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Saturday
May042013

Absolut Credit Where Credit is Due

I love it when a brand-oriented whisky customer comes into K&L and I get the chance to talk with them about all of the smaller independents. Nothing feels better than turning a new drinker onto the lesser-known spirits of the world. Almost nothing. There's one thing I actually enjoy even more. I really get a kick when a brand known for bulk production and cheesy gimmickry actually delivers a product that tastes good.

I love it when Glenlivet makes a good whisky. I love it when Tanqueray releases a good gin. I love it when gigantic brands show that they're still capable of making something inexpensive, but tasty.

In order to make sure this type of experience can still happen, I make sure to take as many tasting appointments as possible. I taste everything. I'll taste chocolate chip cupcake liqueur if someone wants to bring it into the store and pour it. I want to know what's out there, even if we're not going to sell it. That's why I was actually excited to taste the new Absolut Vodka releases this week. Even though we don't carry one of their products at K&L Redwood City right now, I'm always willing to reconsider if something catches my eye.

First off was another batch of the very-successful, limited-edition San Francisco Vodka $19.99we saw a few years back. We carried this when it was last released and people really enjoyed it. The nice thing about the Absolut flavored vodkas is that they're rather mild in their intensity. The fruit and herb infusions are actually quite delicate and well-balanced. It's flavored with grape, dragon fruit, and papaya. You can just add tonic water or soda and this stuff tastes great. I played around with it last night and made a few fun warm-weather concoctions.

This guy, on the other hand, is absolutely (no pun intended) fucking dangerous. The Absolut Cilantro $19.99 is far more gin than it is vodka. However, since there's no juniper maceration, it can't legally be gin no matter how much it resembles it. For $20 this is my new party bottle for 2013. My wife and I took down more than half of this last night in a variety of different forms. With lemonade and soda - fantastic - the cilantro still really cuts through the lemon and lime. With tonic water - it might as well be a gin and tonic because that's what it tastes like, but again with a heavy cilantro note. In a Bloody Mary - so much better than using straight vodka, but not as herbaceous as using gin would be.

Laugh at me if you want to, I'll be finishing this bottle on my patio tonight. And then I'll be buying another one. It's like 92 degrees in Redwood City right now, so I'm not drinking anything brown.

Perhaps most stunning (if you like vodka) was the new Absolut Elix $49.99(for a liter). Taking a page from the craft spirits movement, Absolut has answered the call for locally-sourced, "handcrafted" (whatever that means these days - in this case I think they're referring to the fact it was manually distilled on a copper still) spirits by offering one of their own. The Elix is made from all-estate (apparently Absolut owns a number of fields in Sweden) grown wheat. It's bottled in a nice package and proofed down to 42.3%, which to me means that they actually tinkered with this thing at various levels to find the one that tasted best, rather than just dropping it down to the defacto 40%.

I personally like the challenge of vodka - not as a consumer, but as a retailer and consumer guide. Have you ever tried recommending vodka to someone or offering advice on what to select? You can't talk about flavor, so you've got to talk about everything else: mouthfeel, texture, perception of heat or alcohol, etc. Regardless of how you feel about vodka, there's no denying that millions of people love it. Not just in mixers, either - straight up, on the rocks, in a martini. As a professional boozer I love the challenge I face when trying to identify what a particular customer enjoys about Belvedere, or Grey Goose, or Ketel One. There's a reason people like what they like, but since vodka is basically flavorless you have to figure out what that is. For this reason when we do the Good Food Awards judging I always chair the vodka committee.

In any case, back to the Elix, I was quite impressed with how clean the spirit tasted and how soft and creamy it felt on the palate. For $50 a liter I think it certainly stands out in a pack of other similarly-priced, high-end distillates. The fact that it's locally-sourced and all-estate is a nice selling point, as well.

So Absolut is back at K&L with three fun new products that make drinking fun. That's what drinking is supposed to be about - fun - so I'm going to carry them!

