Tuesday
Nov052013

Spirits Tastings Resume Tomorrow!

Tomorrow we've have spirits tastings back in the SF and RWC store. San Francisco will feature the Tullamore Dew Irish whiskies, while the Redwood City store will feature Glenfiddich single malt whiskies. The tastings will start at 5 PM and run until 6:30. They are free of charge!

We'll see you there!

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Nov032013

Whiskey-Related Movie of the Month: Bad Santa

I think the best part of the holiday season is getting up early (or staying up late) to watch some classic holiday cinema. One of my all-time favorite seasonal films is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I've seen that movie so many times I can recite every single line in my head from beginning to end. As I got older, however, I started to realize that most of my enjoyment from that film was based on nostalgia, rather than a continuing appreciation of it. The older I got, the less I liked it. I watched it with my wife's younger cousins last year and they didn't get it at all. Even I had to admit it wasn't really all that funny anymore. That was one of the first moments in my life where I really felt old.

For those of us who grew up in the 1980s and like to drink, there is a new classic holiday film that, for me personally, has become my new go-to during the Christmas season. Bad Santa is by far the funniest Christmas movie ever made – period. It's so funny that I'll watch it in the middle of Spring or Summer, regardless of whether I'm in the holiday spirit or not, because there are so few movies of this quality. It's not for everyone, though. It's very, very dirty and wrong in so many ways, but that's my sense of humor. The more inappropriate something is, the funnier it is to me. And there's a lot of boozing. Like last month's "whisky movie of the month," Giant with Rock Hudson, Beam's Old Grand-Dad orange label plays a huge role. Within the first ten minutes of the film there are seven different scenes involving alcohol – three of which are centered around Old Grand-Dad orange label.

If you tried to play a drinking game with Bad Santa, maybe taking a sip every time Billy Bob Thornton drinks, you'd be drunk in fifteen minutes. There's hardly a second where he's not taking a pull off a flask, holding a bottle of beer, or pounding a shot at the bar. If he gets into a car, a pile of beer cans will ultimately fall out of the open space. If he's left alone for a few seconds, a pile of beer cans will litter the ground around him when the camera returns. Bad Santa is one of the most prolific drinking films I've ever seen – even more so than Barfly, the Charles Bukowski classic with Mickey Rourke.

Bad Santa isn't all raunchy jokes and liquor, however. There is some quality, quality acting going on in this film. It's John Ritter's final role and he's perfect as the uncomfortable mall boss. The pudgy kid in the film is unreal, he's so funny I almost can't believe it. The late Bernie Mac is also a riot, and Tony Cox as the elf is the perfect rational counter to Billy Bob's angry, drunken drawl.

Whereas Christmas Vacation reminds me of a happy time when life was easy and carefree, Bad Santa is a heavy dose of reality. It's a movie for people who find the holidays stressful, worrisome, and anxiety-ridden: you know.....for adults.

Watch it. But only if you're not easily offended.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Nov022013

You Think You're a Spirits Geek?

How into booze are you? I mean, seriously. You're into wine and whiskey, yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it. But are you into Sherry? Because if you're not into Sherry then you're really not as big of a geek as you might think you are. If there's one thing that makes you a "geek" it's the adoption of an interest usually reserved for the old men of previous generations. Whisky used to be such an interest, but now it's so popular it's completely lost that association. Sherry, on the other hand, is still an interest that is far too esoteric and confusing to ever attract mainstream support. There have been attempts to popularize it, to proselytize people over to its merit, but it never really takes off. Sherry is, and will remain, the geekiest interest of the most geeky aficionados. Like me.

Sherry should interest you if you like single malt because that's were 80% of your flavor comes from when you're drinking something like Glenfarclas or Glendronach. Sherry completely shapes the flavor of almost any spirit aged within its vast wooden butts. Sherry can be barrel-aged like whiskey. It's made of both wine and spirit, giving it the ultimate crossover potential from wine over to spirits, or from spirits over to wine. But you already know all this. However, if you thought that simply being into sherry was geeky, you've underestimated us geeks. It's no fun being a geek if everyone else is into what you're into. You've got to remain one step ahead at all times to retain any credibility (Pappy Van Winkle? Please....that's soooo 2011).

