Lessons of the Industry as Told Through Popular Film Sequences

If you think the booze business is divided up between good and evil, right and wrong, and honest and deceitful, I have one video clip to show you. Watch Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller in the 90s classic The Zero Effect.

-David Driscoll



Michael Strahan, the legendary Giants defensive juggernaut, said something quite controversial on his morning show with Kelly Ripa recently, when he stated:

“I don’t listen to those guys on the radio who talk about sports but who have never played any sports. I never listened to the opinion of someone who the last time they put on a uniform was when their mom took them trick-or-treating.

Strahan's rant came from a moment of frustration with those who like to analyze aspects of a profession they have never actually performed. The world of professional sports opinion is dominated by guys (all with strong opinions) who have a lot to say about what a player should or shouldn't be doing, yet were never talented enough to play the game themselves. While you can obviously make the case that some of the best sports writers are talented and wittier than many of the ex-pros looking for a second career, no one can claim to understand something they have never personally experienced better than someone who has been there. I can only imagine what it must be like to lose a football game, then have some whiney, skinny jerk in the stands tell you what you should have done.

While I have watched Full Metal Jacket, read testimonials from ex-soldiers, and watched numerous documentaries about famous battles, I have never been to war. Therefore, I would never dare to presume that I understand what men go through in such scenarios. I've also never been an African-American or any other minority race, so I'm not going to act like I get what's really going on with racism and bigotry in the world. The analogies go on and on, obviously.

What I love about whiskey (and all beverages, for that matter) is that the enjoyment of it does not fit into one of these scenarios. Anyone can appreciate whiskey on a serious level if they're willing to put in the time and the commitment. I don't have a better palate than most of my customers and I'm not capable of tasting things that other experienced tasters cannot. We're all the same for the most part, which is why amateur blogging and professional blogging have become pretty even in their quality.

However, one thing I will tell you is that I know more about how the spirits business works than most amateur bloggers out there. If you think running a whisky business is about siding with big brands versus little brands, or taking a stance against corporate greed, then think again. You can run a store that stands for those principles if you want, but you won't be in business very long. Being a retailer means you take yourself out of the equation and think about serving your customers. It's not about me. It's not about what I like. Or what David OG likes. Or what Kyle likes. It's about what the customer wants -- pure and simple. Your customers tell you what they're interested in and you do your best to provide them with it. Sure, we go and find great stuff, but if you think we're only buying what we personally would drink, then you're crazy.

You think we're anti-Diageo at K&L because we get miffed at them every now and again? You should look at our sales numbers. Since long before David and I started working here, K&L has always sold more products from Diageo than from any other beverage company (and most other beverage companies combined). Lagavulin, Talisker, and Oban are three of the most popular whiskies we sell -- period. The Bulleit Bourbon and rye whiskies fly out of here like they're $5 bottles of wine. Without Diageo we would only have half the selection we have now and our customers would be pissed! Limiting selection based on your own personal gripes is retail fascism and we're not looking to be the next Soup Nazi.

Do you think we only sell products that we love, or that we only get excited about selling things that are our personal favorites? I didn't get excited this past Christmas when I gave my mom a gift certificate to Chez Panisse because it was my favorite restaurant; I got excited because I knew she wanted to eat there and it would make her happy. The best parts about this job involve customer satisfaction, not glorifying your own ego by making bold statements about what is or isn't "good."  At least twenty times a day I help a customer find a whiskey that I personally would not purchase because I'm looking out for their needs, not mine.

If you want people to follow your opinions, drink what you drink, and respect your judgement when it comes to alcohol evaluation, then you should definitely start a whiskey blog and post honest reviews about what is and isn't good. If you want to make people happy, work with a number of different producers, find creative ways to make deals, and offer people as much variety as you can, while making sure you leave your own personal baggage out of the equation, then you should get into the spirits retail business.

For every person who hates one whiskey there are another five who think it's the best thing ever. Credibility as a retailer comes from knowing what the customer wants and giving it to them, not pushing your own personal agenda. It's our job at K&L to make sure various tastes, interests, and desires are taken care of. We'll always assess quality, of course, but we're not in the business of selling what David D and David OG like. We're in the business of selling what K&L customers like.

And they like a lot of different things.

-David Driscoll


Orphan Barrels -- Round Two!

You thought this was a one time thing? Heck no! We've got tons more, so if you missed out yesterday here's your chance to get back in on the 20 year old NON-WHEATED Bourbon from Diageo's Orphan Barrel series. We've also got more Blowhard, but that's not moving nearly as quickly due to the price.

Again, my apologies for the mis-information yesterday (but it seems everyone already knew what they were getting). In the rush to get the information out I should have proof-read my tasting notes. Haste makes waste. The specs on the Barterhouse are here. But quit worrying about the specs and go get yourself a bottle!

Barterhouse 20 Year Old Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey $89.99

Old Blowhard 26 Year Old Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey $169.99

-David Driscoll


Six New Dickels For You To Pick(le)

I am very excited to tell you about these six new casks that have just arrived. They are without a doubt the most exciting single barrels of American whiskey we've been able to buy in some time. I don't think I've been this pumped since our first barrel of Four Roses showed up, mainly because these six barrels of Dickel mark the first time we've had something new and different to offer in a very long time.

Just like with Bourbon, corn is the main component for Tennessee whiskey and it's important in particular because of Dickel's 84% corn mashbill that results in a full-bodied, creamy sweetness, setting it apart from its Kentucky brethren. While no one really gets overly-excited about the mellow, mild, reduced flavor of Dickel #8, I can promise you that when that flavor is concentrated into a single barrel and bottled at 103 proof, it's a much more dynamic experience.

The point is: these barrels are freaking delicious!!! 

Here is something you need to know before buying these bottles, however:

1) They are wide, squat bottles so if you're shipping these we have to pack them separately into a different box.

2) While the 12 pack box these bottles arrived in clearly dictates which barrel these whiskies came from, the label unfortunately does not. We have therefore stickered each bottle with a barcode and barrel code to make sure you can tell which whiskey is from which cask.

Let me also say that I don't think any one barrel shines over the others. They're all very similar in profile with only subtle differences. The first description is only longer because I'm cutting out the intro on the other five (it's not because I like it more!).

George Dickel K&L Exclusive 9 Year Old Single Barrel 03L29 G78-2-26 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 -- Production methods really haven't changed at George Dickel distillery since 1959, nor have the practices -- they've been making old-fashioned Tennessee whiskey from corn the only way they know how. That's why when Dickel announced they would begin doing a single barrel program with retailers we were amazed (and excited). Just like with Bourbon, corn is the main component for Tennessee whiskey and is important in particular because of Dickel's 84% corn mashbill that results in a full-bodied, creamy sweetness that sets it apart from its Kentucky brethren. It also passes very slowly though charcoal after distillation, allowing it to pull out all the impurities they don't want in the whiskey, resulting in a soft, mellow, and smooth spirit. But now imagine all that sweet corn richness from a single barrel at 103 proof! Barrel G 78-2-26 has an instant hit of big bold vanilla spice and rich barrel char before mellowing out into a creamy candy corn palate, accented by more baking spices. The higher proof really brings new life to the richness, bringing a boldness reminiscent to the Pappy Van Winkle Bourbons, which also combine that potency of sweet with heat. There isn't enough whiskey like this to satisfy the pent up demand. I'd buy 100 barrels of this if we could.

George Dickel K&L Exclusive 9 Year Old Single Barrel 04F29 L56-5-5 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 -- Barrel L 56-5-5 is more like a Bourbon than any of the other five casks we found mainly because it starts off with that pencil shaving aroma and wood-driven character before the sweetness hits. The mid-palate turns more herbaceous, but the higher proof and the sweetness from the corn prevent it from overtaking the experience and throwing the entire profile out of balance. The finish is a flutter of barrel char and caramel. Lovely stuff.

George Dickel K&L Exclusive 9 Year Old Single Barrel 04F29 L56-6-20 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 -- Barrel L 56-6-20 brings more spice and barrel richness than sweet corn, however, and explodes into a barrage of mint, anise, cinnamon, and herbaceous goodness -- all without sacrificing the inherent creaminess. This is the exact profile that Bourbon fans are lamenting the loss of these days -- that bold spice that's equally matched by barrel richness. The finish is all burnt vanilla and creme brulee. YUM!!!!

George Dickel K&L Exclusive 9 Year Old Single Barrel 04L28 N54-3-6 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 -- Barrel 04L28 N54-3-6 has lots of graham cracker goodness with plenty of spicy barrel char action. There's a burst of sweet vanilla on the mid-palate and more toasted oak on the finish. It's a tad less sweet than the other five and even a bit of an amaro note on the back end. This should be a big hit for Manhattan drinkers.

George Dickel K&L Exclusive 9 Year Old Single Barrel 04L430 N55-3-2 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 -- Barrel 04L430 N55-3-2 has a concentrated core of charred oak, caramel corn, and big spice. The palate explodes and the high proof balances out the richness perfectly. It's a match made in heaven.

George Dickel K&L Exclusive 9 Year Old Single Barrel 3L29 G78-5-8 Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 -- Barrel 3L29 G78-5-8 has lots of wood tannin and dark oak goodness, but a bit of burnt sugar and creme brulee on the backend. This is most nuanced of the bunch, but that's not saying much. It still explodes at 51.5% ABV and still brings the sweet corny goodness, albeit in a more subdued manner.

-David Driscoll


Orphan Barrel Bonanza!

REVISION: I should note that we received conflicting reports about the mashbill of the Old Barterhouse. The Whiskey Advocate reported a while back that all the mashbills are the same (non-wheated), but Diageo told me repeatedly that the formula was wheated, hence why I wrote that in the description. I wrote those notes a while back when I first tasted the whiskey and forgot to update them before we did the email, so since the mashbill is indeed 86% corn, 6% rye, and 8% barley, I apologize. I was going off what the brand told me at our appointment (which we all know is not always the best thing to do!).

David OG and I were talking about an interesting phenomenon on our last trip to Scotland, regarding how we get our deals done for K&L: namely, the idea that being a spirits buyer can't be that hard, right? Has anyone ever said to you, "Hey, you take good pictures. I should get a camera like yours." No? Well maybe they've said, "Hey, I like your outfit, I should shop where you shop." The insinuation when someone gives you that type of "complement" is that you're only as good as the camera you use, or the store you shop at -- there's nothing of your own talent or skill involved. 

The same type of conversation happens when David and I make something happen for K&L. "Wow, good deal, someone must owe you guys a favor," a person will inevitably mention. Or.....maybe we just know what we're doing? How else would we track down a gangload of the two hottest whiskies to hit the market this year, in quantities that will allow you all to snag a bottle without entering a raffle or diving over your opponent? You think these just fell into our lap?

So how did we get them? camera, I guess.

Barterhouse 20 Year Old Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey $89.99 (NOTE: this item ships as a 1.5L) The mysterious 20 year old expression arrives! The Old Barterhouse is the most talked about American whiskey of 2014 and its got the gusto to back up the hype. The rich, spicy, and full-bodied palate bursts with sweet vanilla and creamy corn, showcasing the richness that only 20 years in a new charred barrel can offer. This is as close as you'll get to Pappy 20 and it's about $40 less per bottle. Consider yourself lucky if you managed to get one.

Old Blowhard 26 Year Old Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey $169.99 (NOTE: this item ships as a 1.5L) I can't remember the last time we saw a 26 year old Bourbon at K&L - even when the good old days of mature Bourbon were in full swing. To find an American whiskey with this level of maturity and for this price is shocking, especially in this bare market. The ethereal Old Blowhard is almost ghostly in its elegance. It's not rich, powerful, or in-your-face. The Blowhard is soft, delicate, and simply graceful in its profile - the wood flavors are haunting, rather than blunt. I've never tasted another Bourbon like this whiskey before, and I don't know whether I will again considering the scarcity of older stocks. This will be one of the most coveted bottles we sell this year.

-David Driscoll