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Sunday
Feb162014

And We're Off (What's New? - Part II)

The American psyche is always obsessed with what's new -- we love the newest phone, the new app, the new restaurant, the new app that tells us about the new restaurant -- and we see this phenomenon in presidential races. Voters say they want experience, but time after time a party nominates the guy we don't know all that well and he wins.

- Bill Maher, on Real Time this past Friday

Americans love what's new because we love to be inspired by new ideas – not just new products, but also new exposures to historic and cultural traditions that many of us lacked growing up away from our various motherlands. Therefore, we go to Europe for vacation and decide we want to be more like the French or Italians, eating locally-sourced dinners around the table instead of fast food on-the-go. We learn about German education and decide we want our kids to go to a Waldorf school where they'll learn how to knit sweaters and make furniture instead of watch cartoons. But rarely do these values, doctrines, or philosophies translate into our permanent American lives in a way that's sustainable. We buy a French cookbook, try a few recipes out for fun, but that's about as far as we ever make it. Let's face it: most of our schedules are not built for this kind of lifestyle. When you get home at 8 PM it's tough to make a wholesome, locally-sourced meal and sit around the fire afterward telling stories. That's why we embrace these new experiences abroad – because they're what we sometimes wish we could be.

We long for new things in America, but what's new can come in one of two forms: the shiny new toy that, like a child, you play with for a few hours until you're bored again and want something else, or the type of new experience that opens your eyes to the world around you and evolves into a lasting appreciation. When it comes to the world of wine and spirits there are definitely many examples of both. There are plenty of whiskies released each year that are new, simply because the marketing companies need something new to market. They know we like new things, so they do their best to give them to us (and we buy them!). But David and I have tried to shape K&L into a spirits retailer that specializes in the other type of experience as well. We're looking to discover spirits that are new to us as Americans, but not necessarily new in general. When we bring in a hot new item from over seas, we're looking to build upon tradition, history, and heritage, rather than the latest trends. We don't want our exclusive spirits to be the kind of thing you drink a few sips of and then say, "NEXT!" We want our spirits to inspire you to the extent that you want to learn more about them and continue to enjoy them for the rest of your life.

Not only do we want to widen the perspectives of our American drinking culture, we want to do it in a way that's interesting and authentic, not merely creating new opportunities for quick sales. So we're headed to Guyana tonight to find some rum. Not a brand new version of rum, or a limited edition release just to give you something exciting to buy a few months from now. We want to present rum in a new context rather than a new flavor. Why has rum played such a role in Caribbean culture since the 17th century? How does it function in modern Caribbean life and what are the traditions associated with drinking it? What else is there to know about rum that maybe we're missing here at home? More importantly, how can we make rum something more accessible and enjoyable to Americans who are longing to experience something new? We've all had a rum and coke, but maybe a bit more understanding of the process would change the perspective of those who have never given the spirit much thought beyond that one simple cocktail.

And this trip is not about coming back and saying, "This is how they drink rum in Guyana, so this is how we're all supposed to drink rum now." It's not about finding a new K&L exclusive that we can get you to buy once out of curiosity before you take a few sips and move on to the next new release. It's not a promotional ploy to cast a new light on an old dog, either. As an American, I love tasting what's new and what's next, but after a while I start feeling empty, looking at the mostly-full collection of bottles on my bar. I want to build a lasting relationship with alcohol based on an appreciation for everything I love about it and I want it to be sustainable, not dependent upon an increasingly ADD-like addiction to stimulus. Constantly searching for something new, simply for the sake of novelty, isn't going to fill the void. Eventually it gets old. I need substance, a story, and a reason to be inspired.

We're not looking to come back with the newest version of El Dorado and we're not planning on becoming Caribbean experts, desperate to showcase how much cooler Guyanese culture is than boring old America life. We're simply looking for a new experience that hopefully creates and inspires a bit of excitement among those who haven't thought too much about rum and its many possibilities.

-David Driscoll

ALSO: my friend K&L Spanish Buyer Joe Manekin is live blogging from Spain right now on the regular blog. Follow him as well! His adventures are quite interesting.

Sunday
Feb162014

Why I Like Wrestling Analogies

One of my co-workers said to me yesterday, "You wrote another blog post comparing whisky to wrestling?"

Yes, I did.

It's just too similar. If you read the content of whiskey blogs and message boards, it's absolutely identical to the subjects being discussed on their wrestling counterparts. It's the exact same thing going on now in both industries with growing dissatisfaction among the diehards weighing in against the economic growth of a company.

- You've got insiders who know what's going on in the industry, and casual fans who don't.

- These insiders (smart fans who keep up on the internet) appreciate the product on an entirely different level and they want to uphold certain standards that maybe aren't as important to the casual fan.

- When the companies cater to the mass general audience, putting aside desires of the passionate smart fans, it drives them absolutely up the wall.

- The companies (or company as the WWE dominates wrestling these days) sometimes have to decide between taking care of their loyal, outspoken super fans, or what they think will sell to a larger audience and generate more revenue (this has actually been turned into a storyline on current WWE television).

- The smart fans absolutely cannot understand why their beloved company would cater to people who don't love the product as much as they do. Why aren't their desires, as diehard groupies, taken more seriously?

- Wrestling enthusiasts scream for Daniel Bryan, but instead they get John Cena. Whiskey enthusiasts scream for mature, full proof whiskey, but instead they often get 45% without an age statement. In both cases, the people in charge think it's better to go with a general appeal and a broader market.

- In both cases, the super fans are stuck. They don't want to stop consuming their beloved product because it's an important part of their life, but it's becoming more and more aggravating to watch it devolve in to something lesser than it once was.

