Astrid Hubert's Calvados Returns

If you were getting thirsty looking at all those live photos from Normandy last month, I've got you covered. Our new batch of Hubert Calvados just showed up, only ten days after I tasted a bottle with Astrid herself at the domaine. The latest blend is based primarily on the 2008 vintage with bits of 2006 and 2010 blended in. It's textbook Astrid—friendly, feminine, but with a bit of a spicy kick. At thirty bucks, to think we can offer an apple brandy of this quality that's mostly 9 years old with 11 year and 7 year added for good measure is astounding. There's a reason this is the top selling Calvados in our store's history. 2000 bottles and counting!!

Domaine Hubert "K&L Exclusive" Pays d'Auge Vieux Calvados $29.99

-David Driscoll


Mull This One Over

Peaches and cream, that's what they should call this new 22 year old Tobermory, bottled for us by Sovereign. It's loaded with fresh stone fruit and a rich creamy texture, to the point that I think even my wife is going to enjoy this one. Tobermory is on the Isle of Mull just across from Oban and it makes a similarly light and vanilla-laden malt. This particular single barrel edition is right on point: a very delicious expression of a textbook Scotch malt character, nothing weird or out of the ordinary, just damn good whisky, with age, at full proof, at a hot price. This will not be the bottle that you drink a tablespoon from every few weeks. You're going to pour fingers of this stuff and it's going to be empty before you know it. Dangerously drinkable liquid.

1995 Tobermory 22 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $89.99 - On the Isle of Mull, just north of Islay along Scotland’s west coast, is host to one of the most unassuming of distilleries called Tobermory, a malt that has quietly made outstanding, straightforward Scotch whisky since 1798. Never the most bold or brash of single malts, neither the loudest nor the most assertive, Tobermory does make a smoky island whisky called Ledaig, but the flagship malt is a fruitier, maltier expression that really starts to sing after two decades in wood. With this 22 year old single barrel edition bottled for us by Sovereign, the oft overlooked attributes of Tobermory come into full focus, beginning with an arousing bouquet of nectarines stewing in freshly-milled barley. That stone fruit goodness emirates from the glass in waves, morphing into a sweet nectar of honey and peach on the palate. The vanilla from the oak aging starts to shape the whisky on the mid-palate, adding spice and richness toward the finish where the barley becomes the star. The malty, creamy finish is lifted by the 50.8% ABV and that extra proof tingles the taste buds for minutes. There’s nothing new to be had from this exceptional Tobermory expression, just a classically-flavored malt whisky for a fabulous price. In a market currently full of anomalies and unique flavors, this is the bottle you’ll return to again and again.

-David Driscoll


February Wine Club Spirits Discounts

As I've posted before, now that I'm running the wine clubs I'm going to start throwing all kinds of additional products into the club discount pool for members. If you've already signed up then expect an email next week with these selections, plus additional discounts on Bordeaux picks and other interesting wines I've found from some of my trips abroad. Like I also mentioned, if you're only interested in the discounts and mainly purchase new exclusive casks and rare bottles, the club probably isn't for you. But if you drink wine regularly, I can promise you you're going to like the selections in any of the club tiers and with the discounts your membership will ultimately pay for itself. I'm being super selective and I'm curating the whole thing much like I do here on the spirits blog and over at On the Trail in the monthly newsletter. If you want to get an idea of what's in the discount pool for February, check out the below options. Basically if you buy a bottle of gin, rum, and Aberlour you've paid for the first month of your entry level Best Buy club membership right there. These discounts will disappear in March and a new set will be introduced then.

In case you breezed through that intro and went right down into the products, these prices are not available on the site unless you're a registered wine club member. 

Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin ($29.99) NORMALLY $34.99 - Bow down to the new king of gin: Four Pillars. A group of gin crazy Aussies put together one of the most focused and high-quality gin distilleries in the world in the Yarra Yarra Valley and now we're fortunate to get a taste of that goodness here in the U.S. The Rare Dry gin simply explodes with citrus, a burst of fresh orange, but it still packs a lovely balance of juniper and spice with the most delicate and graceful of mouthfeels. This is high quality gin, pure and simple. It tastes like it was fussed over, formulated and retooled until it was perfect. I can't stop talking about it nor drinking it. I'm just so happy we have it.

Potocki Polish Rye Vodka ($34.99) NORMALLY $39.99 - Made from 100% Polish rye, the Potocki vodka might be the best vodka we carry. It's the cleanest, most pure form of vodka I've ever had the chance to taste, and I was floored when I first did so. Jan Potocki's family has been making the vodka in Poland since 1816 (although they did have to flee when the Russians invaded) and have now revamped the brand to its former glory. I made him pour it for me four times because I wanted to make sure it was as good as my palate indicated. My Eastern European friends have always told me that great vodka should be taken neat and the Potocki needs nothing more than a glass and your free time. Quite honestly, given the purity and elegance of the spirit, it's the best vodka I've ever had.

