Monday
Jan282013

Something to Consider

I don't read the whisky blogs as much as I used to, but I make sure to keep up on about five different sites everyday. Two things stood out to me this week that I think people need to remember and consider.

Tim Read, from Scotch and Ice Cream, pointed out that his bottle of Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch (pretty much everyone's unanimous choice for Bourbon of the year) was oxidizing quickly and wasn't as tasty as it once was. He wasn't trying to degrade the whiskey, but merely point out that that anyone who was nursing it slowly over time might want to simply enjoy it at a faster clip.

Over on Sku's Recent Eats Steve asked readers if they had noticed any decline in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. What was interesting to me was one commenter's statement that early reviews for the whiskies had been quite positive, but more recent reviews had been less enthusiastic. Why would that be? A few commenters didn't see any difference and were slightly peeved that Steve would even mention the idea. That makes sense. After being told by internet bloggers that these whiskies were the hottest thing ever, it would be annoying if someone started reporting that they weren't.

Let's look at the first point. Is it possible that the quality of the Four Roses LESB 2012 will change after opening the bottle? Certainly. Oxidation and aeration will affect booze just as it will wine, although not usually as quickly or as dramatically. I find that most reports of oxidation are a bit exaggerated when it comes to liquor, but I did have an open bottle of the Four Roses on hand that I hadn't touched in over a month. I really hoped it still tasted as great as it orgininally did when I poured myself a glass. I truly loved this Bourbon.

First sip: hmmm....I might be under Tim's influence because it does taste more astringent to me with more of the wood tannins dominating the palate. Let's give it a minute.

Second sip: Better, but still there. Something doesn't seem right.

I decided to wait another day. The following evening I did another taste comparison.

First sip: Better, the richness seemed like it was still there, but the original glory wasn't.

Second sip: Tasty. I still really liked the Bourbon, but Tim was right: it had changed.

After reading the conversation on Steve's blog, I went back and tasted the wee baby samples I had of this year's BTAC so that I could participate in the discussion. What stood out to me was the Eagle Rare 17, a whiskey I didn't love so much the first time I tasted it, but at this moment was absolutely delicious. I made sure to note that I thought it was the winner from this year's five releases. Isn't it interesting that my opinion changed about a whiskey after spending more time with it?

What's the point? The point is that tasting a whisky once and giving it a review is a dangerous thing to do. Yet, that's what most reviewers are doing. It's not much different than the competition between news organizations. CNN wants to be the first network with the big story, but sometimes their haste to be first results in the loss of some important details. With blogging being the main source of reviews for whisky drinkers, some are racing to be the first to review new releases. In the case of the Four Roses, a very important detail to shoppers would be the fact that it might not taste as amazing as it first did a few months down the road. Granted, it is not a fact that everyone's bottle will have altered the way that Tim's and mine seem to have. Some people might not notice a difference. This is just our opinion. Opinions in general are not facts. 92 points is not a fact. 9.5 is not a fact. A- is not a fact. Despite their seemingly scientific and mathematic appearances, scores are numbers that people are making up their heads. These are opinions. And most of the time, they're opinions being made by people who take a few sips and jot down a few notes, then move on. I admit that I have to do this myself sometimes. I only write worded reviews for that reason.

In order to get the whole story, however, you have to research. The internet age has completely gutted both our ability to focus and to wait patiently. It's also created a mad scramble for many of these bottles. Quick reviews, big points, big sales, no more whiskey. If you would have waited for a more detailed review, as in how it tasted over the course of a few weeks, you wouldn't have had a chance at the Four Roses anyway. It sold out from K&L in mere hours. And that's not to say that you shouldn't have bought one either. I'm not sorry I paid for one. However, I'm going to finish this bottle within the next month because I want every glass to be at least as good as the last one.

Sometimes you have to watch a movie more than once to get it. Sometimes you go back to one of your favorite music albums from college and it doesn't hold up. Whisk(e)y can change on you and you can change on whisk(e)y. One taste is the same as one listen-through on a new Radiohead release. Did everyone think Kid A was the best thing ever the first time through? I didn't.

