Thinking About Selection

When I was a kid I often thought about how great it would be to own every Nintendo game ever made. All of them, there for the playing whenever I wanted them. Fifteen years later, when emulators were born, I had hundreds of classics at my fingertips on my laptop with a classic controller: Mario, Metroid, Castlevania, Zelda, you name it. Yet, I ended up mostly playing Mike Tyson's Punch Out over and over, simply because I couldn't make up my mind which game to play next.

This is the irony of selection. We think we want everything, yet when we get it we don't know what to do with it. When Napster first debuted during my junior year of college, I remember stockpiling MP3s like it was a full-time job. It was like a dream come true, hundreds of thousands of megabytes there for the taking. I could download albums I had always wanted, but didn't want to actually purchase (illegally, I know, but that's irrelevant for this conversation) just to check them out. I could put thousands and thousands of songs on a player and use it like my own personal jukebox, forever changing the way we would DJ our house parties back then. Today I have more than 5,000 records backed up on my hard drive, yet I still prefer to listen to the radio.

Why is it that I get more excited about hearing my favorite song at a local bar than I am in the comfort of my own house? I can YouTube any song at any time and listen to it on my iPhone, yet there's something special about experiencing that moment when it comes unexpectedly. I remember waiting around all day as a kid to see Cinderella's "Save Me" video on MTV. I would sit there for hours, hoping they'd play it. When it finally would appear I would go crazy, picking up an old tennis racquet that would serve as my fake electric guitar. These days I can watch that video at my leisure, anywhere I am in the world at anytime. While having that access can be a wonderful thing, if I were to randomly see that video on VH1 Classic today I would be far more excited.

It's this phenomenon that's on my mind right now as I eat my lunch and think about my reunion with friends tomorrow in Modesto. We'll be having an all-day party at my friend Eric's house, the site of many memorable nights from my high-school days, and I need to bring the booze. What to bring? We were all born in 1979, so maybe I should grab the 1979 Glenfarclas? Are we really going to drink whisky though? What about wine, should I bring Champagne? Some Bordeaux from the year we graduated? Maybe I should bring a whole case of different spirits that my friends can try and sample as the day progresses. There are so many things I want to share with them! How in the world can I choose just a few?

Ultimately, I know what I need to do, it's just a matter of doing it. I need to spend the day talking to my friends, not talking to my friends about booze. I need to just pick something good, keep it simple, and let the booze speak for itself. Bringing too many things would simply overload my friends' ability to enjoy themselves. We'd all feel pressured to try everything, getting drunk way too fast, and likely sick before the day is over. Limiting our options is definitely the best way to go.

There's a great part in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's new novel Americanah where the main protagonist, Ifemelu, an imigrant from Nigeria, is working as a nanny while attending college in New York. She notices the sister of her boss asking her two-year old daughter if she wants a red, blue, or yellow balloon and the child starts crying when she can't make up her mind. Ifemelu thinks to herself, why even give the kid an option at all? Just give her a balloon! She'll be happy no matter which color she gets because in the end its still a balloon. Adichie writes that one of the great pleasures of childhood is not having to make decisions, but rather living in that bubble, free from responsibility and pressure. Yet more irony, right? As a child we might long to have grown-up options, but as an adult some of our greatest pleasures come from not having to think about these decisions.

What do you want to listen to? I don't know, just put something on the stereo. What do you want to eat? Surprise me. What do you want to drink? You pick it. I've found that many of my most memorable experiences with food and drink have been at the houses of colleagues or friends that planned out the menu for me. I didn't have to do anything but sit back and relax. That's what I'm going to do tomorrow. I'm going to pick a few wines and a bottle of whisky for us to enjoy and that's all there's going to be. No bar full of fifty options, no explaining to my friends why they might want one over the other. I'm just going to pour and that's it.

Sometimes having access to everything results in complete overload and there's nothing fun or fantastic about that.

-David Driscoll


New K&L Exclusive Armagnac

Domaine du Miquer is finally here and I expect this producer to be one of the strongest players in our French spirits department for some time to come. These are both knockouts, classic in every way.

