France Day 1 - Alsace

Getting on a plane to visit a foreign country is always an incredible feeling. It doesn't matter where you're going or why, there's no avoiding the sense of adventure associated with striking out and putting rubber to the road. This year it's been particularly complex to make this trip happen. Here at the K&L Spirits Department, we've made a commitment to finding you the best products from across the world. Typically, Driscoll and I travel as partners, but this year due to a number of factors we decided to split up to maximize our effectiveness. David and the wonderful Jeff Jones voyaged early to Scotland to secure some of the best values we've ever seen in Single Malt. During that same period, I had planned to visit Martinique to explore the island nation's Agricole Rhum industry. You may not have seen or heard anything about this Martinique trip because it never ended up happening. Instead, I have the great pleasure to announce that I’m pregnant and at that time I was advised travelling to the Caribbean was too risky for my wife and future child. That old Zika is a bitch.

Nonetheless, I'm committed to bringing new and exciting products back this year. That means redoubling our efforts in Scotland and French Brandy -Armagnac continues to be the most exciting and affordable brown spirit category in the world. We'll be releasing new single casks over the next few weeks and they will unquestionably be some of the best values you've ever seen in Scotch. But I also want to bring you new products, not to replace a bottle you've already got, but to open your mind to something new and exciting. Yesterday, I flew to Paris with exactly that goal. My first stop, while not exactly a sure thing yet could set K&L up to be partners with one the greatest names in Spirits across the world. 

For those of you who know what this means, you'll likely share my unbearable excitement. For those of you that don't, you'll have to just wait and see what comes of it.

I plan to redouble my efforts in French Whisky not simply because I love this country and the people who make these incredible products, but because I love the products we're bringing in. My goals are unabashedly selfish. I truly think that some of the best whisky being made right now is coming out of France. We're just scratching the surface so far, there's still so much more below. What I like about it beyond the care and quality they put into each drop, is that they are utterly focused on being themselves. So often we hear craft distillers say, "I can't do it better than the big guys, so I'm just going to be different." This attitude utterly kills me. Why are you different? I just don't see the point. It feels completely out of sink with the goals of creating a great product, something you WANT people to buy. It's also pretty damned self-centered. I get that starting a distillery, sometimes from scratch, you need to be self aggrandizing, but it so often leans towards arrogance rather than reverence that it turns me off. This is not a build it and they will come type of industry. If you’re going to be arrogant about what you’re doing, you better be damned well sure that it’s the best thing out there, not simply the best you can muster.

If you know that you've got strong competition, why not plan to do it better, try harder, be exceptional, rather than try to wiggle out of directly competing with the leaders in your category? There's a reason why Kentucky, Ireland, and Scotland have general practices that are ubiquitous across those industries. If you’re reinventing the wheel, you should probably make sure it works better than the one we’ve already got. But in that context, craft distillers France have a very different attitude. Their goals are simply to make a product with a sense of place, yes usually within the context of a greater category, but not necessarily as an affront or in competition to what Scotland has to offer. The quality of the journey goes without saying for these artisans, but for them the journey is not the goal. As I make my way down the Rhine valley with no idea what is to come, a feeling of adventure is what I crave and indeed I have it, but I will continue to remind myself that this journey is not the goal. It is only our garden from which we must pick the ripest fruit. Tonight to Burgundy and then onwards to Gascogne... 

Sometimes the journey is pretty damned amazing though.

-David Othenin-Girard


50 by 50 by 50

Woohoo! We're finally sold out for tonight's event. 50 people paid 50 bucks to come to Donato in Redwood City to meet Devo's Gerald Casale, have dinner, taste his 50 by 50 wines, and sample our upcoming 50 year old Scotch from Old Particular. 

A big thank you to everyone who bought a ticket. You're going to have a great time! I'll see you tonight.

-David Driscoll


Pay it Forward

Someone left a note on my car windshield this morning that read:

Our neighborhood is stressed for parking already. It's unnecessary to take up two parking spaces.

I was confused. When I got home from work yesterday there was no one parked in front of my house. I simply pulled over to the curb, lined myself up with the sidewalk, and turned off the ignition. It's hard to gauge your parking when there are no other cars along the more than 200 meters of uninterrupted curb to measure against. There were no driveways or red spots to take into account. But, of course, I thought most people understood how parallel parking worked. People come and go throughout the day and it's tough to know if the guy who's taking up too much space was indeed being a total hog, or if maybe there was a mini cooper parked behind him previously. How can you know for sure? 

But that uncertainty didn't stop someone from putting me in my place. This person was not only angered by my perceived parking violation, he (I'm guessing male here) went home, got a sheet of paper, and made sure to give me a piece of his mind. 

Hah! That'll show him; that space-hogging jerk. 

