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

David Driscoll