Friday, November 26, 2010

The meal revealed

Mmmm, it was a tasty Thanksgiving. I hosted Sean and Scott for the meal. A small group with good conversation, good libations, and good food.

I came home on Wednesday night with the intention of beginning or completing 3 dishes. Sadly, by the time I came home and unloaded the car I was too exhausted to do much. As a result most of the cooking was done yesterday morning. As is my habit I was up by 4am and got to cooking by 6:30. The boys arrived shortly after 1PM and I had plenty of time to get things mostly done.

Sean brought with him an assortment of lovely cheeses and crackers. Scott has intolerance's to cow dairy and wheat. Sean's cheeses were almost all goat's milk. I supplied to wheat free crackers. Scott brought some of his wonderful Indian-style falafels. I don't recall the original name of these tasty treats, but I enjoyed them last year as well. Scott also brought some tamarind chutney to enjoy on them.

After eating and toasting for an hour or so, I was having to get on with the rest of the meal. Everything was done except the main courses and the greens. I employed Scott's assistance to wrap up the greens while I threw together the final details for the boy's main course.

The dishes for this year:

- Cranberry sauce made with Grand Marnier and orange zest (traditional for us)
- Yams mashed with crystallized ginger and Maker's Mark
- Wild rice and porcini mushroom stuffing (actually served as a side dish and made with mostly porcinis, but also a few other dried mushrooms such as morels and shitakes)
- Greens sauteed with garlic and red pepper flakes (I used a combo of black Tuscan kale and Rainbow Swiss Chard which made for a lovely presentation)
- Baked black eyed peas (a vegan recipe that went over well last year...these are a bit spicy)
- Mushroom gravy made with red wine and the left over soaking liquid from the stuffing

For the boys the main course were Cornish Game Hens glazed with a combination of Tayberry sauce and balsamic vinegar. My main course was halibut baked with white wine, thyme, and lemon slices. Our dessert was Pears poached in a spiced burgundy and cranberry syrup topped with Coconut Bliss ice cream (vanilla and chocolate).

So, what changes? First, I dropped another veggie dish. I had thought I'd make green beans sauteed with some almond slices, but after looking at the dishes that were already prepared I decided that we had enough food and one green already. Next I dropped the planned corn bread. Scott is wheat intolerant, so I would have made a gluten free version, but again, looking at the meal I decided that we had enough. Even so, I'll probably make some corn bread over the weekend for myself. Also dropped were potatoes mashed with celeriac - to be revived over the weekend, I'm sure.

Finally, the mushroom gravy was entirely improvised. I had planned on being lazy and serving Tofurkey mushroom gravy. I even bought some and had it thawing in the refrigerator. However, when I pulled it out, I noticed that it was no longer "mushroom gravy", but rather "gravy with giblets". The giblets were made from wheat (probably a seitan) which Scott couldn't eat. I had the time, I had the wine, I had left over soaking liquid from the dried mushrooms for the stuffing. I also had some button mushrooms in the refrigerator. I sauteed up the button mushrooms in some butter until they began to release their juices. then added salt, black pepper, and dried thyme. To that I added 1 cup of soaking liquid and1 cup of Malbec. I cooked that down a little then added a tempered slurry with corn starch to thicken it up.

After the main courses came out of the oven, I left them rest for 10 minutes. During that time I turned the oven off and put the side dishes into the oven to warm (except for the cranberry sauce). It all pulled together nicely.

I was thankful for the dishes coming together so well, but more importantly I was thankful for the good company that I was privileged to share them with. Good times.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Northwest spirits

I realized that while sending an email to a couple of friends I was essentially writing a blog post. I copied and pasted it here with minor edits:

Man, even when I try to sleep in, I find out that I'm up at my regular time. :-) I went to bed later last night after closing the store, dropping a co-worker off at home, and staying up to speak with S a bit. I got out of bed this morning and the clock read about 5:19. When I came downstairs and started my computer it read 4:34. Maaaaaan, standard time already fucking with me!

