Tuesday
Aug272013

Vodka Appreciation

I spent last night at a high-end vodka tasting in San Francisco, choosing to break my normally strict policy about not attending industry dinners or tasting events. I find that I rarely learn more about a brand or product at a large gala than I do in the privacy of the K&L tasting bar, so it's never been a tough decision for me. Yesterday's tasting, however, was something that really piqued my curiosity, so I made an exception. I get a kick out of understanding things that others shrug off, and an even bigger kick out of pointing out to spirit-loving hipsters about why their anti-vodka stance is just as trendy and clichéd as their hatred for all things trendy and clichéd. That's part of what's fueling my recent fascination with vodka appreciation. That and the fact that the world consumes more than four times the amount of vodka than it does whisky. According to the Economist, "Russians alone downed nearly 2 billion litres of the stuff in 2012, equivalent to 14 litres for every man, woman and child. (Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Russians are among the biggest drinkers in the world, according to the most recent World Health Organisation data.)"

There is such a thing as quality vodka. Despite the fact that most vodka is neutral in flavor, there are differences in the way they taste and in how they are perceived on the palate. They differ in weight. They differ in purity. They differ in distillation methods. They differ in base materials. Water plays a big role. Filtration plays a big role. Yet, vodka has played the same role for educated spirits drinkers that white zinfandel long played for educated wine drinkers – it epitomized unsophistication, and no one wants to appear like they're unsophisticated in the food and wine world. But much like quality rosé has shed its association with jugs of Carlo Rossi here in California, I think it's time we start separating the wheat vodkas from the chaff. There are reasons that vodka continues to sell strongly all over the world (at both high and low prices) and there are plenty of people out there who appreciate it. How can I (or anyone, for that matter) consider myself a true student of booze if I'm completely writing off the most popular and widely consumed spirit on the planet? Sounds pretty foolish, right?

When I sat at that tasting last night and I went through the various glasses, I was quite surprised at how un-neutral many of the vodkas appeared on the nose. Some smelled like lime, others like lime with PineSol (that was Ciroc). Some were hot and spicy, while others soft and supple. Many people in the audience reacted positively or negatively to these qualities. I was proud of myself for being able to pick out the Absolut Elyx from the bunch, meaning that I recognized a flavor and profile that was distinct from other vodkas, and I was surprised by how different it was from other brands like Grey Goose, Ketel One, and Belvedere. I'm a bit embarrassed by my lack of vodka knowledge, about the fact that I don't know much about fermentation, distillation, or how filtration affects flavor. I know people laugh at these aspects of production because there's not much flavor when it comes to vodka, but in my opinion these slights are misguided. There's something going on with vodka and millions of vodka drinkers prove that everyday.

Perhaps the best part about vodka is the lack of pretense. Because there's so much nuance and so little boutique culture, there's little snobbery within the aficianado community – that being said, there's a ton of snobbery from the anti-vodka aficianado community to make up for it. But this extreme gulf is what intrigues me right now. I'm searching for enlightenment. Maybe vodka appreciation is the most advanced form of spirits appreciation, rather than the least. Maybe it takes the most sophisticated palate to figure out what quality is! Can one even approach vodka like one approaches other spirits? How does one determine quality? What makes one better from another? I'm going to find out. I'm personally going to drink nothing but vodka for the next week and write about what I learn.

And, of course, I'll share everything with you here.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Aug272013

Shanken News Feed

I don't normally read the industry news, but I get things forwarded to me from time to time. This struck me as an appropriate thing to share based on recent conversations about "craft" spirits and how the term is being co-opted and exploited. I'm just copying and pasting the news from my email on to the blog:

Terlato Wines has launched an artisan spirits division, forming long-term partnership agreements with two super-premium craft spirits brands—Langley’s No. 8 gin and Tigre Blanc vodka. Langley’s is copper-pot distilled at the Langley Distillery in Birmingham, England, while Tigre Blanc is produced in the Cognac region from 100% French wheat.

“The spirits business is evolving,” said Terlato Wines CEO Bill Terlato. “It’s starting to look a lot like the wine business, with mixologists, craft bartenders and consumers embracing a new category of small-production, hand-crafted, super-premium brands. Today’s consumers are actively looking for new brands and categories to discover and share, and their preference for luxury wines and craft spirits is growing well above the category.”

Terlato’s Artisan Spirits portfolio will have a dedicated sales and marketing team, and while it’s kicking off with Langely’s and Tigre Blanc, the company plans to add a host of other high-end spirits offerings from around the globe. Terlato says its spirits lineup will eventually include Scotch, Cognac, Tequila and rum entries, among others.

Basically, if you don't have an "artisan, hand-crafted" spirits division and you're a major player in the booze industry, you're missing out on serious sales!

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Aug252013

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

Friday
Aug232013

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

Friday
Aug232013

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