Let Me Tell YOU Something...

We started first at Shalizaar in Belmont––a wonderful Persian spot with a bevy of pickled appetizers and spicy spreads. No dice––they were booked for a wedding.

"Don't worry," I told my wife, "There's a Lebanese place on 25th Avenue." I didn't even bother taking El Camino north, choosing instead to meander through the backroads, continuing our post-work lust for Middle Eastern fare through the half-light of the old Americana neighborhood.

I observed the darkened police car poised patiently at the end of the street; a serruptitious sting perched to nab the unthinking driver who would dare make a U-turn into the available parking port side. We drove to the end of the street, parked safely to our right, and walked the extra blocks to Tannourine.

"Closed for a private party," read a hand-written note taped hastily on the inside of the door.

"You've gotta be kidding me!" I cackled.

"I'm hungry," my wife added.

Across the street laid a set of open doors, a homey atmosphere, and an unfamiliar destination: Fassia––fine Moroccan cuisine; a menu of spice-laden meats and an array of available seating.

"Why not?" we said to each other.

For about ten minutes, we were the only customers dining at Fassia that evening. I watched a family of six walk down the avenue, make the same attempt at Tannourine we had made, and stare across the street towards those same open doors we had noticed just moments before. They walked in awkwardly, all clad in similar garb, and sat down solemnly. They were immediately inquisitive, so much so that my wife thought it had to be Fred Armisen with a camera crew staging another hilarious Potlandia skit. It might as well have been.

As the waitress took their order, inquiring into their beverage of choice, the patriarch raised his hand and asked, "Do you have anything distinctly Moroccan?"

The waitress mentioned the surprisingly fluent list of Moroccan wines on the table, but the man shook his head and said, "Non-alcoholic only. I'd like something that would be typical when dining in Morocco."

The woman smiled politely and said, "Usually when I'm in Fes we drink Orangina."

"Ahhhh....interesting," the man replied, his family quietly engaged to his every word. "Is that some kind of special Moroccan orange concoction?"

I almost spit out my water.

"It's just a kind of soda," the waitress replied.

"What about Tej?" the man interruped, "you guys don't serve Tej, do you?"

"I don't know what that is," the woman said, starting to get a bit antsy and confused.

"Oh no," I thought to myself. Not only was this man looking to lecture, he was confusing two completely different North African cultures; Tej is a sweet Ethiopian wine made from honey.

"Tej is a typical North African sweet wine," the non-African man began, proudly sharing his knowledge about North African culture with a woman from North Africa. "It's almost a mead of sorts, made by fermenting the actual honey. One usually drinks it with a meal."

"I'm not familiar with that," the woman said, faking courtesy at this point, looking back towards the kitchen at our food, which had just come up on the hot bed. The man sputtered off a number of other facts about the non-Moroccan cultures of North Africa and where one might find a glass of Tej if ever in the region. I told my wife we should go to a Vietnamese restaurant after this and lecture the hostess about Japanese sake.

I couldn't help but eavesdrop for the rest of our meal. When the waitress finally brought our food (which was absolutely delicious, by the way), she carried the plates past the inquisitive man who extended his hand into the air and said, "There's something else I wanted to tell you," as she walked past.

"This guy needs to start a blog," I said to my wife. "If nothing else, it would help alleviate his desire to use public interactions as a pulpit; and it would give people the choice of whether or not they want to listen."

"Do you think that would stop him from lecturing to waitresses?" she asked.

"I think so. That's really what blogs are for," I said. "They're for helping loud, self-centered, talkative people to feel important. Why do you think I started one? You'd be listening to me blabber all day if I didn't write that thing."

-David Driscoll


New Cask of Arran in Sherry

We can't sell all of our latest finds from Scotland on pre-arrival because you'd all simply be overwhelmed. Plus, it's nice to have something in the flesh while you're waiting for your other juice to arrive. This is a sneaky little cask of Arran; a sherry hogshead that only relinquished 156 bottles. It's a great find, especially for the price.

1996 Arran 17 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Hogshead Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $109.99 - While peat ruled the day in 2009, the current whisky craze is all about sherry -- that special wine from Spain whose barrels are used to mature numerous Scottish single malts. Macallan is known for its Oloroso sherry influence, and we've had a number of Glendronach casks aged in Pedro Ximenez. That rich, unctuous character is what whisky fans are after right now, which has lead to an increase in pricing on these expressions. While we continue to supply the household names, we're also keeping a watchful eye on the independents like Arran distillery -- an island producer with a penchant for using sherry maturation in some of their higher marks. We recently found a lovely little hogshead recoopered from fresh sherry wood that had spent 17 years in the Arran cellar. At 56.1%, the aromas drift right out of the bottle into a bouquet of raisined fruit and buttery toffee. The palate is surprisingly dry, however, with all the nuances of European oak making their way through layers of almond and sandlewood. There's a bit of earthy rancio on the finish, as more fresh sherry flavor beings to saturate the dry, woody aftertaste. Water really brings out the fruit and opens up a bit of the sweetness. Similarly mature whiskies from Glendronach and Macallan sell for $150 to $200, so at $109.99 we're pretty happy with the result; especially at cask strength. This one isn't nearly as sweet as the some of the other sherry bombs we've had, and that's quite nice for a change.

