Too Much Positive Re-Enforcment (makes Jack an annoying whisky)

I have a problem with the way we analyze quality with booze. I've made that pretty clear on numerous occasions. I've always had a problem with awards, yet I've felt the need to dole a few out in order to give recognition to brands or producers I feel strongly about. I want them to get the recognition they deserve.

However, I have an entirely new problem with awarding medals or titles to wine and spirits: it's giving producers the idea that their product is better than it actually is. I'm no stranger to positive re-enforcement. I grew up in a gaggle of overachievers, many of whom believed the world existed to celebrate their eventual achievements. We believed this because we won trophies and awards that helped to cement this idea in our brains. However, when we actually went out and tried to get a job based on our "Who's Who Among America's High School Students" certificate, we were laughed out of the interview. That was the wake-up call for me. I realized I wasn't nearly as special as I had once believed.

I've watched the generation after mine struggle with the exact same dilemma, only worse. Now I'm watching it happen with booze. Immediately after a product wins some kind of recognition, I get an email in my inbox requesting that I reconsider my stance on their spirit.

Dear David,

I know that you haven't carried our products in the past, but seeing as we just won a Silver Medal at the Nassau County Spirits Convention, we think you might want to reconsider.

Guess what? I don't. I didn't like your product then (that or I didn't think I could sell it at K&L) and I still don't like it now.

The above scenario is a garden variety response, representing a mild and generic example of what can happen when a company wins a meaningless spirits award. I've dealt with much worse, however. After last year's Good Food Awards, a competition that merely recognizes producers for making quality booze without artificial ingredients (and of which I am a chairperson), I was chewed out by a gin distillery for not carrying their product after they received an award. They literally said, "We won the competition. You are one of the judges. Why are we still not on the shelf at K&L?" matter what a panel of judges thinks, says, writes, or tweets, I still cannot find a consumer audience for your product. When I relayed this message back to this producer, things got nasty real fast.

The indignation after being told that you still don't have what it takes, despite a manila folder full of awards, certificates, and accolades, seems to be too much for many producers to handle. My question is this however: who's fault is it? Mine for letting you know that in an industry full of booze, I don't like yours as much as I like these fifty other products? Or perhaps the industry of spirits awards for leading you to believe that your product was better than it actually was?

You got a high SAT score? You got straight A's? You went to Berkeley? Great. Do you taste good on the rocks and come at a wholesale price that I think offers a competitive market value? don't.

"But I won an award!!! People think I'm good. Don't you get it?"

I get it just fine. The question is: do you?

-David Driscoll


Finally Here

Why These Three Casks Will Be The Most Important Whiskies We Sell All Year

Finally. After setting an ETA for October, then telling our pre-arrival customers that they would have their whisky no later than Thanksgiving, we have our last three barrels from Whisky Season 2012 in stock and ready to go. One of the most frustrating periods of my professional life has now come to a conclusion and we can finally start selling the whisky we told everyone about so long ago.

Here's the deal with these last three stragglers - they're the three most important whiskies we have in our inventory right now. I knew their value when we originally tasted them and I desperately wanted them to sell before Xmas, when customers related to us their love for both Lagavulin and Macallan, but wanted a unique and interesting substitute as a holiday gift.

"Can you wait until late January?" I'd say gritting my teeth and forcing a weak smile.

We all know that the Glenlochy cask represented the collector's item of the year. We know that the Port Ellen was the hot acquisition of the year (which is now finally reviewed elsewhere, for any non-believers out there). We told you the Glenfarclas casks were the "whiskies of the year" (also finally reviewed elsewhere for anyone who thinks we were embellishing). However, these were all very expensive whiskies. Like in the $300 to $600 range. Baller whiskies. Where were the values - the whiskies that delivered the bang for the buck? They were stuck on a boat, that's where.

Now, after multiple delays, they're finally here and available for the general public - albeit three months too late.

Why are these casks such a big deal? Let's do some analysis:

1993 GlenDronach 19 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $139.99 - Do you know how frustrating it is to sell Macallan 18 for $170 a bottle? It's painful. Macallan 18 is a $100 bottle of whisky on its best day. The Glendronach 19 is everything that the Macallan 18 wishes it could be, but never will. Huge sherry, big, rich, chewy textures, and a gum-smacking, mouth-filling finish full of raisined fruit at full proof. "No, we don't have anything else in that price range that's full of rich sherry flavor, sir." I'm so happy I no longer have to say that! This is the sherry-lover's dream come true. The only thing close we've had lately is the Isle of Arran 15 year old single sherry barrel, but even that fantastic whisky is no match for this Glendronach.

1984 Benriach 27 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Single PX Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $199.99 - I said it when we first tasted this at the distillery, and I'll say it again now - this is going to be the most popular whisky we sell all year.  Easily. This is the flavor profile people absolutely crave. The amount of smoke and the sherry intermingling together in this ancient Benriach is simply unparalleled by any other available single malt on the market. There's nothing this smoky that has this level of sherry that I can think of. Imagine old peated, sherried Brora and that's the closest thing I can imagine. I'm going to have to hand out a free pair of Depends for any customer who purchases a bottle because some people might actually crap their pants after tasting it. I was so bummed we didn't have this around for holiday gifts last year, but what can you do? It still tastes good now. Hopefully you didn't spend all your Christmas cash yet!

