POVs — Part II

Buffalo Trace released this week a very well-crafted response to the internet rumor mill concerning what's going on with their whiskies. Basically, they said this:

-We told you there was going to be a shortage.

-The conspiracists and angry anti-authority people called bullshit.

-But it wasn't a gimmick or a publicity stunt to increase sales.

-Now we're all dealing with the fallout, which is leading to more rumors and conspiracy theories.

I loved their detailed, line-by-line response, which clearly showed their perspective and explained why the situation is where it is. Whisky consumers, by nature, see the situation from their point-of-view: they're pissed off that the Buffalo Trace Bourbons are harder-to-find and more expensive than normal. That's to be expected, so it's nice to a see a distillery lay things out in clear, honest terms.

Since we're talking POVs, however, let's discuss rumor #8: Buffalo Trace's prices have remained relatively unchanged and any mark-ups are at the discretion of the retailer. Let me give you the retailer's perspective.

What they say is true. Buffalo Trace's wholesale prices are mostly the same; however, since we are now on strict allocation (one case per month or two) there are no longer discounts for large volume buys. The reason that stores like K&L have such competitive pricing on Buffalo Trace whiskies is that we buy in bulk. It's no different than what Costco offers: buying power. However, take away our ability to buy deep quantities and you take away our ability to offer low prices. We've had to raise our Buffalo Trace prices a few bucks and it's not because we're being greedy. It's because the prices have indeed gone up by $3-$5 per bottle due to the allocations.

That's no big deal.

Here is the bigger deal, however. Let me start by saying this clearly: in no way am I justifying price gouging or jacking up prices for exploitative purposes. What I am saying is this: consumers in the United States enjoy free-market capitalism. They have the right to shop where they want to. By the same token, retailers have a right to mark up prices due to increased demand. They name the price, you decide if you want to give them your business. That's the way it works. Obviously, we're not exploiting the current shortage because we want our customers to know we're looking out for them, but at the same time you can't be someone who shops around for the lowest price, finds the retailer with the best deal, but then gets mad when a shop exercises that same essential capitalistic right (actually you can be that person, but just know that it's blatant hypocrisy).

But here are more telling figures:

-In July of 2013 we sold $2,172.14 worth of Buffalo Trace Kentucky Bourbon. In July of 2014 we sold $1359.32: a decrease in sales of $812.82

-In July of 2013 we sold $1649.38 worth of Eagle Rare 10. In July of 2014 we sold $1000.60: a decrease in sales of $648.78

-In July of 2013 we sold $1079.64 worth of Elmer T. Lee. In July of 2014 we sold nothing because we couldn't get any: a decrease in sales of $1079.64

-In July of 2013 we sold $1430.12 worth of Weller 107. In July of 2014 we sold $572: a decrease in sales of $858.12

You can see where this is going. With the success that Bourbon is enjoying, and the extreme popularity of the Buffalo Trace whiskies, our sales numbers should be going up not down. However, we can't get the whiskey we need because Buffalo Trace doesn't have enough to sell us. When you throw in Blanton's, Weller 12, Rock Hill Farms, Sazerac rye, and all of the other limited releases that we sell from the Buffalo Trace portfolio (not to mention single casks) you're talking thousands and thousands of dollars of sales being taken away each month due to lack of inventory.

Again, it's not the end of the world for K&L because we have so many other products that can help pick up the slack. And we're not blaming anyone for the issue because it's nobody's fault! However, if you're a mom-and-pop retailer who happens to rely on your Buffalo Trace sales to help pay the bills (let alone the 75 other whiskies that have gone on allocation over the last year), then you're going to need to make up those losses somewhere. After years of depending on the profit generated from those products, it can be a shock when they're suddenly taken away (and frustrating when the demand is still there!).

