Identity Crisis (Living in Denial Part IV)

Every now and again I'm not really sure why I drink what I drink. I question myself.  I question everything.

Did I make myself a gin martini because I really wanted one, or because I watched Skyfall this weekend? Did I order that pint of Guinness yesterday because it was what I felt like, or did I feel the need to do so because I was in an Irish pub? Did I actually enjoy the Guinness because it tasted good to me, or did my pleasure stem from the satisfaction of recreating authenticity: the fact that in my mind I was doing what real Irish people do.

Sometimes I'm not sure why I do what I do. I'm succeptable to romance and advertising, very impulsive, and as mercurial as they come. One day I'm all about taking karate classes, the next I'm all about staying inside.

What I do know is this: I fucking love Scotch. That being said, I almost convinced myself that I was over it last week (James Bond drinking Macallan throughout the film might have helped me to remember). I've been feeling like a total fraud lately. "David Driscoll loves Scotch! He's so passionate about it!" Am I? I'm exciting people to drink single malt with a new 16-page whisky brochure, loud and boisterous in-store confessionals, and a blog that's updated almost every day with more info on the latest whiskies. Yet, when I go home I'm not drinking whisky. I'm drinking wine usually. Or Campari. Whisky does not sound good to me when I leave K&L lately. How can that be? How can a guy who encourages other people to buy his special selections have any credibility if he doesn't actually want to drink them? "David, your passion and enthusiasm got me excited about Scotch whisky. Thank you so much for introducing me to these single barrel selections."


You know what the opposite of irony is? Enthusiasm. I had never actually thought about that until reading Christy Wampole's article in the New York Times last week. It got me thinking. I'm not being ironic when I recommend a whisky to people. It's not a sarcastic quip or an insincere jesture. I'm genuinely enthusiastic when I deal with customers because I think they're going to love it and, more than anything in the whole world, I want them to love it. I tried to think of my least ironic moment in life today – therefore, perhaps my most enthusiastic and genuine experience. You know what I came up with? A Cypress Hill concert at UCSD in 2001. We were about to graduate, I was partially drunk, and it was the Sun God Festival on campus with the LA rap group as the headliner. This was not too exciting for some students. By the beginning of the 21st century, Cypress Hill was kinda played out. Listening to Black Sunday didn't really make you very cool. I didn't give a shit, however. I was in the front row, jumping up and down, sharing the mic with B-Real at some moments because I knew every fucking word to every song. All of them. I loved Cypress Hill in junior high and high school. There was no glory in acting like I didn't. I was pumped and I had a complete blast. I was back in my Modesto bedroom. Real enthusiasm, no doubt about it.

Then I tried to think of moments when I had lied to myself. Denial. There are many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many of those moments. Times when I wanted to fit in. Periods where I wanted other people to like me. Snippets of my past where I believed there was more to something than there actually was. I like the idea of taking something complicated or difficult to understand and communicating it to the masses in an easy-to-understand fashion. That's why I taught school for most of my twenties. Wine seemed like another genre to tackle. It was such an intimidating field. People really seemed to really take it seriously. I didn't know anything about it nor did anyone else I knew. Romance, intrigue, mystery. Knowledge. I was hooked.

Six years later, I still love learning about wine. However, what I love about wine is exactly what I've always loved about knowledge – I love it when someone realizes how simple it all is. It's not all that complicated. All the pedantry and high-browed bullshit isn't necessary. That's not to say you can master wine in a day, it's to say that wine isn't something to be mastered. Wine should be enjoyed, not conquered. Despite everything I've learned, I still got suckered in again recently. I won't go into a long, boring story about what happened, but I will say that I once again realized I was wasting money on something that seemed like it should be magical, but in reality was just wine with a big price tag. Why did I think there had to be something more behind them? Why did I think I must be missing something? What keeps making me think I should appreciate something that I don't?

I remember being completely blunted at Tower Records in 1998 when Master P and No Limit Records had ten different albums out with crazy-collage covers and blingy packaging. I stared at the floor stack for about ten minutes, totally transfixed. Silkk the Shocker, Soulja Slim, Mystikal, and many other urban comicbook-esque adventures seemed to await me. I tried to buy everyone of them. Thank God my credit card got declined. I came to my senses the next day. They seemed so interesting at the time, but when my dormmate actually let me listen to his No Limit CDs I realized they totally sucked. I would have been so mad at myself, the same way I've been mad at myself this week. I know what I like. I know what genuinely gets me excited about booze. Yet, I'm totally succeptable to romance and the unknown.

So who am I? Am I the K&L spirits buyer who writes about whiskey, but really likes wine? Am I a whisky drinker who wants to act like he doesn't really like it? Am I just a guy who lets pop culture dictate what he does and doesn't like? Do I smoke when I watch Friday, drink when I read Bukowski? Or do I do what I want to do when I want to do it? It's tough to know sometimes. Enthusiasm, however, will always tell you what's true. I love Cypress Hill and I know that because I genuinely get excited when I listen to it (like right now, as I'm bobbing my head while typing this). And today, when all those whisky casks showed up, I drove down to K&L on my day off and worked with Kyle to get everything squared away. We opened sample bottles and I was absolutely giddy. No faking. No show. I was pumped to taste those whiskies. I was so excited they had finally arrived. They all tasted delicious.

