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Tuesday
May172016

Saturation 

We're witnessing a very unique moment in the spirits business; at least here in the boutique, niche section of that industry. Someone told me today that roughly 5,000 new microdistilleries were expected to come to market in 2016 according to a study they had read. I believe it. Over the past three months I've received multiple emails, daily, requesting an appointment to taste me on a new gin, vodka, local whisky, or distilled spirit of some sort. It's at the point where I don't even know what to do. As a retailer you can't buy everything you like, or even love. There's a point where the market reaches saturation and too much is too much. Let's put it this way, I've been given thirty new gins to taste over the past month. THIRTY! Even if I liked five of them who has room in their bar for five new gins, let alone thirty? I don't. I still want to play around with the five new gins I brought in last month. The scary thing is: there might be another thirty waiting for me in June. Who—and I mean this literally not rhetorically—is going to buy all this booze? 

Now table this thought for a second. Let me share with you the other side of this equation. The only email requests that outnumbered the appointment queries have been from customers looking for bottles we don't have. And I don't just mean some random liqueur from Northern Italy that they had on vacation last summer or a flavored vodka that they tasted at a friend's house. I mean incredibly rare and allocated things like Eagle Rare 17, Yamazaki 18, and forthcoming American whiskies that I will likely receive less than a case of in total. Even fairly large retailers like K&L receive teeny-tiny portions of these coveted whisky pies. I might get three bottles of Pappy 20 this year. Maybe two bottles of the 23. In non-Pappy terms, however, I might get twelve bottles of the upcoming Booker's rye whiskey; maybe a few more than that, but not much. What should I then do about the 900+ emails in my inbox asking me about if and when we might receive the Booker's rye? Whether it's the right move or not, I can tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to write an apologetic response, explain the current state of the market, tell them there's nothing I can do to help them, and then rubber stamp that thing as many times as necessary until every email has been answered.

So, like I said, we're witnessing an interesting moment in the spirits industry. The boutique production is expanding like crazy because demand is supposedly up. Booze is hot!! Everyone's talking about it! Except that no one wants anything that they can get. If it's on the shelf and available 365 days a year, then it's not desirable. Spirits at this point have become fashion. They are identical in the metropolitan sections of this country. People want to stand out, be different, make a splash, and have something unique. I talked to a female friend the other day about her jewelry, having admired her necklace. "I love wearing this necklace because I always get so many compliments," she told me over a drink. That sounds like today's whiskey consumer. "I like drinking this whiskey because when I bring it to a party I get so many compliments," I can imagine someone saying. Dusty hunting is like antiquing. Driving from liquor store to liquor store is no different from running between Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's. What does this whiskey say about you? That you're an individual? Someone with taste? I'd say it definitely compliments your eyes and brings out your cheek bones.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I'm just observing. I think it's hilarious that I receive hundreds of emails each month from producers to taste spirits the public doesn't seem to want. Yet simultaneously I'm answering nonstop emails from excited potential booze consumers about spirits that we don't have. Does that not seem funny to you? I've got a huge store full of great booze and the only thing people want to talk to me about is what I DON'T have. HA!!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAH!!!!! (imagine an insane person laughing hysterically, that's me right now). You need to look at the fine print. Yes, spirits sales are up, but they're not up across the board and the market as I'm experiencing it is definitely not capable of handling an expansion of 5,000 microdistilleries, each of which is offering a vodka, gin, and young craft whiskey. We can barely sell the cream of the crop! It's not like Westland, Cut Spike, and Copper & Kings are flying off the shelves. We're cultivating them. They're coming along. People are slowly being introduced to them and their reputations are spreading. But there isn't room for another 5,000 of them in today's market. There's barely room for three.  

I spoke at corporate leadership events over the past year for LVMH, Pernod-Ricard, Beam-Suntory, and Diageo respectively. Each company team asked me the same question: what's next, David? Is it tequila or mezcal? Maybe it's rum? Or even a vodka resurgence? You know what I told them? Work; that's what's next. Work, work, work, work, work, channelling my inner Rhianna. WORK. That's what's coming. Motherfucking work. Here's an example of what I mean: let's say Beam-Suntory sold 500,000 bottles of Yamazaki 12 last year, but this year they only have 100,000 available. That means they're now going to have to work five times as hard because they're going to have to allocate those bottles fairly and strategically (just like I have to do with my rare whiskey allocations) and yet they're only going to make 20% of what they made previously. Does that make sense? There's less whisky available which actually makes it harder to sell from a producer/retailer perspective, yet you're doing more work for less pay! Hooray!

