Potocki Vodka

As most out there would assume, when a vendor wants to come by and taste vodka with me I don’t exactly jump into the air and yell, “Sure thing!”  If there’s anything we really don’t need anymore of at K&L right now, it’s vodka.  If there’s anything that my spirits customers could care less about, it’s vodka.  If there’s anything more difficult to sell based on quality and authenticity (two things that are requisite of any new product to hit our shelf), I don’t know what it is.  Vodka is image, vodka is brand loyalty, vodka is R. Kelly in the club.

Enter Jan-Roman Potocki.

I’m always willing to meet with the founder or producer of any product because I appreciate the willingness to discuss to specifics. When Jan came in to the San Francisco store he didn’t talk about gold medals, or where his vodka was being poured in New York – he got right down to the details.  Potocki Vodka is made from 100% Polish rye, it’s distilled twice (because once is not enough, and three times is too much), and his family has been making it since 1816.  I swirled the spirit in my glass while I listened.  I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest, but at least this guy was the real deal.  We get people in periodically looking for authentic Polish vodka, so maybe we would bring in a few bottles just for them.

Then we tasted it.

Just for the record, no product in my opinion is more difficult to decipher quality in than vodka.  It’s taken me years just to tell the difference between decent stuff and the really good ones, but sometimes I’m still unclear as to why some are as expensive as they are.  With Potocki, there’s no question in my mind whatsoever – this stuff is amazing.  What’s so good about it?  I’ll make a list and that way it will be easier to explain:

1) My Eastern European friends tell me that good vodka should be sipped like fine single malt scotch.  This stuff goes down without so much as a hint of burn, but it’s not a textural thing (if that makes sense).  I’ve had plenty of clean, smooth, non-threatening vodka that didn’t do anything for me.  The Potocki vodka still tastes faintly of rye, so there is some kick from the grain.  A hint of vanilla comes through somehow and the stuff is clean as mountain spring water.  I went back four times to re-taste and each time I thought it got better.

2) The guy who has his name on the bottle actually makes it.  That’s a big plus.

3) With ice and a splash of vermouth, this stuff would make a vodka cocktail actually worth drinking over a gin martini every now and then.  I can’t believe I just wrote that.

4) It’s authentic Polish high-end stuff.  From what I’ve read, this is the best Polish vodka around and Poland is where vodka comes from, so by that logic it’s the best authentic vodka there is.  Having tasted numerous Polish vodkas, I concur.  I love having authentic examples of regional specialty spirits in my store, so this helps us out with that niche.

I can’t promise you that you’ll have the same experience that I had because I think that tasting a ton of other vodkas is necessary before recognizing the quality, but this is about as excited as I’ve ever been about vodka.  I am ordering this immediately for delivery next week and it should retail for a little over $34, which makes it competitive with the other high-end brands.  I’ll be recommending this one however because it might be the best vodka I’ve ever had.

-David Driscoll


Tasting Today @ Gitane


The Rittenhouse 25 will be open and available for a measly price today at Gitane.  We'll be starting right at 5:30 as usual, so make sure you're there on time to get a full pour.  Should be somewhere around $8-9 for a glass, which considering the $170 price of this whiskey per bottle is a steal!  I hope we can keep doing these tastings at Gitane for some time to come.  So far the turnout has been amazing, so I hope to see you there today. 

-David Driscoll



The Day In Pictures

Too beat to type right now.  Going to express things visually.

These are on their way.  Got my final taste today of the samples.  Mmmmm.....good.

Today was the staff appreciation BBQ, so I made sure that our managers were hard at work appreciating me.

Westby the grillmaster getting some sirloin ready with his fancy olive oil. 

Today's weather finally felt like summer.  This salad helped too.

Jorge "El Guapo" esta descansando con un plato de comida deliciosa.

After lunch it was booze time.  New makes from Glenglassaugh.  Regular, wine-aged, peated, and young bourbon.  200ml bottles should be in soon.  Interesting stuff from the newly re-opened distillery.

Remember that Laphroaig that John Hansell liked so much a few weeks back?  Thanks to David OG and his detective skills we managed to get it distributed in CA.  Then we bought all of it, so now it's exclusively ours.  I agree with JH. Very, very good.

Before you laugh this off, I really like what Absolut is doing in its support for regional pride.  This batch is flavored with grapes, dragon fruit and papaya.  It smells like beautiful rose wine.  With soda it's divine.  For $19.99 we're gonna sell a ton out of the SF store.

As I left to head over to Martin's West, I had a flat tire. I managed to drive over to Big-O real fast and get some new ones, but I had to walk the rest of the way.  No matter, I got there in time and the Springbank 18 was poured.  What a nice way to finish the day.

