Tuns of Fun

Every year the Balvenie Tun 1509 is one of the most anticipated single malt releases of the year, and I annually kick myself for not buying one in retrospect. David Stewart and the gang pick out a bunch of interesting barrels from the distillery and famously marry them in the giant Balvenie oak "Tun" (a massive marrying vessel) until the whisky is ready for release in the Fall. We just got our limited selection of Batch #4 into stock, complete with a tasting diagram that details the characteristics of all 23 casks used in the blend. It's bottled at 51.7% this year and for my taste buds it's one of the spiciest "Tun" releases I can remember, both in terms of sweet and savory spices. The finish is all toffee and Oloroso flavor, but it's dry and robust rather than sweet and unctuous. Balvenie is pretty much where Macallan was a decade ago: about to explode on the world market, but still relatively affordable for the quality and age. I'm wondering if this is the last time we sell the Tun 1509 series for less than $500? It's a 23 barrel blend for the entire world, for God's sake! That's not much.

I've got 24 bottles with a one bottle limit per customer while they last.

-David Driscoll


Back on the Trail

Let me tell you something I learned this week: the most interesting man in the world is NOT the Dos Equis guy. It's Bill Foley, owner of the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the billionaire businessman behind some of California's most successful wineries. He also can fly a military jet, build a missile, and argue a legal case before a judge in a court of law. Eat your heart out, Bruce Wayne!

Since we're talking more about life and not necessarily drinking, I'm putting this particular interview over at On the Trail, so feel free to jump over there if you're curious.

-David Driscoll


The Big Leagues

I'm sure every industry has their version of it, but I've never really worked in any other business but booze and lately it seems like I've been getting my share of "big leaguing." To big league someone, if you're unaware, is when someone tries to show you up in public by either acting too cool for school or trying to put you down while others are watching. Part of it's on me. As an outgoing, talkative, and relatively friendly person, I invite that type of response from assholes everywhere. My personality is like a dog whistle for dickheads. I have a photographic memory for faces and I have no problem approaching people I haven't seen in twenty years like it's only been a week. I'm the guy who remembers every customer in the store and comfortably calls them by name, even if they don't remember mine. That's exactly the kind of situation where someone might look to big league you and act like they have no idea who you are.

Even if they know exactly who they're talking to.

The Bay Area booze industry is RIFE with that type of behavior and I have little tolerance for it, which is why I don't go out all that often these days. I can laugh when someone tries to correct me or call me out for something I've said or written, but if someone who I've met several times acts like they don't know who I am, I get seriously annoyed. When I get big leagued like that, sometimes I can't help but big league them back. I'll give you an example of something that happened this week:

I was at an industry event talking to a colleague, when I ran into an old distiller friend chatting with another man that I recognized. Out of politeness, my friend introduced me to that man even though we already knew each other.

"We know each other," I said with a smile. Then the man looked me dead in the eye and said: "Oh, have we met?" 

I sighed. 

After I recounted to him exactly how we had met and interacted, he laughed and said: "Right, that must be it."

Then I couldn't help it. 

"Yeah, it's either that or maybe it's the signed copy of your book on my desk at work; the one you sent me in the mail with the inscription in the front handwritten by you, explaining to me how my blog and my writing really inspired you in your pursuing your own. It could be that, too."

He blushed.

-David Driscoll


Vinegar of the Gods Returns!

My bosses thought I was absolutely nuts when I brought in $10,000 worth of Norman vinegar earlier this year. 

"Wait, it's vinegar? And it's how much?"

But, as all of you Camut fans know, nothing made by the two brothers of Semainville is run of the mill (which is why we sold every last bottle in a matter of weeks). We’ve been preaching the gospel for as long as I can remember here at K&L. As I often tell customers, there are few genres of wine and spirits from which I can unequivocally declare a “world’s best,” but in the case of Calvados there’s Camut and then there’s everything else. From the age and condition of the family orchards, to the meticulous sorting process, to the blending and maturation, there’s simply no other distiller in Normandy—or the world, for that matter—who is making fruit spirits with the same complexity, pureness of flavor, and utter awesomeness. I’ve been visiting the Camut brothers—Emmanuel and Jean-Gabriel—at their grandfather’s original estate for seven years now, getting to know the two giants (literally and figuratively—they’re both quite tall!) of apple brandy quite intimately. It wasn’t until my last visit, however (possibly because it was the first time I had spoken to the brothers directly with a more intermediate grasp of the French language), that Emmanuel felt comfortable sharing with me a lingering secret. “I need to show you something, David,” he said to me cryptically after dinner, his voice quivering under the weight of strong drink. “It’s in the shed behind the barn.” I was both intrigued and utterly nervous. Did he have a body hidden back there? Did Emmanuel kill someone? What was in that shed?!!

