Ready to Go!

Today is going to be a big day at K&L. The Signatory whiskies are hitting the shelves in all three stores, pre-arrivals will be ready for pick up in Los Angeles (finally!), and we'll get all the new tasting notes updated so you can peruse the new crop (remember: unless you've notified us in the past, pre-orders do not automatically get sent to the store for pick up—you have to let us know). We're still waiting on the Balmenach and the Dailuaine, but we can't let that little hold-up slow us down—we've got twenty new French brandies landing today as well!! Oh, and did I mention four new barrels of Four Roses Bourbon? And I forgot one last thing—a new cask of Germain-Robin California brandy. Shoot—and I also forgot the first batch of Bryan Davis's new Cuban-style 151 rum. One last thing—a new cask of Bunnahabhain 16 heavily peated from Chieftain's. OK—I think that's it.....for today.

So, yes, there are a few things going on today around K&L in the spirits department. If I don't answer your emails right away I hope you'll understand.

I'm super pumped about the reaction we're getting already concerning the Signatory whiskies. One of my best whisky customers told me earlier this week, "David, this entire crop is a home run. These whiskies taste like what I used to drink five years ago—the quality is there and the prices are more than fair." That was music to my ears. The Glenlivet 16 is so rich and supple. The Bowmore, so creamy and smoky. The Bruichladdich is ghostly, with hints of salt and seawater. The Benrinnes, a burst of vanilla and fruit when you add a drop of water. The Glen Elgin is floral and fruity, a fun summer time sipper. The Caol Ila, a masterpiece of three decades—oily, hypnotic, and complex with evolved peated tones. And, of course, the ancient 32 year old Glenlivet—a sherry hogshead that delivers all the goods.

If there's one thing we learned from last year's experience, it's that value can only take you so far. I thought a number of whiskies from 2013 represented a good bang for the buck. The feedback I got, however, is that a large, overwhelming majority of our single malt customers would rather have something great and pay a little more for it. That's what this crop of Signatory whiskies represents: the best whisky we could find—regardless of the price (although they're all pretty reasonable price-wise); not just what constituted value or a good bargain. I've learned from shopping with a number of fashion-conscious ladies that quality will always win out over price. Rest assured—there's nothing on the American market right now as good as any of these Signatory whiskies. If you've got $80 to spend, it will be best spent on the Glenlivet 16 or Bowmore 11 selections we've got currently. If you've got $300, then grab either the Glenlivet 32 or the Caol Ila 30—you won't regret it. All of our sales staff, from SF to LA, feel entirely confident that these Signatory casks are the best bottles we've got—and the best we've had in years.

There's a reason that 80% of this year's crop came from Signatory. They're sitting on the best stock of mature single malt in the world, as far as we're concerned. And we're only interested in the very best.

-David Driscoll


Malacca Part II

You've gotta give it up to Diageo's new label designer—whoever is creating these retro-tastic bottles for the spirits giant is hitting it out of the park. Even if the new Tanqueray Old Tom—the follow-up to last year's mega-successful Malacca rebirth—tasted like total garbage, I still might buy it just for the cool-looking package. How does the new Old Tom taste, though? Like Tanqueray with a little bit of sweetness. Nothing crazy; just another solid release that should please fans of the genre (as long as you like sweet gin).

Tanqueray Old Tom Gin 1L $31.99 - Diageo is back with a new Tanqueray meant to replace the limited edition Malacca re-release from a year ago. This new Old Tom expression adds just a bit of residual sugar to the mix, creating a rounder, more supple palate; but without losing any of the herbaceous character Tanqueray is known for. With its old school packaging and liter-sized format, we expect the Old Tom to be just as big of a hit with cocktail fans. Try it in a Gimlet, Tom Collins, Martinez, or a Gin Fizz, and add it to a Negroni for extra weight. Bonus points for the liter-sized bottle, as well.

-David Driscoll


Post-Modern Boutique Retail

"Do you have these in a size 40?" I asked the lady at the ________ store in the Westfield Mall. 

"No, they're not available in that size, unfortunately," she said with a sympathetic frown.

"These just came out though, right?" I asked to be sure. I had been waiting for the new season of Fall flats to arrive.

"Yes, just last week."

"And is it that you didn't get any of these in a size 40, or was it just that all your size 40 options sold out quickly?" I inquired.

"To be honest," the lady told me, "Sometimes they don't even bother sending out all the sizes to the retail chains anymore. Everything sells immediately online, and they only make a few in each size, so they don't always see the point in distributing to brick and mortar these days."

"Ain't that the truth!" I thought to myself.