-David Driscoll

Friday
May032013

2013 K&L Exclusive Cask Scotland Pre-Arrivals Begin

Look above, my friends. Behold....the Signatory warehouse in Edradour Distillery in Pitlochry, Scotland. Home to hundreds of incredible whiskies of various ages, from many different distilleries, some still in existence and others now but a memory.

Without a doubt, regardless of which David you ask, both OG and I will tell you that this facility is the motherload for good single malt whisky. Signatory has barrels of impeccable quality and they're total sticklers about what they select and purchase. The only problem has been pricing. We always leave Signatory with a feeling of jubilation, an elated sense of joy about possibly bringing some of these fantastic single cask expressions back to California.

Until we see the pricing.

Ugh. The high is over.

But something changed this year. I don't know if it was the fact that we had paid our dues, or maybe our collective charm, but all of a sudden we were back at the negotiating table with a huge sense of optimism. Everyone was willing to play ball if we took enough casks to make it worthwhile.

And......boy, oh boy.......we would take fifty casks from Signatory if we had enough cash. Quantity wasn't going to be an issue, just price and availability. We gave them a list with our offer. Our offer was accepted. A deal was struck.

David and I are still on cloud nine from this purchase. We keep calling each other, wondering if we're missing something or if maybe we're forgetting to add in some kind of fee, but it looks like we're now in the clear to start selling these whiskies on pre-order. If you're new to the K&L pre-arrival process, here's how it works:

- We sell you the whisky now. You pay for it up front. This will reserve the bottle for you.

- The pre-arrival price will be cheaper than the in-store price when it arrives. By purchasing in advance you are getting a discount. Usually it's about $10 to $30 a bottle.

- You'll get an email saying your order is complete if you purchase a pre-arrival bottle. Then, when the whisky arrives, we'll send you a letter and an email telling you your bottle is ready.

That's it!

Every week we'll release one or two new whiskies to the general public and you can decide if that one looks good or not. We're really excited about our Signatory deal, so we're going to start with what David and I both think is one of the best deals we've ever found.

1989 Isle of Jura 23/24 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - David and I just couldn't believe this when we tasted it. This was clearly the best Isle of Jura we'd ever tasted. This whisky has it all. It's vibrant and expressive. I get tons of stone fruit framed in subtle phenolic robes. The nose is so powerful and clean, you almost don't want to move on, but you'll thank God you did because the palate is just so classy. Bright citrus, savory wisps of smoke, touches of saline, fresh oats, and now some tropical fruits. We totally were expecting a very high price tag on this baby. It was FAR better than we'd been used to seeing from this distillery, although we knew they were capable of producing some world class stuff. It also wasn't particularly young, so we just expected an exorbitant price for this cask, but the normal experience of receiving stupidly over-priced quotes only for us to bitch and moan until they drop the price slightly just didn't happen this year. The result was an excellent whisky at a VERY fair price. We keep thinking it's too inexpensive, but isn't that what makes it so exciting? (David Othenin-Girard. K&L Spirits Buyer)

David D adds: 2013 is going to be the year that we bring value back to our single malt customers. If the brands aren't going to do it, we'll have to fly over to Scotland and make it happen. This Isle of Jura cask is purely underpriced. And how often does a whisky get underpriced in a hot market? Aromas of toffee and cake frosting drift headily out of the glass. A bit of earth, maybe? The hogshead was likely a Bourbon cask because I get wood spice and Bourbon flavors. Fruity notes on the palate with a long, delicious finish of toasted nuts. What a stunner. I never knew Jura could taste like this. For the price you might wanna buy two.

150 bottles available at the pre-arrival price.

That's it for now! More hot Signatory deals coming soon!

-David Driscoll

Friday
May032013

Garageband

One of my favorite bands in the modern music scene is a group called Deerhunter from Georgia. Their psychotropic, melancholy, eerily-beautiful sound never ceases to inspire me, no matter how many times I listen through their material. When their first album Cryptograms dropped back in 2006 I was instantly a fan. I made it over to their tiny show at Bottom of the Hill in the Potrero Hill neighborhood, stood alongside a few dozen other admirers, paid about $10 for my entrance fee, and quietly sipped my beer while watching the show from about ten feet away. It was utterly fantastic.

