Scattered Thoughts

For all of you asking when we would get Elmer T. Lee back in stock, we've got it right now. The distributor for California, Young's Market, was out of stock for almost a month meaning that no retailer could reorder during the shortage. I got a lot of questions about when I was planning to order more, but I had to reply with, "I can't order more unfortunately. It's out of stock." That's how rumors of a Bourbon shortage get started, people take this information and run with it, yet in this case it was true: there wasn't any Elmer T. Lee to be had. This week Young's got another shipment from Buffalo Trace, but, since many retailers and bars had been out of stock for weeks, the demand was pent up – everyone bought in for double the amount they usually did, emptying out Young's Market instantly (along with all the Weller 107 that came with it), meaning that it's once again out of stock. The retail world of buying from distribution works just like the consumer version from retailers. Currently I've got 30 bottles of Elmer T. Lee until they're gone again and I'm out. That doesn't mean you won't find other stores that have it (just like some stores still have their Weller 12 and Rock Hill Farms), it just means that we might face a few periodic shorages here at K&L. I did try to put in another 20 cases for delivery next week, so hopefully those show up and fortify us until the inventory catches up. Again, I'm competing with everyone else who's hoping to avoid their own inventory issues.

I met with David Suro-Piñera from Siembra Azul tequila yesterday and received what was the equivalency of a graduate course in agave production. David has been working in the tequila business for thirty years and today contracts his Siembra Azul tequila from the Vivancos family distillery, otherwise known as NOM 1414 (the same as the ArteNOM reposado and Gran Dovejo tequila). I think our best tequilas at K&L are from Feliciano Vivancos, but it seems that David took his production methods to the extreme, specifying even the type of jima from the agave production – the process in which the penca (the agave leaves) are pulled from the ground. David went on to describe how the jima can affect sweetness, bitterness, and ultimately the flavor of each tequila. He prefers to control flavor via the jima, which to him is the most important process of tequila production overall.

We'll be bringing in Siembra Azul tequila next week, but you can check out the side label above that reads like a page from a technical manual. I'm hoping to bring David on for a podcast episode in the near future. He said some things yesterday that made my jaw drop concerning agave and the history of tequila production. Some of these ideas were very controversial (like his opinion that blue agave, the only species from which tequila can be made, is on the verge of extinction due to monoculture). Oh...and his tequilas are fantastic. The blanco is a revelation of pure agave flavor.

Every now and then people ask what I'm drinking at home, just out of curiosity. I'm currently in the midst of a big herbal liqueur phase. I've been doing a bottle of wine with dinner every night and then going straight to the Zwack - a Hungarian liqueur that drinks much like an Italian amaro. I recently got a great little sample kit from Diageo (yes, we're now trying to be friends and work together - remember?) that had the regular Zwack, plus their new plum Unicum along side the regular Unicum. It also came with these thick little shot glasses that remind me of the kind Karen Allen drank out of in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I've really been enjoying all three in the evening. We currently have the standard Zwack in stock as usual, but we're still waiting on the other two. I think they're quite fun and hope they help nurture in a new tradition of herbal liqueur enjoyment here in California.

Zwack has kind of a fascinating history. It was invented by a Dr. József Zwack in the 1790s who was the physician for Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones's role in Amadeus "Well then...there it is."). His son eventually founded the Zwack company in 1840 and it thrived into the early 1900s. Communism soon came to Hungary, however, and the Zwack family wasn't about to see their recipe become property of the Red Army, so they fled to the U.S. According to legend, the recipe was torn into four pieces and smuggled out to America, while a fake Zwack recipe was given to the new regime. When communism fell in the late 1980s, Peter Zwack returned to Hungary and repurchased his family's company from the state where they once again began making the original formula.

And that's the short version! In any case, I've been alternating between Zwack, Chartreuse, and the new Dolin Genepy as of late. My digestion has actually improved, so maybe I'll keep this up.

-David Driscoll


Good Writing

Every now and again I get a complement from someone who enjoys reading the spirits blog. "You're a good writer," they'll say. I appreciate it. I like writing and it's brought me a lot of joy. Part of what I enjoy about my job is the interaction with people, both in the store and via email, that illuminates for me a great deal about the human condition. In the ways that people respond to alcohol, I learn more about the ways of people in general. I try and write about those observations and draw analogies that make sense, hoping to increase our understanding of spirits and each other.