Woodinville Whiskey Company - had fun bottling with those guys the other night. We got 499 bottles done in about an hour and a half. We would have done more, but they forgot to order more bottles from their supplier. Living and learning. Yesterday a customer came in and we spent some time speaking whiskey and other liquor. She was really into her whiskey and very knowledgeable. It turns out that she had been to Woodinville Whiskey Co. and done a tasting yesterday afternoon. They told her about me and suggested that she stop by. My store is close by to her home, yet she hadn't been by. She noticed the Dolin vermouth right off, before I approached her, and told me, "I knew this wasn't your average store when I saw the Dolin on the shelf". It's nice to see the relationship that I'm establishing with Woodinville Whiskey is reciprocal. The customer eventually bought a bottle of The Whippersnapper - a new whiskey from Oregon by Ransom spirits.

The Whippersnapper: retail $27.20/bottle. I've enjoyed the Ransom Gin from the same distiller. The gin is based on an old, pre-prohibition formula often referred to as an "Old Tom" style gin. That is that it's not as dry as the London dry gins and not as sweet as the Genever style gins. It exists somewhere in between, but closer to the London dry. It's also brown in color due to 2 - 6 months of barrel aging and has a fair amount of cardamom in it. The gin makes great, and I mean GREAT, old fashioned cocktails as well as playing nicely in the sandbox when making more modern ones.

As to it's whiskey cousin, The Whippersnapper, named thusly for the fact that it's a young whiskey. Ransom is barrel aging a Scotch-style of whiskey. But they were so happy with the results of some of the younger ones that they decided to do a bottling. Because of it's young age and impertinent nature, they named it The Whippersnapper. The whiskey is a blend of 21% barley based whiskey (the Scotch portion) and 79% corn neutral spirit. The barley comes from Oregon and is not peated as Scotch normally is. Even so, one can smell and taste a definite Scotch flavor due to it's inclusion. The corn neutral spirit (otherwise known as white dog, unaged bourbon, or moonshine) is hardly neutral in flavor. It adds a bit of sweet, honey-like flavor and scent to the whiskey. S and I tried some last night. We began with just a glass straight up. It was good and decidedly odd in that it was unlike anything else we had. The finish was not long and the body medium. It reminded me more of American and Canadian blends in the body aspect, but tasted unlike either. Definitely the corn spirit was existing alongside the barley and they weren't quite dancing down the aisle together towards bliss as much sharing each other's time. We then decided to put it on ice. That was a game changer. With the addition of a couple of cubes the corn spirit receded a great deal leaving behind the barley and it tasted like a nice, light, and smooth Scotch. We agreed that it would probably make quite an enjoyable drink either on the rocks or mixed with soda, much like a blended Scotch. I suspect we'll find some cocktails to try it out in as well. It's definitely a whiskey that likes to blend which will make it something to enjoy as an addition to the bar.

J sent me a link to a Huffington Post article on fall whiskey releases. Oddly enough, it was just a couple of days after I had special ordered The Whippersnapper in for the store. It's good to go back and read what the author from Huffington Post wrote about this whiskey:
Already available is a weird and wonderful new concoction from Ransom Spirits, the Oregon-based distiller which brought us the mind-blowingly brilliant Old Tom gin last year. This year's baby, WhipperSnapper Oregon Whiskey, is... well, what is it, anyway? Is it a bourbon? A Scotch? Sort of and sort of. The two main components of WhipperSnapper are malted barley (the same stuff they make Scotch from, although this barley is from Oregon) and un-aged or "white dog" Kentucky corn whiskey (from whence comes bourbon). The resulting alchemy, about an 80/20 ratio of corn to barley, is then aged in barrels that have housed French pinot noir and American whiskey, as well as new unused barrels. The aging process is relatively short -- generally less than two years, hence the "WhipperSnapper" name -- and then various barrels are selected and combined for each bottle.

