Test 1, Test 2...

So I broke my camera in a Scotland warehouse and said "No More!" with digital point & shoots.  I was a film major in college, so I have a basic working knowledge of photography.  I decided to invest in something more serious to see what I could do with spirits romanticization.  Maybe I can make our bottles look so freakin' amazing that you can't help but want one!  We'll see.  I'm playing around with a few lenses and a few looks.  Above is my "intellectual/whisky drinker/private eye" look.

Better lenses means lower aperture, means narrower depth of field, means subjects that pop when shot in focus.  I think I can take this blog to the next level with some better imaging.  We'll see.  I'll keep toying around with this thing and see what happens.

-David Driscoll


Tuesday Tasting Tonight!

We're going big tonight at Martin's West.  Tonight, beginning at 6 PM, you can come and order a whole glass of 1984 Yamazaki Japanese Single Malt Whiskey (a $600+ dollar bottle) and it will cost you about $20.  That's less than the average glass of Macallan 15 at most places.  We are only purchasing one bottle, so that leaves 26 pours available for the first 26 people who show up.  Unfortunately we cannot reserve pours in advance. 

If you're new to Japanese whiskey and you're wondering why this is such a big deal, let me tell you first that the Yamazaki was the megahit of WhiskyFest SF.  It was the first bottle everyone who attended the advance VIP session went to try.  I was there early and I still wasn't able to taste it - the bottle was drained within 15 minutes.  Interest in Japanese whiskey has reached a fever pitch stateside, so getting to try something new, especially something rare, is a big deal.

Neyah White, the brand ambassador for Suntory, recently told me that the 1984 was just awarded best whiskey in the world at a recent Whisky Magazine blind tasting, where it went up against the big boys of Scotland and took them down unanimously.  What makes the 1984 so different?

To me, it's the heavy use of ultra-expensive Japanese Oak barrels that comes through in the flavor.  Having tasted the 1984 a few months back, I picked up sandlewood, curry, even Indian spices and I couldn't figure out where these flavors were coming from.  Neyah informed me that these profiles were indicitive of the wood and they were exactly why Japanese oak barrels are amazing vestibules for malt whiskey. However, due to the rarity of the wood, the fact that coopering it is next to impossible, and the amount of leakage that occurs due to its porousness, aging whiskey in Japanese oak is neither easy, nor cost effective - that makes it exclusive.

There are not many bottles of 1984 Yamazaki in the states right now so I'm looking forward to drinking one with you all tonight!  See you there.

-David Driscoll


Yelp Help

Every now and then I like to check in on Yelp to see what our customers think about our service. I am very sensitive to this kind of thing, so I probably shouldn't look too often.  However, if some of our employees are not doing their job in the eyes of the customer, I definitely want to know about it.  We're not perfect over at K&L so it's always nice to know where we can improve.  We generally have a great five star average, but now and again we mess up and that person lets us know it.  That's the nice part about Yelp - it gives the consumer some power to fight back against crappy service.

The bad part about Yelp is when people get frustrated about something that isn't our fault and then blatantly lie about what happened.  I was perusing our recent reviews and read the report of a customer experience that is just 100% false.  I usually give reviewers the benefit of the doubt, but I happened to remember exactly the incident the person is describing and it couldn't be further from the truth.  The bad part about giving everyone a voice on the internet is that many people choose not to use that voice responsibly.  Some readers take Yelp very seriously, so it pains me to know that some customers will read this review and believe it to be true. 

I ask that those of you who use consumer sites like Yelp to please keep the basic tenants of human nature into account.  I used to rely on these testimonials for restaurants and hotels, but having been on the other side, it's obvious that some people are using reviews on Yelp as a punching bag for their own inner anger. 

-David Driscoll



Highland Scottish

During our first night at Glendronach, David OG and I made our way over to the only establishment within 10 miles of the distillery - a small inn and pub at the end of the main road.  This was the local hangout, but there are only about 5 locals in the whole area.  When they spoke to us, they spoke a language we could understand: English.  However, when they conversed with one another, we couldn't comprehend one word.  I asked them if they were trying to disguise their conversation from us and they said, "What?  You can't understand English?"

-David Driscoll



Independent Thought - The K&L/Springbank Connection

Doing the podcast with Springbank last Thursday really sent me into deep reflection this weekend.  If you listened to the conversation I had with Peter, you'll hear him talk about putting flavor in front of profits.  I replied with a sarcastic quip about flavor not being something that has a distinct monetary value, and we had a good laugh about how Springbank is an accountant's worst nightmare.  I really feel a kinship with these guys because they're also of the philosophy that money will eventually come with hard work and a good product.  In all honesty, I never look at our sales figures.  I have no idea how much booze we sold last month or what our projections are for April.  Heck, the only reason I even know my own salary is because I just did my taxes recently.  I'm not looking to cash in here, so it's not really too important to me as long as I can pay my bills and afford to eat out on the weekend.

This is not how anyone else in this industry thinks, however.

This industry is about building brands.  Getting logos on T-shirts.  Moving palates.  Sponsoring events.  Growing the company, and then selling it for a billion dollars.  In fact, you'll hear Peter say during the podcast that his accountants are frustrated with Springbank because they have no interest in ever selling it! At K&L we've been lucky because our customers are not branded - they want something different every time and welcome our in-house opinion.  It's difficult to explain this to some large brand managers who don't understand the way we do business.  One side is about marketing, the other is about passion.  It isn't impossible for these two sides to come together, but it's not easy to maintain credibility when doing so.  Not all marketing is obvious however, nor is it inherently bad.

The one market that big companies are having trouble reaching is the whisky geeks, but believe me they're trying.  Burns Stewart just changed Bunnahabhain from 43% to 45.8% because they're reading the blogosphere and that's what the "insiders" are complaining about.  Everyone is switching to unchillfiltered, but it isn't because they suddenly started to care about flavor.  While some may simply ascribe this transition to giving customers what they want, remember that less than 1% of the whisky market even knows what unchillfiltered means.  Again, some people may think that Bunnahabhain tastes better now that it fits the "geek" profile. I actually like the 43% better, but if it makes their whisky more attractive to some drinkers, that's good marketing.

Because K&L tends to cater to the "geek" market, everything we do is catching the attention of big companies looking to break into this crowd.  They want to know how we're selling so much of the "boutique" stuff, when larger stores are struggling.  What are we doing differently? Being honest? I'm not sure it's the result of any one thing.  It isn't advertising though because, much like Springbank, we don't pay for ads nor do we accept money for ads.  If I had to summarize it, I would call it credibility.  Maybe because we're not putting money first, people trust us to tell them the truth? 

In the end, it's difficult to argue against major advertising.  It's nice to believe sometimes that we make our own decisions about what we like, but the truth is we all are influenced by the desires of others.  If an influencial writer rates a new whisky highly, that whisky will instantly become more saleable - therefore whisky companies give free samples to these whisky writers (me included).  The more access they have to blogs, email distribution, and Facebook, the more they can permeate the media that influences thought (one reason I will never reside on Facebook - 1000 friends and they're all liquor companies).  Good ads still work - I still associate Campari with those amazing Salma Hayek photos and it makes me want to drink it more!

-David Driscoll