There was nothing but darkness and cold winter air as we walked into the icy Norman night, through the Camut orchards, and towards the old shed Emmanuel had mentioned. As we approached the looming structure, he took out a flashlight, fumbling the key of the padlock guarding the way, and opened the door into the small room, revealing in that instant under the concentrated glare of the lamp what it was that awaited us: hundreds of small barrels, of various shape and sizes, stacked in rows according to type. "This is my new obsession," Emmanuel said with a grin. What was in these barrels? Not Calvados and not cider, but rather balsamic. At the beginning of the new millennium, it seems Emmanuel was offered a bottle of traditional balsamic vinegar by some Italian friends of his. He was taken by the word “traditional” on the bottle because, as he would come to find out, it belonged to a protected appellation of vinegars that followed rigorous guidelines as to production. The vinegar was only sold in 100ml bottles and it was both elaborate and expensive, representing only about .01% of all Italian balsamics. The experience was transformative, apparently; he had never known balsamic vinegar of this quality. Being the artisan producer that he is, Emmanuel decided to research the process of making “traditional” balsamic vinegar and applied it to the base material he knew best: apples.

The particularity of the “traditional” process is the attention given to cooking the must and concentrating the flavor. To recreate that quality, Emmanuel uses two 200 liter copper pots heated gently by a wood fire. Whereas the Italians use a variety of grape that results in roughly 17% sugars, Emmanuel’s apple must—composed of interesting Norman varietals—only results in 5%, and thus three times the concentration. Next comes a long decanting period, done during winter, where about 15-20% of the production is tossed out to keep the must as clear and clean as possible. During the spring, the must is transferred into barrels during which a slow acetic fermentation process begins, converting the sugars into a very light alcohol. From that point, the vinegar is aged for more than a decade, during which it loses roughly 10% of its volume each year from evaporation. With each year that passes, Emmanuel moves the liquid into smaller and smaller barrels, made of different woods like chestnut and acacia, some so small that you could hold them comfortably with one hand. That's as much as Emmanuel was willing to share with me about the process, and at that time he didn't want me taking any photos of the shed. "This is a secret, David," he mentioned again. "I"m not ready for the world to know about this yet."

A year and a half later, however, Emmanuel Camut—the world's foremost authority of all-things apple—was finally ready to share a bit of his Norman magic with us. He reached out to me this past spring and asked if K&L might like to be the exclusive American outpost for his Vinaigre Balsamique de Cidre, an elixir that in its appearance is as black and dense as that cold winter's night we spent back in the shed. Oozing like maple syrup out of the bottle, the resulting flavor is unlike any balsamic you've ever tasted. Astonishingly rich in flavor, with a harmonious balance of both sweet and sour, you only need one drop on a piece of bread, a tomato, or even a slice of finely-cooked steak to enhance the flavor of each bite immensely. All of the apples used for the vinegar came from an Norman orchard where no chemicals or herbicides have ever been used and where—per the norm for Calvados orchards—cows graze openly in a symbiotic relationship with the apple trees. Emmanuel’s vinegar is so concentrated, flavorful, and rich in character that just a single drop carries with it a symphony of flavor. While the bottles are only 100ml in volume, each has more than 2000 drops. Our initial order was a mere 120 bottles, most of which was purchased and consumed by the K&L staff, and now our second order has arrived. It is without a doubt the best vinegar of any kind I've ever tasted, but I'm far from an expert. What I do know, however, is that most of my colleagues feel the exact same way. Basically, if you thought the Camut Calvados was life-changing, wait until you try the balsamic. 

-David Driscoll


Two More Dickels 

You have to understand: when someone offers you nine year old single barrels of 100+ proof Bourbon that you can sell for around forty bucks, you say YES! You say yes as many times as they'll let you. You take as much of it as they'll sell you and you ask for seconds, thirds, fourths, and fifths. 

Sure, Dickel is Tennessee whiskey, not officially Bourbon, but there are plenty of people out there buying it independently and selling it as Bourbon (Belle Meade, Barrell, etc.) because technically it is Bourbon. Just don't tell that to anyone in Tennessee. 

Back to my original point: these single barrels of Dickel are older, richer, tastier, and sweeter than any whiskies available in any other distillery-direct single barrel program right now. Yet, somehow, they're around $20 less expensive per bottle than similarly-aged casks from Four Roses or the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. 

I dare you to do a comparison, side by side, of our latest Four Roses barrel with one of these two new arrivals from Dickel. I did it blind for fun this past week and I had a rough time figuring out which was which.

George Dickel "K&L Exclusive" 9 Year Old Single Barrel #L7233K1008" Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 -  Barrel #1008 is like a big bag of toasted caramel corn with power and intensity from the bold proof. Those who love the sweetness of classic Tennessee whiskey with the punch of cask strength Bourbon will be elated with a finish of sweet vanilla and hearty baking spices.

George Dickel "K&L Exclusive" 9 Year Old Single Barrel #L7234K1004" Tennessee Whiskey $44.99 - Barrel #1004 has strong aromas of herbaceous, peppery spices on the nose with heavy pencil shavings and toasted oak. It's decidedly less sweet than all of the other Dickel barrels we've featured in 2017 with a robust richness that finishes like a fine bottle of Four Roses. Basically, if you're looking for a 9 year old bottle of cask strength OBSV for $20 less per bottle, this is fine substitute. For serious Bourbon fans.

-David Driscoll