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Thursday
Dec272012

The End of Industry Talk

I spent the better part of 2012 talking about the whisky industry on this blog - how companies are raising their prices, how shortages are affecting the market, how demand is going through the roof, and about how producers are looking to exploit all of the above for their own profit. I've voiced my own frustrations, provided satirical dialogues about real-life altercations, and stirred the pot as much as I possibly could to bring all of these subjects to light. However, I think I'm done with it all. I'm done talking about all of these problems because I don't see any way to fix them and I hate it when people sit around and bitch without trying to improve their situation. The past month has given me a glimpse into what 2013 will bring and it only looks like more of the same, which means that my writing trajectory is not going to change unless I make an effort to change it. I'm bored of this. I'm bored of myself.

Here is a summary of what happened in 2012 that should explain why I have nothing more to say about the inner-workings of the booze industry.

- May 5th - we talked about how every new craft producer is now "artisinal" - While I continue to support the smaller American distilleries wholeheartedly, nothing annoys me more than some crappy new craft spirit that wants us to carry their whisky simply because they made one. Nevertheless, I get emails from customers all the time who want us to carry more $70 one-year-old whiskies.

- June 27th - we talked about price increases - While I've continued to be vocal about price increases, people seem to have no problem paying them. I have spent so much time telling people NOT to pay more for the same whisky (which goes completely against my livelihood and profession), yet we continue to sell these same whiskies at a record pace.

- July 17th - we talked about NAS whiskies - While many enthusiasts continue to vocalize their discontent for non-age statement whiskies, we continue to sell them at K&L without explanation. Hooker's House, Black Maple Hill, Old Weller Antique, Rock Hill Farms, etc. Most people don't care about age if the whiskey tastes good to them.

- August 30th - we talked about whiskies that deliver - In the midst of all this industry mayhem, there continue to be producers who simply offer great whiskies at great prices that you can buy all year round. However, who wants a whiskey that anyone can get?

- October 18th - I wrote a three-part play about my frustrations with whisky companies - This one didn't go over very well with the empire. Yet, it's all true and it all happened. My readers seemed to enjoy it, however. We had some great feedback here.

- November 28th - we talked about liquor laws and distribution - This might have been the most important post of the year. When I hear people talk about how competition will eventually bring down the price of whisky I have to sigh. There is no real competition in the U.S. because all of the markets are protected. We can only ship liquor to nine states, so how are we competing nationwide? We're not selling books, or electronics here. There are laws in the United States that prevent the flow of alcohol between states and therefore prevent competition. Costco's liquor prices in Washington state are through the roof. Why? Because they managed to oust the government liquor stores and stepped in to replace them. The citizens thought they were getting a free liquor market, but instead they got a new dictator. In California, they sell liquor at a loss with prices so low that no one can compete. When local stores go out of business as a result, they won't have to worry about competition anymore. But that's a whole 'nother conversation, isn't it?

That's all I have to offer. I've got nothing more to say. I've given you everything I have. Plus, I've found that telling customers about the mess we're in concerning booze only infuriates them even more. We won't have Pappy on the shelf ever again. We have one bottle limits on Black Maple Hill. Laphroaig 10 is now $43 instead of $30. These conversations usually end in frustration, defensiveness, or anger.

I don't see anything changing in 2013. What will change, however, is my train of thought. I can't change the whisky world. I can't stop companies from raising their prices. I can't please everyone. I can't get everyone the bottle they want at the price they want it. All I can do is offer great customer service, advice, exciting new products, and education. That's where we'll be taking the Spirits Journal in 2013. More information you can use. Less information about a trend that none of us can stop.

The only way anything changes is when people stop spending, but that's not happening - not here, at least. If you're upset about the rising price of whisky, the only thing you can do is stop buying it. I heard from some customers today who told me about their plans to stop purchasing whisky in 2013 as a protest. That being said, if you're no longer buying whisky, then why should the whisky companies care about what you think? Kind of a Catch 22. You want the companies to make more whisky that you like, yet you've pledged to stop giving them your money. Meanwhile, millions of new drinkers have taken your place. What can you really do?

