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Wednesday
Sep282016

Motivations

My wife and I joined a relatively high-end gym down the street from our house recently in an attempt to bring much-needed exercise back into our lives. I was a runner for many years, but had stopped almost completely until last month when I realized the loss of those meditative minutes had altered my ability to manage stress levels. While, of course, we always want to look our best and fit into our clothes, I'd say we were both using psychic balance more than drastic weight loss or peak conditioning as our motivation. The spiritual and mood-lifting benefits of exercise are well known to me, especially after having experienced life without their aid. What I did not realize, however, was how spiritual—maybe even religious or cultish—the exercise world has become over the last five years. You'd be amazed by how argumentative and aggressive some people are about their particular brand of physical fitness, to say nothing of their feelings for a particular brand of yoga pants. Running on the treadmill this week I overheard a heated conversation between a trainer and a customer concerning the merits of Crossfit as compared to other schools of fitness.

"There's really no reason to do anything else at this point," the trainer said. "It's been proven that Crossfit builds muscle and lowers body fat more effectively than any other program; forget yoga, or standard cardio, or that bar method bullshit."

While continuing to eavesdrop, I spotted the root of the argument almost immediately because it's eerily similar to conversations I hear at K&L about booze, or on television by religious zealots. It has to do with viewing an experience or an action solely as a means to an end, rather than a rewarding or enjoyable process. For example, some devout believers push religion as a way to add meaning to life, as simply a guide to help one happily navigate the many perils of our time here on Earth. Others, however, believe religion to be a simple matter of right and wrong, as in there is one true god and all others are false idols. They feel it's their job to point you towards the correct answer, to save you from hellfire. To those folks, it doesn't matter whether the tenants or philosophies of a different religion connect with your own personal beliefs, or that the practices of a particular creed might appeal to your way of living. In their eyes, there's only one right answer because religion isn't about enjoyment for them; it's about getting the desired result. In the case of the trainer I was listening to, this person couldn't comprehend that anyone committed to serious exercise would do anything other than the most effective form of training. Because why would you waste your time doing anything else? 

As a former teacher, I can tell you from experience that there are quick and effective ways of educating children that are practiced and proven, but they don't work for every single kid. Do you think you can kill and drill the multiplication tables with every single boy or girl out there, regardless of their disposition? There's a reason different schools of training exist. Some people prefer yoga to cardio kickboxing, or pilates to heavy weights, so the gym therefore offers a variety of different classes. Some people prefer pinot noir to cabernet. Some people prefer Scotch to Bourbon. Some people prefer peace and love to eternal damnation. But to a large number of people out there, our world is black and white. Efficacy is evolution. Life is about filtering out the static, stripping away the excess, and getting down to the root of everything. Life is time optimization. Life is value. Life is meta.

"David—why would you drink the Springbank 18 for $170, when you could get the Glenmorangie 18 for $100?They're both eighteen years old and one's way cheaper!"

Why? Because I like the Springbank 18 more, that's why. Sometimes I make decisions based on my own personal preferences, and not merely on the most effective use of my resources. My tastes are also different than your tastes. I like to drink whisky that tastes good to me, not necessarily whisky that makes you feel more secure about your beliefs. Does that make sense?

So I'm going to go to the gym, I'm going to run four miles on the treadmill, and I'm going to pick the precision running model that has the drone-filmed international video courses because it makes me happy. I particularly like the one where I can run through Bad Reichenhall outside of Munich. Something about that Bavarian town calms my soul. Then I'm going to eat some pretzels and drink some beer. I know—those are carbs. It's true, I won't ever get down to under 5% body fat, but—believe it or not—that's not why I joined this gym.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Sep272016

The Return of Tom's Foolery (w/Rye & Applejack!)

