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Sunday
Oct192014

Original Content

I've been lazy this morning; sitting around in my pajamas, drinking coffee, and skimming through the five New Yorkers that have backed up on me in the previous weeks. There's an interesting one-pager about Netflix and its push towards more original programming in the issue I'm reading now. Apparently, they just signed Adam Sandler to make four movies exclusively for their subscription-based streaming service. The article focuses on how Netflix has been able to adapt from a pay-per-view service, to a DVD-rental service, to a streaming service, and now into a provider of original content (remember what Austan Goolsbee said about Silicon Valley businesses that can adapt?). 

So what changed?

"Netflix became a victim of its own success," the article states. "Once content providers saw how popular streaming was becoming, they jacked up the price of their content."

That sounds oddly familiar.

Jeffrey Ulin, the former head of distribution at Lucasfilm, is quoted in the article as saying: "The calculus here is simple. There's a lot more competition for viewers. That means it's harder to get content. And the content you do get costs more."

This premium price on content, my friends, is why Signatory bought Edradour distillery. It's why Ian McCleod bought Glengoyne and Tamdhu. It's why Willett finally got its operation up and running, and why Michter's and Angel's Envy are building their own distilleries. It's why Black Maple Hill doesn't sell Kentucky Bourbon anymore. You need original content; your own juice if you're going to survive in the new world of whiskey. Buying programming from other producers is getting to be too expensive.

"The carrot for any pay-TV service is really original content," Ulin goes on to say. "That's the one thing you can guarantee people won't find anywhere else. Of course, everyone is investing in original content, so Netflix just has to do what others are doing and hope that it can do it better."

Faultline, anyone?

-David Driscoll

UPDATE: I just realized that yesterday's blog post wiped out all our Palazzi rum. I've got plenty more coming tomorrow, so you can now order into the negative via the link in the previous post if you want to capitalize on the hot price.

Saturday
Oct182014

Speaking of JCVD...

I can't think of Van Damme anymore without thinking of my friend Nicolas Palazzi, who also is good-looking, cut out of granite, and speaks with a sexy French accent (and who also geeks out for terrible action flicks with guys like Michael Dudikoff). This is the imposing Mr. Palazzi standing off to the side in Jalisco, where we both travelled earlier this year. It was like having the Terminator with you while drinking tequila. I bring him up now because his fantastic sherry-aged rum just won "Rum of the Year" from Wine & Spirits Magazine. This one:

Of course they list it as $180 in the article, which is indeed what it used to cost. In celebration of Nic's award and JCVD's birthday, we're going to offer a new deal:

Equipo Navazos-Nicolas Palazzi Oloroso-Aged Cask Strength Spanish Rum $99.99 - Spanish rum aged in the finest Oloroso casks in the world? Yes, please! From the San Francisco Chronicle: The product is a partnership between Equipo Navazos, which hunts and bottles rare individual casks of Sherry; and Nicolas Palazzi, who, under his PM Spirits label, does much the same with the hard stuff. The short story: Rum aged for five years in the Caribbean was bartered with a Sherry house, which then aged it another decade in a solera-style system of oloroso casks. The result is 1,500 bottles that combine the burnished depth of Sherry, the sweetness of bourbon cask and the funk of molasses. You won't encounter another rum like it.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Oct182014

Happy Birthday JCVD

Happy birthday to my all-time hero, Jean-Claude Van Damme! Today is a day for celebration! Which film to watch tonight? 

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Oct162014

For Goodness Sake

There are some things at K&L that we simply struggle with; ice, cold bottles of wine, mixers, tonic water and soda would all be good examples. Sake would be another one. We've never really been up to par with our sake selection here; settling for just a few bottles pushed back into the corner to suffice the occasional request. None of us on the sales floor knew much about the stock, and most of the time we had no idea what our inventory actually consisted of. I figured we could change all this with a few easy phone calls, so I put in a request to have Tamiko Ishidatethe sake expert for the Estate's Groupcome by the store and train the staff. We all gathered a glass, some pens and paper, and settled in for a hands-on tutorial. With all the interest in Japanese culture, whisky, and food we have bubbling here on the Peninsula, the potential of a great sake selection could really bring in a new crowd of enthusiasts here at K&L. Plus, it's our duty to know about these things (and be excited about them!).

