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Tuesday
May062014

This Monkey's Gone to Heaven

This is a $45 HALF bottle of gin from the Black Forest region of Germany. It is a 375ml, not a full size. That makes this a $90 bottle of gin if you go by 750ml standards. That makes this one expensive bottle of gin. But, there are times in life when flavor trumps all, and amazing things do happen in the booze itself (not in the story), forcing you to recognize – universally – that you’re in the midst of something special. This is one of those moments.

Every year when we go to Scotland we usually fill our suitcases with all kinds of booty – whiskies you can’t find in the U.S., Cuban rum, and other novelties. This year all three of us filled our suitcases with Monkey 47 gin. It is without a doubt one of the most amazing spirits I’ve ever tasted and quite clearly the best gin I’ve ever had. Hell, even old Robert Parker agreed with us this time around. He went on record recently, tweeting that Monkey 47 is "the greatest gin I have ever tasted." At the time we were packing our bags with Monkey 47 gin, we had no idea the brand was planning to launch in the U.S. a little more than a month later. In the UK, they sell this in 500ml size bottles, so the guys at Black Forest distillers had to decide whether to go up to 750ml, or down to 375ml for the American market. I think they made the wise move in going down a size. I think more people are apt to experiment with this high-end elixir if they know they don’t have to go all in right away.

So what’s the story with the gin? Here’s the romantic part: in 1951, a British man named Montgomery Collins moved to Germany's Black Forest and opened a guesthouse named "Zum wilden Affen" -- the wild monkey. A renowned gin drinker, Collins' taste for the spirit was not particularly important until renovation work at the country guesthouse led to the discovery of a weighty old wooden box containing a bottle and a letter. The dusty bottle had been labeled and decorated by hand, showing a sketch of a monkey and the words "Max the Monkey - Schwarzwald Dry Gin" in black lettering. The accompanying letter contained not only personal notes and photographs but also a detailed description of the plant ingredients Montgomery had used in his recipe, from which the Monkey 47 gin was reproduced.

You can read more about this here on their webpage.

The important story of the spirit is this: Monkey 47 gin is AMAZING. It's like an elixir sent from heaven. A good third of the ingredients for this special gin came from the Black Forest (including local juniper, important for making Black Forest Ham). In total, 47 handpicked botanicals, prepared in extremely soft spring water from a local Black Forest source give Monkey 47 an unrivaled complexity and quality. The use of local cranberries adds a distinct fruity note to the incredibly floral and complex whirlwind of flavors.

Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Gin 375ml $44.99

-David Driscoll

Monday
May052014

Out in L.A.

I was in Los Angeles this past weekend to work with David OG on another super secret project. We're always slaving away on crazy projects behind the scenes; but this one required us to physically be together, so I jumped on a plane and headed down. Despite all of the time I've spent in Southern California, I've never flown into LAX proper (always Burbank, John Wayne, or San Diego). In my opinion, the descent into West LA's main hub is one of the most spectacular sights one can see -- an urban sprawl that goes on for miles, and miles, and miles. I think often people do not realize how big Los Angeles truly is.

After a hard day's work, we headed out for a little get together where Keith Mabry was frying up wings, thighs, and breasts to perfection. When I say "perfection," I mean the best fried chicken I've ever had. That man is a wizard. I couldn't stop telling him how good he was at it. No one was pretending to be French at this wine party, and there were no weird organ meat plates that we were all supposed to pretend reminded us of our country childhoods. Mari was hosting and she whipped up some American classics like corn casserole, mac and cheese, and never-ending baskets of fluffy biscuits. They put on a show last night that put us NorCal folks to shame -- these people know how to have fun.

What good is fried chicken without an endless amount of K&L grower/producer Champagne on ice? Our own Adam Parry was there at the table, guarding the buckets, making sure I didn't drink too much of it. We still had a long night ahead of us.

I was shacked up at the Redbury on Vine Street -- a swank, glam-focused, romantic take on old Hollywood with a modern twist. The bar downstairs got it right, too -- none of this small bite, olive plate BS with your gigantic cocktail of pure liquor, but rather some serious starch action. I got a Mediterranean Margarita -- tequila, fig simple syrup, and lime -- and a bowl of spicy carrot dip with a huge chunk of piping hot flatbread that came straight from the wood-burning oven. After fortifying my stomach against the onslaught ahead, David OG and I were ready to hit the streets.

The best bar we hit last night (and the best bar I've been to in ages, period) is Good Times at Davey Wayne's -- a non-descript house on a dark, unremarkable Hollywood block, that looks like a garage installation, but in reality is a secret bar with a wild party going on inside of it. You walk up the driveway to what looks like a kooky yard sale being run by two guys (who in reality are bouncers). You can hear something happening, but you can't tell where it's coming from. You suddenly realize that people are going in and out of that old-looking refrigerator in the back, which is not actually full of Miller High Life; it's the surreptitious entrance to what is a giant house party.

Inside Davey Wayne's there were people dancing, cozying up on couches, and ordering fun, experimental new cocktails like Smoke on the Water -- an aromatic mix of Monkey Shoulder Scotch, Laphroaig 10, vermouth, and various bitters. I must have sat there with a smile on my face for ten straight minutes, totally content to just people watch and take in the scene.

