Hipster Whisk(e)y Rules

What? You still like Radiohead? Dude, I don't listen to anything that more than ten people are into.  If it isn't ironic then I'm not interested.

Yes, people - just like our beloved Bay Area hipster community, there are rules to this whisk(e)y thing.  We can act like there aren't, but the truth is that more and more of us are following a preset of rules that have been established for us!  No one wants to be caught dead drinking the wrong malt just like no one wants to be the guy on Mission St. with gears on his bike.  We should just be happy that we like whisk(e)y and that it's available to us, but there are so many other factors to consider - what this whisk(e)y says about me as a person, how hard is this whisk(e)y to get, how long has the distillery been closed, etc.  If you wouldn't take a picture of it for your social media page, then it probably isn't worth drinking.  Here now for your enjoyment are the Hipster Rules for Drinking Whisk(e)y.

- Islay whiskies are still cool, unless it's chill-filtered and at 43% which of course makes it watered-down slop.  Everyone knows that.

- Blends are so not cool.  Unless it's like a handcrafted blend by someone super cool like John Glaser or Bill Lumsden, or a super old bottle of something from the sixties because that's the only time blended whisky was actually good.  Today it's totally lame and not made with the same standards. 

- It's OK to put a bit of water in your malt, but ice cubes are for rookies.  In reality, adding anything to the whisky just shows that you really don't appreciate it, man.  You're totally missing out on the natural flavors, brah.

- Glenlivet, Macallan, Balvenie and Glenfiddich are like so boring.  Speyside is so overrated, unless it's super old, like from the sixties or seventies because that's like when they totally knew how to make whisky in the Highlands.  No, I wasn't alive then.  What?  I just know is all.  I read it somewhere like in a Michael Jackson book or something.  Jeez, get off my case.

- Buffalo Trace is to whiskey fans what Stephen Malkmus is to hipsters - CAN DO NO WRONG!

- Dude, you're drinking Laphroaig 10?  Like why not get the Cairdeas or at least the 10 year Cask Strength?  What?  You couldn't find the Cairdeas?  No, you can't get it at BevMo!  You totally have to know someone.  I know this guy who totally hooks me up and he got me two.  I probably won't open either of them, but.....you know.

-If it hasn't been closed for at least ten years, I'm not interested.  What? Port Ellen?  That's so obvious.  Brora?  That's like so 2010.  Banff?  Meh.  I'm more into, like, Caperdonich.

- Pappy 20 is cool, but the 15 is really where the purity is at.  I mean, the 15 is like the best expression of bourbon around, except for the 12 Lot B which is, like, even cooler because everyone overlooks it. 

- Craft whiskey is cool as long as it's made from 100% rye because those corn whiskies are just boring.  Rye is just a totally more interesting grain.  It's like peppery and stuff and it totally makes a better cocktail.  No, I've never had a bourbon Manhattan, why?

Any other zingers?  Email me and we can make another list.  This is fun.  I'm totally guilty of most of these.

-David Driscoll - daviddriscoll@klwines.com

UPDATE - 7:42 PM - Steve from LA has sent me these wonderful additions:

-Ratings are so not cool, but I never drink anything that gets less than a 92 from Serge

-I'm not sure what chill filtering is but I know it totally ruins whiskey.

-It's not peated if it's under 110 ppm!

-Comments on whisky blogs are so lame; like I care what other people think. (that's aimed right at me!)




Tuesday Tasting Tonight!

Join us at Martin's West in Redwood City tonight at 6 PM sharp to try the amazing Laphroaig 18 Year Old Hart Brothers Single Malt Whisky $139.99 for about $5 a glass! These never last long, especially now that the MW customers are hip to the game as well so try and be there on time.  This is a very tasty old Laphroaig that I expect people to really enjoy.  See you there!

-David Driscoll


Great King Street Expectations

I went over to a friend's house tonight to finally pop this bottle of John Glaser's new Compass Box spin off - the Great King Street blended whisky, a labo(u)r of love from one of grain whisky's biggest fans.  I snuck this bottle back in my suitcase as a gift for a buddy and he was nice enough to open it while I was there.  John has really out done himself with this expression because I can't imagine anyone not loving this.  It's fruit-forward, soft and supple, expressive, and easy to drink - everything a blended dram is supposed to be.  When this whisky hits the states this Fall I'm expecting big things.  The Great King Street destroys whiskies like Johnnie Walker, J&B, or Chivas.  It honestly makes them look terrible in comparison. This was much better than I remembered it tasting in London, so I'm excited to finally get my own bottle!

-David Driscoll


No Comment

I've received a few emails from some readers who are wondering why I have turned off the comments field.  They have all been good natured and I'm flattered that anyone even took the time to write such complementary things about our Spirits Journal.  While I agree with all views on how comments work as attributes to good writing (bringing up new talking points, presenting different points of view, rounding out a discussion, etc.) I will list the reasons why I personally want to remove commenting from the blog.  I hope they don't anger or upset anyone because I'm speaking purely from my perspective and don't want to start any controversy.

1) Comments Bring Out The Ego - Have you ever noticed how most comment fields have been adapted to allow users to rate the popularity of the remark?  Thumbs up or thumbs down?  I hate that.  I hate it because people then sit around and think about something clever to say, then check back in all day to see if people liked what they said or not.  If someone went so far as to reply to their comment and disagree with what they said, it can anger the original commenter who now feels defensive and a need to retaliate.  This goes on all day on ESPN, the SF Chronicle, CNN, and other websites where I get my news from.  It sickens me, literally.  While the SJ is not nearly on the same wavelength as these major sites, I too have an ego and when people comment or don't comment it makes me nervous.  Not nervous as in "I'm scared and don't want to look," but nervous as in "I hope people comment and say nice things because that's the sign of a good blog these days."  Then I check back in over and over throughout the day to see if anyone as posted anything.  I can't live that way and I would rather just write something and be happy if people read it.  I'm always available via email if anyone feels the need to respond.