1998 Glen Garioch 14 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - Again, much like the the above two whiskies, there is nothing on the market that tastes quite like this whisky right now. However, while the other two whiskies represent something very specific (heavy sherry, peated sherry) the Glen Garioch offers a mealy, grainy, beery character that I simply do not taste in any other distillery's distillate. Add the fact that this whisky throws a faint whisper of peat on the finish and you've really got one of the most interesting and dynamic single malt selections in the store. I plan on making this my house bottle for the next few months. I've been craving it like nothing else lately, so I was very happy to wrap my arms around this bottle when I came to work today.

Three whiskies. Three incredibly late deliveries. Three wonderful choices for those of you who haven't spent enough on booze already. I've got my Macallan 18 substitute. I've got my "I like Lagavulin, but I want to try something new" selection. I've got my "what are you drinking right now?" bottle as well. Seeing that those are three of the most commonly asked questions I get as spirits buyer here at K&L, that makes these the three most important whiskies currently in stock.

Come and get 'em.

-David Driscoll



It seems that most people who write about booze like to reflect on the year that was, rather than look ahead to the year that will be. I read (and wrote) many different takes on what 2012 meant to the world of whisky drinkers. It's fun to look back on all the special releases, the big news stories, the whiskies we bought or didn't buy (or couldn't buy), and try to summarize it all in one nostalgic piece of prose. However, I haven't read any resolutions, yet. Isn't that what the New Year is for? A fresh start? A new beginning? I'm currently wondering what 2013 is going to mean for the booze business, and I don't mean retailers, distilleries, and special editions. I'm asking what we're all going to do to in 2013 to improve the way we appreciate and enjoy our liquor collectons.

Here's what I'm going to try to work on:

- I'm going to buy booze that I need rather than booze that's scarce. If there's a limited edition bottle of Scotch out there that must be purchased immediately, yet I'm still sitting on thirty other open containers at home, I'm going to pass and get another bottle of gin instead. I don't need that pressure anymore. As a retail buyer, I'm going to try my hardest to alleviate this pressure from my customers as well. I'm planning to bring in so many different single barrel, limited bottle releases that absolutely no one can afford to get them all. That way the focus won't be on any one "must-have-it" whisk(e)y and we can all get back to buying booze when we need it rather than feeding the monkey.

- I'm going to organize tastings that promote socialization and conversation rather than analysis and note-taking. One of the biggest problems (in my opinion) with drinking whisk(e)y is that we seem to be doing it at home and we seem to be hoarding every last drop. I sell you a bottle, you bring it home to open it, carefully nursing it and taking inventory on the current levels. When we have tastings at K&L or at restaurants, they're always educational and promoted by one particular brand. We end up hearing a sales pitch or a history of the distillery, rather than just shooting the shit. Booze is meant to be a social thing. I want to organize parties or evenings where whisk(e)y drinkers gather to drink quality whisk(e)y and simply talk – about sports, life, relationships or current events, not just about whisk(e)y. Luckily, I may have found a partner who shares this vision and is willing to work with me. There's a bar near my house who may allow me to take it over once a month for just this type of get-together.

- I want to increase our business by helping people to form a quality relationship with alcohol, rather than slashing prices, monopolizing new releases, and trying to continually out-do last year's crop of single barrel expressions. It's getting tiresome and it's an outdated model. Eventually, we're going to plateau and what will happen then? Some younger, faster, smarter liquor buyer with technology we don't know about will emerge and make David and me look like two old farts. Alcohol isn't a competition. Business is. I want to keep these two worlds completely separate. It sets a bad example for those just getting into the hobby.

- I want to maintain an informative blog without forcing people on to one side of the fence. I have a pushy personality that can unconsciously present everything as a black or white choice. If something irritates me, I end up sharing it on the blog. While that has proved entertaining for a number of readers, it's presented in a way that I personally no longer enjoy because I'm embarrassed by my insecure motives. If I honestly analyze why I'm writing something so divisive, it's because I want readers to agree with me. I want them to like the producers I like and hate the ones that I hate, be offended by what offends me and take issue with what I take issue with. Doing so allows me to feel more comfortable about my feelings and continue my train of thought. While I think I'm creating a provocative new post, I'm really just looking for affirmation that my way of thinking is correct. Hopefully, making a case on the blog will bring readers over to my perspective, which allows me to further believe that I'm right. It's egotism at it's finest, yet I'm able to justify it as news or perspective. I'd like people to read what I write because it helps them to better enjoy their booze, rather than because it's controversial or funny.

What are you going to do in 2013 to be a better person and a better ambassador for the liquid you love?

-David Driscoll


What Ever Happened to....

Dear David,

I remember you once saying something about ________ in your blog and/or email newsletter. Is that still happening?

