Focusing on the Grey Areas

One of the subjects I wanted to start shying away from writing about this year was the topic of industry business - or at least from sounding off against what I feel is unscrupulous behavior. I know a lot of people have loved reading the rants against annoying business practices, but as enjoyable as they might be (and as cathartic as they are to write), they're giving some people the wrong idea about alcohol.

Everything I read on the whisk(e)y blogosphere these days seems to be black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, yes or no. Everything is absolute. I remember having to respond to a message board post some months ago where someone said the K&L Spirits Journal doesn't have any credibility because it's run by a retailer trying to make money. Basically, I'm not forced to uphold any type of journalistic integrity. However, while this is entirely true, it doesn't mean that anything I write is automatically disqualified because I have a stake in the game. It's not one or the other.

This type of characterization is what I'm worried about. It makes me embarrassed to be a blogger. The truth is that the K&L spirits blog exists in a shade of grey. We report the situation as we see it and write about the topics that we're interested in for the sake of our customers. The whole point of the blog is to help people that shop at K&L make more educated decisions by offering more perspective, not report the news. However, the K&L Spirits Journal is now being read by people all over the country, most of whom cannot shop at K&L due to shipping restrictions. Therefore, even though we're writing for our own customers, we end up reaching many, many others who enjoy keeping track with the latest events.

What's disconcerting me right now is the polarization I'm witnessing from enthusiasts of all types who seem to think I told them to feel this way. I recommended a bottle of Clynelish Distiller's Edition to a customer the other day who told me, "that can't be good because it's from Diageo. They make super commercial slop." Uhhhh......well......this is really good. Not that I don't have my own gripes with Diageo, but I'll always put that aside for the sake of the customer. Clynelish is one of my favorite distilleries. It's definitely not a mass-produced single malt. It's fantastic. Another situation came when I tried to recommend a bottle of the new Peyrot 18 year old Cognac to someone in the store. "That has boise in it, though. You said to avoid those." Well.....I did say that boise is often used by producers trying to turn crap brandy into drinkable brandy, but I also said that some producers do it right. It's not necessarily absolute.

This is the same scenario that merlot found itself in after Sideways and blended whisky after single malt became popular. Merlot is bad. Blended whisky is bad. Didn't you hear? Yes, all of it. Every single drop. There are no good ones. I always remember David OG's comment to a customer when he said, "Petrus is made from merlot. Are you saying you don't like Petrus?!"

Ultimately, I don't want to offer any more ammunition for generalized and misinformed ideas about alcohol. When you write passionately sometimes people misinterpret your enthusiasm. My goal is to be more responsible this year. We're going to be offering some pretty interesting, behind-the-scenes reports as our travel plans take us abroad. Hennessey is definitely on my visitation list for Cognac because it's such a polarizing brand. Popular culture celebrates it to no end, while Cognac enthusiasts piss all over it. You ask anyone about Hennessey and it's either the best thing ever or the most overpriced, overrated hooch on the planet. I think the truth lies somewhere in between and I'd love to get to the bottom of it.

That's what I'm focusing on this year. The grey areas. As a consumer advocate (for K&L consumers that is), I want people to think critically and without prejudice if possible. That's not to say I won't step in if they're heading in a direction that will ultimately leave them dissatisfied. It's just to say that I think I'm partly responsible for giving some customers the wrong idea about booze. It's not black or white. Some blended whiskies are slop, others are magical. Some boise-laden Cognacs are heavenly, while others are a poor excuse for the name. Some whiskies will last forever, while others will oxidize quickly. Sometimes I simply report an interesting story, other times I might want you to buy something that we found in Scotland. Sometimes I taste a whiskey and it tastes great, then I revisit it later and it's not as impressive. And vice versa.

Not everything can be quickly summarized and easily categorized. This isn't science. Booze is an experience and there's room for many different interpretations.

-David Driscoll


Guerilla Promotion

I'm putting up more posters around the office.

We've sold 30 tickets so far! I'm pumped. Can't wait to party with all of you in San Mateo. Just a reminder - there are no paper tickets. Your name goes on to the guestlist, so don't worry about picking them up at will call.

-David Driscoll


The Salon is BORN!


