Double Your Pleasure

I know a number of folks who missed out the last time we snagged some of Martin Cate's special Smuggler's Cove blend and are going to be stoked we just got another allocation in from the man himself. We blew through 200 bottles in a matter of hours a few weeks back and I'm happy to announce that we've got another 120 or so to offer out if you didn't get your fill from before. In addition, I'm going to highly recommend that you buy the new Real McCoy Limited edition virgin oak 10 year rum we just received into the warehouse as well. It's by far the best rum from Real McCoy I've had thus far and for me it's a much more drinkable specimen than the coveted 10 year old Criterion edition Foursquare released last year. Here's the thing: I get why people freaked out over that Madeira-aged Criterion. It was a very nice bottle of rum, but my personal bottle of Criterion is still about 70% full because I'm at the point in my drinking career where a monster ABV% doesn't necessarily appeal to my late night desires. Contrast that with the 10 year virgin oak edition, a blend of 12 year old ex-Bourbon casks and 10 year old full term new oak matured rum that melts across my palate with the greatest of ease at a perfect 92 proof. I'll let the cask strength kids have their fun with the high-octane stuff, while my 38 year old palate enjoys this rich, round, and more mellow elixir. Yum...........

Foursquare Distillery "Real McCoy" 12 Year Old "Smuggler's Cove Limited Edition" Rum $49.99 - This special edition of Real McCoy rum from Foursquare distillery was put together by Martin Cate at Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco and is a tiny blend of just two ex-Bourbon barrels, bottled at 46% ABV rather than the standard 40%. Foursquare distillery on the island of Barbados is quickly becoming a sensation in the aficionado world of rum drinkers and tiki specialists for its pure, unadulterated flavor and transparency as it pertains to age statements and additives. 

Foursquare Distillery "Real McCoy" 10 Year Old Limited Edition Virgin Oak Rum $59.99 - Using rums aged in both ex-Bourbon casks and brand new oak barrels, then dialing the ABV from 40 to 46%, this is the richest and most vanilla-laden edition of the Real McCoy yet. There's more sweetness, more molasses, more spice, and more weight than the standard 12 year edition despite the younger age statement and the rum finishes with a Bourbon-like kick. The blend is comprised of the two wood types, aged separately and then blended together. The ex-Bourbon matured component is all 12 years of age, while the virgin oak-aged rum was matured for the entire decade in new oak, Even though it's labeled as a 10 year old rum, a large proportion of the rum is actually 12 years old. This limited edition produced only 3000 total bottles for the world and we were lucky enough to grab a large chunk of it. Grab a bottle while you can!

-David Driscoll


New Club Order

K&L’s wine club program dates back to the early nineties when we had one “Best Buy” service run by our owner’s wife as a fun little side hobby. There were a few perks to the membership, some discounts to be had here and there, but it was mostly about exploration and having fun. It was also apparently quite a successful enterprise because that one club eventually grew into two, then two clubs grew into three, and today we have five different wine club selections if you count the Italian and Champagne programs run by my colleagues Greg St. Clair and Gary Westby. There are thousands of K&L club members at this point, receiving their two bottles with each shipment along with a newsletter that tells the stories behind each bottle (a newsletter that I’m very much looking forward to revamping and improving).

In a wine world where the term “club” often refers to some sort of pricing advantage or member discount program, I’m careful with my terminology when I describe the K&L options to our customers. “It’s not so much a wine club as it is a wine-of-the-month club,” I often tell people, explaining that our membership is more geared around monthly curation rather than special deals and savings. We don’t track your purchases, or give you points for what you buy and there’s no plastic barcode to keep on your keychain that we scan for discounts when you check out. There is a bit of special pricing for club members, but historically it’s only been for the wines featured in the monthly selections. For example, if you like the wine you receive in your club shipment you can buy additional bottles for a special club member price. The discounts, however, rarely—if ever—have applied to regular, in-stock inventory selections.

