Collective Nostalgia

When John Travolta starred in a low-budget film called Pulp Fiction back in 1994, it reignited the much-maligned actor's career and catapulted him back to the top of Hollywood's A-list. While John was a huge star in the 1970's with musical and dance hits like Grease and Saturday Night Fever, he was never celebrated for his wonderful acting. In the 1980's, with the fall of disco,  the Stayin' Alive icon had gone completely out of fashion. The only reason we even know what happened to him is because of Bruce Willis's take on the inner-baby monologue in the horrible Look Who's Talking series of films. After Quentin Tarantino featured him as the stoic hitman Vincent Vega, people began to remember they had always loved Travolta's acting.

There's a certain part of us that loves to get nostalgic about our yester years. We romanticize the past and remember events as more fun or significant than they perhaps actually were. It happens to me almost every day. Sometimes, however, this phenomenon happens collectively with the general public and pop culture.  It becomes fashionable to get overly nostalgic about things and inflate their actual sense of worth. That's how John Travolta was able to make movies like Get Shorty and Primary Colors after a decade of playing second-fiddle to Kirstie Alley.

Another example of this collective nostalgia happened with music in the late 1990's. Women vocalists were back! Not that they'd ever really left, but you'd think they must have. Now they were finally getting their due. Singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan started a concert festival called the Lilith Fair where all of these unsung feminine heroes would gather together and perform. It was a great thing for artists like Jewel, Tracy Chapman, and Shawn Colvin. If you were a girl with a guitar, you had a good chance of making it big. For me, however, it started to get out of hand when VH1 created a show called Divas where people began bowing down, literally doing the "we're not worthy" thing, to singers like Gloria Estefan and Chaka Khan.  It's one thing to celebrate the amazing careers of Tina Turner or Aretha Franklin, but I don't think the Miami Sound Machine or Rufus were ever on that level. Nevertheless, VH1 was capitalizing on pop culture's nostalgia fever, digging up has-beens from the past and parading them out on stage so we could all remember how legendary they really were (or weren't).

I like John Travolta. I like Gloria Estefan. They're entertaining performers. I think Chaka Khan's take on "I Feel For You" is way better than Prince's original version. However, I think these artists were given more credit than they deserved because they capitalized on the sentimental nostalgia of the public at the right time.

What does this have to do with booze?

I think collective nostalgia happens when people as a whole begin to tire of the status quo. They say things like, "when I was a kid, they made real movies," while watching some Lindsay Lohan flick with their daughter.  We start to celebrate the past when the present doesn't provide us with the same satisfaction. It might be that present day movies do stink, or it might be the fact that we're older and out of touch. Nevertheless, I'm wondering: when is it going to be cool to enjoy blended Scotch whisky again? When is this bubble going to get so out of hand - bottles that are hard to get, prices moving ever skyward - that we start looking back at cheap blends and remembering how much fun we used to have pouring a glass and chatting with friends?

I used to go through Scotch bottles in college like water.  It was such a blast. I'm getting nostalgic just writing about it now. The whisky wasn't that great, but the experiences were. That's ultimately what we're looking to recreate. Seeing Travolta back on screen reminded people of the old disco days that they were supposed to forget, just like I'm supposed to be proud that I've graduated to more sophisticated liquor.  Sometimes, however, it's fine to admit to yourself that the embarrassing experiences from the past weren't really all that embarrassing.  When everyone admits this together, it's cathartic. 

So come on.  Shake your body.  Do that conga.  Let's pay some respect to the great blends of the past, that maybe weren't all that great, but at least provided us with some fond memories.

-David Driscoll


Rare Whisky Found Underneath K&L Warehouse

Our own Armando Santos and Joe Manekin were digging out behind the Redwood City store when they came upon something very special. It appears that years ago a major retailer was sitting on cases of something called Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Whisky, a popular Scotch from some time past.  The Mackinlay's itself was a recreation of another old whisky discovered underneath the Antarctic hut of the Shackleton exploration team. Scientists had the whisky sent back to Scotland where it was analyzed and recreated into a special, limited edition release by Whyte & MacKay.  Somehow, those cases must have been lost underneath the back warehouse until discovered by Armando while shoveling for no apparent reason.

