Tuesday
Jun042013

Two New K&L Single Malt Pre-Orders!

See that guy in the above photo? That's David Stirk. He's a friend of ours in Scotland that continues to hunt down delicious single malt barrels on our behalf. Having just secured pricing on more of the casks we were interested in, we're ready to start making more announcements about our deal with David and his Exclusive Malt label. We've got two new value-priced whiskies that we're going to start offering on a pre-order basis, beginning right now! Check out David OG's notes below:

2000 Aberlour 12 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - After the success of last years 21 year Aberlour, we weren't planning to buy a repeat from this lovely little distillery. That all changed in David Stirk's little warehouse south of Glasgow. This lovely hogshead was just singing to us. Its rich and warming style will delight any lover of Speyside whisky. On the nose we get powerful toasted grains, biscuits, honey (some exotic type, tilleuil?) and pears. The palate is super soft and rich, which more of the oak spice evident than on the nose, but the similar blend of sweet floral and grainy flavors. On the end those spices come back with heavy dose of that biscuit (I'm thinking Walkers). Maybe this is not the most exciting whisky on paper, but it will certainly be several peoples' favorite this year. (David Othenin-Girard, K&L Spirits Buyer)

2006 Island Distillery 7 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $54.99 - This little mystery malt was a favorite of ours from the moment the bung popped out of the cask. Both David and I are huge fans of young smoky whisky and this is one of the best under-10 year olds that we've found. It's vibrant, salty, supple, with all the intense that you'd want out of the best young peaters, but beautifully restrained as well. Now this whisky was distilled on one of Scotland's numerous Isles, that's about all I can tell you regarding the specifics of the distillery. I can tell you that, it is not from the Island of Islay, I can tell you that this blows the young Caol Ila that we loved out of the water and I can tell you that our price for this whisky is well below what we'd expected to pay, not to mention well below the cost of that Caol Ila. One thing that struck us about this cask was how different it was from others that we'd seen from this distillery. This whisky is powerful, but with a great deal of nuance at this age. A subtle fresh rubber quality transitions to subtle fruit (maybe light red berries). Altogether a wonderfully idiosyncratic whisky and the first of what we hope to be several young peaty mystery malts to come. (David Othenin-Girard, K&L Spirits Buyer)

These are due to arrive later this Fall!

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jun042013

New Darroze Stuff & More

This morning I had the pleasure of running through some sample bottles of new Darroze Armagnac vintages now available in the California market. I was thoroughly impressed with the quality and am really excited about their imminent arrival here in the Redwood City store. If you're unclear as to who or what Darroze is, I'll give you a bit of background information, but you can also check out our visit to the Darroze estate back in January of 2012. There's a lot of explanation in that post about Armagnac in general for those of you looking to learn more.

Darroze is like the independent bottler of Armagnac, but they're much more hands-on than say someone like Signatory or Gordon & MacPhail. Not only are most of these producers only available from Darroze, but many of the brandies were actually distilled by Darroze as well. Not everyone has their own still out in the backwoods of Gascony, therefore many of the names adorning the Darroze labels are simply the names of the farm or the estate, not of an actual distillery. In many cases, Darroze will simply purchase the wine from these estates and do their own distillation and barrel maturation, much like Hennessy does in the Cognac region. Unlike Hennessy, however, Darroze will actually separate and label the brandies by the estate name. Much of what makes each Armagnac different from another begins in the vineyard, rather than in the still or the barrel. Darroze is dedicated to making that concept clear with each expression.

Exactly what is is that makes each brandy different? How about the grape varietal? Armagnac can be distilled from Baco, Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and any combination of those four. Different grapes produce different flavors and the cepage will also affect how each of the spirits ages. Baco, for example, is capable of aging for decades and decades without losing its fruit. The nuances of Folle Blanche, however, might be better appreciated in the short term. Because Armagnac is usually aged in new oak, often times charred on the inside, the flavor profile can be strikingly similar to American Bourbon where the wood spices and sugars from the cask load the spirit with richness and power. Many of the Darroze selections I tasted today would appeal to any Bourbon lover looking to branch out.

Besides its role as archivist and preserver of vintage Armagnac, Darroze also functions as a blender. Like a large house in Cognac, they often release age statement marriages of multiple brandies. Along with the many individual vintage and producer options, you can try the 8, 12, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 year old assemblages for more steamlined and rounded flavors. While I know the spirit geek in us tends to favor the undilluted, pure expression of the single estate, it's the assemblages line-up that I think will knock your socks off.