We're having a heatwave in California this week, so it's time to sit outside, crack open a bottle of whiskey, and enjoy the last real month of warm weather while it lasts. If you're having a good old fashioned American BBQ this week to celebrate summer's last hurrah, then maybe you'll want to enjoy some good old fashioned, bottled-in-bond American hooch. After blowing through our initial batch of Tom's Foolery Bonded Bourbon, we're back with a new batch and two additional expressions: a bonded rye and applejack, to boot! David OG has been working his Ohio connections to bring you this little deal, and I've been anxiously awaiting their arrival. I was a huge fan of the first Bourbon batch, so I can't wait to sink my teeth into these puppies! David's notes are below:

Tom's Foolery Bottled In Bond Batch #3 Ohio Straight Bourbon Whiskey $49.99 - Tom Herbruck is an unassuming gentleman with a solid career and a  beautiful family. He's also a man with a secret. In the shed behind his house sit hundreds of barrels of whiskey. In 2011, he purchased the historic Michter's Jug House Pot Stills and began producing what many consider to some of the finest craft whiskey on the market. In early 2016, K&L was lucky enough to connect with Tom & Lianne Herbruck to secure the first batch of his newly minted Bottled in Bond Bourbon. Truly a culmination in the Craft Whiskey revolution, Tom's new BIB is easily the best craft bourbon we've ever tasted at any price point. The big bold pot still bourbon is unlike anything else on the market even from the finest Kentucky distillers. Powerful notes of fresh oak, stone fruits, and dense grain open to a playful palate of caramelized fruit and pointed evergreen. The finish is long and full with cocoa and dark smoked woods. Oily, rich and long. It doesn't have the sweetness of the Kentucky bourbons, but definitely matches the complexity. It feels like a whiskey from a time long forgotten and so it is. Only a tiny amount of this small batch made it way out west and we're the exclusive supplier for CA. Tom's third batch of Bonded Bourbon is a blend of two casks over 4 years old. One is a high corn (75% Yellow Dent, 13% Winter Rye, 12% 6 Row Barley) and the other a very unusual high rye bourbon (51% Yellow Dent, 32% Winter Rye, 8% Malted Winter Rye, and 8% Wheat).

Tom's Foolery Bottled in Bond Batch #1 Ohio Straight Applejack $54.99 - Tom Herbruck is a pretty laid back guy. But one thing he takes very seriously is Applejack. Produced from locally sourced cider in small batches just like it would have by the pioneers 200 years ago, this Applejack is truly a handmade specialty of the region. To the small amounts of locally pressed fresh cider that Tom can source he adds a certain amount of hand-pressed crabapple cider. This was the tradition in Ohio and so it continues. The sweet cider is left to ferment naturally and takes at least three weeks before the natural sugars are completely converted to alcohol. This hard cider is then double distilled in copper pot stills before being aged in a variety of different barrels. The first batch of Tom's Bottled in Bond Applejack was aged entirely in a single ex-cognac with a #3 char. 75.5 gallons of brandy entered the barrel at 118 proof and aged for four years and three months resulting in less than 370 bottles for the batch. The flavors are distinct and vibrant with tons of apple and spice on the nose. The palate is rich and viscous with plenty of fruitiness to balance the french oak component. One of the finest American apple brandies we've ever tasted. Only 30 cases were made available for California.

Tom's Foolery Bottled In Bond Single Barrel #90 Ohio Straight Rye Whiskey $49.99 - Our first single barrel with the exceptional Ohio craft distillery also happens to be their second ever batch of Bottled in Bond Rye. This special little cask of rye was distilled on Monday May 21st, 2012 from a mash bill of 64% Rye, 11% Malted Rye, 22% Yellow Dent, and 3% Malted 2 Row Barley. Fermented without the addition of any enzymes on the grains in their old Cypress fermenter, it was distilled to 108.9 proof before barreling. During those four long years of aging nearly 20% of the barrel evaporated and the proof rose to 112. We decided that it tasted best at 100 proof and so Tom slowly lowered the proof for their bottled in bond label. Fabulously complex and driven by that spicy rye and earthy malt. Expect a robust mint nose with bready grain and toasty oak. The palate is unctuous and relatively oily with those big dry rye spices upfront and some sweet fruit coming through on the finish. Of course, this little guy won't last long, so have at it while you can.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Sep272016

Benromach @ MiniBar Hollywood TONIGHT

 

Join us in Welcoming BenRomach at the Minibar in Hollywood's historic Best Western. Enjoy light bites and the splendid Joseph McCluskey walking you through a flight of the wonderful BenRomach Distillery's latest offerings. The BenRomach Distillery is quickly becoming one of the most well-regarded Speysiders and is doing so on its own terms. 

Purchased by Gordon & Macphail in the 1990s, the distillery is committed to releasing "real" Speyside whisky. They've recreated a style that was readily available in the region 50 years ago, but today is almost impossible to find. Expect to see the 10 year, 15 year, Peat Smoke and Sassacaia Finish in this one-of-a-kind experience. Seating is limited. Festivities start at 6:30pm and should last until 8:30pm. 