My advice for 2013 is to find a whisk(e)y you can still enjoy and start enjoying it. Stop worrying about what you can't get and can no longer afford. There's always something else, believe me. Focus on the positives and let the negative aspects of this business slide off you. I love writing. I used to love writing this blog. It's time to stop writing about all of these problems so I can start enjoying it again. It's time to work harder in the name of good booze.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Dec272012

Looking Forward to 2013?

Price increases scheduled for Jan 1st, as follows:

-Macallan 12

-Eagle Rare 10

-Elmer T. Lee

-Blanton's

-Peychaud's Bitters

-Rock Hill Farms

-Regan's Bitters

-Tequila Forteleza

.....and many, many more! In all honesty, most of these increases are in the neighborhood of 60 cents to $3 per bottle, so you probably won't see all that much change in your everyday market. However, to anyone waiting for prices to start dropping, I wouldn't hold my breath.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Dec262012

K&L Awards 2012: Whisk(e)y of the Year?

Yes. We do have one. We weren't going to do a "best" anything this year, but after retasting this bottle we decided that if any whisky deserved it, this was the one. We tasted close to a thousand whiskies this year and we kept coming back to this bottle. It wasn't the most extreme, the most over-the-top, the craziest, or the rarest. It was a whisky that we thought just about anyone could enjoy and actually lived up to the price tag.

There’s a lot of weight thrown behind the term “Best Whisky of the Year.” When whisky critic Jim Murray called Old Pulteney 21 the best single malt of 2012, we sold through hundreds of bottles in few hours. That’s fine for Jim to say because he’s not the one selling you the bottle. He can say whatever he wants and no one will accuse him of trying to increase his liquor sales. When we at K&L throw around a phrase like that, there’s a lot of responsibility that goes along with it. We can’t easily play favorites - especially when it happens to be a K&L exclusive. Clearly, there are many great whiskies on our shelves. What makes one better than another?

In our opinion, for any whisky to be considered the “best,” it must be accessible. Anyone who likes whisky of any kind should be able to enjoy it. At the same time, it should be interesting and complex, historic,  but not esoteric. The best whisky of the year should also be special. It should be unique. It shouldn’t be something that tasted the same in 2010 or 2011. It can't be super peaty, or ultra-sherried. It needs to be good enough to entice any kind of whisky drinker. At the same time, it can't be obvious.

In the case of the this particular whisky, it also happens to be very limited. As a single barrel expression, the whisky is limited to the number of bottles able to be drawn from the cask. However, when you call a whisky “the best whisky of the year,” there should also be enough to go around. There’s nothing worse than hearing about something amazing, only to find out that it sold through in minutes.

David and I have both agreed that one whisky we tasted this year is better than all the rest. Adhering to the above criteria, we do have one unanimous selection that has won over the two of us, our entire staff, our owners, and everyone else who has been lucky enough to taste it so far. The flavors are subtle, haunting, and refined. The sherry aromas are present, but they’re not overpowering. The caramel aromas drift effortlessly out of the glass. On the palate the richness slides from candied fruit to hints of sherry rancio and rich vanilla. The finish starts slow, then comes racing on the back end, coating the tongue with delicious malty goodness. The entire experience is a soft and soothing wave of everything that three decades on a slow simmer can offer the single malt drinker. The whisky is utterly divine.

We have not yet released this whisky. It will be available this weekend and we will have roughly 500 bottles of it - all available at K&L only.

It is not inexpensive, but in the case of this particular whisky, the price is definitely worth it. It is over 30 years of age and is a product of slow, refill sherry maturation. There is no peat. No high alcohol power, despite being bottled at cask strength.

We'll let you know what it is this weekend (if you haven't guessed already). We've already told you about this whisky, but we deliberately held back our praise because we wanted to do a big year end celebration and we wanted to have enough left. If we would have come out and said, "Best whisky of the year" in August, we would have 1) sold through the pre-order allocation much faster and 2) still had four whole months left to possibly taste something better. Now that it's the end of the year and we're done tasting new whiskies, we're ready to stand by our earlier assessment.