These won't be in stock until tomorrow and we will be featuring most Darroze items as "Special Order Only," but I'll give you my notes right now for the ones we plan on bringing in full time:

Darroze Les Grand Assemblages "20 Year Old" Bas-Armagnac $99.99 - Absolutely stunning Armagnac with incredible richness, spice, and balance. I can't say it enough, so I'll say it again: everyone who's out there chasing things like Pappy 20 or BMH 16 should be stocking up on things like this instead. Or maybe I shouldn't say that because the people who actually drink Armagnac regularly will get pissy. In any case, this is a slam dunk spirit. Big wood, lots of spice and vanilla, and a rustic fruit character with seamless execution. My new favorite brandy for the moment.

Darroze Les Grand Assemblages "50 Year Old" Bas-Armagnac $349.99 - Where as the 20 year assemblage is bold, rich, and powerful, the 50 year old is silky, supple, nuanced and gentle. This is an absolutely masterful marriage of caramel and vanilla, soft fruits and haunting richness. Amazing in every way.

1975 Darroze Domaine Bordevieille Bas Armagnac $189.99 - A rare vintage from the 1970s composed of 100% Folle Blanche, this is one of the prettiest brandies we carry - period. The nose offers hints of soft fruit covered in rich caramel, while the palate proves to be just as delicate. The finish is long and lasting, showcasing waves of soft toffee and fruit that ripple along for minutes. Bordevieille was growing Folle Blanche when other producers thought it wasn't worth the effort. Now we can clearly see that it was!

1993 Darroze Domaine Pounon Bas Armagnac $115.99 - The 1993 vintage from Domaine Pounon is loaded with bold, spicy wood flavor, much like a high-proof Bourbon. The nuance of the fruit is overpowered by the caramel and vanilla of the wood, but it's not a bad thing. This is crossover spirit - capable of pleasing American whiskey fans without losing the rusticity of the Armagnac character.

In addition to these four new expressions, we already carry the 12 year and 30 year old assemblages as well as a few other vintage Armagnacs. Darroze has always had a tough time catching on in the American market because their products are pricy and their focus is narrow. They are the epitome of the boutique French brandy house. However, now more than ever, I feel like this might be the right time to nudge them back into the marketplace. They were imported by Preiss Imports in San Diego for years until its eventual merger with Anchor here in San Francisco. After that they were without representation and absent from the states for more than a year (hence, why we stopped by back in 2012 looking for some possible exclusives). They now have a new importer who is focused on artisan French spirits and who has done an outstanding job selecting some of the jewels from the cellar. I'm very happy Darroze has a new home in the U.S. and I think K&L customers will really enjoy some of their offerings, especially Bourbon drinkers looking for a new experience.

One little knick-knack I also tasted along with the Darroze brandies was a fun Marcs de Bourgogne from Domaine de la Folie. Marcs is pretty much the French version of Italian grappa - a spirit distilled from the fermented must of leftover grape skins and pommace after pressing. Whereas many Italian grappas are clear and unaged, however, most of the marcs I've tasted from France are aged in wood. Until today, though, I'd never tasted one this mature. The La Folie Marc de Bourgogne was aged for a minimum of twenty years in refill Cognac barrels and offers all the flavor of grappa, with its earthy and petrol-like minerality, but with a healthy dose of vanilla and richness on the backend. The estate has been growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since the 16th century, so I can see why they know what they're doing. The Marcs should run about $80 and will also be delivered with the Darroze stuff.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Jun032013

Bravo-lebrities & Booze

Do you know who that is holding the bottle of wine in the above advertisement? That's Ramona Singer. She's probably my favorite "Real Housewife" from any of the geographically-themed, reality-show extravaganzas on the Bravo network. Why do I know who Ramona Singer is? For the same reason my wife knows who The Undertaker or C.M. Punk is: we watch TV together. In return for two episodes of WWE Monday Night Raw, I am forced to watch the Real Housewives of New York, Atlanta, Beverly Hills, New Jersey, Orange County, and any other region that spawns its own spin-off. However, don't tell my wife this, but while she still abhors every minute of high-flying action she has to endure, I secretly love the Bravo-lebrities.

Maybe it's because there's so much on Bravo that has to do with my job. I'm the booze guy. I love booze. I love my job. If there's a show that has to do with boozing (a la Mad Men or Anthony Bourdain), I'm going to enjoy it. If there's melodrama involved, even better. I watched Beverly Hills 90210 every Wednesday for eight years. That's why the reality programming on the Bravo network has totally stolen my heart and turned me into an Andy Cohen junkie. The women on Bravo love to drink as much as they love to argue. So much so, that their new-found popularity has resulted in a number of brand creations that have crossed over onto my side of the couch.

