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K&L Spirits Tasting Schedule:

Weds from 5 - 6:30 PM

7/9 - San Francisco: No Tasting

7/9 - Redwood City: Ron Zacapa Rum

2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

1990 Glenfarclas K&L Exclusive Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER

Glenfarclas "The Faultline Casks" K&L Exclusive First Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER

1998 Laphroaig 15 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1983 Caol Ila 30 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Refill Sherry Hogshead Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW

1992 Bruichladdich 21 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1988 Balmenach 26 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER

1997 Benrinnes 17 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1997 Dailuaine 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER

1995 Glen Elgin 18 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1997 Glenlivet 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Butt Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1981 Glenlivet 32 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1996 Bowmore 16 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Bladnoch "Young" K&L Exclusive Heavily Peated Single Barrel #57 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Bladnoch 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive Lightly Peated Single Barrel #303 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

2005 Glenrothes 8 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1997 Glengoyne 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #172 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #74 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

2013 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky Still Available

2005 Island Distillery 7 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

2001 Royal Lochnagar 10 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

1995 Glendronach 18 Year Old Single PX Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

1994 Benriach 19 Year Old Single Bourbon Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

1989 Cragganmore 23 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1992 Longmorn 21 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1987 Mortlach 25 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1983 Miltonduff 30 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750m IN STOCK NOW!


The Importance of Independents/Independence Part III

Purchasing single malt casks through a distributor has proven to be a win/win situation for just about everyone.  If the buyer does their job right and selects a top-notch whisky, then the customers go home with an exclusive bottling, the retail store has a product with a fixed in profit margin, and the distributor gets a big sale with cash up front.  However, at the moment, there are close to zero options for privately bottled single malts through the main channels of distribution, directly from the distillery,  Bruichladdich is the only one I'm currently aware of that does a barrel program, but unfortunately their pricing isn't very affordable.  I can understand, however, why no one is interested in changing the format and rocking the boat here.  For some people, this industry seems to be very profitable the way it is at the moment.

Luckily for single malt consumers there are other channels available for purchasing their favorite whiskies.  Bottlers like A.D. Rattray, Signatory, and Chieftain's have been very successful as of late in tracking down some amazing barrels and bottling them at affordable prices.  They see the logic in working with retailers on pricing, as well as refusing to undercut smaller stores in favor of deals with big chains.  They are also distributed by small independents who don't view them as just another product in a gigantic catalog.  The true value of independent bottlers comes not only in their affordability, but also in their ability to check the big players - offering their own products in better expressions and at better prices.  For example, Diageo offers the Port Ellen 30 Year distillery bottling at over $400 a bottle, but you can buy the Chieftain's bottling of Port Ellen (which in my mind is a superior whisky) for $260.  At this point, most consumers haven't yet grasped how to navigate the independent bottlings, always prefering the distillery bottled malts, but it's only a matter of time before they get priced out of their favorite dram.

When I was at dinner the other evening, I was sitting with the head of an independent distributor in California and the chief of an independent whisky bottler.  When asked about making deals with large wholesalers, the distributor replied, "Costco will never get a better deal than K&L or any other smaller store we deal with because we care about our relationships with each customer equally, plus we don't have the inventory to ever become a permanent product there.  They would drop us after eight weeks and then we'd be back to where we started.  Plus, we would have damaged our steady pricing in the overall retail market."

The scenario he described actually happened to us with a small tequila vendor.  We were working with them closely to help build their brand and at the same time they were going to Costco to try and get a big deal.  They worked out such a big arrangement that Costco could afford to sell the tequila for less than we were buying it.  It would have been cheaper for me to walk over there, buy it off the shelf, and resell it here (if such a thing were legal)!  I only found out about it because I recommended the tequila to a customer and he said, "Yeah it's good, but I can get it at Costco for much cheaper."  I about fainted.  When I called the vendor about this, they admitted to me that they were indeed selling to Costco, but why should I expect a similar price when I wasn't buying nearly as much?  I asked them how they expected me to buy their tequila for more than Costco was selling it, but they didn't seem to understand.  Once a product sells for $39.99 at Costco, that becomes the value of the bottle in the consumer's mind - anything above that price is simply too much.  They were destroying the possible value of their tequila before they had truly established it.  "But you have Patron and Costco sells it for less than you," they replied.  "Do you think you're Patron?" I asked before ending the conversation.

