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Wednesday
Mar132013

Keeping Up With it All

Everyone needs a break now and again, but since booze is my full-time job there's no time to slack off when it comes to the latest trends and products. It's not easy staying well-informed with all genres of distilled spirits. It's a serious commitment. In my three years as spirits buyer I've watched some of my most passionate customers disappear without a trace. One day they were huge booze fans, the next they're completely out of the game.

I was flipping between the Giants vs. San Diego in a spring training game and the U.S. vs. Puerto Rico in the WBC last night when I realized I didn't know half of these players anymore. I used to watch baseball religiously as a kid (and play it, too!). I knew every player, their batting averages, which teams they had played for, and whether they were right or left-handed. Now I'm lucky if I can name just the San Francisco roster. The same goes for music. I used to know the names of every member of every band out there. Now I'm lucky if I even know a song from a handful of modern groups. I had thousands of CDs at one point and all of my money went to new music. Today, I still enjoy listening to music and going to concerts, but I'm far more choosey with my time and efforts. In both cases, I used to identify myself as a baseball fan or music supergeek. I felt like losing either one would completely obliterate my persona. I worked hard, spending all of my free time to keep up with the pack in both of these worlds.

In any topic of interest (including the two mentioned above) there will always be people who work harder than you. There will always be people who are incredibly nice, with whom you can bond over your mutual passion for your shared interests. There will always be people who obsess over knowing more than you so that they can hold it over your head ("Oh, you haven't tasted the new Yamazaki? I had it in Japan last week, but it's no big deal"). There will always be times when you don't know something you should (I told a customer yesterday that I didn't think Powers 12 Year Old Irish was being imported to the States, but David OG had it in stock in LA). There will always be people who disagree with you or feel differently (I saw that Serge from WhiskyFun wasn't a big fan of the new Ealanta whereas I think it's the best whisky I've tasted so far this year). Within the world of booze there are tons of people spending tons of their energy to get you to pay attention. You have to really care about booze in order to keep up with the latest events and sometimes it can seem like a huge waste of time.

Baseball seemed like a waste of time after I got cut from the varsity team in high school (being a chain smoker wasn't helping my first base sprint). Music seemed like a waste of time when I realized I was spending so much money on staying home and listening to music that I couldn't afford going out to actually meet people. At the first period in my life I felt quite depressed – if I wasn't a baseball player then I wasn't me and people would feel differently about who I was. However, when I sold all my CDs to Amoeba back in 2005 (after backing them up on a harddrive, of course), I felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders because I was free from having to be me, this music person who knew more than the average Joe. Identifying with a hobby or genre is fun. Passion is exciting, but if you lose yourself in the process it can be suffocating.

I get dangerously close to falling back into that hole every now and again with liquor, but my former experiences help to keep me balanced. There are times when I just want to come home and drink everything – by myself! – simply because I'm interested in learning more. However, no one wants to be that person who spends all their money on booze and never has enough cash to go out to eat with friends (Sideways actually touches on that element a bit when Miles steals money from his mother to pay for his fancy wine habit). You can be passionate about whisky and wine, but remain grounded to your regular life. It's not an all or nothing game, no matter how badly you feel like you should know this stuff.

I still know grown men today who can tell you the batting average of any player in the MLB. I still know people who catch every show at the Independent on Divisadero, hoping to say, "Yeah, I saw that band back before they made it." I still get at least one email every day from someone who knows more than me about booze and wants me to know it. Ten years ago these things might have driven me into a frenzy – a flurry of self-doubt, inferiority, and insecurity. Today, I let it pass. You don't have to know everything about whisky. You just have to enjoy drinking it.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Mar122013

T-Minus One Week

That's right! It's that time of year again. It's time to get back on that plane, head thousands of miles across the world to the UK, and pile into a car with David OG for some old-fashioned barrel hunting. A week from tomorrow we'll be leaving for Scotland to check out this year's crop of single cask selections. But it doesn't end there! We've been forced to pile two trips into one this season, so after rummaging through the Highlands we'll be boarding a place to Bordeaux and meeting up with our friend Charles Neal for another round of brandy tasting. After meandering our way through Armagnac, Cognac, and finally Normandy, we'll be headed to Paris where we'll catch a train to London. This year jolly old England is also in play! Three countries. Two and a half weeks. Constant updates with photos, info, and new discoveries. Unlike Barbados, however, Scotland is currently covered in a foot of snow. We're going from tropical to freezing in one week's time. Do we have what it takes?

