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Monday
Apr292013

One Day....

One day, no one will drink Macallan. Not because they've lost their touch, not because they've stopped using Golden Promise, not because Michael Jackson is no longer with us to espouse the distillery on the hill, people will always pay attention to it. Simply put, no one will be able to justify spending the money on this stuff. Today I received the price increases for the brand effective May 1st. You may remember that we were forced to raise our price on Macallan 18 year for the first time in quite a while after eating incremental price increase over the last couple of years. Macallan feels perfectly justified to raise their prices simply because of laws of supply and demand. Who can blame them? They've raised their prices once a quarter for as long as I can remember and we still can't keep it in stock. Let's not beat around the bush. Despite seeing no slowdown in sales due to price increases, Macallan is also feeling extreme supply pressure from the Asian market. The number of wealthy individuals in China, Singapore, Japan, Korea, who are willing to pay whatever it takes to own this prestigious product is unfathomable. Regardless of what they charge in Asia, the savvy world traveler will find that the prices in the US are significantly better than back home. That means that unless the prices normalize worldwide, we will not see any sort of reduced demand domestically. In fact, I'm convinced that the vast majority of Macallan 25 and 30 year sold in the US is finding its way in suitcases or through various exporters into Hong Kong, Macau, or any number of other destinations where wealthy individuals are willing to pay tenfold the retail price just to secure a bottle of the famous distillery's rare offerings. But, what does that mean for us? People who might like to actually drink Macallan? It means we're screwed. Today, the price of Macallan 18 year went up $206 a case. That means my cost is above my retail price (again)! Expect Macallan 18 year to be $200 in no time. That's not even the worst of it. The Macallan 30 Year Old Fine Oak, given it has been VERY unavailable over the past year, has just increased $1700 a case or nearly $300 a bottle. This is not even the highly prized Sherry Wood 30 Year. I'd buy in, but of course they're out of stock until after the increase. Big surprise. Take comfort in the fact that the Macallan 25 year is only going up $401 a case. So what was a few years ago an $800 bottle (and an expensive one at that), will easily go for $2000 today if not significantly more. But, can it still be undervalued? How about $2600 in Hong Kong? You can buy it today! So yeah, it's over man. One day...no one will drink Macallan.

-David Othenin-Girard

Monday
Apr292013

Top Value K&L Brandy Back in Stock

We just had a boat hit the Oakland port last week and upon that container was a gigantic drop of 2000 Domaine d'Ognoas Bas Armagnac $55.99 - the single most successful brandy we've yet offered from our French spirits direct import porgram. We've sold more than three hundred bottles of this super value over the past year because customers have taken a chance on this unknown and found it to be exactly as advertised. At 30% Folle Blanche and 70% Ugni Blanc, this Armagnac offers rich, raisiny fruit with spice and power simultaneously. Made at a small co-op distillery, it's a label we've had a tough time keeping in stock. Never to fear, however, beacuse we just brought in another 500 bottles. That should last us through the summer. For sipping, for rocks drinking, or even mixing a high-end Sidecar, there's nothing on this level for this price. If you're looking to discover Armagnac or even want to distinguish it from Cognac, this is a great starting point. No one would ever mistake the Ognoas for soft, vanilla-laden Cognac. I can't imagine anyone not liking it either.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Apr272013

Lighting a Fire

I woke up this morning to peruse the internet and maybe write a quick blog post, but I just wasn't feeling the vibe. I was bored. Jaded. I needed something to inspire me. I wanted to be excited about whisky, but I wasn't. Maybe I could coax some inspiration out of someone if I lit a fire under their ass. Maybe I could call someone out and get them to call me out in response. We don't have comments on the K&L site, but I knew that anyone with enough motivation to respond would email me if I used my provocotive tone. I wasn't interested in knee jerk reactions anyway. I wanted someone to write something with thought and feeling. Something that would really provide some substance. So I called out whisky bloggers, including myself. We're all egoists, I said. Someone prove me wrong.

I got a lot of emails today. Some really great ones. They made me feel great about blogging. They made me feel like there were real people out there writing something from the heart.

This was the best one:

Dear David,

I want to start by saying I have an enormous amount of respect for you.  The Single Cask work you and DO’G have done is incredibly generous.  In person, you are warm, brilliant, and honest.  Your blog entries are tremendous; in fact I am quite jealous of your well-written, educational, and candid posts.  But I disagree on a major theme in your recent post about whisky blogging.

