Big Huffabaloo Over Drink Menu Rules

Camper English writes some pretty fine articles about the world of craft cocktails and is a very informative source for all things alcohol.  In fact, I turn to him every once and a while when I need some insider info concerning new products or special events.  This past week he wrote an article for the SF Chronicle (which you can read here) concerning the new trend for upscale bars to try and educate their clients, rather than condescend to them.  However, the quote from Rickhouse mixologist Erick Castro really worked some SF Gate commenters (who at times can be incredibly over-the-top, let alone dense) into a frenzy.  The argument then spilled over to Camper's personal blog, where commenters continued to debate the role of the bartender as a purveyor of consumer will.  Castro used a hypothetical conversation with a make-believe, newby cocktilian as a metaphor for the evolution of the entire scene:

"Three years ago it was OK to be rude. It used to be 'I'm not making a cosmo and you're a horrible person.' Now we say, 'I'm not making a cosmo, but I'm making you something better than a cosmo.' And if they like (the drink) they trust you for the whole night."

That's basically what the attitude was, and whether people like it or not, it's the truth about bars like the Rickhouse today.  The Cosmopolitan (a less-than-exciting blend of vodka, cranberry juice, and lime) has become to the high-end liquor world what domestic merlot was (and is only now overcoming) to the wine world after Sideways: an unexciting, unadventurous, and terribly safe choice of libation.  Good bartenders like to be challenged and like to show off a bit, much like a wine store clerk appreciates a customer who shows an interest in obscure, French regional whites.  In the wonderful world of alcohol, life is simply too short to waste so much time drinking the same boring thing time and time again - according to some. 

The truth is: there's nothing wrong with ordering a Cosmo.  But my question is: why all the anger, hatred, and obvious fear towards high-end cocktail bars that don't feel like cowering to the lowest common denominator?  I was literally shocked by some of the comments I read.  People are honestly this threatened by the four bars in San Francisco that don't make Cosmos as a general principle? There seems to be a prevelent mindset that the customer with money is entitled to whatever drink he sees fit, so long as he's paying.  This is not the case anywhere else, so why should it be the case at a speakeasy? 

If I have a customer walk in and ask for Seagram's whiskey, I say, "I'm sorry, sir, but I cannot sell it to you.  I don't carry it." I then offer to recommend something else that he may also like, and he has the option to say yes or no.  Does the customer then have the right to trash me for failing to carry his favorite brand of spirit?  K&L caters to a specific group of afficionados that come to us because we have what specifically what they want.  We have a business model and we stick to it because we have what certain people are looking for.  We would like to be all things to all people, but it isn't possible, so we pick our spots and do the best we can. 

I know for a fact that the Rickhouse doesn't have cranberry juice in the building, so even if they wanted to oblige the customer and try to make the Cosmo, they don't have the proper materials to do so.  The Cosmo metaphor is used to paint a picture of the customer who hasn't yet tasted the wonders available from the top class mixologist.  If they don't want to drink something interesting and new, then maybe the Rickhouse isn't for them.  There are plenty of other bars in the city who exist only to serve the simple pleasures of the everyday consumer.  But for those that are looking outside the box for something new and different, there are the serious watering holes such as Heaven's Dog, Alembic, Bourbon & Branch, and the Rickhouse.  I like to think that we fall into that same category of retailer.  The store that can offer you something beyond the usual.

-David Driscoll


Cocktail of the Day: Sazerac

So, of course I made this with Rittenhouse instead (because I love it and I'm going to hoard it now that it's unavailable until February).  This is such a tasty classic cocktail.  I had to make one of these when I was behind the bar at Alembic the other night and I had honestly never made or tasted one before.  I used their formula that night, but this one above is adapted from the Gary Regan recipe:

In a pint glass give 4 hefty dashes of Peychaud's bitters

-add a 1/2 oz of sugar and 1/2 oz of water and stir until the sugar is COMPLETELY dissolved

-add in 2 oz of rye whiskey and fill with ice

-stir 30 times gently

-in a chilled glass pour a bit of absinthe and swirl until it coats the most of the inside

-strain the cockail into the glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

Mmmmmm.....doesn't that hit the spot?

-David Driscoll


Holiday Madness!

