The 411

Again - there is about five blog posts worth of information that I would like to share with you, but I simply don't have the time to write five blog posts.  I can write one quick one, however, and we'll have to make do with that.  Here's the latest:

Suntory's Mike Miyamoto was in the Redwood City store last night to pour the Hakushu 12 and Yamazaki 12 single malt whiskies. Having master distiller Miyamoto personally lead the tasting was a rare honor and one that we all took full advantage of. The information was invaluable to our whisky-loving customers. Two interesting things I didn't know about Yamazaki - they have multiple stills, of various shapes and sizes, to produce different types of spirit. This allows them to play with different flavors and create marriages that usually requires ownership of multiple distilleries (i.e. Diageo blending together Talisker, Benrinnes, and Clynelish to make an expression). The other fact is that Yamazaki 12 is running at around $100 per bottle in Japan right now. They're basically subsidizing the foreign markets to keep their momentum going.  We're selling this for about $40 right now.  I'd expect a pretty big hike here in the U.S. at some point in the near future.  There's just not enough of it to go around.

I spent the morning at St. George Distillery with Dave Smith and we went over various points of business.  First off, we tasted the new 30th Anniversary Single Malt coming in early December.  It contains some of the oldest whisky the distillery has ever produced, including one of Lance's first-ever malts. It comes in a beautiful box and the label is pretty awesome as well.  It won't be cheap, but it will be delicious. One of the components was aged in a pear brandy cask (the sister to our apple brandy-aged barrel from a few years back). We also got rolling on our Faultline Gin Batch #2. Dave will be attempting to smoke some orange peels next week and begin maceration. Smoke and citrus - together at last!

The other thing Dave and I discussed was the sourcing of American whiskey from Kentucky. Prices are beginning to go up and we're both evaluating the future of the market. If prices come back down when stocks begin to increase, then we will have bought in at too high of a price.  If the market continues to raise the price of whiskey, then we will have to pay more if we wait. This is a perfect analogy to the housing situation I discussed previously.  No one is sure what the market will actually do so we're all being cautious. That being said, I went by Old World Spirits afterward to meet with Davorin and select a new cask of Rusty Blade (it's coming home - at cask strength once again for the holidays!). We began talking about rye and Davorin mentioned that he currently can't source any actual rye to distill.  The drought in the midwest has left little supply from the harvest and he mentioned that Diageo has been buying up most of it for their Bulleit brand. First we had a shortage of rye whiskey and now we have a shortage of actual rye.  This should keep prices nice and high for all you rye drinkers!

Speaking of rye, it appears that the Rittenhouse shortage is slowly beginning to fade.  We've got a ton in stock right now if you need any.  There's some Black Maple Hill as well.

Also, the wholesale price of Oban 18 is now over $100.  All of you who paid $77 got a real good deal.  Better than your local retailer can actually get! Wild. As I promised earlier, I now have to lower the price on another Diageo whisky. Let's seeeeeeeee................Dalwhinnie 15.   Was $50.  Now $41.99.  That should help even things out a little bit.  Remember, we need balance!

-David Driscoll


Housing Tips

After a week of faint optimistic hope that I might finally be able to afford a small house on the San Francisco peninsula, I'm now pretty sure there's no hope whatsoever. Even the tiniest fixer-uppers are going for $600,000 before all is said and done and unfortunately that's where my comfort zone says "No thanks." You might be thinking to yourself, "David, I just saw a two bedroom house in San Mateo for $480,000 last week!" To those thoughts in your head I would reply, "Yes, but did you see what the house actually sold for?" It wasn't the list price.

You've got to pay to play in the housing market right now. You've got to overpay just to get overpriced. Everyone's talking about low interest rates, but that doesn't help when you can't actually get the product your paying a low rate on. There is such fierce competition for "affordable" housing right now that every sale results in a bidding war. When there's a bidding war, the price of the house goes up. When prices go up, it gives people the impression that the market is booming. When the market is booming, people start making big money. Does this sound familiar to you, whisky fan?