Thanks to Tim and SKU for continuing to review whiskies even after they've already been reviewed.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Jan262013

French Spirits - An Overview

Part of the reason I haven't written much educational fodder lately is because, in my mind, I've already tackled many of the subjects I feel need heavy expounding. However, as we increase the readership of the K&L blog, there are pieces that newer readers have missed and perhaps don't feel like digging through the archives to discover. One of the fastest growing sections at K&L is the French spirits department. I don't think this has as much to do with a newly-found love for Cognac or Armagnac as it does with the exciting new options we've been bringing in directly. Whereas Scotch and Bourbon would be big business regardless of whether we did K&L exclusive releases or not, the French brandies are not yet experiencing a renaissance. Which means you can still get in early, before the budding craft movement takes off (check out my man SKU's latest report concerning this).

Booze is no different than any other pop culture phenomeonon. "Yeah, I saw the Stones at Winterland back in 1969. Cost me four bucks and I was in the front for the entire show." You're not seeing the stones from that close for less than a thousand dollars today. That was then, this is now. You wanna drink the good stuff, you gotta get in before everyone else does. This isn't some lecture about how popular booze isn't good anymore. We all know that's just jealousy or ego speaking most of the time. This is about spotting the trend before it happens. Right now you can drink really fantastic French booze for fairly affordable prices. When rustic French hooch is expensive it's usually for a reason (not because it was poured down the crack of a model's ass and filtered through diamond dust before bottling). We have numerous products from small producers that are literally crafted by hand, not pumped out of a giant factory for mass consumption (Roseisle....cough, cough). If you're looking for an introduction into some of the more esoteric and of-the-beaten-part booze that represents both quality and value, we've got you covered.

Let's take a look at what you might want to experiment with. I've taken pictures of the shelves in Redwood City so that those of you shopping online can feel like you're actually perusing the booze aisle!

Calvados: What is Calvados? It's the name for apple brandy made in the French province of Normandy, in the north of the country along the English channel. Many producers, particularly in the Domfrontais region, use a high percentage of pear brandy in their Calvados, as well. There isn't currently a large selection of Calvados available in the U.S. and their certainly isn't much of an artisan selection. Having visited the region last January, I'll list a few of the producers that I think really bring it.

Lemorton 6 Year Old Domfrontais Calvados $49.99 - Lemorton Calvados comes from the southern appellation of Domfrontais. In this appellation at least 30% of the cider making the Calvados must be made from pears. This 6 year old is elegant and beautiful, with more than 60% of the blend coming from pear. The apple, however, is what shines through and the Lemorton succeeds, more than any other Calvados we offer, in showcasing the bright acidity of the fruit along with soft touches of baking spice. The Lemortons are a laid back couple with a fully functional farm in addition to their orchards. They are simple, laid-back, French farmers who like to eat and drink. Having stayed at their home, I find the rusticity of their Brandy charming and romantic, yet completely honest and real.

Michel Huard Hors d'Age Calvados $69.99 - For a rounder, more refined style of Calvados, try this multi-vintage marriage from Michel Huard, a young, up and coming producer who focuses more on farming than distillation. When we were there they happened to have the travelling still on site, sitting on a tractor bed as the local distiller made his rounds from farm to farm.

Adrien Camut 12 Year Old Calvados $94.99 - I've always known that Camut is considered the top producer in Calvados--the crème de la crème of apple spirits. However, I had only tasted the 6 year, which, while impressive, was not the best I had ever tasted. The Camut 12 year, however, blows everything else out of the water--its quality is unreal. Following Pay d' Auge tradition it is double distilled. The second distillation tends to make the spirit more neutral in its youth, but more free of impurities which makes a big difference as it ages. The nose is a heavenly blend of barrel-aged baking spice with gobs of pristine red apple. The palate is soft, with more baked apple coating the roof of the mouth, before finishing in perfect harmony with the barrel influence. You must try this at least once before you die. The Camut brandies are among the finest spirits I've ever tasted in my five years at K&L.

Armagnac: What is Armagnac? Well, first off, it's the name of a region, just like Cognac or Champagne. Armagnac is a place in southwest France, just south of Bordeaux, that grows Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Baco grapes (sometimes Colombard, as well), makes a highly acidic and dry white wine, and then distills that wine into brandy before aging it in new French oak barrels. The spirit differs from Cognac in a few very important ways. First of all, Armagnac is distilled on a column still like Bourbon, unlike Cognac that is done in a pot still like single malt. Armagnac is often undilluted, unlike Cognac which is barreled at close to 70% alcohol, yet bottled at 40%. Many Armagnacs have no water added and come in at around 48% to 52%. They tend to be bottled by vintage as well, unlike Cognacs that usually represent many different ages married together. Armagnac is also aged in new charred barrels (not as heavily as Bourbon, however) and tends to be spicier as a result. What are some interesting options for the curious Armagnac drinker?

