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Sunday
Nov172013

Played Out II

That last post came at the end of a busy day last night right as we were closing the store, so there wasn't much time to expand on the idea of booze trends and how certain drinks go in and out of style. One point I did want to make that I could only allude to was how the idea of fun plays a role in what's popular and what isn't. Part of what defined the music of the 1980s was the free-spirited party-centric theme at the core of it all. Rap music was about having a house party. Rock music was about hittin' the Sunset Strip and looking for chicks. Pop music was about dancing the night away. As the 1990s approached, however, the trend swung completely the other way. Suddenly life was serious. Kids were being killed in the ghetto. The police were oppressing the African American youth. White suburban kids were using heroin to suppress the pain of their existence. Angst, suffering, and disillusion replaced the carefree attitude of the previous generation. How could you have fun when life was so depressing?

But it always comes back around. It became cool to enjoy yourself again. Fashion became more colorful, the looks more playful and edgy, and people stopped taking themselves so seriously, but that's starting to change once more. If you look at the cocktail culture of the past five years it's also centered around the conflict between fun and seriousness. The pre-Prohibition movement to get more serious about one's "craft" stood in complete contrast to the sugary shooters a la mode. Why would any one want to mask the flavors of alcohol, bartenders asked, when they could be highlighted to make a more complex drink (much like the grunge era rockers asked about the hardships of modern living)? All of sudden you had people telling you to sip rather than shoot, to take your time and enjoy the complexity within the glass. Drinking became a studious activity rather than an escape. Fun is definitely not at the root of today's booze culture as stuffy rules about appreciation become points of contention between online enthusiasts.

It will swing back the other way, however. People who take their booze too seriously will become a mockery in the eyes of the next generation that will rebel against these constraints. The war on fun will continue for now, until its time to remember to start having it again. And then we'll likely fight it once more.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Nov162013

Played Out Booze Trends

I was driving to the store during my lunch shift today when I heard a Radiohead song come on the radio. I absolutely was not feeling it. Funny, because at one point during the late 1990s I was totally in love with the band. I remember getting a ticket to the sold out OK Computer show at the Warfield in 1996 and it being the best thing that had ever happened to me. I drove over from Modesto on a school night, my friend Jenny Kramer being the only person who would go with me. Today, however, I've got no emotional attachment to their music. It simply doesn't hold up over time for me. There are many other bands I feel the same way about (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction, etc) -- music that meant everything to me at one point in the past, yet today seems rather lackluster.

On the other hand, there are bands that we tried to forget about, that we were embarrassed to admit we liked, whose music is catching on once again. Vanilla Ice is now retro gold, rather than cheesy white rap. Warrant's "Cherry Pie" is today a classic rock anthem, rather than a reminder of another era's downfall (that song was also on the radio as I headed to buy my lunch today). At one point I owned both the Cherry Pie and To The Extreme albums from both artists and before I entered high school I made sure to sell them to the local used record store. Today, I feel the same way about some rock music from the 1990s. Other artists still hold up, however. Why? I'm not really sure. It's just that their style was built to last perhaps. I'll still rock out at full volume when I hear one-hit wonders like Cracker's "Low" or The Toadies "Possum Kingdom." Those songs will never get old.

Fashion can be trendy. It can also be timeless. Military-style trench coats will never look out-of-date. Neon polka dot pants, however, have an expiration date --big in the 80s, out in the 90s, back in again today. Booze works in much the same way. Whisky was unpopular for decades (hence, why we've had so much old stuff to drink for the past ten years), but it's back now and it's in full effect. Cognac, however, is not so popular right now. Lemon Drops were all the rage ten years ago. Today they're the epitome of cocktail unsophistication. Which spirits, however, are the ones that will never go out of fashion? Campari? I don't know. I'm not sure if there's a proper example or analogy, but I do know that booze goes in and out like any other style.

Which one will be the next big thing? Which one will get played out into embarrassment? Remember when absinthe was the "it" spirit? Creme de Violette? Those products seem played out already.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Nov152013

More Best-Price-in-USA Shit

Glenmorangie 18 year old is, to me, the perfect single malt whisky for the holiday shopping season. Why? Let me explain:

- It's universally pleasing. It's not the most complex whisky. It's not the most interesting whisky. It's just plain good and everyone seems to like it. It tastes expensive and elegant. It's easy to understand, yet better than what you can usually get. It's like baby bear's porridge: just right.

- It comes in a fancy box, making it perfect for holiday gifts and attractive to people who care about aesthetics. I can just hand it to people who don't know anything about Scotch and they're happy with the presentation immediately. Plus, they're getting a very good whisky.

- It's under $100 (way under $100 at K&L), which makes it something nice, yet within reason.

- Glenmorangie is a recognizable brand that still has insider street cred. People who are less familiar with whisky know of the name, but it's nowhere near the ridiculously bloated price tag of something like Macallan.

- There's a lot of it available so I don't have to tell everyone about how we have it, then apologize to everyone about how we've sold out already.

Take those five facets and then slap on an $84.99 price tag and you've got one great whisky at one hot price. The lowest price actually.

