OK- Big news today! Some of you are going to yawn at this, but some of you are going to be jumping up with excitement.
Weds from 5 - 6:30 PM
11/20 - San Francisco: NO TASTING
11/20 - Redwood City: Casa Dragones Tequila
2013 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky PRE-ORDERS1989 Isle of Jura 23 Year Old Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750m SOLD OUT!
2012 K&L Exclusive Scotland WhiskyKilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750m IN STOCK NOW!
OK- Big news today! Some of you are going to yawn at this, but some of you are going to be jumping up with excitement.
I am very appreciative and gracious when I receive positive feedback from vendors, Whisk(e)y List members, and in-store customers alike. Usually everyone has the same compliment for me, which is that they enjoy or admire my passion and enthusiasm for booze and for the products I am selling. Now I'm not writing this to toot my own horn or to talk about myself, but it does set the stage for how the spirits business works and how I want it to work from now on at K&L. Passion! You need to like what you sell in order to do your work effectively. If I didn't drink all the time, there's no way I would give a crap about any of this stuff. It's my hobby as much as it is all of yours and we can sniff out any posers among us. As I've written about in the past: I do not get paid to do this blog, the emails, the late night responses to customers at home, or the tastings we do at Martin's West. I do them because I like being involved. I've been having a particularly tough time with some small producers lately who really want to get their products into our store. I really want to help everyone sell their booze, but unfortunately there are just too many people who are doing this for the money and not out of love. If you can convince me that you love vodka, and you've studied the history of it, and you drink it neat after dinner, and how all the different grains affect the texture and flavor, and how your family has been making it for generations, then I'll probably bring it in just out of admiration. This is never the case, however. Most of the producers I am talking with are looking for a marketing plan - selling to young people, selling to clubs, selling to rich people, selling to hip hop artists, etc. I'm over it. It doesn't work at K&L because the people bringing them to me don't care about vodka, they care about money and how they can build the next Grey Goose. The same goes for tequila. I've got amazing products like the Los Osuna tequilas that taste authentic, have a long history of passion for the stuff, and Jesus Padilla brings me the delivery and talks about the spirit with me every time. He loves it and he's so excited that other people share his passion. That type of love is contageous and it makes people want to share in it. Then I've got other tequilas that cross my path where I can tell that all the new oak and sweet vanilla that have been loaded into the flavor are meant for one thing: how fast can we get our bottles into Costco and make a quick fortune. That's great if you're an entrepreneur and everyone has a right to make some money, but don't ask me later why no one is buying your product. It's not about marketing and target groups here. It's about relationships, respect for the trade, quality booze, and passion for good drinks. I'm realizing more and more that I need to stop every once and awhile and really promote the producers that are making quality liquor and who take the time to check in with me and our customers. St George (Hangar One), Los Osuna, Kuchan & Old World Spirits, North Shore Distillery, Clear Creek Distillery, A.D. Rattray Single Malt Whiskies, Willett Bourbon, Dos Manos Tequila, Four Roses and more. These are all people who would be making booze even if it didn't pay the bills. I hope that the enthusiasm they have for making booze, carries over to my selling of it, and to your drinking of it.
Daniel Hyatt from Alembic Bar called me up one day last year and asked me if I wanted to take part in a rum tasting somewhere north of Marin out in the country. I was pretty sure that, not having a car, he just needed a ride up there, but as it turned out I had actually been invited. As we arrived at the scene and started shaking hands with our fellow participants, I realized that this was a serious room of players. "Hello, I'm David," I said to man who replied, "Nice to meet you, I'm Hubert Germain-Robin." I soon realized that this was a room full of distillers and that I was the lone retailer - what I was I really going to offer to this meeting of professional craftsmen? It was here that I first met Dave Smith, who along with Bay Area legend Lance Winters, creates all the booze over at St. George distillery - the home of Hangar One vodka as well as Dave's new sensation: the Firelit Coffee liqueur. Having talked that day about a possible future distillery tour, it wasn't until another meeting at a recent whisky conference that we decided to nail down a concrete date. So yesterday I finally drove out to Alameda for what was, embarrassingly enough, my first visit to the Bay's most beloved spirits factory.
When you look at the distillery on a Google map, it's clear that the location is on the tip of some peninsula/island formation that juts out into the water by downtown Oakland. As I drove through the underground tunnel that connects to the region from 880, I certainly did not expect to find an area brimming with spotless track homes much like I remember from my native Central Valley upbringing. "What the hell are these houses doing here?" I thought as I cruised north down Midway. The only thing more surprising than the suburban sprawl is the military-styled housing project that follows it. The former looking like an Ozzie & Harriet safety zone and the latter looking like an abandoned ghost-town I would want to avoid at night. As soon as you make it through the warehouses that sprout up after the barracks fade away, you have reached the end of the peninsula and the home of St. George. The view of San Francisco on a clear day is absolutely breathtaking and as I entered the distillery, which is as much of a clubhouse as it is a place of work, I realized why people loved hanging out here on a sunny afternoon. The tasting bar windows face north towards the Bay Bridge and the picnic tables are perfect for packing a lunch. Andie Ferman, who runs the tasting bar for public tastings, said that the weekends were incredibly busy and that the room was usually packed to capacity. What a great place for a party this would make, I thought.
