Things That Can Affect Appearance

Yesterday's post about packaging got some interesting conversations going. My friend Steve Ury from SKU's Recent Eats had no idea it was such a big deal. He was totally flabbergasted by the response. I told him, "Steve, it is a huge deal for our customers, which is why we created an entirely new software add-on that allowed them to select 'include gift box' when checking out online." It took me a year to lobby ownership for that feature. I pleaded, begged, and nagged repeatedly to allow some type of function that would allow consumers to get their box, tin, or container with their shipment. "We are in the customer service business," I said. "Our job is to provide the service our customers ask for." If people wanted the box, we should find a way to get it to them.

However, there are simply some tasks that are out of our hands. Like when a customer asks for a flawless wine label when purchasing a bottle as a gift. Of course, if we have one we'll give it to them. But if a gift box or bottle is scratched, dented, or imperfect and the product itself is limited, there's nothing we can do about it other than offer the customer a refund or the choice of a different bottle. Wine bottles often arrive to us with imperfect labels because they're not transported on featherbeds. Bordeaux is perhaps the best example of this phenomenon because the rising prices have highly increased the desire for perfect labels. If you look at the photo above, you'll see the famous wooden crate that many of our top Bordeaux wines arrive in. 

This photo above allows you to see the way in which the wines are layed down inside the box. Both the neck and body (including the lower half of the label) are held in place by thin pieces of wood with holes cut that fit to form. If you imagine these boxes being packed in Bordeaux, sent in trucks down to the docks, carried at sea across the Atlantic, rising and falling with the crest of the waves, then unloaded and shipped to our store here in California, you can see the potential for some contact between the label and the wood. A smear, perhaps. A bit of wear. Maybe a bit of the printing has been rubbed off. 

Now imagine that each of these bottles will cost $500 a piece and all sixty from your available allocation have sold out on pre-order. Which customers get the smudged, nicked-up labels and which ones get the flawless ones? Yikes! I don't know!

With spirits we have more problems with packaging than with labels. Take the Carpano Antica vermouth containers for example. We frequently see requests from customers to include the tin with their purchase. Yet, only three of the six bottles are packaged with the tin (I cut a fresh box open, which you can see in the above photo). The same thing happens with Diplomatico Rum. Sometimes the bottles come in tins, sometimes they don't. With some products we don't always get the packaging that the customers are looking for.

Then there's the case of how whisky boxes are delivered. Many are packaged in thin cardboard without dividers or any kind of protection. Often the gift box itself is what protects the bottle, so it might wind up with a scuff or a tear. Sometimes the box is delivered with an open gash, sometimes the box has creased corners, sometimes the delivery guys have damaged the boxes in transit and taken them completely out of their gift boxes, repackaging them in a non-descript wine box with plastic wrap over the top. 99 times out of 100, when a bottle of wine has a scratch on the label, that scratch happened during transit. 99 times out of 100, when a whisky box or tin has a tear, scratch, or dent, that damage happened during transit.

The guys who pack Bordeaux wines in their wooden crates never foresaw a market that would desire flawless labels. If they did, they never would have chosen a mode of transit that would endanger the aesthetic of these labels. The same goes for our Karuizawa bottler. Those bottles came in flimsy, thin, easily-damagable cardboard and with plain khaki color with absolutely zero dazzle. They never expected people would care so much about their condition, so they didn't do anything special to adorn these bottles or protect them during shipping. That's why they were creased, wrinkled, and imperfect upon arrival. Why would it matter how they looked? If a label was off-centered? If a crease cut across the front of the sticker?

But it does.

I can always guarantee our customers my 100% maximum effort in helping them find the bottle they need. I cannot, however, guarantee that bottle will arrive in packaging that is 100% flawless and perfect in every way. I wish I could.