Russell's Reserve K&L Single Barrel #376 Kentucky Bourbon ($52.99) NORMALLY $59.99 - We rummaged through the warehouses with both Jimmy and Eddy Russell to dig out this single barrel of Wild Turkey, cask #376, and instantly pulled the trigger once we tasted the round and mouthcoating texture of the Bourbon, combined with loads of spice and oak char. Originally filled in November of 2008, we bottled this baby right around its 9th birthday, about the time Jimmy Russell believes these Wild Turkey whiskies show their best. Emptied at 113.7 proof, everything about this whiskey showcases the textbook and trademark characteristics of the distillery style: loads of baking spices, vibrant oak tannins, creamy corn, and a finish of both savory pepper and sweet vanilla. Getting to select a barrel like this with the father and son duo is about as fun as our job gets-if you don't count the part where we actually get to drink it. Only 216 bottles from this barrel, so grab one while supplies last!

Bardstown Bourbon Company "Collabor&tion - Brandy Barrel Finish" Cask Strength Bourbon Whiskey ($99.99)NORMALLY $124.99 - The Collaboration series is the first release of whiskey from Kentucky's soon-to-be star Bardstown Bourbon Company, a project done in "collaboration" with Louisville brandy specialists Copper & Kings. Using 10 year old stocks of Bourbon distilled at MGP in Indiana, BBCo finished each of the whiskies for an additional 18 months in two different types of casks: American brandy and Muscat Mistelle. Made from 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley, the Collabor&tion expression aged in Copper & Kings American brandy barrels is bottled at cask strength of 113 proof and offers classic, yet bold Bourbon flavor with vanilla, oak spices, and a concentrated richness that speaks to the age of the whiskey. We tasted this on our initial visit to the distillery this past summer and instantly fell in love with the additional fruit and subtle sweetness added from the brandy barrel finishing. It has all the classic flavors of great Bourbon but with extra lift and roundness on the finish. In the spirit of collaboration, the teams at BBCo and Copper & Kings really knocked this one out of the park. NOTE: Due to the shape of the Collabor&ation bottle it cannot be consolidated with other bottles shipping and must ship in its own individual package. Sold only at K&L outside of the distillery.

Aberlour "A'Bunadh" Cask Strength Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($59.99) NORMALLY $68.99 - It's not often we can provide discounts on one of the top-selling, brand name single malt whiskies in the store, but we wanted to start this new club feature off with a bang, so here we are. The Aberlour A'Bunadh has become a global sensation because of its combination of sweet, saturated, sherry-matured whisky with a high, taste bud-bursting, cask strength proof. It's a bold mouthful of toffee, rancio, raisined richness with explosive spice and heat. If you can imagine a high-octane version of Macallan, that's what you're getting here for a slam-dunk price.

Golden Devil "K&L Exclusive" Dark Overproof Rum ($16.99)NORMALLY $19.99 - After watching rum interested at K&L begin picking up again this past year, I reached out to one of our partners in the UK to see if we could come up with an exclusive blend that would give rum enthusiasts a serious run for their money. Tiki cocktail fans are always on the hunt for a new dark overproof option and this baby uses flavorful and expressive Jamaican pot still as the base, fleshed out by the column still rums from DDL Distillery in Guyana. Everyone I've given it to thus far has freaked out and I've got bartenders begging me to let them buy it wholesale. Hints of green banana and molasses penetrate the palate on the first sip, but the power of the proof takes over half way through and turns dry and robust on the finish with notes of earth and oak. Bottled at a whopping 57% ABV.

-David Driscoll


The Sweet Taste of Success

Neo-puritanism is something we do very well in California. You’ve gotta respect our passion and ability to instantly adopt decisive opinions on behalf of which we will vehemently argue, no matter how recent our exposure to them. Having an educated point of view about everything is very fashionable out west. We are the masters of shock and outrage when it comes to what we view as hot button issues in world news, current events, political developments, and especially food culture combined with modern health. If there’s even the slightest conversation happening anywhere concerning gluten, veganism, Crossfit, or worst of all sugar, you can bet we will pick up a torch, work up our blood pressure, and loudly insert ourselves into that discussion before we have any idea of what the gist even is. Combine that confident California conviction with the righteous splendor of a contemporary cocktail or spirits geek and you have almost an unlimited potential for indignation. If we find out someone is adulterating our booze, we will absolutely get into their virtual face(book) and tell them exactly what we think from the safety of our anonymous web handle, facts and congeniality be damned!

