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Friday
Feb162018

Dave's Theme

Have you ever come across something on a whim so deeply engrained in your psyche that when you rediscover it you almost start crying?

This music just about brought me to my knees (granted I'm a few beers deep, alone at home with the cats).

This electronic aria is the core soundtrack to one of the few clear memories in my head from the late eighties. My mom was out of town, so my dad took me down to the Good Guys on McHenry to get a new Nintendo game. I chose Maniac Mansion. I remember the evening well because there was a power outage in Modesto about an hour after we got back, so I had to start the whole thing over because I hadn't saved my progress yet. We ended up going outside in the warm twilight of the evening to talk with our neighbors since nothing worked in the house. It was a sultry Central Valley night. 

I can still almost smell the air right now. I can see the pink and blue from that summer sky through my bedroom window in my mind's eye. Then the power came back on and "Dave's Theme" kicked back into gear. It was time to go back and explore the mansion. I'm pretty sure I had a big bag of Mike & Ikes next to me, scooped out from the commodity bins at Food 4 Less. 

This is truly the theme song for the most fragile parts of my inner soul.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Feb162018

More Pellehaut Vintages

It turns out that while Charles and I were tasting at Château Pellehaut in Gascony last month, our warehouse was uncovering some lost cases of back vintages bottled for us originally in 2017. The timing couldn't have been more advantageous as the rising power of the Euro is making the value proposition with some of my ongoing purchases more difficult. I think you're all going to be pretty excited to see these values below continue at their last retail price, however. If you're unfamiliar with the Pellehaut Armagnacs, now is the time to jump in. They are incredibly accessible, very Bourbon-like in their profile, and ridiculously affordable for the money. They're the ultimate gateway drug into the world of French spirits if you're coming from a whiskey lover's point of view. Check out the deals below (there ain't much, so don't snooze):

1973 Chateau Pellehaut 44 Year Old K&L Exclusive Tenareze Vintage Armagnac $159.99 - While Pellehaut has since switched to entirely Folle Blanche grape varietals, the 1973 vintage is composed of 90% Ugni Blanc. The palate opens with loads of caramel and a creamy richness the spreads quickly. The aromas are quite Bourbon-esque, with hints of soft vanilla and charred oak drifting out of the glass. The complexity of the brandy is astounding - candied fruit, stewed prunes, toasted almond, baking spices, and earthy warehouse notes, all swirling around at the same time. For an Armagnac of this quality, at an age of more than 40 years old, the price we negotiated is amazing.

1986 Chateau de Pellehaut 31 Year Old K&L Exclusive Vintage Tenareze Armagnac $89.99 - This 31 year old vintage Armagnac is one of the most ridiculous deals we've ever procured from the producer. Huge richness marries with decadent raisined fruit and tons of vanilla from the charred oak. Then, the most curious thing happens: the finish begins to flutter with floral and perfume notes, before completely shedding that skin and moving right back into a textural, raisined fruit finish. It's unbelievable: both the brandy and the price!

1994 Chateau de Pellehaut 22 Year Old K&L Exclusive Vintage Tenareze Armagnac $79.99 - The 1994 is less driven by the oak and has more of the fruit character at the forefront—that little flurry of spice and floral nature that Folle Blanche tends to bring to the party. Again, the quality to price ratio is off the charts. No one can top Pellehaut in the bang for your buck category.

1996 Chateau de Pellehaut 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive Vintage Tenareze Armagnac $89.99 - Why the higher price for the 1996? Because it's pretty much the best vintage of Pellehaut there is. Big, spicy, woody flavor explodes right off the bat from this 21 year old, 50% brandy. This is another crossover Armagnac, the one you'll want to buy if you like Bourbon and think Armagnac might be something you want to try. The raisiny fruit aspect of the Folle Blanche comes in on the finish, but this is all about the concentration of the wood and the spice.

2000 Chateau de Pellehaut 17 Year Old K&L Exclusive Vintage Tenareze Armagnac $59.99 - Another Bourbon-like brandy with lots of spice of peppery notes from the Folle Blanche. This is for the guys who like Jefferson's 17 year old Bourbon. There's a lot of sweet oak and a lot of great length on the finish with a lovely, rich mouthfeel. 

2001 Chateau de Pellehaut 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Tenareze Armagnac $62.99 - The 2001 vintage is going to be a bourbon-drinker's delight: there's a rich, round mouthfeel of charred oak and creamy vanilla, supplemented with more texture from the raisined fruit. It's anchored entirely in richness, and there's plenty of spice on the finish to keep it interesting. Distilled from 100% Folle Blanche, it's a slam-dunk deal if there ever was one.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Feb152018

Hail to the King

Excuse the week-long absence on the spirits blog! I've been up to my eyeballs in wine-related duties, as you may have noticed from the On the Trail post earlier this morning, and I've been on the road this week visiting producers in California. I've also been getting non-stop emails from customers over the last 48 hours since this little number hit the website, all of them asking what type of barrel the new Highland Park 20 year exclusive was aged in. If you look at the label, all it tells you is "refill hogshead," but all you need to do is look at the color and take a small sip to know that hogshead was most definitely re-coopered from a sherry butt. I've been sipping on a sample all morning long, letting the sweet, raisiny flavor coat my palate, while chewing on the subtle smoke that permeates the finish. I was thinking about how one of Scotland's most famous distillers (one that I won't name since he works for a rival company) once told me: "Highland Park is the king of all malts." There are numerous single malt fanatics who consider Highland Park the world's best whisky, right along side Macallan at the top of the food chain (both are owned by Edrington as well, if you didn't know). This 20 year single cask, full proof expression should help to bolster that case.

