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Friday
Mar092018

Thank You Everyone

I'm incredibly grateful for my last ten+ years in the booze business. I'm feeling sentimental tonight. It's been a good ride.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Mar062018

The Roaring Twenties

There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t hear the same questions from our thirsty, whisky-loving customers: “Hey David, when do you think they’ll put the age statement back on (fill in the blank)?” While brands, advertisers, bartenders, and retailers alike can do their best to direct the conversation towards the actual flavor of whisky rather than its maturity, no one can deny the importance of that number. We’re living in the age of the sophisticated consumer. Our clients want to know exactly what they’re drinking and use each tasting experience to further their understanding of single malt as a whole, yet more and more we’re seeing NAS (no age statement) whisky expressions from most of the major companies continue to dominate the market due to a lack of mature inventory. 

As I think we’ve all experience at this point, the proliferation of NAS whiskies has put a premium on whiskies with an actual age statement. If they’re bottled at full proof, you can add an additional 25-30% to the cost. Ten year old expressions are moving to upwards of $50, while fifteen year old malts now hover around the $100 mark, making our full proof, single barrel expressions from Old Particular look mighty attractive when compared to the current market conditions. But you've heard this all before. As you're all aware, finding a whisky with richness, maturity, and the influence of two decades or more in oak (at cask strength, no less), isn't easy for under $150, let alone $100. With the pound gaining strength against the dollar, keeping these bargain costs is becoming more of a challenge, but as you all know we’re committed to giving our whisky-loving customers as many top-notch bargain options as possible, hoping to keep your liquor cabinet stocked with as many unique, delicious, and 20+ year old selections as we can—all for less than a hundred bucks.

Ultimately, we're here as your trusty guide in the great hunt for delicious booze and boutique bottlings at reasonable prices. Here are the latest two K&L exclusive releases from our friends at Old Particular:

1997 Auchentoshan 20 Year Old "Old Particular" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $89.99 - Auchentoshan, while typically overlooked as a light-bodied Lowlander, has been on the ups over the last few years thanks to a shot in the arm from Beam-Suntory who have rediscovered the dependable whisky as of late. In a series of new expressions, from the American Oak to the recently-released Bartender's Malt, the focus on value has been front and center, while improving the quality of the malt, which in our opinion has never been better. Thanks to a new appreciation for Auchentoshan with our customers, we've been digging deep into some of Scotland's warehouse archives, hoping to continue that value streak with some older, single barrel, cask strength additions and we've found yet another winner with this new 20 year old cask. Bold at 57% ABV and with loads of vanilla from the oak, this is Auchentoshan with heft and punch, but simultaneously easy to drink with lighter fruity notes and heather on the finish. While pricing for NAS cask strength whiskies is now creeping up near $100 a bottle, we're thrilled to move ahead with actual 20+ year old selections from top distilleries for the same cost. Those looking for value have come to depend on Auchentoshan as of late, and they'll find more of the same in this expression.

1991 Cameronbridge 25 Year Old "Old Particular" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Scotch Whisky $79.99 - Cameronbridge is one of Diageo's workhorse grain whisky distilleries, creating the backbone for its world famous brands like Johnnie Walker and White Horse, while simultaneously serving as the home for grain neutral products like Tanqueray and Pimm's. The dual purpose site is one of the biggest producers of spirit in the UK and because of that volume we were able to snag a very hot price on a 25 year old single grain Scotch barrel, mellowed naturally at a very drinkable 45.9% ABV cask strength. Those who enjoy the simple pleasure that is grain whisky will find nothing new here, just a great value from the still misunderstood genre. Loads of vanilla and caramel mix with candied orange and spicy oak to create a smooth and supple finish. Imagine drinking the foundation of Johnnie Walker Blue on its own, with no water added, and that about summarizes the experience here. It's magical on the rocks.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Mar052018

Rookie Mistake

If you want to know what happened at my house this past weekend, click on the above video. I made a classic mistake and opened the box without realizing what I was doing. I thought I was going to spend a leisurly evening in front of the television with wine and take out, but instead I invited hell upon myself, waking up Sunday morning completely dehydrated and with a throbbing headache.

