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Thursday
Dec042014

Fresh In! Today's Catch

This time of year brings all kinds of fresh produce into our warehouse. Trucks start lining up in the parking lot, hand carts start moving up the entrance ramp; both full of booze reinforcements for the holiday shopping season! Our warehouse guys have a spring in their step, as they move quickly throughout the many avenues of hooch, stacked with boxes as high as the eye can see (or as high as state regulation allows). We just got an exciting new shipment in of K&L California exclusive products from our friend Nicolas Palazzi and our other friends in Utah at Beehive Spirits. Check out the latest!

Gourry de Chadeville 1er Cru Fine Champagne Cognac $129.99Our latest acquisition from Mr. Cognac himself, Nicolas Palazzi, is a cask strength, non-chill filtered Cognac from one of the old producing Cognac houses in existence: Gourry de Chadeville. Since 1619, when they first purchased the vineyard site, the Gourry estate has been distilling brandy, and continues to have reserves that go back near a century Made from Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard grapes, the 1er Cru release is bottled at 64.3%, which is not something we usually see in the genre. The flavors are delicate, yet the mouthfeel is huge and powerful. Meandering between sweet fruit and cocoa before morphing into an earthy, spicier finish. Palazzi knew exactly what he was doing when he bottled this limited 330 bottle allocation: he wanted to court fans of high-proof American whiskey. And, trust us, whether you like Cognac or George T. Stagg, you're going to want a bottle of this. The Gourry de Chadeville is the type of Cognac that changes perceptions and alters points of view. It's a total game changer.

You might be thinking the following two whiskies are too similar to warrant buying one of each, but they’re totally different animals. One is distilled from corn, the other from malted barley. Both are 100% Spanish grown and distilled (which was an eye-opener for me). The sherry is ultimately king, however, and Palo Cortado is a type of sherry cask we never see used. What is it, you ask? Palo Cortado is a rare variety of sherry that is initially aged under flor to become a fino or amontillado, but inexplicably loses its veil of flor and begins aging oxidatively as an oloroso. The result is a wine with some of the richness of oloroso and some of the crispness of amontillado. While I'm sure it's probably happened at some point in the history of spirits, I've never seen, nor heard of a whisky being aged in Palo Cortado casks. The flavors are so fine and oxidative that I can't imagine they permeate the whisky all that intensely. Yet, as we've seen with the Kavalan Fino Cask, warmer climates can make a difference in extracting some of these nutty, almond-like flavors. Spain's warm summers and cold winters have had a Kentucky-like effect on both of these whiskies. Both are at 53.5%.

Navazos-Palazzi Palo Cortado Single Barrel Cask Strength GRAIN Whisky $99.99The light and fruity flavors of the grain whisky marry beautifully with the Palo Cortado sherry components. I've never tasted anything like it. But I know I want more of it. I know I want more than the 60 bottles we were allocated from the 300 total bottles Palazzi made. You'll want more, too. More please! You hear me, Palazzi?

Navazos-Palazzi Palo Cortado Single Barrel Cask Strength SINGLE MALT Whisky $99.99 – The rich and malty flavors of the Spanish single malt (yes, they make some in Spain!) are the perfect canvas for the Palo Cortado's delicate brushstrokes. Creamy barley with almondy Palo Cortado at full proof? YUM!!!!!

And in the holiday spirit, we bring you a new barrel reserve version of our fantastic Beehive Gin!

Beehive Distilling Barrel Reserve Aged Utah Gin $39.99In the holday spirit, our friends at Beehive Distilling in Salt Lake City had sent us a special batch of their new Barrel Reserve gin in thanks for being their sole California outpost. Made with "wood, fire, and patience", the barrel maturation brings out the baking spices and softens the sage into a delicate and easy-to-drink flavor. We've seen this type of thing before with the Rusty Blade and Ranson Old Tom, but never has it been this inexpensive and this tasty. A real holiday treat for gin fans.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Dec042014

Wary of the Roads

My daily commute is nothing compared to some Bay Area residents, but in the last few days I've seen things on the road that make me wonder how certain people can exist in this modern world. I've seen some temper tantrums in my life (the child version while I was an elementary school teacher, and the adult version while working as a wine retailer), but sometimes I think the freeway is where the world's great freakouts tend to happen. It's where grown men often show you what gigantic babies they really are, capable of all the solipsistic insecurity usually only seen with infants. If things don't work out their way, they're going to scream, and cry, and whine, and do everything in their power to make you pay.