Here's another example: in 2008, I had Pappy Van Winkle on the shelf all the time. As much of it as I wanted. Just sitting there. Yet now I only get a few bottles a year and I have to put in ten times as much work to fairly sell and allocate a mere fraction of what I used to move. We hold a raffle with our best customers and doing so requires hours and hours of extra work to make exactly the same amount of money we would make if we simply put them on the shelf and let them fly. I don't have to do that, of course. I choose to. I believe in fairness. I don't believe in jacking up our prices or simply selling to the highest bidder. I believe in sorting through emails, answering one's correspondence, explaining how things work and what's happening in the market, and making sure every customer knows we're listening to them even if we can't give them what they want. That takes time and energy, which equate to work. That's what's next, booze industry: more hard work. That's OK though. I'm willing to do the work and, believe me, there's a lot of fucking work ahead. There's a lot of explaining that needs to get done and there's more whiskey than ever that needs to be allocated fairly. 

But I've got plenty of gas in the tank. I live for this shit. I'm actually very excited about this development because while I might not know everything about whiskey or have the world's most cultivated palate, I can outwork anyone. Bring it on, baby.

-David Driscoll

Monday
May162016

Chivas Blended Whisky Seminar - Tues, May 24th

While we continue to search out fantastic new casks of single malt, Bourbon, and other glorious spirits from all over the world to satiate the rabid thirsts of our enthusiastic customers, I'm still interested in learning about the olden days of blended whisky—even if that category does little to excite our current clientele. Chivas Brothers was once one of the most prestigious Scotch whiskies in all the world, yet we haven't sold a bottle of it since God knows when. I'd like to learn a little more about what we're missing and maybe what I've been overlooking since refocusing the section seven years ago, but why do it alone? 

Why keep that privilege to myself? Why be one of 1,542,897 guys around the world who taste spirits, then tell other people about their unique experience online? Here's a photo of what I drank. Here's how it tasted. Here's what I think. Now follow me on social media and help me gain credibility across the web!!

I'd rather invite you to join in on the fun. I know the guys at Pernod-Ricard. I know the guys at Donato in Redwood City. I've rented out the room. I've secured the Chivas expert for the evening. The team is going to bring the Chivas 18 year, the 25 year, the Royal Salute 21 year, and the heralded Royal Salute 38 year. We're going to eat trays full of appetizers and snacks from Donato's kitchen and then we're going to learn about blended whisky and the history of Chivas to understand where the focus is today. I'm pretty excited to taste these. The Chivas 25 year alone is a $300 bottle of whisky. The Royal Salute sells for $700+. 

Wanna understand why? Then come join me. This is literally just the cost of the food and the room. Everything else is purely educational non-profit. How can you beat that? I only have space for twenty-five friends though. That's the only hitch.

Chivas Whisky Tasting @ Donato Enoteca in Redwood City, May 24th, 7 PM – $35

-David Driscoll

Sunday
May152016

Sunday Bloody Sunday

I've been trying to be more productive on Sundays as of late; and by "productive" I mean driving around to random bars and restaurants I've never been to in order to drink at as many new places as possible. While I know it's cool to check out the new high-end cocktail bars in the city and visit some new gin joint with pre-pre-pre-Prohibition libations, I've taken a completely different course over the past few months. Rather than go north into San Francisco and floss it up with the yuppies, I've been driving south towards San Jose, trying to get as lost as I possibly can in the sprawl that exists between Salinas and Santa Clara. I have no sense of direction in the South Bay and it's pretty easy to lose my orientation. Today was fantastic fun. My wife and I had Bloody Marys in a random bistro then strolled into a throwback cantina in Sunnyvale for Mexican food. The Piña Coladas tasted just like they do on the beach in Playa del Carmen and their mezcal selection was quite large for a small, hole-in-the-wall kind of spot. I made a note of the location so I could return in the near future.

The more San Francisco continues to modernize, the more I find myself longing for the nostalgia of the past. There are parts of the South Bay that feel like Modesto in the mid-80s. It feels more like Los Angeles than the Bay Area at times; those neighborhoods that have resisted the facelift and continue to maintain their retro vibe. There are people down there drinking Cadillac margaritas instead of Negronis. It's incredibly refreshing. I highly suggest doing this more often. If you drive around Stevens Creek it's amazing how many strip mall gems there are lying in wait.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
May122016

Kung Fu Master + New Stuff

I woke up at about three in the morning last night with a mind worm in my head that just wouldn't let go. I kept thinking about all the things I still want to do in life, but am now beginning to realize will probably never happen. Like my attempt to learn French, for example. I learned German and Spanish by basically dedicating my life to doing only those two things at those particular times. Right now I'm trying to parler just on my lunch breaks. That's never going to get it done to the level I want it at, unfortunately; but I don't have any more time to give beyond that. What about living in another country? I'd like to do that again. What about getting back down to my fighting weight? How can I lose ten pounds if I'm drinking a bottle of rosé every night? In reality I'm never going to do any of this stuff because the sacrifices they'll require me to make are no longer worth doing.

