Saturday
Dec262015

More Comparative Lit

I'm just digging around the internet this morning, drinking coffee and enjoying the post-Christmas food/booze coma I've fallen into. The most intriguing article I've found so far relates to the Mast Brothers chocolate "controversy". There's a ton of different posts out there about it, but I really enjoyed the NPR version with the lengthy comment field. They might as well be talking about whiskey or wine. My favorite part of the post, however, is that the story itself is brought under scrutiny. Take a look and see what you think. If you hold extreme or religious viewpoints concerning alcohol you might find this eye-opening. Top analogous comments for me were:

-Is buying a $10 chocolate bar really any different from buying a $60,000 car when a $20,000 car will get you from Point A to Point B just as well?

-People have wildly different tastes. Nowhere is that more apparent to me than with chocolate. What one person finds appealing, another will find horrible. You just have to allow for different tastes. Preferences in chocolate also change dramatically as people age. Mine trended darker as I got older. Because of this ever altering range of perceived goodness, I've always viewed chocolate experts with skepticism. Narrowing people's choices ignores the vast needs and tastes of the market. The market has a place for the Mast Brothers. Some of us prefer artesian chocolate vendors who make small batches anticipating that the manufacturing process is cleaner than larger operations. Some like to know who makes their product and something about how they make that product.

-Hershey's original chocolate has a tooth feel that is proprietary and unique in all the industry. It will never go out of fashion. You won't come off as intelligent after saying that Dom Perignon '32 is the worst champagne money can buy or Johnny Walker Blue is the worst scotch money can buy simply by qualifying it with 'to each his own'.

Lots of good stuff in there. Lots of misguiding stuff, too, but with plenty of back and forth banter. Most of it creates for an actual conversation, rather than one-upsmanship and the usual ego-driven drivel you find these days.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Dec242015

Holiday Cheers and Jeers (and beers?)

It's been a wild few weeks around the store. Sales are through the roof, we can barely keep the shelves stocked, and the whiskey market appears to be more volatile than ever (as do some of the customers). I'm both exhilarated by the energy and the enthusiasm for alcohol I'm seeing right now—all the of bodies crowded into the spirits aisle—yet simultaneously exhausted and utterly depleted by the work effort it's taking to stay afloat. Funny how both can be the case, right? The same goes for the split between customers walking through the door and emailing us from far away. I spent last night messaging back and forth with a news anchor for CBS in New York who needed last-minute help. I ended up jumping out of bed, firing up my laptop, and fixing her order remotely. She was so appreciative and thankful for the service that it made helping her all the more rewarding. On the flip side, there are always a few cantankerous exchanges as well. David OG and I still had a few bottles stashed from 2014 that we thought we should donate for charity, but then we thought it would be even more profitable to throw those bottles on to the auction site and let people battle for that booze. It was indeed more profitable to have people bid for those bottles, so we took the money and we're cutting the check next week. Everyone wins! The problem with the internet these days, however, is that everyone thinks they know what they're talking about when they don't. I had a few angry emails from people who thought we were taking this year's Pappy allocation and auctioning it to the highest bidder instead of doing the raffle. That wasn't the case (but that doesn't stop people from saying it and accusing you of it, right?). We actually raised about $4000 for good cause by taking a few leftovers from last year's haul and letting a few guys go head-to-head. It's true we didn't clarify that point in advance because we didn't think it mattered (and the point wasn't to try and talk about how generous and caring we are as a company). No good deed goes unpunished, however, so what can you do?

As for the K&L rare whiskey raffles, the allocations are in, the raffle is done, and the bottles have been handed out so you might see a special label pop up under your account today if you entered. Doing the raffles at this point is almost a joke, however, because there's not much left to raffle. Our combined allotment of Van Winkle for all four locations was less than I received for the Redwood City store alone last year—so about 80% less than last year's allocation. On top of that, I got zero bottles of Stagg, Handy, Sazerac 18, Eagle Rare 17, and William LaRue Weller because there was a mix-up with the state allocations up north, so we won't be raffling any of those off this year. To be completely honest, I don't really even care because we're talking about one to two bottles of each expression, so maybe five to eight bottles all-in-all. I'd almost rather not get them in that instance because of all the work it takes to allocate them fairly. I'm much more excited about the 600 bottles of Blanton's I just snagged as a result of the mishap (look for those later today)! I'll take making 600 customers happy over six any day of the week, and twice on Tuesdays! The whiskey allocation game is so paltry and insignificant these days it's not worth making much of a fuss over, which is why we'll likely have to change how we manage it. It's a huge drain on our time and we end up making most people angry and unhappy. A lot of customers vent about how frustrated they are, but I'm not sure anyone really understands how rare this stuff is now or how many people are out there in search of it. We're talking about a pie of whiskey that has now been sliced so thinly there's not even enough for anyone to take a bite anymore, let alone a single piece. I think Sazerac had about 70 bottles of Eagle Rare 17 year for the entire northern half of the state. That's not even enough to supply the top bar accounts in downtown San Francisco, let alone every restaurant and retailer from Sacramento to San Jose. You can see what you're up against now in your search for rare American whiskies. A lot of it goes to on-premise (bars and restaurants) now because at least they can divide the bottle up into pours.