The end result is something akin to an incredibly vibrant young Scotch, while you also get the sweet and unrefined vibe of the white dog. At 84 proof, it goes down dangerously smooth neat or on the rocks. I suppose you could mix it with soda, but it's so damn good on its own that you needn't bother. Because it's not peaty, WhipperSnapper would make a great gateway drug for those timid souls who are scared off by the pungent aroma and powerful flavor of Islay single-malts. But it still makes for a damn fine libation even if you like the "hard stuff" like Lagavulin or Laphroaig.

I hope Ransom has more of the barley spirit continuing aging in the barrel. It'll be good to see if they can turn out a hardier Scotch style whiskey. Oregon already boasts a Scotch style Whiskey, McCarthy's Whiskey from Clear Creek Distillery. Clear Creek's product is made from barley that is grown and peated in Scotland. The barley is then imported to Portland were it is taken to the McMenamin's facility (known mostly as a brew pub) to be distilled. The resulting whiskey is then put into barrels and aged at Clear Creek's facility for 8 years. The whiskey in every way is competitive with the finest Scotch. Fantastic stuff and at $50/bottle, a real steal. It's been called the finest American whiskey by F. Paul Pacult. However, it's extremely limited in it's release and Clear Creek has no plans to expand it's production (which will only drive up it's price eventually). I hope Ransom has plans to expand the market and fulfill the craving.

One of the interesting things that these new American whiskey distillers are doing is they are aging in smaller barrels. The smaller barrels allows for more contact with the surface area of the whiskey. This extra contact pays dividends in the aging of the whiskey. Smaller barrels allows for a "faster aging" process. The wood in the barrel breathes more of the whiskey in and out faster, giving up it's flavor more readily. In just 2 years these small batch distillers yield a product that rewards as much as a big barrel that has been aged several more years. Of course, that keeps this small for these craft distillers and more barrels means more needed room and more labor intensive as the barrels need to be turned periodically and a closer eye maintained on all of them. The former distiller from Maker's Mark, Dave Pickerell, has been preaching this method and offering his consulting services throughout the country, including at Woodinville Whiskey Distillers. Pickerell has pioneered this method with his own whiskey, The Whistlepig. It's a straight rye whiskey, aged 10 years. It's a craft product with only 1000 cases available this year. It's supposed to be fantastic and I've got some on order for the store - hopefully it will come.

Also in the store this week were 3 spirits produced by Black Heron Spirits. Black Heron's logo was one that I recognized immediately. I looked it up and confirmed that the liquor is produced by a distillery founded by Joel Tefft. Joel was an early founder of the fine wine industry in Washington state. Apparently, Joel is getting up there in age and thinks that the hustle and bustle required for promoting wine in Washington has become too much for him. So, he sold his winery a year ago and began taking classes in distillation. He built his distillery in West Richland, Washington. This week my store got in Rayne Angel Gin, Ink Vodka, and Desert Lightning corn whiskey. The surprising big seller this week was the Desert Lightning. Frankly, I think that the packaging looks a bit gimmicky and cheap, but it's selling. Buyers are excited about it and clearly the design of the bottle is more appealing that I expected. Good for Joel and good for the Washington spirits community as having such a well known name dive in can only help with the promotion.

Fun times being a liquor enthusiast in these days of craft distilling. Lots of good things happening. It's the natural evolution of the cocktail revival in America. We had a post prohibition period where cheaply made, lower quality booze was the norm. People just accepted what was churned out in an industrial manner. It was usually pretty harsh and barely recognizable as the type of liquor it was labeled as (Scotch, whiskey, vodka, gin). But, it was cheap and widely available. Then came World War II and, as with the wine world, people came back from Europe with a new appreciation of better quality and a wider variety of liquor. Scotch whiskey made great strides in American markets in the 50s and 60s and sparked renewed interest in America's whiskey, bourbon. We also saw brands such as Stolichnaya, Absolut, and Campari make headway during this time. Then there was a leveling off and cocktails actually seemed to fall out of favor. Sales rose, but not at the same levels as the 50s and 60s. In the 90s cocktail culture really began a second coming, a revival. Prohibitionists from MADD and other organizations were seen for what they were and people began going back to discovering cocktails both new and classic. In the 2000 we began to see more people at home and in bars playing with making their own concoctions and infusions. Again, classic cocktails saw interest rise including updating those cocktails. With this we saw more interest in a wider variety of imported liquor. And now we live in the age of the revival of small craft distillers. By my count we're in the 4th wave of the liquor revolution in America. This bodes well for those cocktail makers as the new distillations are bound to inspire new mixes. They'll feed on each other much to my delight.