Speaking of Pappy, if there were such a thing as the "Pappy of Sherry," it would without a doubt be the ultra-geeky, ultra-delicious sherries from Equipo Navazos -- a consortium of serious Sherry buffs and insiders that selects and blends barrels from the finest soleras for their own enjoyment. Everything from EN is expensive. Everything. That being said, everything from EN is also insanely delicious. Their "La Bota" finos are the stuff of legend amongst the initiated, but the only people willing to pay $45 for fino sherry are the most dedicated of sherry geeks. If you thought merely being into Equipo Navazos made you a "geek," however, you're totally underestimating the world of spirits geekdom.

What if someone were to take the empty Sherry barrels from EN and fill them with things like Spanish brandy or rum, creating a mature spirit from the best maturation vessels possible? Unlike a tequila aged in Pappy barrels, aging something in EN butts wouldn't be a total sales gimmick (because that would assume that anyone actually cared about sherry). The wine would still be soaked into the wood if you got the barrels fresh and, if they were first-fill barrels, there would be a huge presence of the wine's influence still left to play its part. But who would be willing to invest in that type of project? Who would be willing to go all the way, spare no expense, age these spirits, import them, and then actually try to sell the final product to the 47 people in the world who would actually care? Nic Palazzi, that's who -- the bold and daring Brooklyn-based Frenchman who has practically become an unofficial K&L employee over the years.

The Navazos-Palazzi EN-aged Spanish brandies are here! They're crazy expensive. They're crazy good. They're simply crazy. And we've got em. If you're a Glenfarclas fan, or you love that chewy Glendronach character, then these are for you. AND.....they're only $70 to $80 for half bottles, which is great because we must have fifty people in here everyday asking for esoteric Spanish brandy in half bottles for $80. In all seriousness, they're quite spectacular, but they're not for everyone. Only the most die-hard, dedicated of spirits geeks will truly appreciate what it took to make these bottles happen.

Equipo Navazos-Nicolas Palazzi Single Fino Cask Spanish Brandy 375ml $69.99

Equipo Navazos-Nicolas Palazzi Single Oloroso Cask Spanish Brandy 375ml $69.99

Equipo Navazos-Nicolas Palazzi Single Montilla Cask Spanish Brandy 375ml $89.99

 

And if you're totally geeking out on rum, why not go for the $150 bottle of EN Oloroso-aged bottle? It's expensive, but again it's waaaaaay better than any other sherry-aged rum we have. It is a full bottle, at least!

Equipo Navazos-Nicolas Palazzi Oloroso-Aged Cask Strength Spanish Rum 750ml $149.99

Personally, I think this project by Nic is awesome and I love that Nic is only filling Spanish-distilled spirits in the casks, keeping a sense of place within the portfolio. Kudos to you, Palazzi.

Now we just need to call all 47 people who geek out for both Equipo Navazos and Spanish brandy to see if they want a bottle. Maybe they'll buy two!

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Nov022013

Scheduling Your Dollars

Since the new releases, sales promotions, and crazy deals are flying fast and furiously (more so than Vin Diesel himself) right now, I thought it was a good time to help everyone plan their purchases. Most of us are on some sort of fixed income, so it's nice to know what's ahead. Obviously the big boy Bourbons are dropping soon, but those will not be available online -- only through our insider raffle. What else is coming down the pipe?

- Diageo's Talisker Storm should be hitting retailers next week with a circa-$80 price tag.

- Our Glendronach 18 and Benriach 18 year old casks should be in stock by Thanksgiving.

- Our Glen Garioch 14 year old whisky (not available on pre-order) should be here by early December.

- Our last drop of direct French spirits featuring our new Calvados and Pouchegu Armagnac should be here before the month is over.

- We've got a second batch of Faultline Bourbon coming (first one is about gone) and the second batch of Fuenteseca Tequila should be here soon as well.

