Navigation
Search This Blog

Return to KLWines.com

Drinking to Drink Interview Archive

Spirits Journal Podcast Archive

Spirits Journal Twitter Feed

K&L Uncorked Blog

K&L Spirits Tasting Schedule

2015 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

1992 Clynelish K&L Exclusive 21 Year Old Cadenhead Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2001 Bowmore 12 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2008 Caol Ila 5 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Craigellachie 18 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Miltonduff 19 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2007 Mortlach 7 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2004 Smoky & Peaty Tobermory (Ledaig) 8 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Laphroaig 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Macallan 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Tamdhu 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Tobermory 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1990 Girvan 24 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1978 Port Dundas 36 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1964 North British 50 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Faultline Blended Scotch Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

SMWS 36.82 Benrinnes 17 Year Old "Rare Release" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1988 Blair Athol 25 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


2001 Bowmore 12 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1990 Bruichladdich 23 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Glen Ord 17 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Hogshead Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Glenburgie 19 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Hogshead Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Glenrothes 17 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1998 Mortlach 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Sherry Butt Finish Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Imperial 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #344 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #345 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1990 Glenfarclas K&L Exclusive Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Glenfarclas "The Faultline Casks" K&L Exclusive First Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Bunnahabhain Heavily Peated 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Chieftain's Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1998 Laphroaig 15 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1983 Caol Ila 30 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Refill Sherry Hogshead Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


1992 Bruichladdich 21 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1988 Balmenach 25 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


1997 Benrinnes 17 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


1997 Dailuaine 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Glen Elgin 18 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


1997 Glenlivet 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Butt Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!!


1981 Glenlivet 32 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


Bladnoch "Young" K&L Exclusive Heavily Peated Single Barrel #57 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


1997 Glengoyne 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #172 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #74 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Saturday
Apr042015

A Credent Clearwater Revival

If the term “renaissance” refers to a cultural rebirth, or the re-emergence of an established idea, then count me among the few folks who think a renaissance of clear spirits (or "white goods," as they’re called in the industry) is certainly on the horizon. With more and more people perusing the internet for information, participating in tastings and industry events, and eventually discovering the merits of high quality whiskey, it’s only a matter of time before that passion begins to spread towards other sectors in the spirits category. How can it not? There's so much out there to learn about, to taste, and to discover when it comes to alcohol that our collective fascination simply can't stop with single malt or Bourbon. That would get old quickly. However, if the term “renaissance” is taken to mean there will be a renewal or rediscovery of something lost that has simply fallen out of fashion, then count me out of that group. In 2007, people began rediscovering how delicious whiskey tasted. At that point, whiskey wasn't really any better or any different than it had previously been, it just happened to recapture our interest and people started drinking it again in large amounts. Clear booze, on the other hand, isn't being rediscovered; it's being reinvented, improved, and re-imagined in ways we've never thought possible. Today's modern versions of vodka, gin, mezcal, tequila, pisco, aquavit, and other regionally-distinct distillates won't simply be the recipients of an old passion we once grew tired of. What's happening today with clear spirits is unlike anything we've previously seen because clear spirits have never been made with the care and the craftmanship we're currently seeing in today's market. While whiskey continues along with its revival of romanticism—the repackaging of old brands our grandfathers used to drink, with old-timey labels and stories of long-standing legacies—the white goods market is creating an entirely fresh set of players primed to teach some old dogs a few new tricks, and bring unaged spirits the respect they're just now beginning to earn.

Now when I say that clear booze is primed to make a big impact, that's not to say it already hasn't come back with a vengeance. Across all the different genres of spirits there’s been an improvement in quality due to advancements in sterilization and technology. Spirits in general are cleaner, tastier, and more dynamic than ever before. More importantly, there are now actually enough people out there who care about this level of quality to support such a market. Ten years ago we carried Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick’s, and a handful of other big brand gins in 1.75L-sized bottles. Today, we have more than seventy-five different gins in stock from small producers all over the world. That's a big swing in the span of a decade. In the year 2005, we didn’t stock any mezcal—period. Today we have over sixty selections made from more than ten different types of agave. We also have amazing new aqauvits, groundbreaking grappas, and particularly-pleasing piscos (alliteration galore!!), the likes of which were never previously-carried at K&L in the olden days of booze retail. Clear spirits are definitely back in the spotlight. So when I say that clear booze is finally ready for its time in the sun, I mean they're ready to be treated as equals with whisky or brandy; not seen simply as cocktail ingredients.

