In Addition...

To those of you on the email list who received the update, I offer this in addition.

I have and continue to have the support of my owners which make K&L a fantastic place to work and do my job.  In no way did the scenario that played out recently endanger my position, or even bring the slightest ounce of heat upon my head.  In sitting down with ownership, I brought the situation to their attention and they responded by saying that if I felt such frustrations were justified, then I had their full support to voice them and to continue voicing them in the future.

In no way do I feel that my opinions as a retailer are being censored, nor do I plan to scale back any strongly-felt opinions should I continue to have them.  However, I do feel that having a large audience is a responsibility, and I really had no idea how far these messages or blog posts were traveling.  That being put into perspective, being rash or shooting from the hip can exacerbate scenarios that don't deserve the frustration being wasted upon them.  Using that audience to vent your own personal issues can be satisfying, but probably isn't very useful in the long term.  I'd rather have a smirk on my face than a frown.

In order to be a strong retailer, I have a responsibility to carry the products that my customers want and I would feel horrible if my own personal frustrations resulted in bad relationships with producers that our customers enjoy. Why should anyone out there lose out on quality booze?

No one cares about personal beef, at least I don't when it applies to other people.  People care about good service and quality products at competitive price points.  I just want people to know what is honestly happening and what is honestly going on in this industry.  I have apologized for nothing in presenting our viewpoints on the marketplace and neither has K&L.  Nor do we feel pressured to do so.  Nor will we ever. 

Crediblity is everything.  I would quit if we ever lost it.

-David Driscoll 


Steve McCarthy @ Alembic

Alembic is a dark (hence my hazy photos) and cozy little place towards the end of Haight St. down from Golden Gate park and Amoeba records.  It has a gigantic selection of booze, from single malts to liqueurs, as well as local cult favorites like Russian River Brewery on tap.  They do a pre fixe menu every night with interesting plates and fantastic presentation.  The bartenders are well-versed and the staff is young with fashionable hipster vibe.  The cocktails are top notch and, with mixer Daniel Hyatt running the show, they push liquid creativity to a new level. In short, Alembic is the perfect place to bring the esoteric Clear Creek spirits line up and showcase its creator Steve McCarthy.  "Basically, if you're looking for spirits that are hard to sell and that no one likes, I'm your guy," Steve told the small crowd before beginning his presentation.  The plan for the night was simple: we had four courses paired with a cocktail, and in between Steve and I would go around to each table and pour some samples and talk about them. The intimacy was unparalleled by any other event we have done.  Steve basically ate dinner and talked with everyone personally and privately. 

Before getting into the Clear Creek products, I want to reiterate that Daniel Hyatt is capable of blowing your mind when motivated to do so.  I have my favorite bartenders in the city that I visit when the thirst beckons me, but Daniel's genius doesn't stem from an impromptu order behind the stick.  He prepares all day for his cocktails, so you need to go with whatever wave he's riding on.  In planning the menu for the evening - salad with tempura shrimp, polenta with prawns, roasted sweetbreads, and a fruit tart with lemon zest ice cream - Daniel whipped up four of the most creative drinks I have yet tasted.  The brilliance is in the subtlety and the ingenuity.  All four drinks went well with their respective pairings because they were like fine wines - restrained, and meant to tease your taste buds rather than overload them.  The first drink used the Clear Creek cassis with some black tea and sparkling rose.  The second was an insane combination of Clear Creek K&L Barrel whiskey with muddled persimmons and cinnamon.  The third, a take on the Clear Creek Pomme with crushed ice and infused simple syrup with fresh muddled borage.  Finally, the best for last, a cold shot of Clear Creek Pinot Grigio grappa and with lemon zest sweetener and espresso beans. 

For the sampling, we brought out the best of the collection: our new barrel of McCarthy whiskey, the blue plum brandy, the eight year apple brandy, the douglas fir eau de vie, the still-unreleased brandy, and bunch of fruit liqueurs before we finished with a cold glass of Steve's legendary pear eau de vie.  It was nice to watch everyone get the same fantastic treatment from Steve that I have always received.  I got to sit back and take my enjoyment from that.  The point that kept coming up all night long was the fact that every product in the Clear Creek line up is top notch.  Some wineries make a great cab but a lackluster pinot, but this is not the case concerning Steve. 

There's not much more to say that the pictures can't express.  It was a laid back, easy-going, and intimate evening that I would have enjoyed immensely were I sitting down and eating.  As it was, I know how I felt going through the tour two summers ago in Portland, so getting to see that excitement on the faces of last night's participants was almost just as good.  All in all, a fun night that we probably won't ever have the chance to do again.  At least not with cocktails this good and a man of Steve's stature.

