Whisky Social Media

All the talk about Facebook filing its IPO paperwork has me thinking about social media this week and how people interact with one another when it comes to whisky.  There are all these tools that companies, publications, critics, and bloggers use to communicate with enthusiastic drinkers, but I'm not sure that they're really having the desired effect.  That's not to say that there isn't a strong online community of single malt and Bourbon fanatics, it's just that it isn't really as big as one might think.  Every now and again I get access to company memos from the larger whisky suppliers and their goals for each product launch always crack me up.  It will be part of an email thread where they accidentally include me in or a memo left in the store after a meeting with vendors.  There will be a list of bullet points with suggestions like "Make a splash with the online whisky community," or "Send samples to prominent bloggers for a more grassroots presence."  My favorite one was something like, "Attempt to increase presence on Twitter with positive 'tweets' from reputable online personalities."  While I think that tools like email, blogs, and interactive websites can be valuable resources for connecting whisky drinkers, I'm more of the opinion that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have been relatively ineffective for providing credibility or spreading knowledge.

Even before I worked in the industry, my excitement to learn more about wine and whisky led me to peruse the internet in search of something I could sink my teeth into.  Sadly, I'm still searching for that really good website about alcohol-related products (if I had to pick one now it would be  The truth is that, unlike movies, books, music, or photography, alcohol cannot be digitized or transfered via the world wide web.  I know that sounds crazy, but it's true.  What can be streamed, however, is information and opinion about alcohol, but there are very few sites that put information above opinion.  That's not to say that they should either, it's just to say that tasting notes and availability are all that's being offered to inspired parties.  That brings me back to social media.  If sites like Facebook and Twitter were being used to offer up more in-depth information about single malt and Bourbon to those interested, they might stand a chance of being successful in their marketing of those products as well.  However, the very nature of these operations is to pump out quick, fractured, succinct bits of information - the very opposite of what I think whisky enthusiasts are ultimately looking for.

Rather than offer up and coming whisky drinkers an opportunity to learn more about their interests, the internet, perhaps the most important educational tool ever invented, is providing them with blurbs like, "Drank the 18 year old from Dalmore last night.......Man was that good!"  Facebook is full of people holding their favorite bottles and smiling.  They might as well be saying, "Ha!  I drank this.  You didn't!"  I'm not seeing much in the way of useful information being passed within online whisky social media.  As for the blogs, which do sometimes offer up relative data about distilleries and producers, they're read by the same 100 people over and over again, never really having the impact one might think they're having.  You'll see fifty comments on a specfic post and think, "Wow! People are really into this subject," but really it's just the same ten guys who commented last time all having a conversation with each other.  Blogs are not the powerhouses reaching the masses that whisky companies mistake them for.  They're places where a handful of hobbyists like to discuss current trends, but they're not driving sales. 

So if internet social media is full of whisky fluff and blogs are simply catering to the initiated, then why is the online whisky community seen as the best way to market new products?  Maybe it's because they think it should be.  And it should be!  However, no one has figured out how to do it the right way.  Reading a tweet about what someone drank last night doesn't make people excited about whisky.  Reading a Facebook comment about what someone drank last night doesn't make people excited about whisky.  Reading someone's tasting notes is boring unless you're already interested in that particular bottle.  I want to drink it, not watch someone else drink it.  Supplemental information is what the internet can offer, but that isn't the model we're seeing.  The current framework is built around opinion - everyone tell us what you think!  In theory, the most successful whisky sites will be the most useful.  Facebook is successful because it helps people communicate with each other.  The online whisky community doesn't necessarily need more communication, however, it needs more information.  Any site that could provide objective insight not centered around personal preference could be huge, but it might not be very lucrative.  Maybe that's why it doesn't exist.

Five years ago, when I was headed to my interview at K&L Redwood City, I stopped off and bought a wine magazine for the train ride down, hoping to learn something useful about wine before the meeting.  I didn't.  Yesterday, I checked a few whisky sites online, hoping to learn something more about a new whisky I was considering bringing in.  I didn't.  However, I can tell you what five people drank last night. 

-David Driscoll


Limited Time Offer

 LOS OSUNA REPOSADO "TEQUILA" - $34.99 (was $49.99)-

So what's the deal with the low price on Los Osuna?  Are we closing it out?  NO WAY!  If you've never tasted the Los Osuna spirits before, they're a fantastic artisan "tequila" out of Sinaloa, Mexico.  Because they're not part of the traditional Tequila geography, they can't legally call themselves "Tequila," so they settled for Agave Azul.  That being said, their products are simply top notch regardless.  The Osuna family has really put in their farm time, making sure their agave fields are producing superior fruit, and the quality shows in the delicacy of their spirit.  We've been with Los Osuna from the very beginning and I'm happy to say that we're one of their biggest supporters.

