Monday
Aug052013

Photo of the Day II

Cutting peat outside of Port Ellen on Islay.

It was rainy, misty, and cold that day and it made us crave a glass of peated whisky. In fact, looking at this photo makes me want a glass right now.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Aug042013

Photo of the Day

Shadows of the trees on the chai at Chateau Ravignan, one of our Bas-Armagnac producers.

I'm very sensitive to weather and lighting when it comes to my mood. My fondest memories usually have to do more with the seasons than any particular event – walking home from school in November, playing outside in the Summer, etc. When I think of early Spring now, the transition out of Winter and into a softer light, I often think of Gascony now – the way the trees looked and the color of the sky.

Memories like that are often linked to booze as well. Thinking about early Spring makes me think of Gascony, which makes me want to drink Armagnac. Nostalgia plays a big role in why I like what I like. I know many people who can't stand the taste of grappa, yet I associate it with my parents staying up late in the Summer time after dinner. Today when I drink it I get a warm sensation – both in my stomach and in my heart.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Aug032013

Scattered Thoughts

For all of you asking when we would get Elmer T. Lee back in stock, we've got it right now. The distributor for California, Young's Market, was out of stock for almost a month meaning that no retailer could reorder during the shortage. I got a lot of questions about when I was planning to order more, but I had to reply with, "I can't order more unfortunately. It's out of stock." That's how rumors of a Bourbon shortage get started, people take this information and run with it, yet in this case it was true: there wasn't any Elmer T. Lee to be had. This week Young's got another shipment from Buffalo Trace, but, since many retailers and bars had been out of stock for weeks, the demand was pent up – everyone bought in for double the amount they usually did, emptying out Young's Market instantly (along with all the Weller 107 that came with it), meaning that it's once again out of stock. The retail world of buying from distribution works just like the consumer version from retailers. Currently I've got 30 bottles of Elmer T. Lee until they're gone again and I'm out. That doesn't mean you won't find other stores that have it (just like some stores still have their Weller 12 and Rock Hill Farms), it just means that we might face a few periodic shorages here at K&L. I did try to put in another 20 cases for delivery next week, so hopefully those show up and fortify us until the inventory catches up. Again, I'm competing with everyone else who's hoping to avoid their own inventory issues.

I met with David Suro-Piñera from Siembra Azul tequila yesterday and received what was the equivalency of a graduate course in agave production. David has been working in the tequila business for thirty years and today contracts his Siembra Azul tequila from the Vivancos family distillery, otherwise known as NOM 1414 (the same as the ArteNOM reposado and Gran Dovejo tequila). I think our best tequilas at K&L are from Feliciano Vivancos, but it seems that David took his production methods to the extreme, specifying even the type of jima from the agave production – the process in which the penca (the agave leaves) are pulled from the ground. David went on to describe how the jima can affect sweetness, bitterness, and ultimately the flavor of each tequila. He prefers to control flavor via the jima, which to him is the most important process of tequila production overall.

We'll be bringing in Siembra Azul tequila next week, but you can check out the side label above that reads like a page from a technical manual. I'm hoping to bring David on for a podcast episode in the near future. He said some things yesterday that made my jaw drop concerning agave and the history of tequila production. Some of these ideas were very controversial (like his opinion that blue agave, the only species from which tequila can be made, is on the verge of extinction due to monoculture). Oh...and his tequilas are fantastic. The blanco is a revelation of pure agave flavor.

Every now and then people ask what I'm drinking at home, just out of curiosity. I'm currently in the midst of a big herbal liqueur phase. I've been doing a bottle of wine with dinner every night and then going straight to the Zwack - a Hungarian liqueur that drinks much like an Italian amaro. I recently got a great little sample kit from Diageo (yes, we're now trying to be friends and work together - remember?) that had the regular Zwack, plus their new plum Unicum along side the regular Unicum. It also came with these thick little shot glasses that remind me of the kind Karen Allen drank out of in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I've really been enjoying all three in the evening. We currently have the standard Zwack in stock as usual, but we're still waiting on the other two. I think they're quite fun and hope they help nurture in a new tradition of herbal liqueur enjoyment here in California.