-David Driscoll


Killing Time....Waiting...

Well I tried to get the conversation going about guilty pleasures, but it seems that I was the only one who was willing to embarrass myself publicly.  Now that you all know what I do in my free time, hopefully I still have some credibility.  In any case, here is what's happening for this week.

-McCarthy's is available as of right now in the store.  Pre-arrival orders should show as ready by the afternoon.  Exciting.  Holiday barrel 1 of 5 is in stock!

-Just talked to Davorin Kuchan and Dave Smith - with a little luck, Rusty Blade Gin and St George Whiskey could be in by early next week.  Barrels 2 and 3 coming soon!

-BT Antique and Pappy are sitting in LA as I wait for mine up here.  Hopefully tomorrow I can send out the email with the on sale date and time.  Patience...

-Nicolas Palazzi stuff should be in today.  These are the most exciting Cognac products I've ever tasted.  I'm expecting the staff to buy most of it so I doubt anyone will ever get to try it, but oh well. 

-Flaming Heart is in stock in LA and should be here tomorrow.  I've got a bunch of you down for a bottle right now, so you should get the alert soon.

Waiting, waiting, waiting.  All this build up and we're so close.  I'm just as excited as all of you so let's enjoy the anticipation. 

-David Driscoll


Guilty Booze Pleasures?

Everyone has that thing they like which would embarrass the hell out of them were anyone to know they actually enjoyed it.  I'm going to put myself out there right now and say, yes, I have a secret Gilmore Girls affinity.  I can't help it - it's so cleverly wholesome and comforting.  Watching it is like living in a world where all of my innermost worries and anxieties don't exist, but rather melt away as I dream of New England and the pleasures of small-town suburbia.  Laugh all you want, I will still watch it because it makes me happy.  At K&L, there are definitely guilty pleasures related to booze - those products we enjoy that would cause our co-workers to shake their heads in disbelief because a wine professional should not succumb to such infantile desires.  Is it the pineapple and butter-infused Rombauer Chardonnay?  Perhaps a six pack of Bud Light?  Or maybe a vodka-cranberry after work?  I've been thinking about what my alcoholic GP would be and if I had to choose now it would be the Godiva Chocolate-Infused Vodka which we don't have yet, but will shortly.  I can't help it, it's good!  What do you want me to do, not buy it even though it's delicious?  Do you have a guilty booze pleasure?  What is it?  Comment, please.

-David Driscoll


Good & Evil In The World Of Booze

So I'm sitting here alone in bed looking at my order history via the K&L website (my wife is out at West Side Story) trying to find the name of a bottle I bought a while ago and I get reminded about a wine book I bought some time back called The Battle For Love and Wine, which I actually wrote a review about when I regularly published on our wine blog.  This book was very influencial to me in my formative drinking years, but I was thinking that were I to read it again, I believe my attitude towards Alice Feiring would be very different today, mainly because I have done a complete 180 in most of my opinions as of late (I don't know why, but explaining it will get me off track, so let's stick to the point).  Searching for it on Amazon, I was curious as to how many people had actually read it and reviewed it, so I went right for the negative reviews.  Sure enough, there were a handful of people who believed that Feiring had a valid point in her fears of wine homoginization, but that she was far too black-and-white and solipsistic in her rantings about Parkerization - exactly what I was thinking in retrospect.  I remember reading the book as a naive, bright-eyed, young wine clerk who wanted desperately to understand what was cool in the wine world, so I was very much impressed and taken by such a brazen and passionate outrage against New World wine and its scientific approach to vinification.  I bought into the evils of Parker much like I bought into the evil of corporations as a college student (not to say that I now feel the opposite) because that's what happens to inexperienced people who can't wait to have an opinion.  Now that I'm a bit more grizzled, I have a different view on good and evil in the world of booze, and life for that matter, and it might do some good to lay it all out.

I'm usually kicking around the remnants of past conversations in my head, dwelling on points and contrasting them with similar experiences from various times in my life.  This morning, for example, my wife and I discussed the trend of enjoying authentic pizza in the Bay Area (i.e. Una Pizza Napoletana, Zero Zero, Tony's, A16, Delfina, etc.) and how it belongs to the majority of subcultures that eventually break out and become the trendy thing to do.  Combine that debate with another conversation I had after work concerning the loss of my political passion to change the world and you end up with the realization that sometimes people and their ideas can get out of control, so we just need to take a breath and focus on what's important in life.  In the end, pizza is nothing to be taken too seriously and the world is likely not as bad off as we think sometimes. However, reading the vitriolic comments on SFGate on trivial issues like the pet peeves of restaurant servers doesn't give me too much hope for the prevalence of common sense and understanding.  There is simply a need to be right and wrong, cool or uncool, for it or against, and the world of booze is no different.