So.......why the low price?  We don't really have "sales" here at K&L, more like opportunities.  Because the Los Osuna Blanco and Anejo spirits are so fantastic, their lovely Reposado gets overlooked.  They've sold so much of the two expressions that they've ended up with a glut of Resposado.  I need Los Osuna to get more Blanco and Anejo into the United States so that I can drink it, but to do so, I need to help them move some of this Reposado.  A deal was struck, and a super sale was born.

For a limited time only we will be offering Los Osuna Reposado tequila for $15 less per bottle than normal.  If you're a fan of delicacy, then this is for you.  The tequila is very elegant on the entry, it moves slowly into warm baking spices with cinnamon and cloves, before finishing with lovely agave notes and soft vanilla.  It's a real delicate spirit and should impress just about any fan of the genre.  It's also made from 100% estate agave and distilled at the family locale in Sinaloa.  This is exactly the type of product we love - small production, hands on, family-owned and operated, and freakin' delicious. 

We've had Los Osuna for a few years now and we've always enjoyed telling our customers about their "tequilas."  If you've never tried anything from their line up, this is a great chance to save $15.  Fill that hole in your margarita shelf, or sit back with a gentle and beautiful sipper.  This sale lasts only until the blanco and anejo return!  Enjoy!    

-David Driscoll


First Batch of Cognacs Available

While we're still working things out with Charles Neal about our smaller allotments of French brandy, we're ready to go with our regional barrels from Comandon.  As we mentioned briefly on the blog before, we were able to work out a deal with one of Cognac's most prestigious negotiants and we hashed out the plan in the depths of their warehouse while tasting barrels, followed by a long dinner in downtown Cognac.  Our plan is to help shed some light on Cognac's regionality by bringing in single casks from the three different terroirs - Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, and the Borderies.  Most companies have VS, VSOP, and XO, but that's all really meaningless in most cases.  XO is the highest grade and it simply means more than six years old.  All of these barrels are more than 18 years old, so what's the point in letter grades?  We tasted with many producers on our trip and came to respect the differences between the soils, grapes, wines, and eventually the brandies, from each of the appellations.  David OG wrote up the notes, so now we're ready to go with our first pre-order campaign from France!  These are due in at the end of May.

Comandon XO Borderies 18 Year Old Single Barrel Cask Strength Cognac $99.99 - Comandon's Cask Strength Borderies is bottled at a perfect 18 years old.  It is definitely the most unique and unusual of the three casks from the exception Comandon line of Single Barrel Full Strength Cognac.  Borderies is one of my favorite regions and is usually the least familiar for many amateurs and professionals a like.  Often touted for its distinct floral characters (usually violets and iris), this theme is not as universal as many assume.  While this brandy does exhibit a distinct floral component, I did not get any violet soapy notes.  Instead we a powerful blooming honeysuckle, a fabulous nutty savory character, and a soft smooth finish.  Borderies is best between 15-20 years old and I don't think this brandy could get any better.  This will definitely be the one to taste for the adventurous, but will ring out perfectly for a true Borderies lover.  It will be the least familiar to most Cognac drinkers, but its overt appeal probably makes this the easiest drinking of the three casks.  At this price I can only assume that we'll all be very sad when there's nothing left.

Comandon XO Petite Champagne 30 Year Old Single Barrel Cask Strength Cognac $129.99 - Each of Cognac's regions has an equal potential for quality, a distinction most producers would like you to ignore.  Cognac regionality does not come from the quality of the distillate, but in its potential to age.  While Grande Champagne is always touted as the finest Cognac has to offer, boasting the regions chalkiest soils, those eau-de-vie are best only after 35+ years of aging.  We often see subpar Grande Champagne cognac sold before they're ready to drink.  The resulting eau-de-vie must be adultered with oak extract, sugar, and caramel to make them palatable.  In Petit Champagne, where the chalk is somewhat less prevalent, the eau-de-vie tends to reach maturity between 20-30 years.  The marketing experts have nearly forgotten about the other regions of France's most prestigious brandy appellation, you could be one of the lucky few to experience the exquisite complexity of the finest fully matured Petite Champagne Cognac.  Dense and richly fruity, even with nearly 30 years in cask this brandy has incredible freshness and lift.  At this price, the Petite Champagne will definitely be in short supply.

