Incredulous in L.I.

I spent this last weekend traveling. I set out late Thursday evening with my wife to visit a place that hardly seems real, the Hamptons. This outrageous land mass jutting out into the Atlantic attracts high-end New Yorkers visiting via helicopter. In between us and this billionaire’s playground are 80 miles of what I can only describe as some hybrid mash up of New England and the Jersey Shore. I imagine Long Island exists in the psyche of the average New York resident the way the Inland Empire exists for Angelinos. If you're a native and someone asks you where you're from, you wouldn't hesitate to say, "New York" or "Los Angeles." But if you're pressed you will reluctantly admit that you're actually from, "Patchogue" or "Pomona." Long Islanders are ardent self-promoters, but deep down I get the sense that they wish the whole long narrow thing would just be considered part of the Big Apple, The Really Big Apple. 

I love New York. I spent my college years up-state and consider myself relatively knowledgeable about the Empire State. That said, I've never ventured further east than Bushwick. I was unsure what to expect.  Part of what we found was highly predictable. When you arrive in the Hamptons, you immediately appreciate the quaint, old timey feel of the buildings, the romantic landscape, and the historic landmarks.  The scenery is indeed stunning, with gorgeous forest stretching right up to the beach.  Massive and majestic estates line the water's edge, giving it a noble and historic feel. If you stay on the main drag you'll be taken directly into Bridgehampton, a small hamlet with a few high-end boutiques and some nice restaurants. It's small and not over developed. An independent ice cream parlor still operates as it has for decades, accepting only cash and closing at 7pm. honestly, it's a lovely town. There are several beautiful little towns between Hampton Bays and Montauk, which have retained their authentic feel; the charm of a far flung fishing village with a sort of sophistication like Cape Code meets the Hudson Valley. There is plenty of awesome seafood and if you play your cards right you can spend the time eating REALLY well. However, certain places have been totally overrun by bougie over the top national stores and have totally lost their small town feel. East Hampton is king of the castle here and if you're wealthy and trying to be seen in the Hamptons this is no doubt where you'll want to be.  Almost every store front has a designer's name sprawled across the front. Ultra modern stores crammed in the centuries old building. Who can blame them? There's TONS of money here and people on vacation want to shop. I'm not faulting anyone for that, but when you talk to the locals they'll tell you how difficult the transition from sleepy summer hideaway to couture shopping destination has been. They talk about how many local businesses have been forced out because these stores are willing to pay 3 or 4 times the going rate for this prized real estate. Nonetheless, authenticity still exists among the faux fur and Fendi bags. 

Sag Harbor to the north of Bridgehampton is one such place. While it's clear that a new generation has added some new life to the commercial space in Sag Harbor, there is not nearly the same overwhelming sense that everything is out of place. A fancy coffee joint and a hipster market & deli are mostly welcome additions for the native population. The occasional high-end furniture store is offset by the majestic and authentic American Hotel or the old grocery store selling the days catch. If you happen to be in the area you MUST stop for breakfast at Estia's Little Kitchen. This is a greasy spoon that looks like it would be churning out crap for tourists from the outside, but turns out to be an awesome and over-the-top experience, which will fill you up for the entire day. I highly recommend trying their homemade hot sauce.

Right in between Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor are two of Long Island's best wineries.  Long Island has a very interesting wine scene and while they're not making the world's most affordable wines, they are making some interesting and high quality wines. We stopped by the Wolffer Estate outside of Sagaponack, where they're making some of Long Island's most expensive wines.  The wine maker is German and specializes in making cool climate acid driven wines.  Lots of Chardonnay, Cab Franc, and Merlot are planted on this small estate.  The clay rich soils and the maritime climate lend themselves primarily toward the Merlot and I tasted one incredible wine while I was there. The '98 Estate Merlot, containing a small portion of Cab Franc, reminded me of some very elegant and old school right bank Bordeaux. Some of the other wines ranged in quality from mediocre to very good and all in all the experience is not to be missed if you're in the area.  The other winery to watch in the South Fork is Channing Daughters.  They specialize is small production single vineyard expressions and have planted some really fun varietals like Friulano, Blaufrankisch, Franconia, and Lagrein. They're also experimenting with orange wines and are just awesome people. Not all of the wines are A+, but the majority of them are extremely delicious and in a generalized way this is probably New York's most exciting winery. 