Here’s the first paragraph that caught my attention: 

Do we really need this much information about whisky, however? Is it filling a need? Why do so many people feel compelled to start a weblog about alcohol and share those opinions with the world? Most of it is pure ego, which is why I was ready to give it up a while back. My ego got me into this game and it was making me write things to boost its self-absorbed nature. Sure, K&L didn't have anyone writing about spirits so it did serve the customer base a purpose, but that wasn't what motivated me to do it. I wanted to create a reputation for myself and that seemed like a good way to do it. Anyone who writes a blog about whisky is in the same boat. Anyone who tells you they're not is lying. I'm not saying that blogs written by egoists aren't useful (because I think this blog can be useful at times), but I am saying that the rise of the ego is beginning to replace actual news and journalism. It's not much different than the twenty-hour news cycle – one hour of actual news, twenty-three hours of people talking about that one hour.

Let me introduce myself.  I am Michael Kravitz. My blog Diving for Pearls is amongst that blur of names on Sku’s blog list.  I am a whisky blogger by accident.  My site was originally started in 2007 to keep my friends and family up to date when I was moving back to LA from the East Coast.  I posted mostly about personal stuff, film (my educational background), music (not my educational background), travel, and maybe a little bit about baseball.  Those posts drifted to a stop in 2008.

I restarted the blog in 2011 to chronicle my (then) new career as a full-time writer.  That career didn’t go as planned, so instead of complaining every day I went back to posting about the stuff I enjoyed (music, movies, sports, etc.).  The newest addition was The Single Malt Report.  I’ve loved whisk(e)y for some time and thought it would be a hoot to do little reviews once a week.  Somehow, through the miracle of Google algorithms, people started finding my site.  Many more people than I’d ever expected.  And they were coming for the whisky.

This was an unexpected joy.  People were reading my stuff!  So the whisky posts took over.  As a number of things went sour in my offline life, it was comforting to have folks from around the world regularly tuning in to read my generally unprofessional whisky musings.

Soon, the whisky blogging started to become more personal.  I started talking to readers, bloggers, and other malt geeks who were trying to break through the cold separation of the online life.  On Twitter some of these folks started a hashtag #WhiskyFabric.  On Facebook, the Whisky Bloggers group began.  We realize we all have so much to learn, so we share whisky news, knowledge, and samples.  Sometimes we talk about our families and work.  I’ve even gotten to meet people (in person) I would never have known had I not whisky blogged on Diving for Pearls.

Though I’d like to speak for everyone I’ve met, I shouldn’t, so I’ll speak for myself.  I’m not in it to build my brand.  I’m in it for the communication, people, and sensory exploration.  I know you truck on bigger roads than I do.  So perhaps you see things I don’t.  If some currency has evolved via Reputation, then that means there is a whisky blogging Scene.  I suppose I haven’t been invited to the Scene, which is okay with me.  I’ve found that most Scenes bring with them a sense of decay since the members of the Scene aren’t actually contributing anything.  Instead it’s a bunch of preening, rehashing, or oneupsmanship.

I can tell by your post you’re reaching a level of whisky-blog-reading burnout.  In the current whisky blogging world, there is certainly repetition in subject matter.  That’s one of the reasons I’ve resisted commenting on the big news stories.  People with better insight and deeper knowledge often beat me to it with better content.  And yes, sometimes there seems to be a bit of a glut in the number of sites.  I’ve stopped reading about half of my usual blog roll, specifically those blogs that seem to be industry-cuddle-happy.

But I still go to my usual blog haunts (your site is one of them) with the same joy as I had two years ago.  The Internet is an endless lifeless ocean, but great sites run by great people provide little islands of recreation.  Since I enjoy those little respites throughout my day, I will try to continue to run my own island to the best of my ability while working a 60-hour-a-week desk job.

Finally, per your paragraph:

Back in 2009, you couldn't be up to date with the whisky scene unless you were reading the whisky blogs. Nowadays, I'm not sure there's much more they can offer besides breaking news. The blogs have always been there to help educate newer consumers about the alcohol they're drinking, but there's so much information out there now that everything just seems like a rehash. We're recycling stories, travelogues, ideas, opinions, and rants like Lady Gaga recycles old Madonna schticks. There's nothing underground or cool about a whisky blog anymore because there's nothing underground about whisky. Whisky is the hottest thing out there. It's being pushed and sold at max capacity. It's so cool we can't get enough of it. You can't stay relevant, however, by following the current trend. You stay relevant by spotting the next one before it arrives.

What we can try to offer is the human experience.  Corporations can’t do this, no matter how much they pay for marketing.  Personal experience is relevant, chasing trends is not.  If a blogger does the latter, I promise you he’ll lose to someone doing the former.  And if many bloggers are really shedding their voices to grab for trends, then The Scene has begun and Whisky Blogging is indeed in decay. 

But I don’t see this in the blogs I read and I’m doing my best to keep my voice.  I have nothing to gain by building a whisky blogging reputation, so I’m not trying to.  You can call me a liar for MANY other things, but not for this.

