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Monday
Feb082016

Konichiwa Fukano

Can't get enough Japanese whisky? What about Japanese whisky made with rice? We've been sitting on these barrel samples for quite some time, but now it seems we're about to get our first look at Fukano here at K&L. It should look something like this:

Stay tuned!

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Feb062016

Spring is in the Air – Part II

I had had this appointment with Cameron Mackenzie and Stuart Gregor set on the books for some time now. I kept checking my calendar reminder on Outlook for February and I always noticed that one isolated event on Friday the 5th: "Meet with Four Pillars gin." How did that even get set up? I couldn't remember. I think it had something to do with my friend Ryan Woodhouse, our Australian wine buyer who somehow had a connection to these guys. Four Pillars is an Australian gin company and they were going to be in town for the Super Bowl. They wanted to drop by. Something like that. I'm terribly unorganized, so I couldn't really remember to be sure. But I remembered that it was important.

Someone asked me about the "craft" spirits industry for the 900th time last week, wondering what my thoughts were about the genre's evolution. I said: "Imagine a bunch of businessmen who were successful in their respective sectors cashing out of whatever profession they were originally part of and reinvesting that money back into a distillery. Except that the distillery and the spirits business itself is just another investment; it's all just another exciting opportunity to build something up and cash out once again." Not that I have a problem with any of that. I'm all for new blood in the booze biz and if you want to believe in the new American dream, who am I to stop you? I just can't deal with the ridiculous pageantry that goes along with it—often literally like a pageant where, much like the beauty queens on stage, these guys deliver hackneyed, rehearsed lines about their life's passion and how all they really ever cared about since childhood was quality liquor. Unlike the nature of many of these appointments, however, Cameron and Stuart walked in with three gin bottles, put them on the table, and let the booze do the talking. They never mentioned one word about their life-long desire to own a craft distillery, or how they wanted to change the world with booze. They opened three bottles, poured each one into a glass, and said: "Taste that."

I took a sip of each and found myself able to summarize the experience quickly and succinctly in about eight words: these gins are really, really, really fucking good.

There's a reason that gin and not whisky distilleries continue to pop up in foreign countries all over the planet: it's much easier to create a unique sense of place within the flavors of gin. Look at the St. George Terroir gin—an expression that uses spruce and other local botanicals entirely from Mt. Tam. Or the Bruichladdich Botanist that sources all of its flavorings from Islay. Or even the Principe de los Apostoles that uses yerba mate from Argentina. With Four Pillars, you've got a distillery in Australia dedicated almost entirely to gin using local and native ingredients like lemon myrtle, pepperberry leaf, and various Australian citrus. If you're going to be the 547th new craft gin to the American market in 2016, you'd better have a plan to stand out from the rest of the crowd. In the case of Four Pillars, the flavors speak for themselves. These gins leap out of the glass, smack your taste buds upside the head, and leave your tongue begging for more. They explode with citrus, force you to ponder their complexity, then have you racing to figure out what cocktail to make with them.

These are the type of appointments I look forward to. These are the arrivals I wait in anticipation of. Look for Four Pillars at K&L this Spring.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Feb042016

Spring is in the Air

Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow this past Groundhog's Day so it looks like we're in the clear. Weather forecasters are predicting a balmy 71 degrees for the Super Bowl this Sunday, which means it's time to break out the white spirits and ice cubes—it's time for an early season gin cocktail! I decided to party a little too hearty last night, pouring glassfuls of both the Gin Mare and Faultline Gins respectively until I was forced to retire early. My mother, who like her mother is a bit obsessive with her gin martinis, has been actually blending her gins for the past few years and is now doing a recipe with 50% Beefeater's and 50% Faultline (she has another one that uses Monkey 47 in certain quantities). She called me yesterday to tell me how much she's been enjoying the "Jaime Hernandez Edition" designed by St. George distiller Dave Smith. In return, I told her about Gin Mare—a Spanish gin we've finally got on the shelf distilled from olives, thyme, rosemary, and basil. We traded recipes and then went off to practice with our respective bottles.