That was always by design though. At K&L we’ve never offered case discounts or deep volume pricing to motivate our customers. Our focus has always been about guaranteeing a quality of wine, customer service, and product knowledge that stood out amongst the crowd, letting our private selections and exclusive deals do the talking. That being said, I’ve watched our model of retailing become the standard over the last decade with every bar, corner store, and supermarket chain from here to Bangor, Maine jumping into the small production, limited edition, private selection game. It’s no longer enough to simply curate and put your personal stamp of approval on a product. Our customers know we care about them, they know we’re working our butts off to find them the best bottles we can, but they still want to feel special at the end of the day. They want a retail program that combines quality, exclusivity, careful selection, a great story, and special pricing. If just anyone can get the same stuff at the same price, then what’s the point of being a club member, right?

We’ve talked about doing a whiskey club for years in the K&L spirits department, but the problem we could never get past was curation consumption. You see, the folks who buy and consume multiple bottles of whiskey per month generally don't want to be locked into a monthly club selection where someone else does the choosing. They know what they want. They search online, read about new releases, and do their own homework for the most part. The people who would be interested in a monthly subscription typically don’t blow through booze at the same rate, so ultimately it becomes too much volume, month after month. I’ve been letting this dilemma stew on the backburner for the last few years, trying to decide what the best recourse was, and today I think I’ve finally found the solution.

I decided when I woke up on January 1st 2018 that I was going to create the perfect wine clubs for people who drink both wine AND spirits. Drinking down two bottles of wine per month has never been a challenge for our customers, so why not just add in some incentive discounts as a cherry on top? For example, you could be a member of our original “Best Buy” club, pay your $20 per month for the standard two bottle selection, but still have access to additional discounts that you could choose to purchase or not. It's up to you. Personally, I like incentivizing exploration. I want customers to feel more comfortable taking a chance on something new or different, like the Bardstown Bourbon Company “Collabor&tion” Cask Strength Brandy Barrel Edition we brought in from the Kentucky upstart late last year. It’s still $125 a bottle for the general public, but if you’re a member of one of our wine clubs you can use your membership to take advantage of $99 special pricing. If you’re new to the “Best Buy” club, that $25 discount would more than pay for your first month right there (there is a three month minimum for new members).

That’s just for starters. Imagine when I start throwing other Bourbon casks in there, various Scotch deals, etc. You could probably grab enough discount incentives to pay for your entire year’s membership—and you still get the wine to enjoy, along with the newsletter and all the details.

There’s going to be a lot more than just additional spirits, however. I’ll be scouring for special Bordeaux prices, interesting imports from Italy and France, and God knows what else—gin, Tequila, sweet wines, beer, you name it. I’ll be throwing the entire kitchen sink at these clubs in 2018. My goal is to get 100% of you on board. I’m hoping the value of both our curated selections and the additional discounts will push you over the edge and make you want to take this journey with me. I want to create a service that lives up to the definition of that word: it serves the customer. If you don’t like wine, then this updated K&L club membership program probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re curious about wine, now’s the time. Those of you who want to learn about wine and spirits, while getting access to special deals and pricing, should contact me about signing up (or just click the link I embedded above). 

It all starts February 1st. Buckle up.

-David Driscoll


High Ester Liquid Crazy

The masses have demanded more Hampden from our spirits team at K&L and so we went out and found another cask of the rum world's most notoriously ester-laden pot still rum. Hampden is to esters, the chemical compounds that form when alcohol molecules merge with acids during distillation, what Ardbeg or Laphroaig are to peat: high octane and unbridled (by the way, if you're curious about how esters and acids impact flavor, I like Matt Pietrek's article about Hampden's dunder process here). This 9 year old edition of Hampden is full of candied pineapple mixed with petrol, along with crazy combinations of brine, bitter, and sweet. Olives and mango? Banana and scorched earth? Call them crazy, but these potent and in your face flavors are exactly what the rum world is geeking out about at the moment. Do not expect an easy ride from this 62% ABV beast of a rum. Expect to have your horizons expanded and your mind blown. 

