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Wednesday
Jan212015

The Whiskey Algorithm

If you don't watch The Big Bang Theory sitcom on CBS, then you're really missing out on some of the most brilliant writing on television (and one of Edradour manager Des McCagherty's favorite shows). I won't get into the entire gist of the premise, but the central character is usually Dr. Sheldon Cooper: a brilliant scientist with borderline Aspberger's and a giant-sized ego to go along with it (played by the equally brilliant Jim Parsons, who has won four Emmy awards for the role). While Dr. Cooper is a genius in the lab at Caltech, he's lost when it comes to relations with friends and family. He doesn't understand nuance, personal boundaries, or anything unspoken concerning interpersonal contact. His only true friend (and the only person who can stand him) is his roommate; another scientist named Leonard who spends each episode continually frustrated with Sheldon's inability (and lack of desire) to integrate into "normal" human relationships.

Because Sheldon is incapable of understanding anything without clear rules or definitions, he is forced to translate any attempt at comprehension into a table, chart, or formula that he can study and hope to emulate. One of the most hilarious (and, again, brilliant) instances of this behavior comes when Sheldon tries to understand why he can't make friends. When Leonard attempts to explain to him how friendship works, Sheldon composes the above chart as a way of diagramming the procedure: The Friendship Algorithm. The joke behind the entire concept, however, is that Sheldon doesn't actually care about the niceties of creating friendships and what it ultimately takes to maintain them; yet he forces himself to comply to the ritual out of loneliness. He knows what he has to do, but he doesn't understand why he has to do it (which is the whole issue with him). Sheldon is incapable of reading the room, feeling people out, or interpreting body language; hence why he's in this predicament. Friendship (as most of us already know) isn't something that can be narrowed down to a simple science.

I'd put the enjoyment of whiskey in that same category. So many hungry aficionados out there are on the ultimate quest to taste the best, but sometimes I come into contact with folks who don't seem to know what they're looking for. Or maybe they do know what they're looking for, but it seems like they're following a formula rather than their heart (a la Dr. Cooper). Their whole approach feels rather cold and contrived. I don't know if I've got it down exactly, but using Sheldon's chart for The Friendship Algorithm I've managed to come up with how I believe a number of folks shop for whiskey.

I don't know that following The Whiskey Algorithm is necessarily a bad idea, but I don't personally believe that sticking to such a precise and narrow drinking docrtine will ultimately lead to the desired conclusion: "ENJOY WHISKEY". There are other ways to find exciting new whiskies that don't involve the above formula. It might not be a perfect algorithm (as I only spent about ten minutes sketching it all out), but ultimately the point I'm trying to make is that life and its many pleasures aren't exact sciences. Like making friends, trying too hard to force the issue can often backfire, or lead to frustrating consequences. It's only when you let your guard down and attempt to see things from outside your own perspective that people can really get to know you, and you them. I'd say my own philosophy concerning the enjoyment of whiskey involves something along those lines. But, hey, that's just me.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Jan212015

Bourbon Stuff

Like I've said in previous posts, I'm expecting 2015 to be a big year for Jim Beam. In the middle of an American whiskey melee the Kentucky giant is sitting on huge stocks of mature Bourbon and is slowly starting to come out of hibernation. They tested the waters last year with the Maker's Mark Cask Strength Edition, which blew out of here like a Loretto tornado. They know they're on to something with higher proof expressions. I've been making sure to request samples of all their single barrel marks, as well; just to make sure we're not missing anything. You can't know if you don't taste! Thank goodness we kept ourselves in the loop because we recently snagged a lovely little number from Knob Creek: a 120 proof juggernaut that brings the punch without all the sugar. Personally, I enjoy making Old Fashioneds and Manhattans with rye whiskey rather than Bourbon. Sweet Bourbon with sweet vermouth usually results in one sweet headache for me. This Knob Single Barrel, however, is dynamite in a cocktail. The initial sip shows powerful spice and dry woody notes before a bit of vanilla helps round out the next transition. The sweetness is brief and balanced before bringing loads of baking spices and peppery goodness out the back end. Beam is beginning to put on their big boy pants. The beast is awakening.

Knob Creek K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Bourbon $39.99

And this lovely little sipper just snuck back into our warehouse. I've been told this is the last pure Kentucky batch before the production switches over to Indiana. Always a creamy, soft, and easy drinking whiskey.