There are obviously some exploitative practices going on out there, but raising the price on a Buffalo Trace whiskey by $10 isn't always the result of some "greedy" retailer looking to screw you over. It's the result of a situation that sucks for everyone involved. The lights at your local retailer don't magically stay on and the employees don't pay themselves, so each retailer will need to decide what they have to make for their own particular situation. If that makes you upset, then be upset. But please don't blame the retailers who have spent years supporting Buffalo Trace, building that brand with their consumers, only to see their hard work come to a screeching halt.

Not everything is an elaborate scheme to make the life of a whiskey drinker miserable. Some things are simply the result of supply and demand.

-David Driscoll


Young Americans

A few new things that just showed up for us that continue to expand our American whiskey selections:

Sonoma Distillers (formerly 1512 Barbershop) have moved their distribution arm over to my friend Val, so I'm jumping in to support their new relationship. The whiskies are solid for what they are and are more reasonably priced than previously. Plus, their packaging is great (as always).

Sonoma Distillers California Rye Whiskey $52.99 - Distinct, fresh rye bread flavor with just enough new oak to balance out the heat. It's a bold, pure grain flavor with hints of pencil lead and char from the barrique aging.

Sonoma Distillers 2nd Chance Wheat Whiskey $52.99 - Matured in refill American oak, these is a wheat-distilled whiskey that offers mellow, creamier flavors of vanilla. Fun stuff.

The guys behind Ransom Old Tom Gin also have a new Oregon Bourbon they've distilled from a standard corn, rye, and barley mash. It's also quite intriguing and not at all new-makey or quarter-casky.

Henry of Yore Straight Bourbon $46.99 - It tastes like young Kentucky Bourbon, which is a sign that they're doing good things up North. Like a bold, young Heaven Hill whiskey.

And, no you're not seeing things: Jack Daniel's is back at a NorCal K&L for the first time in over ten years (no, we don't carry the basic Jack, so don't freak out on me now). Their new "rested" rye is finally available to retailers after a brief stint as "bars and restaurants only".

Jack Daniels Rested Rye Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey $49.99 - It's sweet, just like Jack should be, but it's also clearly a rye whiskey. It's a sweeter rye whiskey, but I could definitely see putting down a few glasses of this.

Of course, after all the booze that David OG and I put down while partying in SF on Monday night, I'm in dire need of a night off.

-David Driscoll



One thing this job as spirits buyer has taught me (and taught me well) is how many different perspectives there our out there in the world. Different people see things very differently, whether it's customer service, global politics, or booze. For example, based on the feedback I got, the Claude Thorin Vintage Cognac was both the most and the least popular spirit at BrandyFest this week—in fact, when I told one unenthused taster that the last four people who tried it thought it was amazing, he asked, "Are you saying that just to fuck with me?"

When we bring in fifty new K&L exclusive products—whiskies, brandies, gins, what-have-you—we're not expecting the same person to buy, or to like 100% of what we're bringing in. If for some reason you do like everything we're selling, then you're probably qualified to buy spirits for a major retailer because doing this job requires you to see the positive side of just about anything—both booze and people. I know that the super geeks might shit all over some of our selections, but that's fine because not everything we sell is meant for them. I also know that many of our products are far too esoteric and quirky for the general palate, but—again—that's OK because we've got plenty of drinkable stuff that should please a larger crowd. 

What I find both fascinating and exasperating, however, is the ongoing mindset that one's own personal taste can determine an inherent value to any wine or spirit. That's not to say that whatever one likes is good, or that quality is just a matter of taste—it's to say that one's own personal preference is never unanimous. Just because you like something doesn't mean that others will, and vice versa. And just because someone likes something you don't doesn't mean that you're stupid and they're smart, or that they're an idiot and you're just discerning.

One of the most outrageous experiences of my booze career came when I dared to say "just because you don't like it...." to one of our more sensitive customers after he emailed me in disgust about one of my recommendations. It resulted in one the biggest temper tantrums I have ever witnessed (both from children and from grown adults). 

That's when I really understood that the world is an incredibly diverse place.

-David Driscoll



100% baby. 100% grown, harvested, distilled, barreled, matured, bottled on Islay.