The first thing that had to change was the location. We had all the bottles with the mixers back by the glassware, but I have since merged them into the Japanese whisky shelf, so now everything to do with Japan at K&L is all in one area. Second, was a formal education. We all know that sake is made from fermented rice, but what else do we know beyond that? There are two main families of sake: the Junmai designation, meaning that no additional neutral spirit has been added to the sake (just the alcohol from fermentation), and those sakes that have been fortified with a sugar-based alcohol. From that point it becomes about the milling of the rice; how much of the outer layer (the part with the fat and the protein) has been whittled away to get to the starch in the center. Daiginjo sakes, for example, have at least 50% of the outer layer removed. Then you've got the type of rice, where it's from, and all the regional stuff. But, as Tamiko told us, sake (like whisky) is much more about the decisions and craftsmanship of the brewer than it is about the inherent flavor of the rice itself. Like "Highland" single malt, there may be some regional character to sake, but not necessarily. I'm sure we'll learn more as we go.

So what did we taste, and what do we have currently at K&L? Here's the lineup:

Tozai "Typhoon" Futsu Sake 720ml $9.99 - This is a surprisingly delicious considering the bargain basement price. Soft, crisp flavors of citrus with refreshing acidity, the Typhoon could easily be thrown into a white wine tasting as a dynamic substitute. For the price, it also makes a fantastic mixer into specialty cocktails. Try it instead of dry vermouth in a martini, or use it in a Corpse Reviver instead of Lillet. Again, for the money, it's a fantastic beginner's bottle that brings clean, authentic sake character for a bargain.

Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai Sake $29.99 - The Dewatsuru is completely different than any of the other sakes we tasted and it uses the "kimoto" process which involves creating a starter that ultimately produces a natural lactic acid (rather than simply adding it to the fermentation), resulting in a more powerful flavor. In this case, the earthy aromas are more pungent and there's a mushroomy flavor on the palate. The mouthfeel is also richer, more supple, and creamier. It's very distinctive and wonderfully balanced.

Kanbara "Bride of the Fox" Junmai Ginjo Sake $32.99 -Polished to 50%, this Junmai Ginjo is made by Kaetsu Shuzo, who uses rice grown on the high plains and pure mountain water of the Niigata Prefecture to brew superior sake, both rich in aroma and clean in taste. There's a bouquet of ripe tropical fruit on the nose that slowly blossoms into a nutty, umami note on the finish. Tamiko noted that the removal of 50% of the outer rice layer allows the yeast to interact more potently with the starch; without the fats and proteins. This could be why the fruit flavors created by the yeast are so much more explosive. Lovely stuff!

Seikyo "Omachi" Junmai Ginjo Sake $29.99 - Here we have a sake where the type of rice is very important. made from 100% Omachi rice, a super premium rice source more than 150 years old that is harvested in very limited amounts. It is polished up to 55%. This was the most elegant sake we tasted today; very clean, graceful, balanced, and refined. There are crisp melon flavors and just a bit of sweetness on the finish. Made in Hiroshima, Tamiko noted that the regional cuisine tends to be just a bit sweeter than the rest of Japan; hence the bit of residual sugar. Made to pair with the food! Just like the regional wines of Europe.

Konteki "Tears of Dawn" Daiginjo Sake $38.99 -From one of Japan's smallest breweries, this Daiginjo is made with Japan's highest quality rice and local Fushimi mizu, the soft, pure water from Japan's Eastern Mountains. The palate is a bit riper and (Bourbon fans will know about this) there's a bit of banana flavor from the yeast strain used. Very soft and silky. High quality stuff.

Ginga Shizuku "Divine Droplets" Junmai Daiginjo Sake $64.99 - This was the most expensive sake we tasted and for good reason: it's actually drip-pressed (the shizuku process) in an ice igloo (which you can see in the above photo) which is rebuilt every year outside the main brewery in Hokkaido. It's too cold to grow the rice on Japan's northern island, so the grain is shipped in. The process, however, could only take place there with the freezing temperatures. The sake is hung in mesh bags and the droplets that fall to the ground are collected and bottled. Simply amazing. Sake of the highest quality!

Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo Sake $49.99 -This is one of the best sakes we carry at K&L--period. I would bring this bottle to a dinner party and just drink it like a bottle of white wine or rose. We need to get out of the habit where we only drink sake when we eat Japanese food. This is the bottle that should prove to serious wine drinkers that sake can easily hang with a great Sancerre or an Alsatian pinot gris. Crisp, vibrant fruit on the entry with hints of pear on the finish. Made with a unique yeast derived from flowers, the sake is one of the most aromatic and delicious we carry, as well as one of the most special.

Yuki No Bosha "Cabin in the Snow" Junmai Ginjo Nigori Sake $18.99- This is a "nigori" sake meaning that the spent lees cells (the leftover yeast components) are left in the wine (like many fine Champagnes) to create a richer, fuller, milkier sake. The flavors are still classic with notes of coconut water and sweet rice, balanced by crisp fruit and acidity. Super fun. These are in 300ml bottles.

Dewatsuru Sakura Emaki Rose Futsuushu Sake $19.99 -The Sakura Emaki is made from the ancient purple rices known as Asamurasaki and Okunomurasaki, two varieties long thought lost.  During an excavation of an ancient fort these grains were rediscovered.  The Ministry of Agriculture petitioned Akita Seishu brewery (home of Dewatsuru) to develop a sake utilizing these heirloom grains and the Sakura Emaki was born.  Deriving its pinkish hue from the grain (which is a deep purple) this has much in common with the wine-based rosés.  The flavor profile is strawberries, watermelon and cherry blossoms.  So unique and so beautiful. You could easily substitute this for a Bandol or Tavel rose at your next wine party.

Tamiko had a map with her that showed the origins of each sake, but I'll have to invest in a better copy and maybe a few books if I'm going to really get up to speed.

In the meantime, I think we need to schedule an in-store tasting and do some events. Sake is so much fun and so versatile, not to mention the shochus I tasted but haven't found time to write up yet. In any case, expect more from this department. There's a lot of room to grow here.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Oct162014

The Lost Blend

This might be a moot point for the K&L shoppers as we're already sold out, but for those of you who managed to snag a bottle from us (or those looking elsewhere), the Lost Blend is another John Glaser knockout that is not to be missed. However, if you want mature age statements, cask strength proof, or single barrel ruggedness, then the Compass Box special edition is not for you. If you want single malt purity, breakdowns with percentages, and statistical data that help form analytical conclusions, then the Lost Blend is a whisky you'll want to avoid. This isn't a whisky that wows you with specs. It's simply a $105 bottle of blended malt that showcases John's masterful touch marrying three simple ingredients: Clynelish, Caol Ila, and Allt-A-Bhainne. Those of you who have tasted previous expressions of the Flaming Heart know how magical the combination of Clynelish and Caol Ila can be. This is yet another Compass Box expression in that vein.

Waxy Clynelish. Waxy, creamy, oily, heathery Clynelish. It's right there on the entry and it's all over the nose. Aromas of sweet barley with faint vanilla. The smoky Caol Ila and fruity Allt-a-Bhainne are not as prevalent. They're mostly there as ballast pointsthe faint ashy elements trailing on the finish and a fat-fruited suppleness to kiss you good night. Once again, John Glaser has created a tribute to his favorite distillery; using various supporting actors to further shine the spotlight on his leading ladythe lovely, graceful, and ethereal Clynelish.

Every sip is soft and light as a feather, so those in seek of power and pizzazz should again look elsewhere. There is no splash of spice, no opulent sherry, and no alcoholic accent to highlight the experience. It's just a blended dream of a whisky. As I grow older (and hopefully wiser), however, this is the type of whisky I want to come home to. It's the type of whisky that warms your insidesboth literally and figuratively. I can't wait to drink this on a cold winter evening. 

I want to get lost in this bottle.

-David Driscoll