It’s been pretty well documented over the last few decades that many of the most complex and interesting Armagnacs have been distilled from Folle Blanche wine. Besides the rather stubborn varietal, Armagnac can also be stilled from Ugni Blanc, Baco, or Colombard, but Folle Blanche seems to be a very special grape for distillation. The problem, however, is that Folle Blanche is a much more difficult grape to grow, plus it’s not as valuable for wine production as Ugni Blanc and Colombard are. So if you’re into making wine as well as brandy, you’re more likely to grow Ugni Blanc or Colombard. If you’re into making durable, long-lived Armagnac, you’re probably growing Baco. If you’re interested in making tasty, esoteric, miniscule amounts of Armagnac that will only be appreciated by a handful of super-geeky, anal-retentive spirits nerds around the globe, then you’re probably making Armagnac from Folle Blanche. Unfortunately, there are not many producers who cater to us geeky types, so these selections are quite special for that reason.

A bit more info about Domaine du Miquer, you ask? Why sure!

Taken from the blog this past March:

Our next stop after Dupuy was another new face for K&L: an estate called Domaine du Miquer that is run by Jacques Lasserre. Jacques is a veteran of the business and for years was the distiller for many other producers in the region (remember than many Armagnac producers have no stills and hire other people to distill their wine). He knows the production from the vineyard to the bottle and you can tell it right away when you taste his brandy. They are polished and exquisite in quality. His crazy old still was made in 1900 and continues to create one masterpiece after another.

Both David and I expect Miquer to be a big player for K&L in 2013. There were a number of selections that interested us. Even though Jacques only has six hectares of fruit, with which only four are dedicated to distillation, he had tons of great booze. A 1986 Folle Blanche sample was incredibly refined and polished. We were hooked right off the bat. A 1993 showed beautiful aromas and wonderful hints of Blackjack and Big Red gum on the finish. A 1982 Baco was also stunning.

If all goes well we might take as many as five expressions from Miquer because they're so impressive. We can't really ask for better brandy to sell at K&L. Jacques was also a very nice guy who is the kind of person we want to be doing more business with.

1993 Domaine du Miquer K&L Exclusive Bas Armagnac $115.99 - The 1993 is absolutely stunning with a beautiful bouquet of warm baking spices and woody barrel notes. The finish has a vibrant Big Red cinnamon note and hint of anise that really gives it pep. This is a very special brandy that matches some of the best we have ever carried from producers like Darroze, Baraillon, and Ravignan.

1986 Domaine du Miquer K&L Exclusive Bas Armagnac $129.99 - The 1986 is rich, spicy, full of woody notes, but also the softer side of the grape. The Folle Blanche gives this brandy finesse and an elegance that is rarely seen with Armagnac these days.

-David Driscoll


Everyone Loves a Story

I only drink whiskey for the flavor. That's the most important part. I mean, who cares about how it's made and who made it if it doesn't taste great? I don't care what kind of bottle, box, or package it comes in as long as the quality is there.

People love to say things like that. I think it's a nice idea, being such a purist when it comes to drinking that nothing else besides flavor drives your purchasing or preferences. The reality, however, is that the story behind a spirit will ultimately make or break most sales, even to the most knowledgeable enthusiasts. In fact, it's often the most passionate drinkers who are most susceptible to the most romantic storylines. I know this because I'm one of those people.

If all we cared about were skill and precision then we all would have rooted for Apollo Creed over Rocky. If all that concerned us were proficiency and focus then everyone's favorite band would be Rush, not Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones. If simple pleasure was the only thing on our minds then we'd all be just as happy making love to a complete stranger in the dark. This is not reality, however. There are many other factors outside of quality that influence how we feel about people, places, and things.

For example, the 1945 Camut Calvados we tasted last year in Normandy was pretty amazing. However, the fact that it was the first vintage distilled after Normandy was liberated from Nazi control put that sip into an entirely different perspective. It's that amazing story, told to us by the Camut brothers about their grandfather, that literally brought a tear to my eyes as I was nosing the glass. Or look at the fact that we completely sold out of Elmer T. Lee Bourbon yesterday, as whiskey drinkers everywhere looked to honor the legendary distiller who saddly passed away this week at the age of 93. The namesake and the legacy of that man was what drove those sales - an outpour of emotion and the desire to raise a glass in memory.

