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Friday
Oct062017

Future Plans

I remember back in the heyday of the single malt boom, a customer of mine who works as a venture capitalist here in Silicon Valley thought I should write a book about whisky. "You could be the next Jim Murray," he said to me. I thanked him and said that while I appreciated his confidence in me, I had no aspirations of that sort. Being a recognized whisky expert of any sort has never appealed to me personally. It takes a very special combination of ego and avarice to make it in the world of professional reviewers and while I may have had those characteristics when I was in my early twenties, I've shed most of that baby fat now in my late thirties.  

Most of you are likely unaware that David OG and I were also once signed by Wendy Williams Entertainment for an alcohol-related reality show called "Whisky Business" that ended up going nowhere (for good reason). It was around the same time my client suggested I write the book. Everyone was looking to capitalize on the momentum of whisky in the media world, both in visual and print form. What's interesting is that I heard back from one of the producers last year who wanted to potentially restart the project under a different concept. "All the feedback we're getting right now is anti-expert. Viewers don't want to be lectured to, apparently," he told me. 

I about fell over laughing when I heard that. No shit they don't want to be lectured to! Wine and whisky experts who use big words, write ridiculous tasting notes, and condescend to plebian tastes have always been a joke. That's exactly why I would never want to write a book of whisky tasting notes and it's exactly why no booze-related travel program has been successful since Bourdain began merging alcohol in with the food. In no way would I ever want to be lumped in with anyone like that!! The entire "serious" alcohol scene, in my opinion, is about to expire as we get to the end of a ten year cycle. After a decade of "drink this, not that," "sip it, don't shoot it," and "respect craft," I think experts, savants, and professional drinkers are going to have to hibernate for a while until the revolution comes back around in 2027. That tiny market has been flooded far beyond capacity at this point. 

My goals for the last few years have been purely fun-oriented in response. I realized around 2014 that we were at the peak of a major trend and that in order to survive the eventual decline we would need to attract as many customers as possible who were interested in the actual drinking of alcohol. I began focusing more on customer service than writing. I started throwing after hours parties for my best local clients, making them the focus, rather than attending fancy dinners with brand reps and distributors looking to butter me up. I stopped going to major tasting events with the latest drink fads and devoted all of my time to securing relationships with suppliers who would be vital to our existence once the demand faded. In an age where people are relying on social media to promote their businesses, I decided to remove myself from that realm and do as much as I could face-to-face or by direct email. I wanted a foundation built on actual outreach and a work ethic, rather than an image. 

I don't know how many of you have been following the story of how a troll factory in Russia managed to spread Islamophobia in Texas, but regardless of that specific example it's a business strategy being used by just about everyone right now: manipulate the internet and social media to make people believe what you want them to. I don't believe anything I read online anymore that isn't from a handful of trusted sources because just about everything today is a distortion. I don't mean that in a "the man is trying to control us," anti-authoritarian, wingnut-radical sort of way. It's just that most succcessful people in today's world have learned what they need to say in order to get what they want. A politician knows that he has to have an anti-abortion stance to get elected in a certain state, but that doesn't mean he actually believes it. That's an extreme example, but my point is that whether it's politics, news, business, or alcohol, I've learned the difference between an actual opinion and one that's designed for a certain purpose. While people debate what's put in front of them, the actual intent of those statements develops behind the scenes.

What does that have to do with whisky? Quite a bit, actually. I'm finding it quite difficult today to find business owners who actually intend to operate their own businesses for the explicit purpose of what their business is supposed to do. They tell people they're devoted to the cause, but in reality it's a different story. I know someone with absolutely no child development experience who opened a daycare because of a tax break loophole that allowed her to write off the investment. Wanna send your kids there? I know someone who wrote an autobiography simply because his financial adviser said it would help his image in the work place and increase awareness of his business. Want me to get you a copy of that page-turner ASAP? So you can imagine how many small distillery owners I've met who have no background in spirits, no real passion for spirits, but are hoping that their brand gets bought out by Remy, or LVMH, or Diageo, or some other large company so they can cash in and get out. Who actually wants to start a business and run it these days because it makes them happy? 

