Tuesday
Jan082013

OK, Now I'm Leaving

No computer for the next four days. See you all for more blogging this weekend!

Check out SKU's Recent Eats in the meantime. He's been reviewing K&L brandy as of late (and doing a damn fine job of it, I must say)

-David Driscoll

Monday
Jan072013

What Makes Haters Hate? (Part I)

Oh the many times I've been deep in the midst of a passionate ode to one of our many wines or whiskies, only to watch the eyes of an annoyed companion roll wayside in their contempt! -The K&L Bard

I've been there. I'm sure many of you have been there. You're gushing about your passion for quality booze and someone says, "It's just whisky." Not to us! For me, alcohol is my biggest hobby, not to mention my profession. I derive oceans of enjoyment from delving into the history and the production methods, while building relationships with the people who make it. I'm not asking anyone else to care as much as I do, but I at least want to share with others what I feel makes good booze so exhilarating. Some people have a problem with that, however. It bothers them that we care so much about something they don't.

We're not alone either. There are many other people who feel this way about their own personal interests. Shoes. Traveling. Pizza. There's a guy in San Francisco who makes amazing pizza at a place called Una Pizza Napoletana. He's dedicated his life to making the perfect pie, so much so that he was written up today in the SF Chronicle. You wanna know what the comment field said?

It's bread with cheese on it. Sure, good food is nice but why do people get all religious about it?

Sometimes people don't get it. Sometimes not getting it makes them feel defensive. Feeling defensive causes them to speak out. Speaking out makes them a hater.

However, the mentality of a hater isn't a simple one. You can't just pigeonhole these people into one type of group because not all of them are the same. I've been thinking extensively about this subject as of late and here is what I've come up with. We'll start with the following scenario:

Let's say you're at an every-day, working-class bar. You pull up a stool and you ask for a glass of Scotch. Everyone else in the bar is drinking Dewar's, but you ask for the fancy stuff because you don't want Dewar's. People in the bar immediately glare at you for doing so. Why is this happening?

1) In their mind, we think we're better than them. The first thing that haters tend to think about people who enjoy fine spirits is that we think we're better than other people. Sometimes this is true, so you can't necessarily fault them for their stereotypical view. There is a good deal of wine and spirits afficionados who buy expensive bottles to make themselves feel superior. However, haters are usually unable to decipher between drinkers who simply enjoy good booze and people who want to impress others, so you're going to feel the wrath regardless of which group you fall into.

2) Knowing more about something than someone else can cause dissension. Some people don't like it when you understand something they don't. Science. Art. Music. Literature. Pop culture. Booze. However, this point needs to be further subdivided. 

a) You don't really know anything and you're faking. I know many people who think that wine is wine and beer is beer. Anyone who thinks a bottle of beer should cost five dollars is crazy and/or stupid. They're just acting like it's better because they want to feel cool or superior (see point #1).

b) You're being a pedantic know-it-all. Some people don't like to be lectured or have anything explained to them. There are plenty of pedants who feel the need to brag about their heightened sense of culture, so again you're being unfairly stereotyped if you're not one of these people. Even if you sit and drink your fancy single malt quietly, they're not going to be able to get past the idea that you know something they don't and that makes you a know-it-all. Otherwise, why would you be drinking that?

c) You actually do know something and they're jealous about it. I feel like this scenario is the least likely to happen, but it's the most commonly-used retort when dealing with a hater. "They're just jealous." Anyone who actually says that is probably wrong, but it can be true. People don't like the idea that they may be missing out on something. Most people who are curious about a new experience will seek that experience out and try it for themselves. Some people will not. Those that don't will sometimes experience anger towards those to do because they have the means, courage, or desire to follow their curiosity. This can result in a general defensiveness, as in, "Whaddya wanna go to that fancy college for anyway? I didn't go to college! You think you're better than me?" (again, see point #1)

d) They like whisky too and they feel they're in a competition with you. Some people are in a competition to know the most, be the smartest, or live the most authentically. Who knows more about Bauhaus architecture? Who knows more about singer-songwriters from the 1970's? Who knows more about whisky? If you order something they're not familiar with it could make them uncomfortable. What do you know that they don't? Grrrrrrr........