Chateau de Pellehaut Reserve Tenereze Armagnac $49.99 - On a beautifully situated property overlooking the town of Montréal-du-Gers, lies the Château de Pellehaut. Purchased by Gaston Béraut shortly after the Second World War, he has slowly developed one of the largest single properties in the region. Béraut's sons Mathieu and Martin take care of winemaking (the red, white and rose are all big sellers at K&L) and the élevage of Armagnac. Both are intelligent and enthusiastic about their product, and between them have studied enology in Toulouse and apprenticed at Chateau de Tariquet in Eauze, Chateau Beycheville in Bordeaux and Au Bon Climat in California. Pellehaut is located in the Tenareze section of Armagnac; the soil here contains more chalk and limestone than in the Bas-Armagnac, and the spirits generally take longer to develop and begin to bloom around their 15th birthday. The youngest spend their first five years on the upper level of one chai next to the house, and then are transferred to the other chai during their intermediate years. The older vintages finally make their way back to the lower level of the initial chai. The Pellehaut stock is impressive; nearly 500 barrels housed under the two roofs. Richer, more heavily-wooded than many of the other Armagnacs we carry, the Pellehaut offers tremendous value for the money.

Tariquet 15 Year Old Armagnac $55.99 - One of the larger producers in Armagnac, the Tariquet production is still smaller than some of the tinest single malt distilleries. We happened to drop by the Chateau (farmhouse) for the first distillation and you're talking peanuts compared to other operations. What makes Tariquet unique is that they were one of the first producers to switch over to 100% Folle Blanche Armagnac. Folle Blance, while difficult and quite testy in the vineyard, is considered the finest and most complex of all Armagnac grapes. Getting to taste 100% Folle Blanche brandy at full proof with 15 years of age for $55? Yes. Yes, please.

1985 Baraillon K&L Exclusive Vintage Armagnac $115.99 - If there were ever a romantic ideal for French countryside distillation, the Baraillons are it. Out in the middle of nowhere, there's nothing glossed over or touristic about their operation - they are farmers, pure and simple. David and I absolutely fell in love with this father/daughter team even though they hardly said a word to us the entire time we tasted (they let their booze speak for itself). This single barrel 1985 brandy is one of the finest spirits we tasted on the entire trip. A mix of Ugni Blanc and Baco, the nose is absolutely hypnotizing - port-like with stewed fruits and sandlewood (think an exotic highland single malt, but remember it's definitely NOT single malt). The palate follows up with toffee, vanilla, more fruit and stunning richness - with spice and heat on the finish that prevent the weight from becoming overly flabby. It is spellbinding brandy, although it's not for everyone with its earthy and somewhat wild mid-palate. Still, it's destined to go down as one of the best Armagnacs we've ever carried and we look forward to importing Baraillon exclusively for the foreseeable future. Baraillon Armagnac is where bucolic romanticism and quality collide.

Cognac: We've managed to run a successful Cognac operation without relying on the big four: Remy, Hennessey, Courvoisier, and Martell. We have an entire shelf of unfamiliar and intimidating bottles that few customers can comfortably navigate. What we've chosen to do is focus on farmers, rather than bottlers. When you buy a bottle of Martell Cognac, you're not purchasing something that Martell made. They purchased their brandy from a small farmer just like we do. The difference is we're not upcharging you 50% for the result. When you buy from a single producer you're also getting the chance to taste one distiller's work (think single malts versus blends, but without the grain component). On top of that, we also try to feature only producers who do not add boisé (a combination of low-proof brandy, sugar, and oak chips that functions as a simple syrup) or any artificial additives. Adding boisé is a very detailed conversation, however, and should NOT pigeonhole a producer as good or bad. See this synopsis from last year for more info. Cognac has three main regions: Borderies, Petit Champagne, and Grand Champagne, but we need another full article for that breakdown (because there's the three Bois regions as well, but we don't have much from there). Focus on these for now:

Dudognon Reserve Cognac $49.99 - The Dudognon family has produced Cognac in the small town of Lignieres-Sonneville since 1776. This region is the heart of the famed Grande Champagne of Cognac. Spirits from this Premier Cru are especially renowned for their tremendous length. While many cognacs are laden with permitted additives (sugar, boisé, caramel), the only additive used in Dudognon Cognacs is water: because of this, their color is fairly light, their sweetness comes from only naturally concentrated fruit. The 10 year old reserve has notes of apple, toffee and spice. Soft texture, with additional notes of vanilla on the palate. Delightful entry-level Grande Champagne.

