Saturday
Nov092013

"I'm Looking to Get Into Bourbon..."

I've probably written twenty different posts like this in the past, but I've been at work for about four hours so far today and I've already received this question ten times: "I'm looking to get into Bourbon, so what's a good place to start?" It's that time of the year--whiskey season--so we might as well settle in.

There's really no one great place to start when it comes to any spirit, in my own opinion, so I always advise people to try and understand the products of each distillery. Despite the fact that we're sporting more than sixty Bourbons on the shelf, they're mostly coming from just a handful of places -- the others are independently bottled.

So where to start? Why not start with Four Roses? We have the...

-Four Roses Yellow Label -- a marriage of all ten Four Roses formulae, soft and mellow

-Four Roses Small Batch -- a marriage of three Four Roses formulae with more spice and richness

-Four Roses Single Barrel -- one single barrel (and one recipe) of Four Roses at a higher proof (50%)

Once you've mastered those three and diciphered the differences why not move on to Wild Turkey? Wild Turkey only makes one Bourbon recipe (a high-rye formula) so the various flavors come from the location of the barrel, the marriage, the age, etc. You can choose from:

-Wild Turkey 101 -- the classic $20 bottle

-Wild Turkey Rare Breed -- A small batch with loads of richness and baking spices. Love it.

-Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit -- A single barrel version.

-Russell's Reserve 10 Year -- A more mature, yet mellow marriage of flavor.

-Russell's Reserve Single Barrel -- A blast of cloves and cinnamon at 55%

-Wild Turkey Unforgiven -- A marriage of rye whiskey and Bourbon whiskey by accident.

That's already a hefty load of homework, but if you're the studious type you might want to keep pushing. Check out the huge Buffalo Trace portfolio:

-Buffalo Trace -- The standard recipe.

-Eagle Rare 10 -- The same standard recipe but from a 10 year old single barrel.

-Elmer T. Lee -- The high-rye recipe from a single barrel.

-Blanton's -- Also the high-rye from a single barrel, yet richer than Elmer

-Weller Reserve -- The wheated recipe at 90 proof (about 6 years old)

-Weller Antique 107 -- The wheated recipe at a higher proof

-Weller 12 year -- The wheated recipe at about twice the age.

There are a ton of other limited and harder-to-find Buffalo Trace items, but focus on these for now. Once you're done with Buffalo Trace, why not head over to Bardstown and Heaven Hill's facility? If you tried to taste every Heaven Hill product you'd be here for months. There are so many labels that don't make it to California floating around that facility, but let's stick to these for now:

-Elijah Craig 12 -- The standard recipe.

-Evan Williams Single Barrel -- The same high-rye recipe from a single barrel.

-Old Fitzgerald 12 Year -- The wheated recipe, similar to the Weller 12 from Buffalo Trace.

-Larceny -- A younger wheated recipe, comparable to Maker's Mark.

There's obviously all the Jim Beam stuff, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, and Maker's Mark, along with Tennessee producer George Dickel. We can cover those later. If you want to get "into" Bourbon I would print out this list and start checking them off one-by-one. If you can taste the differences between these four distilleries then I think you'll be in pretty good shape.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Nov082013

The Legend Returns

Our second batch is here. Made only for us. No other retailer gets this. Our customer service manager Joel Nicholas still claims that the Camut 15 is the single best spirit he’s ever tasted of any kind. It’s a very big deal. Relationships, baby. Relationships!!!!!!!

Adrien Camut 15 Year Old K&L Exclusive Calvados $115.99 -- The Camut brothers have fully dedicated their lives to making Calvados just as their grandfather did; they believe in their craft and they get a sense of pride from doing it. In sports, there are athletes with raw natural ability and others who succeed through sheer hard work and determination. When you combine both of those elements you get Michael Jordan, or, in the world of fine spirits, you get Camut Calvados. There is no doubt that Camut is the DRC or Château Lafite of the Calvados world--they are the very best, hands down.  Getting them to make us a special 15 year old Calvados, an aged expression they have never bottled before, was not something that came from discussions of money or sales margins. Our exclusive K&L bottling came after a long night of food, drink and brotherhood at their country farm--talk of the Americans storming the beach at Normandy and the special bond between our two countries ever since. This 15 year is the perfect Calvados and showcases exactly what defines greatness in distillation: the elegant essence of apple on the nose, subtle vanilla and wood on the palate and warm cider on the finish. It's impeccable and perfect in every way, quite possibly the best spirit we've ever acquired for K&L. It's a very big deal for our store and those who love Calvados will understand how special this is. The Camuts do not make special blends for people, but they have done so for us. Only 300 bottles available.

Revisit our initial meeting here from the blog archive.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Nov082013

Beams of Sunshine

Every single time I meet with my Jim Beam rep I tell him, over and over again, that Beam is really missing out by not releasing anything old or unique in this insatiable Bourbon market. Heaven Hill has the Parker's Heritage Collection, Four Roses has the LE releases, Wild Turkey is starting to release single barrels, and Buffalo Trace has the Antique Collection. Hell, even Brown-Forman has the Birthday Bourbon. What does Beam have? Beam, the largest producer of Bourbon in the country, pumping out 3,000 barrels worth a day -- why not add something new to the mix? 