2007 Hampden 9 Year Old "Golden Devil" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Jamaican Rum $69.99 - With Hampden distillery's reputation for complex and intensely-flavored pot still rum on the rise, we've been working hard to track down as many full proof, unadulterated single barrels as possible. Our last cask sold out in less than 48 hours and we're expecting a similar cult-like customer response to this potent 9 year old edition: a 62.7% rum that's brimming with all the characteristics we've come to love about this funky Jamaican spirit. The nose is a swirl of petrol, tropical fruit, and the trademark ester-driven, banana-esque bouquet we've come to love about Hampden. The palate has the perfect amount of sweetness from the oak maturation, softening the edges and letting the aforementioned aromas expand to electric levels of intensity. There are notes of olive, grass, sugar cane, and anise all merging together under the guise of a tropical fruit umbrella. It's one of the world's most bizarrely invigorating spirits coming to life in a cask strength, unbridled expression. Not for the faint of heart or the unadventurous!

-David Driscoll


A Throwback Sherry Butt

I remember sitting in the office in Scotland, tasting through these Sovereign samples, and looking up information on Aultmore distillery as I approached this nine year old cask. It was a bit of an odd duck, but I appreciated it because it was so different in its character: dry and herbal rather than sweet and supple, the opposite of what I expected from such a dark and saturated sherry-matured whisky. The Single Malt Whisky Yearbook I was thumbing through had tasting notes from other expressions of Aultmore that they described as having the flavor or coffee or even "milky coffee." I then went back and tasted the nine year old sample again...there it was: coffee. Not only in its color, but in its aromas and flavors! While the price is indeed incredible, don't expect the world's most complex or earth-shattering whisky here in this bottle. It's a one-trick pony that does exactly what you hope it will. However, what it lacks in dynamism it more than makes up for in drinkability and what is apparently classic Aultmore character. It's big and spicy right off the bat, but that initial sweetness quickly fades and turns into herbaceous notes of dried herbs, pepper, toasted nuts, with a very dry finish. It's a whisky meant purely as a bang-for-your-buck bargain and I couldn't pass it up. It's so different from anything else on the shelf and I get a kick out of that coffee note! Those of you who enjoyed some of our older Glenfarclas Family Casks of yesteryear may get a bit of nostalgic bliss from this earthier sherry expression. It's definitely of the same ilk as that robust 1970 vintage barrel we did a while back.

2008 Aultmore 9 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $49.99 - Aultmore isn't one of Scotland's most recognizable whisky names, but ever since Bacardi's move to establish the Dewar's distilleries as veritable single malt brands, names like Craigellachie, Royal Brackla, Aberfeldy and Aultmore are moving more to the forefront on the global stage. Originally founded in 1896, Aultmore was sold by Diageo to Bacardi over 100 years later as part of the big Bombay gin deal, resulting in a rarely seen 12 year old edition half a decade later. Located in the Speyside region, the distillery's sherried malts are often described as having flavors of "milky coffee" and that's most definitely the case with this heavily-sherried 9 year old expression. Coffee in both its color and its aromas, the nose is pungent with heavily-roasted aromas and savory Oloroso rancio. Don't be confused by the color, however, because despite its dark hue this is no supple, sweetly-flavored Sherry bomb. In fact, it's a robust malt, dry on the finish and almost savory in its profile. The mid-palate is loaded with toasted almonds, tobacco, and bitter orange, but the finish is short and simple. While many of our casks are meant to be pondered and savored, this 9 year old Aultmore is very much to the point. It's a cask strength, sherry-matured edition of everyday quality single malt, priced to drink and enjoy in volume. The high proof is almost unrecognizable with the saturation of the sherry and its very much drinkable at full strength.

