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Sunday
Jun052016

And Into the Weekend

If you figured I'd be sick of drinking Four Pillars gin after months of consumption and a week full of promotional parties and tastings, you'd be underestimating my love of gin. I'm genetically predisposed to this thirst. My grandmother was a bartender famous for her gin martinis. She passed that juniper-mutated DNA to my mother. My mother passed it to me. If had to choose between gin and whisky it wouldn't even be close. I will always choose drinking over sipping, which is part of the reason I love the new gin renaissance we're currently living in. As my colleague Gary Westby always says to me: "I have plenty of open whisky bottles at home. I have very few open bottles of gin." His point being that the gin gets drunk once it's been opened. It doesn't sit there for years as he slowly decides which bottle to pour from every once and a while. Before Stuart Gregor left the Donato gin and tonic party Friday night he handed me a box, within which were several other gins Four Pillars had created that were either seasonal or one-off editions. I've been tasting them all day, eagerly anticipating the unique flavors of each one while peeling back the seal. Like I've written before, Four Pillars only makes gin. But they make a lot of gin.

I have mixed feelings about today's incredibly cluttered alcohol market (see my two part piece on saturation here). When it comes to whisky, I'm not a fan of the current fascination for limited edition expressions. What was meant to add enjoyment and build loyalty towards the market's core brands has now become the sole focus. The exception has become the rule. But in the case of expensive whisky part of the problem has to do with the actual consumption. I don't think many folks are actually drinking their boutique whisky anymore. They're securing limited allocations, hoarding their acquisitions, and treating the bottles like comic book collections. The scarcity and potential value of the edition is almost more important than the flavor. In the case of craft beer, however, I'm less worried. Beer will eventually get drunk because it won't keep like whisky. Seasonal and single batches may be sensationalized, but at least they'll be consumed in a relatively high volume. Gin, to me, is no different. If I were really in the mood, I could probably clean out a bottle of gin over the course of a weekend by myself. If I'm with friends, then within a single evening—no doubt. I'm in constant need of more gin. Personally, I need another bottle of whisky like I need a hole in my head. I already have dozens of bottles that are three-quarters full. The last thing I need is another expensive limited edition weighing down my overcrowded bar. I need interesting spirits that I will consume quickly. That's what the expanded market for gin and beer have in common: rapid consumption.

So while Four Pillars is currently only releasing their Rare Dry (which is easily the best one, so don't fret) and Navy Strength editions to the American public, they are indeed capable of much, much more, as is evident from my patio table. Each label gives you a description of the edition as well, complete with batch numbers, the name of which of the two stills it was created on, and the breakdown of botanicals. In another nod to the craft beer movement, they even have a collaborative gin—the "Distiller's Series: Cousin Vera's gin—made in conjunction with Santamanía distillery in Madrid. It uses both Spanish and Australian botanicals and a base of neutral brandy base distilled from Spanish tempranillo. They have a Spiced Negroni gin from their "Bartender Series" made specifically for that one single cocktail. They have another "Bartender Series" gin created exclusively for Quantas Air that uses green Szechuan, quandong, macadamia nuts, and apples. Again, Four Pillars is not making vodka. They're not making whisky. They're not trying to find themselves or pander to the many desires of the public. They make gin. Really good gin. I love gin. Hence, I love Four Pillars.

So I'm sitting on the patio. I've got the paper. I've got tonic. I've got seven different bottles of gin to play with. They'll all be empty before June is over and then I'll be back for more. Gin is meant to be drunk. It's meant to be consumed cold, quickly, and in high volumes. It's for that reason that I'm always in search of more gin. What I'm currently not interested in are gins being made by distilleries who really want to make whisky, but need something to sell in the meantime. What I am interested in are people who want to do one thing and do that one thing really well. Whether it's making wooden spoons, patent leather shoes, or gin, I believe in expertise. I believe in utilizing that expertise to make something really great—something beyond simply passable. I also believe that expertise should be the main focus of your portfolio.

