Why The Legal California Retail Spirits Tastings Suck

I remember the day well. New California legislation was about to be passed, making the tasting of spirits in the retail environment a possibility. We were totally pumped. For my first few years at K&L the idea of tasting Scotch before you bought a bottle was strictly forbidden. Now, finally, we were going to get the chance to actually pour spirits in the store for our customers. This was going to be huge! What a wonderful advantage for the discerning whisky customer! There were just a few minor details we needed to keep in mind:

- only three products could be poured at any one tasting

- only 1/4 oz. pours of each spirit were legally allowed - meaning only 3/4 oz total of consumable booze

- retail employees could not participate, only distributors, importers, or brand employees

- tastings could not be held on the same day as other tastings, meaning if we do wine we can't do booze

- tastings must be free of charge and the booze must be supplied by the designated pourer

Other than that, we were free to unleash our newly-entitled booze freedom onto the public! Wow! This was going to change everything! Except for these quickly discovered details:

- distributors, importers, and brand reps do not work on Saturdays or Sundays. That means we couldn't do tastings on the weekend days.

- Friday nights were available, but most specialty wine stores have special wine tastings on Friday nights because that's when customers like to come and drink. We can't have two tastings on the same day, nor were we willing to cancel an event that allowed customers to have multiple glasses of wine in exchange for a few paltry sips of liquor.

- That left Monday through Thursday for tasting events. Unfortunately, most boutique liquor stores are not open all night long. That means we would have to conduct the tasting between 5 PM and 7 PM when we close. That's right in the middle of rush hour traffic. Who was going to sit in gridlock so that they could rush over to K&L for a 3/4 oz tease?

The initial response to our K&L spirits tastings was strong, mainly because we have an incredible customer base of dedicated spirits fans. It became a kind of social meet up. However, the tastings were not always that exciting. You might get a brand rep who doesn't know shit about dick, making the enjoyment of the product rather paltry in comparison to an enthusiastic and knowledgable brand manager. After the novelty wore off the K&L tasting attendance trickled down to a few die-hards, some cheapskates looking for free booze, or whoever happened to be in the store at that time, unknowingly finding a glass thrusted into their hand in order to increase the turnout of the event.

What a bummer.

Now that I'm in my sixth year in the booze business I've discovered one very important fact: great experiences help sell booze. How many times have we had a customer tell us: "We were in Italy last summer and we had this wine and it was just outstanding. Is there any chance you can order it?" Nine out of ten times the answer is "no." However, it wasn't the wine that made that experience, anyway. It was being in freaking Italy!! That's what made that wine taste so damn memorable. Italy!!! Not the wine. The experience. The food. The atmosphere. The people.

I'm over trying to create tasting opportunities. I'm now fully dedicated to creating memorable experiences. That's what the Salon tasting was all about. No more pedantry. No more stuck-up, educational, structured tastings with lessons and rules. I wanted to have a party. A party that made people think, "Wow, what a great time that was drinking Elmer T. Lee at the Salon." That's what engrains a true connection to booze – a good time out. Hence, we've put the K&L spirits tastings on hold, barring the occasional guest that's simply too good to pass up. What we will be focusing on now are events. Fun, enjoyable, social events that promote enjoyment rather than increase pretense.

I've got a few lined up for the next month that should please the most dedicated whisky fans, but intrigue the casual drinker as well.

June 1st is Ardbeg Day, isn't it? ArdBog is the big anticpated release, right? I think we might be throwing a giant party. A party that will create memories. A party that will involve FULL pours, FULL enjoyment, and involve retailers, brand managers, and customers together, on a weekend date during the evening hours that most working stiffs like myself can actually attend. No 1/4 oz pours. No three bottle limitation. No rush hour time schedule.

This is the future of whisky outreach – putting in actual work on behalf of one's clientele. Not some stupid, bullshit tasting license that does very little for retailers, brands, and customers alike.

It's more work on our end, but it's worth it. That last Salon event was an absolute blast. This next one should blow the roof off the place. I'm willing to make it happen. Will you come and join me?