-David Driscoll


D2D Interview: John Cho

It was at a private party in Hollywood one night that I found myself unexpectedly drinking cocktails and talking booze with actor John Cho. We were both taking a break from the party's social center, sitting by ourselves at an outside table while trying to catch a bit of fresh air. I asked him what he was drinking. He asked me about my drink. The conversation started from there and it continued on and off for the rest of the evening, each new beverage leading to a different discussion about our personal preferences. I liked him immediately; he was unpretentious, down to earth, and it was clear he was interested in all things wine and spirits. Before leaving that night we exchanged numbers and I told him to give me a call if he ever needed help stocking his home bar. After sending a few bottles of rye whiskey his way, I thought it might be time to restart our initial conversation in a more professional capacity and after watching John's latest film Colombus this past holiday season, I knew the moment was right. If you only know John Cho from the Harold & Kumar films or as Lieutenant Sulu in the recent Star Trek revival, you'll be blown away by his recent dramatic performance in the beautifully-shot drama, set in an Indiana town noted for its modern architecture. It's a movie reminiscent of Lost in Translation or Sideways in both its mood and its storytelling, yet it's a more complete and moving picture than both of those films, in my opinion. Not only was I personally wowed by the aesthetics and atmosphere of Columbus, I found myself brimming with booze-related questions for John due to the film's dialogue concerning perceptions of personal taste. I couldn't wait to get him on the phone to talk about the comparative analytics.

We started with a brief discussion about the impact of California's recent legalization of marijuana and dove in further to drink-related topics soon after. Our conversation continues on below:

John: This is an interesting point of discussion, the kind of alteration that you prefer. I’ve always preferred booze the most. I like the relaxing aspects of weed, but I don’t like losing my acumen. I’m able to have a conversation when I’m drinking and that’s an important part of the fun for me. 

David: My wife and I feel the same way. If we do the edibles, then we’re not going out because it’s tough to be social at that point. If we’re going out with friends, however, then we want to drink.

John: Right, the social aspect of booze is great. Conversely, it’s the anti-social part of weed that I don’t like. The laughs are good though. Then there’s the taste part of it, which is a whole other world to itself.

David: Let’s talk about taste for a minute. I’m so happy that we waited to do this interview until after I watched Columbus because there are so many aspects of the movie we can talk about that apply to the booze world. Like Sideways, which has impacted my industry immensely over the last fifteen years, Columbus is a story about people with a central medium as its main character. In Sideways it was wine, whereas in Columbus it’s architecture. 

John: Yeah, architecture is the vessel for talking about each others’ lives. In Sideways, wine is the language for talking about everyone’s feelings. Every single bottle is like a little poem. I didn’t really know anything about architecture before taking the role in Columbus and I tended to evaluate buildings with my eyes. After the experience of making the film, I learned to evaluate them with my feelings—how a space made me feel and also what it made me think about. There are spaces that do that. 

David: How did that change in appreciation come about? Was the writer on set to help guide you through?

John: Kogonada, the writer and director of the film, didn’t really push his opinions about the buildings upon us. We did do some research, but it was mostly being in the spaces and making discoveries as I went along. There’s a church there called the North Christian Church and it was very significant to me because I had grown up in churches all my life. My father was a preacher and being in that church I could see how we were meant to think about God in the way the space arranged. If you think about a cathedral in Europe, like Notre Dame in Paris, there are gargoyles all over the place and you’re meant to fear God, to know that he is much bigger than you. The way the pews are, you are below the speaker. The speaker is between God and you—above you, but below God. There’s all this information that you get based on the spacial arrangement. 

David: Did that differ from your experiences as a child growing up in church?

John: When I was growing up I went to the Church of Christ and these buildings were all unadorned. They were purposefully built that way because it was a reaction against the Catholic Church and they wanted the buildings to manifest that. Being at the North Christian Church in Columbus, the seating was in the round. The speaker was sunken below the congregation. It was a very holy place, just as holy as the Vatican, but the speaker was a servant below the congregants, and when you looked out into the church you were actually looking at one another because of how the seating was in the round. I found it to be a space that made me think about community in a different way and about God in a different way. I think that’s what I understood after making the film: how does a space make you feel and what does it make you think about?