I don’t know how many of you saw this article a few weeks back, but I read it and thought about it for days. If you don’t think taste is fashionable, then you obviously still wear Guess Jeans while listening to Vanilla Ice records and drinking Zima wine coolers. Trends go in and out, and the spirits industry most definitely has its own version of transient pop culture. It’s no coincidence that the resurgence of Scottish single malt and American whiskey happened to coincide with the success of the hard-drinking suits on Mad Men, and the Pappy-guzzling boys of Justified. I talk to people every day who want to “get into” whiskey. They’ve read all the trendy articles, heard their golfing buddies talking about it, and now they want to know more about this hot new movement. Whiskey is the current talk of the town (and has been for years), regardless of whether you were drinking it twenty years ago. You can sit here and tell me all day long about how you were a diehard Pappy drinker before the whisky renaissance hit (and, believe me, many people do), but the current success we’re enjoying on the retail side isn’t the result of long-established Bourbon customers suddenly deciding to collaboratively spend more money with us. It’s the clear result of a trend. A fad. The byproduct of a current craze. Whiskey is the beverage of the moment, and it's been wonderful getting to know it in intimate detail, but how much longer can it continue to capture our collective attention? I don’t know. In theory, things that are classic should never go out of style. But let me tell you something I do know for certain: fashion quickly changes when too many people get involved in the mix. Trends are easily played out and fickle fans will fade, or jump ship when the current fad becomes too homogenized. It’s inevitable. Just ask Louis Vuitton.

Culture, however, is the big wild card in this equation. Europe has long been the destination de jour for traveling cosmopolitans, which is why the wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, and Piedmont continue to hold a special place in the hearts of honeymooners everywhere. Traveling habits are changing, however, and as globe trekkers everywhere continue expanding their horizons, their eyes continue to be opened to the regional spirits of far-off destinations. Just ask Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh, who discovered a clear Bolivian distillate called Singani while shooting the film Che in South America. He fell so hard for the grape-based spirit that he started his own brand and his own import company just so he could drink Singani back here at home! Or ask the ever-growing number of Californians vacationing in Oaxaca what they’re into, like our general manager Jason Marwedel. He recently flew down for a bachelor party with friends and came back with a thirst for mezcal like I’ve never seen. “That stuff is amazing!” he exclaimed upon return. He’s been a clear spirits convert ever since. Context is a biggie for creating an interest and passion for booze. Taste and popularity are fleeting, but the right situation and the proper enjoyment can instill a lifetime of loyalty. My parents have been grappa diehards since drinking it in Italy decades ago. It wasn’t the 90 point rating, the bottle art, or the romantic ideal that got them into it. It was being in Italy, and the memories they created there that they'll always carry with them. Will expanded tourism to Scandinavia create a buzz for aquavit? Can an Eastern European road trip turn someone into a slivovitz addict? Possibly. As a society, we’re learning more about each other every day, and those introductions can be incredibly powerful.

Vodka will always be a tough sell in the modern age of flavor appreciation because it’s neutral by design, and people tend to shoot it rather than sip it. If there’s one thing that the last seven years have taught most spirits drinkers, it’s that certain spirits should be savored. Rather than mask the harsh flavors of alcohol with sugar or fruit juice, the pre-Prohibition style mixologists showed us how the inherent flavors of fine spirits could be utilized and highlighted. "The clear spirits of this modern era don't need to be drowned in a sea of simple syrup!" they exclaimed. This wasn't always the case, however. Prohibition led to the dominance of low-quality bathtub gins and bad associations with bottom-shelf booze. People wanted to get drunk, but they didn't want to taste the alcohol, so they looked for ways to ease that terrible burn. Even the central concept behind whiskymaking—putting the spirit into wood—is done for the purpose of mellowing the harsh taste of the unaged distillate. In this new age of micro-distillation, however, we shouldn't immediately fear the flavor of the clear, unmatured, white spirit. In fact, many distillers are touting the intricate flavors of their white spirits, inviting consumers to taste their products neat and to appreciate the nuance that they've created within them. With mezcal specifically, the push to recognize and respect the innate flavors in each type of wild agave have created a terroir-like concept, much like we see in today's boutique wine scene.