If you're a whisky consumer, then have at it! We've got plenty of bottles on hand if you need one. If you're one of the many retailers who read the blog to find out about all our hot deals, then use it to complain to the vendors about how we're receiving special treatment, then go get your box of Kleenex and start crying. It won't get you anywhere. There's no special treatment here, just a store dedicated to supporting its friends, and vice versa. That's how it should be. Take a stance on a product you believe in and make something happen.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Nov152013

Knick Knacks 11/15

We're at that point in the year when the blog posts become gasps for fresh air, rather than long, deep, researched breaths of detail and information. I don't have much time to dedicate to finding new items, hence why we spend most of the year building to this point: so that it's ready to go when we get here. Here are some things I've been thinking about lately:

- I managed to get a bottle of Parker's Heritage "Promise of Hope" for myself. I've tasted every new release of "collectable" Bourbon released this year and this is my personal favorite. I like the Four Roses LE Small Batch as well, but something about the Parker's makes me very happy. We've been raffling off all our bottles so far and we've managed to put a good number into the hands of people who hopefully will drink them. That makes me happy too.

- Despite the intense focus on brown booze during the cold weather season, the only spirits that are really inspiring me right now from a professional point of view are agave-based. I had the chance to taste a sampling of rare, traditional, micro-produced, rustically-distilled Mexican spirits this week and my mind was thoroughly blown. They were all so different, so wonderfully sweet and vibrant with spice and flavor, and incredibly unique. Because my drinking is very habitual, however, and based on my own engrained desires and expectations, I don't know when I would ever drink these spirits if I could actually purchase them. I'm completely ensconced in my Campari-soda, bottle of wine, glass of whiskey routine right now. That's always the way, isn't it? "Man! That's delicious!" "Great, want to buy a bottle?" "NO!"

- Next year's travel schedule is already shaping up to be a hectic one. It looks like Mexico in January, South America in February, Scotland/France in March, and that's just what we know of right now!

- We should be getting the Glenmorangie 18 year old single malt back into stock today at our old hot hot hot price of $84.99 - CHEAPEST IN THE UNITED STATES! Our LVMH prices are seriously sensational. Lowest Ardbeg Uigeadail and the lowest GlenMo 18 -- two top-shelf whiskies that you can drink over, and over, and over again. I never get tired of either one.

- Has everyone worked out their Thanksgiving Day tasting menu? I'm trying to work out which Champagne to start with, before moving into Burgundy, and finally into Scotch. I did all-American last year, so I want to switch it up to all Euro/UK this time around. Which whisky goes best with turkey? Or maybe which Cognac? Or maybe which Armagnac? I think Armagnac might be the move.

- We should see the new edition of Lagavulin Distiller's Edition on the shelf next week. I'm keeping my eyes peeled for more Diageo Rare Malt releases, but I'm not holding my breath. Judging by our allocations so far this year from other companies I'd be happy to get anything at all.

That's it for today!

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Nov142013

Reader Reactions: First to the Party

I get a lot of emails from readers, so every now and again I like to post one here (with their permission). Mark wrote me this message in response to last night's piece about buying in early:

I just read your "First to the Party" post, and I couldn't resist chiming in again, with the perspective of a fairly new whiskey drinker.

I only started REALLY getting in to it earlier this year (I'll spare you that story though). As I did, I started reading more and more blog/review sites, and came across all the stellar reviews for BTAC/Van Winkle etc, which, as you could probably imagine, made me start looking around for it, and realizing fairly quickly that finding some of it would be somewhat akin to finding a real, live unicorn, and being disappointed I was late to the party. There is a part of me that would very much like to just not care about all those hyped products, and it has me testing the Armagnac waters a little bit (who knows how long before that takes off though). I went and got a bottle of 25 yo Delord for $70, and while the intrinsic quality of it is quite good, perhaps just short of the BTAC if tasted blind side by side...the excitement factor just isn't there. The buildup to getting, and the excitement when I got my Stagg, ER 17, and Pappy 15 (I had quite a streak of luck) was light years beyond getting anything more easily obtainable. I had the same feeling when I got the BTAC/Pappy that I did when I was a kid on Christmas morning, which is something that hasn't happened in a long time.

I think my point is the excitement level when the hunt pays off by itself almost makes it worthwhile. I'm not sure it will be the same again though, now that I've had a chance to try that stuff. On balance, though, my preference would very much be to have the currently hard to find whiskies more regularly available. There are whiskies more readily available whose intrinsic quality is right there with some of the BTAC/Pappy - but, to go back to your car analogy in the article, it's like if Hyundai made something just as fast and handled just as well as a Porsche - it's still not a fucking Porsche.

Also, I'm much more a victim of marketing than I previously thought.

Mark pretty much nails the modern whiskey crisis on the head here: the hunt is so important to the reward. There are so many of us who feel that same giddiness--that "Christmas morning" feeling we get when we finally track down a special bottle. The same sense of awe often applies to elite brands, which is exactly why they've spent millions of dollars for decades: to create that image of elite status. Only a Tiffany diamond will show her how much you love her. Only Dom Perignon will be enough to celebrate the diamond. And they're right!! Because of the engrained emotional response in all of us there are simply some products that will always hold a special place in our hearts--regardless of if we're able to see through their marketing. As Mark also states, the glowlingly-positive reviews from magazines, spirits bloggers, and professional reviewers only heighten those desires. I'm totally susceptible to it, as are many other whisky drinkers out there. But I love it when people can just admit it, rather than try and disguise it (and not very well, at that) as contempt or disinterest.

-David Driscoll