Housing Tips

After a week of faint optimistic hope that I might finally be able to afford a small house on the San Francisco peninsula, I'm now pretty sure there's no hope whatsoever. Even the tiniest fixer-uppers are going for $600,000 before all is said and done and unfortunately that's where my comfort zone says "No thanks." You might be thinking to yourself, "David, I just saw a two bedroom house in San Mateo for $480,000 last week!" To those thoughts in your head I would reply, "Yes, but did you see what the house actually sold for?" It wasn't the list price.

You've got to pay to play in the housing market right now. You've got to overpay just to get overpriced. Everyone's talking about low interest rates, but that doesn't help when you can't actually get the product your paying a low rate on. There is such fierce competition for "affordable" housing right now that every sale results in a bidding war. When there's a bidding war, the price of the house goes up. When prices go up, it gives people the impression that the market is booming. When the market is booming, people start making big money. Does this sound familiar to you, whisky fan?

One of my best friends is in the real estate game. We were talking on the phone last week and he told me that where banks were once looking to sell foreclosures quickly, in an attempt to recoup expenses, they began to notice that investors were turning around and selling those forclosures for even more profit (very much like what was happening on Ebay with the Van Winkle Bourbons). When the banks saw what these houses were going for later, they began to think to themselves, "Why the rush? Let's wait this out a bit and see what we can actually get." Whisky companies are currently thinking the exact same thing. Since banks and owners are now sitting on properties, waiting for the big sale rather than the quick one, it's diminishing the amount of available properties. With interest rates so low there are many interested buyers. We've got big demand, but low supply. Time to cash in.

The problem for me with the housing market is that people are paying these prices. $600,000 for a small shack that needs an extra $75,000 in repairs just to make it liveable?  Where do I sign? As long as that's the case, I'm going to be renting. It's in every business person's best interest to have low supply in times of huge demand. Not low enough to where you have zero inventory, but just low enough that it scares people into thinking that if they don't buy now, they may never get a chance to buy again.

I call it "fear capitalism." I've been watching it for the last two years.

I was asking my friend last night, "If I don't buy now do you think I'll ever be able to afford one down the road?" I could have been talking about a house or a bottle of Port Ellen.

-David Driscoll


The First Hot Deal of Fall

I promised you we would start working hard to bring you hot deals. Deals you can afford. Deals that bring single malt whisky back to that enjoyable, pour-yourself-a-few-fingers, end-of-the-day drink that you don't have to fuss over, but can still enjoy.  I also promised that I would stop buying overpriced whisky and start working with producers who have your best interests first. I have been working with Morrison-Bowmore and Campari all week to put this little project together. I'm soooooooooo pumped about it.

Bowmore Legend Single Malt Whisky $23.99 - The Bowmore Legend is an absolutely delicious Islay whisky.  It's got the perfect amount of smoke and the right amount of richness.  At this price, we had to taste it against Johnnie Black and there's really no comparison.  The Walker Black, being a blend, is tasty enough, but it thins out at the back.  The Bowmore Legend being 100% single malt whisky (at around eight years of age, I believe) is simply more exciting. Being someone who loves oily, smoky, and fruity flavors in my malt, I can't think of a better deal for a bottle of whisky since I started working at K&L.  This is cheaper than Glenfiddich 12!!!

Auchentoshan Classic Lowland Single Malt Whisky $23.99 - This has been at $30 for as long as I can remember.  Tasting the soft, light, and vanilla-laden character of the Bourbon cask aging, I look at the price point of Auchentoshan now and think, "this is the same price as Jameson's now."  That's just ridiculous.  Get in on this while it's priced where it's at.

I have to say that I am very impressed with the direction Morrison-Bowmore is taking towards more cooperation with retailers.  First, they hired Rachel Barrie to do their blending, which helps to improve their product.  Then they allowed us to start buying casks directly, giving us a heavenly barrel of Glen Garioch for our exclusive collection. Now they've responded to our blog post that called for better prices for single malts and have given both us and the whisky consumer a chance to drink something delicious for a reasonable fee.  Bravo, Bowmore.  Bravo.  You've got our full support and I'm sure the support of our customers once they taste how good these whiskies are for the price.  I'm buying my bottle of Legend right now.