When I arrived inside I was greeted by Dave, Lance, and Andie who proceeded to get me a spot at the bar as we began sampling the line of St. George products - many I had yet to taste. We also discussed the history of the brand and its origins in eau-de-vie. When Jörg Rupf came to California from his native Germany some decades past, and discovered the quality of the produce we have growing here, he founded St. George Spirits on the idea that he would sell the best fruit brandies available. Selling eau-de-vie today is an uphill battle, so I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Jörg back in the mid-1980s. It is a fitting origin however as most of the best distillers that I have encountered seem to be most passionate about fruit-based spirits - from Steve McCarthy to Davorin Kuchan, people who make booze seem to agree that eau-de-vie is the penultimate achievement. Ironically, most of the people who purchase liquor from me seem to feel exactly the opposite. Nevertheless, St. George soldiers forward with their Aqua Perfecta brandies including the framboise, pear, cherry, and basil expressions. Tasting the cherry, I was amazed at how accurate the flavor was. The fruit doesn't jump out at you, but rather lingers tartly on the tongue. "You see, this is what cherries actually taste like," I said, "but it's never what people expect when they get something cherry flavored." "That's because they expect it to taste like red," said Andie. "These aren't Otter Pops," added Dave. Maybe that's why these guys get so into the fruit-based spirits, as defenders of the true essence of the fruit itself, they feel a duty to provide the purest expressions possible and eau-de-vie most of all allows for that manifestation. The people at St. George can spend time doing what they're most passionate about because their vodka will always be their bread and butter and their meal ticket. Their fruit-infused Budda's Hand citron (as seen above), orange, lime, raspberry, and spiced pear vodkas are moving off of our shelves on a continual basis. Every bar has a bottle of each behind the counter, and every bartender must admit that the infusions give vodka cocktails a whole new profile. The purity of the fruit flavor is as amazing in the infusion process as it is in the distillation, which is an incredible achievement. Revisiting these vodkas made me realize that I really do like everything in the booze world and that every spirit has its place at the table. Pigeonholing yourself as a pre-Prohibition mixologist after sampling these vodkas just seems silly if you really care about flavor.
After spending an hour blabbing about our own personal gripes with this industry and how we wished more people cared about eau-de-vie, Dave and I made our way out to the barrel room. This was what Dave had been patiently waiting to show me and where I would realize that St. George is going to be a serious player in the future of single malt whisky. I've made no secret recently of my growing disappointment with the lack of creativity in the Scotch world. I'm sick of seeing the same whiskies with higher price tags just because they spent an extra six months in barrels from prestigious chateau. Why can't someone really start tinkering with mash bills and start tweaking the barrel maturation process from the very beginning, rather than at the very end? It was as if Dave Smith had read my mind and wanted to comfort my soul with the knowledge that someone out there was going to answer my prayers. As we strolled through the racks I began to read the signs posted on the sides of the casks. Brandies aging in wine casks, whiskies aging in brandy casks, freakish mash bills, and all kinds of Frankensteinian experimentation was afoot in this building. As we started tasting samples from the barrels, I realized that Dave and Lance were not beginning their attempts to revolutionize single malt whisky, but were already well underway. We tasted whiskies that were already 8-10 years of age and had seen two or three different barrels of various origins already in their young existence. The results were incredible and seriously tasty.
While I won't go into too many specifics about flavor, as to not sabotage St. George and give away their guarded secret formulae, I will say that what I tasted, were it to ever leave the distillery in a bottled form, would blow some of our customers away. The flavors imparted onto the whiskies from various maturations were apparant, yet perfectly intermingled and balanced. You could taste each barrel's thumbprint, but one never overshadowed the other. Even more amazing than the creative maturation abound at St. George, is the experimentation in their mash bills. While all of the single malts being made are indeed 100% barley, they are not all made from the same types of barley. Working closely with a well-known California brewery, St. George has been customizing their own styles of barley and imparting flavor onto them, much like the peating process that takes place in Scotland, only here they're using more than just smoke. When you start analyzing the potential number of permutations possible from various combinations of mash bill and barrel enhancement, and you realize that Dave is literally trying as many of these possibilities as he has time and space for, it's enough to make your head spin. Then add on the fact that they're also making bourbon and rye and you've got enough to make your brain explode. We did get a chance to sample the new make rye and wheat whiskey they had in stainless steel and I was more than impressed. It literally tasted like rye crackers and wheat bread, and not the sweet fruity white dog that you get from corn or barley. I was absolutely amazed that white whiskey could be that good and that pure.