Guillon-Painturaud VSOP Cognac $59.99 - The Guillon-Painturaud family owns 18 hectares of Ugni Blanc located in one plot around the farm they have been living in since 1610. In the 1970s, they began bottling under their own name rather than selling to the big house producers, and they have never looked back. Passing the distillation education from generation to generation, the family business is currently run by an energetic young woman named Line Guillon Painturaud, who has brought forth some fantastic brandies. The VSOP is an average of 15 years old and is brimming with supple fruit and caramel.

Jacques Esteve K&L Exclusive Selection Coup de Coeur Cognac $89.99 - Jacques Esteve was one of the most exciting producers we visited from Cognac this January. His fruit is all estate and the brandies are distilled on site in a small room just next to his garage. Pulling into the driveway, you wonder where the distillery is, but its all carefully integrated into his country property. His barrels sit underneath his house and age gracefully amidst the cobwebs. Esteve's grapes and Cognac are in big demand right now with some of the large production houses and it's clear as to why. The Cognacs bring richness and weight while retaining their finesse. The Coup de Coeur is a blend of 1979 and 1981 vintages that begins with soft citrus on the nose before blossoming into a warming and supple palate. Barrel spice and nutty flavors balance out the sweetness and the flavors are in perfect harmony on the finish. If there's a better deal in Cognac for less than $100, we've yet to find one. For those looking for more intense flavor and character, rather than the lighter more delicate style, this Cognac is for you. Available only at K&L in the United States.

Raymond Ragnaud K&L Exclusive Reserve Rare Cognac $115.99 - This Grand Champagne Cognac from Ragnaud represents our dedicated efforts to find excellent Cognac without the use of additional sweetners or traditional boise. Distiller Jean-Marie has spent the last thirty years perfecting his pot-still brandies into delicate expressions of the fantastic terroir in the area. He is a firm believer in the idea that the limestone-rich soils of Grande Champagne produce wines that, when distilled, create brandies capable of aging in barrel for eternity. While we originally came in search of single barrel Cognac, we tasted a few out of the cask and soon realized that Grand Champagne Cognac doesn't taste all that great in its youth--and by "youth" I mean anytime in the first 20 years of its life--nor does it taste too great out of the barrel. Usually the blends have more complexity because the expressive "young" brandy is balanced with the richness from older vintages. The Reserve Rare was our favorite of the expressions, exhibiting beautiful concentration and the elegance we've come to expect from world-class Cognac producers. Gentle richness on the entry leads into flavors of toasted nuts, stone fruit and vanilla, before finishing with a soft dash of baking spices. A masterful Cognac that managed to seduce us with subtlety and style, rather than with sweetness and weight.

Pineau des Charentes: The Tawny Port of France! A lightly fortified wine made of white Cognac eau de vie and lightly-fermented grape must. Imagine fruity, floral grape brandy with some sweet wine: it will either be ultra-goopy and result in an ultra-hangover, or elegant and delicious. We're going for the latter here.

Raymond Ragnaud Cognac $18.99 - Pictured above, this is one of the most charming and fun items we sell at K&L. Great acidity like a white wine, but with a kiss of honeyed sweetness. We brought in some Cognac directly from Ragnaud so we figured, "why not add some Pineau des Charentes to the pile?" This is light enough to serve before a meal, but sweet enough for dessert. Very versatile.

Jacky Navarre 30 Year Old Tres Vieux Pineau des Charentes $69.99 - Like Port, the PdC wines can age gracefully in the barrel, getting slowly oxidized and nutty over time.
One of the absolute most unusual and exceptional examples of one of our favorite categories of apéritifs, Pineau des Charentes. I think these really work after dinner as well. Like the incredible Paul et Marie Pineau before them, the Navarre’s Pineau des Charentes take this whole category to the next level. They’re produced in a hyper-inefficient manner, which makes them absolutely wonderful. The first, Jacky Navarre Tres Vieux Pineau, used six-year old Cognac to stabilize grape must from the 1982 vintage. Exquisite, tropical and fresh, it spent the next 30 years oxidizing into the magnificent liquid that we sell now. Bottled in 2012, it is a true 30-year-old Pineau and very, very rare.