Ah yes. Mr. Othenin-Girard and I sometimes get so excited about a new project that we can't wait until it actually shows up to tell the public. We have to let everyone know right away! Then problems arise. The wheels turn slowly. Deliveries are missed. Connections are crossed. Months and months later, we've almost completely forgotten about what was once big news. Here's an update on all those vague K&L booze plans we had at one point.

K&L Exclusive Karuizawa Casks - These are on my desk as we speak. We secured these barrels almost a year ago. Getting them past the U.S. government has been a nightmare however. The importer has been asked questions like, "What was the original proof when the whisky first came off the still?" Really? The government needs to know these things? They'll get here eventually, but it's slow going. We still plan on being the first (and only?) store to offer Karuizawa in the U.S.

K&L Exclusive 11 Year Old Single Barrel Tequila - Yes, this is still coming. Jake Lustig and I are working on a label and the barrel has been selected. We decided to go with a 1999 vintage tequila that really showcased what more than a decade of slow-aging can do for the spirit. We still plan on being the first retailer (ever?) to offer a single barrel tequila of this maturity. Eventually.

K&L Exclusive Royal Lochnagar - This is still happening, but we're working on importation. No, this is not via Diageo. Ha! "Via Diageo," as if there were such a thing!

Faultline Bourbon - Labels are done. Booze is ready to go. Just need government approval and we're on our way. We're looking at a marriage of two different LDI whiskies to create our own unique small batch whiskey. It will be here. Eventually.

K&L Exclusive Glendronach 19 year, Benriach 27 year, Glen Garioch 14 year? Should all be ready on Monday!

Am I forgetting anything else? 

-David Driscoll


New Stuff

It's been so long since I've done my actual job I've almost forgotten what it entails. Tasting products, making notes, and posting photos on the blog? I haven't had time to do that since late October! Here are some new things that might interest y'all.

Duncan Taylor returns! They're now with my man Val over at JVS so we'll be expanding our selection. The stocks at Duncan Taylor are of serious quality. There is very little in their portfolio that doesn't measure up to the best independent bottles on the market. These selections are no different. We've got a few more on the way, but these are the first three to have landed.

1996 Longmorn 16 Year Duncan Taylor Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $115.99 -
Delicious, classic, unsherried Speyside whisky from perhaps the best distillery in the region. This Longmorn is full of sweet malted barley with accents of fruit and flowers, finishing with hints of vanilla and spice. Another reason to love Longmorn, as we continue to mourn its scarce availability and long for it here in the States.

1993 Glen Keith 19 Year Old Duncan Taylor Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $139.99 - Currently out of production, the Glen Keith distillery has been lying dormant since the mid-90's, but the whisky continues to live on in the independent world of single malt barrels. This is a spectacular example of what the distillery can offer - soft fruits, heather and flowers, sweet grains, and a pleasantly rich finish. The low 50's proof makes this quite drinkable right out of the bottle.

1996 Macallan 15 Year Old Duncan Taylor Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $139.99 - Unsherried, but full of round, supple, malty goodness. A nice break from the normally Oloroso-saturated style of the venerated Highland distillery.

Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch Bottled in Bond Straight Kentucky Bourbon $44.99 - I was bit on the fence about this Bourbon at first, but something really clicked after tasting it again yesterday. At first I thought it was just Old Weller Antique, but at a higher price. After another go Tuesday night, there really is much more to like about this whiskey. The richness is really quite lovely and it stays with you longer into the finish. After drinking it next to the OWA, there's really no comparison. The Taylor Small Batch isn't a hot deal, but it is a lovely Bourbon. I'm probably good for one after my next paycheck.

Glenfiddich Malt Master's Edition Single Malt Whisky $79.99 - This is Glenfiddich's answer to Balvenie and Aberlour - a double-matured single malt that began in oak and was finished in sherry. What I have to love about this whisky is that it's a total sleeper. Not one of us (and you know you're included in this) is really too excited about this release, but I've found the limited editions from Glenfiddich over the last few years to be quite good. This is far better than Balvenie's 17 Year Doublewood. Given the lack of an age statement, I'm sure it's not nearly that old, but it still tastes better than 17 year old Balvenie. At $80, it's far less expensive as well.

1985 Bruichladdich DNA Single Malt Whisky $599.99 - I'm nervous for people to buy this whisky because of the expectations that come with $600 booze. People assume it's going to be some amazing new flavor that completely surpasses anything that would normally cost $100 or even $200. That's not this whisky. The DNA is old-school, classic, no-frills, wonderfully-balanced, gentle, delicious Bruichladdich. They haven't released anything like this in the last five years that I can remember. That's why it's expensive. Whereas the Legacy release represented a marriage of whisky barrels about to go over the hill, the DNA is as fresh and alive as anything I've tasted recently. Imagine an old 27 year Stitzel-Weller Bourbon that wasn't overly wooded and was brimming with fresh whiskey spirit. It would be worth at least $300 to $400 if not more. This is the Bruichladdich version of that.

-David Driscoll