Now, while the wine situation was quite refreshing, many restaurants feature various local wines as well as an interesting selection of imports, the spirits situation was a little more questionable.  I went into probably twelve different wine & spirits stores across Long Island and found only a few noteworthy destinations. One was outside of Bridgehampton in the commercial park and stocked a large variety of American Whisky. This included some of that old Vintage 23 Year from KBD, which if I'd had more room in my luggage I would have snagged (still selling these at 2007 prices). The other was in the little hamlet of Amagansett, stocking an excellent selection of gin, whisk(e)y, and even had a bit of Pappy 20 year ($150), which I was surprised to see considering its proximity to ultra label conscious East Hampton.

By far the most shocking and disappointing moment on the trip came as I saddled up to a local bar (admittedly at a high-end eatery) and ordered a Negroni and a Manhattan for my wife and I. They served it in a thimble. It couldn't have been more than 1.5 oz of actual alcohol.  The two drinks, containing no more than 3 oz of Maker's Mark, Beefeater, Martini & Rossi, and Campari, cost me $36.  When my wife requested the requisite red cellulose blob that had been omitted the bartender exclaimed, "We're all out, but those things take 3 months to digest anyway." I mentioned that this would be a great place to use some nice brandied cherries or that they buy the fancy Luxardo Maraschinos to which he replied, "This isn't the type of restaurant where we'd pay extra for something like a cherry." I almost spat my Negroni across the room. Finally, the Bartender relented and kindly pulled a couple of red globs from the pastry chef's station. I realized how much better those crappy cherries are in a drink than on top of your dessert.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been shocked about the $18 mini-cocktails, but in the end this was the only negative food experience we had the whole time, which was truly unexpected. While a lot of ridiculous people must waste tons of money on subpar stuff in the Hamptons, if you do your research you should be able to live it UP pretty well. If you ever find yourself stuck in the Hamptons, just remember to listen to the locals.  I'm going back in October for another wedding, so I'll have the second part of my incredulous Long Island adventures later in the year.

Recommended stops:

North Fork Table & Inn

Channing Daughter's Winery

Almond Bar & Restaurant

Dockside Bar & Restaurant

Wolffer Estate Winery

Candy Kitchen Ice Cream

Estia's Little Kitchen

McNamara's Liquor

Amagansett Wine & Spirits 

Bellport Beer

-David Othenin-Girard


Speaking to Luxury

On Monday afternoon, at approximately 3:30 PM, a luxury car and rented driver will be picking up K&L Champagne buyer Gary Westby at his home in Palo Alto. About thirty minutes later, that same car will drive north on Highway 101, exit at San Mateo, and cross El Camino Real, eventually stopping in front of my apartment. I will enter the automobile, acknowledge my colleague, close the door, and head east over the bay to Walnut Creek (hopefully sipping on Krug and Hennessey the entire way!) where we will terminate at the local Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. Gary and I will exit the car, enter the steakhouse, and make our way to the podium, where we will address a crowd of LVMH employees on the subject of luxury sales.  

Luxury. How do you sell it? Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey - a super company selling luxury handbags, luggage, couture clothing, high-end Champagne, Cognac, and single malt whisky. They've got luxury. They've got expensive. Do they have quality?

I think they've got it. They've got history as well.  Louis Vuitton made the first flat-bottom trunk in 1858, lining it with canvas and making it easily stackable for long voyages.  Hennessey is one of the most respected houses in the history of Cognac.  The same goes for Moet & Chandon with Champagne. Under their umbrella are other producers as well, like whisky distilleries Glenmorangie and Ardbeg.  I don't have to say much about their reputations.  Bill Lumsden and Rachel Barrie have done enough.  The prices demanded from LVMH products are not utilitarian, however. These are status symbol items that garner respect, so their cost reflects both quality and desirability. It's not my place to tell people how to spend their money, so I don't care to comment on what I would or wouldn't spend my money on. My job is to evaluate quality and guide those who want an evaluation on it. Luxury is defined as: conducive to sumptuous living, usually a delicacy, elegance, or refinement of living rather than a necessity. In my professional opinion, that definition definitely applies to the LVMH portfolio.

Because we sell a good amount of Ardbeg and Glenmorangie, I've been invited to speak at this event. I'm actually quite honored to participate. K&L also happens to move quite a bit of Krug and Moet Champagne, so I'll have Gary Westby along side me.  They want to know our strategy for luxury sales.  My speech will be short and simple.  I've got one point and everything else will stem from this easy bit of advice: believe in what you're selling. If you're in the business of selling something, you'd better believe in your product – especially when that product costs hundreds to thousands of dollars. 