The funny thing about sugar—the enemy of all dietary fads—is that it tastes good, no matter how many evils it bestows upon our civilization. As a result, it can be used to take things that don’t taste very good on their own and make them taste “smooth.” It’s partially for that reason that modern spirits enthusiasts have moved towards the unadulterated and undiluted when it comes to their alcohol. If you’re paying a premium for something, you want to know that you’re getting the real thing. In the end, it’s more about transparency than anything else. A lot of the rage behind spirited neo-puritanism stems from the idea that large corporations are secretly trying to ruin the world by tricking everyone into buying their cheap caramelized hooch and its the internet’s job to expose them. So then what happens when spirit geeks get complete transparency from a renowned producer that knowingly and openly adds sugar to its products, one that not only provides a no-BS approach to its contents, but also adheres to historically-accurate and traditionally-tested methods of production, earning the support of the industry’s most respected writers and voices? I can tell you what happens: the anger resides, the tensions settle, and an actual conversation about what really constitutes quality begins. That’s exactly what’s happened with Maison Ferrand’s rum portfolio Plantation, quickly becoming one of the most engaging, exciting, and value-oriented line-ups in the world of spirits and a big hit with our California crowd here at K&L, despite the dosage. That's a pretty big achievement when you consider the level of geekiness in our stores.

“Dosage” is exactly the term Ferrand likes to use to talk about their sugar, as well. More like a Champagne, where a dose of sugar is added before bottling to round out the bristling acidity (yes, there is added sugar in your expensive French sparkling wine), Ferrand adds a carefully-maintained simple syrup to elevate and balance their extensive rum blends. They do this not only because they’re a Cognac house and therefore approach rum from a blender’s perspective, but also because for centuries that’s how rum was often produced—with sweetener. Much like single malts are a modern phenomenon in the history of Scotch whisky, the prevalence of unadulterated and additive-free rums today is more of a reaction to the demands of bartenders and tiki purists than some return to heritage. I met with Ferrand’s manager for California yesterday, Michael Goldman, and we talked about the difference between Plantation’s “dosage” versus “boisé” in a Cognac. “When I think of boisé, I think of oak chips. Whereas we’re actually putting cane syrup into French oak and aging it for up to seven years to create our dosage,” he explained. Hence, there’s a big difference between the sweetness I taste in the Plantation rums and the sticky film that’s left on my tongue after drinking a glass of big house VS. 

I’ve become enamored with blends again over the last year, having succumbed to my fear that the ultimate flavor of a great spirit is being overshadowed by the uniqueness of the experience. I think moving through components and single casks is an evolutionary experience that every serious drinker needs to undergo at some point, but for me the draw has always been to improve my understanding of spirits as a whole, or to find a better deal. I’ve never looked at pure, isolated, single cask spirits as inherently better because the best spirits I’ve ever had have always been marriages of some sort. While blends have been out of fashion over the last decade, companies that can provide an explanation and a well explained description of their intentions can still thrive, as we’ve learned over the years with John Glaser’s Compass Box portfolio. In the same vein, Alexandre Gabriel is opening up his maison to the world of rum geeks, giving them full exposure into how some of the rums are created. The brand’s O.F.T.D. blend was put together by a team of six rum industry veterans and the exact make-up of that cepage was put on display recently by blogger Matt Pietrek, who I will once again lean on to shine some light for readers here. His detailed breakdown is exactly the type of thing our customers want today before making a purchase and the access given to him by Ferrand is a blueprint for credibility that other companies may want to follow in the modern market.

Now that rum drinkers have had access to single distillery distillates, they’re better prepared to understand and appreciate how those ingredients fit together. We've brought in a number of Golden Devil casks over the years, along with our original Faultline barrels, as the UK and European markets continue to explode with new rare editions aimed at an elevated audience. Like these coveted independents, Ferrand has long been a negotiant bottler, purchasing stocks from distilleries all over the world, but last year they finally took the plunge and outright purchased the West Indies Distillery on Barbados, as well as a share in the now-resurrected Long Pond distillery on Jamaica, following the trend of Scottish blending houses who have begun to realize control of their supply is paramount to maintaining their future in the expanding global spirits game. The rums are blended and bottled at the Ferrand headquarters in Cognac, and matured there as well, often times double-aged in French oak (in addition to early American oak maturation on the island of origin). While it's great to have a few high end trophies on the top shelf of your home bar, the Plantation rums are the workhorse rums of your everyday existance and after tasting through the entire line-up again yesterday I'm even more enamored with their precision, harmony, and utter deliciousness.

