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Tuesday
Feb212017

28 Years Later

One of my favorite horror movies of all time is 28 Days Later. Danny Boyle really upped the intensity of the zombie genre by allowing his infected and flesh-hungry humans to run—and run very, very fast—creating a frantic and unhinged element we never knew zombies were ever lacking. After decades of Romero-influenced, slow-moving herds, we were treated to spastic, rabid, and quick-moving zombies that only became more frightening in the film's sequel 28 Weeks Later. Robert Carlyle played the lead in that one and was forced to run for his life (literally) throughout the course of the terror. Having been inspired and thrilled by both of those films (being the zombie aficionado that I am), I'm ready to announce two 28 year old whiskies that will also force you to run, move quickly, and evade the hoards of shoppers destined to freak out over our continued post-Brexit pricing. A revamp of the supple and deliciously-hedonistic Glenturret and a new grain whisky release from Strathclyde, that really packs in the vanilla. I think our 23 year old Macallan sold out in less than twenty minutes after we sent the email last week. The email for these two is scheduled for next week and I'm expecting another bloodbath.

1987 Glenturret 28 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - It's rare to see a 25 year old whisky for less than $150 these days, and even when we do see the occasional bottle our first instinct is often to ask: what's wrong with it? Understanding that natural reaction we had to ask ourselves: how will people respond when we offer them a 28 year old, single barrel, cask strength, Highland single malt for $99.99? We're hoping you'll be excited because we're absolutely thrilled! Glenturret isn't a household name among whisky drinkers, but for those in the know it's part of the Edrington portfolio: the group that owns Macallan, Highland Park, and Glenrothes. Glenturret is also considered the oldest distillery in Scotland, having been founded in 1775, and today it's the home of Famous Grouse: the world-renowned blended whisky in which it plays a large role. This 28 year old expression has reduced naturally down to a perfectly-drinkable 49.7% ABV and has the richness, oiliness, and concentration that only mature whisky can offer. It's full of brandied fruit, resin, supple caramel, and creamy malted goodness. Despite its old age, the whisky is surprisingly lithe and light on its feet. By no means is this a heavy, full-bodied number, but rather a classic Highland whisky with plenty of barrel-aged complexity. For the price, it's a no brainer.

1988 Strathclyde 28 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Grain Scotch Whisky $79.99 - If there's one thing we can help take credit for here at K&L, it's been helping to remove the undeserved stigma associated with grain whisky in the Scotch industry. Maligned and misunderstood for years, it wasn't until we started launching a number of 25-50 year old releases at ridiculously reasonable prices that hearts and minds began to change. When Nikka brought their delicious Coffey Still editions to the market and people saw just how fruity and delicious these corn and unmalted barley whiskies could be, we think grain whisky finally got over the hump. Crazily enough, today our single casks of grain whisky are some of the most anticipated by our customers. The 28 year old Strathclyde absolutely soaks up the vanilla from the oak barrel and brings loads of soft caramel along with it. At 58.2% there's some power behind all that supple richness, which allows you to add ice or a bit of water.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Feb192017

Hélène Garcin Returns to K&L

As you've probably gathered from my numerous posts about her over the last year, I'm a big fan of Hélène Garcin. She's probably the coolest person I've met during my trips to Bordeaux and I keep in contact with her frequently because she's incredibly active in the American market. She's definitely not one to sit back and wait for the customers to come to her! If you're one of our Hollywood customers, then I'd recommend dropping by the store this Wednesday at 5 PM to meet Hélène and her husband Patrice who are currently on vacation in California. We've invited them into the tasting bar to meet our Bordeaux-loving customers, and being the passionate winemakers they are, they're going to use part of their holiday to drink with some of you.

You can reserve a spot here for a more than reasonable five dollars. I wish I could be there, but alas duty calls up north. Be careful, however. Hélène is so charming and so incredibly cool that you might end up walking out with more wine than you planned on. If you're new to Bordeaux, she's the best possible ambassador for the category you could start with. I highly encourage you to come by and meet her.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Feb182017

The Spice of Origin (or the Origins of Spice)

What is gin, really? 