-David Driscoll



Bringing Back The Blends

I have a deep passion for all things retro - I still practically live in the '80s.  Therefore, I have always admired John Glaser's enthusiasm for blended whisky, a great drink for a Mad Men-themed party and the first choice of an all-but-dead drinking culture.  I don't believe that John loves blended Scotch because it's a nostalgic throwback kind-of-thing, but rather because he really finds beauty in the grains.  Grain whisky is lost on just about 99% of the single malt drinking population and I can understand why - the flavors are more herbal, the textures not nearly as supple.  However, the art of marrying well-made grain whisky with quality single malt is still a fascinating and rewarding adventure should one choose to immerse oneself in it.  It takes time though.  I didn't just pour myself a glass of John's Compass Box Double Single (a delicate balance of Glen Elgin and Port Dundas) and jump out of my chair - it took time and focus to figure out what was going on in that glass.  When I figured it out, I was spellbound.  For that reason, I've always felt that John was fighting an uphill battle because most people have no patience or desire to drink something that doesn't speak to them instantly. 

John isn't backing down from that challenge, however. 

He's more fired up than ever.

Click on this link and see what John is up to now.  I'm going to try and talk with him later this week to get some more info.  I'll also be in London at the end of the month, so hopefully I can visit with him and see exactly what the future holds. 

Stay tuned.

-David Driscoll


No Authority 

If you think there's no authority in the world of wine critics, think again.  When Robert Parker releases his Bordeaux ratings every May, the wine world sits in anticipation, waiting with baited breath to see just exactly what they can effectively charge for their bottles.  A higher Parker score equals a higher price tag, so each point can mean the difference between hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars .  If K&L sends out an email to customers and the review of the product reads, "96 points Wine Spectator," you can expect that wine to sell out within the hour.  Thousands of people read the Wine Spectator and a 90+ review can equal big sales for the recipient of such an award.  The world of wine is such a large, complicated, and ever-expanding one, that people like me get paid to interpret it for those without the time to do it themselves.  People defer to authority because wine can be so confusing, so snooty, so high-browed that they don't dare misspeak or misstep for fear of revealing a weakness.  Most people also don't want to waste time or money on a bad bottle, nor do they want to show up at a party with a bottle that needs to be explained.  The bottle needs to speak for itself. 

The authority of these powerful critics extends far beyond points and scores.  Robert Parker's book of Bordeaux is still one of the best reference books on the region.  Clive Coates has an expansive, and all-encompassing tome on Burgundy.  James Laube wrote a great manual on California.  These guys are all-around experts whose opinions are respected as much as their knowledge.  What's interesting to me is that the whisk(e)y world has yet to produce someone as powerful or influencial.  There are and have been some profound figures, no doubt, (Jim Murray, Michael Jackson, John Hansell, Dave Broom, Chuck Cowdery, etc.) but none of them wield the same might with whisk(e)y as someone like Parker does with wine.  If I send an email out about a new whisk(e)y and I put "92 points Malt Advocate" it just doesn't have the same effect.

Part of the reason I think this crossover has not occured is because whisk(e)y has no real vintage.  No one is waiting for the next seasonal release that is based upon growing conditions or weather.  Whisk(e)y bottles don't need to be kept in a cellar to mature either, therefore customers don't need to inquire about the drinking window or ask, "How long should I keep this before opening it?"  Whisk(e)y also has limited producers, distilleries, and production methods, which therefore limits the amount of information available about it.  For example, there are always new wineries or new producers making new wines from different grapes, which results in an ever-expanding universe of information that needs to be processed and deciphered.  You could write about new wines everyday and just scratch the surface of a single region, let alone the entire planet.  The whisk(e)y world is large, but it doesn't grow at the same speed.  It's methods are not constantly in flux and there is not nearly as much interest in how it is produced or the source of its materials.  Because of this, I think that whisky writers and critics have to really dig to continually find something interesting to say.

What do people want to read about when it relates to whisk(e)y?  Wine has its many facets: farming, production, cellaring, and tasting - four distinctly different subjects, each with their own culture of enthusiasts.  What does whisk(e)y have?  Those who like it and those who really like it, that's about it.  The people who really like it are interested in the distillery, understanding the flavors, and learning about why they taste the way they do.  However, I don't know one person (discounting professionals) who cares about the source of the barley, the farming methods of different grains, the bogs containing peat, the quality of the water, the weather surrounding the warehouse, or the wood in the cooperage.  Heck, I'm a professional and my interest in those subjects is mild at best.  That leaves flavor as the one overall interest of those who like whisky (not that it shouldn't be the most important, because it should), but how much can you continually say about flavor?  How long can you read about the taste of whisky before you begin to nod off?

Part of this phenomenon is obviously the result of the information age we live in.  Parker was established before the internet with its limitless blogs and amateur experts dilluted the pool.  We get our information from so many sources these days that it may not be possible for another grand publication to ever establish itself.  Now it just comes down to the simplest possible summary there is: points.  But if points haven't taken over whisk(e)y already, will they ever?  Will there come a day when a customer asks me to look up a review in the Whisky Bible?  That kind of occurance happens every single day concerning wine, but it's never happened once regarding a whisk(e)y - at least not to me.  The whisk(e)y world has no true, established authority.  Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I'm not sure. 

-David Driscoll