Comandon XO Grande Champagne 40 Year Old Single Barrel Cask Strength Cognac $159.99 - This phenomenal cask was selected from deep within the sacred paradis at the Tessendier family cellars and represents one of the most exciting finds during our trip.  While it comes from one of the Cognac's negociantes, as opposed to the grower producers we're focusing on for our other bottlings, this series of single barrel bottlings will be a compelling statement about the direction of Cognac in the coming years.  In cognac, four brands are responsible for 90% of all sales, leaving very little room for independents brands to operate and squeezing potential grower producers to near extinction.  Sometimes to find the very best products available we need to maneuver within this framework. While the business is structured differently than our other exclusive selections, the quality is second to none. Comandon's resurrection over the last few years has been meteoric.  "Best Cognac" at 2010 SF World Spirits Competition, this single barrel selection from the small Comandon stocks is bottled at strength without reduction.  It's beautiful art nouveau label is totally unique.  Elegance and refinement remain paramount, while the intensity at full strength adds unparalleled depth.  At 40 years old, this brandy truly epitomizes the potential of Grande Champagne Cognac.  Here we can really tell why Grande Champagne is so coveted.

-David Driscoll


Lessons From France, From the New Year

My body is still shell-shocked from the trip to France, and my mind has yet to really settle down and mellow out, but nonetheless there are deals to be done and bottles to be sold.  Getting back into the swing of everyday blogging has been difficult for me because there are many things on my mind that need to be expressed in just the right way.  I've actually already written and deleted two posts that sought to cover this same topic, but were a bit too detailed and uneven.  The spirits industry in France is facing many of the same obstacles as Scotland and the U.S. in terms of supply, demand, and innovation.  There's a huge term paper on the subject just sitting in my brain right now, but it wouldn't be the most interesting read.  Perhaps bullet points are the best way of keeping all the facts neat, easy to understand, and succinct?

• Booze is big right now.  Big brands selling brown booze (alliteration is more fun to read) are completely caught off guard right now by how well their product is selling. While they don't want to miss out on lucrative sales, they also don't want to invest too deeply if we're drinking inside of a booze bubble.  What if Cognac producers were to increase production to keep up with demand, but then demand suddenly went away?  There are more people drinking single malt, Bourbon, and Cognac right now than ever before.  Is it going to stay that way?  What are companies doing to keep up with demand.......?

• Prices are going up!  That's right.  If people want this booze so damn badly, then why should we give it away? ("we" not being K&L, but actual liquor companies).  Unfortunately, there are going to be more price increases in 2012.  The general question I hear from customers is, "Are prices going down due to the economy?"  The opposite is true.  Prices are going up because demand is high and supply is low.  At least supply is said to be low.  Don't think that other companies haven't been watching the Pappy Van Winkle sweepstakes with interest.  The idea of a perceived shortage could also be very lucrative.

• If prices are going up on our favorite brands then what are we to do?  Luckily we're in a great situation with our direct import spirits.  Our single malts and brandies are going to be fantastic alternatives for people who want to try something new.  Building relationships with small distilleries and farmers seems to be a good move right now.  These are the same guys that the larger companies are turning to in order to fill the gap in supply. 

• Blending is important.  We were completely convinced that single barrel Cognac and Calvados would be exactly what these categories needed to increase interest.  While we found a few diamonds in the rough, there were mostly average specimen.  However, when blended together, some of these spirits took on new life.  I can completely see why Charles decided to bring in a blend of Michel Huard's Calvados rather than a single vintage.  The sum is far greater than the parts when it comes to many of these finer brandies.  I look at the beauty of these components when mixed together and I think about how much I like the new Glenmorangie Artein for the same reason.

• What is value when it comes to booze?  Is value taste?  Is value age?  Is value rarity?  Is it a combination of all three?  What if something tastes amazing, but it's cheap to make?  What if something is expensive to make, but terrible to taste?  What if it's made by hand, but tastes like crap?  What if it's mass-produced, but tastes better than the hand-crafted?  I'm witnessing the co-option of the "hand-crafted" term and watching it get slapped on labels as a sales pitch.  "Is it organic?"  Yes.  "Is it small batch?"  "Is it single barrel?" Yes.  But we're asking the wrong questions.  "Is it good?"'s hand-crafted.  We're on the hunt for good hand-crafted spirits.  That's why we're having K&L fly us all over the world.  Instead of asking about how small the production is, perhaps we should be asking the producers if they know how to distill.

Just some things to think about.

-David Driscoll


This Week's Wednesday Tasting

Just a quick notice about tomorrow's spirits tastings:

Redwood City will be hosting Lagavulin Islay Single Malt Whiskies!

San Francisco will welcome Four Roses Bourbon!

Both tastings begin at 5 PM and last until 6:30.  They are free of charge!

-David Driscoll