-David Driscoll


New Batch of McCarthy's Arrives

What is always one of the hottest whiskies of the year has finally arrived: the Fall 2013 batch of Steve McCarthy's Oregon single malt whiskey -- a lovely spirit made from peated Scottish barley that is fermented at a nearby Portland brewery and distilled at Clear Creek distillery. It's aged three years in Oregon oak and always tastes much more precocious than the statement suggests. The only time this whiskey has ever caught me off guard was with the last batch. For some reason the peat never really showed up and the oak was unbelievably dominant. It tasted like rapidly-matured quarter-cask craft whiskey, rather than the bold, smoky malt I've known for years. Thank goodness the McCarthy's is back in form with this more recent release. This version of McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey $53.99 has a heavy dollop of new oak vanilla and spice, but it's totally balanced by the smoke and phenolic elements. It's everything you want it to be, and it's a reminder of how good American single malt can be when we're dedicated to doing it the right way (which is the longer, more time-consuming, less-lucrative way). This batch proves that Steve McCarthy isn't just one of the best whiskey distillers in the country, but he's simply one of the best distillers in the business. This, plus his unreal framboise eau-de-vie we featured last week, should little doubt of that.

-David Driscoll


Whisky Box Blues

I had an email exchange recently with a friend about the new age of whisky consumerism, the one that prizes ratings over flavor and packaging over consumption. Unless you're a retailer, I don't think it's possible to understand how troubling this trend is. To give you an example: if a bottle of wine is worth $10, we don't hear too many complaints about the quality of the label attached to it. However, when we sell a bottle of wine for $300 there are a number of expectations from the consumer that extend far beyond the juice inside of it. Is the label centered? Are there any scratches or stains? Is the corner of the label peeling off? Any little fault can make or break a sale with discerning customers because they're buying an object to be displayed or gifted rather than a substance to be consumed.

All of this is taken to a new level, however, when it comes to whisky. Because many whisky bottles are packaged in tins or boxes, the collectable-minded customer is very, very interested in possessing these extra additions. When we're shipping bottles in tight, form-fitting, Styrofoam containers, there's little room for a canister or bulky box, which can seriously complicate things. To many buyers in the new age of whisky consumerism, the box is just as important as the bottle. Like an action figure collector who leaves the plastic model in the plastic, many collectors of whisky are not interested in a bottle without its packaging.

Now we know this trend with whisky is nothing new, but I can't even begin to stress how much more complicated it's becoming. If you were to look at my email inbox right now there are at least forty emails from customers related to a problem with whisky packaging. Where's the box? My box is wrinkled. I didn't get my container. The packaging was damaged in transit. And the fallout from the Karuizawa deal is absolutely insane. I'm getting emails from all over the world, asking if we have extra cardboard boxes or extra labels due to shoddy packaging jobs from third-party shippers. Because we are limited in the number states we can legally ship to, a number of collectors purchased bottles from us and had their friends take care of the shipping surreptitiously. When the packages arrived with smeared labels, leakage stains, or damaged cardboard, these guys immediately looked up my email and reached out about securing an extra display box or adhesive label. Not an extra bottle, mind you -- because the whisky arrived in fine condition -- but extra packaging, stemming from a problem that had nothing to do with K&L whatsoever.

I'm happy to provide any customer with any extras that should arrive with a bottle of whisky, be it a metal tin, a cardboard display box, or a wooden case. The expectation, however, that these extras should be automatically included, or shipped at no cost (but at a cost to K&L, of course) is a bit aggravating. Then, when we do include the packaging (some of the cheapest, flimsiest materials around, mind you), many consumers are often not satisfied with the condition in which it arrives because it can't have a ding, dent, or scratch on it. I'm at the point where I'm asking vendors to simply stop packaging their whisky in any type of container whatsoever. It's a huge headache for us and it's only getting worse.

This is why we're no longer including packaging for most of our K&L Exclusive single malts. Like our new Signatory whiskies, for example, which normally come in metal tins. We told them simply this year: "We're no longer interested in the packaging." Only bottles for us from now on, if we can help it. No tins with this year's crop, just the straight glass.

