A.D. Rattray Barrels Arrive Today!!

Well, we're almost ready for everyone to come pick up their long awaited Clynelish and Aberlour bottlings from A.D. Rattray.  The whisky should be delivered this afternoon and transfered over to our operations department for processing and sorting.  However, we just sent out a big email yesterday about a bargain Spanish wine with big points and that put our ordering queue into a frenzy, so there are a few hundred wine orders for these guys to deal with at the same time.  I'm really hoping they can get everything done by Friday's end so that you all can have your bottles for the weekend.  Make sure you wait for an email from us before you head over to the store! In any case, they'll be in our possession and I will do everything I can to get it done quickly.  I have held some of the Clynelish back so that some people can try it and then buy another bottle, although I don't know how long it will last because the demand has been unreal.  I'm excited to crack one of these bottles open and revisit the whisky.  I always get nervous thinking it might not be as good as I remember it. 

-David Driscoll


Importance of Independents/Independence Part IV

The most important contribution that independent distributors provide us with is access to up and coming products and young, hip producers.  Think of it as an exact parallel to the music world - there's no Nirvana or Soundgarden without Subpop and there's no Pavement without Matador.  The independents take the risk on the could-be precocious and if they become superstars, then they were the pioneer.  Remember that Hangar One vodka used to be distributed locally by Lou Bock until they went national and signed with Young's.  The problem with the big boys is the size of their catalogues - they simply have too much product to promote.  Not only do they have a gigantic inventory, but their representatives are more focused on sales than knowledge.  Most of the time I know ten times more about the products than the guys selling them.  Can you imagine if you went shopping for a mattress or a TV and you had to tell the salesman about his own stock?

When I taste with with the smaller guys, I get excited.  I know I'm in for a treat when they show up holding a bag full of new samples they've scoured the countryside for.  Also part of the process is the education, as they feed my passion for learning with their own passion for teaching.  We really look forward to meeting up with one another and it feels more like hanging out with friends than running a business.  For that reason, I felt right at home when I attended the pre-opening party at the new Bar Agricole last week and saw a room full of people I love talking booze with.  One of the most impressive aspects of Thad Vogler's new project is the fact that he has completely eliminated the major distributors from the game.  Southern, Pacific and Young's have zero products available on the shelf.  No Grey Goose, no Stoli, no Beefeater's, no Patron, no nothing!!  In the old days of liquor distribution someone would have definitely "paid them a visit" about such proceedings and it's possible that Bar Agricole would have suffered some "tragic accident" as a result.  In today's brave new world, however, it's possible.  Just like it's possible to post your own music on the internet and make your own money.

Bar Agricole has great brandies like Dudognon and Duffau instead of Hennessey or Courvasier.  They pour St. George's new agricole rums instead of Bacardi or Appleton.  I find it amazing that today, because of the path blazed by independent distributors, there is a large enough audience for these underground products to support a full-time nightclub!  As far as K&L is concerned, I don't see the need to cut the big guys out of the picture, but they definitely are not our focus.  It's important to give people a choice, but also to stick to what you do best.  As a specialty boutique kind of store, I find it interesting when people complain about our lack of Jack Daniel's 1.75 liter bottles or the fact that we don't sell Seagram's.  There are literally ten stores within a half mile of here that sell these products, so why do you need us for that?  At the end of the day, I like the fact that we're a place people can come to for knowledge and information as well as a general passion for booze.  A store like K&L would never be possible without the independent suppliers we work with.

-David Driscoll


North Shore Party @ Martin's West, August 17th 7 PM


I hope to see many of you this Tuesday night at Martin's West in Redwood City as we welcome North Shore's own Sonja Kassebaum to town.  I'll be playing bartender and making North Shore cocktails for $4 until the booze runs out.  Gin & tonics, martinis, and Aviations will be sliding down the bar and into your hand!  Happy hour starts at 7 PM and goes until the we run out.  I hope to see you all there and make sure you get a chance to talk to Sonja and tell her how awesome her gins are!

-David Driscoll 


Hanging With Eric Seed

In my last few posts about the independents of the liquor world, I have frequently mentioned a dinner where, to put it melodramatically, various industry folk were discussing the important issues of our times.  Sitting next to me at the table that evening was the entrepreneurial Eric Seed, founder of Haus Alpenz, and importer of all spirits strange and exotic.  Maybe you're heard of Dolin vermouth, the now-ubiquitous French concoction lining the shelves of every decent bar?  That's Eric.  How about Hayman's Old Tom Gin, John Taylor Falernum, Batavia Arrack, or Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum?  Take a glance at the bar menu for Bourbon & Branch, the Rickhouse, Heaven's Dog, Smuggler's Cove, and Bar Agricole (only the five best bars in the Bay Area) and you'll find that just about every drink has one of Eric's imported ingredients built in. 