Hirsch Straight Bourbon Small Batch Reserve $39.99 - This is one of the great bourbon deals that K&L has to offer.  It is a soft, creamy, rich, and semi-sweet whiskey that drinks far above its price point.  For all of those who long for Black Maple Hill, the Hirsch might be just a bit better.  Always a top-seller and a customer favorite, we just need to keep it in stock!

Tuesday
Jan202015

Still the One

Despite all the amazing producers we've met, the fantastic expressions we've imported, the interesting casks we've dug up, and all the wonderful stories we've told about their initial discovery, I still have to say that the most exciting Armagnac we carry at K&L (maybe at any price) is the Darroze 20 Year Assemblage (which is not part of our K&L Exclusive program). I just popped a bottle of Marc's latest batch and it's incredibly consistent with what I remember previous editions tasting like. When I say "most exciting", I mean this is the Armagnac that will get you to stand up, take notice, and really give this whole brandy thing another look. If you don't like the Darroze 20 Ans d'Age, then you won't like any mature Armagnac—period. This will be the only bottle you'll ever have to purchase to figure out whether or not you're going to delve deeper into a genre we're continuing to focus upon.

The Darroze 20 is not only incredibly accessible, it's still utterly traditional in style. There's more sweet oak on the nose than most Armagnacs we carry—a very Bourbon-esque bouquet of toasted wood and brown sugar—but it never materializes to that same extent on the palate. The flavors are rich, but spicy, dusty, and dry on the finish. It almost teases you into thinking it's pure Kentucky, then tricks you on the back end with a litheness that could only be Armagnac; and nothing more. If you're unfamiliar with Marc Darroze's operation, he's an independent bottler and distiller for the region, who is often the only avenue for certain chateaux. Marc offers many landowners free distillation in exchange for a percentage of their haul. In some cases, certain properties wouldn't even get harvested or distilled were Marc not the one offering to do so. Through this model he has acquired a wealth of incredible Armagnac stock—both young and old—from which he can bottle by estate, or use to blend into more harmonious expressions. The Darroze 20 constitutes the latter; an incredibly balanced Armagnac, comprised of various properties, that covers all the basics and remains polished all the way through.

If you need an analogy to help clarify further, the Darroze 20 is the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch of the Armagnac world. Not the oldest, not the flashiest, and not the most coveted of the category, but perhaps the best tasting year after year. And it still holds up today. If you didn't land a bottle of BTAC or Pappy this year, I can tell you this with a straight face: for my own personal drinking, I'd rather have one bottle of Darroze 20 than any of the rare Bourbons on today's market. It's really, really, really good Armagnac.

We've got it back in stock if you're curious:

Darroze Les Grand Assemblages "20 Year Old" Bas-Armagnac $99.99- Absolutely stunning Armagnac with incredible richness, spice, and balance. I can't say it enough, so I'll say it again: every Bourbon drinker who's out there chasing things like Pappy 20 or BMH 16 should be stocking up on things like this instead. Or maybe I shouldn't say that because the people who actually drink Armagnac regularly will get pissy. In any case, this is a slam dunk spirit. Big wood, lots of spice and vanilla, and a rustic fruit character with seamless execution. My new favorite brandy for the moment.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Jan192015

D2D Interview: Steve Bono

I remember the first time I saw former 49er quarterback Steve Bono in our store because he was the fourth rather famous athlete I had seen in my first few months on the job. Ralph Sands, our premier Bordeaux expert (and resident Bay Area sports superfan), is pals with a number of legendary figures, so it's not uncommon to see them wander in for a bottle of wine. It turns out that a lot of former local sports icons love booze; and Ralph had turned a number of them on to the fine wines of France. I thought to myself, "Wow, you never know who you're going to run into at K&L," as I continued to see faces from my youth—fresh off the Wheaties box—hand me their credit card as I rung them up. It's pretty fun to have these parts of your life overlap. David OG is always telling me about the big wig celebrities who stroll into the Hollywood store. Sometimes I say, "Oh my God! I would have tackled him and given him a big hug!"

"That's exactly why we don't let you work in Hollywood," David says in response.