Just as American wine drinkers have graduated and gravitated over to unoaked, higher-acid wines, spirits fans are beginning to see the merit and the quality behind some of the finer gins, mezcales, and tequilas on the market and they don’t want the adulteration of oak. In fact, it’s often a point of pride that they don’t need it—that they can see the beauty of the spirit as is, without the added sweetness. In the wine world, the soft vanilla flavors provided by oak maturation are viewed as “training wheels”. It’s like putting sugar in your coffee. Now that oak is no longer "cool", there’s a growing movement away from barrel-aged Chardonnay and over towards cleaner white wines tanked in stainless steel; free from the toasty, buttery flavors often associated with a lack of serious connoisseurship. Oak also helps to mask mistakes in winemaking. It can add valued richness, but it can also over-simplify the flavors. Terroir, or the geographical specificities that make certain grapes taste the way they do, is something many wine drinkers want to taste. Oak ultimately gets in the way of that. If we're to take anything from today's modern wine movement, it's that consumers have more saavy than ever before. They want pure, unadulterated flavor. They want to taste what exactly makes each varietal taste the way it does. Therefore, they want wines that have not been barrel aged. How long before spirits customers begin demanding the same from some of their spirits?

But can unaged white spirits ever really demand the same price tag as elderly whiskey? That remains to be seen on a larger scale, but the spread of information online is helping to break down old barriers. It used to be the case that spirits customers needed age statements or some sign of maturity to justify spending more money. If something was aged for twelve years in oak, shouldn’t it be more expensive than something unaged? It makes sense. Why should something that took more than a decade to create cost the same as something that was fermented and distilled in the span of a few days? There are dozens of ways to answer that question, and the answer will ultimately depend on which spirit you’re talking about. It could be that the particular type of agave used to make a certain mezcal takes ten years to grow before it can be harvested. Does that not count for anything? It might be that the particular botanicals used to make a certain gin are rare, difficult to forage, or specific to a geographical region or place. Shouldn’t that mean something, too? Yes, of course it should. And it does mean something. Otherwise we wouldn’t be selling bottles of St. George Terroir gin like crack-cocaine. Monkey 47 and Casa Dragones tequila would never be able to command the prices they currently do. We wouldn’t be able to easily move $100 bottles of Vago’s cuixe mezcal if people didn’t think those details mattered. There are many awesome, incredible, and time-consuming processes involved with the production of many of today's boutique clear spirits that justify what we eventually spend on them. It's just that we're only learning about them now.

And every single day there are more and more people who think those details matter. Every day there are more people drinking gin out of a glass, rather than as part of a cocktail. Every day there are more people sipping on a small shot of tequila, rather than shooting it down and slamming their glass on the table. Every day there are people asking us for specific types of potato vodka, for specific species of wild agave mezcal, and new shoppers who are curious about what how exactly their clear spirits are made. The advantage that modern advancements and undertakings have given clear spirits producers over whiskey distillers cannot be understated; we get to taste that extra effort almost immediately. Any upgrade in current whisky production methods won't start influencing flavor until many years down the road when the whiskey produced has actually matured and is ready to drink. But will people still care at that point? When the whiskey revival began around 2007, anything in the bottle at that time was actually produced between the late-80s and the mid-90s. We were drinking whiskies that were already more than a decade old at that point, rather than something new and previously unseen. We were living out past glories. The clear spirits revival we're about to experience is not rooted in the past, however. It's a new beginning; a fresh start. It's progress, and in my opinion we've so far only seen the tip of the iceburg.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Apr032015

The Westland Movement is Coming

There’s been a lot of talk about American craft distillation over the last few years. The industry has been abuzz concerning the potential for new voices in the whiskey game, the enthusiasm surrounding these small producers, and the fanaticism over the tiny allocations of their exciting new whiskies. Our friends over at St. George in Alameda have seen the demand for their rare and coveted single malt whiskey go through the roof. The Texas distillery Balcones has definitely seen its lone star rise. Even the madness surrounding our own little find—the Cut Spike single malt whiskey from Nebraska—completely took us by surprise. With all the new interest in American single malt whiskey, however, one producer is primed and ready to leave every other distillery in the dust. No “craft” single malt producer is as well-equipped, well-versed, well-stocked, and simply put—no American single malt producer’s whiskey tastes as good as the single malt hailing from Westland Distillery in Seattle, Washington. Most of you reading this blog have likely already tasted the American Single Malt that hit California last year. Like me, you probably thought it was pretty good when you tried it. Let me tell you, however: that was just the tip of the iceburg. That was just a tease; a small taste of greater things to come. The real movement is coming, and it's going to take everyone by complete surprise when it does.