One of my best friends is in the real estate game. We were talking on the phone last week and he told me that where banks were once looking to sell foreclosures quickly, in an attempt to recoup expenses, they began to notice that investors were turning around and selling those forclosures for even more profit (very much like what was happening on Ebay with the Van Winkle Bourbons). When the banks saw what these houses were going for later, they began to think to themselves, "Why the rush? Let's wait this out a bit and see what we can actually get." Whisky companies are currently thinking the exact same thing. Since banks and owners are now sitting on properties, waiting for the big sale rather than the quick one, it's diminishing the amount of available properties. With interest rates so low there are many interested buyers. We've got big demand, but low supply. Time to cash in.

The problem for me with the housing market is that people are paying these prices. $600,000 for a small shack that needs an extra $75,000 in repairs just to make it liveable?  Where do I sign? As long as that's the case, I'm going to be renting. It's in every business person's best interest to have low supply in times of huge demand. Not low enough to where you have zero inventory, but just low enough that it scares people into thinking that if they don't buy now, they may never get a chance to buy again.

I call it "fear capitalism." I've been watching it for the last two years.

I was asking my friend last night, "If I don't buy now do you think I'll ever be able to afford one down the road?" I could have been talking about a house or a bottle of Port Ellen.

-David Driscoll


The First Hot Deal of Fall

I promised you we would start working hard to bring you hot deals. Deals you can afford. Deals that bring single malt whisky back to that enjoyable, pour-yourself-a-few-fingers, end-of-the-day drink that you don't have to fuss over, but can still enjoy.  I also promised that I would stop buying overpriced whisky and start working with producers who have your best interests first. I have been working with Morrison-Bowmore and Campari all week to put this little project together. I'm soooooooooo pumped about it.

Bowmore Legend Single Malt Whisky $23.99 - The Bowmore Legend is an absolutely delicious Islay whisky.  It's got the perfect amount of smoke and the right amount of richness.  At this price, we had to taste it against Johnnie Black and there's really no comparison.  The Walker Black, being a blend, is tasty enough, but it thins out at the back.  The Bowmore Legend being 100% single malt whisky (at around eight years of age, I believe) is simply more exciting. Being someone who loves oily, smoky, and fruity flavors in my malt, I can't think of a better deal for a bottle of whisky since I started working at K&L.  This is cheaper than Glenfiddich 12!!!

Auchentoshan Classic Lowland Single Malt Whisky $23.99 - This has been at $30 for as long as I can remember.  Tasting the soft, light, and vanilla-laden character of the Bourbon cask aging, I look at the price point of Auchentoshan now and think, "this is the same price as Jameson's now."  That's just ridiculous.  Get in on this while it's priced where it's at.

I have to say that I am very impressed with the direction Morrison-Bowmore is taking towards more cooperation with retailers.  First, they hired Rachel Barrie to do their blending, which helps to improve their product.  Then they allowed us to start buying casks directly, giving us a heavenly barrel of Glen Garioch for our exclusive collection. Now they've responded to our blog post that called for better prices for single malts and have given both us and the whisky consumer a chance to drink something delicious for a reasonable fee.  Bravo, Bowmore.  Bravo.  You've got our full support and I'm sure the support of our customers once they taste how good these whiskies are for the price.  I'm buying my bottle of Legend right now.


Speaking of Morrison-Bowmore, they're owned by Suntory who happens to be in the tasting bar tonight.  Neyah White, their brand ambassador just emailed to remind me that Mike Miyamoto, who is the former Master Distiller at Hakushu (as well as former Master Distiller at Yamazaki and for Managing Director of Morrison Bowmore) will be here tonight as well to pour the Japanese whiskies.  This is a fantastic chance to meet some of Japan's whisky legends. Don't miss tonight's event at 5 PM.  It's a Halloween party you'll be happy you attended.

-David Driscoll


What's the Scoop?