2) Comments Affect How Bloggers Write - I can't tell you how many sites use their articles to pander to the comment field.  Too many would be the best answer.  Sometimes it works well as a way to start a dialogue, but most of the time it just seems like the authors use the opinions of their readership to make the website interesting.  That's fine if someone wants to do that, but that's not my philosophy.  I want the SJ to be interesting because of the hard work that I put into it, not because I have a strong following that comes up with interesting comments.  This should be a site where people come to find out about what's new in the spirits world, not to debate the merit of any one topic.  There are plenty of other sites that offer that service and I don't want to become another one.

3) Comments Signify Worth (but not to me)- In today's Facebook-driven society, you're not cool unless you've got a million "friends" on the social network, thousands of followers on Twitter, and dozens of people commenting on everything you say, write, think, or post.  People look at websites and determine how good they are by how many people are following them.  Most of the time our articles on the SJ average around 2-3 comments, which makes us look like a tiny and unsubstantial resource.  However, based on our hit counter and the amount of people who read the SJ and then go the KL Wines website to shop, I can tell you that our readership is a great deal larger than the comments reveal.  I don't want people stopping in and evaluating our blog based on the amount of people commenting.  Turning them off is a way to prevent that.

4) Comments Need to be Answered - Comment fields are a way for the readers to communicate with the author and when people leave a comment they expect it to be answered.  I barely have time to answer my emails and voicemails, so the comments here might go unnoticed for a while if I'm busy.  I don't want to anger anyone awaiting a reply, so it's easier if they're just turned off.  I'm pretty good about answering my email, so I don't feel like I'm inaccessible or anything.

5) Comments Detract From the Original Message - There are so many instances where I've began reading an article, only to get caught up in the commenting underneath.  After ten minutes of complete timewasting, reading the battles going on in the comment field, I have forgotten what the original point of the article was and I feel stupider for having read the comments.  Not that this type of scenario happens here, but to say I agree with comments in one sense, but not in another is borderline hypocritical and I hate it when people have double standards. 

For these reasons I think the SJ will be a better website without the comments.  I'll be more inclined to write better articles because I won't be worrying about the opinions of the readership.  Granted, I can always turn them back on if there's an important topic like "Should we buy a cask of ____" or something where feedback is a valued commodity.  However, for my own peace of mind and my sense of duty to good reporting, I think we're a better website without the comments field.

-David Driscoll



Is There a Whisk(e)y Bubble Forming?

I'm definitely not complaining about the big boom in whisk(e)y sales, whisk(e)y drinking, and whisk(e)y production.  As we've expanded our selection and broadened our horizons over the last two years, David OG and I have been met with nothing but open arms.  Demand has gone through the roof.  We sent out an promo email for our Oban 18 stock yesterday and the RWC store sold more than 100 bottles of a $100 whisky in a matter of hours.  Our pre-arrival campaign continues to flourish with little advertising other than word of mouth and this blog, and the money we're taken in advance helps balance the books so that we can go and get even more casks than the thirteen we've already secured.  Our most expensive cask, a 1974 Ladyburn, was the first cask to sell out even with a $300 per bottle price tag.  That's simply amazing.  Our stocks are moving faster than ever and I'm under more pressure every day to fill the holes on the shelf that continue to form throughout the business hours. 

The whisk(e)y companies are not blind to what is happening either.  They've been steadily raising prices every month for the last few years because they can (you may not notice it as much because David and I would rather eat the cost than have to constantly raise our prices too).  With the value of whisk(e)y reaching extreme heights (ten year old ryes are selling for $70+!) and new distilleries popping up every where, when is the bubble going to burst?  Maybe there is no bubble and we're just living through the enlightenment where the world woke up and decided it wasn't going to settle for cheap booze anymore.  Perhaps my point of view is skewed and other retailers are not doing as well as we are, therefore prompting me to ask some of my competitors about their sales.  That's what I did in London last week.

Doug MacIvor, head of spirits management for Berry Brothers & Rudd, had only the same experiences to share with me when we literally talked shop.  BBR has seen extensive growth over the last few years and the demand for their products is higher than ever.  They've been able to enter the U.S. market with their No.3 London Gin (easily the best gin available right now) and their fantastic King's Ginger, but their Hong Kong office is seeing unparalleled demand.  We too have seen high demand coming from China, both with wine and single malts, as their economy continues to grow and their citizens look to celebrate the success with the world's great alcoholic beverages.  However, while China's economy continues to stimulate growth in the world whisk(e)y market, it doesn't explain the surge in demand from the deflated U.S. economy.

Even during the downtrodden, recession year of 2009 our whisk(e)y sales increased.  Excitement concerning whisk(e)y is at the point where collectors and enthusiasts must fight it out for the most sought-after expressions, outbidding each other at auctions and joining insider email lists like our own to get the on-sale information in advance.  The positive data that results from this feeding frenzy only encourages the producers to make more and more, much like the companies who continued to build more houses across the U.S.  We all know how that saga ended, but it remains to be seen whether the whisk(e)y industry is creating a similar bubble.  We still can't get Rittenhouse Rye and when we do it sells at light speed.  We've also seen Ardbeg and Laphroaig release special limited bottles that created an unmatched hysteria this past month at K&L. 

At this point, I can't see it slowing down. 

=David Driscoll