Marcs: We don't see a whole lot of this stuff in the U.S., but Marcs is simply grappa from France. After the grapes are pressed and the juice run off for wine fermentation, there is still a good amount of sugar left in the pommace – the skins and seeds. This mash is fermented into a low wine, then distilled into Marcs: a high-octane spirit that, very much like grappa, is not for the faint of heart. We have a fantastic option from the wild and untamed Jura region that we like very much:

2002 Domaine Labet Marcs du Jura $39.99 - Can you believe we found a Marcs from the Jura?! Wine and spirits geeks unite! Made from Savignin, Poulssard, and Chardonnay skins, aged in oak for ten years! Like the richest grappa, yet also exotic and slightly oxidized like a Vin Jaune. One of the most intriguing and exciting spirits I've tasted in years. My love for the wines of Jura and my passion for spirits finally collide!

Vieille Prune: Plum brandy from Gascony, the other fruit distillate of Armagnac. Distilled from local produce, then aged in oak barrels like Cognac. Y-U-M.

Louis Roque Vieille Prune $44.99 - From the historic Louis Roque distillery located in the sleep town of Souillac. Imported by the legendary Charles Neal, Roque specializes in Vieille Prune from Gascony. Perhaps the finest in class, certainly the best of what's available in the states, prune uses only the best Gascone Plums. With the depth of a cognac and the finesse of a plum brandy. Esoteric, yet familiar, this Vieille Prune has an unparrelled richness. Bursting with asian spice and ripe fruit, you'll want to keep this one in stock once you've tried it.

Other Liqueurs: Cognac producers are always trying to use their young spirit for something delicious, other than Pineau des Charentes and Grand Marnier. These two new liqueurs really caught me off guard:

Francois Peyrot Chestnuts Au Cognac $43.99 - Very rich and very sweet, but maaaaaan......does this thing really taste like chestnuts. Sip this for dessert or use it as the simple syrup for your next Old Fashioned for a nutty, roasted flavor.

Francois Peyrot Rose Au Cognac $35.99 - This stuff is amazing. A clear colored, yet sweet liqueur that is brimming with freshly cut rose petals. Sip it chilled for a dazzlingly different post-meal digestíf, or make a fancy cocktail. Prosecco, perhaps?

That's it! You're now an expert. The only thing left to do is try them out for yourself.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Jan262013

GlenGarioch Glen Rothes - A Play

SCENE ONE - A Booth at a Chinese Restaurant, MacWilliams and McLevinson are seated at the booth.

McLEVINSON: John, John, John. Okay. John. (pause) The GlenGarioch stocks, you're using them to keep the standard edition up to snuff. I get it. We all know what it is. All I'm saying is...you look at the product. We're throwing....wait, wait, wait, we're throwing it away on that stuff. We're throwing it away. All that I'm saying is that we're wasting mature stock. I don't want to tell you how to do your job. However, we're out of whisky right now and I don't see the point in using the last of our quality shit just to keep the entry level expression alive.

McWILLIAMS: Shelly, you blew the last...

McLEVINSON: No. John. No. Let's back up here a second. I did...will you please? Please, I didn't "blow" them out. I bottled some outstanding single cask whiskies for specialty retailers in the UK and in the states. No one "blew" any of our older stocks on anything. These casks were fantastic and they....

McWILLIAMS: You didn't use...

McLEVINSON: I, if you'd listen to me. Please. I used those casks. I got us some serious play with the enthusiast community and it's helping our reputation! Those whiskies got great scores. I didn't know we needed those casks for the big deal with Diageo. If I would have....

McWILLIAMS: Shelly...

McLEVINSON: ...and what is that, John? What? Bad luck. That's all it is. I pray in your life you will never find it runs in streaks. That's what it does. That's all it's doing. Streaks. I pray it misses you. That's all I'm saying.

McWILLIAMS: What about the other two?

McLEVINSON: What two?

McWILLIAMS: Four. You had four casks. One bottled for K&L. One for the Whisky Exchange. You say...

