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Tuesday
Apr282015

Model Behavior

When David and I visit Gascony with Charles Neal each Spring, there's a reason we spend so much time with Charles's brother-in-law, Bernard Daubin. He's hilarious, over-the-top, outspoken, he knows a lot about Armagnac, and he's always got a drink his hand. Bernard is the epitome of la vie de gascogne. He's not only a world-renowned chef (featured in famous hardback books about cooking, like the one above); he's also a man who appreciates both sides of the spectrum. He likes to eat and drink, and he likes to eat and drink nice things, but he cares more about the actual eating and drinking than anything else. We can't get enough of him because he reminds us of everything that's right about gustatory pleasure. Visiting his restaurant is like reseting your mind and body back to a time when food and booze were things you consumed rather than Instagramed.

There are people out there who like to eat, but don't really know anything about food. And there are people out there who like to talk about fancy food, but obviously don't know how to enjoy a meal. Ditto with booze. Everyone's talking about what they want to drink, moping about what they can't have or what they can't get, when there's a world full of great products available at their fingertips right now; at this very moment. Bernard's restaurant in Montreal du Gers makes this realization shockingly clear; it's a combination of two wonderful phenomena: simple, but amazing food, served with a serious, yet simultaneously unpretentious attitude. He'll talk your ear off about how he raises his pork and how dedicated he is to natural methods, but all while pouring you glass after glass of inexpensive, local wine served with bowls of fresh razor clams. He wants you to understand his food and to appreciate it, but ultimately he wants to do this so that you'll eat it (not to impress you).

Does he care about the good stuff? The big names? The fancy labels? The prestigious estates? Sure, to the extent that any of us do. When David and I dug out a bottle of 2001 Raveneau Chablis, Bernard was over the moon about drinking a glass with us because he appreciated the opportunity and the experience. He immediately ran back to the kitchen and broke out the oysters to pair with it. True, his restaurant is more about simple dishes and simple wines, but that doesn't mean he won't splurge every now and again. I love that about people; when they can recognize both the high and low pleasures of the greater spectrum. I thought he might shit all over the Raveneau because it was an expensive prestige bottle, but he was seriously pumped. Charles, on the other hand, was a bit more annoyed that we weren't drinking one of his portfolio wines, hence his reaction.

When you dine at Chez Bernard, you really get more than traditional, flavorful, wonderfully-authentic, Gascogne cuisine. It's more a lesson in how to live, rather than how to eat and drink. It's about enjoying what you have to the fullest, whether it's a bottle of cheap Beaujolais and a plate of almonds, a glass of champagne and a bit of caviar, or a 100 year old bottle of Armagnac and a conversation about the local history of distillation. It's about letting the moment dictate the moment, enjoying what's in front of us, and not giving a flying fuck about whether some giant foreign booze corporation has removed another age statement from their latest overpriced Scotch label. Hanging out with Bernard helps me to better do what I already love doing: to eat and drink good shit with people who actually appreciate the good shit and actually want to consume it and enjoy it, rather than prove something to the world. Cheap stuff. Expensive stuff. Everyday stuff. Rare stuff. All of it. In all forms. The best and the basic, from top to bottom, because we love the ceremony.

It seems crazy to think that doing something so simple would be so difficult these days. But I guess that's what happens when simple things, like eating and drinking, become more than just present participles.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Apr272015

Booze For Dinner

At French wine-centric K&L, we as a store tend to fall into the camp of folks who would advise you to start your meal with a bottle of white, transition into the heavier red, and then finish with a glass of something brown. It's the classic way of doing things (even though we're all Americans with absolutely no traditional way of doing anything as it pertains to eating). A bottle of bubbly to start, some Claret with the meat course, and a glass of whisky to help with digestion when all is said and done. Orderly. Logically. By the book. 

While we're definitely following Western Europe's protocol, I'm one of the few K&L buyers who has business outside of that highly-conservative zone, so I've had my horizons expanded just a bit further when it comes to drinking with one's meal. When David and I travel through Cognac and Armagnac country, we never, ever stray from the above discipline. However, in my journeys to Taiwan, Japan, and Mexico—where Western wine culture is much more minute in stature—I've found that hard drink is quite often consumed with dinner. Whereas we might open a bottle of Napa Chardonnay with our salad here in California, in Japan they give you a glass of whisky with soda. Then they put the open bottle on the table, just like we place the wine along with the rest of the food. 

