The Caddyshack Effect

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 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.

-David Driscoll


Morning News and Notes

I woke up this morning, logged in, checked our whisky inventory, and realized that we're already sold out of our Ardbeg and Laphroaig casks from Sovereign. Wow, those went fast. These were small casks (only about 130-140 bottles in each), so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, but thank you to those of you who bought one (or three). I can't tell you how much it helps us to project what we can handle inventory-wise by offering pre-sale items. It's only because of you guys who trust us enough to buy in advance that we're even able to get casks like 21 year old Ardbeg or older casks of Karuizawa. Many thanks again. We really appreciate all the support and your faith in what we're doing out here.

For those of you asking about St. George's new spiced pear liqueur I'm expecting this to hit the shelves tomorrow. Keep your eyes peeled!

The Tapatio Excelencia tequila has finally arrived stateside--Carlos Camarena's oldest and richest agave expression. It's very round and butterscotchy with hints of pepper and spice. I think Don Julio 1942 fans will dig it. Demand must have been pent up because people came in asking for it as soon as it arrived--and we hadn't told anyone we were getting it.

I gave a few samples out of the new Faultline Bowmore and Royal Lochnagar, thinking the Bowmore would be the clear winner, but many people came back loving the Lochnager (at least according to the emails I read this morning). I was beginning to think the appreciation of lighter, leaner, more fruit-driven whiskies was beginning to fade, but apparently there are still enough people out there drinking them to justify finding more casks like this.

Another new product that showed up last week, for you Cognac drinkers, is a new nondescript brandy from Maison Surrenne (Germain Robin guys) simply called "Cognac." It tastes like a big, fruity, expressive Borderies Cognac and has all the candied orange peel and sweet caramel you can handle, but without ever going over the top. At $44.99 it's one of our least-expensive offerings and a total bargain.

I'm off to get some Xmas shopping done and enjoy the day. Stay calm and collected out there. Only ten more days and we can all relax.

-David Driscoll


Obscure References

I'm a big Arrested Development fan, so if you didn't catch yesterday's blog reference, here's the origin--one of my favorite scenes from the show. When Joel, our customer service manager, and I were trying to plan out the Faultline pre-arrival processing schedule I said we should probably wait two days before sending the product to our warehouse. But then our operations manager Brian got them received in and processed in a matter of minutes. When we saw what happened we began acting out the above scene with one another, laughing and doing the dance at the end.

We talk in AD references around the office frequently. Joel and I always have conversations about K&L business speaking solely as the Bluth family. If you've never seen the show it might be time to sign up for Netflix.

-David Driscoll


New Faultline Whiskies Are Ready!

Our spirits buyer David Driscoll thought it would take two days to process the new Faultline pre-orders. I said, "Why not do it in two minutes!!!!" HEY!!!!!

That's why I'm taking things over here at K&L. I'll get things done faster and get the bottles in the store quicker than either one of these David idiots. That's why the new K&L spirits department is: SOLID AS A ROCK!

-Gob Bluth, New President of K&L Spirits Department

Now in stock:

2001 Royal Lochnagar 10 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $59.99 -- This delicate little Lochnagar is basically one of the few independently bottled around Lochnagar and one of the only cask strength version on the market in the US, we've seen released recently. We managed to get a great price on this cask from the little distillery deep in the Cairngorm mountains. After ten years in a hogshead this whisky already has a lot going on. The wonderful fresh character of this miniscule distillery is at the forefront. Grass and fresh apples, with whiffs of something tannic in the background, maybe it's a bit of black tea. Texturally rather rich for the age, but it's not a massive malt. Slightly waxiness as it finishes on the pepper and grass. Fun stuff and it should be around for a little cause this cask contained just over 300 bottles.

