Consumer Response

Since I decided that I hate comment fields on webpages, I've deactivated that feature on ours.  However, like those old-fashioned things we used to call newspapers, I still get "letters to the editor" every now and again.  I'd like to post part of a recent response here for you to read from K&L customer Ben:

I'm young compared to the stereotypical malt enthusiast.  I'm learning quite a bit from specialty bars and blogs like yours and becoming quite a rabid malt maniac.  In fact, ever since I discovered your blog and K&L I have shopped exclusively at your Hollywood store.  I used to go to BevMo, but K&L really struck me and I don't want to go back.  I've found better deals, better service and better, more interesting products (I'm sipping on my Bladnoch 18 now!).  I've gotten my girlfriend to shop for wine at K&L and steer my friends toward you too for any and all booze.  Is that not loyalty?  If I tried to buy a special release online you wouldn't see much history from me.  That's because I still like to shop the old fashioned way.  I like seeing bottles on shelves and talking to knowledgeable staff.  And I simply can't afford to buy $100 bottles of Scotch every week, like the best K&L customers.  You have no idea how many times I've stood in a K&L daydreaming of a shopping spree, but the cold hard reality is I have to think before I buy.  Yet, it's kind of sad to think my pay and online record translates to whether or not I deserve to be allowed to buy a special release.  If you're going to assume I'm not loyal, who is the other guy online shopping? 

If I want to buy a special bottle, I'll know not to go to K&L since there's no way I'll have a chance.  I can't afford the chance.  I'll go elsewhere.

You simply don't know who you're dealing with online and for that reason, better or worse, the lottery is still the fairest way.  For every cherry picker who wins the lottery, just think there might be someone like me, who saves up for 6 months and enters a lotto praying he'll get a bottle of Brora - and one day finally does - just imagine that joy.  Imagine that loyalty from then on.

These are all fantastic points for keeping the bottle lottery going, and yet simultaneously are reasons NOT to do the lottery.  While there have definitely been times in the past where I have helped great K&L customers get that bottle of Pappy they want so much, there have been just as many times where I've helped guys like Ben get one as well.  The great part about holding back bottles of special release booze is that it allows us to actually use them in exactly the fashion that Ben is describing.  I remember recently when a new customer came in looking for a bottle of Old Potrero and I happened to have an extra on my desk.  That guy was so happy and thankful for that bottle and I've seen him in the store on a regular basis ever since.  Knowing that you don't necessarily have to "earn" your way into the special release pool is definitely a reason to shop at K&L.

However, concerning the whole point about:

"If I want to buy a special bottle, I'll know not to go to K&L since there's no way I'll have a chance.  I can't afford the chance.  I'll go elsewhere."

We already have people going elsewhere because they know we simply can't get enough.  A lot of my best customers know to head over to BevMo right now to grab the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bottles because there are simply more to get.  Part of what separates us from other stores in my opinion is the fact that customers can email myself or David OG at any time and we'll always do our best to help out.  However, as we continue to expand our customer base, our ability to provide that kind of "local retailer" service will diminish because we simply don't have the time or the resources to help every single person with limited edition products.

The point there is: if you you're a resourceful shopper, you can definitely get a bottle of BTAC or Pappy from a larger retailer right off the shelf.  I literally get ten phone calls from guys like this everyday.  They're going down a list of retail stores and hitting every single one to check on the availability of these bottles.  My point about checking order histories to determine allocation of these bottles wasn't necessarily focused on handing out Pappy to the guys who purchase the most.  It was more about making sure those weren't the ONLY bottles these customers ever purchased.  I don't see the benefit from our end, nor from the perspective of loyal customers like Ben, in letting our hard-earned Pappy bottles go out to customers who use us only for that specific purpose. 

Ben also brings up this issue: If you're going to assume I'm not loyal, who is the other guy online shopping? You simply don't know who you're dealing with online and for that reason, better or worse, the lottery is still the fairest way.

