France Day 1 - Alsace
Getting on a plane to visit a foreign country is always an incredible feeling. It doesn't matter where you're going or why, there's no avoiding the sense of adventure associated with striking out and putting rubber to the road. This year it's been particularly complex to make this trip happen. Here at the K&L Spirits Department, we've made a commitment to finding you the best products from across the world. Typically, Driscoll and I travel as partners, but this year due to a number of factors we decided to split up to maximize our effectiveness. David and the wonderful Jeff Jones voyaged early to Scotland to secure some of the best values we've ever seen in Single Malt. During that same period, I had planned to visit Martinique to explore the island nation's Agricole Rhum industry. You may not have seen or heard anything about this Martinique trip because it never ended up happening. Instead, I have the great pleasure to announce that I’m pregnant and at that time I was advised travelling to the Caribbean was too risky for my wife and future child. That old Zika is a bitch.
Nonetheless, I'm committed to bringing new and exciting products back this year. That means redoubling our efforts in Scotland and French Brandy -Armagnac continues to be the most exciting and affordable brown spirit category in the world. We'll be releasing new single casks over the next few weeks and they will unquestionably be some of the best values you've ever seen in Scotch. But I also want to bring you new products, not to replace a bottle you've already got, but to open your mind to something new and exciting. Yesterday, I flew to Paris with exactly that goal. My first stop, while not exactly a sure thing yet could set K&L up to be partners with one the greatest names in Spirits across the world.
For those of you who know what this means, you'll likely share my unbearable excitement. For those of you that don't, you'll have to just wait and see what comes of it.
I plan to redouble my efforts in French Whisky not simply because I love this country and the people who make these incredible products, but because I love the products we're bringing in. My goals are unabashedly selfish. I truly think that some of the best whisky being made right now is coming out of France. We're just scratching the surface so far, there's still so much more below. What I like about it beyond the care and quality they put into each drop, is that they are utterly focused on being themselves. So often we hear craft distillers say, "I can't do it better than the big guys, so I'm just going to be different." This attitude utterly kills me. Why are you different? I just don't see the point. It feels completely out of sink with the goals of creating a great product, something you WANT people to buy. It's also pretty damned self-centered. I get that starting a distillery, sometimes from scratch, you need to be self aggrandizing, but it so often leans towards arrogance rather than reverence that it turns me off. This is not a build it and they will come type of industry. If you’re going to be arrogant about what you’re doing, you better be damned well sure that it’s the best thing out there, not simply the best you can muster.
If you know that you've got strong competition, why not plan to do it better, try harder, be exceptional, rather than try to wiggle out of directly competing with the leaders in your category? There's a reason why Kentucky, Ireland, and Scotland have general practices that are ubiquitous across those industries. If you’re reinventing the wheel, you should probably make sure it works better than the one we’ve already got. But in that context, craft distillers France have a very different attitude. Their goals are simply to make a product with a sense of place, yes usually within the context of a greater category, but not necessarily as an affront or in competition to what Scotland has to offer. The quality of the journey goes without saying for these artisans, but for them the journey is not the goal. As I make my way down the Rhine valley with no idea what is to come, a feeling of adventure is what I crave and indeed I have it, but I will continue to remind myself that this journey is not the goal. It is only our garden from which we must pick the ripest fruit. Tonight to Burgundy and then onwards to Gascogne...
Sometimes the journey is pretty damned amazing though.