French First Wave

It's going to get hot and hectic—fast. There's a ton of new K&L Exclusive booze coming in this month and I really think people are going to freak out; mainly because they're going to want all of it and it's simply too much for any one person to handle. Let's start with two old favorites and one long-awaited newcomer:

(for a refresher on Pellehaut click here, and for more info on Pouchegu click here)

1973 Chateau Pellehaut 40 Year Old K&L Exclusive Tenareze Vintage Armagnac $139.99 - NOTE: This is the end of this vintage for Pellehaut. We drained the barrel for this last batch. While Bas-Armagnac gets all the press, and the Haut-Armagnac gets completely ignored, the Tenareze region of Armagnac is quietly producing some of the best brandies in the world. Much like the Borderies region in Cognac, the Tenareze brandies seem to have more fruit and a bit more life than the more classic Armagnac style. We visited Chateau Pellehaut on our first day in Armagnac last January and were completely overwelmed by the quality of spirit.  Using only new or first fill barrels for the beginning years of maturation, the Armagnacs have richness, weight, and spice. While Pellehaut has since switched to entirely Folle Blanche grape varietals, the 1973 vintage is composed of 90% Ugni Blanc. The palate opens with loads of caramel and a creamy richness the spreads quickly. The aromas are quite Bourbon-esque, with hints of soft vanilla and charred oak drifting out of the glass. The complexity of the brandy is astounding - candied fruit, stewed prunes, toasted almond, baking spices, and earthy warehouse notes, all swirling around at the same time. For an Armagnac of this quality, at an age of more than 40 years old, the price we negotiated is amazing. I'm expecting this to be one of our best selling Armagnacs ever and I expect it to really put Pellehaut on the map stateside.

Chateau de Pellehaut K&L Exclusive L'Age de Glace Tenareze Armagnac $27.99 - Chateau Pellehaut has been one of our top direct imports for the past year here at K&L. We've visited the Tenereze producer twice over the past few years, always finding something new to bring home for our brandy fans. What really excited us this year, however, was a new project they were working on called L'Age de Glace: a young brandy meant to drink on the rocks (hence the name "Ice Age"). The fruit of the Armagnac takes center stage here, melding wonderfully with the small hint of vanilla from the wood. It's all distilled from Folle Blanche fruit and it's soft, round, and aromatic, but it still has that little bit of rustic brandy flavor that I associate with old school Armagnac. At 41%, it's light and easy going, but there's still a lot of character. I have a feeling I'll personally be going through bottles of this. Bottles.

1986 Domaine de Pouchegu 27 Year Old K&L Exclusive Vintage Armagnac $109.99 - NOTE: The back label for this Armagnac says "37 year old." It wouldn't be the typical K&L French harvest without a few label errors. Pierre Laporte, the proprietor of Domaine de Pouchegu, believes that new Limousin oak is essential to producing top quality Armagnac and strives to fill only freshly-constructed barrels. The Pouchegu Armagnacs are also bottled at higher alcohol percentages, which helps to balance out the richness and the power inflected into the spirit from the wood. Like most Armagnac producers, Pierre does not own his own still, nor does he carry out his own distillation. It's important to remember that most Armagnac producers are farmers first, and rarely do they have time to get around to a second title or position. Pouchegu, like many producers, hires a traveling stillman to drive an alembique on a flatbed to the property when the fermentation is done, and distill everything for the year in one fell swoop. His property is planted solely with baco grapes. When we visited Pierre in 2013 he hinted that distillation might be done at Pouchegu for the foreseeable future—he feels he has enough back stock to retire at this point and doesn't have any kin looking to carry on the tradition. What's currently in the barrel at Pouchegu is likely all that will continue to exist at this point. The 86 is a flurry of spicy rusticity, savory and herbaceous, but everything after that initial note is dark caramel, brandied fruit, and fudge. Imagine the best parts of an ultra-mature Bourbon with the soft candied fruit of grape distillate and that's what the 27 year old Pouchegu offers. It's decadent.

-David Driscoll


Drinking to Drink - Part V

Last year I wrote a series of posts called Drinking to Drink and since then I have been emailed non-stop about these articles from readers. Apparently they resonated with a number of folks.

I thought an update on the subject might be in order.

2014 has been an interesting year for whisky at K&L. I feel as if the transition from an older generation of whisky fans to a newer, more-hungry group of drinkers has finally taken place. Many of our long-time customers (who used to email me every single day) have seen their orders dwindle, while new names continue to populate the order queue each day. Guys who used to stop by every weekend are no longer coming in, but they are being replaced with fresh faces that introduce themselves to me on a weekly basis. There was a rough patch in 2012 when prices started to skyrocket and availability began to decline—the grumbling began, the bitter annoyance with newbie naivete was everywhere, and everyone kept harping about a bubble, but nothing ever gave way. Sales never slowed, prices never plummeted—the whisky machine just kept churning and we kept growing.