Please continue sharing your voice on your spirits blog.  Reputation or no reputation, you’ve established something great there.

Yours,

Michael Kravitz

BRAVO! This is what I wanted to read today. I wanted to know that there were people out there who value the human relations element of the blogging. Blogging to reach out and meet people. Blogging to share information with people and to receive information in return. Blogging to make this hobby something communal and people-oriented, rather than another round of tasting notes. This is what putting yourself out there can result in. I, like Michael, have exchanged countless emails with people who have benefited from what I have written and have inspired me in return. When you write something controversial you get a lot a quick feedback, most of it defensive or reactive, but there's always someone out there who takes the time to write something beautiful.

Today was a great example of what blogging can accomplish. Not for the people reading it necessarily, but for me, the person writing it. Not every blog needs to be read by the mass public. Small communities can be built around a blog site and operate on their own small scale. That's the future of blogging. Bringing people together through words and common interest. Creating new ways for people to interface with their hobby that adds to the enjoyment.

Big tents are where we should be headed. Soapboxes are getting passe.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Apr272013

The Future of Internet Whisky Blogging

I was perusing through SKU's list of internet spirits blogs yesterday and I was reminded about an article I wrote nearly four months ago, but later deleted before posting. It had to do with two things: my opinion on the usefulness of a whisky blog itself and my announcement that I was shutting this one down.

What stopped me was a fashion documentary I was watching on television at the time. The fashion industry is going through a much larger and much more transformative version of what the booze business is witnessing. Magazines like Vogue and Elle are fighting to stay relevant. Even the queen herself Anna Wintour is supposedly under the gun to do something about these new, energetic fashionistas armed with iPhone cameras and an IP address. Fashion bloggers are everywhere, snapping photos, Instagraming the latest trends, styles, and looks into cyberspace and making monthly print editions look outdated upon release. A new blog post can be whipped up in seconds and available to everyone with a computer instantly and for free.

What you don't always get with a blog is professional photography. Or professional writing. Or professional opinion. Or professionalism in general. But who really cares about any of that stuff anyway, right? Just get me my news and make it fast! I've only got two seconds before another text vibrates this thing and sends my attention elsewhere. Industry blogs were originally a way to pass the time between magazine issues. A way to keep readers engaged until the next magazine hit the newstand. Now the roles are almost reversed. Blogs keep people glued in twenty four hours a day to the lastest updates and information. If one isn't updated fast enough, another one will be.

Do we really need this much information about whisky, however? Is it filling a need? Why do so many people feel compelled to start a weblog about alcohol and share those opinions with the world? Most of it is pure ego, which is why I was ready to give it up a while back. My ego got me into this game and it was making me write things to boost its self-absorbed nature. Sure, K&L didn't have anyone writing about spirits so it did serve the customer base a purpose, but that wasn't what motivated me to do it. I wanted to create a reputation for myself and that seemed like a good way to do it. Anyone who writes a blog about whisky is in the same boat. Anyone who tells you they're not is lying. I'm not saying that blogs written by egoists aren't useful (because I think this blog can be useful at times), but I am saying that the rise of the ego is beginning to replace actual news and journalism. It's not much different than the twenty-hour news cycle – one hour of actual news, twenty-three hours of people talking about that one hour.

Understanding the fashion industry is important to understanding trends. Things come into style, then they go out again. Knowing what's going to happen next is a big part of success. Booze is no different. Look at all of these people kicking themselves because they didn't have more old Bourbon ready for this ravenous market! Most of these cycles are repackaged versions of older ones with big-brands mimicking the little guys. With music it's like clockwork – every other decade. The 70's were repackaged in the 90's. The 80's were repackaged from 2000 to 2010. Now the 90's are starting to creep back in. I saw a girl wearing maroon Doc Martins in the Mission last week with her steampunk outfit and she was in her early twenties. It all comes back around again.

While I don't think blogging itself is a trend that will soon grow stale, I think whisky blogging is. The prominence of whisky blogging is a reaction to two things: the lack of media concerning smaller releases and independent bottlings, and the desire for bloggers to be seen as an expert in this field. Eventually, however, two things will happen: there will be too many reviews of the same bottles and there will be too many people clammering for your attention. Once this happens people will start to burnout (and it's already starting). When people start to burnout on reading whisky blogs they'll either gravitate to one or two faithful sites or they'll just stop reading completely.

Whisky blogs are also a reaction to the industry in order to help tell it what we want. To help guide it and consumers towards quality. To voice our frustrations and to prevent others from buying bad products. It's working. It's been working. It's working so well that we're actually starting to see co-option. Brands will now send you free stuff if you can get enough of a following. If bloggers get free stuff it might make them say nice things. When a blogger gets co-opted by the system he or she becomes irrelevant as an independent voice. The brands are becoming smarter. They're all starting their own blogs, making their own "craft products," throwing insults at the bigger companies in an attempt to appear more artisan. Blogs are seen as the homebase of serious whisky drinkers. "If we can infiltrate the blogs, we'll win the war!" I'll bet there's a Dr. Strangelove George C. Scott-type executive in a boardroom somewhere shouting that very phrase right now.