When Microcastle was released in 2008, I was completely overwhelmed by how that album spoke to me. It's like the music was written directly for my inner soul and my deepest fears and anxieties. I'd never felt so terrified, yet so illuminated while listening to rock music. When they announced their San Francisco date for the tour it was for a larger venue than before: The Great American Music Hall in the Tenderloin. Tickets were $25 this time around and the crowd was much larger. Both shows sold out quickly and I needed to make sure I was at my computer at 10 AM the day tickets went on sale. There were about five hundred people at this show and it wasn't as easy to see from where I was standing. Nevertheless, I still had a blast and left the show totally invigorated.

Two years would go by before Deerhunter released their third album: Halcyon Digest - a brilliant mix of atmospheric mood with pop sentimentality. Their American tour would once again bring them to the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. Tickets were still around the same price ($30), but the word had since spread about the band though the music world: these shows were not to be missed. I decided to pass this time around because the show I wanted to attend sold out quickly and I didn't feel like fighting the crowd. My previous experiences would be enough to sustain my current admiration for their newer material.

Since 2010, Deerhunter have been all over the world. They're currently planning a European tour with plenty of festival appearances in support of their soon-to-be-released album Monomania. I'll definitely be picking up a copy of the record when it's released, but I'm probably not going to make it to their next Bay Area show. Deerhunter has been on Conan O'Brien now and Jimmy Kimmel Live. They're becoming superstars in the independent music scene and rightly so - they're an incredibly talented, exciting, and interesting rock band. However, I know that the next stop for Deerhunter will be the Fox Theater in Oakland or the Fillmore in San Francisco. They've gathered enough of a following now to carry that kind of demand. Tickets will probably be about $40 or so and I'm sure they'll put on a great show.

At that show there will be tons of new fans. Fans who maybe just discovered them recently. Fans who will be thrilled to see Deerhunter play for the first time. They'll pack the floor, push their way to the front, and struggle to get as close as possible, the way most general admission shows work. Since I've already seen them twice, however, and I was lucky enough to see them when they were still starting out, I'm not sure that any new experiences with Deerhunter will ever be able to outdo my previous ones.

How did Deerhunter, a small, oddball band from Georgia, become a big player in the music scene? First off, they were good and their sound refreshing. More importantly, however, was the fact that they quickly became internet darlings. All the music blogs and indie sights like Pitchfork would gush about their music on a weekly basis. In today's new age of instant information, the word spread quickly. No one needed to pick up a magazine or hear about Deerhunter at a friend's party because the information was being spread by amateur music bloggers faster than any word of mouth could ever achieve.

That's the thing about the internet these days. When people like something, they write about it. They take pictures of it. They tweet it, Facebook it, Instagram it, and text message it. When a small army of enthusiasts begins spreading the word about something new, exciting, good, and fun, it's human nature for the rest of the world to want to share in with that experience. When the demand for Deerhunter's music went up, the ticket prices went up with it. The competition for those tickets made the availability more scarce.

One thing that hasn't changed with success, however, is the quality of Deerhunter's music. I'm hoping that their upcoming release will continue to challenge me and inspire me as the previous albums have done. However, there will probably come a time when I simply go back and listen to the ones I already have. Unlike whiskey, music can last forever no matter how many times I listen to it.

Personally, I'm excited for Deerhunter and their success because they've earned it. I've got no problem with their new-found popularity. If I had wanted to keep their music and performances to myself, I probably shouldn't have written a blog post about how amazing they are. I probably shouldn't have written internet reviews about how awesome their albums are. I probably shouldn't have taken Facebook photos of myself at their concert. It's funny how that happens. People spend all their time filling the internet with information about how wonderful something is and then get upset when the world takes notice.