McLEVINSON: ...you want to see the invoices? John? Eh? You want to go up...

McWILLIAMS: ...no...

McLEVINSON: ...do you want to go upstairs to accounting...?

McWILLIAMS: ...no...

McLEVINSON: ...then...

McWILLIAMS: ...I only...

McLEVINSON: ...then what is this "you say" shit, what is that? (pause) What is that?

McWILLIAMS: All that I'm saying...

McLEVINSON: What is this "you say"? I made the wrong deal, I look like the jerk. Shit, McWilliams, look at the numbers. The gross profit. Your brand is bringing the company big money, sure. Look at which brands were big in 2005. 2006. 2007...who's brand is up there?

McWILLIAMS: Romain's.

McLEVINSON: And right behind his?

McWILLIAMS: MacAllister's.

McLEVINSON: Bullshit, John. Bullshit. April of 2005. It's my brand. Highland's Celtic Blended Scotch. It isn't MacAllister's brand, that lousy Morning's Dew crap. Due respect, he's an old time brand guy. He doesn't get the new market place. Single barrels and cask strength. Look at the numbers though. It's my brand that carried this company.

McWILLIAMS: Not lately it isn't.

McLEVINSON: Lately kiss my ass lately. That isn't how you cater to today's whisky connoisseur...talk to Ian. Talk to Shane. When we were driving down from Pitlochry, who paid for his fucking car? You talk to him. The Mercedes...? He came in, "You bought that for me Shelly." Out of what? Single barrel expressions. Limited releases! Practically nothing but small sales that turned into serious dough. Ninety-five, when we were there at the Glen Rothes distillery and I got them to sell us fifty casks. What was that? Luck? That was luck? Bullshit, John. You're burning my ass, I can't bring in any profit for this company. You think that was luck? Those profit numbers? The result of good-tasting barrels that I hand picked from that warehouse? Bullshit. It wasn't luck. It was skill. You want to throw that away...John? You want to throw that away?

McWILLIAMS: It wasn't me....

McLEVINSON: It isn't you? Who is it? Who is this I'm talking to? I need those casks.....

McWILLIAMS: ...after the thirtieth...

McLEVINSON: Bullshit, the thirtieth. If I don't make a sale before then they're going to can my ass. I need those casks. We've got hardly any whisky left! This shortage is gutting the independent bottling business and I'm the only one who knows how to use those barrels. I need them, or I'm gone. And you're going to miss me, John.

McWILLIAMS: Ian...

McLEVINSON: ...you talk to Ian...

McWILLIAMS: I have. And my job is to marshal those casks....

McLEVINSON: Marshal the casks...marshal the casks? What the fuck, what bus did you just get off of, we're here to fucking sell! Marshal the casks. Holding on to those barrels to continue creating some stupid blend is crazy! I could bring those barrels to Hong Kong and we'd triple our money in no time! Marshal the barrels. Where did you learn that? In school? (pause) That's "talk," my friend.

END SCENE (for now)

You can honestly just read through an old David Mamet play and make it work with today's whisky environment. What will happen next in the exhilerating GlenGarioch Glen Rothes?

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jan252013

How My Job Is Becoming Your Job

Ten o'clock hits. They're open for business. You call the 1-800 number to place your order. The automated system begins, "push 1 to make a purchase," and the battle begins.

"Hello, thank you for calling _______, how can I help you?"

"Hi there! Do you have any ________ in stock?"

"Yes, we have thirty bottles of that available."

"Sweet! I'll take all of them!!"

"Certainly, sir. I'll place the order for you right now."

Does that conversation sound familiar? It certainly does to anyone who works at K&L. When the newest vintage of Haut Brion gets released, the above scenario will happen. When Pliny the Elder beer comes back into stock, the above scenario happens. When Ardbeg releases a new limited edition single malt, the above scenario happens.

However, the conversation I just depicted is not that of a customer calling K&L to place an order. It was me calling one of my many distributors to secure booze for our stores.

Just like consumers have to be on the ball these days to get the highly-sought products they desire, so does a retailer. At least, it used to be that way. Remember when Pappy used to be on the shelf? It's not anymore because one day a customer came in, bought all of it, and we heard nothing but complaints from our other patrons as a result. The same thing has happened with the distribution game. I've been that guy on many, many, many, many occasions. It drives people crazy.

