A Light at the End

Tourists from all over the world come to Hollywood, hoping to merely catch a glimpse of the bright lights that shine each evening on their television set. They walk up and down Hollywood Boulevard, between the seedy tour guides offering maps to the stars, past the encampments of homeless hunkered down on each block, searching for just the sight of a famous face, hoping for an interaction with the world of show business in the mecca of movie-making. This, in their minds, is where the magic happens.

And there is plenty of magic in Hollywood, it's just that very little of it is happening in plain view. As you may have heard in a famous song or two, nobody walks in LA. The luminary legends of the big screen are unfortunately not going for casual strolls down Vine Street. While much of what we see on TV is perfectly and painstakingly ideal, the streets of Hollywood themselves are far from curated in such a fashion. 

Sure, there are reminders of fame and fortune everywhere. Notable hangouts, neon signs, and the latest celebrity entrepreneurial endeavor catch your eye every few blocks, but everything seems to be in extremes. Unlike New York or San Francisco, where much of the energy is palpable along each and every sidewalk, Hollywood feels almost desolate and lonely in comparison; as if the broken dreams of those who didn't quite make it are haunting the obscured offshoots and alleyways. Packs of women quickly scurry from their Über cars, heels clonking against the pavement, as they try to shorten the amount of time spent between taxi and club floor.

But don't let any of that fool you. Don't let any of Hollywood's urban reality crush your spirit or dishearten your dreams. There is plenty of magic happening behind closed doors. There are bars and speakeasies, dark dens of drinking and debauchery, that go completely beyond what we're capable of up north. They are hybrid houses—theme parks of dance, music, classic cocktails, and mazes of magestic history that overwhelm the senses and boggle the mind. Everything is happening here all at once, and the nature of the action changes as you move from building to building. It's a feast of the senses. "How is this even possible?" you ask yourself in disbelief?

There is no going back from this. There is no way to leave these establishments without completely questioning the fundementals of modern bartending. How can anyone compete with this level of vision, built firmly on the basic elements of fun? What I saw last night is completely beyond pretense. 

What I saw was the future.

-David Driscoll


Airplane Fodder

I'm on the road again this week. Lots of reading time on the plane. Not a problem, however, because my wife gave me a book called The Knockoff, about a woman named Imogen in her early forties who returns to work in the fashion industry after some time away, but now has to deal with younger millenial co-workers. Me being in my mid-thirties, I'm finding her observations hilarious. This part killed me (I'm editing it down a bit as there's much more going here):

"Try living with your parents all the time," Ashley said.

Ashley lived with her parents? Imogen tried to conceal a look of surprise.

"Are you staying with them until you find your own place?"

"Yeah, I figure I'll be there a couple more years. The building is getting a new gym next summer," Ashley replied.

"You don't want your own place sooner than that?"

"Why would I? We all live with our parents." The others nodded. "Why would be get our own apartments when we get everything we need at our parents' places? They have all the right food. There is laundry service. Besides. Who can afford to live in Manhattan on our salaries?"

Imogen felt sad for them. These women would never know the joys of sharing a tiny space with two other friends, all in the same boat, all trying to make ends meet over Pringles and bits snuck home from a fancy store opening. One time her roommate Bridgett snuck an entire bottle of Dom Pérignon down the front of her Calvin Klein shift dress. They stayed up that night talking until dawn about the women they wanted to be when they were finished being the girls who stole champagne and smoked a pack of Marlboros in a day. The apartment was little more than a one bedroom closet with small nooks carved out for sleeping. Had it not been for that apartment and that sense of ambition that can only be born out of struggle, she wouldn't be who she was today.

Amen. I remember living in a studio on Market Street near 18th, busting my ass waiting tables at Pier 39 during the day, then working the night shift at Tower Records until closing. After work we would drink shitty beer out of cans, then go up on my roof and smoke a pack of Kamel Reds while looking out over the city. It was in those moments that every bit of hard work became worth the effort. I absolutely would not be the person I am today without that struggle.

I still cherish those memories today. Bravo to Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza for summarizing something so quintessential about the new generational divide (and including booze and cigarettes).

-David Driscoll


New Faultline Releases Getting Closer

I spent this better part of this afternoon over in Alameda at the St. George distillery working with Dave Smith on our forthcoming trio of Faultline releases. Ever since word broke out that Jaime Hernandez would be designing the labels and that Frontier Records would be printing limited edition vinyl to accompany each bottle, people have been freaking out. During our interview last week even Magicians author Lev Grossman geeked out completely when he saw that Jaime had been involved with us on a secret project. The excitement is completely palpable at this point. We've got the design of the media completely under control, but today it was time to start fine-tuning the actual spirits.

