I Can Do Anything - The Formula for Success

I tried to embed this video to kick start this article, but unfortunately YouTube is blocking that function, so you'll have to open a new window.  The Big Bang Theory, for all its mild, sitcom humor, is actually quite an intelligently written TV show.  I appreciate any form of entertainment that bases its content off of real human observation.  In this episode, Sheldon needs to use the university's lab equipment, but the man who gives permission only lets his "friends" have access.  Sheldon, however, doesn't realize that making friends isn't an exact science, which leads him in search of an algorithm for friendship, as well as to the local bookstore in search of friendship manual.  Some skills in life, however, can't be translated into a logical formula.  Making friends, like many other personal abilities in life, is not something that can be learned in a few hours by reading a book.  It requires a combination of experience, understanding, common sense, insight, and observation (or what we know as wisdom). 

It seems to me that the writers of the Big Bang Theory have made the same observations about our current society as I have.  Some people today believe they're talented enough to do anything, they just need practice or a few days to catch up on the required reading.  Costco's head wine buyer doesn't think selecting wine is any different than purchasing toilet paper.  Of course it isn't!  There can't be that much wisdom required to make a decision regarding one's beverage, can there?  There's nothing more aggravating than when a person believes a certain skill or talent can be mastered in matter of minutes, or reduced to the status of a simple chore.  It's the ultimate sign of disrespect towards people who actually know what they're doing.  Yet, it seems to me there are more and more people everyday who think they're good at things they are not.  I have an idea as to why this is.

As a young elementary school student partaking in California's GATE program (Gifted and Talented Education), I was told by my teachers that I was a bit more advanced than the other children.  I was told that I was being prepared for college at an accelerated rate.  I was told that once I got into college, I would get a good job and be happy.  I was five years old at the time.  I was not alone.  Thousands of other kids along side me matriculated into the real world believing we were future CEOs with no patience for the entry-level position.  When we couldn't attain success instantly we blamed society for not understanding our genius. 

More than twenty five years later I am watching the terrible results of the GATE program all around me.  Young adults from my generation believing they possess special abilities they do not.  I know an old friend who went to Berkeley and was a talented scientist until one day she wanted to be a baker.  After a year of making terrible cupcakes, she quit, blaming others around her for her failings.  Another former friend was a talented teacher until one day he wanted to form a band.  He couldn't sing, play an instrument, or write a lyric, but he was determined he could "pick it up" in a few weeks.  He never understood why no one went to his shows.   Our teachers repeatedly told us, "You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it."  Unfortunately, my generation took those words literally.  Oh, former educators, what damage you have inflicted upon this world.  The truth is that some people are inherently gifted and talented, a result of being born with something special or an aptitude for specific skills.  Others work hard, pay their dues, learn from experience, and eventually acquire humility, or a respect for their craft.

As a professional wine and whisky salesperson, I've learned that you can't understand wine from reading Wine Spectator magazine or the Wine Bible, or any other manual.  They're certainly helpful in attaining an overall perspective, but they will never replace time and experience.  The only way to truly understand alcohol is to drink it, think about it, dwell on it, and appreciate it - over and over again.  Nevertheless, there are always a few people who think they can master the whole thing in a few weeks - find a list of the ten best wines, track them down, drink them, and there it is - that's wine appreciation in a nutshell.  What more do you really need to know?  There are no shortcuts, however.  There is no "friendship algorithm."  Knowledge is power, but only if it's coupled with experience.  That's a fact some from my generation still fail to understand.

In the end, I guess it's about perception or even results.  Too much positive reinforcement has lead many skilled musicians or athletes to believe they can also act.  Actress Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook has made her millions, only re-enforcing her belief that she's an actual chef.  Unfortunately, she became so deluded by this association that she thought hanging out with rappers actually made her a rapper too!  I'm sure that some guy out there has managed to purchase everyone of Jim Murray's top whisky picks, re-enforcing his belief that he's an actual collector and appreciator of single malt.  Some people do manage to convince others that they have wisdom when they're actually borrowing someone else's (I've managed to trick some people into thinking I know something about whisky).  Ultimately, I have to believe they'll eventually be exposed, either by the judges on American Idol, or by a sheer failure to achieve.  Hopefully, like me, they'll learn from those experiences.

-David Driscoll


Kyle is Back to Talk New Booze

It's been almost a month since we heard from young Kyle Kurani, the enthusiastic spirits expert in our Redwood City store who is both capturing and breaking hearts with his series of videos.  Today we catch Kyle in the warehouse with the big stacks, talking new booze and new arrivals to the K&L spirits department.