I lose sleep over my fifty dollar recommendations, let alone my hundred dollar suggestions.  When we released our Glenlochy cask, I was a wreck.  Four-hundred dollars for a bottle of whisky?  I loved every drop of that malt, but I still couldn't speak for the future opinions of others. I think it's worth that price, but will other people feel the same? How do you know what their expectations will be?  What if the whisky falls short?

As part of the outline, LVMH has asked me to address my business history and philosophy. I'm a former elementary school teacher with no business experience. I relate far more to the customer than the business owner. They've asked me to talk about the role of price in the luxury segment. Price had better have a rationale. Something can be expensive, as long as there's a reason for it. What type of expertise is needed to sell these expensive items? That's easy: you need to understand why it's expensive. I'm fine with something being expensive as long as there's an explanation. However, if a group of rich guys gets together in a boardroom and decides their whisky should be expensive, simply because they want to cater to other rich guys, that's bullshit. Luxury isn't decided. It simply is.

Eating a roasted dodo bird is a luxury. Drinking Armagnac from the 1800's is a luxury. It's also an experience and ultimately, that's what people are paying for – the chance to say, "I did something special."  If there's nothing special about the experience, then there's nothing luxurious about it. If you don't believe you're selling people a special and unique experience, then you're doomed. You're a snakeoil salesman without a rationale. You're about the money, not about the opportunity.

Making money and helping people don't have to be mutually exclusive. Doctors make money. Social workers make money. I do my very best to help people find great bottles of booze and that effort nets me a paycheck. My speech to LVMH will therefore be as follows: if you don't believe in the quality of LVMH products, and that they help make people feel special, then you shouldn't work on its behalf. It's always pretty clear when someone believes in what they're doing, or not.

I think Ardbeg makes some pretty great single malt whisky. As does Glenmorangie. That's why I have no problem selling them. I think they're good whiskies and I tell people exactly that. It's not all that complicated. As for their super high-end products, if someone wants a bottle of Glenmorangie Pride it's as tasty a $3500 whisky as I've ever had.  That's all I can tell you. The story of that whisky, however, needs to be told by LVMH.

-David Driscoll


Time to Relax

It's been a long, tough week. Time to grab a beer and call it a day. Have a great weekend.


Your friends in Redwood City.

-David Driscoll


New Aberlour 12 - NCF, Higher Proof

We've long felt that the Aberlour 12 year was one of the great deals in single malt at $35.99.  Now, Aberlour has stepped it up a bit by releasing their double-matured (like Balvenie, but not advertised as such) malt in a higher proof (48%), non chill-filtered edition.  The difference is remarkable.  It's so much better that I want to forget the normal Aberlour exists.  The fruit pops more, the richness is spicier, and the finish is longer.  I love high proof whisky that isn't cask strength and this is now a new favorite. Lots of sherry, lots of fruit Newton cookie, lots of goodness going on here - including the price.  Add this one to your bar, you won't be sorry. 

Aberlour 12 Year Old Non Chillfiltered Single Malt Whisky $49.99

-David Driscoll


Whisky Season is Here

If you ordered a bottle of the Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky on pre-order, we’ll be getting those organized and ready as soon as we can.  We're a bit behind at the moment, but our warehouse guys are working hard to get you your booze!  As soon as pre-arrival orders have been processed the whisky will be available on the shelf for purchase.  Hooray!

We tasted it earlier this morning and every single K&L employee in the Redwood City store has agreed: it’s amazing.  Kilchoman is the real deal and this is just more tangible proof.  No more pre-orders now that the bottles have arrived, so the price will now be $109.99.  Anyone who ordered one of these is going to be seriously stoked!  Anyone who wants one now can get one next week!  There’s a distinct lack of peated, sherry-aged whisky right now, so hopefully this scratches that itch.

In the meantime, if you’re just so excited about Kilchoman and you’re going to burst if you don’t get something new this instant, check out the new Kilchoman 100% Islay 2nd Edition Single Malt Whisky for $86.99Aged entirely in Bourbon casks, this whisky is light, lean, peppery, and full of citrus, much like a mezcal or blanco tequila.  I can’t wait for you all to taste the sherry-aged version of this when our cask arrives later this winter.  It’s soaking up all that richness as we speak.

Also wanted to make sure that everyone noticed the new calendar on the right-side margin of the page.  The tastings will be updated there from now on, so you don’t have to wait for the blog update.  Tonight is Aberlour and Scapa in Redwood City, while SF will host Bryan Davis from the Lost Distillery and his new smoky single malts.

Just a quick post today.  Cask one is here!  We’re pumped.  Get ready for more. 

-David Driscoll