This morning was truly exceptional. I was cruising down 101 when I noticed a guy merging behind me in an attempt to move towards the exit lane. He was cutting it awfully close, shaving my back bumper by a few inches, to the point where I could see the lines on his face in my rear-view mirror. In doing this maneuver, however, he was not only dangerously assuming I had no need to brake, he was also pushing his way in front of another driver who was none too pleased. That driver expressed this frustration with a quick honk of the horn, which instantly sent the man sandwiched between us into a hysterical frenzy—"You dare honk at me?" he seemed to be screaming, suddenly taken over by convulsions and finger-flipping. He began beating his steering wheel like a doctor attempting to reinvigorate a still heart. He punched the ceiling of his BMW, his mouth moving like a Glossolalia victim speaking in tongues.

Then, out of nowhere, he simply hit the brakes. In the fast lane, in the middle of flowing 70 mph traffic, this joker decided to brake check the man who dared honk his horn. Luckily for the horn-honker, he managed to switch lanes right as this despicable, child-like behavior was taking place, and sped off down the right side of the freeway in disgust. It didn't end there, however. The man, upset that his attempt to hinder and/or hurt his foe had failed, decided to also speed up and gun it down the embankment after his perceived opponent; a 95 mph dash that should have been taped and sent to the highway patrol. Luckily, the man exited and went into traffic before the jerk could catch him (and do what?).

This is the fourth time I've seen something like this happen in the last two days. It's sooooooooo stupid. It's pure ego in its most embarrassing form. I see wine and whisky guys act like this every now and again, but never while controlling a solid ton of metal moving at murderous speeds.

But I guess this is what people say about holiday season stress. Watch your back out there! Stay safe and take a deep breath! Be wary of the roads.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Dec022014

Holiday Drinking Ideas

So while I'm sitting around watching cheesy holiday movies, I like to sip on Christmasy-flavored things. I like whiskies that taste like cakebread and baking spices, so if I'm drinking single malt I'm going to pick something heavily-sherried (by the way, if you like cheesy things and want to watch an entire documentary about guys not watching something cheesy in an ironic fashion, watch the film Bronies, which follows grown men who honestly and truly love the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic). Since we just got our two new Glenfarclas expressions into stock, I think I'll probably pony up (no pun intended) for one of each this Xmas season.

These are not single cask expressions, but rather marriages of casks that we picked out at the distillery some time ago. The 1990 vintage is a soft and supple whisky bottled at 100 proof that really captures the rich, cakey, textural elements of Oloroso sherry. It's not a complicated whisky, by any means. It's straightforward, easy-to-like, and delicious. When you're thinking about 24 year old, sherry-aged single malt it's exactly what you hope it will be. Not big, not powerful, not overly-sweet, not sulphured or bitter from too much time in wood, and not all that spicy. Just flat-out awesome in the most basic of ways. The Faultline Casks expression is deceptive in that the 57% alcohol overpowers the sherry at first, to the point that you get mostly malt and grain. With water, the magical flavors are immediately unlocked and all the Christmas cake and fudge begin oozing out of their hiding place. Super fun stuff and very holiday-oriented.

1990 Glenfarclas K&L Exclusive Single Malt Whisky $169.99 -We've always loved Glenfarclas. As you may or may not know, this distillery is one of the last independently owned in all of Scotland. It's owned by the Grant family. It also happens to be on most knowledgeable people's list of top distilleries and has consistently provided us with excellent sherried Speyside offerings at incredible prices. We've had success finding single casks in their vast warehouse system, but found that current market conditions have made purchasing a single cask from the Grants rather cost-prohibitive. Negotiating the price down on those casks is also out of the question as wholesalers worldwide are privy to the price structure and the Grants are very loyal and fair. With that option off the table we decided to get creative. Those single casks have a set price list, but picking multiple casks for one bottling afforded us some flexibility. We knew we were onto the next crazy value, but we never imagined how versatile a multi-cask bottling could be. So, into the warehouse we went. George bragged about the quality of the 1990 vintage, but we had no idea how special they were until we were standing in front of the barrels. These casks are from a sequential lot of first fill Oloroso sherry butts at 24 years old. Without a doubt, 'Farclas fans will be pleased, but this bottling is approachable enough for even the most novice whisky lover to appreciate.

Glenfarclas "The Faultline Casks" K&L Exclusive First Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks Single Malt Whisky $109.99 -When George Grant offered us the opportunity to take multiple casks for a special exclusive bottling, we were over the moon. The creative juices began flowing. We talked about doing an ultra-aged expression, but we didn't feel we could match the outrageous cask from the 1970 vintage, which we'd acquired a couple of years back. Instead, we decided to focus on a NAS (no age statement) mixture of casks from earlier vintages. The goal was to create a high proof, heavily sherried 'Farclas that we could sell for around $100. After tasting multiple vintages from 8 to 15 years of age, we settled on three of our favorite casks in the 9-10 year range. At no other distillery is vintage so important and the importance of their vessel was clear when tasting these younger expressions. We've ended up with a mixture of young casks that surpass even our own high expectations. This is full fledged and powerful, yet tempered by the strong influence of that special wine of Andalucía. If you love sherry, if you love high proof single malt, if you love powerful flavors and massively textural whisky, then this bottling is for you.