In the end I was happy that I had decided to spit everything because a whole line up of brandy and vodka, followed by cask strength whiskey is a bit much for one day. Should you get the chance to visit St. George distillery, I would highly recommend bringing a lunch and enjoying the scenery as well as the booze. Let Andie show you her enthusiasm behind the bar and hopefully you'll get a chance to talk to Dave or Lance as well about their views on whiskey. There are some serious products coming our way from the hangar in the near future and I'm hoping that we can be the ones to deliver them to you. We'll have to wait and see.
"What?! You have a whisky club?" someone asked me yesterday when I told them they could save four bucks a bottle on the K&L Buffalo Trace Single Barrel. "Yes," I said, "I've mainly been telling people on the whisk(e)y newsletter about it," I mentioned. "Well I'm on the newsletter and I haven't heard about it." Really? That explains why some of you out there are buying all of the club selections without joining the club: I haven't done a good enough job of explaining how this club works.
The Whisk(e)y Club is just an extention of our Personal Sommelier wine program, which, instead of forcing you to receive selections completely of our choosing, lets you decide how many bottles you want per month (with one being the minimum), what type of wine, from where, and at what cost. You could be in the club for $15 a month if you really wanted to be, or for $1000. It's entirely up to you. Signing up for the whisk(e)y club means you go online and sign up for the Personal Sommelier service, choose spirits as your selection, and click on me as your personal sommelier. You can then decide how much you would like to spend. There is no obligation to receive the whiskies I choose as part of the club. You could get a bottle of cheap rum every month, or the 1.75 bottle of gin you were going to purchase anyway. The difference is you would now be eligable for the discounts on whisk(e)y and wine.
Who should be in the club? If you bought the Springbank 9 Year, the Bowmore 13 year, and the Buffalo Trace Single Barrel are were not a club member, then you just gave us an extra $20. If you plan on buying the 1982 Clynelish we're getting, followed by the 1991 Aberlour, you're going to be handing us an extra $25. These whiskies are all discounted for club members and can count as your once-a-month selection. Even though the Bowmore was received weeks ago and is now sold out, I held bottles back to be included in the current May shipment at a $10 discount for club members. There is no need or pressure to purchase the discounted whiskies on top of a mandatory monthly shipment - they can be one in the same. If you join the club we can communicate every month about what you would like to have selected for you - it's very easy.
Who should not be in the club? Those of you who do not purchase more than one bottle of booze of any kind on a monthly basis should not be in the club. That wouldn't make sense. Those of you who do not like single malts or bourbon likely wouldn't be interested in the discounts. Also, people who already subscribe to any of our monthly wine clubs are already eligable for the discounts and possibly do not need the burden of an extra club. Otherwise, there really aren't any other reasons not to be a member.
I'm planning on having a monster cask of either bourbon or whisky instock all the time. If you plan on being a part of these barrels then you should sign up to save some cash. You do not have to purchase every club discounted whisk(e)y as part of your membership. If you want something else instead, that's fine too. It's totally flexible. Go to the link below to sign up or email me if you have further questions.
-David Driscoll (email@example.com)
Every now and then I'll assist a customer in picking out some wine and then walk him/her over to the counter where one of my colleagues will ask to ring them up. The customer then says, "Oh, well he's the one who helped me so I want him to get credit for the sale." We all kind of smile to ourselves, laugh a bit, and then let the person know that there are no commissions for sales at K&L. We can all only hope that our fellow employees are just as motivated to help customers out of a sense of pride and duty. I work on a fixed salary as the spirits buyer and regardless of whether I sell $100 or $100,000 of single malts to a customer, I'm going to get the same paycheck at the end of the day. I think that's an important fact for people to know sometimes, especially those of you who get my email blasts on a weekly basis. At this moment, I'm sitting at my desk in my apartment - completely off the clock, using my own time to update this blog. Half the time I send out the newsletter from home as well. I do it because I like it and I enjoy writing about whisk(e)y. When I'm jumping out of my seat about a new barrel we are purchasing, I'm mostly excited because I get to buy a bottle for myself, rather than because I'm going to get a huge bonus or make a big sale. My motivation to sell single malts stems completely from my desire to share my passion with people, and the knowledge that if I can clear out 375 bottles from one barrel, that gives me enough profit to buy another one! When I was in high school, I used to like professional wresting (I still kinda do) and I wanted to watch the monthly pay-per-views they offered. However, the price was $30 and I didn't want to spend that myself, so I made friends with as many WWF fans as possible who would come over on Sunday and split the cost with me. It was a great deal for everyone and I made a number of lasting relationships. This whisky gig is basically a more expanded version of that. I want to select as many new barrels as I can possibly get, but I need help from all of you out there to chip in with me. As long as we all like what we're drinking, we all win! So the next time you're browsing through the aisles, remember that we genuinely want to help you because we like booze, not because we're trying to spike our commissions.