-David Driscoll


SoCal Events Coming Up

A couple of really fun events coming up this week. First, Matt Biancaniello will be back in the Hollywood store tomorrow evening, Thursday April 25th from 5:30-7:30pm. We're continuing our examination of wine based cocktails. As you may or may not know Matt is bringing some of the most exciting flavors to the table using an incredible array of foraged and farm fresh products. Learn his secrets, taste his wares, this is about the most you'll ever get out of Matt for $20, so don't miss it. Please pre-pay for your space

Culinary Cocktail Seminar with Matt Biancaniello at the Hollywood store, April 25th 5:30-6:30pm $20


Culinary Cocktail Seminar with Matt Biancaniello at the Hollywood store, April 25th 6:30-7:30pm $20


If cocktails are not your thing, there is a cool event being hosted by the newly formed Southern California Whisk(e)y Club. The SCWC was created to fill a space between the very public LA Scotch Club and the private LA Whisk(e)y Society. Many members of each respective group are involved in all organizations and SCWC has being bringing it pretty hard with outrageous tastings of Stitzel-Weller, a Sazerac veritcal, among others. Now they've turned their attention to Scotch. Our old friend David Stirk will be in town from the Creative Whisky Co. who was responsible for providing some of our fastest selling casks during last years whisky season. This year you'll get a sneak preview at some of our bottlings, as the current Exclusive Cask selections have some similar casks selections to ours. In addition, you'll get a chance to meet Mr. David Stirk, a true maverick in the independent bottling world, who amazingly turned a passion for Scotch and Scotland into an actual business. Despite his underdog status, David has been able to crank out some exceptional expressions and this is your chance to taste a large range of his stuff for an incredible reasonable price. Your tickets gets you a taste of each of the below single malts plus a pretty legit burger from Far Bar.

'00, Aberlour 12 year, 56.7%

'00, Ardmore 12 year, 56.3%

'97, Clynelish 15 year, 53.5%

'95, Mortlach 17 year, 53.3%

'92, Glen Grant 20 year, 55.7%

'88, Littlemill 24 year, 49.8%

'01, Bowmore 11 Year, 53.6%


Tasting starts at 7pm!

Far Bar is located at:

347 E 1st St  

Los Angeles, CA 90012

-David Othenin-Girard


K&L Exclusive Cask Update

We're getting a lot of stuff done today and all of it is super positive. The negotiation process for the casks we tasted on our trip to Scotland is moving along full speed ahead and I think we've got more than twelve barrels locked down at the moment, with pricing that could be finalized very soon.

If everything goes as planned we might be able to start the pre-arrival campaign as early as next week! That's crazy! Although, I must admit, much of the motivation to head to Scotland in March and brave the snowy weather was to make sure we had all of our booze long before the holidays. Last year's post-Xmas scramble was a nightmare that I don't think either of us are looking to repeat.

Here are some fun facts to chew on: we should have a large number of barrels ready to release within the next month that are $100 or less. All single barrel, most of them at cask strength. It hasn't been easy to make this happen, but we've really pushed and we've made it clear that value is our top concern this year.

Here are some of the things we're mulling over at the moment with my notes alongside them:

1995 Glenlivet 15/16 year old Sherry Butt – aged in first-fill sherry. Big, rich, supple, round, cakey, spicy, classic Speyside sherry. YUM! This would taste better at 46% than 58% however, and the price will probably drop significantly if we do so. There’s no amount of this we can’t sell.

1989 Isle of Jura 23/24 year old Bourbon barrel – aromas of toffee and cake frosting, but with a bit of earth, nice wood spice, Bourbon influence is clear, fruity on the finish, long finish of toasted nuts. Easily one of the best Jura whiskies I’ve ever had.

1995 Miltonduff 17/18 year old – Lots of rich Bourbon spice, fruity, malty, and delicious. Could be a total steal if the price is right.

1995 Imperial 17/18 year old – Gobs of fruit and vanilla, very reminiscent of the 1992 Bladnoch we did a few years back with Chieftains. Lots of oily action as well. A must have.