I've become a highly-competent shopper in the women's fashion world over the past few years. I've learned what my wife likes and what sizes she wears so that I can surprise her every now and again with a nice gift. But the more I start to understand the way the fashion world works, the more I see the parallels in the booze business. You'd think buying a simple pair of shoes would be easy, especially from a designer with numerous boutiques across the country. The reality, however, is that the internet has changed the way fashion retail works, much like it has with distilled spirits. You might expect to walk into K&L and find that rare Bourbon you've been searching for among our stock, but the fact is that most of our collectable stuff gets poached online long before we can even put it out on the shelf. Retailers like us have become so accustomed to a large pool of online consumers that often we don't need to make space in the store—we simply load it into inventory and the internet takes care of the rest.

And it's not just the instant availability aspect that's upping the ante for competitive shoppers; the internet is also increasing the amount of interested buyers by spreading the marketing information more freely. I can't even imagine what it must be like for high-schoolers to throw parties these days. I remember wanting to invite about twenty people over when my parents went out of town during my sophomore year, and going out of my way to only tell a few friends the details. If you weren't careful you'd have the whole school show up on your front doorstep with cold twelve-packs and a street full of honking cars. With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and dozens of other social media services, there are no more secrets. You can't quietly mention anything to anyone these days without the entire world knowing about it seconds later. The same thing goes for booze, and apparently for women's shoes.

You think no one knows about that local distillery down the road from your house? Think again. There are probably people in Hong Kong trying to get a bottle of their limited Spring release. You think that tiny little microbrew behind the local Safeway is just marketing its beer to the neighborhood? HA! There are probably twenty guys in Des Moines trying to order the remaining inventory via the brewery's website. Want those new ballet flats in size 40? So do hundreds of other women reading fashion blogs, Pinterest sites, and Instagram accounts about the hottest new shoes. It's a Catch 22 for enthusiasts these days. We like to Yelp about our favorite restaurants, but then we're mad when we can't get a table. We like to take photos of our newest outfits, but then we get annoyed when everyone's wearing the same thing. We like to brag about our latest whiskey acquisition, posting photos of the bottle on Facebook, but then we bitch about how good whiskey is getting harder to find. But you can't have it both ways.

If you like to post online information about whiskey, then you can't complain about whiskey's sudden popularity—because ultimately you're part of the problem! The more information we put online, the more people are going to discover our passion and our interests. The more that retailers put their inventory online for e-commerce, the less they'll need to rely on brick and mortar outlets. The less we rely on actual physical retail outlets, the harder it will be to get what you want because no one has to actually go to the store to buy what they're looking for; everything is just a few clicks away. 

You used to be able to get front row tickets for any concert if you got up earlier than your neighbor and waited in line at the local Ticketmaster outlet (sometimes people would even camp out overnight). Not anymore. Today the fastest internet connection wins that battle. Today's savvy shoppers are the ones who sit in front of a computer screen all day, not actually make the rounds to the local mall. All the really good stuff isn't there, anyway.

-David Driscoll


You'll Regret It

For as much as I love drinking, there are times when I overdo it. Part of the reason I'm the spirits buyer at K&L is because I thoroughly enjoy every single spirit known to man; there's practically nothing made out of liquor that I'm not a fan of. I like whiskey, gin, vodka, tequila, brandy, grappa, rum, aquavit, and whatever else can be distilled into alcohol. You can't give someone professional advise about boutique mezcal if you don't like it yourself, so you need to develop a taste for everything if you want to be taken seriously. Because I respect both my position and my clientele so highly, on any given night I will be drinking a combination of any or all of the fore-mentioned beverages in an attempt to gain greater insight (yes, I said that with a straight face).

Because I've spent so much time with alcohol, I've definitely learned which spirits need to be sipped slowly and savored rather than slurped (and I have a tendency to drink fast). Some people say bad tequila gives you a hangover, but if I had to make a list of the worst hangover spirits, tequila wouldn't even crack the top ten. There are far deadlier alternatives for those of us who like to indulge ourselves. Which ones, you ask? Let me tell you. Without further ado, I give you the top five spirits you'll regret drinking if you go on a bender. I've personally drunk each one of them in horrific excess (for the purpose of professional research) and awoken the next morning in utter agony.

5. Ricard - Let's just put it out there right now: any spirit that combines a high alcohol percentage with caramel coloring and sugar has the potential to play havoc on your head. The only thing that prevents Ricard from being number one on this list is the fact that most people can only finish one glass of it. The intense flavor of anisette (black licorice) is not something that you necessarily want to drink glass after glass of. Nevertheless, I’ve done it and it’s not pretty.