I got to taste these yesterday and I thought they were nice additions to the portfoilo. The single barrel won't be available until January, but we've got the new 12 year and the Spanish Brandy in stock now. While these won't "wow" consumers the way that the Parker's or Stagg might, these are also much more reasonably priced. Beam has such a large consumer base that I think anything too radical might really shake things up, therefore we get something safe, but tasty nevertheless.

Jim Beam 12 Year Old Signature Craft Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey $31.99 -- The richness and creaminess of the Beam style is on full display here, finishing with a hint of bitter herbaceousness that really characterizes Beam's whiskies. Gentle and round through the mid-palate, this is one easy, easy sipper that showcases a bit more maturity than Beam's standard releases.

Jim Beam Spanish Brandy Finished Signature Craft Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey $31.99 -- To be clear, this whiskey is not Spanish Brandy cask finished, but literally brandy finished -- as in they actually added some brandy into the whiskey. There's no real hint of sherry or any flavor outside the scope of Bourbon here, but the whiskey is quite mellow and soft -- almost like a Tennessee whiskey such as Dickel. Those looking for easy sipping will be pleased.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Nov072013

Does Anyone Still Use Yelp?

I have to admit that I still use Yelp to help find the address of a restaurant, or to see how popular a bar might be, but I can't say that I actually read the reviews anymore. If there's one thing I've learned about the internet and the incessant commenting it's that mild-mannered people often don't add their two cents. The most-outspoken reviewers either think a restaurant is the best place in the history of the world, or they're out for blood with a serious axe to grind. I've had some pretty negative experiences lately with other online retailers, but nothing that would make me rush to my laptop, log on to a consumer review site, and unleash the fury within these fingers. On the flip side, the positive experiences I've accrued will merely lead to more of my business, not necessarily a five-star review.

If you check out the last few reviews for K&L Redwood City on Yelp they're either one star or five stars. Either we're the best possible liquor store, or we're the worst possible liquor store. Which one is it? Obviously you can read through the reviews and get a sense of what we're all about, but is anyone making a decision to shop with us based on these totally polarized experiences? I don't think so. There are so many factors that go into making a great experience -- both with whiskey and with the whiskey retail transaction. If you happen to catch me with your whisky question you're going to get more than you bargained for. Ask Jim Barr about whiskey, however, and he'll look at you in a state of sheer confusion. On the other hand, if you ask Jim Barr about California Chardonnay you'll get some expertise from one of this state's true wine veterans. One's experience at K&L is totally dependent on a number of different factors. How busy were we? Who was working that day? What did you need? What did we actually have?

Reviewing a business on Yelp after one visit is like tasting one sip of whisky and then rushing to a final conclusion -- it's a knee-jerk reaction to a rigid emotional response. More importantly, such a review is of no help to the consumer whatsoever. The guy at the hamburger place was a jerk? Maybe that's because the reviewer was a total prick in the first place, or maybe the server had a bad day. Maybe the reviewer was a former employee looking to get revenge. A glowing five star review? Maybe it's the boss's daughter, or another family member posing as a customer. Who knows? The squeaky wheel gets the grease, however. In the end, neither the glowing five star review, nor the terrible one star review is indicative of what you'll find on a day-to-day basis at K&L. Sometimes we're exhausted and out of gas. Other times we're exuberant and full of pride. We're people just like anyone else.

To summarize that with a simple five star system seems silly to me. But then again, whisky ratings are silly to me too.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Nov072013

New Cadenhead Creations Arrives

You can tell things are getting intense when we have three blog posts in one day before lunch time. If you read that last post about the demand for new “small batch” single malt (i.e. the Balvenie Tun 1401), then you can see where the market is headed. Personally, I’m on board with this new trend. After working on the Fuenteseca tequila blend, I’m more convinced than ever that great whisky can be the result of numerous whiskies. What’s necessary, however, are the specs – what’s in the blend that makes it so special? Don’t leave us in the dark!! Mark Watt over at Cadenhead in Campbeltown is sitting on a serious treasure trove of old casks. Cadenhead has always had the goods. They just needed someone to start utilizing them. The last few products we’ve received have been outstanding (Highland Park 21, Bowmore 14, Cameronbridge 24, Caperdonich 35, etc) and this new blend is no different.

Cadenhead's 20 Year Old "Creations" Batch #1 Blended Scotch Whisky $99.99 -- The first release of Mark Watt's highly-anticipated small batch blend has arrived -- a twenty year old, sherry-aged marriage of Bruichladdich and Mortlach single malts with the grain whiskies of Cameronbridge and Invergordon. The rich malty notes come instantly in the nose and burnt sugar and sherry spices are decadent on the first sip. The bits of toasted marshmallow and marzipan linger long on the finish. The grain component is definitely palatable, so the overall experience isn't as supple as sherry-aged single malt would be, but the blending talent of Watt is on full display. It's a seamless blend that really highlights the strengths of each whisky. There's not much available, but we're taking everything we can get. Cadenhead's resources have yet to be fully tapped, in our opinion.

-David Driscoll