What I'm getting at here is that hardcore, serious, no nonsense whiskey appreciation was already getting stale. But on top of all these would-be experts, we've got thousands of people who aren't experts, but want you to think they are because of what it might get them. Then you've got the thousands of new whiskey brands who want the business of all those expert aficionados and are ramping up their production as a result. But does that business actually exist or are we all just playing "world's biggest whiskey fan" online in our free time? I'm curious to find out.

In the meantime, I'm busy trying to build actual business based on actual consumers who actually like to drink. I think that's the right strategy, but time will tell.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Oct052017

Another Round of our Top Selling Cuvée

I think we're on batch five of this? I can't remember. All I know is that every time I order another batch from Couvreur, it seems like we're selling out faster than previously. If you're not hip to the trends in the booze business right now, it's usually the opposite. When a new product comes out people will generally buy one bottle, but getting them to come back and repeat is almost impossible in this new market. The Couvreur has been an anomaly in that sense. It's an exciting phenomenon to watch because there are so many obstacles with this bottle right up front: the wax top and wine cork first and foremost, then the French heritage, the lack of clear information, and the fact that it's a blended malt. But flavor has trumped all here. When you combine rich, creamy sherry with smoky peat, it turns out that not only are customers willing to take a risk, they're excited to come back for seconds!

Another round awaits you, fine malt whisky drinkers:

Michel Couvreur "Peaty Overaged" K&L Exclusive Malt Whisky $79.99 - The chance to work with Michel Couvreur on a special K&L whisky project was something that David and I had been dreaming of for years. We had heard the stories. This crazy Belgian had moved to Burgundy in the '60s, carved out a wine cellar inside a mountain, only to fill it with Scottish single malt whisky instead of Pinot Noir. He set up camp in Beaune, ordered new-make spirit to be delivered by tanker, and drove down to Jerez himself, selecting his own sherry butts to insure only the finest quality casks for his contracted spirit. Unfortunately, Michel Couvreur passed away in 2013 from pancreatic cancer, thus ending the career of one of the industry's most courageous pioneers. Luckily for us,  however, apprentice Jean-Arnaud has carried on after studying under Michel for more than a decade. When we visited the underground cave, we were all in total awe. The tunnels of dripping stone go on forever, and the amount of whisky stored in this secret lair is jawdropping. We put our trust completely in Jean-Arnaud and are happy we did. Our peated version of the incredible sherry expression is a seamless creation that drinks like the best version of Johnnie Black ever, mixed with the most supple and soft expressions of Macallan. It's a lush, unfiltered, creamy, caramel-laden dream of a whisky composed only of malts 12 years and older. There's a bit of peat on the finish, but the soft sherry is the star. (NOTE: do NOT cut the hard wax seal, use a wine opener to go through it)

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Oct032017

Faultline Down Under

It's here! 

After seven months of waiting for the final results, our first ever collaboration with Four Pillars Distillery has arrived and I couldn't be more excited. If you don't remember my blog posts from this past February, I flew out to Australia to work on a special distillation under our Faultline gin label and stood side-by-side with distiller Cameron MacKenzie in the lab, tasting through different botanicals and fleshing out the concept. I've been obsessed with Four Pillars gin since the very first moment I tasted it in January of 2015 when the distillery gang flew out from Melbourne for the Superbowl that year in SF. They dropped by the store unannounced, put a bottle of the Rare Dry in my hand, and the rest is history. I'd never had a gin that good before and I've still yet to have one since—and I drink a LOT of gin. But beyond the flavor, what I respected most about Four Pillars was that they were ONLY making gin; not single malt, or vodka, or whiskey, or some other spirit to help pay the bills, but just gin. They're like gin specialists, concocting incredible flavors on their copper stills in the Yarra Valley.

