Speaking to Luxury

On Monday afternoon, at approximately 3:30 PM, a luxury car and rented driver will be picking up K&L Champagne buyer Gary Westby at his home in Palo Alto. About thirty minutes later, that same car will drive north on Highway 101, exit at San Mateo, and cross El Camino Real, eventually stopping in front of my apartment. I will enter the automobile, acknowledge my colleague, close the door, and head east over the bay to Walnut Creek (hopefully sipping on Krug and Hennessey the entire way!) where we will terminate at the local Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. Gary and I will exit the car, enter the steakhouse, and make our way to the podium, where we will address a crowd of LVMH employees on the subject of luxury sales.  

Luxury. How do you sell it? Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey - a super company selling luxury handbags, luggage, couture clothing, high-end Champagne, Cognac, and single malt whisky. They've got luxury. They've got expensive. Do they have quality?

I think they've got it. They've got history as well.  Louis Vuitton made the first flat-bottom trunk in 1858, lining it with canvas and making it easily stackable for long voyages.  Hennessey is one of the most respected houses in the history of Cognac.  The same goes for Moet & Chandon with Champagne. Under their umbrella are other producers as well, like whisky distilleries Glenmorangie and Ardbeg.  I don't have to say much about their reputations.  Bill Lumsden and Rachel Barrie have done enough.  The prices demanded from LVMH products are not utilitarian, however. These are status symbol items that garner respect, so their cost reflects both quality and desirability. It's not my place to tell people how to spend their money, so I don't care to comment on what I would or wouldn't spend my money on. My job is to evaluate quality and guide those who want an evaluation on it. Luxury is defined as: conducive to sumptuous living, usually a delicacy, elegance, or refinement of living rather than a necessity. In my professional opinion, that definition definitely applies to the LVMH portfolio.

Because we sell a good amount of Ardbeg and Glenmorangie, I've been invited to speak at this event. I'm actually quite honored to participate. K&L also happens to move quite a bit of Krug and Moet Champagne, so I'll have Gary Westby along side me.  They want to know our strategy for luxury sales.  My speech will be short and simple.  I've got one point and everything else will stem from this easy bit of advice: believe in what you're selling. If you're in the business of selling something, you'd better believe in your product – especially when that product costs hundreds to thousands of dollars. 

I lose sleep over my fifty dollar recommendations, let alone my hundred dollar suggestions.  When we released our Glenlochy cask, I was a wreck.  Four-hundred dollars for a bottle of whisky?  I loved every drop of that malt, but I still couldn't speak for the future opinions of others. I think it's worth that price, but will other people feel the same? How do you know what their expectations will be?  What if the whisky falls short?

As part of the outline, LVMH has asked me to address my business history and philosophy. I'm a former elementary school teacher with no business experience. I relate far more to the customer than the business owner. They've asked me to talk about the role of price in the luxury segment. Price had better have a rationale. Something can be expensive, as long as there's a reason for it. What type of expertise is needed to sell these expensive items? That's easy: you need to understand why it's expensive. I'm fine with something being expensive as long as there's an explanation. However, if a group of rich guys gets together in a boardroom and decides their whisky should be expensive, simply because they want to cater to other rich guys, that's bullshit. Luxury isn't decided. It simply is.

Eating a roasted dodo bird is a luxury. Drinking Armagnac from the 1800's is a luxury. It's also an experience and ultimately, that's what people are paying for – the chance to say, "I did something special."  If there's nothing special about the experience, then there's nothing luxurious about it. If you don't believe you're selling people a special and unique experience, then you're doomed. You're a snakeoil salesman without a rationale. You're about the money, not about the opportunity.

Making money and helping people don't have to be mutually exclusive. Doctors make money. Social workers make money. I do my very best to help people find great bottles of booze and that effort nets me a paycheck. My speech to LVMH will therefore be as follows: if you don't believe in the quality of LVMH products, and that they help make people feel special, then you shouldn't work on its behalf. It's always pretty clear when someone believes in what they're doing, or not.