Some products are going to sell no matter how big the discrepency, which is why the big players can keep raising their prices.  In certain situations customers come in looking for a big name product and will buy it at whatever price because of convenience - they're late for a party or we were in walking distance, etc.  These are brands that are sold on name, not on value.  That's why there are liquor stores on every corner selling the exact same products at various prices.  However, if no one knows how good your product is then you need help selling it.  Specialty stores like K&L, D&M, Cask, and Beltramos have staff members with the expertise to do so.  Hence, the symbiotic relationships we form with independent distributors and producers.

To be continued....

-David Driscoll


The Importance of Independents/Independence Part II

When you're a retail buyer and you're looking to refill your shelves after they've emptied, you'd think you could just re-order the product for the same price you originally paid.  It doesn't work that way, however, and it's easy to lose track of what got you to your most recent purchase price.  If I paid $25 a bottle for a case of a certain whiskey and I run out, then of course I'm looking to re-order more for that price.  Unfortunately, what usually happens is something like this: that price of $25 was part of a deal where I had to buy three other whiskies in conjunction.  That combo has now expired and I can either buy a case on its own for $29.66 a bottle, or I can buy three hundred bottles and get that price of $25.  I can't afford to buy three hundred bottles, and if I pay $29.66 then we have to start losing money, or I have to raise the retail price.  The purchasing of spirits is a constant circus of fluctuating pricing, new specials, and expiring deals.  Navigating this whirlwind can be frustrating because every deal becomes a worrysome purchase, where you say to yourself, "How much should I buy because I may never see that price again."

Yet, in the middle of this raging sea, there are independent distributors that provide some semblance of stability by working with retailers to come to a continuous agreement.  I'll never hear the words, "Yeah, David, the price of Noah's Mill bourbon went up this month, sorry about that," or "That Murray McDavid mix-and-match deal is over for the year."  The independents are not managing nearly as much booze as the big players and therefore are not in a constant state of inventory shock - the main cause of these quarterly sale opportunities.  They've chosen their products carefully and are committed to representing them with the fiercest of loyalty, so there is too much at risk involved.  They're dealing with relative unknowns that do not carry the prestige of say Patron, Maker's Mark, or Ketel One.  If the price of Rothman's Creme de Violette goes up, are retailers still going to carry it and are customers willing to accept a price increase?  In this case it's more difficult to say, hence why such drastic fluctuation rarely occurs.  If you decide to support the smaller brands on the market, then they're going to work with you to help bring success to both sides, rather than dangle a carrot in front of you and try to goad you into buying things you didn't originally want.

Last night I went out to dinner with a group of industry folk, including some independent distributors, and we talked about big retailers like Costco and Trader Joe's who are stepping up the spirits game.  With these stores there is so much buying power that special deals are made in their favor with quantities that only they could ever sell.  They want the best price on everything and they want a better one than K&L gets so they can run a lower price.  If I complain, the distributor might then decide to offer me the same price as long as I buy 2000 bottles, which leaves my choices at that point as: drop the product from our store, sell it knowing that our customers can go a block away to Costco and buy it for six dollars cheaper a bottle, or match their price and make nothing.  Brands like Bombay Sapphire (with which this exact scenario happened) don't care too much if we drop their product because who is K&L to them?  We're one retail store, so there's no room to negotiate or make a deal.  The inherent problem with these gigantic deals is the constant lowering of a retail price for a product that hasn't gotten any cheaper.  This changes the expectations of customers everywhere because once it goes down it can't go back up.  They then walk into K&L and say, "$36.99 for Balvenie 12? That's expensive!"  No it isn't! That's what it costs! 

When I spoke of this incident at the dinner table last night, one of my buddies who distributes in SF said, "But you can't keep raising and lowering your prices! Your customers will be upset and they'll never know if they paid the best price or not.  Why can't you just be happy charging a bit more and knowing that you give better customer service?"  That's an interesting point and it's a philosophy that many stores are happy to embrace.  I've lowered prices to match our competitors in my year as spirits buyer and it's made my stomach sick everytime I've done it because I know we've had it at a higher price for some time.  In my experience, however, most people who are shopping for Lagavulin 16 are not looking for me to give them my advice or offer them any expertise.  They're looking for the cheapest price on Lagavulin 16, which is why we have it. 

To be continued...

