My absolute favorite thing about LA is that a place like this can exist—a huge, expansive restaurant with retro cabin decor and peanut shells all over the floor—can not only thrive, but actually open three successful locations! We went to the Covina spot for lunch yesterday and I made at least three trips across the entire dining room, in complete awe each time around. This type of place is all but extinct where I come from, but it’s alive and well outside of techland.
In any case, I just finished my first week on the beat with Pacific Edge and here’s what I’ve noticed:
There are MANY incredible liquor stores in Southern California. I’ve already seen more serious players in five days than in my entire life up North. There are corner stores in Azusa, CA (heading out towards San Bernardino) with selections that dwarf anything I’ve ever managed in my career. I watched a line of guys come in to buy cigarettes and lottery tickets, meanwhile the shelf behind the counter had every single malt from Aberfeldy to Wolfburn, and every rare Bourbon you never see on the shelf in the Bay Area. There’s a store near my home in Sherman Oaks that has at least 400 different kinds of vodka alone.
Another thing you see down here are dual licenses: on-premise and off-premise, functioning as a single entity. When you apply for a license to sell booze, you have to decide which type of enterprise you’re going to be: a bar or restaurant where the alcohol is consumed “on premise,” or a retailer where the consumer takes the booze “off premise.” This past week I visited three different retailers that hold both licenses, meaning you could see something you wanted to taste on the shelf, then walk over to the bar and purchase a shot of it. Amazing. I would have killed for that during my retail days.
Every store in LA has Pappy, Stagg, etc, on the shelf. You just have to pay for it. It’s interesting to see how market pricing for those bottles has become standardized down here. Everyone seems to have accepted the new reality.
My colleague Dean and I took the Barrell Bourbon Batch 16 around to a few stores yesterday, resulting in a number of pleased palates. The Barrell brand began to take hold right as I was leaving the business, and now you’ve got people like my SF Spirits judging colleague Fred Minnick calling the 15 year old release the best whiskey of 2018. I’m still catching up on my tasting, but having sampled the new batch, along with the Dovetail (a delicious blend of MGP and Dickel finished in Port, Dunn Cabernet, and rum casks), I can see why this label will be a force moving into 2019. There are straightforward, no nonsense Bourbons (of SERIOUS quality) for the purists, and really interesting blending projects for the more experimental crowd. Batch 16, for example, states the youngest Bourbon in the blend on the label (9 years, 9 months), but has 11 and 15 year old Bourbon in the cepage. I’m super pumped to be out on the street with a whiskey like that in my arsenal. It’s the most legit new Bourbon I’ve tasted in a year.
I’ve seen more Baijiu in LA than I’ve seen up North, and the guys who “get it” told me they can’t keep certain brands on the shelf. One store owner told me: “There are people from China who buy it here on business and bring it back in the their suitcases because they can’t get certain brands over there anymore.” Much like you or I might snag a bottle of Elmer T. Lee or Blanton’s while abroad, these guys are stoked to find a $100+ HALF bottle of Moutai over here. I want to know everything about this market. I firmly believe Baijiu is going to be a sleeper category in 2019.