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Sunday
Mar062016

A 2016 Scotland Primer

I haven’t talked to my best friend from Modesto in almost five years. I’m not sure what came over me last night, whether I was just feeling nostalgic or perhaps because I finally had some down time to let my thoughts wander, but for the first time ever I did a Google search of his name. I found records of two arrests in the last two years. Certainly worse than what I feared, but probably about what I expected. Now when I look back at our time together I can see all the tell-tale signs, all the reasons for the trouble we got into, and the patterns that with experience become all too familiar. The only thing I ever knew for sure as a kid was that I wanted to be rock star. I don’t ever know what he really wanted to be. The two of us would stay up late into the night, eating carrot cake from Jack in the Box in his coverless Jeep, driving home under the stars, watching the same movies on repeat until we eventually fell asleep. Today, as I type this, I’m on a plane to Scotland. I’m going to try and fall asleep shortly on a vehicle moving five-hundred miles an hour through the dark, cold northern sky. My friend? He might be trying to sleep in a jail cell tonight. I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that neither of us ended up where we originally planned.

I’m currently sitting next to a guy named Jeff Jones, who’s sitting in for the occupied David OG this time around. I’ve known Jeff for almost nine years at this point, but I’m surprised by how little I actually know about him as a person. I know he’s gotta be over sixty. I know he’s lived in San Francisco for about thirty years. I know he likes to read and today I learned that one of his lifelong dreams is to go to Sri Lanka. I also found out that this is the first time Jeff has traveled internationally in about three decades. He’s been part of the spirits team in our city store since long before I started working here, but this is the first time he’s gone out in search of Scotch whisky. I’m pretty excited he’s with me, both because Jeff has more than earned the right to travel with us and because I get to see the trip from his perspective. I’m not sure if Jeff ever planned on working in a wine store when he was a kid. He’s pumped to be a part of this process now, however. We discussed our current thoughts on the whisky industry as the rain came down over the aircraft windows, the plane sitting on the tarmac, waiting for its turn in the takeoff queue. After a bumpy first few minutes we were away. The San Francisco storm long behind us and only the warehouses of Scotland ahead.

As it stands now there are no bumps in the high-altitude air. We are coasting. I have to admit it’s nice to finally relax and catch a breath, but I can’t say I’m a fan of coasting for too long. If things start going too well and life becomes too easy I will create drama. I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about my behavior that way before, but I know that it’s true. I am not capable of coasting. I’m either accelerating, or crashing in the process. I’m either busting my ass, or I’m worried about the fact that I’m not working enough. I didn’t set out to build a successful spirits department originally. It was never my goal to woo a bunch of whisky connoisseurs over to our store and continue to grow the company. Those things happened as a result of my involvement, but I never came into this position with any set of intentions or expectations. Now that the customers are here, clicking on our webpage, shopping through our selection, rummaging through our shelves, and enjoying the diversity we bring to the market, I can’t say I’m satisfied. I’m happy we’re doing well, but I need bumps. I need turbulence. I need to be reminded constantly that life is short, that anything can happen, and that nothing is for certain. Comfort leads to complacency, in my mind. I don’t need more money or more success, but I do feel like we can continue to increase our standards around here. Yet sometimes I think I invent problems just so we can overcome them. 

We do have a few real problems that are not of my making, however. We have a real demand for new single malt whisky and not nearly as much to choose from as before. The prices are higher, the ages are younger, but I’m only becoming more discerning and picky as I get older and so are our customers. It’s often an internal struggle when we go to Scotland and meet with bottlers. We taste and we ask: could we sell that? Perhaps. But the real question is: should we sell that? I’ve always thought the argument for separation of church and state in the booze world—the divide between professional criticism and professional sales—was an interesting one. You can’t trust the store you buy it from? Success and trust go hand in hand. If we sell someone a shitty bottle of Scotch there’s nowhere for us to run. Not only will the customer demand their money back, they’ll also never shop here again. Our reputation is everything. No one is more motivated than us to build trust with consumers. I remind myself of that every time we go on a booze trip. Trust is the reason you are where you are, David. Trust is what separates people. It’s the reason I’m on this plane right now. The absence of trust is the reason I no longer speak with my old friend. 

Trust is also the reason I brought Jeff along for the ride this time. I really trust Jeff Jones. I trust his morals, his work ethic, his opinion, and I admire his old school demeanor. We like the same whiskies. We enjoying putting the right bottles in the hands of the right customers. Neither of us set out to be salesmen. We never planned on working for K&L, but now that we’re here we love having the opportunity to do the work we do. We’re 37,000 feet in the air right now. The cabin is dark and the stars are out, but as the late David Bowie once sang: “The stars are never sleeping, the dead ones nor the living.” Neither are we. The stars are driving us. We’ve got a lot to think about and a lot of work to do. 

