Guess Jeans were all the rage when I was in junior high. You know what I'm talking about, right? The iconic American fashion house with the easily-recognizable triangle patch located over the right-side rear pocket. In the year 1990 the kids at my school would practically murder one another for a pair of these hot pants. Each time my parents would visit the mall in Modesto, I would find my way over to Macy's, check the inventory of Guess products, and hope there might be something reasonably-priced I could afford. It was almost a certainty there wouldn't be. Guess Jeans were (and still are) expensive; especially for an eleven year old kid who'll probably fall down playing basketball at lunch and put a hole in the knee.
One day, however, Macy's was having a closeout sale and I managed to find a few Guess products in my size. Mind you, I wasn't taking into account the color or the style; just the fact that the pants had the triangle right where I wanted it to be. My mom allowed me the indulgence (due to the hefty discount) and the next day I went to school in a state of total excitement. When I got there, however, I heard some of the other kids snickering. One of the girls I knew was covering her mouth and looking at me, while her friend checked out my pants. In my haste to simply wear anything bearing the Guess logo, I hadn't stopped to consider whether I actually looked good in what I was wearing. It was clear within seconds that I looked hideous in tan-colored jeans and an off-green button up shirt—exactly the type of garments that would be on sale due to their homeliness.
I will remember that day at Somerset Middle School for as long as I live; not because I'm still embarrassed about what happened (because it was a great lesson), but because almost every day I still see adults falling into the same trap. Make no mistake about what I'm trying to convey here—the other kids laughing at my terrible outfit aren't the jerks in this story; ganging up to mock an insecure boy to his face. I'm the jerk. I was the idiot kid who thought that a designer patch on my jeans would make or break the difference in how his peers viewed him. I was the confused adolescent who obsessed about being cool and following the rules (two things that absolutely do not go together). Today when I walk around the city I see women carrying thousand dollar purses with an ugly, hideous LV (Louis Vuitton, for those of you who don't follow fashion) tattooed all over the casing. I see men wearing mis-matched Hugo Boss layers, in sizes that are completely unflattering, but at least alert the public to the fact they're wearing something somewhat expensive.
If someone looks good, it's apparent no matter where their clothes are from. Names and logos aren't fashion. Words don't make you handsome or stylish. But this isn't a story about how designer labels are just a rip off and that we all need to be comfortable in our own skin—that's the annoying kind of shit people say when they're bitter or jealous of the ways other people live. I wish I could afford to buy fancy stuff! I still love expensive designer clothes to this day. That never changed. I love clothes that fit well, look good, and make me feel good as a result. The right shoes, the right leather, the right cut, the right color—there's no beating it. If I can find a less-expensive version at Ben Sherman or J Crew; even better! It's all about the look and the fit, not the brand (it does so happen, however, that many expensive brands look good and fit well). I feel the same way about whisky: find me something that tastes good—whether it says Glenlivet or Glenturret—and I'm going to enjoy it because I like good whisky; regardless of who made it. Designer clothes don't make the man, just like fancy bottles don't make the whisky. Just because you're wearing Gucci shoes doesn't mean you look good. On the other hand, writing off designer clothes entirely as ridiculous or simply overpriced is also foolish. Stylish is stylish, no matter what it costs.
The trick in dressing well, eating well, drinking well, and—I guess—living well is to know and understand what "well" means. It might be different for me than it is for you, but the definition does exist somewhere inside of us. However, when you allow that definition to be defined completely by a label, unguided by your own inner feelings, well.......that's when people begin snickering at you.
We've formed so many great relationships around the world, we can't just stop with France and Islay. Let's keep going! Thanks to my hero Jim Rutledge for always dropping whatever he's in the middle of to talk with us. He's a mentor and a true friend (and his Bourbon tastes pretty good, too).
Thanks to both Eddy and Jimmy Russell for opening our eyes to the greatness of Wild Turkey whiskey. Thanks for letting us pick such great casks from your stock (and thanks for choosing two of your own favorites to send us later on this holiday season).
A big thank you—of course—to the stoic Des McCagherty from Signatory who, each year when we visit, I'm afraid will finally snap and bury the two of us in a hole somewhere outside of Pitlochry. He's so calm and calculating. I can't stress this enough: it's like tasting whisky with Liam Neeson from the movie Taken. At any point in the conversation you might say the wrong thing and this guy will totally snap your neck. My highlight of the year for 2014 was when Des heard me telling David about my favorite Sheldon Cooper moment, and said, "You guys watch the Big Bang Theory, too? I love that show." I about died.