The problem with the lottery is that it definitely does not take into account people who just walk in.  If they're not connected via email to David OG or myself, then there's no chance.  The lottery is done via email, so I really don't know who any of the entrants are unless I know them from the store.  The whole process is already an insider thing, so to try and make it something more tangible for walk-in shoppers is almost impossible.  The point that definitely needs to be made clear, however, is that an "online" profile is no different from an "in-store" profile.  You can have any purchase you make in the store added to that list automatically just by using the same credit card, so there's definitely no discriminating between online and in-store.

For now, we're definitely not straying from the lottery.  However, you can see that it's a touchy subject - from our side and from the side of our customers.  What I hope you all know is that we're definitely committed to keeping all of you happy.  If we were to just put these on the shelf and have a free-for-all, we would make the exact same amount of profit as if we were to raffle them.  There's no monetary advantage in doing the lottery.  It's about being fair and allowing everyone to have a chance. 

Maybe people who have won before should be excluded?  I don't know.  I continue to be haunted by this issue and express these feelings here on this blog.

-David Driscoll


What's The Fairest Way?

Fall is when many of the top whisk(e)y producers release their limited, special release items that send whisk(e)y fanatics into a frenzy, scurrying all over the country to track down their favorite bottles.  The Sazerac company has two of the most sought-after collections - both the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and the Pappy Van Winkle Bourbons.  On top of those American classics, Diageo is planning on shipping their 2011 Rare Malts series across the pond, also in minute quantities for select retail outlets.  With more and more people discovering these whiskies every day, there is nowhere near enough booze to supply demand.  I mean it's not even close.  While these companies look at numbers to decide who gets how much of what, should retail stores be using the same standards to decide how to distribute these bottles fairly?

My allocation of Pappy Van Winkle is entirely based on how much Rain Vodka, Sazerac Rye, and Buffalo Trace Bourbon I purchased over the past year.  The bigger stores like BevMo burn through more product so it's only fair that they get more Pappy.  Unfortunately, the collectors and the serious geeks who want this stuff don't shop there.  They shop at places like K&L.  I've had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful people over my last 2 years as spirits buyer and, because I want to please all of these folks, I'm put in the position of trying to satisfy them all.  If I get 6 bottles of Pappy Van Winkle 15 year and 6 bottles of the 20 (which is about what I get), then how can I possibly satiate the appetites of more than 500+ special customers? 

Right now our strategy is simple.  We have a special insider email list and we send out an email asking people which bottles they would like.  We throw the names into a hat and choose winners out of the lottery.  It takes hours of extra work, but at least it's fair.  However, is that really the fairest way?  If my allocation is determined by how much I buy, should the most voracious K&L spirits customers therefore also be given first dibs?  Should the guy that shops here once a year have the same chance as the guy who comes to all the tastings and buys all the special K&L bottles?  I'm conflicted about these issues as you can see.  I don't like being in the position of having to play favorites, but I also don't like checking customer profiles to see that the only thing they've ever bought from us is Pappy Van Winkle every November.  There's a certain responsibility to take care of the people who take care of you. 

In a sense, that's what the Sazerac company does. We support their business by patronizing their brands.  As a "thank you," they send us their most special whiskies.  Maybe we should be taking a look at some of our most dedicated customers and simply say "thank you" to them as well by giving them the cherished bottles they're after. 

-David Driscoll


Intelligent Design

Our Bruichladdich Chenin Blanc cask is here.  The design is typical Bruichladdich sleek - modern, eye-catching, and cutting edge.  The whisky itself is no different.  I've never had a saltier malt before and I absolutely love it.  The acidity of the wine really comes through in the whisky.  The weight is present on the palate due to the sweetness of the wine residue, but that Loire Valley minerality is playing a role as well with the Laddie's characteristic saline quality.  It's not overly sweet by any means, but rather savory with smooth textures.  Delicious and totally fascinating.