There are those who say that LA's food and drink scene is a few years behind the Bay Area's, and they might be right about that. But being the first to do something doesn't mean you're always doing it best. The Los Angeles cocktail scene has put the fun back into drinking and the honesty back into food. They're bringing style with substance. I'm totally jealous.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
May032014

One More Time

Yes, you are correct -- we absolutely do not ever make a batch of Faultline Gin more than once. So why are there suddenly more bottles of Batch 3 in stock at K&L? Because apparently St. George ran out of labels while bottling it last year and left the remainder of the gin sitting in a tank. A little over a month ago, Dave Smith called me and said, "Hey, so do you guys want the rest of that gin, or what?"

"The rest of what gin?" I asked, puzzled.

"The rest of Batch 3."

"There's more?"

"Yeah. You didn't know we ran out of labels and had to stop bottling?"

You can imagine where the conversation went from there. So there's about 300+ more bottles of delicious Faultline Gin Batch 3 in stock as of now -- just in time for this lovely warm weather.

Faultline Gin Batch #3 $34.99 -- How does one follow up two of the most popular batches of gin ever sold in the history of K&L? It's been tough coming up with that act. Even my own mother was trying to exert her parental influence, hoping to convince Dave Smith and me to do a second batch of Batch #2 -- our lovely smoked citrus peel delight. We held fast, however, determined to make each batch of Faultline a one-time-only edition in the name of soldiering forward towards new flavors and new ideas. We originally began the blueprint of Batch #3 with melon in mind. We wanted to make a softer, rounder, fruitier style of gin, but two things happened that prevented this approach: our melon distillates left a lot to be desired and Tanqueray resurrected their similarly-styled Malacca gin. Dave and I went back to the drawing board. Both of us have been trying to create a grapefruit aperitif for the past year so we had a well of grapefruit spirit to take from. Dave had also finished a batch of clove-macerated spirit that might pair quite well with the citrus. A few gin-soaked nights later we had the right balance - lot's of grapefruit, highlighted with the bright, herbaceous note of fresh clove and accented with pepper and juniper. It's still gin and tonic season in the Bay Area, so this should take us through October. Try mixing a Greyhound or Corpse Reviver #2 as well. You'll be pleased.

-David Driscoll

Friday
May022014

Speech Debate Team

I went to Beyer High School in Modesto, Calfornia -- the house that speech and debate coach Ron Underwood built. Ron (now retired) is the most successful and awarded NFL (National Forensics League) instructor in history, he's the Mike Krzyzewski of his era, and I ran with his pack from 1994-1997. We travelled the length of California, up and down, wheeling and dealing, styling and profiling, from Crescent City to Long Beach, taking on all-comers in a series of various events -- of which we were almost always victorious. Ron knew just how to take talkative, self-assured, argumentative kids and focus them into competitive machines -- the speech and debate events were just what we needed to hone our skills and focus on breaking apart the arguments of others into little pieces. We knew exactly what we needed to do to win.

Towards the end of my speech days I dropped out of the actual debate part and focused on a number of oratorical events that didn't involve arguing. Some of my friends, however, would become even more entrenched in the debate scene -- to the point that it started spilling out of the Underwood room, and into the hallways. We would be sitting in English class and the teacher would make a statement, only to hear one of her students, a proud debate team member, challenging her authority. By the time our senior year rolled around, it became practically normal for some of my friends to pick a logistical fight over just about anything with most of our instructors. We became ballsy, we questioned everything, and it didn't end after we graduated. Almost twenty years later, I recognize those same tendencies in some of my old classmates I still keep up with; more importantly, I see that same argumentative vengence happening online -- on message boards, comment fields, and especially with whisky.

I took many great lessons from my tenure on the Beyer High team -- I still know how to command a room, maintain the attention of an audience, and maximize the potential of my incredibly loud voice. It was due to Ron's tutelage that I can do many of the things my job now requires me to do, and for that I am forever grateful. But, perhaps the most important lesson I learned came from analyzing my own motivation for speaking, and watching the behavior of my former teammates -- many of whom still look at life as something to be won, rather than enjoyed. You have to wonder sometimes: are people listening to what you say, or reading what you write? Or are they just looking for weakness, a hole they can expose, or a flaw in your logic that they can twist and turn into an advantage? I can always tell a former speech and debate member by their obsession with winning an argument and scoring points, rather than sharing ideas, being liked, or making friends.

But you can't really blame them. For years we earned accolades and awards for doing exactly that. It can be a shock when you realize life isn't a speech and debate competition. No one's handing out ribbons anymore for our abilities. Today many people just call it: being a prick.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
May012014

!!Whisky Season 2014 Begins!!

Kyle! Get down off of those Signatory barrels; it's time to write our tasting notes!