BUY TICKETS HERE - $10

-David Othenin-Girard

Sunday
Sep252016

News & Notes

I got back from Scotland Friday evening after a whirlwind trip then woke up early yesterday morning to open the Redwood City store and get right back to work—no rest for the wicked. If you're wondering why I decided to take a quick four day romp through single malt country in the middle of September, I'll tell you: this past March I went to Scotland and bought what I thought was enough whisky to last me until January. Turns out it didn't even last until mid-September. With the exception of the two Islay casks we just released this week and the last seventeen bottles of Garnheath, all of our 2016 exclusive single casks are already sold out. I still have bottles of Inchgower and Benrinnes from last year's selections that have lasted for months and months, but this year the average estimated lifespan of a new K&L release is somewhere between three and twelve days. Needless to say, I'm glad you're all so thirsty!

So I made an emergency trip to Glasgow this week and tried to see what I could do about restocking before the holidays. We do have six more casks still in waiting (three from Signatory, one old Sovereign grain, and two from Hunter Laing's Old and Rare label) and I'm planning to release some of those next week. I'm sitting on the two Old and Rare casks until we get deeper into the holiday season because we can't be sold out of K&L gift recommendations before the holidays, now can we? The meetings with our suppliers went exceptionally well and let's just say that if you've been satisfied with the pricing and quality of the Hepburn's Choice/Old Particular selections thus far, expect more of the same moving into winter and the beginning of 2017. We'll have another 30+ casks lined up with pricing anywhere between the $50 to $150 mark, plus more reasonably priced 50 year old grains and malts. 

I'm also going to take a gamble on the small rum movement I've been monitoring in the Bay Area by investing in three intensely-flavored Jamaican casks from three different distilleries. I'm glad that funky pot still rum is finally taking off at K&L, however gradually. My spidey sense has been on high alert lately as reminders of whiskey's past continue to pop up in my inbox, albeit rum-focused in their narrative. There's a cranky, dismissive, anti-authoritative, passive-aggressive energy about many of these inquiries, which is unavoidably what happens when people start taking any subject seriously. It's reminding me vaguely of Bourbon circa 2009, but surprisingly without any desire to understand the nuances of specific distilleries or their methods of production. With Bourbon it was always about identifying who made what, then searching out the whiskies you liked from the distillers that made good stuff. You had guys breaking down mash bills, trying to identify why something might taste different or better (for better or for worse). From what I'm seeing with rum, it seems to be much more tiki-based; guys are making specific cocktails with certain expressions, sharing those recipes online, and then noting which rums made the better drink. There's still that desire to find something interesting and out of the ordinary, but yet the motivations are totally different. Few people seem to care about caramel coloring, added sweeteners, or purity, whatsoever. It's solely about the resulting flavor of their Mai Tai, which is kind of refreshing when you think about it. Many of the best rums in the world are loaded with God knows what, so I'm happy we're not dwelling on that. Let's hope this little trend continues and we can expand the rum department a bit. I kind of miss getting lectured about what I don't know on a daily basis! 

-David Driscoll

Friday
Sep232016

The Future of Islay – Part Two

I've seen, smelled, and tasted enough evidence over the last year to finally understand the importance of barley's role in creating the flavor of a single malt whisky. Since sampling ten different "SMASH" beers at Skagit Valley Malting in Washington this past July (made from ten different types of barley), I've got all the proof I need to know that barley-specific malts are clearly the next step in Scotch whisky's evolution as a beverage. But while most of us are just coming around to this realization, one particular distillery on Islay has been exploring the capacity of barley flavor variants for more than a decade. Bruichladdich has not only been testing whiskies made from different species of barley, they've also experimented with various growing locations in Scotland as well as the dynamic of specific vintages. In fact, I can clearly remember the first time I tasted one such whisky from this progressive Hebridian producer: it was Bruichladdich's 2006 Bere barley release, a whisky that absolutely blew me away with its creamy texture and inherently individual character. That eye-opening experience came to market in 2013, but the whisky had originally been distilled seven years prior, clearly indicating that the production team had been keen on exploring barley's capacity for flavor for some time. While a few distilleries like Springbank and Kilchoman have traditionally released local barley editions, none have been as detailed or as dedicated as Bruichladdich in their transparency. Over the last few years, the company has distinctly transitioned from a traditional malt distillery into a serious advocate for more terroir-centric whisky. Part of this metamorphosis has to do with a transition in leadership. This past week I made the trek out to Bruichladdich, both to formally meet the facility's two new directors and take a serious look at their unique vision for the future.