Now if we can just dispose of daylight savings time.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cushy jobs

One of the things that has really irked me in the debate over initiative 1100 has been the portrayal of government employees. I know that it's popular to bash government. I have a pretty good idea why that is, as well. After all, I cannot go to a competing government to get better service. People like to complain the same way about other monopolies or near monopolies like utility firms and cable companies. I get that. But we also know that just because a company is private doesn't mean that it's run any better as anyone who has dealt with customer service from Comcast, Sprint, Microsoft, et al, is aware.

In my experience both in private industry and in the government I've met my fair share of less valuable, less competent employees. I can honestly state that I don't find one system better than the other. In any bureaucracy - public or private - you are bound to attract people of a variety of skills, quality, and motivations. Sometimes it's easy to weed these people out; sometimes it's not. In the latter case the person is often promoted to a position less harmful in the organization.

One of the spokespeople for the "Yes on 1100" campaign is fond of saying the liquor board employs people with "cushy government jobs". I heard Ashley Bach say this in the debate at Town Hall. He reiterated it in his post on The Slog a week or so later. For the record, I'm not fond of Ashley's style. He comes off as smug, arrogant (in the way of the actor in the "I'm a PC" ad), rude, and a poor debater. So, making this statement about "cushy government jobs" really rubs me the wrong way.

Most of the liquor store employees that I know are hard working people who care about their jobs and customer service. Their jobs are not easy either; certainly not "cushy". Once a week there is a delivery of booze - up to 1200 cases at some stores. Each case weighs about 35 pounds. The goal, often achieved, is to put away that entire load in one day and stock the shelves and take care of the customers that day. Yea, more than one person works on these loads, but I can assure you that everyone who does, works their ass off. On top of that these workers deal with all sorts of customers. Granted, the vast majority of our customers are fantastic, but as with any job you meet some folks who are inconsolable. In fact, given the product, I'd say we meet more of these folks than your average Whole Foods clerk. And, if you think dealing with the government is sometimes a pain in the ass, just try working through the bureaucracy from the inside. Forms, signatures, more forms, specific rules, etc. There's a lot to know and do. The bottom line is they work hard for their money and their pay is comparable to pay at Costco and Fred Meyers, if not a little lower (I know as a manager that I get paid much lower and I put in the same work at my clerk's sides).

I'm aware that Mr. Bach considers these jobs "cushy" not just because of the nature of the work. He uses that term as code for well paid (we're some of the lowest pay in Washington government), good benefits, and pensions. News flash: that pension system hasn't been the same as it used to be for a long time, now. In fact when I qualified I found my options to be a choice of 401k plans. Yep, my cushy job's retirement has tanked just like most Americans thanks to those titans of private industry. As for the benefits? Well, we do get decent health care plan options for a reasonable copay (going up, just like everyone). Keeping the copay low is a way to compensate the workers for the lower pay that they get compared to the private sector. Rather than bash the liquor board clerks I'd rather see Mr. Bach get out there and campaign for lower copays for workers in private industry.

But that's not Mr. Bach's game. I suspect his views are more in line with his former employer's, The Seattle Times. That paper has cut it's contributions to it's employee's health care while the publisher (the Blethen's - inherited wealth) push for government to emulate it's model of prosperity. A prosperity, for the record, that they don't want burdened with a modest income tax. Is it surprising that this same paper is endorsing Initiative 1100 as well?