Dave and I hit the lab hard today, mixing all kinds of different distillates together before making notes as to what we liked and what we didn't. The absinthe is pretty much done, as is the Bourbon. It's the gin that still needs to be tweaked just a bit. I can tell you this, however: there will be some sort of raspberry component.

We're getting closer! October seems realistic at this point.

-David Driscoll


Drunken Domenica

My friend Oliver McCrum has been importing some of the best Italian wines to California and selling them to K&L for the past decade. Along with guys like Kermit Lynch and Charles Neal, Oliver has built a following of fanatical fans who—like me—love the selections he brings us here in the states. Any time he comes by the store to work with Greg St. Clair, our Italian wine buyer, I always find my way into the tasting bar. It was just over two years ago when Oliver approached me in the store and asked me, "Do you think it would be worth getting a spirits license?"

"You mean for Italian spirits?" I asked. "Hells yes!"

"OK, good," he replied in his mild-mannered British voice. For the past year, whenever I would run into Oliver at tastings he would tell me, "We're still working on it. You have no idea what a hassle this has been," regarding the progression of the project. However, when he made an appointment to taste with me earlier this week, I knew the day had finally come. Oliver finally had something fortified to sell me! "What could it be?" I asked myself with excitement. An amaro, of course!

Oliver is definitely starting this new chapter off with a bang. The Amara Amaro d'Arancia Rossa is instantly the best amaro we have in stock, bringing new life to a category that was just begin to get a bit saturated. Made in Sicily from blood oranges grown near the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, it's a citrus-dominated liqueur with only a slight bitterness that marries well with hints of baking spice. The finish is like the purest expression of citrus peel I've ever tasted in a spirit, giving the Amara a versatility that is simply off the charts. You can sip it after dinner as a digestivo, add soda water to make a spritz, mix it into a Negroni, or simply pour it over ice. No matter how you drink it, you're going to love it. I haven't tried it yet, but I'm willing to bet you could use this instead of Grand Marnier in a Margarita.

You need this in your life, trust me. As if Oliver's wines weren't already tempting enough, now he brings me this? I can't wait to see what he comes up with next!

Being inspired by both the Italian amaro and the old-timely post card that came with it, my wife and I decided to go to Beretta for brunch today. Let me tell you something about myself: I like to drink cocktails made by friendly bartenders while stuffing my face with various snacks, but with a certain amount of temperance. I want food that's filling and delicious, but also somewhat healthy because I do watch my figure. I know that it's super cool again to eat fat fried in fat while sipping hard liquor, and nibble on braised meats with a selection of charcuterie on the side, but that's just not for me. I'm not knocking those things; I just don't want them when I go out drinking. What do I want? I want my standard Mediterranean diet. I want super thin pizza with a crispy crust, sautéed cauliflower with sage, a large Caesar salad, and a frittata made with pesto and roasted vegetables. That's exactly what I had for lunch today at Beretta in San Francisco's Mission District.

And I washed it down with a delicious French 75. Beretta has been an iconic cocktail spot for many a year, so I'm not telling many of you something you don't already know. But here's what needs to be reiterated: if you think San Francisco's cocktail scene is getting too snooty, too pretentious, and too unfriendly, then you owe it to yourself to visit Beretta. Right when you walk in the bartenders smile, greet you, and help you find a seat. They hand you a menu, go over the list, and immediately get friendly with you. The service is outstanding, the food is top notch, and the drinks always forward-thinking, but classic. My wife got a Margarita that added cassis as an extra ingredient and that small addition made all the difference. We almost stayed for a third round, but we had some shopping to do. I could definitely make a Sunday habit out of brunch at Beretta. Today was easily the best San Francisco experience I've had all year.

And that's what going out in the city should be like. It should be an experience that inspires you while making you feel welcome. Molto bene, Beretta. You guys fucking rock. I'll be in more often.

-David Driscoll


From the Vault: The Caddyshack Effect

I was flipping through my Amazon streaming options last night while having a cocktail, when I passed by Caddyshack in the queue—one of my all time favorite movies. Then I paused for a minute while my brain began to sputter and work its way out from the haze of booze I was clouding it with. Didn't I write a blog post or something about Caddyshack some time ago? 

Yes, I did! After searching for the piece and re-reading it, I realized that it concerned a subject even more relevant today than it was when I originally wrote it back in 2013: drinking should be fun! Yet it's amazing how angry it makes some people. After experiencing the lack of pretense at this year's Brandyfest, I left Bar Agricole on a complete high; relieved in the knowledge that there are tons of people out there who don't view drinking purely as an analytical exercise (I also played a round of golf this past week with a sweet-natured grandfather and his young grandson who were far more laid back than the folks I usually get paired with, and was grateful for their company). "The Caddyshack Effect", as I called it, has been rolling its way through K&L for the past two years and it's only gaining more steam. That pleases me a great deal. I'm all about having fun. It's the core from which all of my intentions and desires originate, and I'm thankful that other like-minded shoppers are finding our store and joining in with our celebratory style. The more we can have fun with this hobby we like to call "drinking", the more it actually becomes a hobby and less of a competition, less of a measuring stick, and less of a frustration for people who clearly are not having a good time with it. Let's revisit an old blog post from the vault, shall we? 