-David Driscoll

Friday
Mar042016

From ArteNOM to Panama-Pacific

As many of you may know, Jake Lustig of ArteNOM tequila fame is one of my best friends in the industry. He's been telling me for years about an extension of the line he was working on, a rum project, that would create a similar independent label for South American spirits. I was very excited to learn last week that the rums had landed in San Francisco and were ready to be shipped. If you'll remember Jake's philosophy concerning tequila and mezcal, he's a big fan of clean, pure-tasting spirits, so don't expect to taste a big sweet version of Ron Zacapa here. These rums are dry and robust, mellow and sippable, but easy to like and very reasonably priced. From Panama's famed growing region of La Provincia de Herrera, these rums are distilled from estate-grown sugar cane molasses, then barrel-aged in 220 liter ex-Bourbon casks. Imported directly to CA by Haas Brothers in San Francisco, it's an incredible new step into another exciting genre for Jake.

Panama Pacific 9 Year Old Rum $27.99 - Aged for nine years and imported directly to CA by Haas Brothers in San Francisco, it's an incredible new step into another exciting genre for Jake. Fans of Zafra and El Dorado 8 year will be extremely pleased by the rich and woody profile, but dry and clean-tasting finish. This isn't a caramel laden dessert rum in any way. It's an old-school cigar smoker's delight.

Panama Pacific 23 Year Old Rum $54.99 - The 23 year is a smooth and silky revelation that relies on the quality of the distillate rather than the introduction of caramel or sweeteners. It finishes robust and dry on the palate with a savory note and hints of pepper and spice. True 23 year old rum for a ridiculous price that can stand on its own merit. Everyone should own a bottle of this. 

-David Driscoll

Friday
Mar042016

The New D2D Interviews

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the Drinking to Drink interview series is getting re-branded and moved over to the On the Trail blog for extensive purposes. While I've loved getting down to the root cause of alcohol appreciation with all these interesting folks, the title and subject matter have limited the scope of what I've been able to talk about and—more importantly—who I've been able to talk with. Today we've got a great conversation with the young Christoph Andersson who already in his mid-twenties is producing chart-topping hits for artists like G-Eazy and Devon Baldwin, while maintaining his own electronic-based side projects. Christoph loves drinking Beaujolais and Burgundy, which is what originally caught my eye. Plus, he's a big fan of K&L. Seemed like a no-brainer, right?

Read the interview here: On the Trail with Christoph Andersson

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Mar032016

The Crazy Life

My life has become suddenly quite crazy over the last six months. For some insane reason, my name is being circulated throughout the business world as one of competence. It's like someone flipped a switch and sent a jolt of positive electricity surging toward the K&L spirits department. People are calling me to talk about stuff. All kinds of stuff. Do I want to discuss the industry? Would I mind sharing some ideas? Would I like to consult on a project? All this professional-sounding, business-related adult speak that I used to associate with Wall Street movies as a kid in the 80s (including the movie Wall Street). So when John-Paul Dejoria, the multi-billionaire mogul who founded both Paul Mitchell and Patron Tequila invited me down to his house in Malibu, I was a little taken aback. But I wasn't going to say no, of course.

So I flew down, drank a few beers, looked at the ocean, and conducted a new interview for the archive. I've got three new celebrity conversations ready to post, actually, but we'll be moving them over to the On the Trail blog starting tomorrow. There's a multitude of reasons as to why, but let's just say that the title "Drinking to Drink" tends to scare some people (including a very famous British pop star who decided to back out at the last minute). So we're going to call it, "On the Trail with...".

Soon I'll be posting "On the Trail with John-Paul Dejoria," but only after I get over the entirely surreal experience and come back down to earth. No sooner was I leaving JP's house when I got two more phone calls from other LA-based colleagues about potential projects. By 11 PM I was on Hollywood Boulevard, hanging with my friends Mark and Jonnie Houston, drinking cocktails with the silver screen's finest.

How in the hell did this all happen again?

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Mar012016

Come Taste Rippon This Week! 

I continue to advocate on behalf of my friend Ryan Woodhouse who continues to supply me with the best wine at K&L—hands down. One of my favorite people is in town this week: Nick Mills, from Rippon Winery. He's going to do two public events at K&L while he's here: 

San Francisco: Thursday 3/3 @ 5-6:30pm

Redwood City: Friday 3/4 @ 5-6:30pm

The tastings are $5 per person and you'll taste:

2013 Rippon Riesling Lake Wanaka Central Otago $24.99

2007 Rippon "Rippon" Pinot Noir Lake Wanaka Central Otago $44.99

2009 Rippon "Rippon" Pinot Noir Lake Wanaka Central Otago $44.99

2011 Rippon "Emma's Block" Pinot Noir Lake Wanaka Central Otago $79.99

2011 Rippon "Tinker's Field" Pinot Noir Lake Wanaka Central Otago $89.99

That's a pretty stellar line-up for five bucks, but what do I know? Not only will you get to taste great wines, you'll get to meet the man behind the wines. Nick Mills worked at DRC for God's sake! Domaine de la Romanée-Conti: the most famous, respected, and revered wine producer in the world (read Ryan's On the Trail post here). He's a hoot, and he knows a lot about farming, skiing, and being a generally cool dude. 

I wish we could do awesome events like this in the store with spirits, but the CA spirits tasting license is so restrictive. At least you can taste some great wines though. Make an effort for this one. It's really worth your time.

-David Driscoll