I'm not sure how many folks are aware of the long and intimate relationship between Bruichladdich and K&L, but there's been a deep connection between the two businesses that started well before I took over the spirits department. Not only was K&L the first retailer in the world to bottle and sell a whisky from the post-2001 resurrection distillates, our former whisky expert Susan Purnell actually had her wedding at the distillery and the service was performed by former master distiller and whisky icon Jim McEwan. Susan sent dozens of K&L customers during her tenure over to Islay to learn and work at Bruichladdich's whisky school, and she made damn sure that the first single malts I tasted upon my hiring were from her favorite distillery. I inherited her love of Bruichladdich and tried to continue where Susan left off, visiting Jim on Islay during my first trip to Scotland back in 2011. However, when Bruichladdich sold to Remy Cointreau the following year, I wasn't sure of what to expect. While the immediacy of dealing with an independent distillery changed a bit, I remained close with the company's CEO Simon Coughlin and kept myself abreast of the whisky's evolution through our contact. Over the last four years, Simon's push for more transparency has become the distillery's main focus. Dealing with the adversity of larger distribution and limited stocks, he moved the core range of whiskies from an age statement model over to regionally specific expressions because—like I do now—he believed early on that terroir matters when it comes to whisky. "You've got to come out and visit, David," Simon said to me on the phone a few weeks back. "I really want you to spend some time with Adam, our new distiller, and see how our work is progressing."

Being a fan of Simon, Bruichladdich, and the idea of terroir in anything, I obliged.

Whereas Bruichladdich began as the career culmination of whisky veterans like Coughlin and McEwan, today it's being lead by two forward-thinking youngsters; who better to lead the distillery into the next generation of whisky production than fresh Islay blood? Allan Logan is a fourth generation Islay distillery worker who has been involved in Bruichladdich's production since day one. I spent the first part of my visit with him tasting both aged and unaged distillates from single origin regionally-specific barleys, joking that one indeed smelled "more northern" than the other (as if anyone knew the distinctions between Scottish regional barley flavors). While we shared a few laughs over the feigned pretense, we both agreed there were clear differences in the whiskies—in their infant stage as well as after a few years in wood. There were distinct floral notes and a lighter profile in one malt, while another had a much heavier character and supple richness. I was then introduced to Adam Hannett: a thirty-three year old Islay native who started as an attendant in Bruichladdich's gift shop almost fifteen years ago before becoming the company's current "head" distiller. Two things I loved right off the bat: 1) Adam doesn't refer himself a "master" distiller yet, unlike many craft venturists with far less experience than him; 2) Adam looks almost exactly like my childhood friend Jeff Meanza, so much so in fact that I almost referred to him as Jeff numerous times during our visit. I felt at ease from the moment I met him because of his down-to-earth demeanor and his unpretentious character. "I grew up around here with my friends kicking a soccer ball in the street when there was nothing," Adam said to me as we talked about the changes at Bruichladdich over the years; "Now you have to watch yourself in the road with all the tourists driving around," he added as we headed to the warehouse to sample a few new projects.

I mentioned to Adam that I was impressed with Allan's presentation of Bruichladdich's regionally-specific whiskies and the clear distinctions he was able to make vis-à-vis their origins. "When people talk about terroir today it often feels as if they're looking to prove what they know rather than clarify why exactly something tastes the way it does," I said, as he proceeded to climb a large rack in search of a specific cask;"It's as if they're searching for the secret no one else knows, but they can't really explain why it's important." Bruichladdich has gone far beyond simply labeling their whiskies as simply "local," choosing to add the vintage, as well as the name and location of the farm where the barley was grown on some of their Islay releases. But while all of of those details definitely play a role in the whisky's inherent flavor, they're not meant to literally explain why it tastes the way it does. No one, as far as I know, has connected the dots at this point yet. "It's not about saying we know something you don't," Adam explained as we continued to discuss the phenomenon; "It's simply about celebrating the community. We're in a position to help the island by way of using local barley. Now the young kids are getting involved in farming, whereas before it was for an older generation." Considering we're approaching a transitional period when the Scotch whisky industry will look to continue its current popularity with a younger generation, creating an early bond with that group's values and interests has never been more important. While the current era of serious whisky connoisseurs may lament the necessary changes that have recently occurred, such as the loss of standard age statements on the label, it could very well be that the next era of drinkers defines its desires by something other than a number.