I opened the box. The demons came. It was entirely my fault.

I should have been paying attention to what I was doing.

Alright, so that's not literally what happened, but figuratively it's pretty close. I fell for one of the biggest rookie mistakes in the business. I took home what is pretty much the best thing ever, our directly-imported Blason Box of Italian white wine (four bottles of deliciously crisp vino in an air-proof bag with a built in tap) and thought I was going to actually drink less.

I told my wife: "The great thing about the box is that you can just have a few glasses without having to commit to the entire bottle and the wine stays fresh." 

In theory, this is entirely correct.

But you must keep track of what you're doing. The thing about opening a bottle is that you know exactly how much of the 750ml you're consuming. When you take your eye off the box, bad things happen. 

The wine was so cold. The Doordash guy was a half hour late. It was Saturday and I was having such a good time. I opened the box. 

But it is not just a box. It is a means to summon. Please, enjoy the box. But never take your eye of it's many pleasures.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Mar032018

PR Master's Class

There's a great line in the movie Tin Cup where Kevin Costner tries to explain to Rene Russo that her hot shot boyfriend Don Johnson is really an asshole behind closed doors. "You should know that he hates old people, children, and dogs," Costner tells her, using the three parties as a litmus test for what constitutes a decent person's behavior. I remember laughing out loud the first time I saw that scene because it's the damn truth. When someone is mean to grandmothers, little kids, or animals, it's a red flag. On the other hand, when I see two incredibly famous celebrities embrace their fans of all ages, take selfies, make Facetime calls to their relatives live in person, laugh with them, cry with them, and do everything within their power to connect with them on a one-to-one human level, it's incredibly heartening. Never in my life have I seen a tour de force duo meet their adoring public with such down-to-earth humility and charm. We had Donnie Wahlberg and Jenny McCarthy in the Hollywood store last night signing autographs and taking selfies with more than 100 awaiting devotees and I was absolutely mesmerized by how they handled that endless line of people. 

I was controlling the line for most of the evening, letting the folks into the space in small groups to get their autographs. Donnie, as a teen idol, is such a pro handling kids that I wish I had actual video footage to show you. While Jenny was signing Blondies bottles, Donnie would come over to the line and start talking to the families, bringing them in for photos, laughing with them, and putting them at ease. Jenny would then come over after she was done and instantly start up a conversation, asking them about their life with genuine intent and interest. There was not one customer at K&L last night who didn't feel like the most important person in the world when they passed through that line. A girl came back later and gave me a huge hug, saying: "This was the best night of my life. Thank you so much for doing this." I was speechless at that point.

And that line about old people, children, and dogs? We had all three in the house last night and these two couldn't have been more engaged with every living creature there. If you ever want to learn more about how to deal with the public, how to make friends, or how to treat people decently, this was a master's class on display. Since I first met her months ago, Jenny has been the most humble and kind person, legitimately interested in drinking and starting a real business, and looking for help from people in the industry. We communicate regularly and I'm always taken aback by how much she's learned since our last contact. Most celebrity brands fail because the person behind the booze is ultimately the selling point. In my experience, they go under when the celebrity involved realizes how much work it is to sustain a market with appearances, signings, and various other PR events. They think they'll just put their name on a bottle and it will sell, but that's rarely the case. Jenny and Donnie, however, are boots on the ground all the way. At this point in my career, I don't ever judge a project by the base spirit, the market segment, or the historical authenticity of the brand. I decide how to spend my time based on the personality of the people involved, their willingness to work, and their dedication to doing the little things that make or break a brand.

And, of course, how they treat old people, children, and animals. 