Having never met Eric previously, I was excited to spend an evening chatting away and picking his brain about future plans.  Needless to say, his current projects are fascinating and have me eagerly awaiting their release date.  You may have read about one of these most recently as it will prove to be quite historic.  Eric managed to get his hands one of the rarest and most storied spirits of all time: the Royal Navy rum stocks.  The story behind this rum is so fascinating that I'm not going to even try and do it justice, but you can read about it here (and I suggest you do).  Basically, it's the rum that used to be rationed out to the royal seamen, as was tradition for hundreds of years.  As if learning about this rum wasn't exciting enough, Eric pulled out a flask and poured me a wee dram.  These things are going to go for $1000+ a bottle, so I didn't take this opportunity lightly.  It wasn't at all what I expected, but it was fascinating.  Most rum from back then was never sweetened like Ron Zacapa or El Dorado are today, so this is an entirely different style and the ulitmate collectors item.

Check out Eric's portfolio and read about his wonderous supplies of booze.  It's as fun as liquor gets.

-David Driscoll


The Importance of Independents/Independence Part III

Purchasing single malt casks through a distributor has proven to be a win/win situation for just about everyone.  If the buyer does their job right and selects a top-notch whisky, then the customers go home with an exclusive bottling, the retail store has a product with a fixed in profit margin, and the distributor gets a big sale with cash up front.  However, at the moment, there are close to zero options for privately bottled single malts through the main channels of distribution, directly from the distillery,  Bruichladdich is the only one I'm currently aware of that does a barrel program, but unfortunately their pricing isn't very affordable.  I can understand, however, why no one is interested in changing the format and rocking the boat here.  For some people, this industry seems to be very profitable the way it is at the moment.

Luckily for single malt consumers there are other channels available for purchasing their favorite whiskies.  Bottlers like A.D. Rattray, Signatory, and Chieftain's have been very successful as of late in tracking down some amazing barrels and bottling them at affordable prices.  They see the logic in working with retailers on pricing, as well as refusing to undercut smaller stores in favor of deals with big chains.  They are also distributed by small independents who don't view them as just another product in a gigantic catalog.  The true value of independent bottlers comes not only in their affordability, but also in their ability to check the big players - offering their own products in better expressions and at better prices.  For example, Diageo offers the Port Ellen 30 Year distillery bottling at over $400 a bottle, but you can buy the Chieftain's bottling of Port Ellen (which in my mind is a superior whisky) for $260.  At this point, most consumers haven't yet grasped how to navigate the independent bottlings, always prefering the distillery bottled malts, but it's only a matter of time before they get priced out of their favorite dram.

When I was at dinner the other evening, I was sitting with the head of an independent distributor in California and the chief of an independent whisky bottler.  When asked about making deals with large wholesalers, the distributor replied, "Costco will never get a better deal than K&L or any other smaller store we deal with because we care about our relationships with each customer equally, plus we don't have the inventory to ever become a permanent product there.  They would drop us after eight weeks and then we'd be back to where we started.  Plus, we would have damaged our steady pricing in the overall retail market."

The scenario he described actually happened to us with a small tequila vendor.  We were working with them closely to help build their brand and at the same time they were going to Costco to try and get a big deal.  They worked out such a big arrangement that Costco could afford to sell the tequila for less than we were buying it.  It would have been cheaper for me to walk over there, buy it off the shelf, and resell it here (if such a thing were legal)!  I only found out about it because I recommended the tequila to a customer and he said, "Yeah it's good, but I can get it at Costco for much cheaper."  I about fainted.  When I called the vendor about this, they admitted to me that they were indeed selling to Costco, but why should I expect a similar price when I wasn't buying nearly as much?  I asked them how they expected me to buy their tequila for more than Costco was selling it, but they didn't seem to understand.  Once a product sells for $39.99 at Costco, that becomes the value of the bottle in the consumer's mind - anything above that price is simply too much.  They were destroying the possible value of their tequila before they had truly established it.  "But you have Patron and Costco sells it for less than you," they replied.  "Do you think you're Patron?" I asked before ending the conversation.

Some products are going to sell no matter how big the discrepency, which is why the big players can keep raising their prices.  In certain situations customers come in looking for a big name product and will buy it at whatever price because of convenience - they're late for a party or we were in walking distance, etc.  These are brands that are sold on name, not on value.  That's why there are liquor stores on every corner selling the exact same products at various prices.  However, if no one knows how good your product is then you need help selling it.  Specialty stores like K&L, D&M, Cask, and Beltramos have staff members with the expertise to do so.  Hence, the symbiotic relationships we form with independent distributors and producers.

To be continued....

-David Driscoll