If you haven't heard of Westland yet, or maybe only saw their table while wandering through your local WhiskyFest, Westland Distillery is the brain child of owner Emerson Lamb and master distiller Matt Hoffman, two young entrepreneurs (Hoffman was 21 at the time he joined up) who decided it would be better to do one thing and do it well, than try to make every spirit in the book. They didn’t make vodka or gin to pay the bills in the short term. They didn’t bother buying whiskey from other distilleries to sell while they waited for their own stock to age (a popular strategy in this current market). They decided early that if they were going to get into the whiskey gig, they had better do it the right way, so they invested in huge Scottish-style pot stills, quality cooperage, and the finest malted barley from day one. They bought a 5,000 liter mash tun and 10,000 liter fermenters. They built a Scottish-style warehouse to age their casks in the right conditions. Emerson and Matt did everything the way it should be done from day one. That was in 2010—five years ago. Today we get to start reaping the benefits of those investments. The difference between Westland and every other American single malt producer is in the details, and those details are apparent on each and every sip of their remarkable whiskies. Their products are polished, complex, and simply delicious. I always thought the American Single Malt was precocious, but the recent release of the Sherry Wood and Peated expressions has me jumping out of my seat. My co-workers feel the same way—we're all pretty pumped about these whiskies.

And then there's this little guy. If you're too cool to buy regular branded expressions these days, and you spend your time asking liquor stores, "Is this everything you have, or are there certain whiskies you only keep in the back?", then we've got you covered. I had to speed taste through the first available retail expressions, but I had first dibs and I chose well. Sample 300 was obviously the best bottle in my 45 second tasting that involved me dumping 50 mls into my mouth behind AT&T stadium and spitting into a nearby garbage can. However, it was only when Matt Hoffman came by the store last week to train the staff that I realized how lucky I had been: "You chose the only fino sherry cask in the bunch," he told me. If the Sherry Wood and Peated whiskies don't convince you that Westland is making real-deal single malt whiskey, this cask will drive that point home clearly and succinctly. Westland Fino Sherry Cask #300 will be making it's way to K&L later this Spring and will quickly put any doubts to bed about who's running the show state-side.

Get ready, whiskey drinkers. I was a fan of Westland before, but now—after tasting these new releases—I'm a true believer. I'm ready to stand on my chair and cheer for Emerson and Matt, and all of their future endevours. These guys did everything the right way and it shows in every sip I take of their new Sherry Wood and Peated expressions. I can't wait to see what's ahead for this Pacific Northwest operation. We've got all three selections in stock currently for those interested in grabbing a bottle:

Westland American Single Malt Whisky $69.99 - The flagship whiskey for Seattle's Westland Distillery is one of the first American single malts that actually tastes like Scottish single malt. At the core of this whiskey’s flavor profile is a grain bill comprised of five different roasted and kilned barley malts giving the malt a character that's Scotch-like, but still distinctly different. The base is a pale malt, grown in the state of Washington. To that they add specialty malts, a concept inspired by the vibrant craft brewing culture of the Pacific Northwest. Belgian brewer’s yeast further enhances flavor development, creating fruity esters during fermentation. And finally, maturing predominantly in the finest new American oak casks complements these choices with vanilla, caramel and coconut notes, leaving an approachable and mature whiskey that's shockingly mature despite its young age.

Westland Peated Single Malt Whisky $69.99- By distilling a highly-peated single malt whisky and marrying that with an entirely unpeated single malt whisky, Seattle's Westland Distillery has created something magically delicious, more akin to Talisker or Springbank, rather than Ardbeg or Lagavulin. The smoke and phenolic elements are definitely present, but never detract from the soft, oily fruit and the inherent creaminess of the spirit, which are definitely the stars of the show. Imagine everything you love about Longrow or Bunnahabhain, but in a different package distilled in the Pacific Northwest and that's the Westland Peated in a nutshell. A major accomplishment for North American distilling.