Seeing that I just got another healthy drop of Willett 8 Year Old Rye into the Redwood City warehouse, I figured it was something I could actually talk about on the blog (as in something you can actually get!). This new batch is so Christmasy in flavor that I immediately threw down my C-note and just bit the bullet. It's an explosion of baking spices and rich vanilla with just a tad (just a smidge) of that dill note on the finish. Love, love, love this. I'll be sipping this while watching Bad Santa, or perhaps mixing it with our next item.

Willett 8 Year Single Barrel Cask Strength Rye 750ml (1 bottle limit) $99.99

The Bittermilk cocktail mixers have been an absolute delight in my house lately; especially considering the fact that I don't generally enjoy whiskey cocktails. I've never been a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned guy. I'll drink them, of course (because I will drink anything and everything), but they're never my first choice. The Bittermilk products have totally changed my view on Bourbon and rye cocktails, however. There's a delicious Barrel Aged Old Fashioned sweetener that uses chinchona bark. You just add a little dollup into your whiskey, stir it with ice, and strain it into a glass (or leave the ice in). The New Orleans Style makes a Sazerac-esque cocktail in that it uses wormwood like an absinthe, but then adds in gentian root along with lemon peel. Again, you don't need much: about a half ounce for every two ounces of rye. These two Bittermilk products are so good I hardly mix with anything else at this point.

Bittermilk #1 Barrel Aged Old Fashioned Cocktail Mix 8.5 oz $14.99

Bittermilk #4 New Orleans Style Rouge 8.5 oz $15.99

Of course, there are a few other important ingredients to holiday cocktails besides the Bittermilk products, so I can't rely on those alone. I wanted to try making a White Russian variation that was lactose-free for my non-dairy friends, so I tried doing a combination of Orgeat and almond milk and that really did the trick. Jennifer Colliau's entire Small Hand Foods lineup is indispensable, but the orgeat is maybe the best trick in her bag. I often use it in place of simple syrup to add texture and viscosity to cocktails that wouldn't normally have it (like a Daiquiri). You might want to plop in a few cherries as well. We've got these new Italian delicacies from Amarena that are like dessert. You might end up just eating them out of the jar.

Small Hand Foods Orgeat Syrup 8.5oz $12.99

Amarena Cherries Ceramic Vase (600g) $19.99

Of course, as I was making my White Russian variation I started thinking about other flavors I could use to change the recipe. Then I remembered my bottle of Giffard Banane de Bresil; maybe the only banana-flavored liqueur I've come across of an incredbily-high quality. So then I started mixing it with the orgeat and the almond milk and suddently I had this alcoholic version of Banana Quik. You can imagine where that went. I was plopped out on the couch, eating pizza, drinking banana-flavored Xmas cocktails and watching Hallmark Channel specials until I fell asleep.

Giffard Banane Du Bresil Liqueur $32.99 - This magnificent banana liqueur makes me rethink all my preconceptions about, well, banana liqueur. It's fabulously aromatic, the perfect ripe banana, peel and pulp. On the palate, it's restrained in its sweetness and has the subtle hint of tart potassium. A lovely effort using bananas of the highest quality sourced from Brazil.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Dec022014

Back to Basics: Holiday Drinking

You can bet your ass I watched this little delight over the weekend. Drinking and watching holiday movies is one of my favorite things about December. I can check the guide on the Hallmark Channel, scope out the titles with the best descriptions, and let the DVR capture hours of priceless Christmas cheer. Then I go to my overstocked bar cabinet, start digging towards the back, and begin pulling out the long-forgotten bottles of Creme de Cacao, Banane du Bresil, and other sticky liqueurs that have been languishing during the warm summer months. On Sunday night I ordered a pizza, started making holiday cocktails, and turned on the TV to watch Candice Cameron-Bure (remember she married Russian hockey star Valeri Bure) do her thing.