I think Ardbeg makes some pretty great single malt whisky. As does Glenmorangie. That's why I have no problem selling them. I think they're good whiskies and I tell people exactly that. It's not all that complicated. As for their super high-end products, if someone wants a bottle of Glenmorangie Pride it's as tasty a $3500 whisky as I've ever had.  That's all I can tell you. The story of that whisky, however, needs to be told by LVMH.

-David Driscoll


Time to Relax

It's been a long, tough week. Time to grab a beer and call it a day. Have a great weekend.


Your friends in Redwood City.

-David Driscoll


New Aberlour 12 - NCF, Higher Proof

We've long felt that the Aberlour 12 year was one of the great deals in single malt at $35.99.  Now, Aberlour has stepped it up a bit by releasing their double-matured (like Balvenie, but not advertised as such) malt in a higher proof (48%), non chill-filtered edition.  The difference is remarkable.  It's so much better that I want to forget the normal Aberlour exists.  The fruit pops more, the richness is spicier, and the finish is longer.  I love high proof whisky that isn't cask strength and this is now a new favorite. Lots of sherry, lots of fruit Newton cookie, lots of goodness going on here - including the price.  Add this one to your bar, you won't be sorry. 

Aberlour 12 Year Old Non Chillfiltered Single Malt Whisky $49.99

-David Driscoll


Whisky Season is Here

If you ordered a bottle of the Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky on pre-order, we’ll be getting those organized and ready as soon as we can.  We're a bit behind at the moment, but our warehouse guys are working hard to get you your booze!  As soon as pre-arrival orders have been processed the whisky will be available on the shelf for purchase.  Hooray!

We tasted it earlier this morning and every single K&L employee in the Redwood City store has agreed: it’s amazing.  Kilchoman is the real deal and this is just more tangible proof.  No more pre-orders now that the bottles have arrived, so the price will now be $109.99.  Anyone who ordered one of these is going to be seriously stoked!  Anyone who wants one now can get one next week!  There’s a distinct lack of peated, sherry-aged whisky right now, so hopefully this scratches that itch.

In the meantime, if you’re just so excited about Kilchoman and you’re going to burst if you don’t get something new this instant, check out the new Kilchoman 100% Islay 2nd Edition Single Malt Whisky for $86.99Aged entirely in Bourbon casks, this whisky is light, lean, peppery, and full of citrus, much like a mezcal or blanco tequila.  I can’t wait for you all to taste the sherry-aged version of this when our cask arrives later this winter.  It’s soaking up all that richness as we speak.

Also wanted to make sure that everyone noticed the new calendar on the right-side margin of the page.  The tastings will be updated there from now on, so you don’t have to wait for the blog update.  Tonight is Aberlour and Scapa in Redwood City, while SF will host Bryan Davis from the Lost Distillery and his new smoky single malts.

Just a quick post today.  Cask one is here!  We’re pumped.  Get ready for more. 

-David Driscoll


Smooth Ambler's John Little

I have a feeling John Little and I are going to have some fun together over the next year.  His new Old Scout label has taken off here at K&L (can you say 500 bottles sold in four days?), he's got a new seven year old rye that we plan on bringing into stock tomorrow, and he's just a good guy that I want to hang out with. We'd never met in person until today, but our conversation ranged from whiskey, to professional wrestling, to the similarities between politics and booze. If he didn't have more appointments scheduled we probably would have kept talking for hours. 

I really like John's outlook on his Smooth Ambler distillery and where he imagines taking it. He's not a fan of white whiskey (he makes it because people ask for it, but he plans on discontinuing it soon), and he's getting a serious handle on the blending side. We're exploring a Faultline option already, as the few samples he had with him today were outstanding. I think if you listen to him talk about his products, you'll get an idea of what he's about.  He talks grain, quarter casks, and getting out of the white whiskey business.  It's a very interesting discussion. Watch him take us through the line up: