Special K&L/Campeon Dinner with Lou Palatella

Do you see the above setting? This is a picture I took of Lou Palatella sitting at lunch with the employees of El Viejito distillery after we made a deal to create our own blanco tequila exclusively for K&L. This is how we ate all our meals in Guadalajara: a big family-style table, lots of bottles of tequila on the table which were passed around like wine, and a variety of sodas and mixers to make drinks. It was awesome.

Lou and I were so caught up in the idea of tequila bottle service at dinner that we decided we needed to throw our own dinner party as soon as the K&L tequila was ready. Now that it's in stock and ready to go, it's time to have that special dinner. On September 4th in San Mateo, you'll have the chance to come drink our new K&L Exclusive Campeon Blanco tequila as it was meant to be drunk: with a gigantic table full of delicious, authentic Mexican cuisine. You'll sit at a big table and listen to former San Francisco 49er Lou Palatella tell you crazy stories about the gridiron, the liquor business, and life in general. Trust me - this is one party you'll not want to miss. Three courses of food, all the blanco tequila you can drink, and a good time out. Sixty bucks. Hot deal. Only 40 seats available.

El Sinaloense is located on Palm Ave in San Mateo right near the Hayward Park Caltrain stop which is very convenient when you've been drinking all night with a football legend.

Campeon Tequila Dinner @ El Sinaloense, Wednesday Sept 4th 7:30 PM $60 - When Lou Palatella and I went down to Guadalajara to visit the El Viejito distillery and produce our new collaborative blanco tequila, we had dinner with all of the distillery's staff one night after working out the deal. In downtown Guadalajara City we sat at a large dinner table, ordered family style dishes of meat and seafood, while passing bottles of tequila around the table almost like one would a bottle of wine. Also on the table were various mixers (Coke, Squirt, tonic water) and buckets of ice to assist in the process. Both Lou and I, notorious wine drinkers, immediately fell in love with the practice. Why couldn't a bottle of tequila function like a bottle of wine? We're ready to try that idea out here in the Bay Area now, which is why we're inviting you to come celebrate the release of the new K&L Exclusive Campeon Blanco Tequila by joining us for a three-course family style dinner at San Mateo's El Sinaloense. Mario's amazing staff will be serving appetizers of ceviche with assorted nacho plates, a choice of steak, fish, or assorted grilled seafood for dinner, and a full dessert plate with various pastries and sweets. On each table will be multiple bottles of the new K&L Campeon Blanco which can be poured and mixed to your liking. Best of all, the man himself, former San Francisco 49er and Campeon owner Lou Palatella will be in the building to help us celebrate and, believe me, no one can party like this 80 year old superstar. Come join us!

-David Driscoll


Whisky Season 2013 Continues!

Big news today: three very mature casks of Islay whisky will be part of this year's K&L bumper crop. David OG negotiated the deal and he is fierce. I'm totally pumped.

And we've got another cask to offer on a pre-order basis as well. We sneaked this one into the newsletter. Did you catch it?

1998 Arran 14 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $89.99 PRE-ORDER - Our first attempt to visit the lone distillery on Scotland's Isle of Arran was disastrous - a gigantic blizzard blew through the south of Scotland, completely shutting down the available ferry system and knocking out power for the entire island. Despite our desire to finally see one of the true up-and-comers of the Scotch industry, we were simply out of luck this year. That didn't mean we couldn't taste through casks, however. Luckily for us, the Arran rep was stationed at Glasgow when the storm hit and had samples pulled in anticipation of our appointment. We met up with her shortly after the storm and immediately fell in love with an ex-sherry hogshead that was as complex and delicious as anything we had ever tasted from the young distillery. The nose is all golden grains, brandied fruit, and malty goodness. The palate has a short burst of bright fruit before settling down into faint sherry and sweet barley. At cask strength the alcohol makes these flavors even more powerful, but water doesn't hinder them in any way. Arran is easily the MIP of the malt industry - the most improved player. Recent releases have been top notch, especially for a producer that began in 1996. We have no doubt that this wonderful cask will make believers out of K&L customers as well. The richness of the finish lingers on forever, reminding for minutes how legit this whisky is. Of course, we knew that going in. That's why we were willing to brave the blizzard.

-David Driscoll


Interview with the Vampires

It appears that K&L's reach is extending far beyond California these days. New York City blogger Kevin Chan keeps tabs on what we're up to in the spirits department and recently reached out to David and me about some questions he had. We turned it into a conference call and Kevin transcribed the conversation into a two part interview. The first part is up on his webpage right now. Hopefully we didn't say anything stupid.

Part I of the David & David interview.

-David Driscoll


Defining Craft (Part II)

I sat down to write an article called "Defining Craft" this morning, only to realize that I've already written this article. It's getting to the point where I've written so many posts that I'm forgetting about what I've discussed and what I haven't. In any case, the gist of the subject I felt like tackling is already spelled out in the previous post from last May (which is great because now I only have to type half of what I had planned). However, seeing that the American Distilling Institute has come up with a new distinction to determine "craft" distilling from "craft" blending, I think it's important to explain what's going on in the world of "craft" spirits in general - especially with the most recent edition of the Whisky Advocate dedicating its entire issue to "craft" whiskey (one of the most thorough and in-depth issues I've ever read of the publication, by the way). Part of the reason I feel compelled to write about this today is because of these recent additions to the "craft" discussion, but another is the way that the terms "hand-crafted" and "artisanal" are being used on the label to market these products .

As usual, John Hansell's opening editorial, "Thinking Small," sets the tone for the rest of the Whisky Advocate issue. In this most recent issue, he writes,  

"Much of the craft whiskey being produced is unaged, also known as white whiskey, largely for economic reasons: it costs money to wait for whiskey to age in barrels. Just ask the Scotch distillers. But this isn't what defines craft distilling. Perhaps more than anything else, it's the variety of the products and the creativity of the distillers. It's not just that there are so many of them, but that they are also making an incredible variety of whiskey."

Creativity and variety are the words Hansell uses to summarize what's going on with "craft" whiskey distillation. I don't disagree with that summation at all. It's entirely accurate. Let's also examine what ADI had to say recently:

The American Distilling Institute defines Craft Spirits as the product of an independently owned distillery with maximum annual sales of 52,500 cases, where the principal distiller defines the house style and oversees all aspects of production. CRAFT DISTILLED SPIRITS are the products of an independently-owned distillery with maximum annual sales of 52,500 cases where the product is distilled and bottled on site.

Size, scale, and independence are the main criteria for the ADI definition. These are important aspects to consider as well.

Are we missing one here, however?

What about quality? Shouldn't a distillery have to meet a certain qualitative level to be considered "craft" or "artisanal"? I understand that assessing the quality of a spirit can be a very subjective process (just ask anyone who has sampled the Lost Spirits single malts), but unless this issue is addressed within the "craft" spirits community the whole movement is going to lose credibility.....and fast. I say this because currently on my desk are over twenty samples from new, small, "craft" distilleries that definitely meet the criteria set up by the ADI definition. Not some, not half, not most, but all of these bottles say something along the lines of "hand-crafted, artisanal" on the label to help separate them from the pack of bulk-branded spirits. These smaller, "craft" spirit products want to be recognized for their "artisanal" production methods and their "hand-crafted" quality, which apparently the big boys are lacking. Yet, the Merriam-Webster definition of "craft" reads: an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill. Does that definition not apply to Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, or Heaven Hill?

And what about the quality of these "hand-crafted" spirits? Is there a striking difference between the "artisanal" vodka on my desk and the bottle of Belvedere on our shelf? Is there a supremely superior aroma emanating from the bottle of "hand-crafted" white corn whiskey that is lacking in the standard Buffalo Trace white dog? I'm not so sure. And that's where I have a big problem, not so much as a fan or aficionado of spirits, but as a retailer. Let me further explain.