In Taiwan we almost always double-fisted. We were given four glasses with every meal: one for wine, one for water, a large shot glass for the basic whisky, and a smaller shot glass for the really expensive whisky. Various bottles were placed on the rotating Lazy Susan and we consumed full bottles of both wine and whisky with each course. I thought it was absolutely fabulous. Who in the U.S. would bring a bottle of Kavalan whisky over for dinner? We might give it as a hostess gift, or take a little nip when we finish eating, but we would never think to place it along side the Sauvignon Blanc, the water pitcher, and the ketchup—right smack in the middle of the meal. Is it really all that crazy?

The purists will tell you that hard spirits don't pair with most foods. The high alcohol of hard liquor overpowers any sense of delicacy, so those who care about the inherent flavors of their cuisine don't want to pulverize their palate in between bites. But that's why the Japanese add water to their whisky. You could argue that Japanese food is the most delicate cuisine in the world, with many raw ingredients meant to add subtlety and nuance to each plate, but that doesn't stop them from going brown mid-meal. When proofed down to 15%, a glass of Nikka Coffey Grain on the rocks is surprisingly refreshing and complementary alongside a plate of local Hokkaido sushi.

In Jalisco, while dining with my friend Enrique Fonseca, we paired tequila with toasted bread and locally-produced goat chesses. When the carne asada was served and the rice and beans plated, a few bottles of Cimarron Blanco were placed in the center of the table along with mixers like Coca-Cola, Squirt, and sparkling water, so that we could create our own cocktails while we ate. I have to say I've never looked back since that experience. That's how I eat at home on most occasions these days, and I'm not alone here. There was a guy in the store on Saturday who was purchasing an entire shopping cart full of different whiskies, of all types from all places. I asked him what the occassion was, and he said: "Each time I have friends over we eat dinner and we go through a different bottle of whiskey. Each time we talk about it as we eat, and each bottle creates a different experience. I'm addicted to it now." 

"You treat whiskey like other people treat wine," I replied, "but it's a much more efficient way to move through your home inventory." I used to like serving three or four different whiskies to my friends when they came over for dinner, but these days I like ploughing through one entire bottle and really focusing on that unique singularity. Why not go through an entire bottle in one night? Have an experience, talk about it with friends, and move on to the next one. It's not weird. People are doing it all over world.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Apr252015

My Rating System

I stopped to relieve myself at Heathrow Airport this past Monday and noticed that the English have a fantastic new machine to help customers leave feedback about the cleanliness of their lavatories. This is about as systematic as I get when rating my wine or whisky, so I'm now looking to implement this fantastic technology into my own dealings here at K&L. I love it. Bravo.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Apr222015

Malternative Nation @ Bar Agricole Next Week

As time goes by and I get older I'm much more interested in a lasting experience than I am in a lasting bottle of booze. Part of the reason that people are willing to pay more for whisky today is because whisky keeps. You can nurse a $100 bottle over the course of many years, rather than plough through it all in one night like you need to with wine. But I've got too many open bottles of whisky at home already these days. Personally, I'd rather have one awesome $100 night on the town, than I would one awesome $100 bottle of whisky at home; even if that night only lasts the course of a few hours. Part of the reason I enjoy traveling to Scotland each year is because of the memories I create while tasting with different people, sharing ideas, holding a glass of whisky while I learn more about it and increase my awareness of the spirit. Those are the moments that ultimately last, far longer than that last tiny bit of Port Ellen 30 I'll probably never get around to finishing. But where can you have such an experience around here? Who will provide you with a unique, interesting, exciting, and engaging evening full of Scotch variety and intrigue where you can talk casually but intently with other connoisseurs and professionals? We can! There are still tickets available for this coming Tuesday's whisky event at Bar Agricole on 11th Street in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood. We're pulling out all the stops on the patio for what should be a glorious evening. I'll be there along with some of my co-workers to guide you through a huge selection of our most-recent arrivals, including some serious selections that should make your head spin. Check out what's included:

-Unlimited food and snacks.

-Unlimited cocktails made with our latest creation: the Faultline Blended Scotch Whisky.