That type of stuff, worming its way through my brain, in the dark at 3 AM, relentlessly. Is that a mid-life crisis? I don't know.

Then I started thinking maybe all this stuff was like an adult version of what I felt watching movies like The Karate Kid and Bloodsport when I was a child in the eighties. The idea of being a kung fu master seemed incredible, but the reality of what it took to get to that level meant total sacrifice. I didn't have the discipline for training my body into the ultimate machine of destruction, but I did have the discipline for other things. I see a lot of that same immediate desire in the spirits world today; people who want to be experts overnight, who want to know everything about wine and whisky, but don't realize the sacrifice it takes to get to that level—both financially and physically. I can tell you right now that the long-term effects of constant exposure to alcohol on my psyche after nine years in the business are still up for debate. I'm not sure it's a good idea for anyone to put as much alcohol in their mouth as I do. In the meantime, I'm going to have a drink and try to forget about all this stuff. I probably shouldn't have watched No Country For Old Men before falling asleep last night.

Maybe I'll start with these incredible four spirits from OsCo: The Oakland Spirits Company.

I met with Michael Pierce yesterday from OsCo, a new distillery on 25th Street near Telegraph that's making some of the most interesting new gins and white spirits I've tasted in years. I still need to head over to the distillery before giving you the full rundown, but in the meantime the following spirits are available and they're pretty delicious. OsCo is part of a winery called Two Mile Wines, so all of the spirits are grape-based. Here's what we just got in today:

OsCo #5 Gin $24.99 - Mike called this his "Sunday gin," an easy, citrus-flavored, mild-mannered gin that's meant for classic cocktails or G&Ts. Delicious, and the price is even more exciting. A local, "craft" gin that's under thirty bucks? I must be dreaming.

OsCo Sea Gin $29.99- This is a breath of fresh air; fresh SEA air, hahahahahahaha....Made with hand-foraged nori from Mendocino and sundried by "certified non-GMO hippies," as Mike said. Super, super cool stuff. Like an Islay gin, even more so than the Botanist from Bruichladdich. 

Here's where it really gets cool. I've been waiting for someone to have the guts to make a gin without juniper. The catch, of course, is that you can't call it gin. That's why no one does it. You can't market it without the juniper because otherwise it's just "spirits flavored with _______". Who wants to drink that?

MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

Glasshouse Brandy flavored with shiso $29.99 - Umami galore! Salty, nutty, savory shiso flavor with the freshness of a gin. Cocktail night with Japanese food will never be the same again.

Glasshouse Brandy flavored with lemongrass $29.99 - This is like the spirits version of the Vietnamese food I just ate for lunch. It's like pure, vibrant, bold lemongrass in an explosion of booze. Who knew we needed this?

We can't ship these bottles at the moment because of a problem with the seal on the cork, but if you want to come in and grab a bottle feel free. We're working on a solution in the meantime, but don't let that slow you down! I'm very excited to see what these guys have up their sleeves. Tasting with Mike was an unexpected delight that I desperately needed this week.

-David Driscoll 

Thursday
May122016

Epic Wine Tasting Tomorrow

I'm always excited to advocate for my friend and colleague Ryan Woodhouse, who—in my opinion—is bringing in the most exciting, affordable, and interesting wines we carry as a company. Tomorrow is a great chance to experience everything he does in person. At 5 PM in Redwood City he'll be hosting three of South Africa's top producers: De Morgenzon, Glenelly, and Kanonkop with the winemakers themselves in the bar. You'll have the chance to taste seven incredible wines and chat with the folks who make them for a whopping five dollars. The Kanonkop winemaker, Abrie Beeslaar, was named winemaker of the year the IWSC in London last year. Tomorrow he'll be pouring in our store. Why would you not want to come drink with us? I don't know. That's why I'm telling you about this. You're going to want to do this. Now that the Warriors have clinched against Portland there's no excuse not to come!!!

5 PM. Redwood City. Friday 5/13. $5. Seven wines. 

2015 DMZ Cabernet Rosé $9.99

2014 DMZ Chenin Blanc Reserve $29.99

2012 Glenelly Grand Vin Chardonnay $19.99

2010 Glenelly "Lady May" Cabernet Sauvignon $44.99

2013 Kanonkop "Kadette" Cabernet/Pinotage Blend $12.99

2014 Kanonkop Pinotage $32.99

2013 Beeslar Pinotage $44.99

We'll see you there!

-David Driscoll