I get emails from people who scoff at the mark-ups they're seeing in the market as a result. Again, we don't mark up our tiny allocations beyond the standard K&L margin, but we have that luxury. We're a store that supplies a lot of our own inventory by traveling around the world in search of new producers, from single casks of Scotch whisky to dozens of different direct-import brandies. We're able to pick up the slack when supplies of branded goods run low. But small mom-and-pop retailers who rely on access to these brands aren't as lucky. How can people stay in business selling their customers the whiskies they want when they can't get the bottles they need? There's practically no Japanese whisky available, all of the desirable Bourbons are on allocation, and the Scotch brands go in and out of stock on a weekly basis. When you see someone selling Yamazaki 18 for $500, or some other "outrageous" price, I can promise you that the extra profit is still not making up for all the sales these retailers have likely lost due to whisky shortages and allocations. You can bad mouth them all you want, but I'm pretty sure some of these guys are struggling just to stay open. I'm just thankful we're not in that situation. Every single day I come to the store I'm grateful we have customers who trust our judgement in new products and who are open to new experiences beyond the now-limited and unattainable. If that weren't the case we'd be in rough shape. Personally, I'd be miserable. 

But I'm not miserable because there's so much great booze out there and so many people who want to drink it with us. In no way have the whisky shortages affected my happiness or my positive holiday spirit. I've got a case of Brasserie Lebbe goat beer (the producer we visited in France a few weeks back) in my trunk, a few bottles of Copper & Kings Butchertown, a six pack of Blanton's Bourbon, a bunch of old Bordeaux, some truly fantastic Champagnes from Alexandre Le Brun, and plenty of gin from all over the world. In no way am I drinking any worse today than I was five years ago. If anything, I'm enjoying it more now than ever before because I'm drinking for the sake of drinking, not to impress anyone or prove anything to the world. I'm hoping that everyone out there reading this is in the same boat. I'm hoping that somehow—either from us, or from another retailer—you were able to get something good to drink. I'm hoping you're somewhere warm with friends and family. I'm imagining all of you with a glass in hand, toasting to another great year spent on this planet. I'm dreaming about you taking the day off work, raising the glass to your lips, imbibing in high fashion this Christmas Eve day.

I'll be thinking about that all afternoon as I carry out boxes in the rain, put bottles in hands, and finally close the shop for my first day off in weeks. Then I'll make the drive to Modesto, open my own bottles, and let out a sigh of great relief.

Cheers everyone! Merry Christmas. You're alive. You made it. Who gives a shit about what you're drinking at that point. Is it cold? Is there alcohol in it? I'm good.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Dec222015

Some Things To Look Forward To

While touring through the barrel room at Copper & Kings distillery this past Fall, I noticed a rack of casks painted with vibrant colors and sporting logos from some very famous American breweries. "Are you guys distilling beer?" I asked owner Joe Heron. 

"No," he said, "even better."

Joe then went on to explain a process and a philosophy I could rehash here on the blog at this point, but it's pretty much just Copper & Kings brandy aged in craft beer barrels. They are distilling beer (which you can read about here), but these Cr&aftwerk brandies are pretty amazing.

Rest assured that we'll be getting plenty of these. And, let me tell you, they taste more like the respective beers they're associated with than any beer-distilled whiskey I've yet to taste. They are remarkable and I cannot wait until they arrive.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Dec202015

Past the Hump

Yesterday was a big one. The Saturday before Christmas and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving are always the two busiest days of the year—each in their own way. Yesterday was just a mass of humanity from about 11 AM to 6 PM, a store full of happy shoppers looking to pick up supplies for next week. I'll take that experience any day of the week over the mad rush that is the pre-Turkey Day blitz. That Wednesday is always a four hour dash of complete chaos—lines out the door, everyone rushing to get in and out before the traffic really gets bad. But I had a really great time working in Redwood City yesterday. We had plenty of staff, the customers were friendly, people genuinely wanted help, and of course I made a few magic bottles appear for some people who seemed to genuinely need them (that's always the best part). We're at the point now where shipping orders cannot be placed for Xmas arrival, so that relieves some of the stress from the phone staff. We should still see heavy foot traffic over the next few days as the last-minute shoppers continue to stock up before the break. I'm working straight through until the end, so I'll be in Redwood City today and probably in San Francisco tomorrow. There's not much to write about during this time of the year as pretty much everything is about survival.

Come by and say hello if you want to talk shop! I'll be here until closing time on the 24th.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Dec182015

The Brandy Force Awakens

I got this fun little Star Wars-related tidbit from Copper & Kings distillery owner Joe Heron yesterday. For all you Han Solo fans heading out to the theater this week, check out the fun facts concerning brandy in the Star Wars saga. There are apparently twenty-nine different references to brandy if you include the books and literature (with only four mentions of whiskey). Here are some quotes from Han himself taken off the web:

"It's called 'bribe-on-the-run.' This stuff is good currency, especially to a junior officer who probably hasn’t seen a payment voucher in months."
―Han Solo[src] Chandrilan brandy was an expensive alcoholic beverage presumably from ChandrilaHan Solo kept a cache of it aboard the Millennium Falcon to bribe port officials: one bottle of it cost Solo two thousand credits.

 "I was thinking that if you're going to have to put up with enforced downtime, there are worse ways to do it than with a good brandy and your best girl."
Han Solo to his wife[src]

 

These are from the http://starwars.wikia.com site for all things force-related! Han Solo loved his brandy, apparently. I know what I'm taking in my flask when I go next week!

-David Driscoll

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