Westland Sherry Wood Single Malt Whisky $69.99- Seattle's single malt sensation Westland Distillery is back with a new expression aged in sherry that mimics some of the finest and most beloved Speyside malts from Scotland's Highland region. In the style of Macallan or Glenfarclas, the supple, soft, fudgy, cocoa flavors are more pronounced from the sherry maturation and the richness of the palate is enhanced beyond what we've seen in the standard Westland expression. It's a more decadent version of what we already love about America's top single malt distillery and an exciting glimpse into what's promising to be a very bright future.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Apr022015

Back on the Road

It's that time of year again. Spring has sprung in California. The dreary depths of our winter hangover are lifting, the fog is clearing, and we're ready to get back down to business. On Monday night I'll be boarding a plane in San Francisco, while my partner Mr. Othenin-Girard settles down in his seat at LAX. We'll fly through the night, disembark in London, and head right to our first meeting with Compass Box before catching drinks with our friends at Berry Bros. that evening. The next day we'll fly up to Edinburgh and begin sampling casks for the next batch of K&L single barrel exclusives. We've got several dates in Scotland at all the old haunts, and we're really hoping to capitalize on the current momentum we have going with Sovereign, Signatory, Old Particular, and Hepburn's Choice. Of course, I'll be keeping you all up to speed live on this here blog.

We'll make the drive to Pitlochry, pull into the Edradour parking lot, say hello to our friend Des McCagherty, and undoubtedly begin the onslaught of a long, daunting, cask strength single malt tasting; much like we have in previous years. Hopefully there are more exciting finds to be found.

Then it's down to Bordeaux, where we'll meet up with Charles Neal and head to Cognac. We've got a few appointments right downtown, including a stop at Hennessy's 250th anniversary party, before we move further south down to Armagnac country. We'll be spending some extended time in Gascony before finally heading north to Calvados and back to Paris.

Two and a half weeks. Non-stop travel. Non-stop drinking. Non-stop eating. Non-stop photos. Non-stop blogging. Non-stop info.

Are you ready? I hope I am.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Apr012015

Venus Aquavit

You'd be surprised how many people come in looking for aquavit these days. Not just Scandinavian natives either, but people with a real affinity for the stuff. In the last few weeks I've had people asking if K&L could import obscure Swedish brands for their own personal use, begging me for detailed breakdowns between the different types currently available, and hounding me for not carrying more of a diverse selection. "You think we should devote more of the extremely-hot Bourbon shelf to aquavit?" I'd respond, rather confused. Part of my reluctance to expand the aquavit department stems from the lack of inspiring options available in the states. Aquavit is pretty much Scandinavian gin (grain neutral spirit macerated and/or distilled with herbs and spices) except rather than juniper being the primary botanical, the main focus is usually caraway, dill, or anise. You sip it after a meal like grappa or shoot it with a beer like genever. Most of what we get state-side is the Bombay Sapphire version of the market.

I wasn't necessarily looking for a new aquavit, but I'll carry anything that's tasty and well-made, especially if it's made by Sean Venus—a guy who I think will be a big star before the year is over. When Sean brought this by for us to taste a few weeks back, my eyes about popped out of my head. "Now that is some mighty-fine aquavit!" I exclaimed to him. It was everything I wanted from that strange, yet beloved spirit, so I bought a few cases for the store. Check out the notes below:

Venus Spirits Aquavit Blend #1 $32.99- Sean Venus is back at it again, this time with an incredible aquavit that's easily the most authentic tasting version you'll find outside of Scandinavia. Made with caraway, coriander, star anise, juniper, and orange, the Venus batch #1 aquavit is almost like a gin in disguise. The caraway is definitely the star of the show, however, rather than the anise, so get ready for serious old school flavor. It's clean and fresh; the orange and coriander lifting the caraway into what almost tastes like rye before settling back down with a peppery finish. Regional white spirits are due for a big revival and this is just the type of thing that could set that trend in motion. Drink this after a big meal of pickled fish or sip it along side a glass of pilsner. It's the real deal.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Mar302015

D2D Interview: Jaime Hernandez

When we think of high art—as in the type of stuff that hangs in museums—we think of paintings, or sculptures, or maybe even craftsmanship. Few people I know would think about comics in that same light. The same goes for high literature. When we think of the world's great novels, we think of Dickens, Hemingway, or Joyce, but we rarely put comics into the canon of great writing and character development. For those who know the work of the Hernandez brothers, however, comics might be one of the first mediums they think of. The comics drawn by Jaime, Gilbert, and Mario are far beyond the occasional Sunday chuckle; they're among some of the great artistic works of the last three decades. Jaime's Hopper world in particular depicts the realities of youth—based around two female characters: Maggie and Hopey—centered in Southern California's emerging punk scene of the late 70s/early 80s. The brothers' collaborative work, Love & Rockets, isn't merely a collection of stories about superheroes or talking dogs, it's something entirely more cutting edge. Their ability to draw intriguing images and simultaneously script engaging and layered stories of complex and relatable characters, was something that completely took the medium by storm upon its initial launch and continues to impact new artists today.