Thanks to the Diageo gals at Benrinnes distillery who let us—completely unannounced—walk into the place and snoop around. We're becoming big fans of Benrinnes, and the good vibes we experienced on our impromptu visit this year really helped to solidify those positive feelings. Between our Signatory cask, the lovely Stronachie 18 we currently stock, and the new SMWS barrel we selected, we're sitting pretty with some of the prettiest whisky available. Love, love, love Benrinnes. Thanks ladies.
Another big, big thank you to George Grant from Glenfarclas. Thanks to the strong relationship we have with Big G, we'll finally be moving out of just the single cask business. That's right—two new Glenfarclas/K&L whiskies should be here any day, and they're not just two random barrels we tasted and put our name on. Retailers all over the world now are choosing casks and putting a little sticker on the bottle. How many of them are blending those casks together with the goal of creating a larger vatted expression, I wonder? That's what we're moving towards with George's help.
Thanks to all our amigos in Santa Catarina Minas at the distillery behind Mina Real and Don Amado mezcal. An amazing display of both hospitality and a commitment to authenticity really left a mark on us.
Thanks to Le Terminator himself, Nicolas Palazzi, for keeping us stocked with exciting new spirits from the old world. Can't wait to get those new whiskies and Cognacs into stock! I sometimes think Nicolas is a robot who traveled back in time to erase my checking account from existence.
Thanks to Judah Kuper from Mezcal Vago and Jake Lustig from ArteNOM for continuing to bring the best goods from south of the border. You're putting other producers to shame.
Thanks to Shaun Caleb and all the folks at DDL in Guyana for allowing us to come and visit your wonderful distillery this year. We can't wait to get the Faultline wheels a rollin'. What a memorable time that was!
Thanks to Ian and all the folks at Kavalan for trusting us with your brand and giving us the tools we need to better represent it. We all think it's just a matter of time before the industry catches up to what you're doing over there in Taiwan.
And a big, hearty thanks to the folks at both Anchor and Nikka for allowing me to fulfill a lifelong dream. Japan is everything I hoped it would be. It's literally the best place in the world. Literally—as in I'm not using hyperbole as a literary tool. What a great time. Are we not men? We are DEVO!
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Thanks to our friends around the world and our loyal customers here at home. Have a safe and joyous holiday, and we'll see you when it's time to refill.
We're processing pre-orders as I type this. Transfers will be on their way after that. Just did the taste test to make sure everything was as we remembered (because as we've learned over time, things do sometimes change!). You're all going to be very happy. Check back with us over the next few days and we should have your pre-orders processed and ready for pick up and shipping.
One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new part of the world is check out the local bars and liquor stores to see what they're drinking. Japan was an incredible, eye-opening experience in this regard. Highballs were everywhere (even in cans from vending machines), and shops were full of all kinds of unrecognizable labels. When David and I visited Kentucky for the first time last year, we saw everyone drinking a brand called Very Old Barton. It was everywhere we went. Granted, we had heard that Sazerac's other Kentucky distillery (you know, not-Buffalo Trace) was very popular in its home state, but I was taken aback at how prevalent it was; especially considering they don't distribute it to the West Coast. It's an inexpensive local favorite that stays pretty local for that reason. As you can see in the above photo, the 90 proof 1.75L bottles sell for about $25.
That's not to say we can't get Barton Bourbon out here in California; it just won't say "Barton" on the bottle. Sazerac launched 1792 Ridgemont Reserve (and also renamed the distillery, although everyone still calls it Barton) in an attempt to create a new, higher-end version of the whiskey nationwide. We stock the brand here at K&L, and I'm a fan, but I'm a bigger fan of their single barrel program. When I can find the right barrel of Barton Bourbon it truly is a wonderful thing. The whiskey is so much fruitier and softer than most of its Kentucky brethren. The initial aroma is one of brandied cherries, rather than just pure wood. At 46.85%, this isn't a big, bold whiskey you'll want to add water to. It's not something I would mix into a Manhattan (you could, but the sweet vermouth would take center stage). It's not going to wow you with complexity, or go down in the record books as one of the top ten Bourbons you've ever had. It's just a soft, fruity, mellow, easy-drinking whiskey that's full of flavor and alive with spirit. It's not mild, or bland, or thin, or boring. It's just not trying to impress you, that's all.
Of course, what's the point of drinking whiskey if you're not trying to impress other people? Oops. Did I say that out loud?
Barton. Basic Bourbon for people who like to drink whiskey and have it taste good. A local favorite in Kentucky. A new single cask expression chosen by us here at K&L.