Sassy, spunky Ramona Singer is always drinking Pinot Grigio on screen. That's all she drinks. In several hilarious episodes of the New York show, she ends up at a party without a glass of Pinot Grigio and throws a fit while trying to track down her beverage of choice. Ramona's side-splitting obsession with the Italian varietal finally lead to her own private label, a wine that eventually made it onto the shelf at the K&L Hollywood store. The moment that happened I called my wife. We had never bonded so closely over television before. Her passion for the Housewives and my passion for wine and spirits had finally joined hands and united. She watched it, I sold it. Viewing the show was actually going to count as research now!

Ramona wasn't the only New York housewife, however, to get her own specialty drink. The big payoff came when Bethenny Frankel created her own brand of low-calorie, pre-mixed margarita and sold it to Beam Global for more than $100 million. It was a huge part of the New York plot line and even turned into a separate series that focused just on Bethenny and her new life as a business woman. Once again, the programming I watched on television with my wife, the show that my friends would make fun of me for watching if they knew I secretly did so, resulted in tons of market research for me in my role as spirits buyer for K&L. At least, that's how I justified it to myself.

After the popularity of the Housewives began to skyrocket, producer Andy Cohen looked for a way to offer more programming for those who couldn't get enough of the show. He started an after-program called Watch What Happens Live that featured him, two celebrity guests (mostly Bravo-lebrities at first), and a special guest bartender to make them drinks while they chatted. The set became known as the Bravo clubhouse and the half-hour show, with its quirky games and fun-oriented atmosphere, became the secret obsession of people everywhere – for TV drunks like myself, and many a major celebrity as well. All of a sudden, the guests were no longer just various housewives and their friends, but actual men who enjoyed the show's energy. Jimmy Fallon would make an appearance. Actors like Ralph Fiennes and Ethan Hawke would drop by to promote their new movies. It turned out that a lot of talented, famous men really enjoyed a show that was mostly geared towards women. Imagine that!

How is it that a cable network producer single-handedly turned a group of eccentric women into one of the most talked about sensations on television? With energy, excitment, and a bit of alcohol. When you combine enthusiasm and a fun, friendly environment with cocktails and liquor, you're going to draw larger crowds than usual. This is the reason I always tell customers not to get too uptight with their drinking. Don't be afraid to have fun, drink some vodka, make some fruity cocktails, or even.....gulp.....put a little bit of ice in your single malt. You'd be amazed by what a difference letting down your inhibitions can make with your enjoyment of alcohol and life. Parties are always better when the guests can let down their guard.

I, for one, have had more fun drinking booze while watching the Bravo network than I have at most Bay Area bars lately. The programming actually was part of the inspiration behind our series of Salon parties, where we encouraged guests to drink and talk, rather than listen to a lecture on spirits. Who would've thunk it? I even have my own list of Watch What Happens Live-inspired drinks I make for my wife and her friends. Now I just need to get Andy to let me be his guest bartender!

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Jun022013

Late Ardbog Day Celebration or How To Help A SoCal Whisky Legend

So this is pretty last minute, but you should definitely jet toward Santa Monica this afternoon for the final fundraiser for Marty's (the PLOWED Society Legend)Heart Fund. Rumor is they'll have some priliminary samples batches of the Ardbog there along with the new release. Taste it along with a rare bunch of limited releases. Truly a wonderful line up and for a good cause.

Daily Pint Santa Monica
2310 Pico Blvd. 

Santa Monica, CA 90405 


$60 - FUNDRAISING DONATION

4pm - 6pm
Try the brand new ArdBOG, the distillery's long awaited new release and enjoy Ardbeg cocktails from a master mixologist.


6pm - 9pm
Join the SoCal Whisky Club for a walk through the rebirth of the mighty Ardbeg distillery.  Ardbeg was, believe or not, closed for a few years.  When it re-opened it released bottles as they progressed toward 10 years.  These are very collectible (expensive), good (mostly) and enlightening to watch Ardbeg progress through the years.  Then finish off the night with some other great releases.  Marty loves Ardbeg, and the money raised is going straight to the Marty’s heart fund.
Note:  Many of these are extremely rare bottles donated by The Ardbeg Project’s Tim Puett.  You will never see them again.  