People talk about cycles in the industry—ebbs and flows, busts and booms—but no one ever mentions the cycle of the serious whisky collector; the guys who discover single malt, become obsessed with it, and then burn out in a supernova of passion resulting in total liquidation. It's what happens when people stop purchasing with the intention of drinking and start looking beyond the spirit, deep into the vast world of cache and cool. Their curiosity to taste more whisky becomes an all-encompassing obsession, and the more they buy, the faster they explode. But as one star comes to the end of its life, another is born to take its place in the night sky of whisky consumerism—and many of these new stars do not care about blogs, the way things used to be, or the fact that when you were a kid Yamazaki 18 only cost a nickel.

Because highly-revered bottles like Port Ellen are so expensive, and must-have bottles of Pappy impossible to find, there's an acceptance of the idea that cult whiskies are out of reach. This new mindset has helped to refocus our gaze back towards what we can actually afford to drink and what's actually on the shelf. Instead of hearing, "I'm slowly sipping my last few bottles of Brora and Stitzel-Weller," I'm hearing, "I'll probably never taste those whiskies, so I don't really think about them." Seasoned whisky veterans are skeptical about the marketplace because, in their experience, most of the value has vanished, but the absence of these consumers—the ones who are sitting on their backstock and waiting for the old days to return—isn't really being felt. In my humble opinion, this is because the consumption of boutique spirits is no longer a side hobby for the super geeks—it's at the point where a greater proportion of the general populace is involved and the liquid is actually being consumed.

Today's spirits customer is more excited about drinking than collecting—at least today's K&L customer is. Most of the new drinkers I've met over the last year are buying bottles, emptying them, then coming back wide-eyed for more. I have become one of these drinkers, and I've been taking my queue from the passion this younger generation is bringing. I'm still interested in old whisky, rare whisky, and new whisky—it's just that I'm interested in drinking it and then moving on to something else. I don't pine for the old days, I don't wish things were back to the way they used to be, and I do not give a flying fuck about batch numbers. I simply look forward to the next glass and I love that more and more drinkers are adopting this mentality.

The bubble for collectables might still be forming, but there is no cap for new enthusiasm or new boutique consumerism. We're continuing to find new products that inspire us and more people than ever before are drinking them. When you drink for the sake of drinking, there is no collector burn out; there are no cycles.

-David Driscoll


Solomente Una Barrique

Gran Dovejo tequila is one of the best kept secrets we have at K&L. Distilled at Feliciano Vivanco distillery (click here to check out my visit this past Spring and here to read my interview with Sergio Vivanco), there are a number of prosperous producers in love with the juice coming from NOM 1414 -- ArteNOM and Siembra Azul being two of the most familiar. However, compared to those two, Gran Dovejo is like a drop in the bucket. They're a small label out of the Central Valley that is self-distributed by the Mendez family, who I've been working with for years. The only thing holding their tequila back, in my opinion, was the shape of the bottle; which made shipping orders a nightmare for us. In the new incarnation, however, I think the brand is primed for some serious action. It's an absolutely gorgeous bottle.

Since we've been supporters of the brand from day one, Frank Mendez offered us the chance to do a single barrel project with the Vivancos via their label. We jumped at the opportunity, of course. After more than a year of dealing with logistics, the tequila is finally here.

NOTE: there is nothing on the label that says this tequila is from a single barrel (you'll just have to take my word for it), but you can tell from the code on the back that it's Lot KL097 -- i.e. Barrel #97 chosen by K&L. Due to labeling issues it was easier for us to do it this way.

Gran Dovejo K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Añejo Tequila $59.99 -- After more than a year of effort, restarts, and failed label attempts, our single barrel of Gran Dovejo Anejo tequila is finally here and ready to drink! 216 bottles were yielded from one Bourbon barrel at Felciano Vivanco distillery in Arandas, Jalisco -- also the home of ArteNOM 1414 and Siembra Azul. The difference with Gran Dovejo is that Leopoldo Solis oversees all production, and as one of the workers told me at the distillery this past Spring: "He is the very best. Everything he makes is the best you can drink." I can't say I disagree with that statement. Gran Dovejo remains one of the best kept secrets at K&L. Distributed by the Mendez family out of the Central Valley, this isn't a big time operation with much reach. It's very much a niche item and we're happy to be the first retailer to work directly with GD on an exclusive expression. Our single barrel offers a flurry of black pepper, sage, savory herbs, and a faint whisper of baking spices, yet the palate is never hot, spicy, or fiery in any way. The texture is delicate, the alcohol completely tamed by more than a year in oak. The wood acts more like a modifier in this tequila, rather than the focus. It's an anejo expression that bridges the gap between pure agave flavor and top-shelf luxury. We also begged the Mendez family to change their packaging so that we could more easily ship our bottles and they complied with a beautiful new, sleekly-styled bottle that should please fans of booze aesthetics. Very limited.

-David Driscoll


Free Zacapa Tonight in RWC

Come by the Redwood City store from 5 PM until 6:30 and meet with Robert Gonzales from Diageo if you want to learn more about Ron Zacapa's rum products. We'll be giving out free glasses for that lovely hour and a half.

See you there!

-David Driscoll


Staff Tasting

Sorry for the lack of updates over the last few days. I've been visiting with family, and I was on the hook for today's company staff tasting. We sampled most of our Italian bitter liqueurs and French herbal spirits, so I've been digging up notes and the history behind each of these products. Joe Manekin was giving me a serious face because he takes his staff tastings seriously.

I'll be back tomorrow.

-David Driscoll