-A detailed tasting of our latest K&L exclusive whiskies direct from Scotland, including:

Caol Ila 5 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $49.99

Bowmore 12 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $79.99

Smoky & Peaty Tobermory (Ledaig) 8 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $59.99

Mortlach 7 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $49.99

Craigellachie 18 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99

Miltonduff 19 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99

Laphroaig 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky $139.99

Tamdhu 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky $99.99

Tobermory 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky $109.99

Girvan 24 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky $99.99

Port Dundas 36 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky $149.99

Macallan 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky $249.99

North British 50 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky $249.99

Plus, the chance to be one of only 40 people allowed in to this intimate experience. You won't have to line up or get herded through the room like cattle. You'll have all the room and time you need to soak it all in (so will your liver). You know you wanna come! Buy your ticket below:

K&L & Bar Agricole Present "Malternative Nation," Tuesday, April 28th, from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM $100 -Join us on the patio at Bar Agricole in San Francisco for a thorough tasting of our entire 2015 selection of single malts and grain whiskies from Hepburn's Choice, Sovereign, and Old Particular. Thirteen spectacular single-barrel expressions will be available, along with Scottish snacks and appetizers cooked up by the BA kitchen. Only forty tickets will be made available, so this will not be a packed house. It will be an intimate tasting with K&L staff members on hand to walk you through each exclusive bottle. There are no paper tickets for this event. Your name will be placed on a guest list. There are no refunds once tickets have been purchased, so please don't reserve a spot until you're certain you can come. We'll see you there!

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Apr222015

Four New Private Casks of Whipnose

I really love what my friends over at Seven Stills are doing. You wanna talk about the modern spirits movement? Nothing embodies it more than what Tim and Clint are doing with their inventive and innovative line of beer-distilled whiskies; quality, clarity, and a whole lotta fun! The bottles are small and kooky (taking a page from the current craft beer craze), the flavors bold and exciting, and the action never seems to stop. What I love most of all is their intent to do something entirely new with the category. It's not about how old their whisky is, what type of casks they were aged in, or whether they used a pot still or a column still. It's 100% about the flavor of the beer, and how these two young chaps are able to mature their spirits into soft, drinkable whiskies that still taste very much like the liquids from which they were distilled. It's not beer schnapps. It's not single malt whisky. It's something entirely new, and absolutely delicious.

Imagine distilling the bright, hoppy flavors of an IPA like Pliny the Elder into a whisky that balanced those wildly-pungent skunky notes with sweet vanilla and a note of maple syrup to soften the finish. For $35 you're getting something completely new and surprisingly satisfying. Remember: these guys are distilling drinkable and bottle-ready IPA, so their overhead doesn't involve cheap grains and a bag of yeast. This stuff isn't cheap to make. The real question is: knowing how much it does cost to produce, is it still worth doing? Fuck yeah it is. Trust me: this stuff rules.

We picked out four tiny casks from the new Seven Stills batch of Whipnose exclusively for K&L. Check it out:

Seven Stills K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #11 Whipnose Whiskey 375ml $35.99Whipnose is the first in Seven Stills’ Collaboration Series; a project that partnered them with Pacific Brewing Laboratory, located in San Francisco.  They began by distilling each of Pac Brew Lab’s beers individually to see if they could make a unique whiskey. As soon as they tasted the results from the double IPA, they knew they were on to something. 60 barrels of Whipnose IPA were then brewed, distilled into 165 gallons of whiskey, and aged in new American Oak Barrels. The name Whipnose aptly describes the whip of hop aroma this whiskey opens up with.The taste is rich malt, dark, dried fruits, light vanilla, toasted oak, and with a smooth, lingering maple syrup note on the finish. Lucky for us, after a successful first run with the product, we were able to go back into batch two and select some of our own private casks of Whipnose exclusively for K&L! Barrel #11 has sweeter oak notes and bright citrus hops on the entry with a long, lingering finish of skunky IPA goodness. YUM!

Seven Stills K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #12 Whipnose Whiskey 375ml $35.99Barrel #12 has more spice and vanilla than the others with added richness on the midpalate. A beer drinker's delight!

Seven Stills K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #14 Whipnose Whiskey 375ml $35.99Barrel # 14 has lots of skunky hops and maple notes. The most IPAish of the group.

Seven Stills K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #15 Whipnose Whiskey 375ml $35.99Barrel #15 is the most like the original batch of Whipnose. Lots of tingly citric action on the entry, hoppy through the middle, and full of sweet maple on the finish. Gotta love it!

-David Driscoll