I love single malt. I don't have to drink it everyday to prove it, either. I can enjoy it when I feel like it, at moments that seem appropriate. If I need to take a break and taste some wine now and again, that's fine too. Don't let me forget that. For some reason, I feel like I need to be jumping up and down about it at all times. That would be fake enthusiasm, however. Or denial.

Genuine enthusaism is a great thing.

-David Driscoll


Pre-Arrivals Due In Monday

Big news! We'll be getting another nine casks this Monday, which will immediately head over to processing for pre-arrival fulfillment.  We'll be doing the Exclusive Malt selections first so that they're ready for David Stirk and his customer tasting on Tuesday in Redwood City. Please be patient as we work to get these ready. It's the busiest time of the year when you're not trying to process thousands of pre-orders, let alone with a mountain of extra work. Jason and I will be coming in early, working extra hours to get it done quickly.

We're excited! You should be excited too! Quality booze coming your way soon.

-David Driscoll


Spirits and the Modern Meal

I'll never forget some of the meals that David and I had in France last year while looking for brandy imports. Not so much because of their quality (many were indeed amazing), however, but rather because of the awkwardness with which some of them began.

"Cognac and soda?"


"Would you like a Calvados and tonic?"

Excuse me?

"Here you go!"

Thanks. A warm Cognac and soda with no ice. Wow. What a nice way to start a meal.

This is weird. "Oh, did I say that out loud? I meant this is delicious!"

I live in the Bay Area - a place where people wear exercise clothing to the movies and where steakhouses have vegan menus, therefore my experiences and commentaries may perhaps be a bit out of touch with the rest of the world. That being said, the French countryside seems to be experiencing a little of the California health movement itself. Recent heart disease levels have people rethinking their five hour, butter and cheese-soaked dinners and the French government has lowered the blood alcohol percentage limit for legal driving in order to crack down on excessive drinking. This has resulted in a new generation of the traditional French meal - a meal that isn't quite as caloric, goes without dessert, and does not finish with a glass of Cognac.

Cognac sales are down in France. Armagnac sales are down. Calvados sales are down. People are no longer beginning with Champagne, switching to Bordeaux, transitioning to Port, and finishing with brandy. They're becoming more conscientious about what they put into their bodies. This is putting the fear into spirits producers throughout France. They need to find a way to adapt, to make themselves relevant before the meal even begins. They need to find a cocktail or an aperitif they can exploit. They must find a way to survive. Therefore, Calvados and tonic, anyone?

At our Thanksgiving dinner last night we had Champagne to start, white with the salad, and red with the main course. We had dessert, but at that point people were switching over to coffee. Parents needed to drive their children back home. Young professionals like myself had to work in the morning. There was no more room for any more booze. There was an open bottle of Balvenie 1401 Tun on the counter (the same one that was leaking at K&L Redwood City last week and therefore had to be opened and tasted by the staff - hee hee) and a few of us took a nip with our pumpkin pie. However, it was merely a curiosity for most of my family members. They were more concerned with both their health and their potential hangovers than indulging in one of the most exciting single malts of the year. The final course is simply too much for many modern drinkers to handle. It's the difference between "I'm good" and "What happened?" Responsibility has taken its place and some particular spirits are taking the hit as a result.

American whiskey seems to be in no present danger. The renaissance of the cocktail scene with a strong preference for Manhattans and Old Fashioneds has more than made up for the dessert course. Single malt drinking societies and the passionate collectors have given a boost to the Scottish whisky industry. French spirits, however, much like French wines, have always been tied to the meal. Bordeaux is a food wine, not a sit-around-and-talk-to-your-friends-on-the-patio wine. It goes with hearty, rustic meals full of beef and organ meat. Burgundy is served along side fowl and rich cheeses. No one is giving up those traditions just yet because, really, who wants to only eat salad everyday? Instead of eating the whole goose, however, they may just have a drumstick. Instead of finishing the bottle of pinot noir, they may just have a glass. Dessert isn't necessary. Spirits aren't even considered.

Cognac and soda, anyone? It's a great way to whet your appetite!

-David Driscoll 



Finally here after years of waiting. Get some....

Nikka 12 Year Old Taketsuru Pure Malt Japanese Whisky $59.99 - Delicious. Richer than Yamazaki 12 and with more texture and weight. Love it.

The 15 year is already sold out, but we'll be getting more.

-David Driscoll


Don't Put All Your Booze Into One Basket

This is my sixth Thanksgiving Wednesday at K&L and I like to think I'm a bit wiser with five superdays under my belt. We're going to get absolutely thrashed today and I'm completely ready for it. There will be lines out the door, mayhem on the sales floor, and staff members running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Deliveries coming in, orders going out, and only us standing in between them. With all the madness that is the day before Thanksgiving at K&L, it's the actual holiday that I'm still learning how to deal with. I can handle the store and the stress, but getting the right booze for the following family occasion still gives me fits. Let's look at my five previous Thanksgivings to illustrate this point:

Thanksgiving 2007: I had just started working at K&L so I had no idea what to get. I basically relied on the advice of my colleagues to make my wine selections, which led to mixed results with my family. None of us really knew what we were drinking.