"Yes, do you have any of the new Lagavulin in stock? How many? 50 cases? I'll take all of it."

When K&L gets all of something it gives us a huge advantage in the marketplace. It also pisses the holy hell out of every other retailer. I don't have many friends in the spirits retail world, therefore. David OG, too. We're usually faster than other buyers and we enjoy the sport of it. After a few years of this, however, the distributors began to change their system in response to us, just like K&L changed its system in response to the consumer. We now have quantity limits, as do the distributors.

When Pappy is released these days it's entirely allocated. Almost everything is allocated right now because of the shortage. Yamazaki, Balvenie, Macallan, anything that even remotely stands a chance of being bulk purchased by K&L or another retailer is carefully managed. Every now and again they mess up, though. I managed to grab the Doublewood 17 and clean out the state before they slapped on the restriction. David OG snagged all the Talisker 18, but we ended up sending that all back due to the increase in price (can you imagine if we had managed to keep it all for the old price? Other stores would have blown a gasket!).

The point here is that all the hoops the consumer has to jump through are the same ones we are faced with – and for the same reason: fairness. Business isn't about being fair though, is it? I don't know. I definitely don't want any one customer to hoard all the Pappy for himself. That's not good for our business. At the same time, having K&L hoard all the Pappy isn't good for the Van Winkle's either. Letting one store get every bottle available of anything isn't good business for any state distributor. They have plenty of other customers to consider, too. I can't think of a scenario where monopolization is a good idea.

Nevertheless, I'll still try and find ways to sneak around this system whenever possible. If I could have 300 bottles of Ardbeg Supernova while other stores got none, I would take it any day of the week. That means more for my customers for whom I am trying to provide. It's not about others having nothing, but rather me having more.

This is the example that I am setting for others. It's a business model that works well. Know your booze, know when it's coming, know how much is coming, and get as much as you can before another store does. Yet, I'm against the idea of other people doing it.

And we wonder why people are hoarding and scalping whisk(e)y? Auctions are booming. Prices are up. Whomever has more, wins. Hypocrites included.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jan252013

The Anti-Rant

I was reading Jason Pyle's well-written blog today - Sour Mash Manifesto - when I was completely overwhelmed by an odd emotion. What was this feeling that rattled my rib cage and choked up the back of my throat? Could it be remorse? No, that's not it. Could it be guilt? No, I don't feel sorry or ashamed about anything in particular. Could it be the fact that I was wrong concerning my long-standing anger towards those who hoarded their whisk(e)y? Yep. That was it.

Much like Jason proposes on his blog this week, I've tried to be the outspoken voice in favor of drinking one's whisk(e)y collection. Fuck all this storage nonsense. Whiskey is there to get drunk, so you need to drink up!!!! That's the idee fixe of any whisky blog mantra these days. To separate yourself from these straw men. These shameful whiskey hoarders who are completely fucking everyone else over by rummaging away every bottle of Pappy Van Winkle known to man.

Since Ebay has been shutdown, the whisk(e)y scalper business has indeed taken a turn for the worse. You can't instantly flip your impossible-to-get booze over to some sucker in a whiskeyless realm of sorrow for three times the standard retail value. However, there is another side to whisk(e)y hoarding that is being totally ignored by the world of bloggers and booze journalism: the fact that those smart enough to anticipate price increases were buying in to save their pennies, not make more of them. I'm going to shamelessly bite one of the comments from Jason's most recent post (only because he obviously reads the K&L blog as well):

Commentor Andrew wrote the following:

Jason,

While I understand where you are coming from I am going to share a personal view on the topic of stashing. First, I do not have a display of what I have. What anyone usually sees is what I have open at any given time — usually around seven to nine bottles. But, I do have what I would call a stash consisting mainly of a handful of products I want to keep on hand for myself and friends. Not a huge collection, but it is there. Nothing incredibly old, nothing incredibly rare. It is not for showing nor is it for selling. Only for drinking. So, why do I have a stash?

First, it is a hedge against the continuing rise in prices. In general, as grain prices and transportation costs have climbed over the years so has the price of bourbon and whisky. As the demand for bourbon and whisky increased and inventories in the warehouses decreased, prices increased. As distillers got greedy, prices increased. One need only read David Driscoll’s postings of late.