I'm a pretty busy guy. I move fast. I think fast. I act fast. But I've learned over the years in these situations to slow down and let the little things go, especially when you're unsure of the facts. I've definitely unloaded on people in the past, thinking I was giving someone their just deserts, only to discover that I was completely wrong in my accusation. I was the one who ended up looking like the asshole in the end. Rarely, if ever, does venting your frustration in this manner ever solve or prove anything. We're living in an era where anger and dismay are given out not only too easily, but often incorrectly. Anonymity only encourages people to be more vocal. Online review sites today are practically useless because they're little more than soapboxes for the high and mighty. Comment boards are like war zones for the utterly insecure. 

There's no need to add on to the pile. Instead of pointing out the mistakes of others, do something nice for someone instead. Buy them a bottle of whisky or something. Pay it forward. I'm going to buy my neighbor some beer. 

-David Driscoll



I read on Wikipedia once that disruptive innovations tend to be produced by outsiders—those observing a particular business model from afar who see a way to displace current industry leaders by creating an entirely new market. 

Whether or not K&L can be disruptive to the current single malt market may depend on whether you see us as an insider or an outsider within our industry. While we definitely have strong relationships within the mainframe of wine and spirits distribution, we simultaneously skirt (or circumvent) the limitations of that three-tiered status quo to eliminate those restrictions from the equation. While we work to maneuver successfully within the system, you could say we're also committing an equal amount of effort to evade its confines. It's the yin and yang of our business, so to speak.

My personal research at K&L for the last year has revolved around the stability of the single malt market and the associations I've made with my own real estate search. Some people I've talked to think Scotch is dead. Played out. Saturated. Gentrified. I disagree, however. I think the way consumers feel about buying whisky these days isn't all that different from the way they feel about buying a home; it's just a matter of getting a return on your money and feeling excited about that investment. No one wants to overpay for anything, especially when they're unsure of the quality. But nothing's more exhilarating than feeling like you're getting more than what you've paid for. Just like I think thousands of people would move back the Bay Area if houses dropped down to more reasonable prices, I think thousands of frustrated whisky drinkers would drink tons of Scotch again if there were more delicious, straight-forward, mature whiskies of quality with real age statements and no BS.

Do you think I'm right? We're going to find out this August. We're not going to be selling Port Ellen for $100, but we are going to play around with the math. It should be fun to watch.

-David Driscoll


Mezcal Misterios

It seems like every week there's a new mezcal lable available in the U.S., which is exciting for people like me who love agave spirits. Every time I go to Oaxaca I fill my suitcase with interesting selections that aren't on the market here at home, one of which used to be Siete Misterios: a bottler of mezcal in Mexico that strives to provide traditional styles of the spirit that are 100% natural and organic in origin, with flavors and aromas that are custom to the specific species of agave. Their mezcals are not only some of the tastiest in the industry right now, they're also some of the best priced! Thanks to a new American importer, I no longer have to buy a plane ticket to get these.

Siete Misterios Doba-Yej Mezcal $34.99- The doba-yej is a blast of smoke, citrus, and stonefruit that lights up the palate like a lightning rod. It's one of the most delicious and value-oriented selections we've ever carried and is a great entry way into the genre. This is my new go-to for mixers and fun cocktails. It's so expressive and fun.

Siete Misterios Arroqueño Mezcal $99.99 -The Arroqueno expression is packed with herbal notes and bright floral tones that shape the flavor from roasted agave to a spicy finish. It's delicious stuff.

Siete Misterios Coyote Mezcal $99.99- The Coyote agave expression is fruit forward on the entry with beautiful hints of berry and spice. It turns into a more herbaceous spirit on the finish, balancing out the intensity. Truly fantastic mezcal.

Siete Misterios Tobala Mezcal $139.99- The Tobala agave expression is loaded with bitter chocolate, chile, chipotle, and all sorts of other spicy notes. It's a mezcal that delivers true varietal character in spades.

We’ve also got some new limited things from our friends at Alipus and Mezcalero—my favorite producer and bottler in the business. Check these out:

Alipus Ensemble San Andres Mezcal $69.99- From the same distiller who does the standard Alipus San Andres, comes this "ensemble" release: a rich and elegant blend including some 20% semi-wild agave bicuishe in with the standard espadin. The result is a bright, floral, and richly-textured mezcal with mild smoke and more pure agave flavor.

Mezcalero "Release #15" Sierra Negra Mezcal $99.99- Batch 15 is made with semi-wild Sierra Negra (agave americana) from Don Baltazar Cruz in San Luis del Río. Sierra Negra has a beautiful suavity in the mouth, with a long finish of spice and sweet earth. Another big winner from the now legendary series.

Mezcalero Special Bottling #2 Mezcal $129.99- Labeled as the "finest mezcal in bottle," we would be hard pressed to disagree here! Hand-distilled in October and November of 2012 by Don Valente Ángel in Santa Maria Pila from wild Dobadaan (agave rhodacantha) found on a south-sloping hillside called La Loma de la Mojonera. Rested in tank for 3+ years, the mezcal offers profound depth and an ethereal, calm delicacy. For serious fans of the genre.

-David Driscoll