1991 Cambus 21/22 year old grain whisky – From the now defunct Diageo grain distillery, this is the sequel to the amazing Girvan from 2011. If we can get the pricing online this could be a HUGE hit. Lovely vanilla, all the spice and herbaciousness of grain spirit. Lovely, and collectable as well.

1997 Laphroaig 15/16 year old – Simply delicious. Classic Laphroaig in total balance. Probably expensive. Hopefully not too much.

Again, if everything goes as planned these could all be $100 or less. Some of them far below that ceiling. 24 year old Jura at full proof for $100! That's pretty cool, I think. Same with the Cambus!

We're wrapping up negotiations with Glendronach, Benriach, and Glen Garioch today as well. Also met with a new importer who will be helping us secure some fun things like Royal Lochnagar and Bowmore barrels that might both clock in at $65 or less!

It's getting fun. More on this later.

-David Driscoll


No GlenMo Tomorrow

Our beloved LVMH guy Lester Lopez is on baby alert this week as he anxiously awaits the birth of his third child. Therefore, as we cannot legally replace him behind the tasting bar, we'll have to postpone tomorrow's Glenmorangie tasting. We wish Lester the best during this exciting time!

As you all know, the California spirits tasting laws do not allow for retail employees to engage in the tasting of spirits, so we'll have to get another date on the books soon.

-David Driscoll


Soda Water is Your Friend

Sometimes it's simply as easy as a bottle of Pellegrino. One of the most commonly requested tasks at K&L is to have us help put together a home bar. I always love doing this with beginners because I'll never choose things like Creme de Violette or Falernum, which is what they think I'm going to end up tossing in the basket. I'll take a bottle of whisky, Bourbon, gin, rum, vermouth, and maybe a liqueur or two, then a giant case of soda water.

"What about all those fancy cocktails I'm reading about in the newspaper? What about Creme de Violette, and chocolate mole bitters, and rose petal water? How do I make drinks with those?"

Blue Moons and fancy tiki drinks are fine once you've learned the basics. The truth is, however, that some of the best cocktails in the world are simply the result of a base spirit with sparkling water. No joke. They may not require the skill level that a Clover Club needs (with egg whites and fresh citrus and things like raspberry gum syrup), but they do hit the spot in a way that a martini-up never could.

I drank a lot of cocktails with soda water this past week. Here's a list of the booze I added it to:

Bank Note Blended Whisky

Hibiki 12 Japanese Blended Whisky

Great King Street Blended Whisky


Biancosarti (the white Campari - available in Italy only - make the effort to get some!)




Cocchi Americano

Byrrh Apperitif

Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon

Dolin Blanc Vermouth

And that's just over the last six days! Soda water has a particular affinity for blended whisky, so that's usually my base spirit of choice, but the marriage of Pellegrino with a bitter liqueur is simply a thing of beauty. Don't forget the pastis liqueurs either, like Pernod and Ricard. Yum!

The other great thing about soda cocktails is the fun garnish. If you're in a hurry to get your drink on then just dump some ice in a glass, pour two fingers, top it off with sparking water and get back to your Mad Men episode. However, if you've got guests and some extra time, you can add orange peels, lemon peels, lime peels, grapefruit peels, cherries, raspberries, herbs, or whatever else you've got on hand. You can do a highball glass, a lowball glass, or whatever suits your fancy. There are tons of options.

These are all real cocktails, despite what the fancy pre-Prohibition scene has you thinking. You may not be interested in martini glasses or white spirits whatsoever, but you can still enjoy the simple pleasure that is whisky with soda. Especially when it's hot like it is here in the Bay Area today.

Just a few things to think about. Making cocktails isn't really all that difficult or time consuming when you concentrate on the simple basics. Plus, you've probably got at least a few bottles laying around that could use some love and attention. This is a great way to finish off that Glenmorangie 10 year that's been sitting there half full since you graduated to the Ealanta.

-David Driscoll