Is it simply flavored vodka, or is it a medicinal elixir with historic origins and a romantically unsavory past? It can be either depending on how you want to look at it. All gin starts with a still full of juniper berries and some base alcohol, but from that point on its upon us to provide our own personal interpretation as to what particularly draws us in. What’s interesting to me, having observed retail trends based on the origin of spirits over the last decade, is how the locality of a brand can have a serious impact on the consumer’s impression. Take Japanese whisky as an example. I’ve yet to taste an expression of single malt from Nikka or Suntory that was stylistically superior to Scotch whisky in any way, shape, or form. To me, Yamazaki, Toketsuru, and Hakushu taste exactly like single malt Scotch; it’s just that they’re made in Japan. They’re made just like Scottish single malts. They’re aged just like Scottish single malts. They drink just like Scottish single malts. But that doesn’t stop people from obsessing over their exotic origins and adding value based on that international intrigue. Japan is hot right now in the food and drink world. I know more people who have traveled or are traveling to Tokyo than ever before, and I'd say fashion-wise the country's culture has never been more prevalent in our sphere. Of course, if you think cultures and countries can’t be fashionable, then you obviously have never worked in the booze business. 

Gin's appeal is no less oriented in its origins, it's just that there's a lot more gin out there than there is single malt whisky, and it's consumed in so many different ways that it's often more difficult to pin point exactly what's driving sales. The uniqueness of the botanicals in each recipe plays a small role, I think. There's definitely a marketable terroir-driven element to expressions like Bruichladdich's Islay-based Botanist and St. George's Mt. Tam-sourced Terroir that excites the food-focused crowd. While it's tough to say for sure if the fashions of origin can boost a certain gin into the limelight, what I can tell you right now with 100% certainty is this: were I to move back to my hometown of Modesto and create "David's Modesto gin," that brand would tank right into the toilet from day one, no matter how good it tasted. Why? Because there's nothing cool or romantic about Modesto, California, I'm sorry to say. Sure, George Lucas is from there (my grandfather taught him as a student). We've got Jeremy Renner and Timothy Olyphant, too. But unfortunately neither the force, nor the power of the Avengers are enough to overcome the insurmountable odds a Modesto-based gin would most definitely face by using its Central Valley locale as a marketing ploy. Now Parisian gin? London gin? Mediterranean gin? Those are origins I can work with. 

Two big factors that make any particular wine, beer, or spirit successful right now are authenticity and credibility. The French get a huge pass on their winemaking because it's generally accepted that the vintners in Burgundy, Bordeaux, and the Rhône know what they're doing. Ditto for most of Italy and Northern California. Any new player in any of these markets from the other side of the tracks will have to face a certain amount of scrunity because of where they're from (a la Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink). In the gin world, London and Holland are the default countries of distinction because it's there that gin was first created and rose to fame (or infamy). We often assume that the places with the longest traditions have the higher levels of quality (and often rightly so). Gin is an interesting case, however, because you can pretty much make it anywhere. I can't think of any particular reason that gin made in England should be any better than gin made in California, or in Australia for that matter, but that simple fact doesn't change the foundations of fashionable origins in our collective consciousness. One thing I suggested to the guys at Four Pillars this past week is that we all work together to promote the Yarra Valley as a whole. Not only is it ground zero for serious winemaking in Australia, it's one of the coolest and most-beautiful regions I've ever visited anywhere. There's a serious food and wine culture there and it's buoyed by some of the friendliest people in the industry. You start to enlighten people as to what's happening with wine and food in the Yarra Valley, and maybe they start getting interested in the beer and spirits as well.