We almost hit the 10 year mark, but fell just a bit short.  This single malt is still going to turn some heads however.  At $72.99, it's by far the most value-packed whisky we imported this year.  I've tasted it five times so far and it just keeps getting better. 

This is our baby.  Our first ever Faultline release with our own actual label.  Not only is it a retro, Mad-Men-esque style package, the whisky is top-notch as well.  In all honesty, David OG was a bit higher on this malt than I was when we tasted it originally.  Revisiting it now, however, I can see how right he was in his quality assessment.  Think of it as baby-Ladyburn - the same caramel and Cognac flavors are present from the Bourbon barrel, but the malt itself still has plenty to say at 21.  There's a slight peated note with sweet grains that tickle on the finish.

I'm hard pressed to pick my favorite barrel at this point.  I would have originally said the Bladnoch, but tasting this bottle again I'm certainly torn.  Nevertheless, 2011 will come to be known as the year of the Lowland malt at K&L.  Our Ladyburn and Bladnoch casks have been huge successes, despite the fact that everyone seems to think Lowland malts begin and end with boring Auchentoshan.  This Littlemill will put the final stamp on our claim that old Lowland malts deserve to be ranked with the best whiskies in the world. 

Both of these bottles are headed over to our warehouse this weekend for pre-arrival processing and should be ready by the end of next week.  I can't wait to hear back from those of you who get one!

-David Driscoll


One Man's Opinion

Unlike, say, a Consumer Reports review of a new Samsung flat screen TV or an Auto Trader summary of the 2011 Volkswagen series, when we read an opinion from any critic it will be skewed on personal taste - both literally and figuratively.  There are very few facts about books, movies, music, and whisky.  "This book is 512 pages long."  "This movie has Johnny Depp in it."  "This whisky is bottled at 46%."  Those are facts.  "This book is amazingly well-written."  "This movie is hilarious."  "This whisky tastes like coconut and brown sugar."  Those are not facts.  It's important to keep the difference between those types of statements in mind.  One person's own opinion is not necessarily any proof that something has quality or merit, even if that person is generally knowledgeable concerning the related subject matter. 

There's nothing worse than getting reservations at a restaurant, only to hear that your friends went there and hated it.  Immediately, you begin thinking about cancelling and finding another place to eat, or you scrutinize every bite on your plate.  However, maybe your friends had a bad experience, or maybe they just have different taste in cuisine.  No matter the reason, hearing something like that really gets your head spinning, but you'll never know what you actually think unless you block out all that hoopla and decide for yourself.  Sometimes I feel like we can't make a decision anymore without consulting Yelp or some other consumer website.  It's one thing to search for new recommendations, and another to let those recommendations guide you right out of your own personal impulses.

Having your own opinion and sticking with it is incredibly important in life. Nobody respects the guy who changes his belief to fit in with what's cool or hip. Yet, ironically enough, we change our opinions in the hope that doing so will make people like us more!  There's not a person out there who hasn't at some point wavered in their view on a particular subject after hearing someone else disagree.  Facts are what should sway an argument, however, not opinions.  When Jim Murray awarded Old Pulteney 21 the title of #1 whisky in the world, I thought to myself "Really? That's crazy."  However, after having some time to let that statement sink in, I thought, "Jeez, maybe I missed something."  Tasting it again I realized I simply didn't concur with that judgment. That's not to say Jim Murray is wrong because he literally can't be.  Factually, there's no such thing as the #1 whisky in the world, so it's just his opinion.

-David Driscoll


Tasting Update!

BIG CHANGE OF PLANS for Redwood City!  Piramide Tequila had to cancel last minute, so Davorin Kuchan will be coming over tonight to debut his brand new, highly anticipated, barrel-aged, 100% rye whiskey here tonight!  He’ll also have the Rusty Blade Gin, and the Kuchan Walnut brandy on hand as well.  I will also let anyone who attends the tasting reserve a bottle of the rye in advance.  It’s been a long time coming and it’s finally done! 

-David Driscoll