Stay tuned for what will be our third trip over the water on behalf of K&L. This year's leg will be the longest, hardest, most-packed, and most-challenging. You might even see a picture of David OG and I strangling one another. There is no margin for error. Every single day is packed full of appointments and traveling as we dig even deeper on behalf of whisky fans everywhere. Will we make it out alive?

Stay tuned.

-David Driscoll 

Tuesday
Mar122013

Local Mixologist to Run LA Marathon for Charity

Jason McBeth is a friend and colleague of mine. He's an accomplished mixologist, who is currently behind the stick at the prestigious Osteria Mozza Restaurant in Los Angeles. All of this is not so unusual; accept Jason hasn't had the easiest time getting to where he is. Jason was brought up in the foster system. He attributes a good deal of his success to a scholarship program of which he was one of the first recipients. The Guardian Scholars Program addresses one of the most difficult issues facing children in the Foster Youth program as they strive to advance themselves. One of the most difficult periods in any young person's life are the transitional years from high school to college. This is doubly true for foster children, who have worked incredibly hard to be accepted to University, when the system simply tells them they are too old to continue getting services. Imagine getting accepted to College and being told that the place you've called home for several years can no longer accommodate you.  It's a tough place to be. This lack of support in these incredibly sensitive years is being addressed head on by this wonderful organization. The Guardian Scholars Program provides a network of resources for students “aging-out" of the foster system. They provide financial assistance, on campus housing, academic and professional services, health and counseling services, and a whole host of other services that these students desperately need. If you can help, even in the smallest amount, please do so. All contributions are tax deductible and a federal tax id # can be provided if needed. To make a contribution click on the link below:

Help Jason Reach His GOAL!!!

If you would prefer to contribute by check please reach out to me and I'll give you the information you'll need - davidgirard@klwines.com

-David Othenin-Girard

Monday
Mar112013

Warm Weather Rum Drinks

I really thought that I was going to be down in the dumps after returning from Barbados, simply because the transition to warm climate cocktails was so much fun. Coming back to the cold Bay Area was going to be a total downer. But wait! What's this? It's like 70 degrees on the Peninsula today! What a beautiful weekend this is turning out to be. I think I mentioned before we left that I was bringing a copy of Hemingway's Islands in the Stream on my journey. If you're a professional drinker like me there's no better source of inspiration than Papa himself. He's always got his hands on something cold and alcoholic, so I took some inspiration from the tropical novel to make my wife and me some libations this afternoon.

I remember I was still on the plane when I got to page 83 where Hemingway mentions the Green Isaac Special. "What the heck is that?" I thought. It turns out I'm the 99,999th blogger to write about this drink, but as I don't do a ton of cocktail research or Hemingway reading, this was all new to me. Hemingway describes the drink as, "a tall cold drink made of gin, lime juice, green coconut water, and chipped ice with just enough Angostura bitters to give it a rusty, rose color" (remember that this is fiction, by the way, not a cocktail manual – and you thought you only liked non-fiction!). I found a recipe online that I mimicked as soon as I got home. It was alright, but I thought it could be tweaked a bit.

After buying coconut water at the grocery store my wife became interested in the ingredients. It turns out that coconut water is one of the healthiest substances on planet earth. It's like nature's Gatorade, but without all the sugar. It rehydrates you faster than water, apparently, and it promotes healthy bacteria in your stomach. There are all sorts of health benefits to drinking it. That sounds like a great rationale to drink more coconut water cocktails (rehydrate as you dehydrate). I wanted to make a drink with rum and coconut water, however, so I turned to the grassy and aromatic agricole blanc to replace the herbacious flavor of the gin. I didn't want the Angostura addition either, but the rum overpowered the drink with just the coconut water and lime juice. Orgeat! That's it. Now we're talking.

Green Isaac Special Variation

2 oz. agricole blanc rum

4 oz. coconut water

1 oz. orgeat

1 oz. lime juice

Shake with ice and double strain into a highball glass full of more ice. Garnish with a lime wedge.

The Green Isaac took care of my wife, but I was in the mood for tonic water and bubbles. Hemingway drinks a lot of gin and tonics in the book, but he adds four drops of Angostura bitters to his. I wasn't in the mood for that. Again, I wanted to use rum and not gin for today's beverages, so I decided to return to the Mount Gay Extra Old – a rum I had not had much success with when mixing. The richness of the aged rum can play havoc if you try to overpower it with spice or citrus, so maybe the tonic water would add just the touch of bitterness it needed. Yep. That hits the spot and it's like a fresh gin and tonic with vanilla on the back end – almost like vanilla coke with lime!

Mount Gay XO & tonic

- 2 oz. Mount Gay Extra Old

- 5 oz. tonic water

- twist of lime

Pour on the rocks and garnish with a lime wedge.