While $200 isn't exactly what I'd call a "value," let me contrast this price with the 12 year old distillery-direct sherry hogshead I purchased from Highland Park this past January (due in later this year). That full proof edition should come in somewhere between $150 -$170 per bottle. That's the added premium that a distillery-bottled expression carries. Nevertheless, I bought it because it was one of the best sherry-aged whiskies I'd tasted in months. That being said, for an extra $40 or so in this case, you can get a 20 year old version of the same make and provenance. 

Rather than continue to gush, I'm going to introduce you all to Andrew Whiteley, my assistant here in Redwood City and a man who will be taking a larger role in the spirits department with my continued foray into the wine world. He's got a great palate, he knows his shit, and he wrote up the notes for the Highland Park this time around, so have a look at what he had to say:

This is one of the most complex Old Particular casks we have ever bottled. The nose is at first full of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies sprinkled with a touch of cracked rock salt but gives way to the much more delicate aroma of stone fruits and tree blossoms. The palate is dense with dried figs, caramel, brioche, Christmas spices, and the savory notes of lightly smoked meats. The barley itself seems take center staged for a moment before fleeing into the background leaving behind a wisp of orange and smoke, like a hip bartender flashing the citrus oil before dropping the garnish peel into your Old Fashioned. The finish is particularly lengthy here and changes slightly with each sip. Every sampling leaves you with a different impression than the one before, but each contributes to building the complete picture of what 20 long years of age does for one of the world's greatest distilleries.

1997 Highland Park 20 "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky $199.99 - Highland Park is truly a product of its environment. The distillery lays just a few degrees outside the bounds of the Arctic Circle on an island devoid of trees and ravaged by wind, yet relatively mild in temperature swings. This unique location coupled with the extra effort of floor malting their own barley on site are some of the components that lead to an awards list a mile long. This list includes many Gold and Double Gold medals for the distillery and its various bottlings. The barley is malted with local peat from Hobbister Moor, dense in heather, and providing an unusually floral characteristic to the smoke. The gale force winds carry the salt sea air through the barrel houses giving the whisky a salty tanginess that is all together different than the iodine characteristics of Islay. Weighing in at 53.1% alcohol and well below the $550 price tag of the 25 year old distillery bottling, this 20 year old Old Particular cask really struts the salt air and delicate floral smoke. Charged from a refill hogshead.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Feb092018

The Lost Grains of Cambus

Cambus, along with Bowmore, is a distillery we will always stock from when available. One of Diageo's top grain distilleries until it was closed forever in 1993, not are the Cambus whiskies smooth and round in character from front to back, but because the distillery has been gone for 25 years now it means that every bottle consumed from this point out moves the whisky a step closer to total extinction! This 29 year comes in at 46.9% with less richness from the oak than our previous 25 year cask, but with more vanilla and nuance. In essence, if you're a fan of the Nikka Coffey Grain expression, consider this an older, full proof version for a hot price. The nose is a standard grain profile of buttery oak, but on the palate those flavors open up into toasted coconut and cookie dough. It's a mellow, easy drinking whisky and an ice cube works wonders. 281 total bottles available, minus the one I'm sipping on right now!

1988 Cambus 29 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Scotch Whisky $99.99

-David Driscoll

Friday
Feb092018

The Stunning Fruit Spirits of Somerset

After the On the Trail post I put up earlier today, I've gone through the queue to find multiple customer orders that have all six currently-available Somerset products on them. That's incredible, but it's also telling because truth be told: you need all six products to really understand what makes the Somerset Cider Brandy Company so awesome. They're all completely different! It's not like the ten year old brandy is just a better version of the five, or the apple liqueurs are minor in their distinctions. The five year is mellow and easy-going, slightly chewy on the finish, while the ten year brandy is more like brown apple skins (it really tastes like distilled cider) with lots of that pithy character on the backend. The Kingston Black varietal liqueur is fresh and full of bright apple flavor, while the Pomona is darker, richer, and barrel-aged like a Tawny Port. Then you've got the two apple eau-de-vie macerated liqueurs that light up your taste buds with equal parts sweet and tart.

There's a lot to discover here, but unfortunately not much of it. I was conservative with my initial purchase but after watching the staff blow through the recently-arrived inventory with rabid thirst I'm realizing I grossly underestimated the demand. I'm working on another order ASAP, but for the moment there's only a few cases of each expression. Have fun!

-David Driscoll