Thanksgiving 2008: This year I had a good grasp on things as far as selecting great wines and pairing them with the appropriate courses. I was really excited. This was my first real chance to nail this thing. I did a list with info about how each wine was made and what made it special. When we sat down and I gave a quick rundown, my family began getting restless and began interrupting me after only a minute. They were totally bored, seemingly annoyed, and it was completely unsuccessful.

Thanksgiving 2009: After learning from the misguided educational efforts of 2008, I still chose really great wines, but decided to just leave them there for people to drink at their leisure. This ended up with only about a third of the wine being consumed with some more expensive bottles being opened, but only partially drunk. Still a disappointment because people didn't care about the wine whether I told them about it or not. This was also my first T-Day as spirits buyer so I brought some great booze that no one ended up drinking because they had already drunk too much wine.

Thanksgiving 2010: This was the first year that I introduced Pliny the Elder beer to the table. It was the hit of the night. So much so that no one wanted to drink wine or spirits, so the bottles just sat there.

Thanksgiving 2011: We had a completely different group this year as half of my family went down south to visit my cousin and his new twin daughters. I opened way too much wine for a small group and watched as one of our family friends took down a $40 bottle on her own. She really enjoyed it, but I think she would have enjoyed it no matter what it was.

Let me clear up a few things here to help put this into perspective. My family loves to drink. My family enjoys beer, wine, and spirits. They all purchase booze on their own and look forward to my selections. In no way am I bringing booze to people who don't want to drink or enjoy it. The problem is me. I have certain expectations for how booze is going to be consumed, received, and enjoyed. They are impossible standards that can never be achieved. I have realized that and have finally freed myself from the eventual disappointment that will inevitably follow. Thanksgiving is not the time to bring out the big guns and show everyone how big It's a time to sit back and enjoy yourself with family. Stressing about drinking the perfect booze just means more stress!

The only times I have enjoyed really expensive wines were while dining with other K&L employees. The only times I have enjoyed really expensive whiskies were while drinking with other K&L employees (or with my friend David OG while overseas). That's not because they're the only ones who "get it," it's because they're the only other people I know who care. Why take your wife who hates James Bond to see a James Bond movie with you? Why take your mother, who hates French cuisine, out to the a fancy meal at the French Laundry? Who are you really trying to please? I'll give you a hint: it's not the other person. If you want to enjoy doing something you like to do (i.e. talk about wine or ponder a glass of single malt) then you need to do so with others who share your interests. Find a social club or a weekly meet-up group, but don't force your loved ones to carry the burden. Just because someone likes to drink doesn't mean they actually want to talk about what they're drinking. That's a very important distinction.

Thanksgiving 2012: Inexpensive Italian white: 2010 Malvira Arneis Roero. Inexpensive Spanish reds: 2011 Lesmos "Cuarteto" and the 2006 Crianza. These wines are delicious, pair well with turkey, and represent tremendous value. They're unique and different enough to generate a bit of excitement, but still taste familiar enough to be inclusive. For a starter we'll drink our new Spanish import: the Mas Codina Brut Reserva. I'll probably bring a bottle of Calvados and a bottle of Scotch just to have in case someone wants a glass later on. That's it. I bring some good booze, others drink it. If they want to know more, they can ask. If not, no big deal.

There will be no Pappy at my table. No Four Roses. No K&L Exclusive single barrel Scotch. No limited edition Cognac. No fancy, pre-Prohibition cocktails. I know I'm supposed to be writing an article about all the fancy booze I'll be "drinking" (in the fictional, fantasy K&L spirits buyer world, that is) in order to get you all to buy some. That's what holiday booze articles are for: getting the general public to feed into the romanticism and react with their credit cards. However, I want you to actually enjoy yourselves. I'm not going to lie. You don't need trophy bottles to enjoy Thanksgiving. In my opinion, it's probably the worst day of the year to drink them.

If you're eating Thanksgiving dinner with Robert Parker or your weekly wine tasting group, then by all means break out the old Burgundy. If you're carving the bird with the Malt Maniacs or the LA Whiskey Society, then bring your Port Ellen and Brora stash. Those people will actually enjoy, appreciate, and marvel in what you're offering. If you're dining with your family, however, I'd suggest bringing it down a notch. Forcing them to sit through wine pairings, boring lectures, tasting notes, and booze history is quite torturous. You can't force people to love something as much as you do (especially in the span of a few hours). In the end you'll be the most disappointed, knowing that you put so much effort into making Thanksgiving perfect, but ended up isolating your family members as a result.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and prepare my first annual Thanksgiving movie screening. We'll start with a retrospective of Jean Claude Van Damme's early films before a segway into some older WWF matches from the early 1990's as we continue to get more intoxicated. I know my family is going to love it!! They're going to love my passion for these classics! Who wouldn't?

-David Driscoll