David: There’s a very profound moment in Columbus where your character is getting a tour of a famous building by Haley Lu Richardson and she says it’s her favorite. You ask her why and she starts spouting off the history and the design specifics, but you interrupt her to say: but why do you like it? It was an attempt to cut through all the technical specs and mumbo jumbo, and get into the meaning of personal experience. For me, that line sent a jolt down my spine because it reminded me so much of my work in an industry where people use similar descriptions to describe why they like alcohol. It’s often more about proving what you know rather than voicing a personal opinion.

John: To me, that moment is the beginning of their journey together. The rest of the movie tackles the question of what architecture means to them, but the first question is: why do you like it? I felt like the whole film was an attempt to take something intellectual and make it personal. Particularly with architecture, and I can see why it would be the same for alcohol, the first impulse is to intellectualize the pursuit. It’s almost a guarantee to never enjoying it though, you know what I mean? It reminds me of my problem with acting. I fell into acting in college and I was good for those first couple of plays because I had no idea what I was doing; I was just a kid. It was just play to me. Kids are very good at playing, but then we become adults and we become very bad at playing. The work of an actor—and I don’t mean this to sound pretentious—is to go backward and become a kid again. It’s actually hard to do. When I decided to pursue acting and become a professional, that’s when I became bad at it because I took it so seriously. 

David: You began to study it.

John: Yeah, I checked out books from the library and took a class and tried to approach it like I’d approached anything else up to that point in my life. I had only ever been a student, so I tried to approach it intellectually. Then I started working as an actor and it became a job. It took me years and years to really learn how to act, to go backwards and learn why this character was interesting to me or why a scene was fun to do. I had to find inspiration when I said yes to a part so that I didn’t come into it thinking of it as a job, but rather as a fun opportunity to do something new. Looking for specks of joy in any project is what I now do, but it took me a long time to figure that out.

David: Was there a moment when you realized you were doing it wrong?

John: I think there was a moment when I got cast in the first Star Trek. What I remember was experiencing a joy that was connected to my childhood and my sense of play. It was fun pretending to be on a spaceship and putting that gear on. It was exactly what I did when I was ten years old, which was pretend to be on a spaceship with my little brother. I thought to myself: I need to look for this in every role, some semblance of this joy. I remember feeling a little depressed before that and that was the role that made me think: acting is fun again. Even in a comedy like Harold and Kumar, which seems like it should be a blast, I wasn’t having as much fun as I should have been having because I was so concerned about doing it right. When you can let go of that fixation, you can get to a bunch of other places.

David: It’s amazing to hear you say that because I’ve felt that same way so many times. I’m doing this great job tasting booze all day that should be an absolute blast, but I often struggle with those exact emotions. It’s actually the reason I started doing these interviews. I thought to myself: I need to find something that I really enjoy doing in order to make this fun again, and that’s why we’re talking now. I think you have to constantly search for that inspiration, otherwise you go over the edge. 

John: I hesitate to call it this, but I think it was a bit of an existential career crisis. My job doesn’t allow me to move around from town to town, or live wherever I want to. I suppose I could have quit acting altogether, but with whatever job I would have landed afterward—like if I was the night manager at Kinko’s—people probably would have come in and said: “Hey, you’re the guy from that movie! What are you doing here?” It would have been a constant reminder of my failure as an actor and I felt sort of trapped. It’s kind of a one-town industry, so I was committed, yet I was having a hard time having fun. It’s a constant internal navigation to try and find different points of joy. 

David: Is drinking something that brings you joy right now?

John: Yeah, sometimes I feel like I rely on it too much, to be perfectly honest. But then my curiosity about different kinds of spirits tempers that because then it becomes less like medicine and more like fun. I think you don’t want to depend on alcohol to do something to you, but rather to be open to it doing something different. That’s where the fun part comes into it. For me, discovering different things is what I want to do, rather than simply wanting alcohol to do something to me. That sounded depressing, didn’t it?

