30 Fine Oak $2500, I think you'll all be pretty excited to see what we'll be offering and for how much. There's some sherry-finished Mortlach, a crazy 25 year old Blair Athol, and some other gems in that batch.

- Kilchoman's new 2014 edition of Machir Bay is here and, if you pick up in the store, it comes with two free Glencairn glasses like it did last year. Hot deal, good whisky. More saline and briney than it was last time around.

- David OG snagged a few casks of Old Scout Rye (MGP stuff) from Smooth Ambler that should be here shortly. The samples he sent me were fantastic.

- The rest of our Wild Turkey barrels will be here before the month is over. Considering how well that last batch of Russell's Reserve went over (especially barrel #19) I'm expecting these to be a big hit.

- Our one single barrel of 14 year old Dickel will be here by October, if not sooner. I'm surprised we still have any of the 9 year old casks left because there's nothing that good at that price on the American market right now. I think Dickel hasn't convinced enough people yet about their new single cask program, but all it should take is one sip. These destroy anything we've bottled from Buffalo Trace or Heaven Hill over the last few years (they do cost twice as much though).

- No Supernova until Friday at the very earliest, so you can cool your jets for now.

- It's always interesting to see how many moles are on our insider whiskey email list. And how they whine like the little whiney bitches they are when they see something they don't like, thus giving themselves away as spies. I would be embarrassed to be on another retailer's list, but that's just me. Focus on yourself, boys. There's a reason we're smoking you right now (hint: it's because we don't care about what you're doing).

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Sep172014

I Love the 80s (Nights Off From Drinking)

If you were a kid in the late 80s, then you most definitely stayed up late Saturday night watching one of the most (if not the most) incredible line-ups of horror television ever produced on one network. It started at 8 PM with Friday the 13th: The Series—an awesome show about a cursed antique store that had nothing to do with Jason Voorhees, but was indeed produced by some of the same people who made the iconic slasher flicks. Mulder and Scully from The X-Files never could have existed were it not for Ryan and Mickey, tasked with recouping all of the supernatural items sold by their late devil-worshiping uncle. At 9 PM came Freddy's Nightmares, a spin-off from the Nightmare on Elm Street series hosted by Freddy Kruger himself. Way ahead of its time in terms of creepiness.

From 10 PM to 11 PM you had the back-to-back duo of Tales from the Darkside and the superb creature-feature Monsters—which holds up so well it's scary. I watched the first episode of Disc 1 last night and my wife had to turn away from the screen. "You watched this when you were seven??!" she screamed.

At 11 PM you had WWE Superstars (which many of you know my affinity for), and if you could manage to stay up until 11:30 there was G.L.O.W.—The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. There's an outstanding documentary about G.L.O.W. available on Netflix Instant right now if you're interested. Nothing epitomized the late 80s more than this show, so it's really a very important piece of pop culture history. My wife had no recollection of its existence, but really enjoyed the film despite lacking the inherent nostalgia.

On Saturday evenings in 1987, I would go to the Food 4 Less in Modesto with my mom, get boxes of Cheez-Its along with Mike & Ikes out of the bulk bin, and plop down in front of the TV for as long as I could hold out. I really, really miss those days. As I've decided to dry out at least once a week going into the holiday season (I drink all the time, in case you didn't now), I needed something to fill the void of alcohol. Thank God for boxed DVD sets of old retro television. I'm now two episodes into Friday the 13th and I feel like a giant beam of sunshine is casting down upon my heart strings.

There was only one thing left I needed to do:

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Sep162014

Just In

It's been more than a year since we originally ordered this 1994 Bourbon barrel and received the wrong whisky, but the right one has finally arrived. 

When we originally picked out this cask back in the Spring of 2013, we were incredibly excited about the wonderful balance of sweet, round, fruity Highland flavor, balanced by a moderate level of peat (think Talisker level smoke, not Islay). The result was something in between Talisker 18 and peated Glen Garioch: lovely layers of grains, a soft, supple mouthfeel, and a finish of campfire smoke with butterscotch on the backend. We couldn't wait to get this baby delivered. Then it showed up and there wasn't a smidge of peat to be found. It turns out Benriach had sent us the wrong cask (a delicious, light-bodied 19 year old that we kept nonetheless). We were fine with the one they sent as it was indeed tasty, but we still wanted that magical peated barrel, so we put in the order again; this time for Cask #7187. Over one year later, that whisky has finally shown up and it's still as fantastic as we remember. At 53%, the extra proof is enough to brighten all of the edges, but low enough as not to interrupt the amber waves of grain. It's a seamless whisky; one that floats over the palate in layers of stonefruit, sweet barley, and smoke, as each element undulates in and out of focus. There's a reason we keep going back to Benriach for their direct barrel program. Imagine if you could get cask strength Talisker 19, or Caol Ila 19, or unsherried Highland Park 19 year old whisky for $150. That's what this cask of Benriach 19 year old is offering you. 

1994 Benriach 19 Year Old K&L Exclusive PEATED Single Bourbon Barrel #7187 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $149.99 - 

These babies just showed up, too. I haven't tasted them yet, and I don't know if I will before they sell, but I'm thinking they have to be wonderful. Actually, I think I tasted them at WhiskyFest last year, but who actually remembers anything they tasted at WhiskyFest? Sober people, that's who.

There's a 1983 expression as well, but one guy bought all six bottles in a matter of minutes. I've got more on order for tomorrow, so don't worry if you're looking for great whisky from the Reagan era.

-David Driscoll