Unlike the Whyte & MacKay team, we will not be recreating the whisky underneath our warehouse.  We will be selling the actual whisky!  For an all new low price of $122.99.  It appears that when this whisky was last sold (way back in 2011), it was priced at $159.99.  Our rediscovery of this whisky is cause for serious celebration, so we're knocking it down by almost $40 a bottle.  Please be a part of this magical moment - the rediscovery of a whisky that is a recreation of another discovery.

In all seriousness, it's a smokin' hot deal. Limited time only.

-David Driscoll


No More Ebay Booze Auctions

I've received a few emails over the past few days about this topic, so I thought I'd type up some quick thoughts here.  I've posted a few things here and there on various websites to help people understand what's been going on, but I might as well do it here too.  As of a few days ago, the craziness that was the Ebay liquor auction world has been shut down. Many are blaming the hysteria surrounding a 20/20 news story about a kid who was able to purchase vodka via the website. That may have sparked the attention of the TTB, but underage drinking is not the reason these auctions were eventually halted. I'm not 100% sure of this, but I'm going to put myself out there and say that these auctions were stopped because selling alcohol without a license is entirely illegal.  Not only is selling alcohol illegal for private parties, so is shipping it!  Regular people cannot sell alcohol without a license. Regular people cannot ship alcohol without a license.  If you walk into FedEx, UPS, or the post office and tell them you're shipping alcohol, they will not do it for you.  If someone out there knows otherwise then please send me an email, but I'm pretty sure that's how it works. Then there's the huge minefield that is state law.  Some states allow booze to be shipped in.  Others do not.  There is enough obscurity in these laws to feed a small legal firm for the next ten years, so it's really difficult to understand all the ins and outs. However, California law is pretty clear:

Given that only licensees may engage in activities for which a license is required, all sales transactions involving Third Party Providers must ultimately be conducted by and under the control of a licensee. This includes decisions concerning the selection of alcoholic beverages to advertise or offer for sale, the pricing of those beverages, and the ultimate acceptance and fulfillment of the sales transaction.

Now that these auctions have been shut down, what does that mean for demand? Since scalpers were purchasing these bottles, looking for a return on their investment, what will happen now that their main forum has been closed?

I don't know to tell you the truth. Most of the people I talk to are drinking their Pappy or giving it to friends, but I don't really know what actually happens once they leave the store. I don't think it's going to end the demand, however.  People still want these bottles like nothing else.  The poor Van Winkles can't win no matter what happens.  First, people were upset that the sky-high prices on Ebay were keeping everyday consumers priced out.  Now, people are complaining that Ebay was the only way to actually get a bottle.  No matter what happens, you can't please everyone.

I'd expect this madness to continue. Trophy hunting is more about bragging than profiting, isn't it?

-David Driscoll


Bordeaux Writing Today

I'm over at the K&L Wine Blog today, if you want to meet me for a drink.

-David Driscoll


K&L to Donate Profit from Jefferson's Ocean

Ohhhhhhh, you gotta love the whisky blogosphere! People are out there on their computers being passionate about whiskey, voicing their opinions, talking about the state of the market, and chiming in on the issues we all face as certified whiskey fanatics.

Like this thread, for example, on the always entertaining message board - Straight Bourbon.

What happened here?  Let me tell you. The demand for the impossible-to-find, incredibly-sought-after Jefferson's Ocean Aged Bourbon was out of control. I was personally getting over twenty emails a day from customers all over the country looking to score a bottle of this elixer, not to mention the voicemail and the forwarded messages from our customer service department. I spent more time returning emails about the Jefferson's Ocean Bourbon than I did ordering products for the K&L chain of retail outlets. It consumed much of my freetime for weeks. All of this work, tons of typing, loads of explaining, for a whiskey we had yet to get and might not ever actually obtain.