David: Ha! No, actually it makes total sense. What did you think of that last bottle of rye I gave you? Was that fun to experience?

John: I loved it. I don’t know that I have the whiskey vocabulary to describe it, however.

David: Let’s go back to your architecture analogy then; how did it make you feel?

John: It made me feel light, in a good way. Buoyant. A smoky Scotch will make me feel solid, very grounded, here in one place, but rye for some reason makes me feel lighter, like I’m floating, and I don’t know exactly why, but I like it. 

David: Did you know anything about that whiskey before I gave it to you, or were you just thinking: “I’m trusting Dave that this is good stuff.”

John: No, I was just trusting Dave! By the way, I’m actually in a place where I prefer not to know anything about the bottle beforehand. I’ll tell you why. Years ago, a friend of ours gave my wife a bottle of wine for her birthday and we just put it in the pantry; we didn’t have any sort of wine fridge at the time. Then we forgot about it and a couple of months later an old friend dropped by and we started to cook for him. My wife went into the kitchen and asked if we had any wine. I said: just the one bottle, and she said: open it up. I remember looking at the label and thinking it looked fancy, so then I Googled it and it was like a $1400 bottle of wine. Then I was panicked! I said, "What have we done?!" We’re supposed to open a bottle like this when we beat cancer or are elected president. You can’t just open this on a Sunday afternoon, can you? It was really interesting to watch my wife and our friend react because after the initial shock they were still able to enjoy it. I drank it and it tasted great, but I don’t know whether I really enjoyed it because I was thinking too much about the cost.

David: That happens all the time. There are definitely times when thinking or knowing too much about alcohol prohibits our enjoyment rather than enhances it.

John: Right, but sometimes historical information or a fun story helps. 

David: Agreed, if there’s a story, or a legend, or a piece of historical background that makes you feel special for drinking it, then that’s great. But sometimes learning too much about the technical details gets in the way. For example, I know multiple customers who have been unable to drink some of their collectable whiskies given what they're worth in today’s market. Let me ask you this: if I told you that Handy rye whiskey I gave you is considered by many to be the best in the world and that there are grown men out there who would sacrifice their oldest son to get a bottle today, how would you feel about it now? Is it still something you're going to enjoy?

John: Now I’m all tight (laughs). I don’t think I can enjoy it anymore. I shouldn’t have had any last night! Oh God!

David: Does knowing that change the way you’re going to approach it now?

John: Now I’m going to want to drink it with people that I like. I don’t want to drink it alone anymore. That much goodness should be shared. It should be a social experience. Going back to the weed versus alcohol thing, having that shared social sensation is a particular sort of kinship even if you’re ordering different drinks from a bar. But if you’re sharing the same bottle, that’s an even greater intimacy that I like. 

David: Shared experiences are ultimately what bond us as humans and open us up to transformative social experiences, in my opinion. That’s where I have trouble with the internet today. I’m losing the ability to relate to new friends and colleagues because we don’t have those shared experiences in common. We no longer watch the same shows, nor are we forced to watch the same dumb commercials. It’s a bit of a tragedy, in my mind, because I interact with customers who are looking for someone else they can talk to about their whiskey and wine experiences, but can’t find anyone near them to share their booze with. However, if you can create a new shared experience together, over a bottle like you pointed out, it’s a way of getting that intimacy back. 

John: Yeah, I will say there is a certain mono-culturalism that the internet is encouraging. Yet, in other ways it is fragmenting us. Meeting people over the internet is a completely different experience than meeting them while drinking face-to-face.

David: I don’t think we’d be doing this interview right now if we hadn’t originally met face-to-face while drinking, do you? If I had tried to reach out to you over the internet via some cold call email, do you think you would have said yes? Our shared drinking experience gave you at least a certain amount of comfort beforehand that this might be worth doing.

John: Absolutely, you’re totally right. I am one of those people who is suspicious of people who don’t drink (laughs), even though I come from teetotalers. 

-David Driscoll