Speaking of Morrison-Bowmore, they're owned by Suntory who happens to be in the tasting bar tonight.  Neyah White, their brand ambassador just emailed to remind me that Mike Miyamoto, who is the former Master Distiller at Hakushu (as well as former Master Distiller at Yamazaki and for Managing Director of Morrison Bowmore) will be here tonight as well to pour the Japanese whiskies.  This is a fantastic chance to meet some of Japan's whisky legends. Don't miss tonight's event at 5 PM.  It's a Halloween party you'll be happy you attended.

-David Driscoll


What's the Scoop?

Five days without a post? I must have died face-down over the toilet not to have written anything new! Actually, we're knee-deep in the middle of Whisky Season and, with the holidays officially starting in two days, we're already getting pounded with extra orders. I've had little time to think about writing something new for the blog, let alone actually doing it.  There's no time to think about putting together a cohesive piece, so I'll just have to give you the scoop in brief blasts of information.  Here we go:

- Adam Herz from the Los Angeles Whisk(e)y Society just posted another warning to those purchasing collectables from Bonham's auction. Now that Ebay has been shutdown, these guys are pretty much the only game left in town. Let me tell you this right now – I don't know anything about how Bonham's is run. All I know is that many other alcohol-related operations are more about making money than actually doing their research. Liquor companies are being blinded by $$$ signs right now.  There is a ton of money to be made with booze at the moment. Don't expect these companies to be looking out for your best interests.  I'm not naming anyone or claiming that Bonham's is one of these operations – I'm just saying: do not assume that anyone is looking out for you, the consumer (except for Adam and K&L, of course!). As someone who is currently shopping for a house, I'm consistently stunned by the similarities I see in the Bay Area real estate market and the whisk(e)y industry. Pop.

- I've known for years that musical tastes come back around every other decade. When I was in high school in the mid-90's, we loved the rock music of the 1970's, which went on to influence the grunge bands of the 1990's.  The 1980's were totally uncool in 1995. Those Reagan years were too cheesy, too focused on fun, too over the top. The 1990's got serious, alternative, and deep.  We talked about real emotions, suicide, drug addiction, and stopped worrying about the big party. Life was too messed to think about enjoying yourself! The 1970's had serious musicians like Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin who were also rocking out with authenticity. Then the new millennium hit and the 1980's came back in full-force. Electronic pop was the focus of everything music-related and neon-colored fashion became all the rage once again. Now that we're into the second decade of the millennium, get ready for a 1990's revival. Those old Alice in Chains albums are starting to sound pretty good again! I was at Urban Outfitters in San Francisco a few weeks back and they were pumping out Mazzy Star while teenagers shopped for retro flannel shirts.  Right on schedule.

That being said, I'm noticing a similar trend with booze. Many of this generation's drinkers are rejecting the wine cellars of the previous one. They're into whisk(e)y and they're not only interested in fun anymore. They're interested in the experience. This is serious! They're not just into pouring a Dewar's on the rocks. They're into some real, quality, high-end stuff. You wouldn't understand. You just don't get it. You're into that Def Leppard stuff. You don't know how serious Eddie Vedder is. This isn't a game. This is real, man. We're so misunderstood.

I think we're getting to that point (or at least I am) where it's fun to go see the Poison/Cinderella reunion tour. That means it's OK to start drinking Johnnie Walker again. 

- What's going on at K&L in the liquor department? We're super busy getting the newest batch of pre-arrivals together.  The Benrinnes, Longmorn, and Glenlochy are arriving this week and we'll be looking to get the orders processed early next week. David OG just got our newest Evan William's barrel into Hollywood and will be getting that distributed throughout all of our stores ASAP.  As the holidays get into full swing, there is less and less time for emailing and blogging. We're simply just trying to keep our heads afloat.  