Here's a rundown of the group, not including the Stiggin's Fancy and O.F.T.D. that we already carry:

Plantation Original Dark Rum $12.99 - Don't let the low price fool you, I thought the updated version of this classic rum was one of the best of the bunch, loaded with soft flavors of molasses with an easy-drinking profile. The official Plantation version is this: the essence of Plantation Rum Original Dark is the wealth of its palate and its technique of double aging. Plantation Original Dark comprises the elegant rums of Trinidad which are distilled then aged in their tropical climate in the Caribbean in American oak barrels under high heat before traveling to France. Once in Europe, the House cellar master decides on less "high esters" for the Trinidadian rum and blends in old rums from Jamaica (15 - 20 yrs.) This end result finishes like sweet nectar but also adapts beautifully to classic cocktails made with dark rum such as the Mai Tai or Daiquiri.

Plantation 5 Year Old Barbados Rum $17.99 - The roundness of this rum is off the charts. Michael mentioned it's what happens when you age Bajan rum in both American and French oak, then add in the French oak-aged dosage. I could mix cocktails with this and never get tired of using it. Plantations notes: Plantation Barbados 5 years is a blend of rum from Barbados, the birthplace of rum. This blend ages first in Bourbon casks in its native tropical setting before crossing the sea to Chateau Bonbonnet in France. There, in small oak barrels primarily used to age Pierre Ferrand cognac, the rum continues its journey of aging under the watchful eye of the House’s cellar master.

Plantation 20th Anniversary Edition Barbados Rum $39.99 - This rum knocked my socks off and I immediately bought a bottle for myself. More toasted coconut with waves of richness on the finish. Plantation's notes: This extraordinary vintage was introduced to mark the 20th anniversary of Maison Ferrand. An assemblage of fine rums 12 - 20 years old, all originating in Barbados, this is a wonderful reflexion of the island itself. As with the other rums in the Plantation range, this exotic spirit is aged first in its original country, Barbados, and then benefits with further aging and nurturing in Cognac. Resting in casks originally used for Pierre Ferrand cognac, and meticulously nurtured by Cellar Master of Maison Ferrand, a unique expression is achieved using traditional local methods.

2002 Plantation Vintage Jamaican Rum $46.99This 2002 vintage Jamaican is 100% pot distilled and is aged for ten years in Bourbon barrels on the island, before spending three years in French oak Cognac barrels at the maison. While I wish everyone enjoyed the high-ester intensity that is our 9 year old Hampden single cask, the truth is that audience isn't nearly as large as the one for this Plantation version. Here you get a hint of that over-ripe banana, mixed with just a touch of funk, but it quickly rounds out on the finish and ends with lovely tropical note that should please just about anyone. Plantation's notes: Distilled in alambic copper pot stills after a long fermentation, Plantation Jamaica represents vigor and intensity. In the cellars of Maison Ferrand in Charente, it is further eased, tamed and enriched. 

I can't say enough good things about the Plantation rums as just straight sippers, let alone their limitless cocktail uses. They're beautifully crafted, showcasing the inherent character of their components, while simultaneously building them into something even more delicious. Since I'm definitely on the blended bandwagon right now, and I'm still 100% committed to consuming both sugar and gluten, these bottles fall right in my wheelhouse of current interest. I'm hoping more passionate spirits drinkers of all kinds, not just rum fans, will give these a whirl. There is a lot to love about what Ferrand is doing. It would be a pity to let a little sugar get in your way. 

-David Driscoll


No Name Scotch

It's a lovely thing when the post-holiday dust settles and the national distribution chains start going through their remaining inventories. It's not easy trying to predict which parts of the country are going to be able to sell the appropriate number of bottles, which is why I find January is a great time to start making phone calls for previously-allocated whiskies. For example, Compass Box released an outstanding limited edition whisky in 2017 called "No Name," a blend of 75.5% Ardbeg, 10.6% Caol Ila, and 13.4% Clynelish with an additional 0.5% French oak-aged Highland malt for extra flavor. We sold through our allocation in a flash, even with the "one bottle limit per customer" allocation slowing things down in the sales queue. 

But that was upon release. 

Now that the furvor of the Christmas shopping season is over, it's time to move through what's left in the inventory for many of our national distributors. I was very lucky. I managed to consolidate a large chunk of what was left in the states of the "No Name" and get it all delivered to K&L earlier today. That means no bottle limits, no restrictions, and no risk of running out anytime soon. If you were a fan of the Flaming Heart or the Peat Monster, this is sort of like a combination of the two. You get the clean, focused, highly-peated intensity of Ardbeg, tempered ever so slightly by the roundness of Caol Ila and the oiliness of Clynelish. I just polished off a glass with my co-workers in the Redwood City tasting bar and we were all quite impressed.

Now let's get down to dollars and cents: I saw some of my local competitors online earlier today at $170 and even $250 in parts of SoCal. Of course, that's because they thought there wasn't anything left in California, so they moved the price up to reflect the scarcity in the market. 

But now there's plenty, so I'm going to bring the California market back down to earth.

Compass Box "No Name" Blended Malt Scotch Whisky $139.99

-David Driscoll