Well, the liquor department is getting sacked and I'm scrambling here in RWC to do anything I can to plug the holes.  If you're looking for something, call ahead or check the web and buy in advance before you stop buy.  I'm selling whiskies by the case that haven't moved in months.  I keep thinking I have enough of each product in stock and then someone on the internet buys us out and ships it for Christmas presents.  I'm learning how to balance the holiday rush, but I'm not doing a very good job so far.  I apologize to those of you who stopped by thinking, "of course, they'll have plenty of Talisker 10." 

After the rush is over and the New Year has begun, look for a total revamping and expanding of the whole department - starting with cognac, armagnac and mixers.  Stay tuned.  Now that I know how this thing works and it's not a mad panic I think we can really start putting together the best collection in the Bay Area. 

Tonight after we close I'm heading up to Alembic Bar in SF to jump behind the counter and make some drinks for Savoy Cocktail night.  If you haven't seen the book, it's a gargantuan pre-Prohibition cocktail recipe bible that has a whole slew of fancy ingredients that haven't been seen since 1910.  The goal is to be able to recreate any drink in the book.  I'll be there with Alembic bartender Daniel Hyatt and Mr. Savoy Erik Ellestad, who has been going through the manual and making every single recipe in alphabetical order, while documenting the journey with photos and tips.  You can visit him here:

Sorry for the lack of updates lately.  We're slammed.  Come have a drink tonight.

-David Driscoll


Setting the Pricing Bar

This is not meant to be a gambit towards a larger conversation on competition, but I'd like for most of you to know something about the pricing of spirits (how both it and I work in context).  The assignation of price is most difficult with spirits because it is truly the only distinguishment a retailer can have within this realm - we all can and must buy from the same set of distributors.  Wine, however, is a different ballgame because we can travel and abroad, find small producers, import them, and have exclusivity on their product.  Therefore the chief accomplishment lies in discovery rather than pricing because we are free from any adversary.  Because there are are no unknown whisky distilleries waiting to be discovered, and we couldn't import them if there were, pricing and selection become the criterion - yet, again any store has access to the exact same product as I.  It comes down to how much room you have and how low are you willing to go.  Another factor that I have been enlightened to in my short career as spirits buyer is that being the first retailer to feature a hot new product has its drawbacks - namely, that my competition will find out how successful these spirits are, then merely purchase the same goods and hawk them for a dollar or two less, hoping that you'll head that way in the name of savings.  When we are not the low price leader on something (and unfortunately we cannot always be) it bothers me.  Severely, because I'm not going to play the pricing war game where we keep lowering it meanwhile infuriating the customers who just paid what had been the lowest price.  What happens however is that I get access to many new items before anyone else.  As I try to google them nationally to get an idea of how other retailers are pricing them, in many cases K&L is the first to carry some products and we set the bar.  Then the music hits and the limboing starts and everyone trys to squeeze under it.  Please be aware that we will more often than not match pricing on spirits because of this and if we are seriously missing the competitive mark with our sticker price, I expect you all to let me know. 

-David Driscoll


Dry Fly Wheat Whiskey - 2nd Batch Hits Next Week


Dry Fly Distillery called me yesterday to thank me for carrying their now-famous gin and vodka, but also to give me my share of their latest whiskey allocation.  I've never tasted the whiskey, but I know that they have people lining up at their place in Spokane at 6 AM to get it (even now in the freezing cold winter!), where they pass out coffee and maple bars to the truly devoted.  It is the first whiskey made in Washington since prohibition and is genuinely unique in other ways as well.  It is comprised of 100% wheat distillate and aged two years in new American oak barrels that have been charred on the inside.  Because it isn't made of mostly corn and does not meet the three year age requirement, it cannot be called bourbon.  It can be called single malt whiskey however, so there you have it.  Dry Fly Washington 100% Wheat Single Malt Whiskey.  The only other domestic bottles that come close to being so rare and different are McCarthy's Oregon Malt (but he buys his barely from Scotland) and Anchor Steam's 100% rye single malts (but they cost an arm and a leg).  The Dry Fly will come in at a cool $52.99.  I'm only getting twelve so make sure you're prepared.

-David Driscoll