A Brief Respite and a Booze Update

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I talked to an old friend today who said to me: “I see you’ve moved on to the tech industry, but where’s the booze talk?”

Ah….yes. Alcohol.

For about ten years I wrote a fairly well-read blog about alcohol that managed to permeate its way into the desirable duality of both industry and consumer readership. Customers across the country tuned in to see what I was drinking, and booze companies checked frequently to get the latest on the gossip.

Then one day I decided enough was enough and I stopped.

Part of it was that I had been presented with a tremendous opportunity, one that allowed me to both reinvent myself (yet again) and tackle an issue important to me: helping cancer patients coordinate their care. Part of it was also the direction the boutique booze business was moving at the time. More and more people wanted unique, rare, hard-to-find, Instagram-worthy bottles to impress their friends online and wow their business colleagues at social parties. Fewer and fewer people wanted to drink and have fun.

I remember one of my last days at K&L when I was stocking the shelf in the Redwood City store and a customer looked at the booze wall—a spread of literally 800+ different selections, hand-curated by me—and said to me: “Do you guys have anything else?”

I love customer service. Getting to help people is what gets me out of bed each and every morning. But when the spirits market gets so competitive and elitist that people are only willing to drink “the best” or nothing, that’s when I hand in my notice (and that’s what I did). Over those last few weeks in the business, I received a lot of correspondence, and funnily enough most of it asked about my final purchasing plans. Was I going to buy all the Pappy Van Winkle bottles and other rare editions for my last hurrah? Stuff like that.

I’ll let you in on a little secret about me: for over a decade I got to drink whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, for free. The 20+ year old Stitzel-Weller Bourbons, the 30+ year old Port Ellens and Broras, 50 year old Macallan, the ancient Sherry-matured Karuizawas and Mizunara-aged Yamazakis; every bottle that whiskey nerds around the world dream about tasting, I’ve had them all. While I enjoyed them, the exotic experiences weren’t what drove me as a professional. I met other retail buyers during my career who simply lived for that shit, but I wasn’t one of them. What I loved about the booze business were the people, the stories, the places, and the friendships. Those are the things that I continue to miss. Not the rare booze.

So to answer those questions concerning my private collection, it’s pretty much what you see in the above photo. I drink big bottles only these days. If it doesn’t come in a liter bottle or larger, I’m not interested. You want my (once) professional advice on what to drink? Much of what’s worth drinking today is made in volume and has a competitive price point, so I’d start by searching out the overlooked bargains. The craft spirits movement did result in a number of fantastic products, but exactly zero of them were a better vodka, a tastier Bourbon, a superior rum, or an improvement upon Tequila.

Is there a better vodka out there than Belvedere? Not in my opinion (maybe Potocki, but I think it’s probably a Polish tie), which is why I drink copious glasses from my $33 1.75L bottle. I never stopped loving vodka, even when all the snooty bartenders wouldn’t touch it. As for Tequila, there are some great high-end options out there, but for my money it’s hard to do much better than Cazadores reposado. I don’t sip a whole lot these days. In fact, the stress of working in Silicon Valley, coupled with the anxiety that comes from learning an entirely new industry, is forcing more high-proof hooch down my gullet than ever. I need large quantities of Tequila in my highball glass, not small shots. Today, I can get a 1.75L of Cazadores for $45, which is what a 750ml bottle of something like Fortaleza would cost.

I did pull a few strings getting some odd-sized bottles into the U.S. before I quit, namely a 1.5L of 1981 vintage Château de Ravignan Armagnac along with a three liter bottle of Ardbeg Perpetuum, so I’m not going to need single malt or brandy anytime soon. My whiskey mixer of choice is the surprisingly delicious Chivas 12 year in a liter bottle (the 1.75 is about $50), and I am unabashedly and enthusiastically drinking it with coconut-flavored La Croix sparkling water. Do yourself the biggest favor you’ve done this year and start using that for your favorite highball. It works beautifully with Bourbon, Scotch, and rum, as you can imagine, and it has zero calories and zero sugar.

These gargantuan bottles of booze will likely get me to Thanksgiving, when I’ll have to load up on more 1.75 editions like Buffalo Trace & Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Beefeaters gin, and Mount Gay rum. Yes, all of those things are available in handles, which means I’ll never have to sacrifice quality for quantity because all of those brands are at the absolute top of their class. While it’s possible my obsession with size says something about my insecure masculinity, it’s mainly a reaction to my jaded sensibility. The touting of small, niche, boutique, and craft as inherently better has finally worn on me.

But there are a few boutique-y things out there I can’t live without. Four Pillars gin, for example. Everything from the Leopold Brothers. Springbank single malt. Willett rye.

I do have to make a few exceptions.

-David Driscoll