- David OG's Four Roses barrel selections should be here before December.

- David D's Henry McKenna selections should follow suit.

What isn't going to be here before the holidays are over? Most likely all of our Faultline single malt pre-orders. The government shutdown pretty much destroyed us because we still needed label approval on our four biggest casks. Those casks would fill the container we needed to get on the ship that would get the whisky to Oakland by December. Without label approval and no government to approve our labels, we missed the deadline. If you needed one of the Faultline whiskies as a gift, or if you just don't want to wait until January, you can contact me for a refund. We apologize about the mess.

What's still here that's almost gone? A few things. I don't know if we'll do year-end awards this year or not, but if I had to choose a whisky of the year I think that the Glenmorangie Ealanta would be on my shortlist. That's based purely on my own personal taste. The rich, soft, decadent style of that new oak-aged single malt really hit my palate in all the right places. As David and I continue to infiltrate the world of single barrel booze, I'm becoming much more partial to marriages. I don't think any one single barrel of Four Roses is as good as the LE Small Batch, much like I don't think any single Glenmorangie cask I've tasted is as good as the Ealanta (for those clammering that we should have bottled one single 21 year old Fuenteseca tequila, I can promise you that not one of those barrels tasted as good as the resulting marriage). The one great thing about single cask whisky is that it teaches you about limitations. One can only go so far with a single barrel, and only achieve so much. The blending of casks is the only way to go further, in my opinion, and the Ealanta was maybe my favorite I've tasted this year in the single malt realm. We've still got a bit of that left, but it's about done.

By the same token, I think the best brandy I had this year was the Darroze 20 year old Assemblage -- a marriage of various Armagnacs by Marc Darroze -- and that's almost gone as well. While I'm much more interested in the terroir of a single estate, there's no denying that the best tasting Armagnac on our shelf is not the result of one estate. But, of course, flavor isn't always everything. That's why blind tastings are fun, but ultimately pointless for me. Even if I choose the Charles Shaw "Two Buck Chuck" as the best in the lineup, I'm still not going to buy it. There are other factors that help me determine what I want to drink (like who made it and how). I think that's what ultimately hurts the Darroze 20 in its quest for larger fanfare, as good as it is. In trying to understand more about Armagnac one is ultimately limited by not knowing what's in it and who made it. The same thing goes for blended or vatted whiskies. I think if more people knew that KBD was dumping 20 year old Heaven Hill into their Noah's Mill there would be a bigger audience for those whiskies.

But they don't say that on the label.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Nov012013

K&L + Ardbeg = Hot Uigeadail Price

Can you believe that it's been ten whole years since the first release of Ardbeg's Uigeadail whisky? The 2009 Whisky of the Year from Jim Murray's Whisky Bible, the multi-awarded, always-delicious, masterfully-married, high-proof Islay whisky is still going strong a decade later and I'm stunned by the role K&L has been able to play in that journey. Did you know that K&L sells more Ardbeg than any other independently-owned store in the U.S.? More than those big chains with multiple outlets and more than those wholesalers who sell it for less than they pay for it. I don't think that says much about our sales skills, but rather it speaks to the great taste of our customers. People who shop at K&L already know their whisky, which is why we sell a ton of Ardbeg single malt.

But the #1 independent account in the entire United States? Wow. After ten years of Uigedail who would have thought it. Considering we can't ship to the majority of states and we're not nearly as big as other retailers, we must really have a large number of Ardbeg fans choosing to shop with us.

But what could we do to help celebrate both the birthday of our top-selling single malt whisky and the fact that we're the favorite Ardbeg retailer account in the country? A tasting? No. A fancy gift box? No.

What would customers enjoy? Oh....I know. How about lower pricing?

Ardbeg Uigeadail Traditional Strength Islay Single Malt Whisky $52.99 (WAS $59)

The most awesome Ardbeg account in the country should have the lowest price in the country, right? I don't know how long I can afford to do this, but I had to do something.

Let's celebrate! This is about as good as it gets for fifty bucks.

-David Driscoll