Cameron had a smorgasbord of botanicals awaiting me when I arrived at the distillery; all kinds of fun stuff like red and green szechuan, grains of paradise, and peppermint gum. My job was to get an idea of what I wanted our K&L batch of gin to taste like, map out the recipe, and fill Cam in on the details. I already knew the direction I wanted to go. I wanted to build on the core pillars (pardon the pun) of the brand and simply dial them up in a different way: big citrus and big fruit, accented by sweeter spices and oily residues. My goal was simple: make something distinct, exciting, new, but also characteristic of everything I already love about Four Pillars.

After eliminating some of the tamer elements, we put together a recipe including lemon myrtle, strawberry gum, roasted wattleseed, Tasmanian pepper, fresh cumquats, orange peels, and a heavy dose of sandlewood nuts to add an oiliness. The result is a nuanced, exotic, utterly sippable gin that still showcases the classic citrus with flavors that are exciting and fresh, adding in a symphony of savory with herbaceous exquisiteness. The gin completely stands on its own in a standard martini, but mixes beautifully into a gin & tonic or Negroni without losing its character. I think fans of Four Pillars will go mad for this new expression with its supple mouthfeel and vibrant botanicals, but any true gin lover will want to give it a spin as it's that darn good.

While the label lists me as the "co-distiller" for the project, I think that's a bit misleading because I didn't do anything but taste and edit; however, I appreciate the acknowledgement. In the end, this gin is all about Four Pillars and their incredible talent, not mine. My job is simply to put fantastic new spirits in your hands and I think I'm living up to my end of the bargain here. 

Now I just need a thousand people to drink it with me!!

Four Pillars "Faultline" K&L Exclusive Gin $34.99

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Oct032017

New Single Barrel of Auchroisk 23 Year

While our previous cask of Auchroisk 15 year was a hot deal while it lasted, this advanced and equally brilliant 23 year old edition may have it beat. Absolutely brimming with sweet stone fruit, rock sugar candy, and syrup, this barrel of 53.3% cask strength single malt whisky from Diageo's Highland distillery brings yet another bang for your buck under the guise of Old Particular. The nose has all the classic aromas of malted barley, vanilla, and oak spices, but it's the initial blast on the palate where this whisky ultimately shines. Rich and robust on the finish, it's a classic Scottish malt through and through and the unbeatable price reflects our continued effort to combat the current market forces with affordable, mature, and exciting whiskies straight from the source. If you're a fan of straight-up single malt, not saturated sherry or super peaty whiskies, but old school, fruit and vanilla-laden Scotch with a rich and supple mouthfeel, then it doesn't get better than this Auchroisk 23. The Johnnie Walker distillery makes classically flavored whiskies much like its neighbor Benrinnes, loaded with cocktail fruit, sweetness and charm. Any time I can nab a single barrel of 23 year old Highland whisky of this quality (at cask strength, no less) for under $100, I'm going to take that offer. I'm expecting about 200 experienced K&L whisky customers to do the exact same thing.

Auchroisk 23 Year Old "Old Particular" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $89.99

-David Driscoll

Monday
Oct022017

LV

While I'm touched that many folks have emailed me asking if I'm safe, I wasn't in Las Vegas this past weekend; but there are more than 500 injured people who were and another 50+ whose families have been devastated by the tragedy. I'm finding it difficult to work this morning and to come to terms with the ongoing news in my adopted home. I was just at Mandalay Bay a few weeks ago with my nephews and I know exactly where that concert space is, but my brain is having difficulty reconciling those images with the ones I'm now seeing on TV.

If anyone is in Las Vegas right now, here's a list of places you can donate blood. My wife and I are going on Saturday morning to give. Since you probably enjoy alcohol if you're reading this, no drinking for 48 hours before giving blood. 

-David Driscoll

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