On a similar note, if there is a product a like I try to keep a reasonable amount on hand. I do not get greedy. But when a local store made Johnnie Walker Green available for $42 and it was something I enjoy it was an easy decision to grab more than usual. I probably saved $15+ a bottle and who knows how inventories will pan out as this product has been discontinued. Am sure towards the end pricing will skyrocket for what is on the shelves.

Next, while the tasting is good and you know the quality of the product why not stash? As distilleries ramp up production, quality seems to have suffered with a number of products. Redbreast was one of my regular go-to whiskys until it became a hit. Then, as production ramped up the taste seemed to go off a bit. I thought it was just me but then Ralfy made a similar comment in a review. When I found a handful of bottles in the old packaging I grabbed what I could as I enjoyed that version of the product. Also, a number of products change flavor profiles yearly such as Evan Williams Single Barrel. So, if you like the taste of EWSB 2003, why not stock up? Who knows what the 2004 will taste like.

Then there is local availability. Rittenhouse Rye 100 BiB is not available in FL. A lot of products are not available here. So, when I am on the road it is not abnormal to come home with a case or two of products I would not normally see around town to add to the stash.

FWIW, I do not go Pappy hunting, but if they are made available to me I will purchase at reasonable prices. I have yet to see a single 2012 Four Roses Limited Edition, either version, and do not expect to any time soon. I also still go out and purchase single bottles just for the tasting experience when I want to try something new. But most of the time I go back to my standards.

Am happy with what I have, drink what I have, and stash when I see the need.

This guy has it totally right - that is a logical, well-explained, and clearly-made case for hoarding a bit of whisk(e)y. If I go to Whole Foods and I notice that my favorite Chana Masala Indian sauce is on sale with a 2 for 1 deal, I'm going to stockpile a few of these jars in my pantry. If toilet paper is on sale at Walgreen's, I might buy a few more rolls than normally. Therefore, who the fuck are we to lecture consumers of whisk(e)y that they should drink their collections (not photograph them or display them) when they're merely hedging their bets against a rising tide of greed? If you would have bought a case of Laphroaig 10 at K&L back in October, you would have saved yourself $144. That's a giant chunk of savings if you drink Laphroaig 10 on a regular basis. The SRP went from $30 to $42 a bottle in less than four months.

I could keep going. Old Pulteney 17? If you would have bought six bottles back in October, you could have saved yourself $120. There's a big difference between saving $12 or $20 a bottle and the few cents I save buying toilet paper by the 24 pack. These are significant price increases!

Guess what sanctimonious, righteous, holier-than-thou whisky bloggers? WE WERE WRONG!!!!!

Hoarding whisk(e)y was totally the move! Look at what just happened with Talisker 18! Personally, I don't collect much whisk(e)y because my position gives me access to limited supplies, but even I can't protect myself against a $60 per bottle increase. Had I known Diageo was going to jack up that price I would have definitely stored a bottle or two of Talisker 18 under the bed. When I first started working at K&L, I was the assistant to a guy named Jeff Vierra, the former Loire Valley and German wine buyer for our store. He recently dropped by to say hello and told me, "If I had known all those Black Maple Hill bottles would be so valuable today I would have bought cases!"

He wasn't stressing their retail value. He meant "cases" for his own personal consumption. I can't blame him. In a market where whisk(e)y is more valuable than ever, there are many of us who wish we would have bought in earlier before our options began to vanish. Just like I wish I could have bought a house in the Bay Area back in 1989. However, that didn't happen so I need to get over it.

Meanwhile, all this "drink your whiskey" talk is getting too self-righteous for me. Jason is totally right when he stresses that booze is meant to be drunk. However, commodities are meant to be hoarded when they constantly fluctuate in price because human beings will always look to capitalize on a good deal. If someone was smart enough to have the foresight to stockpile a bunker of good booze, then you shouldn't be a hater. You should simply say, "Hot damn, I wish I had been as smart as you."

Yes.....we all agree that whisky is meant to be consumed, just like pretty flowers are meant to be sniffed and baby kittens are meant to be loved. However, deals are meant to be capitalized upon as well. While we know that a few people are indeed hunting down limited stocks with the intention to profit, most people I've met are hoarding for protection rather than avarice. The whisky companies are doing the scalping now, so at some point you have to take a stand – either buy in big or stop drinking it. If you have the foresight to know a deal when you see it...well....you might just want to get yourself a real estate license.

-David Driscoll