Mr. Bach worked for The Seattle Times for 5.5 years. During that time The Times faced a legal battle with the Seattle P-I. As that battle waged on The Times sought to portray itself as a victim of the owners of the P-I. In order to carry out this publicity stunt The Times hired Pacific Public Affairs. Can you imagine which firm that Mr. Bach works for now, after leaving The Times, that seeks to promote Initiative 1100? Yes, Pacific Public Affairs - the same firm that once worked for The Times while Mr. Bach also worked for the newspaper.

So, let's see - Mr. Bach, former journalist and now publicist, says that liquor clerks have cushy jobs. It takes chutzpah for a paid hack to call liquor store clerk's jobs cushy. As unseemly as it can be to see people revolve out of government to lobbying jobs, I think it's equally unseemly for what Mr. Bach has done. He worked for one employer, left to that employer's publicist, and now they sing a chorus of fiscally irresponsible, conservative policies. Mr. Bach, you're the one on the Republican welfare plan. You're the one with the cushy job. You're free to entertain your opinion that America should continue it's path to the lowest common denominator for it's working class, but don't you dare dismiss that working class as "cushy".

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Enterprise Newspapers: Local News

The Enterprise Newspapers: Local News

Losses to: Lymwood - $500k, Edmonds - $500k, Mill Creek - $232k, Brier - $82k, Woodways - $15k, Snohomish County - $1.6m from either 1100 or 1105. Which programs are you going to cut? Or are you going to put the screws to the legislature to come up with a reasoned privatization plan during the next session?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

1100 and 1105

A friend wrote me this morning and asked my opinion on Initiatives 1100 and 1105. Here is my reply:

As I tell my customers, I don't have enough time in with the state to worry about my pension and other such nonsense. Furthermore, I'd love to see a privatization of the system. You may recall me telling a story about the first time I went to a liquor store in Washington at 8PM at night and found it closed. I was pretty ticked off. To this day I find it ridiculous that we have as few outlets as we support and that the hours are so all over the map. Truth be told, I think liquor stores should be available 24/7, 365 if they want to be.

Having said that, let me address a couple of myths perpetuated by these discussions:

  1. State employees have cushy jobs. I'm not going to argue that all of us are hard working, caring employees. Those in purchasing have cushy jobs, for instance. I hear take that the distribution center employees often have cushy jobs. But at retail, we work our butts off. I defy the initiative lobbyists to come and spend a day in the retail employee's shoes on a load day and see how cushy our jobs are. We move anywhere between 300 and 1200 cases during an 8 hour shift, deal with customers - retail and restaurant, stand and walk most of that time, have to deal with idiotic regulations from on high, do inventories, displays, etc...and take abuse from those fired up about the initiatives. Not everyone at retail is easy to defend, either, but I don't know a chain that can say that. All I can say is that if you work for me and many other managers that I know, then you care about the service and you really don't get paid much for it. Indeed, one reason I'd like to see privatization is because I'd like to be paid more for the work I do as a manager.
  2. The state will not be selling it's stores for a windfall. It will sell off it's distribution center (in these times it is hard to say how much that is worth...the equipment it uses is not that useful to many industries) for a one time windfall. But the stores are leased and the leases are written that if the state goes out of the business, then they will close the stores at no penalty. I've read me lease and it is standard for the entire system.
  3. The state will save money by not employing these workers. Unlike other areas in state government the liquor board functions similar to a private business (I say "similar" as it depends upon the business....if you're talking inefficient like Microsoft, then the comparison is apt; if your talking streamlined like Google or HP, then it is less so). We actually earn enough in the mark up of the product to cover the entire costs of operating the business. The money in the markup covers the rents, the shipping fees, the employees and their pensions at all levels of the retail enterprise. Under either bill, once the state gets out of the business, no savings will occur because those costs were covered under the pricing. Instead, there will be a cost to the state via unemployment, buy outs (for long term employees), and payments to keep someone around to turn off the lights.
  4. Employees will find jobs in the private sector. True, though not right away. And some of these government employees are going to seek jobs in the public sector by bumping other government employees. However, Costco, Wal-Mart, QFC? They already have managers and clerks to ring up customers and stock those spaces. They won't need to hire replacements unless those positions open up. Sure, private entrepreneurs, like myself, will come about in time and want to open shops to employ these folks, but that's not going to come overnight, so there will be unemployment for some for quite a while.
  5. The liquor board will hire because it will need new enforcement people. Nothing in 1100 covers that cost. The liquor board hires as many enforcement people as it can given the beer and wine tax and 1100 keeps that in place. However, it eliminates the mark up and offers no revenue stream to hire these enforcement folks and, even if it did do that, has no one thought that enforcement folks cost more than clerks and warehouse operators? They do. If, as 1100's lobbyist proposed during the Town Hall meeting, we hired another 850 enforcement officers to patrol the new numbers of private sector stores, then it would cost the state far more money than the 900 or so people that they hope to lay off. Does that make sense?
  6. One final bit about the mark up: yes, some of it is a hidden tax. Operating costs for the liquor board are far less than the 51% mark up. Over a year ago the liquor board's mark up was 39% and we operated just fine. In fact, we were instructed by the legislature to increase the mark up to 51% in order to bring in more revenue to the general fund. At the same time, stores and operating budgets have been slashed. So, we've raised taxes and decreased service. Operating costs for the retail business account for about 12% of the mark up. The rest is a tax in large part imposed by the legislature to increase money in the general fund. Both initiatives make it sound as if the mark up is that high because the state is inefficient at delivering the goods. That's a lie. The state would make you think that the mark up is a reasonable charge to operate the business. That's also a lie.
OK, having dispelled myths (hopefully - feel free to send follow up comments or questions), let's discuss the bills. 1100 is the so-called Costco Bill. It would radically restructure the state laws. Washington would go from what I refer to as a super control state to the most liberal laws in the country. I've got several problems with the bill. First, the most common complaint that I hear from my customers is that they'd like a system "like California". This bill goes beyond California's laws. In California local jurisdictions - city and county - can enact zoning laws to indicate where and how many liquor stores exist in their municipalities. Communities with a more conservative tradition can have fewer stores while West Hollywood can have one on every third corner. This makes sense to me and it should to those who like to have control at the more local levels of government. It makes sense from a planning stage as well. However 1100 does away with such control. Cities and counties would have no say in where or how many stores are in their community. It would be this way for 2 years before the state could get a handle on it and by that time they are likely to just limit the number of licenses. That's poor planning and I don't think that bodes well for any of us.

Next up revenue. State government has cut $5.2 billion from it's budget during the past 2 years. Services are being cut everywhere, including the liquor board (though, because we're revenue positive, we've felt fewer cuts). The governor has just ordered another $4.5 billion in cuts. 1100 would cost the state somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 - 300 million over the next 2 years even with the one time windfall of selling the distribution center. These are state numbers and they are conservative. Supporters of 1100 say that some of that money will be made up via increased B&O taxes, but ask them how much and they can't answer you. Hence, it's fictitious money. Not even the state's Office of Financial Management could take on that number. The city of Tacoma expects to lose $1million. Pierce County says that they will lose $770 million, the city of Sammamish $66,000, Edmunds, $60,000, etc. Budget cuts will occur at all levels of government. That likely means layoffs. Now, one could argue whether or not those layoffs should come from law enforcement or teachers, social services, or parks and recreation, but it means layoffs. So, now we're talking more than just 930 liquor board people laid off. Probably a lot more. Last time I heard, Costco is not going into the private police business, so they won't e hiring those cops back as they seek to sell at 7-11s. To my progressive friends who, like myself, want to see privatization, I ask the same question I ask every Republican during tough times: where do you want to see the cuts - specifically - and how deep should we make them? Initiative 1100 is irresponsible because it does not address the revenue stream as to where the replacement should come from or where the cuts should come from. The reply from the 1100 folks is that government is free to raise taxes, but given our legislature (both the current one and the one with more Republicans in it) and the potential for Eyeman's latest initiative to pass, do you really think that is going to happen and, if it does, then I ask where? And if the answer to where is through an increase in the liquor tax, then the price savings for the consumer is likely to evaporate and I'll ask again why we went through this process? Just to line Jim Senechal's pockets?