Dusty Morning

While we all know that Steve Ury is the dusty hunting king of California, K&L customer Matt Prinz has been making some headway in the Bay Area.  Foraging deep into the some of the less-traveled neighborhoods of the North, he's been able to amass quite an interesting collection of old Bourbons.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term "dusty hunting," it refers to rummaging through old liquor stores in search of forgotton or "dusty" bottles that they never got around to selling.  You'd be amazed at what's still sitting in the warehouse of your local corner supplier.  Matt brought me a few to sample this morning and we had a blast tasting through them.  I admit complete ignorance to the history of American whiskey, the brands, the producers, who made what, etc.  One of the best ways to fill in the educational gap is to get your hands on some of these old dusties.  Even if the Bourbon isn't great, each bottle is still a window into what America was drinking over thirty years ago.  Most of the whiskies pictured above were light, lean, mellow, and made for drinkin', much different than the Bourbons we currently have on the shelf.  Personally, I've never been much of a scavenger, so I really appreciate Matt's time and effort.  What a great way to start the day!

Speaking of Bourbon, our newest barrel just arrived in Redwood City today - a fresh batch of 1792 Ridgemont Reserve $26.99 bottled exclusively for us!  The bummer about this whiskey for you non-local customers is that the bottle, due to the wide shape and size, costs more to ship so it may be something more for those living nearby.  However, this is the ultimate summer Bourbon just in time for the summer!  Light, soft, fruity, mellow, easy to drink.  Maybe a bit too easy to drink.  I can already picture my friends and I putting one of these away in a half hour.  I can already picture not remembering what happened.  I love that we have a single cask that isn't big, woody, spicy, and rich.  It's nice to switch things up every once and a while.  200 bottles available!

-David Driscoll


Reviewing Whisky For The Purchasing Public

According to CNN, the internet now has 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses or, as the guys from the Big Bang Theory would say, 340 undecillion.  I'm pretty sure that half of those sites are up and coming whisky bloggers (ha!).  There's been a huge explosion of food and booze-related websites over the past few years, mainly due to the huge explosion of interest in food and booze!  People love talking about booze, almost as much as we love gossiping about the lives of celebrities.  Collecting has a become a serious hobby and in order to keep one's collection spotless, we want to know which bottles to buy and which to avoid.  Like Rolling Stone rates new records or Entertainment Weekly grades upcoming films, there are a number of different systems in place for ranking the quality of various whiskies – the 100 point system, five stars, A through F, etc.  As a retailer, we refrain from using any of these rankings because we don't want to get in the habit of saying we have good and bad inventory – obviously, we're here to sell all of it (our wine buyers will definitely let you know, however, when another publication has favorably reviewed one of our products).  Just because we're in the business of selling booze doesn't mean that we can't give our opinion about the various selections.  I love reviewing, writing, talking, and thinking about whisky.  Personally, I don't avoid ranking systems because I'm a retailer, I avoid them because I genuinely dislike them.

If I could get back the money I paid to go see a bad "four star" movie from Leonard Maltin or to purchase a terrible 9+ point album from, I would feel better about rating systems.  Inevitably, rankings come down to personal opinion and scores based on personal interpretation of a sometimes personal scoring apparatus.  There's nothing wrong with using a scoring system for yourself, or to share with friends and other hobbyists, but when people start spending money based on these ratings, there's simply too much that can go wrong.  I'm trying to avoid going off on a completely different tangent here, so let's just say that I don't feel personal rankings help consumers make educated decisions about purchasing.  They may help spark an interest or curiousness in tasting a particular malt, but they don't always put things into context. There's one question that needs to be answered before making a purchase above all and it rarely, if ever, gets addressed in most widely-read whisky reviews: Why would someone want to own this whisky?

There are many fantastic single malts available on the market right now.  Few of us own every one of them.  Even if we could afford it, would we really want to possess every single expression known to man?  There are at least fifty whiskies, just on the Redwood City shelf alone, that I absolutely adore.  Want to know how many of those I actually own?  Five.  While the other forty-five are, in my opinion, of the highest possible quality, flavor, character, and value, I have no desire to actually bring them home and drink them when I'm feeling thirsty.  The point I'm trying to make is that whisky needs to be more than just 90 points for me to buy it.  I'm not saying it needs to be 91 or better (ha ha), I'm saying that something on top of quality, flavor, and price needs to speak to me. 