A rising tide raises all ships, right? Something like that.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Feb172017

Australia: Day 7 – The Case for Down Under

To be honest, I can't say I had any expectations for Australia before leaving on this trip. I was excited to visit a few of the wineries and of course I wanted to make a batch of gin with Four Pillars, but I wasn't particularly pulled in by anything in Australian culture the way I'm often allured by the fashions of France or the icons of Italy. Had Stuart Gregor not invited me down personally to visit him in Sydney this past week, I don't know if I would have ever booked a flight on my own. I'm such a sucker for Mexico, Manhattan, Europe, and Japan that I usually divide my rare vacation time between those four locales. That being said, I believe I've been completely converted to a full-fledged Aussie aficionado over the last seven days. Sydney has shown me the best parts of my favorite American cities all rolled into one dynamic and concentrated area. You've got a huge bay with inlets and coves like Seattle, but without the rain. You've got shopping and restaurants like in New York, but without the intensity or the madness. You've got the beaches of LA and Miami, but they're cleaner and even more beautiful. There's a lot to do here. I had a fantastic time yesterday—so much so that I'm already checking my schedule to see when I can return later in the year. 

We went out on a water taxi to do a tour of the harbor, which I would absolutely recommend to anyone visiting; not so much because it's beautiful (which it absolutely is), but more so because I don't think you can really understand how big Sydney is until you see how far it stretches around the water. When you're done doing that, get back on to land and have a drink at Bennelong near the Opera House. That entire area is brimming with great places to sit, snack, and have a barrel-aged Four Pillars Negroni.

Don't think it's just tourists hanging out over at the Quay, either. There are just as many locals as there are out-of-towners getting their drink on. Like Peter Garrett, for example. The Midnight Oil frontman had literally just announced the reformation of his iconic rock band when we ran into him at the bar. Stu ordered me to take a photo with him because it was only proper for an American visiting Australia for the first time to meet the country's most famous rock star and former politician. "Is Paul Hogan going to jump out next and show me a koala?" I asked in return. They'll be at the Fox in Oakland on May 27th. Stu said Peter would get me tickets. I laughed and asked, "Are you staging all of this on my behalf?"

You most definitely need to have a drink with Jimmy Irvine and the gang from the Swillhouse group. Do it at the Baxter Inn, Frankie's Pizza, or at the Shady Pines, but make sure you go to one of those places and quench your thirst. As evidenced in my previous post and the T-shirt I'm wearing in the above photo, you can see where my loyalties lie. 

For dinner in Sydney, you absolutely must go to Hubert, which is also part of the Swillhouse group and represents a style of dining I rarely see outside of Vegas. It's a huge (and I mean big) hall done in a French brasserie fashion with a stage and a live jazz band playing hits while you dine and watch the show. The wine list is incredible, the food divine, and the atmosphere unbeatable. I could eat there once a week and never get tired of it. Jimmy and I talked about wrestling and our favorite Caddyshack moments while bonding over various other pop culture phenomena. 

There's a real scene happening here in Sydney, apparently one that only began about five years ago and has recently caught momentum downtown. It reminds me of San Francisco in 2008 when the bar scene began its resurrection and the night life began to change. With all the other great things Sydney has to offer—scenery, nature, culture, shopping, and the energy of a real city—you can add food and drink to that list. I've eaten and drunk as well over the last few days as I ever have in New York, Paris, or London. It's time we start looking further south in America, rather than just east and west. I think with our Francophile focus in the booze game we've been missing out on something special happening down under.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Feb162017

The First Must-Buy Bottle of 2017

I'll have to interrupt the current Australia narative to bring you news of a more important story, one that's actually in stock rather than conceptual. While I'm often excited by a number of the spirits we're able to feature at K&L, I'm also a curator who understands that there are different strokes for different folks. Not everything I write about or feature is meant for everyone. Here, however, is a clear cut case of spirits mastery that represents the first "must-buy" bottle of the year in the K&L booze department: a blanco tequila from Enrique Fonseca, bottled under the Fuenteseca label (as our previous projects have been done), that represents the highest possible quality expression of the style I've yet to taste. I don't care who you are or what you normally drink, you need this bottle (as long as you like tequila). What's perhaps even more exciting, however, is that the fact that it represents everything I've come to understand about the potential of agave spirits over the last few years: that tequila and mezcal are really much more like wine than whiskey. What do I mean by that? Have a look at the the full story over here at On the Trail. That should illuminate and intrigue you further.

Or just buy a bottle now if you want. But you're missing out on the story of the year for white spirits if you skip the logistics.

-David Driscoll