-David Driscoll

Friday
Mar022018

Purpose

The framework of my average week has become thematic in its shape over the years, formed more by the voodoo of human events than any real planning on my part. Once prepped and planned by me in advance, the structure of my work is now defined almost entirely by uncontrollable events that fall into place. Over time, I've learned to go with that energy rather than attempt to swim against it. This particular week has been downright wacky in terms of its relentless motif. I have been approached by no less than seventeen different parties, from all sorts of industries, all interested in talking to me about writing and my strategies for doing it successfully. Some have been professional journalists interested in my genre, others were looking to make a change within the booze industry, and a few have been amateur authors in search of inspiration. I've done two interviews this week for major magazines about writing, had three conversations with marketers about writing strategy, and had five different people forward me articles I was completely unaware of, all citing my work as an example of effective storytelling in sales. One person asked me to start a writing side project. Another asked me to speak at a writing seminar. A third has asked me to help him draft a key note speech for his company's retreat.

I guess if I considered myself a writer I would be proud of that recognition. However, I am not a writer. Therefore, I'm both confused and nervous about being asked to help.

While I've met and talked with plenty of people out there who think doing is being, I personally don't think the definition is quite that simple. If you shoot at your local Y after work with friends and play pick-up games on the weekend, that doesn't make you a basketball player. If you watch Law & Order obsessively and spend your time reading legal journals, that doesn't make you a lawyer. Maybe you're seven feet tall with a great hook and have an innate ability to read quickly through legalese documents, but until you're selected by either an NBA franchise or a university with a JD program, you're never going to be either of those things. I know a good number of people who can sing, but they are not singers. They sing for fun in their church choirs, or at karaoke bars with friends. They do not however get paid to sing, much like I do not get paid to write. Together we are people with abilities, but we are not professionals. When you get paid to do something, that's when you get to give yourself a professional title. When you're a hobbyist, you are simply someone who enjoys an activity. 

The flipside of this mindset is obviously the level of one's ability. For example, there are certainly professional chefs who are not great cooks. They follow a recipe book and do what's asked of them. They have no real vision or love for their work. The job is simply a paycheck to them. They work on a line, perform their duties, and then clock out for the day. Meanwhile, there's an accountant out there who loves food, spends all of her free time cooking at home, and can create culinary classics from scratch at the drop of a hat. She might wipe the floor with our line cook in a head-to-head duel, moving fluidly through all sorts of cultures and styles, but at the end of the day she is not a cook. She is an accountant with an incredible talent. There's a reason that distinction is important to me. To have an ability is to be capable. To actually do, however, and get paid to do is something entirely different. Thus, when it comes to giving advice about writing, I'm not the person to ask. To ask me for advice about being a successful writer is to confuse ability with professionalism. I've met hundreds of people over the years who know a lot about whiskey, but few of them had any real understanding of retail. Let me tell you, while there are overlaps between connoisseurship and marketing, there's a gulf of difference between enjoying whiskey and selling it. 

I don't know the first thing about being a professional writer. I've never been paid to write. I don't list writer on my resume. I've never taken a writing class, or been coached by anyone other than my high school English teacher. Most importantly, I wouldn't know what to tell someone who wants to be a writer. How do you get a job as a writer? No idea. What's the best way to reach new readers? No clue. If you want to talk about marketing, however, that's a completely different conversation. Trends and statistics in the alcohol industry? I'm your guy. If you want to talk about clearly expressing a point of view, a general message to the public, or a sales strategy that encompasses a particular mood or theme, I can talk your ear off. I use writing to effectively do those things. Writing is a tool that helps me express myself and therefore my message. What I write on this blog is effectively what would come straight out of my mouth were you to meet me in person. I say it in my head and then my fingers transcribe that monologue. I have a purpose when it comes to my writing and, from what I have been told by other writers, having something to say is what's most important.