However, there's a difference between a few observations regarding booze and the level of thought that went into Americanah, the latest novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. This is good writing, and I'm not talking about an intellectual brain teaser, or dictionary-required romp from the latest Infinite Jest wannabe. What gets me is when someone can describe something familiar, a truth about life and the relationships between humans, in a way that makes me stop and smile – either because I recognize it in others, or perhaps (gulp!) about myself. That's what impresses me about a writer – not necessarily their prose, their vocabulary, or their quirky imagination, but rather their ability to observe society and capture those observations in a way that anyone can appreciate and understand. That's what I aspire to do on this blog; that's what I wish I could do as a writer.

I won't go into a plot rehash about the various storylines in Americanah, but I will say that if you're a blogger of any kind you need to read this book – soon. There's a lot of talk about blogging in there. More importantly, however, there's an honest dialogue about happiness and how our tastes and perceptions change as we're exposed to new ideas and experiences – about the people we meet and what must be going on inside their heads. This is fundamental knowledge to any writer who strives to connect with an audience, hoping to strike that chord of understanding with his or her readers. These observations are cleverly and carefully woven into a story about Nigerian life, immigration to America, issues of race, and love. I've never been so wowed by profundity and challenged by an image of myself that matches up with some of the characters described in the novel. I cringed, laughed, cried, and mostly thought while reading Americanah. I questioned it. Went back to it. Talked about it with my wife. And now, after finishing it, am writing about it here.

What does it have to do with booze? If you've ever thought about why we drink, why we like what we like, how perception skews our tastes, and how our ego is ultimately in the middle of it all, then you need to read this book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. There are dozens of quotes I've considered posting over the past two weeks that remind me of attitudes and ideas surrounding whisky right now, but there were simply too many to post! Since this blog is also about writing and relationships, I've never read a book this aware and able to explain the state of modern day American living and I felt I should pass that on. Sometimes it takes an outsider to tell us exactly what's happening on the inside. That's what Adichie has done with this book.

I'm breathless. I'm inspired. And I'm jealous. I wish I could write like this.

-David Driscoll


New Stuff from Pacific Edge

I got to taste through the latest batch of A.D. Rattray casks today with my friend Todd Smith. There's a quality with all of the selections from the Morrisons that I can always rely on, so I'm usually prepared to buy what they have just off the list. However, it's nice when there's time to sample the wares before buying, right? So often you just have to purchase and hope it's good, or risk losing out on getting it whatsoever. That applies to us as retail buyers as well, not just the customers. Look out next week for an 18 year Aberfeldy, 22 year Glencadam, 23 year Benriach, 23 year Bunnahabhain (this one was particularly lovely), and a rockin' 24 year old Tamdhu – all coming in between $99 and $130. 

I am over the moon about this new Genepy from Dolin – an herbal liqueur very much in the style of Chartreuse. According to David OG there's some mountain wormwood sourced for this baby as well. It's absolutely delicious – again, think Chartreuse light. It's 45% alcohol so don't get sucker punched when you have a few glasses after dinner. It may taste easy-going, but it will wallop you if you're not careful. Todd said he enjoys the Genepy with tonic water in a cocktail, so I'm going to have to try that, but I'll have to wait until next week's delivery to get mine. In the meantime, if you live in LA, you can get this at our Hollywood store where David OG already has it on the shelf. 

-David Driscoll


Don't Buy a Bottle of this.....

....unless you have the will-power of a Buckingham Palace guard. I decided to buy a bottle of the new L'Age de Glace yesterday and pour it on the rocks at home, as Pellehaut intends the brandy to be drunk. I'd tasted it briefly on ice at the Chateau this past Spring, but I hadn't spent any real time getting to know it. Unfortunately for me (and my head) I was not able to put this bottle down. The fruit and flavor of the Armagnac simply explode when this booze hits the ice. It's so rich, yet refreshingly delicious in a way that whisky isn't. It's almost like having a glass of Bourbon on the rocks, but yet not really like it all, which made it exciting. I was so overcome with happiness while drinking it that I just kept on drinking it. As long as there was ice in my glass, I kept pouring more in.

And now I'm here at my desk, typing away. Writing about how much I love this brandy, yet wishing I hadn't drunk so much of it.

This is not a sipping Armagnac. This is a guzzler. You will be guzzling if you buy a bottle. Consider yourself warned.

-David Driscoll


Keeping the Sizzle in your Booze Life

Has the romance gone out of your love affair lately? Are you coming home, saying nothing to your Scotch collection, and then sleeping in the guest room while the Ardbeg watches TV in the living room? Does your Bourbon not even try anymore, simply settling for sweatpants and no makeup while it dumps itself into a plastic cup? These are signs that your relationship with alcohol might be in need of a jump start - especially if you're no longer enjoying each other's company.

