Spirits Tastings Tomorrow!

Sorry for the absence over the past few days.  If you didn't notice, our system and website crashed over the weekend and I happened to be playing manager on Sunday and Monday (normally my two days off).  It was not fun trying to write receipts with pen and paper, run all over the store to get pricing on each bottle, and total it up with a calculator. 

Then today was staff education day and I was on the books, so I had to do four hours of spirits training for both locations up north. 

I've been swamped.

Anyway, tomorrow's tastings are Fidencio Mezcal in San Francisco with Todd Smith (amazing spirits!) and a  sampling of 916 Tequila and 1792 Ridgemont Bourbon in Redwood City with SWS.  Both tastings start at 5PM and last until 6:30.  See you there!

-David Driscoll


Blowing Up the Bubble

I've had some interesting conversations with various whisky industry folk over the past week.  None more interesting than those concerning the price of whisky.  I need to do some more analysis and serious thinking before extrapolating further on this topic, but I thought it would be interesting to leave you all with this thought in the meantime:

We all know how scarce and how sought after Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon is.  Nevertheless, we all know how much they cost (we've generally sold the 15 year for around $70).  At K&L, we know we could put these bottles on our auction site, or charge double that price and make a lot more profit than we currently do.  We choose not to because, as a company, we're more concerned with helping our customers than selling to the highest bidder.  We believe that the goodwill we sustain by selling products for an honest price results in more business down the line.

Now apply this analogy to the whisky producers in Scotland, except this time K&L is the customer.  The American whisky market is an afterthought compared to the other thriving booze regions of the world.  It takes more work to sell us whisky (bottles have to be changed to 750ml from 700ml) and we might not pay as much as businesses in China or Taiwan.  I'm having trouble understanding why producers would sell us a cask when someone else might pay double what we're offering, plus provide an easier path to that actual sale.  My question is: is there any advantage to maintaining business relationships with the American retailers when double or even triple the profit can be made elsewhere?

So far this scenario hasn't been too big of a problem, but it has impacted a few of our deals.  I want to also state clearly that I'm not implying anything about the ethics of any producer either, I'm just pondering out loud here.  If I had a car to sell for $5000 and someone offered me $10,000 for it, I'd probably take the $10,000.  It's not really a question of ethics, as maybe it is with the Van Winkle analogy, but rather a question of actual worth.  Is that three bedroom house in Modesto actually worth $600,000?  I'm hoping that, as a planet, we don't start overpricing our whisky because it could take a long time for the industry to pay off that mortgage.

-David Driscoll


Things Are Simple, Except When They're Not

I was having dinner with my parents Wednesday night and we were talking about wine (big surprise), when my dad said, "There are only two things you need to know about wine – you either like it or you don't."  He was quoting someone else he had heard on the radio, not necessarily expounding on his own belief, but generally if you're neither working in the wine industry nor a serious student of the game that simple philosophy holds true.  The reason we're supposed to be drinking is because the thing we're actually imbibing tastes good or makes us happy.  There are times when I'll go off on a tangent about how we're all over-analyzing this whole booze craze and we need to get back to just drinking the damn stuff (actually, I think every booze writer at some point has written that exact same article).  However, there are other moments when I'll preach education and analysis to further our enjoyment of alcohol, believing that knowing something about whisky actually makes it taste better.  So which is it?  You can't have it both ways, can you?  The truth is it's both.  Like everything good in life, drinking requires balance.  You shouldn't drink too much, but you shouldn't not drink either (at least in my opinion!).  You shouldn't eat too much, but you have to eat something.  You shouldn't work too much, but you can't be a lazy sack of shit either.

If I pour someone a glass of peated whisky and they say, "Whoa....I'm not sure if I like that," is that really the end of the conversation?  What if I were to continue on with a brief explanation of why the distillers on Islay used peat, about how there are no trees on the island therefore no wood to burn the malting fires, and that this distinct flavor is a tradition that originated out of necessity – would that make things more interesting?  Usually it helps to know about why something tastes the way it does.  I wouldn't pick up a grasshopper off the ground and eat it, but I would be open to eating a chapulin taco in Oaxaca because it's a regional speciality of Mexico.  I might not like it, but I would enjoy the experience if it were put into proper context.

I think people forget that an experience can still be enjoyable even if it's something we don't want to repeat.  For me personally, life is about exploration and appreciation.  I never buy the same bottle of wine or whisky twice because my satisfaction in drinking comes from new and exciting adventures.  I'm more than happy to drink a bottle of wine I don't like if it at least helps me understand something about wine overall.  For some people, however, getting a bottle of wine or whisky they don't like is the worst thing possible and I understand that.  For some people, drinking is just something you do after work for fun (or maybe during work – who am I to judge?).  In my opinion, however, we should have some drinking experiences where we let loose and throw caution to the wind.  To balance those out we should sometimes pay attention to different styles of wine and whisky to help us further appreciate what it is we like or don't like about those particular selections. 

Balance. Yin and Yang. Sometimes fun, sometimes educational. In my opinion, those are the only two things you need to know about wine.

-David Driscoll


Buying From Auction Houses

Adam Herz from the Los Angeles Whisky Society knows more about old and rare whisky than anyone else I know.  No one else collects interesting, hard-to-get whisky like he does.  He's always in search of the next great whisky adventure, but he's always careful and attentive, putting in the time and the research necessary to make sure he's getting what he pays for.  In order to know old booze you have to actually drink old booze, buy old booze, and obsess about old booze – Adam does all of those things.  When I got the new catalog for the upcoming Bonham's auction in New York, I have to admit that I was pretty excited about the very old Ardbeg bottle shown on the magazine's front cover.  Then I read this article from Adam.  As a consumer advocate, I'm a bit concerned about what this means for whisky fans everywhere.

-David Driscoll


Steve McCarthy Visits K&L

Our good friend Steve McCarthy was in Redwood City yesterday to pour some of his wonderful spirits for the public.  We caught up with him in the bar before the event to talk shop.  Check out a few snippets of Steve talking glassware politics and the making of his wildly esoteric Douglas Fir eau-de-vie.

-David Driscoll