There can be only one. This is definitely it.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Dec232012

Holiday Booze

I've always been of the mindset that big holiday occasions are not the time for fancy bottles. I've written that numerous times here on this blog. That being said, as long as you're comfortable with drinking your most prized possessions, there's no reason to save them either. Usually I try and talk people out of drinking Port Ellen with their family because their family won't necessarily understand what they're being given. I think Christmas is the worst day of the year for a twenty minute explanation about the 1983 Diageo closures and how rare that whisky in their glass is. Still, great spirits shouldn't be enjoyed in solitude. You're supposed to share them with others and enjoy them with friends. My Dad and I will be breaking out all the fancy stuff tomorrow because I want to drink them with my Dad. Great Champagne, great Brunello, great Bourbon. No booze talk. Just a quick salute and then down the hatch.

So, to amend any previous statements I made about holiday drinking, don't bring anything you have to explain, but don't hoard it away either. Just drink it. This is what you bought it for, right? For days like tomorrow?

When I take a sip of my first Champagne glass tomorrow morning, I will quietly send out a big thank you to everyone who reads this blog. Happy holidays to those who take the time to contemplate our drinking culture and email me those very contemplations. It fuels the fire at K&L. David and I are very blessed to have such a passionate group of spirits fanatics in our lives. We love all of you and wish you all the best this holiday season.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Dec232012

Dude...Just Let Me Help You

Sometimes when I go to the local taquería (either Pancho Villa in San Mateo or Chavez Market in Redwood City) I order my food in Spanish.

Me puede traer dos tacos de carnitas, por favor.

Oh...you speak Spanish?

That's right. I'm not just some normal, every-day, run-of-the-mill white boy. I've got an inside track into your culture. I'm cool. However, most of the time the worker will just keep speaking in English.

What kind of salsa do you want on that?

La salsa roja y el pico de gallo picante también.

This exchange will go on until it's clear that the little game of guero loco speaking Spanish while the latino worker speaks English is getting tiresome. I know exactly what they're thinking: "Dude...I speak English. We could just be doing this in English and it would be much easier and much faster." But no. I need them to know that I speak Spanish. See all those other customers in line? They order in English. But not me, compadre. I get it, you see. I took some classes. Practiced. Now I can order my food in Spanish. I see that you speak Spanish. Let me show you.

We've been very busy at K&L this week for the pre-holiday rush. I've been helping numerous customers in the booze aisle, which means I've been running into my own cultural roadblocks.

Sir, can I help you find something in the Cognac section?

Hmmm...actually, I see you don't have Hine or Remy Martin. Is this all the Cognac you have?

Yes, we've actually started going to Cognac ourselves and working directly with the farmers who do the actual production.

(skeptical) Well, it's just that I've never heard of any of these producers. I've lived in France, you see, and I used to drink Cognac all the time. I've actually been to Cognac. My wife and I took a trip there last summer and we visited a lot of these places.

That's great. What I try and do is find smaller producers that I think our customers might really enjoy. You've probably never heard of them because they're very small and they're not carried by any other retailer in the U.S. That being said, it's my job to tell you why they're amazing and worth your time. I think you'd really enjoy this Jacques Esteve bottle.

Right. But I've lived in France. Even when we lived there, I don't remember seeing any of these brands. We used to go to a small shop in Paris, they had hundreds of selections, and I don't remember seeing any of these. I took a class once about Cognac and the teacher talked about many different producers and I don't think these were in that class.

...

What I really like is the Delamain, you know? I don't really like big house Cognac, but I think that Delamain is one of the better producers. When we went to Delamain last year......

...

...but I see you don't have Delamain. Have you ever thought about bringing in some of the Hine selections? I think if you tasted them against some of the selections you have here you might be really surprised. When we visited the estate last year, my wife met the head director....

...

I'm just going to order all my food in English from now on. I'm sorry for making things more difficult, taquería worker. I know you're just trying to help me get my food as best you can.

-David Driscoll