It's finally here. The tasting bar of my dreams is here and it's a reality. The Salon is a new society I am creating with St. George's Dave Smith to bring the fun back to booze tastings. Our first event will be:

I (heart) Whiskey! @ The Vault 164 in downtown San Mateo - Saturday, February 16th 7PM - 9:30

Tasting Tickets can be purchased in advance here for $37The Salon presents "I (heart) Whiskey!" - a Valentine's Day celebration of American whiskey. The Salon is an attempt to introduce a new kind of spirits tasting to the Bay Area. Focusing on atmosphere, fun, and conversation, our goal is to present interesting whiskies in a fashion that promotes enjoyment rather than purely education. February's event will bring together two estranged distilleries for some romantic matchmaking. We'll be forcing Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill to join hands, share the dance floor, and learn to love one another. Evan Williams Single Barrel will pair off with Elmer T. Lee. The wheated twins - Weller 12 and Larceny - will consider their common interests. Rittenhouse and E.H. Taylor rye whiskies will see if they can get past the age gap and find true love. Six whiskies in all, along with snacks and appetizers from the Vault kitchen, make this the Valentine's Day party you won't want to miss. Classic romance films will be displayed on the Vault's many TV screens along with a soundtrack containing the best of mushy sentimentality. A limited number of friend/designated tickets are also available for $10. A full bar will be available for those who don't drink whiskey, so your loved one can still have fun by your side. Come meet your future spouse, or bring your current one with you, while you chat, mingle, and taste some great whiskey.

Designated Driver/Guest Tickets can be purchased here for $10 - For those accompanying their loved ones to our romantic "I (heart) Whiskey" tasting at the Vault 164 in San Mateo. $10 covers the entrance fee where the snacks and appetizers are available. Free non-alcoholic drinks will be provided to any designated drivers and a full bar is available for anyone who doesn't like whiskey. Gin and tonics, or just the tonic. We still want to party with you!

Any questions please email me at

-David Driscoll


LVMH - No Price Increases for 2013

Straight from the horse's mouth: "LVMH is not planning to raise the price on both Ardbeg and Glenmorangie in 2013. We'll revisit the idea next year, but as of now prices will remain the same."

Something to think about. Especially when GlenMo 18 is so delicious and at a great price. How long can they keep it up? Apparently for the entirety of 2013. Perhaps we should show some love for a company dedicated to keeping its whiskies fantastic and affordable. Lambaste the traveling rocket all you want, the kitschy publicity tours, the gimmicks, the price of the Pride, etc. LVMH is still bringing the goods for the money. Personally, I think the rocket is fun. If you're too cool to hang out with the rocket, you and I probably won't enjoy drinking whisky together.

-David Driscoll


What is the Salon? An Introduction

A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. -Wikipedia

For the past two years, St. George's Dave Smith and I have wanted to put together our own Salon in the Bay Area – an exclusive place where people could meet, talk, have a few quality drinks, and gather in a friendly, festive spirit of celebration. Of course, we could always just meet at a bar, but there's never enough room for everyone and you can't simply invite a hundred people over to your local hangout. We debated doing it at the Alameda distillery for a while, but the legalities were very hazy. We obviously couldn't do it at K&L. Every time we thought we had found a venue we wound up with some sort of roadblock. A bar or restaurant would be our only chance to pull off the Salon, but what kind of bar has that much space? What kind of restaurant would be willing to give us that type of room and offer up their own staff as well?

Enter The Vault 164.

Recently opened in downtown San Mateo, The Vault 164 is in a unique position to be the central headquarters of our Salon shenanigans. First off, it's close to my house. Second of all, they have a private dining room with a fully equiped bar at our disposal. Thirdly, I've been meeting with their private events coordinater and she and I are seeing 100% eye-to-eye: we both want to create fun, creative, unique, and exclusive tasting events unlike anything that anyone else is currently offering.

There will be music, multi-media, high quality booze, and plenty of tasty snacks on hand. There will be a limited number of tickets available. There will be a manifesto as well. The Salon is a place to socialize, not cower in a corner, taking pictures of your whisky glass with your iPhone while jotting down notes. We'll have plenty of time for that at our educational dinner events. The Salon is about bringing the social element back to booze. The Salon will be a party. A room full of people who love alcohol and love to have fun.

The details are simple. You buy a ticket for the Salon, we give you a punch card as you enter. That card is good for a limited number of 1 oz. pours from the buffet of booze that I will command. There will be a common theme and a thread linking each spirit to the next. For those who don't drink whiskey or are manning the wheel for the night, we will be offering a limited number of guest tickets for a much lower price. Guests are free to munch on snacks and receive free non-alcoholic drinks if they are driving. Guests can also order any number of non-whiskey, fully-alcoholic cocktails from the fully-functioning bar if they don't like the brown stuff.

All in all, we're looking at around 100 spots for our first Salon meeting which will take place on Saturday, February 16th at The Vault 164's private dining room on B Street in downtown San Mateo. Tickets are not yet on sale, but the fee will be $40 per person with a limited-number of guest tickets for $10. The entrance fee will cover six 1 oz. pours of six different Bourbons. Snacks and light appetizers will be available all night long. The doors will open at 7 PM and the event will run until roughly 9:30. Guests do not have to arrive right at the start, as pours will be rationed out and reserved in advance.

Sound like fun? Singles, couples, married folk - rejoice! The Salon is in full effect and we're going to make whisky tastings exciting again. Meet your future spouse or bring your current one with you. It is a party after all. Tickets will be on sale shortly, available via the K&L website.

Stay tuned!

-David Driscoll