- Both groups represent a very small portion of the overall consumer market, despite the fact that they're the loudest and most passionate. This is a key reason why their needs are rarely put forward as a priority by the people pulling the strings.

- Smaller companies are always more equipped to handle the needs of these super fans, but they're often difficult to maintain due to revenue needs and start-up costs. They almost always go under or get co-opted by the larger companies. Wrestling super fans had ECW, until the WWE bought it out. Whisky fans had Bruichladdich, until Remy Cointreau purchased it.

I am one of many wrestling fans who is completely unhappy with the current WWE product, so much so that I hardly watch a full program anymore. However, I'm so passionate about wrestling that I can always be hooked back in by something new and exciting, in the hope that it might get good again. I love reading about what's happening next on the internet and what might be in the works for this reason. I think many whiskey fans are the same way.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Feb162014

The Doctor Is In!

Is there a doctor in the house? (I must have used that line 50 times when talking about Bill Lumsden, and it never gets old!) There will be this coming Thursday in Redwood City when we present the master of whisky creation behind both the Ardbeg and Glenmorangie distilleries in our tasting bar. Dr. Bill will be on hand from 5 PM until 6:30 where he will be pouring the brand new Glenmorangie Companta, finished in red wine casks, and talking about how he came about creating the flavor profile for the whisky. He'll also be pouring two other selections along side it (maybe the Signet and something else?).

We'll have extra Companta bottles that we'll be releasing at that time to customers in the store. Any extra bottles we have will be available online after that point. Bill should have a special pen on hand as well if you want him to sign your bottle for you.

Look for Kyle if you have questions. He'll be running the show in my absence. Come on down and hang out at the store with Dr. Bill! He's always a lot of fun.

That's this Thursday, February 20th, from 5 PM until 6:30. It's free, of course.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Feb152014

What's New? 

I think, for me personally, the best moment in wrestling history was when Chris Jericho debuted on Monday Night RAW back in 1999. It was such a big deal for us wrestling geeks (there are as many wrestling blogs, as there are whiskey) who were waiting for him to break out and it marked the beginning of a new era in the war between WWF and WCW -- when wrestlers would begin jumping ship back to the WWF. However, Jericho's entrance was so good and so thrilling that we became addicted to it. The excitement of seeing a new face on Monday night's best wrestling program was such an incredible high that nothing else became as important to us rabid fans. We couldn't wait to see who else might show up and if someone didn't, it was kind of a letdown. The WWF knew they had to keep the fresh faces coming to take advantage of this increased interest. Today's whiskey companies are following the same gameplan.

What's new? Do you have anything new? Any new whiskies coming out this week? Oh. That's it? I've already had that. What do you have that's new?

I've been hearing a lot of this lately. There have been so many new whiskies released over the last few years that I feel we're in a similar situation as the wrestling version I described above: we're not happy as whiskey fans unless we have something new and different to drink -- good or bad. It's not just about separating ourselves from the pack, either. If a new whiskey is good, we can talk about how awesome it is, do whatever it takes to track it down, and tell our friends we finally got a chance to taste it. If it's bad, we can talk about how overpriced it is, how it's just another example of bad marketing, and how whiskey isn't as good as it used to be. In either case, it's something to do and that's what the passionate whiskey community out there wants -- a buzz. The online wrestling world at that time wanted the exact same thing, and it's an eerily familiar feeling -- the way that in-the-know excitement turns casual fans into serious fanatics (I converted at least thirty of my friends into serious wrestling geeks by simply explaining to them how exciting this all was and why). For many people, whiskey is exciting because there's so much out there to experience and they want to experience it all. The more new experiences there are to try, the more they want to try them. Buying the same bottle twice isn't even a consideration. It's more about that wave of energy that lights up their day when a new product gets released.

However, there hasn't been a lot of new, every-day whiskey on the marketplace and that's not a coincidence. There's plenty of affordable whiskey available. Good affordable whiskey, too. But the new stuff? The exciting limited editions and heavily-hyped releases? Those are going to cost you. The WWF quickly realized that their big moments were being given away for free on cable television and made a few significant adjustments. Since Jericho's arrival almost fifteen years ago, the WWE (as it's now called) has saved all major comebacks, new arrivals, and big returns for pay-per-view television events. If the Rock is going to come back for a match, it's going to happen at Wrestlemania, not on Raw. If you, as a wrestling fan, want to see what's new and be a part of something fresh and exciting, you're going to have to pay extra for it. The same goes for whiskey drinkers (and fashionistas, for whom all of this is nothing new).

We're at the point right now where any new whisk(e)y is selling quickly just because it's new. Just because it's something different than what you can usually get. If there is a burst to the bubble coming (which I don't see, yet), I think it's going to happen when people get tired of having to do what it takes to keep whiskey exciting for them personally. The WWF eventually ran out of new wrestlers to sign and had to work with what they had. For those casual fans tuning in just to see what would happen next, this marked the end of their interest because they never really cared about the product in the first place, just the excitement surrounding it. If some people out there are only interested in new whiskies and limited edition releases, what happens when they become too expensive or hard to find? Does that make them more exciting, or does that ruin the buzz?

How many people out there are just tuning in to see what's next? And how long can the whiskey industry keep coming up with fresh faces?

-David Driscoll

Friday
Feb142014

Plight #2

 After showing this to a friend, he told me there actually was a website called All Things Whisky (.com rather than .net, however). I was trying to make up a random blog name, but that's diffifcult these days with so many whisky blogs!

-David Driscoll