Now to 1105. I actually learned something at that Town Hall debate, but it was all about 1105. 1105 is the dog of the two and it should be viewed that way because it leaves the distribution monopoly in place and just eliminates the state jobs. One thing that I've often noticed when confronted by folks who tell me what they pay at Bevco in California for, say, a bottle of Jack Daniels, is that the price they pay is less than what the state pays. In other words, we couldn't sell it to them at that price unless we lost money on the booze. Why is this? Because in Washington the distribution monopoly sets the prices that they want to fetch for the alcohol. They never lose money. They know what the state formula is for configuring the price. Take the price the distributor charges the state, add to it federal tax and state tax, add to it the 51% mark up and come up with your retail price. So, if they want the retail to be $29.95 then they charge the amount that will produce that in the state formula and often times that is more than what the consumer pays in California. Don't believe me? Look at the store tags. They list the cost to the state plus the taxes and so on. And these distributors take what the market will bear. When we went from a 39% mark up to a 51% mark up many companies raised their prices for 2 - 3 months only to find that their market share was falling and their competitor's was increasing. So, they lowered the price to counteract the market forces against them. Initiative 1105 leaves this in place for beer, wine, and liquor. The distributor will set the price and it will be the same price for Costco as for the mom and pop stores. No discounts for volume sales will exist and no direct purchases will be legal. So, no competition for the consumer and the distributors continue to get their guaranteed profit.

From a revenue standpoint 1105 eliminates all state taxes as well as the mark up. 1100 keeps the state taxes (which pay for enforcement) in place. So why the more radical position for 1105? Because it "recommends" that the state legislature start with a blank slate and write a tax that makes up for the lost state revenue PLUS $100 million more. Why "recommend"? Because the initiative, according to the Eyeman ruling by the Supreme Court a few years back, cannot seek to change more than one law at a time. This was the interesting part of the Publicola debate I attended.

Let's say that the state follows the recommendation. They would make up the entire amount that they lost plus $100 million. Where, pray tell, is the savings for the consumer? The consumer gets no discount for buying at big retailers and, in fact, the prices go up. All the consumer gets is more outlets (1105 does allow the Liquor Board to decide how many licenses to issue, so it's not zoning, but it's better than nothing...assuming that they allow something reasonable - no guarantee of that either) and perhaps longer hours (again, no guarantee, depending upon how the Liquor Board writes the license).

But, as state above with 1100, does this or any future legislature have the will to pass those tax increases? Will they even be able to do so if the Eyeman initiative passes? The spokeswoman for 1105 stated that they "think" the Eyeman initiative allows a simple majority to keep taxes at current levels. If that's true, then the $100 million increase is just a mirage and shouldn't ever be considered reasonable.

So, bottom line for 1105 is it leaves the worst of a bad system in place (kind of like Medicare not being able to negotiate drug prices) and it shares with 1100 the revenue stream issues. Those are the reasons I oppose both initiatives.

What I'd like to see happen is the legislature convene and negotiate a privatization bill. Such a bill would allow for a reasonable transition process that would take place over 2 - 3 years in order to provide cities and counties to prepare and debate zoning laws. It would instruct the Liquor Control Board to transition first into selling the distribution center and move to direct distributorships to stores and work out the bugs of taxation and enforcement before that is turned over the private sector. It would determine the revenue streams and how they are to be comprised and where so that we don't put our state and local governments in further financial straights that cause greater grief to our most needy citizens. It would provide a transition plan for the 900 or so workers at the liquor board who would lose their jobs including a couple of months of pay (or a week for every year of service) and job training options. It would provide what a reasonable price would be for licenses, one that allowed for mom and pop stores, but also allowed for some more revenue to be made up. And, I'd (of course) like to see current liquor store managers and other, independent citizens, to be eligible to buy a license early on before the Costco's and Wal-Marts - perhaps a year earlier with the opportunity to open private stores 6 months before the state ones close. Give the small companies a head start and let them establish distribution processes with new specialty products and northwest craft distillers, so we can keep both on a lifeline. And finally, I don't want the legislature to drag their heels on this. It needs to be addressed and right away.