3) The idea of dedicating so much time to one thing is ridiculous. I hear this one all the time. "Who would spend so much time thinking about wine? It's just foolish." However, that point of view can easily be turned around on just about anyone so it's a pretty dangerous thing to say. I can just as easily judge the way someone else chooses to spend their time, as well. That being said, people who work hard, have kids, mortgage payments, medical bills, and are facing other serious issues in life may be offended by someone who dedicates their free time to whisky. You can't always blame them.

4) Your enthusiasm for whisky is very uncool. Ironic, hipster culture hates enthusiasm. If you're enthusiastic, you're not paying attention. You might be in a bar full of bearded, twenty-something, basket weavers who are drinking Dewar's because it's antiquated and not currently popular. Here you are, drinking your single malt, all enthusiastic and shit. So uncool.

5) They're simply bitter people who hate everything. You are in a bar. The chances that many people around you are drinking simply because they're mad at the world are very high.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Jan052013

Vacation (kind of)

I'll be in the Redwood City store today, but then I'm outta here for a week. Here are some things you'll need to know in the meantime:

- Wednesday night tastings start back up next week. We'll have St. George in the SF store pouring their Aqua Perfecta fruit brandies - pear, cherry, and raspberry. Not that they were ever anything less than wonderful, these products are better than they've ever been. We retasted the pear at this year's Good Food Awards and it was jaw-dropping. Colorado's Peach Street Distillery will be in Redwood City. They've got two new gins, done the old bathtub way, and one of them comes in a liter bottle at 55%. I quite like it in a high-octane Negroni. They'll also have their Peach Street Bourbon on hand, which I have yet to taste, but have heard good things about. You won't want to miss this.

- I'm expecting delivery of three new Four Roses casks at any time. Keep an eye out for those. If they land while I'm gone I will try to post from the road. They're all so good I know they'll sell through quickly, especially because people want new Bourbon like nothing else (and there is nothing else this good, believe me).

- Starting today, we'll be able to store booze in our main warehouse, which marks a huge victory for David and myself. We've purchased a new license (thanks to the upswing in booze sales) so those of you who ship will be able to get your bottles much faster. Normally they have to be transfered to the shipping department via one of our three retail outlets, but that will soon be phased out. Exciting times! Straight from the shelf, into a box, to your front door!

- I talked with LVMH yesterday and they said to expect the new Glenmorangie Ealanta at some point within the next few weeks. This will be a 19 year old release aged in heavily charred American white oak. I've tasted it. It's fantastic. Exactly what you expect. This should run around $125-ish. Don't quote me yet.

Enjoy your week. I might post something before next Saturday. I might not. We'll see how it goes!

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jan042013

Letters to the Editor

This was a great point, so I knew I needed to post it here (with the permission of Daniel):

David,

Read your article : http://spiritsjournal.klwines.com/klwinescom-spirits-blog/2013/1/3/not-all-bottles-are-equal.html

 As usual, I enjoyed it very much, but as a deal hunter, i thought i'd give you another perspective. 

I am willing to pay high price if its the product i want and that's why your second point is the most relevant. I don't think anyone feels forced to buy your product, they just need your help in justifying the purchase to themselves sometime. to me his question sounded like he wants your help in 'wanting' to buy it.

What I would be most worried about, and perhaps some of your "bargain hunter" customers as well, is whether this is highpriced due to market condition and not quality. In other words, I trust your recommendations because so far any time i took your advise and tried a bottle you recommended i was not disappointed. However, if you tell me that the chieftains PE you carried at K&L two years ago was close to the QUALITY of the cask you chose (although there is a 5 year delta and there will be clear differences) it may be tempting to see if some of the stores in the country that don't move as much product have it for discounted prices. It obviously counter productive to recommend an expression you dont carry anymore and send someone to a different store, but it also builds trust and that's more valuable in the long run.