But luckily for me (and Steve Bono), it has never come to that in Redwood City. Steve has always been a wine customer at K&L, but over the last five years he's been one of my many whiskey customers who's interested in expanding his collection of hard booze. When I thought about starting this Drinking to Drink interview series, Steve was one of the first guys I wanted to speak with, and he was more than happy to sit down with me for a quick discussion about drinking. We talk Bourbon, buying gifts for Joe Montana, and the best post-round cocktail for when you're out on the green. Check out our conversation below:

David: I know that you like Bourbon because that’s what you usually ask me about when you’re looking for a bottle, but is that your drink of choice?

Steve: I like either Bourbon or rye. Gosh—I think it’s always been one of my favorites. One of the first cocktails that I ever started drinking regularly was a Manhattan.

David: Would you say that you developed this taste while playing in the NFL, or would this be a post-football discovery?

Steve: Good question. I’d say I started drinking Manhattans while I was still playing, but probably not until my 30s; definitely not at the beginning of my career. I’d say it was one of the first serious cocktails my wife Tina and I ever tried up to that point together.

David: What did you drink before that primarily?

Steve: Mostly beer. I got into making cocktails when we first got married—in the late 80s—and one of the first cocktails I can remember making back then—I’m not sure I even want to call it a cocktail (laughs)—was a frozen margarita that long-time friends still remind me now. They say, “I still remember that recipe you made,” when we have drinks today. We got it out of an entertaining magazine or cookbook.

David: When you were playing in the NFL was it normal for the players to grab a drink after the game, or were you so exhausted and dehydrated at that point that you didn’t feel like alcohol?

Steve: When I was playing we for sure went out to eat after the game. Maybe not the whole team together, but definitely a smaller group of five to six guys and our significant others. That was true pretty much all the way through my career. In Kansas City, we had an area for the team and organization to go grab a drink in the stadium immediately following the game, but it was only beer and wine—definitely not cocktails.

David: Who’s the biggest booze aficionado that you ever played with?

Steve: Ha, ha (laughs)! Two people come to mind. Biggest aficionado would have to be Joe Montana. He and I have always drunk together. He’s a little bit older than I am, so I’ll say that he got into it first, but we’ve definitely grown in our love of drinking together. The best drinker I ever played with was Tim Harris—by far. For good and bad (laughs).

David: Tim Harris, as in the defensive lineman who did the cowboy shoot-em-up after he sacked someone?

Steve: Exactly! Very good.

David: I remember him well. I thought that was the coolest thing ever when I was a kid. I used to do it when I played football in the backyard with my cousin. It looks like I'm emulating him now again later in life! When you ended up going to Kansas City with Montana, did the enjoyment of booze continue on away from the Bay Area?

Steve: Yes. Obviously, all the different types of Bourbon we’re drinking today weren’t readily available back then, so to the extent we could be into whiskey, we were. But nothing like we are nowadays. You know better than anyone about all the different selections available today. It’s incredible.

David: I remember a while back when you wanted to get Joe a birthday present and you were looking for the A.H. Hirsch 16 year old. I can’t remember—did we ever get him that bottle?

Steve: We did get him that bottle.

David: Did you get to try it with him?

Steve: I did, yes.

David: What did you think? Did it live up to the hype?

Steve: It was delicious. I don’t know if I could say it was the best Bourbon ever, but it was very good.

David: Did Joe know the historical significance? Did he realize what it was?

Steve: Absolutely, he did. It came in a great case, too; a humidifier to keep the cork moist and info that explained the whole story, too. It was the perfect gift.

David: What’s your particular Bourbon of choice these days?

Steve: For my everyday pour I really like the Breaking & Entering from St. George. That’s good.

David: What would you treat yourself with, maybe once a month?

Steve: I’m fortunate to have a bunch of different things I’ve either bought for myself or that others have bought for me. One of the partners that I work with gave me a bottle of Colonel E.H. Taylor a while back and I thought that was delicious. I tasted a rye whiskey at a friend’s house recently called Twelve Five that I thought was also quite good. It wasn’t hot and the flavors were quite wonderful, I thought.

David: How many bottles do you have open at your house? More than thirty?

Steve: No, not more than thirty. I’d say about a dozen. Thirteen—that’s a good number (laughs).

David: You have the same number of bottles open as your old jersey number! I’m glad you’re enjoying what you have rather than constantly opening new things. I don’t want you to burn out! Did you ever drink high-end hooch while you were on the road playing football?