But that's not to say that Bruichladdich is moving away from age statements; on the contrary! After discontinuing their initial new era ten year old shortly after its unveiling, the boys are back with a new version, as well as ten year old Port Charlotte and ten year old Octomore. After sampling the new and improved Bruichladdich 10—a delicious malt that focuses far more on the grain this time around with minimal sherry influence—we took a drive over to the old Lochindaal distillery warehouses where the company keeps its Port Charlotte and Octomore barrels. The improvement that more time in wood displays in the peated whisky's flavor is clear from the initial sip. The profile is rounder, sweeter, and more evolved. In the case of the Octomore, the extra cask time has completely changed the nature of the heavy smoke, moving it more towards an ashy and earthy element on the finish. I was utterly captivated. While Bruichladdich was forced to move away from age statements due to an intermittent supply of mature whisky, purists will be happy to hear the distillery has put that Remy money to good use. While strategically holding back most of their oldest barrels, Bruichladdich simultaneously increased production and will now be in strong supply once the new editions are launched. Keeping their releases at ten years of age is a top priority for the brand, but—if you ask me—numbers won't continue define the distillery's whisky moving forward. Age statements have become security blankets for the old guard. They're a part of whisky's past, a remnant of its former classication, not its immenent future. While I drooled over the twelve year old cask of Port Charlotte available in the gift shop, I have to admit that I was much more interested in the younger 2009 Bere barley vintage release they had on the shelf. It's their improvement and enhancement of distinct barley-driven malts that has me most inspired as of late.

While an adherence to age statements, cask types, and gimmicky marketing stories from old Scottish lore still dominates most Scotch whisky marketing, Bruichladdich has chosen to center its message around the far more difficult discussion of terroir. When you think about it, a sense of place has always been important to the prestige of a product, even in the cases where the place itself had little to do with a unique quality or flavor. It’s the reason why people still continue to buy touristic momentos on vacation, or Bud Light cans with their city’s sports franchise plastered on the side (even though the beer inside each can is exactly the same). It’s the reason people wore Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts back in the eighties—each one identical except for the location of origin. When it comes to marketing and a general consumer interest, the sale of locality has often been more about public proof of experience than genuine individuality ("I was there and I can prove it!"). However, if you can show that terroir isn’t just about showing off, owning bragging rights, or generating a quick ten seconds of Instagram attention—if you can actually present people with a flavor that clearly originates and emirates from one particular spot on this earth—then you’ve really got something. While I’ll continue to enjoy blended whisky and blends of different single malt whiskies, I don’t think there’s a renaissance in the cards for nondescript blends, no matter how much we continue to glamorize the throwback genre. I just don’t see it. As far as I'm concerned, there’s no going back from the new age of transparency. Consumers today want details as to the ingredients and the location of origin from their food, their beer, their wine, and their whisky. Now that the cat is out of the bag there’s no way you’re getting him back inside. The current generation of eaters and drinkers has long spoken about what its willing to embrace: travel, tradition, locality, purity, authenticity, and a sense of place. Nebulous blends with clever marketing need not apply.

Whisky as an ideal has come to epitomize an enthusiasm for exploration and new experiences. The amount of whisky tourism in Scotland alone these days is unparalleled, but no one drives all the way to Islay to drink a blended whisky or some basic Highland offering. You make the pilgrimage to Islay because you love Islay whisky—the peat, the salt, the earth, and the sea. Whomever can provide the most memorable and moving picture of that wonderful place is going to shape the future of the category. Whomever can speak to the next generation of whisky drinkers in their terms, their language, and within their range of core values, will dominate that genre. I’m betting on Bruichladdich. Almost all of their distillery staff is under the age of thirty-five, the atmosphere is fun and forward-thinking, and the company has a fresh and modern take on whisky. Most importantly, they're continuing to create and inspire.

I've been enamored with Bruichladdich since my first day working at K&L, but I don't think I've ever been as excited about their whisky as I was this week. The future is bright.

-David Driscoll