In the case of Four Pillars, the Rare Dry gin is the star. The one you can get. The one that anyone can buy whenever they want. The exceptions are a fun and interesting supplement for people like me who want more, but they are not the rule.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Jun042016

Stuart the Beast

Stuart Gregor reminds me of what the booze business used to be like. That's probably why I like him so much. He's high-energy, outgoing, fun, and in no way does he take himself seriously. He's here to drink, talk about drinking, and hopefully get you drunk; all while slyly educating you about what makes his gin taste so damn good. Contrast that with what the insider scene has become: a look-at-me kinda clusterfuck that focuses more on showcasing your collection online than it does the actual enjoyment of alcohol. Thank God for those of us who do like to drink that there's absolutely zero posturing to be done when it comes to these gins. What's the story behind Four Pillars gin? There isn't one. It's a distillery started by three friends in Australia that makes fine spirits. None of their recipes were based off a hidden manuscript discovered in Bethlehem. The gins weren't run through Pappy Van Winkle's original pot still. The only thing there is to talk about when it comes to Four Pillars is the quality of the outstanding flavor. Do you remember flavor? That thing everyone claims they're really about when it comes to alcohol? 

Stuart came into our San Francisco store last night, commanded the tasting bar, sold five cases of his gin to happy customers (a K&L spirits tasting record), and then drove an hour in traffic down to Redwood City where he and I commanded the outside bar at Donato. We made hundreds of gin and tonics from 8 PM until close, enjoying the warm summer evening with customers of both Donato and K&L alike. There were about forty people there at any given time—never too many, never too few. It was just right. Stuart took over the patio like a madman and began cranking out Rare Dry cocktails to anyone within earshot. "Hey you," he would shout at passersby with his strong Aussie accent, "get over here and have a drink!" We had zero pretense in the house last night. But, of course, that's the beauty of celebrating a brand like Four Pillars. It brings out the people who actually want to drink and have fun; and let me tell you: drinking with Stuart is loads of fun.

More than ever at any time during my seven year career as K&L spirits buyer I'm feeling the need to stand up and support brands that have committed themselves to quality, even if it means taking a loss. Being profitable in the new age of distillation isn't easy. Imagine the overhead of a new start-up today just with real estate prices where they are! I think about how much time and energy the guys at Westland put into that whisky distillery in Seattle, about how they obsessed over every detail, invested in the right cooperage, and even established their own peat bogs outside the city. I think about my friend Joe over at Copper & Kings who's trying to build a new movement in an old part of Louisville, investing in a community and working to make it better. I think about how gracious Stuart was yesterday with our customers, how excited he was to share his passion with them, and how excited people were to speak with him in return. Then I contrast that with the $500 bottle of NDP Bourbon that some company purchased on the bulk market, repackaged, put into a fancy box, and hyped up on the market. I think about how many grown men I've watched scream and cry and throw hissy fits over some minor detail of neo-whiskey pageantry. I think about how so many wonderful things in life have become completely detached their designed function. 

I think about all of those things and then I smile. I smile because I know that I spent fourteen hard hours yesterday working my ass off to support a brand that deserves that help. I hope it pays off. I really do. Stuart Gregor is a beast of booze man. I'm proud to be working with him.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jun032016

Drink & Watch: Phantasm II

Now that I get Cinemax as part of my HBO package, I decided to scroll through my On Demand movie list last night after watching game one of the NBA Finals. JACKPOT!!!!!! Phantasm II was available. I've seen the film probably thirty times or so, but it had been at least ten years since my last screening. All I could say to myself after watching the first ten minutes was: "This movie was actually in theaters." Phantasm II (don't even worry about not having seen part I) is so ridiculously weird and unexplainable (in the very best possible ways) that it's hard to even fathom a movie like this being made today. Yet, I saw this movie in theaters back in 1988, having snuck into see it with my friend Ben after purchasing a ticket for a different film. I opened a beer and just sat there in my living room with the front door open, taking in the warm evening air. I texted my buddy Luke not too long after that and wrote: "Watching Phantasm II. This movie was actually in theaters." 

"Where?!" was his reply.

"On Cinemax On Demand."

"I need to upgrade my cable," he answered.