1997 Bowmore 15 Year Old Faultline "Palm Tree" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 -- This cask, from one of the true historical gems on the Queen of the Hebrides, is the perfect example of why I believe Bowmore should still be considered one of Scotland's best distilleries. The distillery itself is a working museum and the distillery bottlings are usually very safe and well crafted. After some "difficulty" at the distillery during the 80s and early 90s, speculation is that they were pushing the distillery to hard. Since then the Bowmore distillery has come roaring back producing some of the most consistently delicious juice we've tasted over the last several years. It's not in their nature to take risks or challenge the market place, but it's certainly in ours. Part of the reason we haven't been able to sell a Bowmore under the Faultline label yet is that when it's good, it's obvious. The bottlers are coveting their stocks and that means that highend product from the 70's which cost $300 two years ago, is going for $900+ today. We're not buying that stuff because there's just no way we could sell it all. Suppliers see those numbers, look at their young Bowmore stocks and salivate. We were incredibly lucky to find this medium aged Bowmore at this fabulous price. This is full force Bowmore in all its beautiful intensity. It's powerfully smoky and exotic. The label pays homage to a famous independently bottled Bowmore from the 1960s.


Faith in Institutions

There are many different institutions within the booze industry. There are distillers, importers, brands, retailers, special societies, tasting groups, bottlers, and message boards--all of which can breed a certain level of dedication or devotion from their patrons. You might be a die-hard Jack Daniels guy, or a devout Kermit Lynch drinker, or a Signatory gal, or a dedicated K&L fan, or a member of some organization that comes together to celebrate whiskey. For whatever reason, something may have excited you about these various institutions, which caused you to want to be a part of what they were doing--to be associated with their activities. Involvement in such an experience can be rewarding (I like to think that our customers at K&L have a fun time tasting through our different selections and reading along with us on the blog). Overzealous faith and adherence to these organizations, however, can be dangerous.

When we start to believe that our association with a certain institution defines who we are and what we do, we run the risk of bringing out some of the worst possible human qualities and characteristics.

Elitism -- I can't tell you how many jerks have I met in my time at K&L who have condescended towards me and used their preferred whisky institution as the basis to do so.

Fanaticism -- I can't tell you how many insane people I have exchanged emails with who have poured through every single tasting note, blog post, and piece of information I have ever put into text in an attempt to prove me wrong, in the hope of discrediting my institution and thereby improving the reputation of their's.

Disillusion -- I can't tell you how many emails I get every year explaining to me that Ardbeg Committee releases are only for actual members of the Ardbeg committee. People -- these are marketing tools. They're not real committees with boards that make decisions based on the overall desire of its members.

I shiver in fear at the idea that any of our customers head over to their tasting groups, spouting off comments like, "I know David and David over at K&L. Yeah, they totally hook me up. I'm on their insider whiskey list, so I get special access." Ugh. Someone shoot me when that happens. I never want K&L to be the type of place that uses access to create class status among customers -- the idea that some customers are better than others. There's a great scene in the film The Zero Effect where Ben Stiller, the lackey assistant for Darryl Zero--the worlds greatest private detective--tells the overzealous, obsessive-compulsive slouth:

There aren't any GOOD guys. You realize that, don't you? I mean: there aren't EVIL guys, and INNOCENT guys. It's just - it's just... It's just a bunch of guys.

Zero is so obsessed with the idea of being a private eye that he breaks the world down into very divisive categories. I feel like whisky drinkers can sometimes do the same. Must-have bottles. Once-in-a-lifetime bottles. Everyday bottles. You get the idea. But, really, it's just a bunch of bottles. It's just whisky. We're just a retail store that helps you to find the ones you want and provides you with the options to do so. We're not a club. We're not a society. We're not a brand. We're not exclusive. Anyone can buy from us and we welcome absolutely everyone.

This seems to fly in the face, however, of what some whisky drinkers are looking for. Some people are searching for acceptance. Others hope for validation. Many want to have an experience unobtainable by the means of the mere casual drinker. That's all well and good--we are human after all. To take pride in your associations is great. To define yourself by your associations, however, and hope others will be impressed by your membership can be off-putting.

-David Driscoll