Yum. Time to put my feet up.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Mar112013

Why Rum is the Next Big Thing (at K&L at least)

I don't have time to write a long, detailed article right now, but I do want to touch on a few quick points concerning rum. Since returning from Barbados, I've been thinking quite heavily about the spirits market and rum's role within it. Of all the spirits that are vying to become the next single malt whisky, the next big thing in booze, I think rum has the most crossover potential. Granted, American whiskey has already filled that niche and is currently struggling to keep it's inventory available due to high demand, but I think that will pass in about five years or so. Bourbon drinkers and single malt drinkers are often one in the same (like me, I enjoy both), but they are also commonly divided. I talk to single malt drinkers everyday who find Bourbon to be overly woody, while I talk to Bourbon drinkers who find single malt to be overly expensive. Here's where rum comes in:

- Rum can be done on a column still or a pot still and, like single malt whisky, there are blends of both as well as pure-pot still distillates. The blends tend to be less expensive and more accessible and the pot still rums are more expressive and intensely flavored. Just like single malt whisky.

- Rum is usually aged in ex-Bourbon casks as well as ex-Sherry butts. Mount Gay Extra Old is to rum what our Springbank Single Bourbon Barrel malt is to single malt whisky. El Dorado 15 is to rum what Glendronach 12 is to single malt whisky (except the El Dorado is $15 cheaper). Other Bourbon barrel aged rums like Zafra 21 continue to fly under the radar of most whisky drinkers, but Sherry-aged rums like Zacapa and Zaya have become very popular. Zacapa and Zaya are the Glenlivet and Glenfiddich of rum. Something like Santa Theresa or Diplomatico from Venezuela offers more of an Aberlour experience.

- Unlike single malt whisky, white rum is actually useful! See our older posts about the Daiquiri to learn everything you need about mixing. Having uses for both white rum and aged rum is a huge advantage for the rum distiller and for the customer! You can have rums for sipping and rums for mixing, which is an advantage that American whiskey currently holds over single malt. You might fly through a bottle of Rittenhouse in two days making Manhattans, but you wouldn't do that with your Macallan bottle. On top of that, no one is trying to fool you in the rum industry when it comes to the value of maturity because aged rum isn't all that more expensive. There are no "age is everything" or "age is just a number" marketing taglines to try and convince you to pay more for something aged or to accept something younger simply because the producer is out of mature stock. At least, not that I know of!

- Rum is cheeeeeeeeeap! Compared to single malt whisky, that is. Mount Gay's Eclipse sells for $15! The Extra Old is a marriage of eight to sixteen year old rums and sells for $35. Zafra 21 year old is $36! Barbancourt 15 is about the same. El Dorado 12 year is in the mid-$20s. These are serious rums at bargain basement prices when you compare them to the malt shelf. More importantly, their flavors are far more similar to single malt whisky than any American Bourbon or rye. At least once a day someone will tell me, "I like single malt, but I'm looking to crossover into Bourbon because it's more affordable." I should be steering these folks over to the rum section.

- Women who hate single malt whisky and Bourbon seem to love rum! Rum is fun. It goes in fruit-flavored drinks. It reminds people of the beach. However, even the aged sipping rums are more accessible to the less-initiated palate. My wife will spit out any single malt whisky or Bourbon offering I have her taste. It's never gone well and it's never going to either because to her they taste like poison. She has enjoyed each and every rum that has crossed her lips, however. Even the agricole ones! Haven't you ever wanted to share your passion for sipping mature spirits with your loved one? I can finally do that thanks to rum and its mellower profile.

- Rum has the history and the romance. Caribbean history is utterly fascinating. Pirates! What's more romantic and fun than a pirate? American history is steeped in rum culture. In fact, rum played a key role in the foundation of the United States (you can look that up on your own). I know people who dream of driving through Scotland or Kentucky, visiting the distilleries, and sipping whisk(e)y at each stop. Are you honestly telling me that you'd rather bundle up in the cold Highlands than go island hopping from Jamaica to Barbados to Martinique and then down to Guyana?

- There are tons of Caribbean and Latin American rum distilleries that are not owned by major corporations. That means there is still undiscovered country out there as well as niche products that never leave the area. I've tasted whisky from every operating single malt distillery in Scotland (and most of the mothballed ones as well). If you're looking for a new adventure, it lies to the south.

These are just a few thoughts running through my head this morning. I've been looking for a new direction in spirits for some time and I think it points toward the Caribbean. We need more rum at K&L. We need more rum education as well. We need more rum tastings. It's time to contact some people.

-David Driscoll