I know a number of people who have had come-to-Jesus moments with booze lately. Some people simply took a month off. Others made it clear that they were tired of the whole "scene." Many found more important and meaningful uses for their time. What was clear to me, however, when it came down to it, was that none of these folks had balance in their booze relationship - some time for themselves, alone, and then time spent together with booze. It's not an all or nothing type of situation. No one likes to be smothered, neither people nor cases of alcohol. You don't have to be crazy "into" whiskey, pour your whole life into it, and then finally decide that whiskey is a stupid waste of time. That's not a booze issue, that's a time management problem. I've gone through all these emotions before, myself. I spend a lot of time with the bottle. I know what it's like to feel completely inspired by alcohol and then suddenly like a total loser, wasting his time in a sea of liquor.

I don't have any choice in the matter, however. Liquor will be a permanent part of my life for as long as I continue to work at K&L. Therefore, I've found some ways to keep my booze relationship hot and heavy. It totally grosses some people out, but it's completely revitalized my love life. We can't keep our hands off each other, whiskey and me. Here are a few tips for making sure you keep the balance in your liquor life:

1) EXERCISE! - Booze will totally bring you down if you don't make some time to exercise. Booze wants you to make the effort, show booze that you care about yourself and your health. That doesn't mean you have to be thin with washboard abs, it just means that exercise seems to be a good way for keeping yourself and your relationship fresh. I've realized there's a very good reason why alcohol is categorized as a depressant - it will depress you. For me, running three to four times a week seems to help detox my body a bit. It also gives me some alone time to think about other things in my life. Another aspect is that I won't run if I'm hungover, so that means no heavy drinking on Sunday, Tuesday, or Thursday nights.

2) Don't rely on the internet for your socialization - It's great to get ideas, tasting notes, reviews, and information from people on the internet. It's great to keep up with people on the internet. However, my customers tell me all the time about how they love meeting up in person to drink. Some of us have a tasting group together that meets every couple of months to socialize and share our booze with. It makes a huge difference in our enjoyment of spirits. If you're bulking up on bottles at home alone, wondering why you're not enjoying your relationship, it's because booze likes to go out. You need to take booze dancing, introduce it to new people, make date nights with friends who also know booze. You can't spent your whole life pent up in the same stuffy apartment with booze. It just doesn't work. I find that spending at least one night out a week with my boozefriend makes for a happy life.

3) Remember why you first fell in love - You both may be different people now, but at some point you loved each other, right? What was it that drew you to single malt originally? Try to think about how you felt during those early years when everything seemed new, honest, and fresh. I deal with that on a regular basis whenever I start to feel jaded in my relationship. "You're not the bottle I married anymore!" I think to myself, but would never have the guts to say outloud. My bottle would slap the shit out of me. Nevertheless, I have to think about what made us such a great couple in the past and continue to work within that mindset.

4) Understand that all relationships are different and be honest - Just because you've had a long and successful relationship based on certain tastes and desires, doesn't mean they'll work for others. Just because John and his bottle are able to drink together seven days a week doesn't mean your relationship will work out the same way. You need a bottle that's right for you. A bottle that will appreciate you as much as you appreciate it. You don't want some amazing, expensive, high-end bottle that looks great on your shelf, but goes and drinks with your friend behind your back when you're working late. Make sure you're honest about what kind of booze you're looking for and what type will work for your own personal lifestyle.

5) Spend quality time together and alone - Booze can tell when you're not paying attention to it, when you're just spacing out while it's talking to you, or when you're drinking it, but really you're focusing on your job. It doesn't like it, either. When you're with booze, make sure that you're giving it your full attention and appreciation. Don't just sit down for dinner, stuff a bunch of food into your mouth, and go watch TV without so much as giving booze a thought. Time together should be special. At the same time, make sure you spend some time away from booze as well. Booze doesn't always want to be around you. It needs time to rest, recover, and gossip about its own interests, about how it doesn't like sunlight and how it appreciates air-tight seals. Those are just interests you're not as passionate about, so don't feel like you have to understand everything about it. Take some time to read, write, play music, do whatever. But do it without booze. Then, when you're together again, you'll really appreciate those tender moments.

These are five easy steps that I follow for my booze relationship. I couldn't be happier with my current situation as a result. It's not easy sometimes and, of course, we have our ups and downs. We fight. We throw things at each other. We kiss and make up. Yes, sometimes we sit alone together in the dark (and you know what happens then!). It takes work, however. Like any relationship, you have to work at booze to make booze work for you. Doing so is completely rewarding and worth the effort, however.

There's no need to give up, walk away, or act like it's not cool anymore. Booze will always be cool. It just needs you to understand it.

-David Driscoll