I'm all about the story when it comes to booze. I love a romantic tale about old-school production, years of tradition, coming up the hard way, all that stuff. Anyone who reads this blog and sees the way I market our products knows that. However, I'm only interested in that story if the product being described offers value and quality for our customers. Currently sitting in my email inbox are multiple responses from "craft" distillers whose products I have decided not to carry at K&L because I don't think they offer value and quality beyond what we already have. Most of them want me to reconsider the heritage, the story, and the intrigue of their brands. My problem, however, is that anything a customer purchases from K&L becomes my responsibility. I have to stand by our selection and believe in the quality of whatever it is that we're selling. How can I look someone in the face and say, "Yes, ma'am, I do believe that this 'craft' vodka is better than Grey Goose" if I don't really believe it?

While ADI wants to distinguish between "craft distilled" and "craft blended," there is no standard in the United States that prevents a producer from adding the words "hand-crafted" or "artisanal" to the label, regardless of which category they fall into and regardless of whether those words apply to the spirit inside the bottle or not. These descriptors can be very deceptive to the everyday spirits customer because there is a growing demand for quality in the spirits market and an even larger push to understand what defines it. In the case of wine or beer, smaller production measures that are "artisanal" or "craft" often do result in a higher quality product.  Therefore, when the same words are used to describe a spirit, they imply that the product is of a quality that exceeds the standards of non-craft distilled spirits. This is rarely the case, however, as it's often just a marketing gimmick catering to that type of consumer.  When the term "hand-crafted" is exploited for profit it ruins the credibility of all "craft" distilleries, not just the culprits looking to cash in. To me, this is a bigger problem than putting "Colorado whiskey" on a product that was distilled in Indiana.

To me, the term "craft" is slowly becoming the newest incarnation of "organic" - a buzzword that eventually becomes more important than taste or flavor. Is that apple "organic"? Is your milk "organic"? How can you tell? Oh, there, it says "ORGANIC" in gigantic, size 140 font right there on the label. My buddy Thad Vogler from Bar Agricole was recently quoted in an article about green spirits, saying, “I definitely shy away from people who are marketing their products as green. Either it’s a large company trying to fool you or a mediocre company trying to give you another reason to buy their product, other than quality.” I couldn't agree more. Usually the people trying the hardest to talk about how sustainable their spirits are have the worst-tasting booze, hence, why they're focusing so heavily on that one aspect. "Craft" spirits might be going down the same road. More people seem to be focusing on size and scale than actual quality.

There are plenty of small American distilleries that are making high-quality hooch deserving of the term "artisinal." St. George. Clear Creek. Osocalis. Anchor. Leopold Bros. But these guys aren't new to the party. St. George began distilling in 1982. Clear Creek in 1985. Osocalis in 1991. Anchor in 1993. Leopold Bros. began distilling their gin in 2002. These guys aren't giving you their mistakes, their experiments, their first-batches, or their trials and errors. They've been doing this for a decade or more and they've turned their craft into actual "craft" products. But what about the newer guys that are capitalizing on the "craft" spirits bandwagon? Are they all as deserving of the same praise? That question must be answered on a case-by-case basis and should be 100% based on the quality of the spirits being produced, not solely on the size, scale, ownership, or vision.

Here at K&L we only have one way of determining if a "craft" spirit offers both value and quality for our customers: our own opinion. While I respect the task that ADI is attempting to do in the name of the consumer, I don't think it's a problem that can be solved with a simple sticker or description. Ultimately, not one customer at K&L is going to care if a product is "craft" if they feel like that spirit doesn't offer value for the money. Once they've been burned by one "hand-crafted, artisanal" product, they're going to be skeptical of any bottle with those terms on the label. And they should be! I am too!

Hand-tailored suits should fit better and offer a quality beyond that of a suit taken off the rack. Hand-crafted furniture should be more solid and dependable than the mass-produced, flat-packed IKEA options. Both a tailored suit and a hand-crafted coffee table will cost you more for these reasons. By that logic, a hand-crafted spirit should cost more because it offers you something beyond what Diageo, Beam, or Pernod-Ricard are able to pump out. "Craft" spirits are giving us more creativity. They're giving us more diversity. They're definitely giving us more variety.

But are they giving us more quality? Or is the movement itself becoming crafty?

-David Driscoll


Almost There

1981s are done. We're working on the 1999s right now. Should be ready to go by Friday. YUM!

-David Driscoll