Finally the news came. We were going to get one bottle of Jefferson's Ocean Bourbon. One whole bottle. I had responded to at least four hundred emails from new, virgin K&L customers, telling them we were planning on holding a raffle for our bottles. Now that "bottles" had become one bottle, a raffle of over 1,000 people seemed ridiculous. Because, you see, we already have a huge list of loyal K&L customers.  When you add on the newcomers who simply wanted the Jefferson's Ocean, you're talking about a gigantic pool of consumers. It would mean multiple days worth of work between myself and David OG to organize, instigate, and manage a fair raffle with this much consumer interest. I don't think anyone, neither our customers, nor the most stingy whisky geeks on the blogosphere, could argue that K&L drop everything - all of our orders for regularly stocked booze items, our importation of exclusive single malts, our negotiations for more interesting spirits, our time to help customers make smart booze decisions - just to make sure that one bottle of Bourbon is distributed in the fairest of possible means.

David OG and I talked a few times and decided we wanted to try an experiment. We're always testing the technology to find the easiest and nicest way to decide who gets things like Pappy Van Winkle or George T. Stagg.  We've done email notifications. We've done online-only sales (hackers crashed the entire server). We've done raffles.  We've done first-come, first-served.  Few customers have ever been entirely happy with the result (except for those who get the bottles, of course!).  We have gone out of our way to let everyone have a chance, not wanting to simply hook up our best friends. "Let's try the auction," we said. We had a point to make. We wanted to show people what would happen if we left the distribution of rare whiskey up to pure, unadulterated capitalism.

People didn't like it. Neither did we, however. A process that excludes many customers is never fulfilling. We had been previously worrying ourselves sick, spending hours if not days, deciding which measures would most fairly distribute our strictly-allocated products, only to see those same bottles pop up on Ebay minutes later. If the highest bidder was going to decide the final ownership of these hard-to-find whiskies, why not just facilitate the process ourselves?  As we all know now, the Jefferson's Ocean sold for over $1,000 on the K&L auction site.  That message was heard loud and clear across the whisky world.  As my friend SKU would later go on to say,

Everyone mark this moment when an independently bottled bourbon originally listed for $90 sold for over $1,000. This, more than any single event, marks the end of the golden age of whiskey and portends the crash.

Most of our customers have no idea how crazy this whiskey game is getting. We try and let everyone know that we appreciate their business, but that we simply cannot accommodate every request for the rarest of the rare.  We wish we could!  We can't. The Jefferson's auction, however, was the perfect way to illustrate exactly what is happening to the Bourbon industry. I knew it would take $1,000 to secure that bottle. I wasn't surprised in the slightest.  In fact, I thought it would go for even more.

So what now?  Is K&L just a money hungry company looking to exploit the market?  Come on. You know us better than that.  The extra money we made on that auction is not going into the company coffer.  It's going to a good cause.  We'll be cutting a check this week for a local charity that will receive the extra $900 we made from the Jefferson's auction. We never planned on keeping it, however, it did provide some important research for our auction department that has been looking into spirits development (booze = big bucks). I never thought we needed to actually tell people what our plans were, but it seems like that information might help ease some minds.

We're moving on. We're sticking with a raffle for the upcoming Pappy products as well as the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bottles.  However, we're hoping people are paying attention.  We've got customers willing to pay over $1,000 for a whiskey originally scheduled to retail at $90. That's the demand we're facing. Until the hype dies down, it's only going to get tougher for whiskey fans to get these precious bottles. I'm still hoping to find the best and fairest way to distribute them to our wonderful customers, but in the meantime, I'm happy that one local charity will have close to a thousand dollars to work with for a worthwhile cause. If we can't make the stakes even, we'll at least make them worthwhile.

-David Driscoll