4. Navy Strength Gin - As if you needed me to tell you: 57% grain alcohol distilled with botanicals can be quite dangerous. The problem with navy strength gin is that you rarely scale back the volume in the face of the higher alcohol percentage. I enjoy the extra intensity of flavor that a high-proof gin brings to the party. Gin and tonics seem brighter and fresher; a Negroni all the more herbaceous. It’s when you go back for that second and third drink that you suddenly remember what you’re playing with because you end up passing out shortly after.

3. Hennessy VSOP - Again, we're back to the high-proof, caramel, and sugar combination. The thing about Hennessy VSOP is that it goes down so easily. Too easily, and usually with something else that has sugar in it (like Coke or ginger beer). That's why Jamie Foxx says, "Blame it on the Henny" when he talks about bad drunken behavior. Too much of it is bad, bad news. I put down half a bottle one night and I paid for it dearly.

2. Zwack Unicum - I LOVE the Zwack Unicum. LOVE it. That's a problem. Why? Because it's 40% alcohol, loaded with sugar and caramel, and it tastes sooooooooo good. Plus, you tend to drink it out of small glasses, so you end up going back and pouring shot after shot thinking the small amount couldn't possibly contain that much punch. How bad can it be? A few little, teeny-weeny shots never hurt anyone, right? "I'm just sipping it!" I yell to my wife when she says not to drink anymore. And then the morning comes. There's a reason I tell my customers not to get "Zwacked." It sucks.

1. Chartreuse - There is no doubt in my mind that Chartreuse is the absolute worst thing you could over-imbibe as a consumer of fine spirits. It doesn't matter if you're drinking green or yellow (although green is worse), or the standard formula versus the higher-end V.E.P. You will without a doubt regret the decision to pour yourself a third, fourth, or fifth glass of Chartreuse should you choose do so. Even drinking one glass of Chartreuse is like playing with fire (because you've probably already had a few drinks by the time you get around to doing so). The green is 55% ABV and there's plenty of sugar involved. I've never been in such misery while working at K&L as I was the night after I played around with Chartreuse cocktails. It was like a screw being driven into my brain, while waves of nausea pummelled my body into a series of cold sweats. A little Chartreuse is like medicine. But too much Chartreuse is the worst of all poisons.

-David Driscoll


A Fine Balance

I have learned a great deal from working with the public. I have been presented with generosity when it was least expected, found humility where it was largely undue, and received a genuine kindness from strangers just when I had started to believe that true courtesy was a thing of the past. I have had numerous handshakes and hugs bestowed upon me. I have also been yelled at, demoralized, called a "racist bigot" when I didn't offer one man the refund he was after, and even challenged to a fist fight in the K&L parking lot. I have finished some days with my head in my hands, my patience worn down to its bitter nub, my faith in humanity in ruins. At other times, I have rejoiced in the compassionate nature of our customers and their incredible care for what we do as a retailer, wondering what I could have done in a past life to make my current situation so fortunate. Working with the public, every single day, year after year, is a reminder of everything that's humanly possible in life—from the worst, most-insensitive characteristics of man, to the most-redeeming, unappreciated surprises we often overlook. In the end, what we achieve is a fine balance.

In Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance the true potential for both suffering and joy are presented in an epic and awe-inspiring tale of life in India during the 20th century. It's a novel that has been praised as "utterly Dickensian" in its realistic and honest portrayal of poverty and the struggle humanity faces in its woe (although not being a huge fan of David Copperfield myself, I can say that A Fine Balance is much less tedious). It's a story that will arouse in you a storm of emotions and force you to examine your own behavior as a result. You will not walk away from this book the person you were before.

What most amazes me about Mistry's writing is his acute awareness of how anger is often misplaced due to a lack of understanding; how someone's attitude or actions might rub you the wrong way, yet you have no idea what that person has suffered or experienced to make them so (and if you did know you might not have been so upset or judgmental). It's that awareness—that ability to put yourself in the shoes of anotherthat Mistry poetically serves his readers in A Fine Balance. Taking that extra step—pausing for reflection rather than reaction—is what makes for good writing. Hell, it's what makes for a good human being (and actually for good customer service as well). It's the fragile foundation of what dealing with the public is based upon and it can easily crumble if you're not properly equipped to handle its challenges.

A Fine Balance is a firm reminder of how cruel the world can really be, and all you can hope to do in the face of it. It should be required reading for anyone who leaves their home and interacts with the outside world.

-David Driscoll