1. Ardbeg Very Young (bottled in 2004)
2. Ardbeg Still Young (bottled in 2006)
3. Ardbeg Almost There (bottled in 2007)
5. Ardbeg 10 Current Release
4. Ardbeg Renaissance (bottled in 2008)
6. Ardbeg Day
7. Ardbeg Galileo


RSVP to whiskyredhead@gmail.com

Friday
May312013

Standing Out From the Crowd

I was thinking about cocktail menus the other day and how some restaurants are trying so hard lately to have complex, esoteric, multi-faceted drink options, hoping to stand out from the average watering hole. It's getting pretty ridiculous at some establishments with their nine ingredients per drink,  professional ice carvers, and blowtorched garnishes. What's funny to me, however, is that there's a certain uniformity in "standing out." When so many people try so hard to be different just for the sake of it, they end up with a similar result: passionless mediocrity. It's what happens when you do something reactive rather than because you want to.

What does that mean? Let me give you a few examples.

Back in elementary school my friends and I were obsessed with professional sports. However, being GATE students (Gifted And Talented Education - seriously, that's not a joke) we were obsessed with our own self-importance and originality. We wanted to stand out of the pack and to be interesting because that's what our teachers always told us we were: special. If every other school kid liked the San Francisco Giants and Will Clark (which they did growing up in California) we chose weird, distant teams. My favorite team in sixth grade was the Toronto Blue Jays and my favorite player was Joe Carter. My favorite basketball team was the Charlotte Hornets. I rooted for the Indianapolis Colts and followed the Montreal Canadians in hockey. I chose to support those teams because, in my mind, being a Blue Jays fan made me unique and different. However, when people asked me why I was a Blue Jays fan, I didn't have a real answer. There was no inner passion, nostalgia, or love associated with my fandom. It was all spectacle for the sake of it.

In high school during the mid 1990s, when teenage angst was in full swing, every kid I knew loved Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Green Day. I loved Nirvana in 1991, but when they blew up and every single alterna-teen in sight was wearing a Nirvana T-shirt to school, I didn't want to be associated with that image. If that nerd Ian likes Nirvana, what does that say about me? Nirvana became instantly uncool in my world, even though I secretly loved their music. I reached out for lesser-known, more alternative inspiration. I embraced Sonic Youth and more experimental, less pop-oriented material. I went industrial. I was only interested in music that no one else had heard of. However, despite my professed love for the underground,  I wasn't as genuinely passionate about any of this music. I wanted people to think I was, but it never really touched my soul. Today, in retrospect, I'll get more excited listening to "In Bloom" or "Even Flow" on the car radio than any track off of Kill Your Idols.

As you get older you realize there's no shame in liking what other people like, or doing what other people do, as long as your passion is genuine. Individuality, respect, and coolness are not simply the result of wacky clothing, underground music, or a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. They're inner qualities that come from being true to your own affections and values. Just because some poser likes something you like doesn't make you a poser, too. Just because some hotshot drives the same car as you doesn't make you a hotshot as well. You can't fake the funk, if you know what I mean.

Our old wine club director Thorton Jacobs used to say, "There's a reason the great wines of France are the great wines of France." That always cracked me up. Everytime we read about some up and coming trend in the wine world, some new geographical region that was making great juice, some ultra-hip, gotta-have-it new producer in the Canary Islands or Tasmania, Thorton would always bust out that quip. In the end, there's a reason why certain wines from certain places have attained the reputation they now enjoy: they're really, really good. You can try to grow Bordeaux varietals in Montana, or pinot noir in Spain, but you just can't compete with centuries of trial and error. Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Alsace, and the Rhone have pretty much defined what cabernet, merlot, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, riesling, and syrah should taste like. That's why they're known as the great wines of France.

In a similar vein, there are certain cocktail recipes that stand the test of time. They're on every menu because they're classics and a large majority of people enjoy them - Martinis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, Daiquiris, etc. There's nothing worse than sitting down at a bar with a chip on its shoulder about standing out, being progressive, and modernly chic. Usually it results in some f-ed up drink that tastes like a hot mess, but that's what makes it cool, right?  

If you don't like it, maybe you don't get it. (rolls eyes)

Ha! I remember that line! I used to say that to other teenagers as I took a drag off my cigarette and acted like I didn't care about anything.

Sometimes the booze world is like a giant version of high school, rife with all the same insecurities, solipsism, and fashionable trends. It has all the same score settling, all the same cliques and cool kids, and all the same pretentiousness.

And all the same pretending.

-David Driscoll