Eventually exclusive casks are tough to decide on because there is no reference point beside other std bottlings  and your recommendation. In addition to telling everyone why your bottle is unique and that "not al bottles are equal" you may need to describe more of what the cask is like, what quality equivalents out there are (including past bottlings) and that the price is due to rarity and rising costs.

DK

I think the key that was missing from my original post was the tone of the emailer. It wasn't so much a guy looking for help, but more of a you're-trying-to-rip-us-off-and-I'm-going-to-call-you-on-it notice. However, I failed to make that clear, so Daniel makes a very good point in his analysis. This is why letters to the editors are key! Not anonymous comments, but rather people taking to the time to correspond by writing an email with their name and contact info. That tends to weed out the knee-jerk reactions and it's much more appreciated on my end.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jan042013

Top 10

Now that I've become a human rant factory, I think I've strayed a bit from one of my more useful functions as a spirits specialist - helping you buy quality booze. While I enjoy the philosophizin', my primary role is to taste alcohol and tell you if it's worth your time. When we named the 1979 Glenfarclas as our top whisky of the year our customer service department was inundated with emails from customers who were excited about booze – just not $300 bottles of it.

"Could you please come up with some choices for us everyday folk?" read one of the messages.

Why, I have a whole store full of choices! I've got plenty of whisky selections for less than $60 that are delicious! However, I recognize that navigating a shelf or website full of tasting notes can be perilous, so I will now engage in another list-type breakdown to help those looking for something new. While our "Whisky of the Year" selection was the result of a collective vote of spirits drinkers from all three K&L locations, these choices are solely my own, based upon what is currently available, based upon how I currently feel at this moment: 7:58 AM.

You asked for it, you got it. I know I've done this before at some point, but let's do an updated version. We'll exclude any K&L exclusives and other limited releases to make sure we can help the non-K&L customers out there, too. Here we go:

Top 10 Single Malt/Blended Whiskies Under $60

10. Bank Note Blended Whisky $19.99 - You may have heard Tim Morrison and I talking about this whisky on the most recent podcast episode. It's such a steal I can't stop talking about it. However, we're not talking complexity, depth, or nuance here. We're talking about a drinkin' whisky. Something to pour and enjoy, not analyze and blog about (unless you're blogging about enjoyment). There's a healthy dollop of Bowmore in this, so the subtle smoke adds a nice touch with the classic, rich Scotch profile. I was watching Breakfast at Tiffany's again while home sick in bed this past weekend. I love how parties in the 1960's had nothing but two blended Scotch bottles and a few glasses. Minimalist culture and simplicity at their very best. It makes me want to throw a Bank Note party.

9. BenRiach 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $44.99 - This whisky has drastically improved over the years and it's a fantastic choice for anyone looking to avoid heavy sherry and peat. Nothing here but golden fruits, golden grains, and golden color. Supple vanilla with a heavier mouthfeel than one would expect. There's plenty to enjoy in this bottle.

8. Compass Box Oak Cross Blended Single Malt Whisky $54.99 - Another point that Tim and I talked about on the podcast was expanding your comfort zone. If you want to get your money's worth with single malt whisky these days, you're gonna have to avoid the big names. Many purists avoid the Compass Box selections because they want the pedagogical experience – they've got a checklist with every distillery on it and they're looking for the next homework assignment. Blended single malts don't really allow you to learn about one specific distillery's profile. However, John Glaser's blended single malts allow you to drink $80 to $100 whiskies for $40 to $60. The Oak Cross, with all it's oak-influenced goodness, is so explosive, so brimming with everything whisky drinkers love, that it breaks my heart to watch customers pass over it in place of Dalwhinnie or Cragganmore.