While her former heart-throb of a brother has gone off the deep end, Candice Cameron has found her mark. Her 2013 Hallmark Channel special Let it Snow was fantastic; pairing her delightfully perky personality alongside another legendary TV dad, Alan Thicke, as the two of them plot to revamp a homey old ski resort known for its dedication to Christmas. I don't want to ruin it for you, but let's just say it doesn't take too long before the warmth of the holiday season begins to melt the ice around Candice's cold corporate heart. I didn't think any Hallmark follow-up could top Let it Snow, but they brought Candice back again this year for an even better flick called Christmas Under Wraps. This year's story is quite similar to last season's romp, but is better in just about every way. Again, I don't want to ruin it for you, but imagine the Gilmore Girls meets Northern Exposure meets Full House. Are you drooling yet?

Now that December is here and the holiday season is upon us, don't forget to enjoy the great pleasures only available to us at this time of year. Sweet cocktails with heavy cream! Whisky paired with cookies and cake! And Hallmark Channel holiday films paired with 1980s sitcom stars that warm the heart and ease the soul!

I've already watched Christmas Under Wraps twice. It will be on my DVR until at least January 1st. I'm dead serious. You can enjoy these movies ironically, too (obviously), but I'm not at all joking about my love for these overly-cheesy rom-coms. Remember, my two favorite movies of all time are Roadhouse and Ski School.

23 more days to go!

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Nov302014

Inspiration vs. Mimicry

I got a lot of interesting feedback from my recent story about the Guess Jeans debacle in junior high. There were varying interpretations and questions about the intention of the allegory itself; namely, what was the actual message? Labels are always bad? Designer brands are sometimes good? People are stupid? Kids are cruel? What was the point? I think the point was just to make you think. Maybe something similar has happened to you in your past; something that made your question your own intentions in life.

I just got back from watching the Stephen Hawking bio-pic, The Theory of Everything, and viewing it helped to clarify some of these questions. There's a particular scene were Hawking goes in for his PhD review and his professors critique his graduate work. SPOILER ALERT: Part of it ends up being called sheer mimicry and the other part utterly inspiring. These are exactly the two poles that I'm trying to distinguish between. Inspiration being what drives us to work harder, participate, hope, and strive towards a better day. Mimicry being what happens when we're not actually inspired by life or art, but rather the results that certain actions might possibly bring to us.

Was I inspired by Guess Jeans as a kid—their beautiful form and classic fit—or did I just want to wear them because I thought doing so would make me popular? Definitely the latter. Desiring a label for the sake of fitting in is not inspiration. It's an unhealthy (although perhaps healthy at that age) obsession with self-perception and a ruinous reliance on the approval of others. It's what happens when people simply memorize and parrot the words of others—for the sake of repeating them later—rather than actually attempt to understand the meaning within them. It's what happens when big international liquor brands start making labels that look like they came from small, crafty, down-home distilleries because that's what's cool right now. It's what happens when people without any sense of who they are try and convince you—to no end—that they are the person they wish they could be.

I tend to find inspiration in stories about people overcoming insurmountable odds (like Professor Hawking) and usually it fills my heart with joy and hope. However, I know a few people who, when they hear an inspirational story, it seems to fill them with anger—a feeling of displeasure that someone besides themselves could be an inspiration to others. Inspiration happens when you take a sip of delicious whisky and ask, "Wow! I wonder how they made that?" Mimicry happens when the person sitting next you says, "Hey! I bet we could make something that tastes just like that and get rich!" True inspiration makes you want to work harder to be a better person. Mimicry is what happens when you're inspired by the idea of people thinking you're a better person. Not every case is this clear cut, however. Sometimes we see a little bit of both. Hawking's final graduate paper borrowed heavily from other professors in some parts, but expanded upon their work and broke new ground in others. Look at Lady Gaga as another example. She is clearly a very artistic person who has been inspired by Madonna, yet every now and then we see a little uninspired mimicry. Madonna herself once said that Gaga's song "Born This Way" sounded "reductive" (a little bit too much like Madonna's own "Express Yourself"), yet songs like "Paparazzi" and "Poker Face" are—in my opinion—two of the best pop songs of the last decade. There are definitely shades of grey on the spectrum between these two poles, and there is definitely room for debate over where certain phenomena fall on this line.

Stephen Hawking once said, "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge." I could say a similar thing about the enjoyment of wine and spirits. The greatest enemy of the wine and spirits industry is not pedantry, it's the illusion that mimicking the pedantry of others will therein increase your enjoyment. We all follow the crowd to a certain extent. Who doesn't want to be exposed to new ideas and new inspiration? I know I do. Ultimately, however, I attempt to bring my own interpretations to these experiences. I still might be inspired by a pair of Guess Jeans today, but hopefully it will be because I truly enjoy wearing them. 

-David Driscoll

ADDITION: After posting this I spent some time playing around on the Internet and found this interview with Jarvis Cocker from the UK band Pulp. He says a number of very astute things about the internet and inspiration in this conversation.