For some people sharing their enthusiasm is a wonderful thing - until other people start actually sharing that enthusiasm.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
May022013

Had To Share This With You

I was a big baseball card collector as a kid and, as I just sat down at home to read the New Yorker, I found the first article deals with the recent sale of a Honus Wagner baseball card – a piece of cardboard that recently sold for $2.1 million dollars. The Honus Wagner card was the Holy Grail of baseball cards in the 1980s when I was still collecting. Knowing what I now know about whisky, I can only imagine where the hobby is today. The article focuses on the fact that the most recent purchaser, a man named Ken Golden, bought the card for investment purposes, rather than any actual love for sports memorabilia. Read on:

"It's my belief that none of this is an investment," Jonathon Gallen, a sports-memorabilia obsessive who supports his hobby by running a hedge fund, said the other day. Goldin had invited Gallen to look at the Wagner – "like a drug dealer invites an addict to his party," Gallen said – but he wasn't interested. "Calling it an investment is just to rationalize your purchases to your wife," he went on. "I am in no doubt warped but not warped enough to pay two million for a baseball card."

Gallen once worked in the memorabilia business, and has spent some time thinking about the economics of the trade. The high-end memorabilia game, he said, has been overrun by "checkbook collectors" with little emotional attachment to the merchandise. The influx has sent memorabilia prices soaring, with a recognizable accomplice: Professional Sports Authenticators, the Moody's of the card world, which gives number grades to the goods, making it easier for untrained eyes to invest. Sound familiar?

Oh man, does it ever!!!!!!!!

"Both securities and baseball cards have attracted a great deal of money from people who really don't know the fundamentals of the securities or the cards," Gallen said. "In both my job and my hobby, I listen to my own voice. It's like having someone tell you whether your girlfriend is a seven or an eight. Well, does she make you happy? Is she pretty to you? What difference does it make?"

Just something to think about. Somewhere out there, baseball card geeks are having the same conversation on their own blogosphere, taking quotes from our writings, and using them as analogous antedotes for their own esoteric conversations.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
May022013

LVMH Giving You Some Love

Did I say that big brands were money-hungry vampires sucking the soul out of the whisky industry? Sorry, I forgot about Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy. I love LVMH. They're always there when we need them. They love making a deal.

Every time one big brand decides to take another price hike on their signature expression, the boys at the Glenmorangie Company are there to exploit that opportunity into their gain. That's what a good company should do: use the missteps of their competitors to create new customers for themselves. I do that every day at K&L. I will spend all day with a customer, explaining every detail of every bottle if that's what they want to do. For every snobby retailer that thinks the newbie customer is beneath them, I will be there to offer a full explanation and answer every question, patiently and willingly.

In the wake of another giant price increase for Macallan 18 year old, the boys at Glenmorangie have been able to offer some serious cushion on their own 18 year (easily the better whisky, anyway). In my opinion, the Glenmorangie 18 year old whisky is one of the greatest values in all of whiskydom. It's supple, soft, textural, exotic, and satisfying to both the beginner and expert alike. It's such a fantastic single malt.

We had this for $89.99 as of yesterday and we couldn't sell enough of it. I could keep this at $89.99 and continue to sell tons of it. But I like to shake things up a bit every now and again. In favor of the consumer, of course. In the wake of this recent Macallan price increase, I'm going to use this opportunity to create some new Glenmorangie superfans. Starting right now the price of the 18 year will be seven dollars less per bottle.

What can you as a dissatisfied whisky fan do to stop price gouging by whisky companies? Stop buying their stuff. Start supporting brands that will support you in return.

What can K&L do as a retailer? We can work harder to lower the price of good whisky on your behalf. We will support you if you help support us.

Glenmorangie 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $82.99. Better than Mac 18, in my opinion. $100 less per bottle. K&L is now the lowest price in the country on Wine Searcher.

I'm going to keep doing my part. So is LVMH. Vote with your dollars, people. Money talks.

-David Driscoll