That's why when I got another routine box of barrel samples in the mail yesterday from Four Roses, I wasn't chomping at the bit to go through them. Until I checked my inbox and found an email from master distiller Jim Rutledge telling me that he had gone to the warehouse and picked these samples out personally (hence the JR with the circle around it on each label). The last few cask selections we had received hadn't featured anything super exciting, so unfortunately I had gotten into the habit of telling my sales rep that we wouldn't be taking another barrel for the time being. This information had eventually reached Jim, so he took it upon himself to go down to the rickhouse and find me some barrels he thought would be extra special. That changed my entire outlook on that box of bottles sitting under my desk. Jim picked these out? Himself? Especially for K&L? Wow, that changes everything. I paid extra special attention to each sample this time around and thought about why Jim might have chosen each of them as I tasted.

When we eventually bring one (or more) of these Four Roses barrels into the store, the fact that Jim Rutledge picked out these samples will definitely carry more weight in the product description. Just like it does when Four Roses releases their Limited Edition single barrel each year. Ultimately, there's nothing like a good story to help us along with our enjoyment of life. Knowing why something is a little extra special is something we all appreciate, even if we like to say that we don't care as much as we do.

-David Driscoll


The Rocket Returns Tomorrow

Anyone interested in tasting some free Ardbog while doing their best Slim Pickens impersonation should come by the Redwood City store tomorrow between 5 PM and 6:30. We'll see you there!

-David Driscoll


Best of NYC: 2013

It's been another fantastic week in New York City and my wife and I are ready to call it quits for 2013. Manhattan is pretty much our favorite place in the whole world because there's nowhere else where you can eat and drink non-stop while always experiencing something new, cutting edge, and exciting - at any hour of the day! We come here every year without fail, so we're always on the lookout for new ideas. We've had some pretty outstanding drinks and some stellar meals thanks to a few lucky turns and some great recommendations from friends. I didn't really plan on blogging while we were on vacation, but since I have the computer and the time I thought I'd hand out our two best-ofs from this year's trip. If you find yourself in New York anytime soon, you might want to try out the following two places:

Best Meal: Catch (Meatpacking District)

This one caught me off guard. We were pretty much going here for the celebrity version of Where's Waldo and some socialite people watching, but this new spot in Manhattan's uber-trendy Meatpacking District is absolutely fantastic. We did see some very famous people while dining at Catch (Mary J. Blige eating right next to us - freaking awesome!), but it was both the food and service that really shined. It was so good we ate there twice. The yellowtail hamachi, coconut shrimp sushi roll, baked shrimp, grilled salmon, seared snapper, and pistachio scallops were all stellar - fresh, perfectly-cooked, and tasty. The wine list was also vast and reasonable. We were able to snag bottles of both Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc and Donnhoff Riesling without bankrupting our bank accounts. We already knew that Regis and Kelly loved Catch, but now we're big fans as well. We'll definitely be coming back.

Best Drink: Mai Tai at Dutch (SoHo)

This was a totally random pit stop on Prince Street while stranded in the 93 degree humidity. It was more of a necessity than a choice. It turns out that Dutch is actually quite a famous little place, but we didn't know that. I figured out they had their act together, however, when I noticed their Mai Tai used Banks 5 Island rum and real orgeat. It got even better when the bartender used two kinds of ice - large block ice for the lower section comprised of the white rum, housemade orgeat, and fresh-squeezed citrus, but then a sno-cone of perfect pebbles on top with Black Strap rum poured over it like shaved ice. In this case, the dark rum floater was like a summer slushy! In the hot summer heat, this Mai Tai was both clever and practical. The ice kept the dark rum from mixing with the lower half, allowing the perfectly crafted cocktail to pass through the dark seal on its way to my mouth. YUM!

-David Driscoll