Thanks for asking. Let me know what your thoughts are and if you have any concerns or questions feel free to air them.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sound Spirits

Last week, our friend C sent Shawn home with some vodka. The vodka, called Ebb+Flow, is from a distillery that opened it's doors to the public on 9/17. This is the first distillery to open in Seattle since prohibition. The vodka was different from any other that I've tried before. It has a definite flavor and was a tad sweet on the tongue. It wasn't cloying and it made a good martini. C had the owner's (and sole employee) business card and on it was a note for me to call him.

On Tuesday I sat down at work and wrote him an email. His day job is being a Boeing engineer. He promptly returned my email with an invite to come down, try out his products, and get a tour of the facility. We scheduled it for 4pm on Sunday. In addition to Shawn and I we were joined by 3 friends.

Steve, the owner of Sound Spirits, told us that the flavor of his vodka came from his small batch distillation process. He makes what he calls a single malt vodka using barley from Washington. He distills his product twice, using pot stills with taps made by a local company (low end stills bought on eBay). He does not filter the product saying that doing so ends up with a bland flavor. Steve was clearly an enthusiastic distiller. He also gave us samples of his early incarnations of gin (very good), aquavit (a little light on flavor), and absinthe (a little heavy on flavor). We spoke about the process and his ingredients. He clearly is seeking input from his customers.

We also spoke about the challenges ahead. For instance, how to translate his small batch process into a larger system and maintain the quality of his product. As he becomes popular, he's aware that he'll have to write down his formulas and then hire a master distiller. Will the process allow for him to move into larger, more expensive equipment? On the plus side, Steve has a business plan and he's ready, when the time comes, to seek investors and bank loans to finance growth. He's done his research on the business end even as he maintains the books and stuff himself. His main concerns are currently in the processes.

Finally, we spoke about the initiatives in Washington. Steve's main concern about them is the lack of certainty that they provide. Under the current system he knows what to expect. It's established and he understands the rules to work within it. He doesn't necessarily like or agree with all of the rules, but the path to market is clear and proven. If the Costco initiative passes, then that certainty goes by the wayside. Steve expressed concern about finding a distribution channel as well as the time it would take for that channel to set up. For instance, how long will it take before the mom and pop niche stores arrive that would be willing to carry his product? Steve favors the Costco initiative over the competing one. I told him that I thought that neither initiative serves the public or the small distillers well and that the legislature should craft a bill the moves towards privatization in a thoughtful and careful way.

Good vodka; good sense.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sad to say

But Shawn's grandmother in North Dakota died on Sunday. I dropped Shawn off at the Everett train station at 5:00 PM on Monday. She'll be back on the following Sunday early in the morning.

Peace to her and her family. I met her grandmother once and found her to be a lovely person.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

R.I.P. Baraka, 1994 - 2010

Baraka watches
Originally uploaded by B.D.'s world
He died last night at around 12:20 am. I spent the last 5 hours or so of his life lying next to him, comforting him, petting him, loving him, crying, feeling helpless, learning to accept the inevitable once again, telling him stories of his early life with us, singing to him, and thanking him for all that he brought to my life. Before he passed his head rose one last time and, as I often did, I petted his little "rhino-nose" bump. He, as he often did, opened his mouth in a seeming smile, then let out a sigh and slowly let his head fall back into his paws. I told Shawn a couple of minutes later and together we grieved.

Loving and loyal companion, gentle friend and brother, homeboyee. He is missed already. My feelings for Baraka are vast and deep. I promised him that he would not die alone nor in a hospital. Promise kept.

Color us grieving this weekend and beyond.