-David Driscoll


The Importance Of Independents/Independence

I am constantly getting emails and notifications from our financial secretary Michele about invoice pricing being higher than what we were originally quoted.  For example, a case of whiskey was ordered at the price of $24.50 a bottle, but instead is being billed at $25.66.  She sends the descrepancy over to me and I then make the decision of keeping the product and paying the bill, or having it picked up and sending it back.  This scenario usually occurs six to eight times a week and it's always with the same distributors.  There are combo deals for June, which have expired come July and increases in shipping fees or broken case costs, which can fluctuate pricing, but in the end everything keeps going up, up, up.  You may be saying to yourself, "Easy, just send it back and demand the price you were originally quoted!"  I wish things could be so simple, but unfortunately it doesn't work that way.

Every week the price of liquor changes within the main distribution channels.  Even if I sit down with a vendor and am quoted a price for a product, there is still no guarantee that it's going to show up at that price.  If I want to be a stickler, I can send it back when this happens, but I know it's not going to change anything.  Plus, I can't just run out of Lagavulin 16, Glenlivet 12, or Grey Goose Vodka.  These bottles need to be on the shelves because they're the fastest movers, but it's only a matter of time before these big names become too expensive to hold their current pricing.  Whether it's five cents or five dollars, these well-established products go up in price nearly every month, even though our retail price remains unchanged.  If you're any sort of business person, then you can see where this leads you.

This is to be continued....

-David Driscoll


New Developments at Alameda's St. George

Last Friday, I used my day off to head over to Alameda and check over on the boys from the Bay's most beloved distillery.  Not only did I want to take my wife out to nose the view and taste the sights, I also wanted some answers to a few questions: when would the next batch of Firelit be ready? What did the new Aqua Libre rum taste like?  Were we still planning on bottling a private barrel of whiskey?  Could I drink as much free booze as I wanted?

When we arrived, Dave Smith was ready with all of the answers I came seeking.  His new batch of Firelit coffee liqueur was made with a different bean - some dark African roast if I remember correctly - but still really delicious.  We watched it sway to and fro in the maceration tank as we sipped on samples fresh out the beaker.  They plan on bottling this week so it shouldn't be too much longer.  The Aqua Libre rum is due in stores this week and is made in the agricole style from fresh cane juice, rather than molasses like most rums.  These are not rich, dark, or sweet caramel spirits, but rather bold and assertive flavors that are made to mix rather than sip.  For the style after which they are modeled, they are flawless recreations.  I can't wait to taste them in a cocktail at the Bar Agricole opening tomorrow.

As for a private barrel, I'm still trying to convince Dave to give me his own special project: a whiskey aged partially in bourbon barrels with a second maturation in apple brandy wood.  He is reluctant to part with his "baby," but Lance seemed keen on making a splash, so we'll see where this goes.  Point is - we will be doing a K&L exclusive St George whiskey in the future with some frankensteinian creation they've strung together in that mad laboratory of theirs.  

If you haven't been out to St. George, it's a great day trip.  You should treat yourself.

-David Driscoll


Private Barrels Update!

There is so much happening with our private barreling program right now that it's hard for me to keep it all straight.  We are continuing to push distributors and distilleries to start thinking in a different direction and I am using our good relations here domestically to get some pretty incredible deals.  Here's the current timetable for the rest of the year (note: none of these dates are guaranteed as they seem to change every week):

Due in mid-August:

1982 Clynelish 27 Year Single Barrel Cask Strength, A.D. Rattray $115.99 - SOLD OUT

1991 Aberlour 19 Year Single Barrel Cask Strength, A.D. Rattray $77.99 - Still available to pre-order

Buffalo Trace Single Cask #162 Bourbon $24.99 - Available now

Due in late October:

McCarthy (Clear Creek) Oregon Single Barrel Whiskey - price TBA ($80-ish?)  - I just met with Steve yesterday and he is very excited about this.  He has never done a private bottling before for anyone, and if you've had his whiskey, you know that it tastes like it was made on Islay right next to Ardbeg or Laphroaig.  It is always made in miniscule quantities and it is seemingly always sold out.  This is going to be very exciting and we plan on having a tasting in early November with Steve present to sign the bottles.

Due in late December/January:

1982 ???????? 28 Year Single Barrel Cask Strength, Chieftain's Single Malt Whisky $130-ish - This is going to be one of my favorites as I am becoming more and more a fan of the long-aged, unsherried Speyside and Highland malts.  The delicacy and complexity are astounding.

This is only what we have confirmed for now, but we have many more in the works!  Stay tuned.

-David Driscoll