Bear with us.  It's Whisk(e)y Season.

-David Driscoll


The Industry Response Continues

I told you about my lovely conversation with Diageo yesterday. Today I had another wonderful meeting with the folks at Campari who represent the Morrison-Bowmore portfolio here in the U.S.  They were also quite interested in working out better pricing to make single malt whisky more affordable. They want to help us get back to basics. If you walked into K&L today and asked me for a great single malt for less than $30, our options would be very limited. Glenfiddich 12, Glenlivet 12, and........and..........Buehler.......anyone? That's all I've got!  Wow, that's not very many.  Single malts are no longer everyday items for many people.

Morrison-Bowmore, however, would like to help change that.  They want to help make drinking fun again.  They want to add more selections to that under $30 price bracket, so look for some fun party deals within the next week.  It won't be more the Bowmore 18 or the 1994 Glen Garioch.  But if the Bowmore Legend and Auchentoshan were the same price as a bottle of Glenfiddich 12, wouldn't that be a no-brainer? 

I would love to throw a party with endless amounts of affordable Bowmore.  That sounds like fun.  However, being loose and free with one's alcohol appreciation requires reasonable prices that don't make us afraid of emptying those precious drops from our pricey bottles.  I'll be excited to announce some tasty new deals next week.

See how this is paying off?  This is amazing.

-David Driscoll


Whisky Season 2012 Update: The Holy Grail

I've read many times that the reason so many whisky enthusiasts get so romantic about Port Ellen is because it was the first distillery they saw when approaching Islay from the ferry.  Since the port of Port Ellen is no longer open and all visitors must now approach from Port Askaig (thereby making Caol Ila the first distillery they're now likely to see), maybe some of the enthusiasm will die down.  Or maybe not.  There is something magical about Port Ellen.  Part of it is its majestic location on the shore of the isle. Part of it is the peat.  Sure there are some peated Broras, but most of the lost legends are entirely unsmoky.  Dallas Dhu, Banff, Pittyvaich, Ladyburn and the rest of the fallen distilleries made unpeated whiskies of a light, lean character.  Port Ellen is like the champagne of Islay - peated, but elegant.  Our fascination with Islay also fuels our fascination with Port Ellen.  The buildings are still there to look at, the warehouses empty and the stills ripped out, but the malting still continues next door.  What if Port Ellen had remained open?  Would we still love it so much?  What if Diageo had chosen to shut the door on Caol Ila instead?  Would all of our JW Black be swimming with Port Ellen while we hoarded Caol Ila like squirrels?  We'll never know.  All we can say for sure is that Port Ellen is gone.  It's not going to be reopened.  What's left is getting drunk and every time that happens we get closer to the end. 

Diageo's 11th Edition Port Ellen sold for about $600.  This year's 12th Edition should come in at well over $1000 - and you'll be lucky to even find one.  We've got 100 bottles of a single cask Port Ellen available for pre-order right now.  Is this the last time we see it for less than a grand?  Like the what-ifs that we ask when pondering what could have been for this storied distillery, no one can say for sure.  I do understand math, however, as well as supply and demand.  I would take a guess and say: "yes." 

We were incredibly lucky to land this cask.  Incredibly.

1982 Port Ellen 30 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Sovereign Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $599.99 PRE-ORDER - Whoever said that persistence pays off was so freakin’ right. The only reason we ever got a hold of this baby was that we’ve built some great relationships in Scotland. So when we asked at Sovereign, again, eyebrows raised, "Do you have anything you could offer us?" They offered. We tasted. We loved. They bottled. And it’s a true glory. The nose shows soft, earthy peat and struck match igniting pipe tobacco. The palate is all weathered leather tempered by sweet, mellowing dark wood. This long and powerful malt turns the phenols back up to 11 for a spicy, peaty finish. We’re not sure we’ll see another one of these. Diageo has been buying the few remaining casks back from bottlers well above market price for their 12th annual Port Ellen release, which retails for over $1,000. They bottled nearly 3,000 of those; there will only be 150 of ours.

-David Driscoll