That way there's nothing to get upset about.

-David Driscoll


Whiskey-related Movie of the Month: Giant

We've all been there: you sit down to watch a movie and suddenly there's a whiskey bottle on the set. You start by looking for the brand label, the way the actors are drinking it, with ice or without, in a cocktail or as a shot, until eventually you've lost all track of the plot and your wife is mad at you for asking her about what happened. It's simply something we do as whiskey fans (I received at least four emails asking if I knew which Japanese whisky was used during the plane scene in the new Wolverine movie). Sometimes you become so inspired by the use of whiskey in a film that you can't help but hit the cupboard, grab a bottle, and pour yourself a glass as well. If the people on screen are drinking and having a good time, why shouldn't you?

This month's whisky-related movie is Giant (1956): the over-long, overly-ambitious Texan epic from George Stevens known mostly for being James Dean's final appearance. Until yesterday, I hadn't watched this movie since high-school, but I was interested in screening it again after briefly flipping through the final moments on AMC the other night. Flocks of nouveau-riche oilmen were clinking cocktail glasses and celebrating in a large banquet hall, while Rock Hudson and Jimmy Dean had their words in a giant supply room full of booze. As a teenager, I was more interested in the mystique behind these two men rather than all the liquor being consumed, but as the spirits buyer for K&L I was utterly transfixed this time around by how much Bourbon is guzzled during the three hours and twenty-one minutes this movie runs. There's a ton of Old Grand Dad orange label being drunk in Giant, amongst other various concoctions. At one point an inebriated Rock Hudson stirs up his own Bourbon punch recipe with what appears to be vermouth and other spices. Even the lovely Elizabeth Taylor herself gets into the brown water frequently.

No scene, however, is more bizarre and more hilarious than when a made-up-to-be-elderly Dean (who still looks twenty-four even with his gray hair and Clark Gable mustache) is so ridiculously drunk that he falls asleep during his big speech and completely biffs it over the stage table when he awakens. Even more bizarre and somewhat progressive are the racial themes concerning Texans and their treatment of native Mexicans, which often use Caucasian actors in "brown face" or goofy and rather laughable metaphors to make their point. But, hey, it was 1956. No one knew that big, tough, burly, all-American Rock Hudson was gay either. Nevertheless, there are plenty of redeeming moments in Giant, and definitely enough of them to justify spending more than three hours with a bottle of Bourbon on your living room sofa.

If you're looking for a bit of inspiration or just an excuse to whip up some Manhattans and hang out at home (there are some delicious looking Manhattans made towards the end of the film), then add Giant to your Netflix queue and watch some awfully-fine whiskey cinema. There are plenty of talking points, like how much James Dean resembles a young Brad Pitt and how much older Rock Hudson seems than thirty. Plus, there's a lot of whiskey on screen and it gets imbibed in numerous entertaining forms and fashions. By the end of the movie you'll be craving Texas barbecue and screaming "Yee-haw!"


-David Driscoll


48 Extra Bottles from Batch 1

Our first ever collaboration with Enrique Fonseca and Haas Brothers has arrived! The pre-orders have been filled and the notices have been sent, leaving us with an extra forty-eight bottles from our initial batch of Fuenteseca Reserva Extra Anejo tequila. We sold almost 400 bottles in less than 48 hours on the initial announcement. Now I've got one bottle left for each hour it took to sell through.

They're up for grabs as you read this.

If you miss out for now, or decide that you're not in the market for a $189.99 bottle of super old, super delicious tequila consisting of the oldest tequilas ever released to the general public, then don't fret. We're already working on Batch #2 that will be identical in formula to the first. I talked to Enrique this week and he said he had enough supply to make another 500 bottles of this recipe. How could I say no? Those bottles won't be here until Christmas time, so if you're curious, grab one of the initial release bottles by clicking the link above.

You won't be disappointed. It's truly amazing in every way.

-David Driscoll