Stuart the Beast
Stuart Gregor reminds me of what the booze business used to be like. That's probably why I like him so much. He's high-energy, outgoing, fun, and in no way does he take himself seriously. He's here to drink, talk about drinking, and hopefully get you drunk; all while slyly educating you about what makes his gin taste so damn good. Contrast that with what the insider scene has become: a look-at-me kinda clusterfuck that focuses more on showcasing your collection online than it does the actual enjoyment of alcohol. Thank God for those of us who do like to drink that there's absolutely zero posturing to be done when it comes to these gins. What's the story behind Four Pillars gin? There isn't one. It's a distillery started by three friends in Australia that makes fine spirits. None of their recipes were based off a hidden manuscript discovered in Bethlehem. The gins weren't run through Pappy Van Winkle's original pot still. The only thing there is to talk about when it comes to Four Pillars is the quality of the outstanding flavor. Do you remember flavor? That thing everyone claims they're really about when it comes to alcohol?
Stuart came into our San Francisco store last night, commanded the tasting bar, sold five cases of his gin to happy customers (a K&L spirits tasting record), and then drove an hour in traffic down to Redwood City where he and I commanded the outside bar at Donato. We made hundreds of gin and tonics from 8 PM until close, enjoying the warm summer evening with customers of both Donato and K&L alike. There were about forty people there at any given time—never too many, never too few. It was just right. Stuart took over the patio like a madman and began cranking out Rare Dry cocktails to anyone within earshot. "Hey you," he would shout at passersby with his strong Aussie accent, "get over here and have a drink!" We had zero pretense in the house last night. But, of course, that's the beauty of celebrating a brand like Four Pillars. It brings out the people who actually want to drink and have fun; and let me tell you: drinking with Stuart is loads of fun.
More than ever at any time during my seven year career as K&L spirits buyer I'm feeling the need to stand up and support brands that have committed themselves to quality, even if it means taking a loss. Being profitable in the new age of distillation isn't easy. Imagine the overhead of a new start-up today just with real estate prices where they are! I think about how much time and energy the guys at Westland put into that whisky distillery in Seattle, about how they obsessed over every detail, invested in the right cooperage, and even established their own peat bogs outside the city. I think about my friend Joe over at Copper & Kings who's trying to build a new movement in an old part of Louisville, investing in a community and working to make it better. I think about how gracious Stuart was yesterday with our customers, how excited he was to share his passion with them, and how excited people were to speak with him in return. Then I contrast that with the $500 bottle of NDP Bourbon that some company purchased on the bulk market, repackaged, put into a fancy box, and hyped up on the market. I think about how many grown men I've watched scream and cry and throw hissy fits over some minor detail of neo-whiskey pageantry. I think about how so many wonderful things in life have become completely detached their designed function.
I think about all of those things and then I smile. I smile because I know that I spent fourteen hard hours yesterday working my ass off to support a brand that deserves that help. I hope it pays off. I really do. Stuart Gregor is a beast of booze man. I'm proud to be working with him.