December 18, 2013

My co-workers and I were discussing Caddyshack at work the other day—how much we enjoy the scene where Bill Murray tells his story of caddying for the Dalai Lama—so I couldn't help but press "play" last night when I noticed the film was available to watch on Comcast's free movie list. While the performances by Chevy Chase and Bill Murray have gone on to be legendary among fans of the genre, it's the dichotomy of Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight that I have grown to appreciate. Knight's portrayal of Judge Smails—the pedantic, elitist, classist, nit-picky, cheap, hot-tempered, insecure know-it-all of Bushwood Estates—is so well done that I can't help but laugh out loud every time I watch it. Working in the wine and spirits industry you encounter a lot of similar personalities and Judge Smails is the epitome of that type. To see Rodney Dangerfield come in and mock that mentality right to its face creates what are, to me, the ultimate feel-good moments of Caddyshack.

When I first started working at K&L I was way too over the top for many of my co-workers. I was loud, outspoken, carefree, and I didn't care about letting people know if I liked something—i.e. showing emotion or enthusiasm. That's a big no-no in the wine and spirits world. You're supposed to be tempered, reserved, studious, and guarded. That way you'll appear more knowledgeable and people will take you seriously. My views were completely the opposite, however. In my opinion, if you were open, not too serious, fun, and generally positive you could help people who may have been a bit nervous about the wine experience feel comfortable. Respect would come later based on whether you gave them good advise or not (if you didn't, they wouldn't come back). Most people are weary of walking into a fancy booze store and making a selection for themselves. I definitely wanted to be more like Rodney Dangerfield's Al Czervik; using humor to make the whole experience a party that everyone could be invited to and making sure we weren't catering purely to Bushwood members.

As you watch the film you can see Dangerfield simply getting off on Knight's anger. The madder Judge Smails gets, the funnier Dangerfield thinks it is. That's because the more angry Knight becomes, the more he reveals what an utter asshole he is, embarrassing himself in front of his counterparts. I have to admit I have a bit of the same desire inside of me. The more uptight and rigid a person is about wine or spirits, the more I want to loosen them up. I can't help but be drawn into the opportunity.

And Czervik can't either. Dangerfield's carefree character continuously antagonizes Knight's stuffy temperament and it drives the poor guy mad. While Judge Smails is out on the fairway trying to impress his golfing buddies (after moving the ball around with his foot), Al Czervik is drinking beer out of the mini-keg in his golf bag and blasting the radio. While Smails wants to have a structured dinner with proper attire and civilized conversation, Dangerfield turns it into a rock and roll dance floor. What ultimately sends Smails through the roof is the idea that a man like Czervik would be accepted at Bushwood by the other golfers. That's where most of his anxiety stems from, in my opinion.

But there are people out there who enjoy wine and spirits (and golf) who don't want to be lectured. They don't want to feel small. They don't want to argue about little details or compete with one another. They're too busy enjoying themselves—or at least they're trying to without their own version of Ted Knight telling them what they can and cannot do with their own bottle of whiskey. And that's where I feel the new generation of drinkers will take the hobby. We're seeing edgier labels, bolder flavors, and less conservative approaches to single malt marketing. Younger aficionados care less about having the proper glassware and more about having fun with their new pastime. I see it in the store every day and it makes me very, very happy. They're not reading "The Ten Best Whiskies" list, they're not reading blogs, and they're not chasing points or trophy bottles; they're simply asking questions and taking chances.

That type of behavior makes people like Judge Smails very angry. As a judge, he wants respect for the rules. As an elitist, he wants his superior understanding and acceptance of those rules to make him important. The fact that someone would just not care about his ideals is beyond him. Yet, it's happening in the whisky world right now and, while it's making the professorial-minded a bit uncomfortable, it's putting a smile on my face.

That's the Caddyshack effect: fun changing the face of rigidity. It makes for a funny movie and even funnier whisky encounters, if you find antagonizing that type of person amusing. Which I do.


In postscript, today I'm probably most amused by the conversation between Chevy Chase's Ty Webb and Judge Smails. 

Judge Smails asks: "Ty, what did you shoot today?"

Ty immediately recognizes Smails's insecurity, and replies: "Oh Judge, I don't keep score."

The judge is confused, and then asks: "Then how do you measure yourself against other golfers?"

"By height," he says. That's such a great answer. I'll remember that when someone asks me how I select my whiskey.

-David Driscoll