Zwack has kind of a fascinating history. It was invented by a Dr. József Zwack in the 1790s who was the physician for Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones's role in Amadeus "Well then...there it is."). His son eventually founded the Zwack company in 1840 and it thrived into the early 1900s. Communism soon came to Hungary, however, and the Zwack family wasn't about to see their recipe become property of the Red Army, so they fled to the U.S. According to legend, the recipe was torn into four pieces and smuggled out to America, while a fake Zwack recipe was given to the new regime. When communism fell in the late 1980s, Peter Zwack returned to Hungary and repurchased his family's company from the state where they once again began making the original formula.

And that's the short version! In any case, I've been alternating between Zwack, Chartreuse, and the new Dolin Genepy as of late. My digestion has actually improved, so maybe I'll keep this up.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Aug022013

Good Writing

Every now and again I get a complement from someone who enjoys reading the spirits blog. "You're a good writer," they'll say. I appreciate it. I like writing and it's brought me a lot of joy. Part of what I enjoy about my job is the interaction with people, both in the store and via email, that illuminates for me a great deal about the human condition. In the ways that people respond to alcohol, I learn more about the ways of people in general. I try and write about those observations and draw analogies that make sense, hoping to increase our understanding of spirits and each other.

However, there's a difference between a few observations regarding booze and the level of thought that went into Americanah, the latest novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. This is good writing, and I'm not talking about an intellectual brain teaser, or dictionary-required romp from the latest Infinite Jest wannabe. What gets me is when someone can describe something familiar, a truth about life and the relationships between humans, in a way that makes me stop and smile – either because I recognize it in others, or perhaps (gulp!) about myself. That's what impresses me about a writer – not necessarily their prose, their vocabulary, or their quirky imagination, but rather their ability to observe society and capture those observations in a way that anyone can appreciate and understand. That's what I aspire to do on this blog; that's what I wish I could do as a writer.

I won't go into a plot rehash about the various storylines in Americanah, but I will say that if you're a blogger of any kind you need to read this book – soon. There's a lot of talk about blogging in there. More importantly, however, there's an honest dialogue about happiness and how our tastes and perceptions change as we're exposed to new ideas and experiences – about the people we meet and what must be going on inside their heads. This is fundamental knowledge to any writer who strives to connect with an audience, hoping to strike that chord of understanding with his or her readers. These observations are cleverly and carefully woven into a story about Nigerian life, immigration to America, issues of race, and love. I've never been so wowed by profundity and challenged by an image of myself that matches up with some of the characters described in the novel. I cringed, laughed, cried, and mostly thought while reading Americanah. I questioned it. Went back to it. Talked about it with my wife. And now, after finishing it, am writing about it here.

What does it have to do with booze? If you've ever thought about why we drink, why we like what we like, how perception skews our tastes, and how our ego is ultimately in the middle of it all, then you need to read this book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. There are dozens of quotes I've considered posting over the past two weeks that remind me of attitudes and ideas surrounding whisky right now, but there were simply too many to post! Since this blog is also about writing and relationships, I've never read a book this aware and able to explain the state of modern day American living and I felt I should pass that on. Sometimes it takes an outsider to tell us exactly what's happening on the inside. That's what Adichie has done with this book.

I'm breathless. I'm inspired. And I'm jealous. I wish I could write like this.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Aug012013

New Stuff from Pacific Edge

I got to taste through the latest batch of A.D. Rattray casks today with my friend Todd Smith. There's a quality with all of the selections from the Morrisons that I can always rely on, so I'm usually prepared to buy what they have just off the list. However, it's nice when there's time to sample the wares before buying, right? So often you just have to purchase and hope it's good, or risk losing out on getting it whatsoever. That applies to us as retail buyers as well, not just the customers. Look out next week for an 18 year Aberfeldy, 22 year Glencadam, 23 year Benriach, 23 year Bunnahabhain (this one was particularly lovely), and a rockin' 24 year old Tamdhu – all coming in between $99 and $130. 

I am over the moon about this new Genepy from Dolin – an herbal liqueur very much in the style of Chartreuse. According to David OG there's some mountain wormwood sourced for this baby as well. It's absolutely delicious – again, think Chartreuse light. It's 45% alcohol so don't get sucker punched when you have a few glasses after dinner. It may taste easy-going, but it will wallop you if you're not careful. Todd said he enjoys the Genepy with tonic water in a cocktail, so I'm going to have to try that, but I'll have to wait until next week's delivery to get mine. In the meantime, if you live in LA, you can get this at our Hollywood store where David OG already has it on the shelf. 

-David Driscoll