Two casks. Two K&L Exclusives. Two chances to enjoy 100% purity.

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #344 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $109.99 - While we all finally know and agree that Kilchoman is making some of the most serious single malt whisky on the planet, their 100% Islay selections present a very different flavor profile than their standard Port Ellen-malted distillates. Our two casks of Kilchoman we purchased last year were (and still are) two of the best Islay whiskies I've ever tasted, with a pronounced peatiness, big bold Red Hot cinnamon spice, and the drive of character they bring all the way to the finish. The 100% Islay whiskies, made from barley grown at Rockside Farm next door to the distillery, are an entirely different animal, however. Those who say "the grain doesn't matter" should taste these whiskies side by side. The self-malted mash is entirely less smoky and the resulting whisky is much more grainy, tangy, and pure than what Kilchoman normally releases. They show a sense of place that, to us, is unrivaled in the single malt world. Cask #344 starts off with a grainy note, a blast of pure barley that tastes like your actually chewing the husk, but then moves into a mezcal-like tanginess and a more savory profile. The campfire smoke comes towards the finish, which comes clean and quickly; frightening your mouth into thinking it's about to get blasted, but leaving it with a pure flavor of ash, sweet barley, and mossy peat. It's more evidence to the fact that we're dealing with serious whisky makers here. More importantly, whisky makers who care about terroir. This is Islay whisky.

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #345 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $109.99 - Cask #345 is the peatier of the two barrels, but not by much. It's loaded with pure barley goodness on the front end--a type of clean barley flavor that you would think the peat and smoke would obliterate, but in this case it isn't overpowered. The smoke comes on the mid-palate and is followed by pure flavors of peat moss and salty tang, with a finish that is big, but not bombastic. 

-David Driscoll


Lots of Brandy

Brandyfest was AWESOME! Thank you so much to everyone who attended. We sold out both groups and it was exactly the right amount of chaos—no more than we could handle, no less than what we needed to make things interesting. I got to Bar Agricole early to set up the patio.

Eric Johnson got behind the stick and started whipping up insane cocktails using only Bar Agricole exclusive French spirits.

They had two people shucking oysters the entire time. These guys worked their butts off. I mean, it was "all you can eat" oysters!! I think most people at their $75 worth of the ticket price. 

And then it got nuts!

We also debuted EIGHT new K&L Exclusive brandies last night and they were all incredibly well-received. I drove back down 101 South last night with a huge smile on my face and a feeling of complete satisfaction. Well done everyone!

Oh, and here are the new exclusives:

2000 Chateau de Pellehaut 14 Year Old K&L Exclusive Folle Blanche Vintage Tenareze Armagnac $49.99 - While Bas-Armagnac gets all the press, and the Haut-Armagnac gets completely ignored, the Tenareze region of Armagnac is quietly producing some of the best brandies in the world. Much like the Borderies region in Cognac, the Tenareze brandies seem to have more fruit and a bit more life than the more classic  Armagnac style. We visited Chateau Pellehaut on our first day in Armagnac last January and were completely overwelmed by the quality of spirit.  Using only new or first fill barrels for the beginning years of maturation, the Armagnacs have richness, weight, and spice.

1996 Chateau de Pellehaut 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Vintage Tenareze Armagnac $59.99 - IT'S BACK! And it's a whole year older. Chateau Pellehaut has been one of our top direct imports for the past year here at K&L. We've visited the Tenereze producer twice over the past few years, always finding something new to bring home for our brandy fans. Big, spicy, woody flavor explodes right off the bat from this 17 year old, 50.4% brandy. This is another crossover Armagnac, the one you'll want to buy if you like Bourbon and think Armagnac might be something you want to try. The raisiny fruit aspect of the Folle Blanche comes in on the finish, but this is all about the concentration of the wood and the spice. $60 for all this punch. And someone actually emailed me last week to say that most Armagnac was a rip-off! Come on, man!