Yes, my friends, that glorious time of the year is upon us: it's May 1st -- the beginning of Whisky Season 2014 here at K&L. It's the moment when the fruits of our labor begin to appear on this blog with very special pre-arrival pricing (i.e. discounts) for those of you who order in advance. We've got a serious supply of hooch coming in this year, but from fewer overall producers. There are no independent Faultline labels in the works at the moment, mainly because all of the bottlers we've worked with in the past are out of booze. For that reason, we made sure to taste extra long and extra hard at the few appointments we did have; because we knew that we needed to take everything we could while it was still there. There's still whisky to be had in Scotland; it's just that fewer and fewer people have whisky we want to purchase.

Signatory, the most reliable and successful label we've worked with in our history here at K&L, was a major partner for us on this 2014 trip. They not only opened their warehouse doors to us once again, but they also honored our pricing from the previous year (despite the increases we continue to face from other producers). With the dollar-to-pound ratio worse than it was a year ago, this was a huge blessing and we're incredibily thankful.

Overall, we'll be bringing in more than twenty casks from Signatory as we move through 2014, albeit in waves so as to space them out and not overwhelm our customers all at once. Since it's officially K&L Whisky Season, and we want to make sure everyone can be a part of it, I thought we should break out a few different styles of single malt at a few different price points: sub-$100, $100+, and ultra-luxury. If you're new to Whisky Season, here's how it works:

1) We travel to Scotland every March to track down new casks of whisky, taste and evaluate what we find, then purchase the best ones on behalf of K&L and have them bottled exclusively for our store.

2) On May 1st we begin releasing 100 bottles total from a few new casks every week, with full descriptions and detailed information.

3) Those 100 bottles are offered at a discount for those willing to trust our judgment and order in advance.

4) You pay up front and we send you a notice when the whisky arrives (these selections are currently scheduled for delivery at the end of August/early September).

5) The advance orders help us gauge how much inventory we need to ultimately source, while helping you save anywhere from $10 to $20 on a whisky you might already know you're interested in.

That's it! You're now up to speed. Without further ado....

Our First Three Pre-Arrival Selections From 2014:

1995 Glen Elgin 18 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $79.99 - This was the first cask that we cracked into on our five hour odyssey at Signatory this year. Five hours and countless casks later, the Glen Elgin was still in my head. Knowing the amount of single malt we needed to get through that day (upwards of thirty casks), getting excited about the first one seemed a bit foolish; however at the end of the day, there it was with a star next to it in my notes. This malt is absolutely delicious, with beautiful texture and a hint of cream from being in barrel for eighteen years, but there is much more than that. It's rich and fruity, beautifully fresh and lively, with exotic notes of bubble gum and lavender that are incredibly intriguing. The finish lingers with candied fruits and white flowers. Soft and supple to be sure, but lifted and bright, I am glad the Glen Elgin made the list! (Kyle Kurani, Spirits Assistant)

1988 Balmenach 26 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $139.99 - One point we've stressed over and over again to our single malt customers is the need to be open-minded when it comes to finding value. So many enthusiasts lament the end of any affordable value at the higher end of the market, when in reality it's still there -- it's just hiding under an unassuming name. In this case, that name is Balmenach: a Speyside distillery known more for the Deerstalker label than for its own eponymous selections. We all oohed and ahhed in unison while tasting this whisky from cask at the Signatory warehouse. The aromas were full of ripe stonefruit and salty caramel and it smelled as if a rich palate might be soon to follow. Indeed. The flavors were actually quite woody, but never over done, as the oak melded with the fruit and became almost toffee-ish on the finish. There's something special about that Signatory warehouse in Pitlochry; the way in which unpeated, light, and fruity whiskies have a way of transforming into a seamless nectar. We've seen it with our previous Ladyburn and Glenlochy casks, and we're witnessing it again with this hogshead of Balmenach. It's not quite as evolved as those other two, but man is it tasty. This is fun, fruity, rich, mature, and pleasantly supple single malt whisky. It's a 26 year old single cask of Speyside goodness for a very fair price. (David Driscoll, K&L Spirits Buyer)

1981 Glenlivet 32 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $299.99 - This cask stands in stark contrast to the other old Speysider that Signatory provided for us this year. While the Balmenach requires a minor leap of faith, as it's so unfamiliar to most, the Glenlivet Distillery faces the exact opposite hurdle. The name is so popular, the expectations for 'Livet are only outweighed by the typically massive prices we see. That's why we rarely buy Glenlivet even when it's available, which is not often. At Signatory, however, they seem to have a stellar connection for great sherry aged Glenlivet. While there's no question that these are blue chip stocks, they still represent a solid value for any lover of old Speyside whisky. This special whisky was matured for 32 years in a gorgeous sherry hogshead. By gorgeous, I mean the actual barrel was physically attractive, ultra high quality oak from a top producer of sherry. The result is a stark reminder of what makes single malt so incredible. This is what happens when you put great whisky into great wood and forget about it for 3 decades. It is an exercise in extreme balance. Powerfully pungent without being overpowering, richly textured without being heavy, it has that wild complexity at the confluence between the aromas of sherry and aged Speyside single malt. It may not be from some rare closed distillery, but old 'livet is a rarity in its own right. Nothing in the price range beats it right now and since this is cask strength from a hogshead, we expect fewer than 140 bottles. (David Othenin-Girard, Spirits Buyer)

-David Driscoll