Back in 2009, you couldn't be up to date with the whisky scene unless you were reading the whisky blogs. Nowadays, I'm not sure there's much more they can offer besides breaking news. The blogs have always been there to help educate newer consumers about the alcohol they're drinking, but there's so much information out there now that everything just seems like a rehash. We're recycling stories, travelogues, ideas, opinions, and rants like Lady Gaga recycles old Madonna schticks. There's nothing underground or cool about a whisky blog anymore because there's nothing underground about whisky. Whisky is the hottest thing out there. It's being pushed and sold at max capacity. It's so cool we can't get enough of it. You can't stay relevant, however, by following the current trend. You stay relevant by spotting the next one before it arrives.

What does the future of whisky blogging hold? Not rants. Not reviews. Not scores. Not travelogues. Not education, either. Those things have been done. They're still being done. It's time for whisky bloggers to adapt, however. Into what I'm not sure. That's what I see my job as, however. Not to stop blogging, but to figure out what that is.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Apr262013

More on CA Retail Tastings

I had some great feedback from a few customers concerning the post I wrote about retail tastings. Most of the messages addressed how useful the tastings were for those looking to taste something before purchasing a bottle. Some said they definitely had bought a bottle after attending one of the events.

These are great points and they are the benefits from consumer tastings of which I am definitely aware.

My main point is that doing these types of events on a weekly basis or even bi-weekly basis has not seemed to spark much of a passion within our customer base, nor the brands themselves. The other issue has to do with consumer turnout.

If we schedule a Heaven Hill tasting, where the rep takes time out of their schedule to drive to Redwood City or San Francisco on a Wednesday evening, and we pour free Bourbon for the public, there needs to be at least 30 to 40 people there for the brand to feel this was a good use of their time. Most nights, however, we only get around ten to fifteen. However, this isn't because no one wants to come. It's because no one who doesn't live within a one-mile radius of the store can make it here during rush hour traffic on 101. Even if they could, is it really worth sitting for an hour in gridlock just to taste a few sips?

When no one shows up, the brands get disappointed. When they get disappointed they tend to not want to repeat that performance. That is, unless I'm willing to do something for them (like feature a product we don't carry and have no interest in carrying). A garden variety scenario might play out like this:

"Hi Bob. I've got Wednesday the 15th open to pour in the Redwood City store. Want to come by and do a public event?"

"Hmmm.....well....the last time we did this we didn't get that great of a turnout. Maybe if we could focus on the new white whiskey and flavored vodkas I could garner up some support from the brass. What do you think?"

"Well, those aren't products that we carry, nor are they things I think really interest the base of our consumers. Can we just focus on the main whiskies?"

"What if we do two whiskies and you bring in one of the vodkas as a compromise?"

This scenario totally sucks. These tastings are free. We're simply offering the brands a space to interact with customers. However, since we have no control over what is poured and legally can have nothing to do with the event itself, we have no say in what the brands actually bring or offer. Obviously, we can say "no" to the tasting if the lineup doesn't fit the bill, but the retailer has little control otherwise.

I have all kinds of crap bottles sitting in the back warehouse that I brought in to help motivate certain brands to come and pour. Yet, I'm scheduling events that few people can come to due to the weeknight time slot available. The point is: the "exciting" new CA law is practially worthless for a store like K&L unless we can do over-the-top, amazing spirits that motivate people to come. We can't keep that kind of schedule on a weekly basis, however.

Until I can get behind that bar, pour what I want, when I want, I don't see the point of doing this regularly. If I can get Lester Lopez to come pour Ardbeg, Frank Jakubka to pour Mount Gay, or Andrew Morrison to do the A.D. Rattray single casks, then YES we'll definitely invite them in. However, these guys can't be here every week. We can't always have the same brands in over and over again because it gets stale. Yet, my attempts to invite in new brands and have different types of tastings have drawn few attendees and very little support from most producers.

This isn't my fault, however. It's not their fault, either. And it's certainly not the fault of our customers. It's the result of a stupid law that doesn't allow enough wiggle room to actually do something interesting and rewarding. Either let me pour, let me choose the bottles, and let me open K&L stock, or allow liquor tastings to coincide with wine tastings so we can try do them on weekends when people can actually get here and taste.

Until that happens, I think we're better off doing these in-store tastings purely when someone interesting can come to the store who actually wants to be here. Those events are worth my time, their time, and your time as well.

-David Driscoll