1994 Chateau de Pellehaut 20 Year Old K&L Exclusive Folle Blanche Vintage Tenareze Armagnac  $69.99 - The 1994 is only two years older than the 1996, which is also distilled from Folle Blanche, but the differences are distinct and clear. The 1994 is less driven by the oak and has more of the fruit character at the forefront--that little flurry of spice and floral nature that Folle Blanche tends to bring to the party. Again, the quality to price ratio is off the charts. No one can top Pellehaut in the bang for your buck category.

1978 Chateau de Pellehaut 36 Year Old K&L Exclusive Ugni Blanc Vintage Tenareze Armagnac $99.99 - This 100% Ugni Blanc-distilled Armagnac is rich with the wood of 36 years in barrel. Black tea, cocoa, herbaceous notes of dried leaves and wood, with a flurry of spice on the finish. This is incredible for the money. Simply stunning.

Michel Forgeron K&L Exclusive VS Cognac $39.99 - You'd think the French would stay true to their own products, but the truth is that France consumes far more whisky than they do brandy. In fact, France consumes more whisky than the UK or the US. Hard to believe, right? But true. That being the case, you'd think it was just a matter of time before cask strength, single barrel, and age statement labeling infiltrated the world of French brandy. You'd be right to think that, because it's beginning to happen. Michel Forgeron is already selling vintage-dated, cask strength, single barrel releases in his gift shop. Even though there are some fantastically-descript expressions available from Forgeron, we're going to begin with small steps and hold true to the VS, VSOP, and XO formula for now. However, seeing that his basic line ranges from 45% to 50% in ABV, you're in for a real treat with these Cognacs. They're bold, woody, spicy, and much more lively that the ubiquitous expressions that strive for "smooth" and "no burn." Michel Forgeron also said one of the coolest things to us when we asked him why other producers weren't looking to bring Cognac into the next generation: "Most Cognac producers don't even drink Cognac," he said with a snarl. "They do it because they were born into it. They don't even like Cognac, most of them." The VS is the most delicate of Michel's expressions, but it showcases a tremendous concentration of fruit with a supple, smooth character. Beautiful vanilla on the finish.

Michel Forgeron K&L Exclusive VSOP Cognac $59.99 -  The VSOP is bumped up to 43% and has more new oak and barrel spice without sacrificing purity of fruit. It's gorgeous balanced and it pops in all the right places. A blend of 10-15 year old brandies.

Michel Forgeron K&L Exclusive XO Cognac $99.99 - At 45%, the XO is a marriage of vintages from 82 to 93 and a tremendous Cognac with lots of barrel spice and richness from oak. This isn't caramel, vanilla, and dessert-like. It's bold, spicy, rich, and dry on the finish with deep concentration.

1996 Giboin K&L Exclusive Fin Bois Vintage Cognac - It's one thing to have heard that Grand Champagne fruit makes for "better" Cognac, but it's an entirely different thing to actually know that through your own tasting experiences. If Grand Champagne is the best then why bother with anything else, right? But how do you know it's the best? Have you ever tasted Petit Champagne or Borderies expressions? When's the last time you even saw a Cognac from the Borderies at your local shop? And what about the other three satellite regions: the Bon Bois, Fins Bois, and Bois Ordinaires? Have you ever tasted anything from those inferior terrains to compare against the pre-ordained superiority of Grand Champagne Cognac? Giboin's estate is a classic Cognac millieu: gigantic country house, scattered papers and books, that smell that reminds you of your grandparents, and wooden antique furniture. It's the romantic ideal and a helluva place to go Cognac spelunking. The fact that we were so far outside the realm of "normal" Cognac producers sent an adventurous tingle through our spines. We found a lovely 1996 vintage expression that went down almost too easily. A simple, easy, to-the-point Cognac with lovely richness, but with a less-refined and more robust "Fin Bois" character. There's a weight and a boldness that the Grand Champagne brandies lack, but that's what makes the Giboin so interesting. We definitely need to spend more time in these outer satellites, searching for Cognac like this.

-David Driscoll