7. Ardbeg Uigeadail Single Malt Whisky $58.99 - "David, I've had the Alligator and the Day and the Galileo, but I've never had the Uigeadail. Do you think I should try it?" Uhhh.....you bought those three before buying the Uigeadail? That's like watching the Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith before sitting down with the original Star Wars. The Uigeadail is the trophy whisky from one of the best distilleries in the world. We've just gotten so used to it that we've forgotten how delicious it is. It's also at a much higher proof than most other whiskies, so it's a nice foray into the cask strength whisky realm. If you're looking for a peated whisky, you won't find many better than this for the price.

6. Glendronach 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $47.99 - We sell a shit ton of this whisky in Redwood City, mostly because we have a sign hanging below it that says, "Maybe the best whisky in the store for the money." I whole-heartedly believe this might be the case, mainly because just about everyone seems to love this whisky. It's got rich, chewy sherry, lots of cakebread and dried fruit, a supple texture, and a smooth, opulent finish. It's like Macallan 12 on steroids. Actually, it's like Macallan 12 but waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better.

5. Springbank 10 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $54.99 - One of my all-time favorite whiskies, I will never let my house go without an open bottle. How can you not enjoy the combination of oily fruit, gum-smacking viscosity, heady sherry, and a few whisps of peat smoke on the finish? This whisky has everything going on and it's always different - literally. Springbank only bottles to order and they vat everything beforehand. So, if the U.S. doesn't order any for six months, that whisky just sits in the barrel longer, never in a stainless steel tank to maintain the flavor. Sometimes you're actually getting Springbank 11 or 12 year old.

4. Arran 10 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $44.99 - This whisky has really grown on me lately. It seemed rather one-dimensional in the past, but like I've been saying as of late, the Isle of Arran distillery really has their shit together right now. They're on a winning streak like no other producer (Devil's Punchbowl, Single Sherry Barrel, Single Bourbon Barrel, 12 year cask strength) and the 10 year really showcases what they do well - easy, light, delicious, yet complex single malt whisky. This whisky is great for beginners because it's so easy to understand, but advanced enough for veterans because of the subtlety underneath it all.

3. Aberlour 12 Year Old Non-Chillfiltered Single Malt Whisky $49.99 - I cannot overstate how important it is for whisky companies to stop chill-filtering their whiskies and start raising the proof. Example #1 - the new Aberlour 12 year old. A whisky that went from tasty, but pedestrian, to absolutely fantastic. Glenrothes Select Reserve and Balvenie Doublewood can't even come close to the new and improved Aberlour. Textural, rich, bursting with sherry and spice, oily on the backend. YUM. Don't buy the one in the red cannister. That's the old one. The white tube is the one for you.

2. Kilchoman Machir Bay Single Malt Whisky $53.99 - We're running a little low on this whisky right now, but our new shipment is coming soon. What else can I say that hasn't been said a million times on this blog? Kilchoman's Machir Bay would have been my "Whisky of the Year" if we had never found that Glenfarclas cask. I love this whisky. Love it. It tastes different every time I drink it. It's like watching Arrested Development for the 30th time. This time I'm laughing at George Sr., whereas last time I was obsessed with Buster. Like Arrested Development, I never get tired of it.

1. Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $46.99 - Example #2 - Bunnahabhain 12. This whisky went from a chillfiltered 43% to a non-chillfiltered 46%. A world of difference lies between the two. When we did our big Burns Stewart dinner last Fall, we tasted a ton of whisky. Bunnahabhain 12, 18, 25, Tobermorey 10, 15, etc. At the end of the night, with the whole bar at their disposal, most of our customers went back for the Bunnahabhain 12. It was just so balanced and tasty. It's got a bit of everything going on. Soft sherry, round fruits, earthy and resinous notes, a bit of brine, the whole shebang. Bunnahabhain 12 is one of the most overlooked whiskies I can think of. It's a whisky we're going to look back on later and say, "You know, that's some really good shit." Not everyone gets it the first time, but eventually it clicks. When it does, it's a beautiful thing.

-David Driscoll