Steve: When I was playing in Kansas City, my wife Tina and I went to Chicago for a night away—it might have been Green Bay actually—and we were sitting in a bar having a cocktail. I guess I wasn’t talking much—which isn’t unusual—and she bumped me and said, “What are you looking at?” I said, “I’m looking at that bottle of Louis the 13th up on that top shelf.” I was trying to calculate how much was left because if there’s only one shot left the unwritten rule is that the customer who orders it gets to keep the bottle. The Louis 13th bottles are made from Baccarat crystal, if I’m not mistaken, so I eyed it for a while as we sat there drinking. Finally I asked the bartender, “Can I have a shot of Louis the 13th?” and he said, “No, we only have one shot left and it’s reserved for the owner.” I knew then I had calculated that right, as I had been sitting there looking at it for some time. It was clear he didn’t want to give away the bottle.

David: He really wouldn’t sell it to you? That’s crazy. It’s not like they couldn’t have purchased another one after that.

Steve: Nope, he wouldn’t do it. That was the only time I can remember trying to order something high-end on the road. And I was denied!

David: Did you celebrate with anything special after you ran that 76-yard bootleg back for a touchdown against Arizona; the play that—at that point—was the longest touchdown run by a quarterback ever?

Steve: Ha, ha (laughs)! Well, by NFL rule at that time—in Kansas City—we weren’t allowed to have beer on the plane, so I think I had a little shot of Remy XO because one of my teammates had a little briefcase he carried that fit one bottle of Remy perfectly. I won’t mention any names, but I had a little sip of that to celebrate the game.

David: Did you get anything cool for playing in the Pro Bowl? You made the squad for your Kansas City performance in 1995. I like to imagine you drinking Bourbon out of a big golden Pro Bowl trophy.

Steve: Unfortunately, you don’t get anything you can drink out of. You get a watch—a Pro Bowl watch. You get a nice bonus check, but I don’t remember how much it was for. Then you get lots of paraphernalia from sponsors—like Nike.

David: What about for the Super Bowl. Is it just rings? No Super Bowl Champions mug?

Steve: No, I don’t think I have anything celebratory to drink out of except for some nice glasses from the First Tee Foundation that I put my cocktails in.

David: Tee, as in golf tee?

Steve: Yes, as in golf.

David: How often do you play golf these days?

Steve: As often as possible!

David: What do you drink while you’re out there on the green?

Steve: You know what, I don’t usually drink when I’m on the golf course; even when it’s a charity event, which are usually more fun and casual. I’ve never really been a fan of drinking while moving. I’d rather sit and enjoy a drink after I’m done. After a round on a nice warm day I love having a gin and tonic.

David: Absolutely! There’s no other possibility!

Steve: A little Fever Tree; one of the nicer tonics, you know? That’s all I need.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Jan172015

"Wine....."

When I first saw Fred Arimsen do this sketch on Portlandia last year, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. His impression of this person is soooooooooooooooo dead-on it makes my skin itch. The idea of wine appreciation has always been linked to pedantry and snobbery (stuffy, high-browed elitists who stick their pinky out as they hold their stem), but Armisen's impression isn't that of an old, crusty intellectual in a suit. It's a much more modern phenomenon he's tackling. The new American wine snob isn't so much haughty as he is just plain naive. He's inwardly-focused, ignorant of what's happening around him, certain that his experiences are unique and outweigh the others he's in contact with, andmost importantly—he believes that his minimal travels have enlightened him in a way that most mere mortals have not been touched. It's an impression so spot on it gives me chills.

Here's a checklist for you in case you're unfamiliar with this person:

1) Mentions something cheesily traditional about Italy or Italian culture he's learned (that Americans are lacking).

2) Pauses as if he's going to let you talk, but then interrupts you when you try to speak.

3) Speaks of something revelatory that is actually rather hackneyed or trite.

4) Tells a story about the time he travelled somewhere to reinforce his expertise.

5) Is actually boring the shit out of everyone in the room, but believes he's on a roll.

Fred Armisen must have worked in the wine business at some point recently because again this is a rather new phenomenon (but, of course, the incredible Christian Lander touched on these points (#19 and #20) seven years ago in his ingenious satirical blog). Funny stuff. Hilarious. And so very true.

-David Driscoll