If you haven't had the Gin Mare yet, you need to add this to your list. Back in Edinburgh a few years back I filled my suitcase with both this bottle and the Monkey 47 as neither was yet available in the U.S. It's both savory and delicate on the palate with only subtle hints of that briney goodness. Think of it as a dirty martini that's naturally dirty! The Faultline, however, continues to impress me and only further reminds me of how good a distiller Dave is. I think with all the hoopla of the artwork and the limited edition vinyl that originally came with it, we forgot to talk about how amazing the spirit is. I had the bartenders from Whitechapel come in recently to express their love and ask if they could potentially work with the product at their newly-established gin bar downtown (alas, there's no legal way of selling it to them). It's like a far more-drinkable version of the Monkey with hints of red berries on the initial entry that give way to an almost creamy mouthfeel accented by vibrant Indian spices. I think it needs to be re-introduced this Spring because it's by far the most exciting gin on our shelf and the most versatile. 

But how many people are ready to give up whisky for gin at this point? Just me? Anyone? Buehler?

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Feb032016

Drink & Watch: The Revenant

Some people enjoying drinking American whiskey because of the sometimes rugged, frontier image we associate with it. Hell—Bulleit Bourbon even refers to itself as "frontier whiskey". If you're one of those guys who fantasizes about heading into the American wilderness, living off the land, and sipping from a flask next to a blazing campfire, then you need to go see The Revenant. While I'll admit that I do find the whole idea rather romantic, sneaking a bottle into the movie theater to watch it all on the big screen is as close as I want to get to the mountains right now. I can always just take a pull from my Filson copper flask and imagine I'm there with Leo himself. That's exactly what I did last night. Fill 'er up!

There are no punches pulled in Alejandro González Iñárritu's latest flick—his follow up to the Oscar-winning Birdman. If you can't stomach both the stress and the gore, then maybe this isn't your cup of tea. Or maybe that just means you need to pack a little extra juice in your pocket. I found myself gritting my teeth for most of the picture—and it's about two and a half hours of non-stop turmoil. Much like some of the men who get sliced up in the film, I was going to either need a wooden stick to bite down on or a shot of something strong to endure all the damage. I went for the latter. But besides the fine on-screen performances from both Mr. Dicaprio and Tom Hardy, the scenery and the way the film is shot are simply spellbinding. The mist, the fog, the snow, the raging rivers, the majestic mountains—they're all presented in glorious fashion. This is not a film you'll want to wait for on DVD. You've gotta go see this one in the theater. And you're probably gonna wanna bring something high in proof along with you.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Feb022016

The Turmoil of Personal Taste

One of the least true wine or whisky-isms that gets thrown around the booze world is the terrible adage:

The best wine or whisky is the one that tastes best to you.

Why do I hate that aphorism? Because it sends the message that personal taste and quality always go hand in hand. It reminds me of an old and faded memory from first grade. We were learning about directions and there was a boy in my class who didn't understand that north, south, east, and west were fixed and final. He thought that whatever direction he faced was north and that east would invariably be to the right of that. The idea that direction could exist independently of him absolutely blew his mind. Of course, it's cute and funny when a kid misunderstands that concept. It's less adorable when a grown man sends you a nasty email about how his whisky wasn't any good because he didn't like it. There are two important lessons that you always have to keep in mind regarding taste:

-Just because you like something doesn't mean it's good.

-Just because you don't like something doesn't mean it isn't good.

Films, for example, can be very well-made while still boring your pants off. I knew dozens of people in college who didn't like the movie Citizen Kane, yet experts consider it to be the finest film ever made. Along that same line, I know a person who really likes the Steve Martin film Cheaper by the Dozen 2, but I watched it on HBO last year and I think I can definitively say that movie is god-awful. Now before you launch into that whole "it's just your opinion, man" thing, let me add this qualifier: almost all of the folks who I mentioned concerning Citizen Kane did admit that the film was technically brilliant. Simultaneously, the one person I know who likes Cheaper by the Dozen 2 also told me she didn't think the movie was all that great, but for some reason it made her nostalgic. In both cases, the relative parties were able to separate their own personal tastes from any assessment of quality. They were able to identify how their own particular penchants might influence their value judgements. That's called perspective. That's what experience teaches one to do. It's a big part of being an adult, in my opinion—being able to admit that there are things in the world you just don't like, but ultimately that the problem lies within you, and not the thing itself. 