If you subscribe to Cinemax, or if you just want to order it off Amazon video, I highly recommend watching Phantasm II after your significant other has gone to bed. I could go into a long explanation about the plot and the ridiculousness of the script, but it wouldn't make any sense and you'd zone out after two sentences. Here's all you need to know: there's a tall man (who's called "the tall man") who employs an army of dwarves that rob the grave sites at various cemetaries and turn the corpses into minions. What the series of films has become most famous for, however, are the flying silver metallic spheres the tall man carries in his pocket, which he often chooses to unleash on those who get in his way. These balls of death have various blades, drills, and tools with which they can saw into one's skull or torso (as they often do throughout the film). There's something wonderful about drinking on a hot summer night while watching classic eighties horror cinema—something incredibly nostalgic and peaceful, despite the carnage on screen.

While I know plenty of people who have dropped their cable subscription, I still pay for cable because I enjoy the service. I not only like to watch terrible old movies like Phantasm II in high-definition on my gigantic Samsung flatscreen, I like to be surprised by the content. Sure, I could probably order the film off Amazon and funnel it through my Roku box to the big screen, but it's not the same. I enjoy curation. I like looking at what channels are able to put together as a selection and then choose from within those constructs. I never would have thought to watch Phantasm II unless Cinemax had featured it on their list. When I saw it featured, my body surged with excitement; much like how I feel when I hear an old song on the radio versus YouTube. Sure, I can watch it online whenever I choose, but there's something about hearing it on the radio that's more exhilerating. Maybe I'm just old fashioned. 

I've never had a problem paying for cable despite the increase in price over the years. I've always felt like I got my money's worth, but then again I watch a lot of TV—at least two to four hours a day. Could I watch TV on my laptop for much cheaper? Of course, but watching TV on my laptop sucks. There are a lot of things I'd rather pay for and enjoy than scrimp on and save. I'm very lucky in that I have that luxury. I've always felt that paying to check in my bag was worth not having to bring it on the plane (watching people battle for bin space on the flight back from Vegas was nauseating). When I travel, I always book directly through the hotel and pay extra for their customer service rather than use a third party agent. I know plenty of people who shop with us at K&L, even when we're a few bucks higher on a product, because they know they're covered if something goes wrong with the order. Those interactions have come to shape how I feel about customer service in general; namely, if it's important to you, pay for it. 

I talk to different retailers all the time who suffer from "want it both ways" customers: those folks who want the service of a brick and mortar store, but the price of an online competitor. It's a big problem with fashion right now. People go to the department store, bother the sales rep, try on the shoes there, then order off their phone once they know their size. Then they wonder why the store goes out of business six months later. Services cost money. Good service usually costs more. I don't want my quality cable services to go away, hence I pay for them. 

And that's why I had a great time watching Phantasm II last night. Thank you cable!

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Jun022016

All Tomorrow's Parties

You've got two chances to taste the new Australian sensation Four Pillars gin tomorrow: from 5 PM to 6:30 in the San Francisco store we'll have a free public tasting with distillery owner Stuart Gregor featuring the Rare Dry and the Navy Strength. Then from 8 PM onward we'll be at Donato in Redwood City on the back patio pouring $7 gin and tonics. 

Here's what you need to know about the Donato event:

- We'll be on the back patio with plastic cups, ice, and Fever Tree tonic. 

- There is no food for this event. If you want to order food you're welcome to, but this is not a ticketed event or a dinner.

- If you bring cash you will get your drink 10x faster than if you pay with credit card. We will not have a machine outside at the bar. I'm expecting a big crowd so having $21 in cash will be worth your while.

- There is a finite amount of Four Pillars gin and Fever Tree, so better to come early than late. 

- Please come around the outside of the restaurant to the back door if you're just coming to have a drink. I don't want our group to overwhelm the front desk or the hostess.

- Stuart and I have to drive down from SF to Redwood City in rush hour traffic, so if you get there at 7:45 there won't be any booze or anywhere to sit. Please don't come until 8 PM!

It's going to be a hot one tomorrow! Perfect for weather for a G&T. We'll see you there!

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
May312016

A Moment to Reflect – Part II

Comparative analytics. If it's happening in your field, maybe there's a pattern. The New York Times Magazine continues to have, in my opinion, the best writing, the most interesting topics, and—most importantly—a way of viewing the world through a modern lens that I agree with!

Critics controlling what we think about historical significance?

The Future of Rock & Roll's Past

Rich people buying things as investments, then locking them away where they're safe?

The World's Greatest Hidden Art Collection

Rock on NYT. I'm still willing to invest my hard-earned money in your outstanding writing.

-David Driscoll

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