Five days without a post? I must have died face-down over the toilet not to have written anything new! Actually, we're knee-deep in the middle of Whisky Season and, with the holidays officially starting in two days, we're already getting pounded with extra orders. I've had little time to think about writing something new for the blog, let alone actually doing it.  There's no time to think about putting together a cohesive piece, so I'll just have to give you the scoop in brief blasts of information.  Here we go:

- Adam Herz from the Los Angeles Whisk(e)y Society just posted another warning to those purchasing collectables from Bonham's auction. Now that Ebay has been shutdown, these guys are pretty much the only game left in town. Let me tell you this right now – I don't know anything about how Bonham's is run. All I know is that many other alcohol-related operations are more about making money than actually doing their research. Liquor companies are being blinded by $$$ signs right now.  There is a ton of money to be made with booze at the moment. Don't expect these companies to be looking out for your best interests.  I'm not naming anyone or claiming that Bonham's is one of these operations – I'm just saying: do not assume that anyone is looking out for you, the consumer (except for Adam and K&L, of course!). As someone who is currently shopping for a house, I'm consistently stunned by the similarities I see in the Bay Area real estate market and the whisk(e)y industry. Pop.

- I've known for years that musical tastes come back around every other decade. When I was in high school in the mid-90's, we loved the rock music of the 1970's, which went on to influence the grunge bands of the 1990's.  The 1980's were totally uncool in 1995. Those Reagan years were too cheesy, too focused on fun, too over the top. The 1990's got serious, alternative, and deep.  We talked about real emotions, suicide, drug addiction, and stopped worrying about the big party. Life was too messed to think about enjoying yourself! The 1970's had serious musicians like Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin who were also rocking out with authenticity. Then the new millennium hit and the 1980's came back in full-force. Electronic pop was the focus of everything music-related and neon-colored fashion became all the rage once again. Now that we're into the second decade of the millennium, get ready for a 1990's revival. Those old Alice in Chains albums are starting to sound pretty good again! I was at Urban Outfitters in San Francisco a few weeks back and they were pumping out Mazzy Star while teenagers shopped for retro flannel shirts.  Right on schedule.

That being said, I'm noticing a similar trend with booze. Many of this generation's drinkers are rejecting the wine cellars of the previous one. They're into whisk(e)y and they're not only interested in fun anymore. They're interested in the experience. This is serious! They're not just into pouring a Dewar's on the rocks. They're into some real, quality, high-end stuff. You wouldn't understand. You just don't get it. You're into that Def Leppard stuff. You don't know how serious Eddie Vedder is. This isn't a game. This is real, man. We're so misunderstood.

I think we're getting to that point (or at least I am) where it's fun to go see the Poison/Cinderella reunion tour. That means it's OK to start drinking Johnnie Walker again. 

- What's going on at K&L in the liquor department? We're super busy getting the newest batch of pre-arrivals together.  The Benrinnes, Longmorn, and Glenlochy are arriving this week and we'll be looking to get the orders processed early next week. David OG just got our newest Evan William's barrel into Hollywood and will be getting that distributed throughout all of our stores ASAP.  As the holidays get into full swing, there is less and less time for emailing and blogging. We're simply just trying to keep our heads afloat.  

Bear with us.  It's Whisk(e)y Season.

-David Driscoll


The Industry Response Continues

I told you about my lovely conversation with Diageo yesterday. Today I had another wonderful meeting with the folks at Campari who represent the Morrison-Bowmore portfolio here in the U.S.  They were also quite interested in working out better pricing to make single malt whisky more affordable. They want to help us get back to basics. If you walked into K&L today and asked me for a great single malt for less than $30, our options would be very limited. Glenfiddich 12, Glenlivet 12, and........and..........Buehler.......anyone? That's all I've got!  Wow, that's not very many.  Single malts are no longer everyday items for many people.

Morrison-Bowmore, however, would like to help change that.  They want to help make drinking fun again.  They want to add more selections to that under $30 price bracket, so look for some fun party deals within the next week.  It won't be more the Bowmore 18 or the 1994 Glen Garioch.  But if the Bowmore Legend and Auchentoshan were the same price as a bottle of Glenfiddich 12, wouldn't that be a no-brainer? 

I would love to throw a party with endless amounts of affordable Bowmore.  That sounds like fun.  However, being loose and free with one's alcohol appreciation requires reasonable prices that don't make us afraid of emptying those precious drops from our pricey bottles.  I'll be excited to announce some tasty new deals next week.

See how this is paying off?  This is amazing.

-David Driscoll