Alice Feiring believes that science and technology are ruining the soul of wine.  If a winemaker uses new oak, reverse osmosis, micro-oxidation, or too much sulfur then they are stamping out the character of the grapes and the terroir of the wine.  While I agree with much of her argument, I don't believe that these winemakers are ruining the world - I simply believe that they want to make money by catering to the general palate and that they don't mean anyone harm.  Don't get a natural wine geek started on this subject however because they will tell you flat out that a wine that gets high marks from Parker is a sure sign of the devil, bringing an end to traditional winemaking as we know it and the destruction of all vino-diversity.  Feiring goes too far however in that she drives towards getting Parker alone in an inteview and telling him off, as if doing so would prove her right and forever vanquish her enemy (the same dillusion a motorist suffers from when he attempts to tailgate the guy who just cut in front of him - "Ha! That'll show him!"). The whiskey world has a similar snobbery that condescends to the drinkers of mass-produced blended malts and glorifies the small microdistillery using only small batch pot stills and 100% organically farmed grains.  Johnnie Walker = evil.  Old Potrero = good.  The mixology folks are just as guilty with their belief that vodka drinks are a bastardization of the genre, blending itself flavorlessly into sugary-sweet Lemon Drops in the name of easy alcohol delivery.  In their mind true lovers of the cocktail use only gin, brandy, or whiskey in their libations as they speak to the traditional pre-Prohibition craft of Jerry Thomas. 

These battles between opposing mindsets end up being all out wars, and are being fought in books, in blogs, on message boards, and in bars (in fact, if you go back to that link for the SFGate comment field you'll see a fierce battle between the avid Grey Goose defenders and some gin-loving pre-Prohibitionists!).  Getting a bit of understanding about booze (or anything of for that matter) usually leads people to a frustrating understanding about the habits of the uniformed, as they completely forget they also once knew nothing.  Those who still practice a casual interest get annoyed by the soapbox spouting arrogance of these so-called true afficianados and, in their defensiveness, they lash out in response.  If you don't believe me, you only need visit a message board to witness it.  "You losers eat at Round Table? Bleh, I only eat quality pizza at Beretta!"  "I'll stick to my vodka drinks at home and let all those trendy losers waste their time getting their overpriced, fancy cocktails."  These are real comments that I read on the internet everyday!  People are so upset with one another and their contrasting opinions! It is pure and utter hatred!  Where is all this anger coming from?

Of course I have my opinions and I tend to side with the snobby insider most of the time, however, I don't feel the need to argue vehemently or post outrageous comments somewhere.  The truth is: this is a world of tastes and taste is thankfully neither black nor white.  From what I've witnessed, it's never the most knowledgable people arguing about semantics, but rather the inexperienced with a chip on their shoulder.  That would at least help explain why I have mellowed over time.  It's a fine line that you walk between expert and asshole if you choose to explain to a customer why you would never drink California chardonnay or Chivas Regal and this attitude can really turn people off if you're not careful (I was very tired one day and unable to do this little tapdance - the result was one infuriated customer).  Not everyone cares about booze as much as I do, so I need to remember that and, as Jack says in Sideways, "If they want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot!"  Once you realize how unattractive it is to start delving into to that sort of opinionated schtick, you really just want to avoid it from then on.

I understand how Parker points are leading more and more winemakers to change their style in search of that goldmine of a positive review, but I don't think that Alice has anything to worry about really.  There is room in this vast world for Parker's wines and for Feiring's as well.  Sure, Marcel Lapierre has recently passed on, but his son will continue to make unsulfured Beaujolais because we are here to drink it.  Whiskey lovers - no one is forcing you to drink anything blended.  Yes, that corporate umbrella Diageo is continuing to raise their prices, but Ardbeg and Laphroaig just lowered theirs so it balances out.  Let's mellow out a bit.  Cocktail afficionados - let people drink their vodka and enjoy themselves.  We don't need to point out what they're missing or why their drink isn't any good.  In fact, I just tasted a chocolate vodka that was so good I plan on buying it for the store (even though it is a bit embarrassing). 

 -David Driscoll