Yesterday, I called Kilchoman's Machir Bay my favorite single malt of 2012 so far, to which one can attach some sort of numeric value or rating if they so choose.  However, I don't want anyone out there to purchase that whisky simply because I like it.  That's not a very good reason for buying anything.  Sure, I taste a lot of whisky for a living, but I may like whisky that you don't, or vice versa.  Therefore, what can I tell you about the Kilchoman Machir Bay that will help you make a decision?  Everyone knows tasting notes are dull and boring, so cross those off the list.  Everyone knows I'm enthusiastic and prone to hyperbole, so cross excitement off the list.  How about the fact that the Machir Bay tastes kind of like "Bruichladdich meets Lagavulin."  Maybe someone out there loves both of those distilleries and is interested in the idea of trying something similar.  Context – that always helps.  How about some information about the distillery?  Maybe because this is Kilchoman's first "affordable" release and it's a chance for someone to get a feel for the style without dropping a hundred bucks.  Maybe because this is a five year old whisky that tastes better than many twelve year old malts, or maybe because someone likes the idea of supporting the little guy.  Perhaps those are interesting reasons to consider taking this bottle home.

In the end, I purchased a bottle of Machir Bay because it's delicious and I absolutely love it.  However, as I said earlier, taste is just step one for me.  After accounting for flavor, I need a reason to believe in a whisky.  I purchased the Compass Box Flaming Heart last year because John Glaser's approach to blending fascinates me and this was his homage to peated Brora.  I grabbed a bottle of the Ardbeg Day last week because the idea of an Ardbeg malt with extra sherry maturation really intrigued me.  I always have a bottle of Springbank on hand because they're a distillery that still handles every step of production and for some reason that makes it taste better in my glass.  The Machir Bay came home yesterday with me because I can't wait to pour it next to a glass of Lagavulin 16 and then make all my friends do a blind tasting. 

In the end, maybe I'm the crazy one for believing there's more to a whisky than just flavor.  However, I can't help but think that knowing something about what makes a particular whisky special helps it to taste better.  Giving a whisky 95 points or five stars doesn't make it special because that's just one person's opinion.  There are still objective elements to whisky.  As a retailer, it's my job to help you find which of those are important to you.

-David Driscoll


Kilchoman in Stock, Time to Circle the Wagons

My early pick for Best Whisky of 2012 is here and ready to rock:

Kilchoman Machir Bay Islay Single Malt Whisky $53.99 - See my post below for tasting notes

Normally I don't read whisky reviews online, mainly because I don't need to (I get to taste the stuff myself so why do I need to know what other people think?).  However, I did do a quick search for Machir Bay scores because I want to see how the industry reacts to this malt. So far I haven't seen too much press. I'm curious about the reviews because this whisky disproves everything that the Scotch Whisky world holds sacred - it goes completely against the theory that great whisky needs ten years or more in the barrel.  Personally, I too have always been of this mindset.  I've tasted the craft distiller attempts to accelerate aging with small barriques and other clever tricks, but it's never worked as well as extended time in good ol' Bourbon or Sherry casks. 

So what makes Kilchoman different?  What is so special about their whisky?  Think about it this way.  For a guy, I'm a pretty good printer - as in calligraphy.  If you asked me to print your name on a piece of paper five times in a minute, I could probably do it perfectly and cleanly, no problem.  However, if you asked me to write your name thirty times in a minute, the quality of my printing is going to suffer as a result.  Going back to the Kilchoman's whisky, their new-make, fresh from the still, is one of the most amazing white whiskies I have ever tasted.  They don't sell it, but if they did I think people would drink it over most quality mezcal selections.  It's simply amazing.  Kilchoman only has one still and they're not capable of pumping out large quantities of whisky like other distilleries.  They can only write their name on the paper five times per minute.  Even if they wanted to go for thirty printings in a minute, they wouldn't be able to.  Quality comes with precision.  They know they can't play the bulk game, so they don't even try.

I relate to that philosophy.  K&L is not the bulk whisky store.  We're not Costco doling out rock-bottom prices for 100,000 case buys of big-brand hooch.  We couldn't be Costco even if we wanted to be, so we don't try.  Instead we focus on quality and hope it's enough because that's our only choice.  Somehow little old K&L, the family run liquor store, is now competing with some of the bigger stores in the country.  At the same time, little old Kilchoman is making whisky at five years of age that competes with the ten to sixteen year malts from its larger competitors. 

My question is: will the industry allow that to happen?  Is anyone going to give this whisky its due?  Are the major publications going to say, "A nice first effort, but it needs more time."  Because if the industry does try to shrug this whisky off with a simple "It's alright, but it's still too young," I'll call bullshit.  We all know that Kilchoman is only going to get better with time, but this whisky is great right now.  I'm so curious to see how the world reacts.  Will the Scotch industry circle the wagons and protect the sacrosanctity of long-term maturation, or are they going to admit that in some cases, when a distillery takes the time to do everything right, young whisky can actually compete with older expressions? 

I'm dying to find out.

-David Driscoll