Having something to say goes hand in hand with effective marketing. It turns out that selling whiskey and writing have that much in common: they both require a viewpoint, an opinion, or at the very minimum a reason why anyone should stop what they're doing and listen to you. When I started out at K&L, I felt that making a mark in the modern economic age would require businesses to move away from neutrality (a topic getting more interesting by the minute with Trump and the NRA). Previously, most wine and spirits retailers were merely hubs between producers and customers with professional critics helping to guide taste and influence. I decided to insert myself more into the middle, rather than wait for these gatekeepers to eventually send business our way. Some people had a problem with that; not that you can blame them. I was encroaching on their territory. "Retailers should shut up and stay out of these conversations," some people said. That's when I knew we were on to something. The more I talked about my opinions as a retailer, the more upset it made the people who felt it was their place to be doing the opining. If you know anything about human psychology, then you know that people only react that way when they feel threatened. Getting that market segment riled up was like shooting fish in a barrel and the more they wrote about K&L, the more it sent people our way. But, again, that didn't happen because I know how to write. That was just marketing strategy tied in with simple behavioral analysis. The fact that everything I wrote came from a real place, from my actual beliefs, and from real emotion happened to make that strategy effective. The best type of marketing is authenticity. There are bestselling books about this phenomenon

When you're truly excited about your subject and every word you type sends a feeling of electricity through your fingers, that passion is palpable. Communicating that energy is a very effective form of marketing because in that sense, as human beings, many of us are inherently very capable marketers. When you tell your friend about the amazing new Indian restaurant that just opened down the street, about how incredible the vindaloo tastes, and your voice goes up and down with emotion during that tidal wave of positive feedback, that's marketing. When you talk to your co-workers after a vacation in Croatia and you gush about the beauty of the Dalmatian Coast, how nice the locals are, and how you can't wait to go back, that's marketing. Human narratives are marketing. Stories are marketing. Real life experiences are marketing. Whether you talk about it, video chat it, blog about it, record it into an audio book, or write about it in an article for a magazine, it's still marketing and that is what I get paid to do. I get paid to create enthusiasm, not write. It just so happens that I use writing as a medium, but in all honesty I'm probably more effective in person. I've been creating enthusiasm since I was a kid trying to convince my friends to come over and watch pay-per-view wrestling, explaining to them how we could all chip in to split the cost. In the end, the words are the same whether they're written on the page or coming out of my mouth. I know what the goal is and I know how to get there.

What ultimately separates ability from desire is purpose. Efficacy comes from successfully realizing an intention. My writing is therefore effective because I know exactly how it works: I get excited by something, I summarize that excitement into words, and I broadcast that excitement via various mediums. It's a very simple formula. The fact that I let people into my life while doing so, revealing my intentions and innermost emotions, builds a personal relationship between me and my customers and therein makes those words meaningful. These people get to know me. They get to know my opinions. They then use what they know about me to form their purchasing decisions. This is no different than how friendship works. Your best friends are the ones you share your feelings with and those you ultimately trust become your closest friends. That's how relationships are built. You find things in common, correspond, share experiences, and then you become amigos. Today I continue to correspond casually with hundreds of K&L customers who might check in to tell me what they drank last night, or share a thought they had while eating lunch at work. It's these very correspondences that now shape the framework of my week. Some people might call that networking. I call it being a people person who is polite, compassionate, and willing to help. I just happened to turn those innate qualities into a profession. It's easy for me because I like doing it. That's business 101, right? Find something you like doing and you'll never have to work a day in your life. Something like that. 

Professional writers sells words. I sell bottles. I do indeed use words to sell bottles, but my purpose is different and that's the only advice I could ever give to anyone looking for my thoughts on the subject: figure out what use your writing serves, then decide if you can effectively create a narrative that helps people understand the importance of that mission. You may start your journey with the intention of becoming a writer, but find an entirely new career in business, marketing strategy, and public relations. I definitely had dreams at one point of becoming a journalist, but in the end I discovered a different way to express my ideas. I still like writing. That's the only reason I do it as often as I do. However, without a professional purpose for those words I would be lost and that's ultimately what separates what I do from writing. 

-David Driscoll