-David Driscoll


Global Pressure

There was a recent blurb in The New Yorker about the housing market in Vancouver; a city where the median income is $70K, yet the price of single family home is close to a million. James Surowiecki writes:

When price-to-income or price-to-rent ratios get out of whack, it's often a sign of a housing bubble. But the story in Vancouver is more interesting. Almost by chance, the city has found itself at the heart of one of the biggest trends of the past two decades––the rise of a truly global market in real estate.

That's a crazy idea––to think that you're competing for a place to live with people who don't live in your place.

Surowiecki continues:

The globalization of real estate upends some of our basic assumptions about housing prices. We expect them to reflect local fundamentals––above all, how much people earn. In a truly global market, that may not be the case. If there are enough rich people in China who want property in Vancouver, prices can float out of reach for the people who actually live and work there. So just because prices look out of whack doesn't necessarily mean there's a bubble. Instead, wealthy foreigners are rationally overpaying.

When the price of Macallan 25 went from $250 to $800, I thought we'd never sell a bottle again. Of course, that mindset reflected what I knew about the global market at that time. When I finally got the opportunity to buy Mac 25 again, after a multi-month shortage, it didn't take more than a day to sell every bit of it. A gentleman from Hong Kong called me immediately, said he'd take all sixty bottles ($50K worth of single malt), presented me with a bill of lading as not to pay local sales tax (showing his intention to ship the whisky back to China), and sent a driver to pick up the goods. I quickly learned there were K&L customers out there I never knew existed.

So when you see these ultra high-end bottles evaporating like the morning dew off of your front porch, yet you can't imagine anyone you know purchasing them, remember that it may not be someone from your neck of the woods; it may be someone from a land far away, with deep pockets full of a currency that stands strongly against our weak dollar.

The boutique liquor industry has quickly become a global economy. When supplies are limited, savvy consumers will look elsewhere for their desired share. That place might be your local liquor store, or it may be K&L.

-David Driscoll


Photo of the Day

-David Driscoll


A Reminder of the Microcosm

It's easy to get wrapped up in the issues of the most vocal, and even easier to believe that the most vocal represent the majority of opinion; simply because they're so vocal. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, they say.  But I watched Ted Turner's WCW wrestling promotion cater to internet "smarks" (smart fans) in the late 90's and crumble into bankruptcy after scripting their show to please a vocal, yet relatively small base of loyalists. I've also worked at several establishments that completely changed their operations due to one or two negative Yelp reviews, to the chagrin of the silent majority. That didn't end well either. When you read something online, or see a certain point-of-view repeated in print, you can't help but think to yourself: "This is what people think, eh?" But to get caught in that trap is to fall victim to a skewed sense of reality.

I think one of the most difficult aspects of the liquor business for whisky superfans to understand is how relatively tiny our influence is: both our vocal influence and our economic influence. Even more important is how little others care for the amount of passion we all exude. For those of us who communicate with the online community, we tend to look around at other blogs, message boards, and chat sites to see what people are thinking. What are they talking about? What are people excited about? What are they upset about? We sometimes think these vocal enthusiasts -- those writing and commenting -- are a representation of whiskey drinkers as a whole; at least I do. But everytime I think that way I realize quickly how wrong I am.

Let's look at some of the pet peeves of the online whisky world as an example:

Misleading Labeling/Packaging: Do you want to know how many times I've ever had a customer come back in anger when they found out that Whistle Pig rye was made in Canada, and not Vermont? Never. It's never happened.

Do you want to know what happens when I tell people that Whistle Pig is Canadian whiskey? Nothing. They might say, " it still good?" and then buy a bottle anyway. While provenance is a hot-button issue online, it means next to nothing in the day-to-day conversations of the K&L retail stores: and we're a store that actually caters to people who care about this!!! We tell people all the time about misleading label information and often they respond with, "Ok, are you done talking yet? I need to buy this and go."

Shortages/Price Increases: There's a very sarcastic and rather sardonic attitude online about what's really going on in the booze industry. Many people believe the idea of a whisky shortage is a marketing tool used to increase sales. Regardless of how true the information we're hearing is, there is one very simple motivator when it comes to retail capitalism: can you get something when you want it for the price it should normally cost?

We can write articles about how there's no real shortage, we can complain about rising prices due to these distribution blackouts, but in the end people don't rely on internet writers to tell them what is or isn't going on with their whisky. 99.999% of whisky consumers go to the store and buy what they want. If the bottles they want are not there when they want them, they get upset. If obtaining their whisky of choice becomes a hassle, they buy more the next time around so that they don't have to deal with the hassle in the future. You can call that a shortage, or you can call that poor distribution, but it really doesn't matter what we call it because it doesn't change the reality of the situation. People will figure out what's true and what isn't when they go back to the store and either find what they're looking for, or see a gaping hole where their favorite whiskey used to be.

The Lack of an Age Statement: See my experience with customers concerning misleading labeling and packaging.

I used to be very passionate about all three of these issues when it came to my writing because there wasn't much information out there when I started this blog (plus, these were new problems at the time). When it comes to my personal drinking, I still am. I want to know where my whiskey is made and who made it, for sure. It's what I enjoy about drinking and the research that I do. But, while it's important to many of us, don't assume that it's important to everyone. In fact, assume that it isn't (because really it isn't). It's not that people are idiots, it's that they don't care as much as we do. And there's nothing wrong with that. We can care about our issues all we want, but we shouldn't get mad when people ignore our explanations and continue to buy what they like.

As one blogger wrote me in an email a while back:

We should treat our readers like they're smart whisky lovers not dolts we're trying to save from burning themselves.

I couldn't agree more.

-David Driscoll