The Times of London once wrote: "The rough-edged Latin American minimalist, stylized black and white comic strips have been widely described as the graphic equivalent to the fabulism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel laureate.”

The LA Weekly once printed: “Jaime’s Maggie and Gilbert’s Luba are two of the great characters in contemporary American fiction.”

It was in the early 1980s that the three brothers first banded together to create their own original series of drawings and helped spawn a new renaissance of underground comics. First published in 1982, the Love & Rockets series is today heralded as one of the finest of the genre, influencing a whole new generation of artists and illustrators to pick up the gauntlet the brothers had reluctantly laid down. Jaime and his brother Gilbert are so good at what they do, they've been called the Lennon and McCartney of comics—both artists with incredbile solo potential, but who work even more brilliantly together. Yet, because they draw comics rather than write novels, their names might not have been added to your book club's required reading list. But that hasn't stopped critics from lauding their incredible work along the same literary standard.

Rolling Stone called Love & Rockets: "American fiction’s best-kept secret.”

Salon named it: "A national treasure."

The Washington Post once wrote: “Love and Rockets is a high point in the comics form, conventional in idiom, but not comparable to any strips before it.”

Still don't know who the Hernandez brothers are? Well, if this wasn't enough of an introduction, our 2015 edition of Faultline Gin (along with a couple of other special Faultline releases) will showcase the work of Jaime Hernandez later on this summer and give you an even better idea of his talents. We've commissioned three labels from the acclaimed artist to adorn our bottles of St. George-distilled spirits; making the project easily the coolest thing we've ever done as a company. But before all that action goes down this year, I figured it might be nice to learn a bit more about one of the most dynamic figures in comic history (and about his drinking habits).

In this edition of Drinking to Drink, we talk about how the Hernandez brothers got started on their comic journey, how Jaime's love of beer and punk rock inspired his work, and what happens at the end of Comic-Con when all the artists end up together at the hotel bar. Previous editions of the D2D series can be found by clicking here, or by visiting the archive in the right hand margin of this page.

David: Can you tell me a bit about how you and your brothers started drawing comics?

Jaime: It started that we were drawing comics for ourselves. By the time we got out of high school and needed to think of our future, all we wanted to do was comics. We just tried to see where we could get published and then one day we said, “Fuck it, let’s do our own comic.” We printed up our own version of Love & Rockets and then we got picked up pretty quick by our publisher Fantographics. It’s been that way since.

David: How did you come up with the name Love & Rockets? Everyone thinks the boys from Bauhaus came up with that name for their rock band, but really they took it from you and your brothers.

Jaime: My brother Gilbert came up with that. He was just putting titles together when we were putting the comic together. He gave us the choice of two or three. He said, “What do you think of this one, or this one?” My other brother Mario and I said, “We like Love & Rockets,” and he said, “OK.” He said that he wanted to mix emotion with technology, so that was basically where it came from.

David: How difficult was it to get picked up with your own original artwork? This was all pre-internet, without so many of the communication and marketing methods we now take for granted.

Jaime: There was no alternative market, and there was no DIY thing going. I think undergrounds were still around, but there wasn’t really an alternative comic scene at the time. We were naïve to just do the comic the way we wanted to—partly because we were just cocky and young. We had no idea how the market worked. In those days, you were either Marvel or DC. We weren’t looking that far into the future, hoping that something would come about; not really putting our lives on the line or anything, just thinking, “God, I just want to be published.” I never thought about it being my job or anything. Fantographics at the time were just starting to publish their own comics, so they were kinda in the same boat. It was like, “Here we go, let’s see what we can do.” We just wanted to do comics that weren’t Marvel or DC.

David: What was the reaction when you first got published from the general marketplace?

Jaime: It was very supportive, in a small way. They said, “This is an interesting comic.” We were supported a lot by the mainstream—the Marvel and DC—artists because, like I said, there was no real alternative market to back us up. They thought, “Hey, these guys are good. Maybe they’ll work for us one day” (laughs). But we had to plan to do that. The minute we were published, I thought, “I’ve made it. I get to do the comics I want to.” I never thought of it as a stepping stone to the next thing, like maybe one day I’ll draw Spiderman.