But here's where it starts to get tricky. Whereas a bottle of whisky will always present you with a final product, ready-to-drink right then and there, a bottle of wine requires you to make a personal preference on top of that. For example, you can buy any number of 2012 Bordeaux selections at K&L presently; many of which taste pretty damn good right now. But ultimately you as a consumer have to decide when to drink those wines and what you want them to taste like when you do. It's here that the exact opposite phenomenon happens with aficionados in relation to what we described above. I have definitely advised customers not to open bottles of wine for months if not years after purchasing them because that's personally what I would do. However, I can't guarantee anyone that they'll ultimately like the wine any better if they follow that advice. This is where we need to maybe add in a new aphorism. Maybe something like:

A wine tastes best when it tastes best to you (but then is it worth it?)

A great example of how personal taste can and should influence wine decision-making occurred this past weekend at the UGC tasting in Bordeaux. I was prepping the producer tables while my co-worker Ralph Sands opened bottles and tasted the wines. We were discussing the 2013 whites and Ralph mentioned to me that he likes the wines young, fresh, and lively. He's not really a fan of aging them because they take on a completely different character at that point. "I'm not into that honeyed and almondy profile it takes on," he said to me regarding the Domaine de Chevalier Blanc—one of the most famous white wines in all of Bordeaux. Now if you're unfamiliar with that wine, it's a blend of sauvignon blanc and semillion from the Pessac-Léognan region that can mature for twenty years easily. In fact, that very ability to age plays a huge factor in the price of the wine. But Ralph Sands, one of our premier Bordeaux experts, makes the personal decision to open his white Bordeaux bottles at a younger age because he personally likes the wines better at that point in their maturity. There you go.

So here's where it gets even trickier. What many wine consumers often do not understand is that many (if not most) high-end bottles of wine are expensive because of how they will taste, not necessarily because of how they taste in the present moment. Let's say you drive over to K&L, grab a bottle of the 2012 Leoville-Barton, open it for dinner that same night, and pour yourself a glass. You take a sip, swirl it around your mouth, and think: "Hmmm....this is good, but I don't know if it's $80-a-bottle good." That's a totally fair assessment, except that you're missing one very important thing: that wine won't show you its true quality and character for another ten years. So let's say you buy another bottle based on what I just told you. You put that wine in your cellar. Ten years go by. You've waited a decade now. You go grab the bottle of 2012 Leoville-Barton and open it up. Yuck. "This tastes terrible!" you think to yourself. But does that mean the wine isn't any good? Or does it mean you simply don't like aged, mature Bordeaux? It could be either one, or both! Or maybe the bottle was corked and you didn't know it. Or maybe you didn't store it properly. Or maybe you opened the bottle when the wine was closed down and going through a slumber period. There are literally dozens of possible explanations. (HEADS EXPLODING!!) You have ask yourself at that point: should I keep buying expensive wine, or can I get the satisfaction I'm looking for from a far more affordable option?

You can see why many people stick to distilled spirits. With whisky you don't have any of this uncertainty. You buy the bottle, you open it, it tastes how it's supposed to taste, and you get to make the clear assessment as to whether you like it or not. Wine has so much more uncertainty and it's important to remember that when you formulate any type of opinion. Ultimately, what I would encourage any drinker of either beverage to remember are these two things:

You should only drink what that you like; however, just because you don't like a particular wine or whisky doesn't mean it isn't good and doesn't have merit beyond your ability to sense it. You have to be able to differentiate between the two.

A wine won't necessarily taste best to you when the experts say it will. You have to personally decide when to open each bottle, but be aware that by doing so you may not get the recommended experience, nor will you necessarily taste the inherent quality you originally paid for.

Personal taste is a complicated issue. I don't think I can get anymore absolute than that.

-David Driscoll