David: When you look back at the people who have been successful at anything, it’s always to people who stuck to what they knew and what they loved, rather than those who tried to be something they weren’t. Was there never any doubt in your mind?

Jaime: By that time there wasn’t. If I would have done it five years before, who knows where I’d be? It was the right timing. I was cocky, young, and a punk rocker! It was like I had nothing to lose, really.

David: When I was younger, cockier, and into music, I would sit around drinking beer all day while listening to albums. Did you and your brothers sit around and drink beer while drawing comics?

Jaime: Yeah, in the beginning we would say, “Hey, let’s go to Mario’s house and take a twelve pack.” Then we would just sit around and say, “Hey, don’t forget about the comic. We’re doing the comic,” (laughs). We were all influenced by movies and music, it all belonged. It was all part of what we did. It’s weird, but even the stuff I didn’t like—the bands I hated, or the movies I didn’t like—it all still kinda belonged in this big plan I had to tell stories.

David: Was drinking part of the ritual, or did it distract you from drawing?

Jaime: It depended. A lot of times I would go out with friends, go see a band, drink, then come home and go, “Argghh…..I’m gonna go draw!” Then I would start inking, but I’d be shitfaced!

David: Were you able to work under those conditions? (laughs)

Jaime: Sometimes, but I don’t remember a lot of it actually. But that was the fun part. I went to see a band. I got drunk. I came home. I drew. It was very simple and a lot of fun. Beer had a lot to do with my whole life at the time. Even when I was in bands, we always had the six-pack while we were practicing. We’d play a two minute song, then when it ended we would take a drink, then we would start the next song.

David: And that ended up being part of what you drew, right? You were depicting the world around you—the punks, the music—that became a part of the world in your comics.

Jaime: Sure, my Hoppers world is basically my Oxnard world, where I grew up.

David: I read an interview that you did recently where you talked about the difficulties in aging your characters over the years. Did you find it harder to relate to them as you yourself got older?

Jaime: I kept a lot of it separate on purpose. I was doing women mostly. I’m not a woman (laughs), so I had to constantly observe what was going on. My life was boring compared to my comic. The things around me were exciting, but if were to draw an autobiographical comic…boy…it would just sit there. I would run out of ideas in the first issue.

David: Who were you observing to get ideas? What did you do for inspiration?

Jaime: Friends, going to shows and watching the punks hang out, and watching how the punks interacted with the real world. Also just hanging out with my friends in Oxnard, or in LA. Just watching how we related to the rest of the world, which was pretty interesting at times, and sometimes very normal. I still had my old buddies I grew up with, and none of them became punks, but we stayed friends. We’d still get drunk together and stuff like that.

David: Did that change as your comic became more successful?

Jaime: Only that success allowed me to do the thing that I loved. It was pretty simple. I wanted to draw comics. They were going to let me draw comics. OK, cool.

David: When did you know that you had made it as an artist? When you started getting fan mail? When a group of post-punk rockers in England named their band after your comic?

Jaime: As far as I was concerned, I made it after we did the first issue because that was exactly what I had wanted to do. As far as attention, I remember Fantographics calling and saying, “Channel 4 News wants to interview you.” And we all said, “Wow, that’s kinda cool. What are we going to say?” Then I remember later that day, there was a show called Two on the Town—it was a local show at the time that would say, “Today let’s visit this part of LA”, and that kind of thing. We heard that they wanted to do an interview as well, and we all said, “Two in one day!” Later that night, one of my other publishers called me up and said, “Hey, Exene (Cervenka) from X likes your comic, man. She just sent a postcard.” And that’s when I started saying, “OK, what’s going on here?” It had all happened in one day, so I remember thinking, “I don’t know if I can handle this!” Looking back I think it was cool, but I remember being floored—almost like, “Leave me alone! I just want to draw my comics!” It was the attention trickling in here and there, it made me think, “These people like me. I’m accepted.”

David: Did you ever go out and grab drinks with these people after you became more successful? Were you more social because of that success?

Jaime: I stayed mainly within my own circles, but every once and a while someone who was a fan would want to have lunch or have a drink. It mainly happened at comic conventions, when we started doing that. After the show was over, you’d go out, have dinner, and have drinks. We’d be approached that way. I remember at the San Diego Con, there were two guys with backstage passes who approached us. They came back and shook our hands and said, “We’re with The Flaming Lips.”

David: No way! They’re one of my all-time favorite groups.

Jaime: I remember thinking, “Oh, they’re with the band. These must be their roadies,” (laughs). I hung out for about an hour with these guys, and I never knew they were actually the guys in the band. A week later, I figured it out. I slapped my head and said, “Fuck!”

David: Did it make you uncomfortable that all of these artists liked your work?

Jaime: No, it was flattering. Someone who also does art in their own way, a lot of them way more famous than me, appreciating what I do—it was very comforting. I thought it was cool feeling we like were all part of the same goal.

David: That’s how I feel working on this project with you. Not just the interview, but the thing we’re doing together with St. George and Frontier Records. Doing interesting concepts with alcohol that involve pop culture has been exhilarating for me. Even though everyone drinks at all these rock shows, or art exhibits, or movie screenings, no one considers the art of the alcohol as part of the scene. What did you think when Lisa from Frontier asked if you would do the labels for us?

Jaime: I thought it was very cool! I liked the twist. I thought, “I’ve never designed a booze label before.” I didn’t know if I could pull it off. Years ago I finally convinced myself that instead of getting nervous or feeling out of place when people ask me for things, I need to think, “Hey, they want me. They want what I do.” That makes me feel a lot more comfortable and less intimidated when I can work on something outside of my comics.

David: I hope you enjoy the liquid that eventually goes into these bottles. Are you still primarily a beer guy?

Jaime: Yeah, mostly. Every once and a while a Margarita, or some shots if we’re celebrating. I don’t drink as much as I did when I was younger. The most I probably drink these days is when I’m invited to a convention. When the show’s over, after dinner when we’re looking for the bar to hangout. A lot of times when you’re trapped in this little convention world, it’s just you and the people who are there. Your friends have been decided for you, and you kind of mix at the end of the day. You drink pints until you can’t stand anymore because the bar is in the hotel, and all you have to do is take an elevator (laughs).

David: Who are your heroes in the industry? Who are the people you wished you could have met at a convention and had a drink with?

Jaime: All the old guys. Jack Kirby, for example. They were all old men by the time I got into comics and now they’re gone. But at the same time, hanging with my contemporaries like Dan Clowes, or Charles Burns, or Peter Bagge, and allthese guys who started at the same time we did. I only really get to see them at conventions because we live so far apart. It was funny because a lot of times the comic conventions were really sad or unattended, but just having my buddies there was enough—which I guess was even more of a reason to go to the bar afterward!

David: Do you ever get to have drinks with the people you don’t know?

Jaime: Not always, and I wish I could because sometimes I just go and say hi, and I wish I could get a drink with them so that I could be more relaxed around these people.

David: Do you find that drinking relaxes you and allows you to open up?

Jaime: Yeah, I was raised on social drinking. When I was a teenager, I would go with my little brother and my friend and get a six pack. We would have two cans each (laughs). We would do it to get drunk because it was cool. Then it was going to parties and punk gigs. It was rare that I had a drink by myself. It was always a social thing. When I did drink by myself, when I couldn’t find any friends to hang out with, I would get a six-pack and watch TV and get so depressed! Now I could handle it, but back then it was depressing. That’s when I realized that drinking went along with socializing for me, and I guess for most people.

David: What do you say to people who still ask: “Oh, you named your comic after that famous English band?”

Jaime: They stopped asking after a while. It’s our name, man! I know the guy who came up with it!

David: When it comes to the real Love & Rockets legacy, what are you most proud of as an artist?

Jaime: That to the best of my ability, I was able to tell it like it is. I was able to show Southern California culture—and Southern California punk culture—in a true light. Part of the reason we did this comic was to correct all the stereotypes you would see on TV from people who didn’t actually live the stuff. We would see punks on CHIPS or on Quincy, and we would think, “Man, you still got it wrong.” In comics, it was even worse. There were a lot of old cartoonists who knew nothing about rock and roll. They would draw bands and I would think, “That’s not what a band looks like. The way that guy’s playing the guitar—what the hell is that?” We tried to correct that stuff. We tried to do it the way that it actually was. Bringing more truth to comics is what I’m most proud of.

David: Did other people ever contest your interpretation?

Jaime: Yeah, I remember when I started to get my detractors. They would say, “Love & Rockets isn’t realistic,” and I would say, “No, it isn’t realistic, but it’s truthful.”

-David Driscoll