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Thursday
Jul052018

The Beginning of a Very Rummy Summer

It's the day after Independence Day. That painful morning after we've celebrated the founding of this great nation by doing what Americans do best, eating, drinking, and blowing shit up. Shouldn't the 4th always be on a Friday? My East LA neighborhood turns into a literal war zone. Starting a month before the 4th, the pops of M80s and firecrackers down by the river steadily grow into a deafening din of explosions on every corner for miles around. I'm certain I heard someone just shooting a gun into the air last night. God bless America. It's also the only Holiday where nearly everything (except K&L) in LA is closed. It truly unites us like few other events during the year. 

It's hard to pinpoint what the 4th means to the most Americans. Some treat it with stoic reverence for the struggle of Independence and the great principles it espoused. Others use it to examine our national character and offer some solutions for a better future. But most people just want to recreate a bit of that ol' American spirit like founding fathers would have: some punch, some beer, some wine, some rye, some rum, some madeira, some sherry, some brandy, some meat, explosions and dessert. 

After all, our founding fathers were legendary tipplers. Their reputation for the love of drink withstands the test of time and remains a component in popular culture today. And there's no doubt that 242 years ago, on this day nearly a year after Paul Revere's famous ride and only months before the British offensive defeated George Washington's Army on Long Island, this complicated group of delegates to the second Continental Congress would have celebrated the publishing of their deliberations, an explanation for the creation of a new nation, with some serious libations.

They would have probably had access to the very best in the world despite of mounting military pressure. And likely the most popular beverage during this period the country would have been rum. Sugar, rum and the connection to the revolution cannot be diminished. Nor should Rums inextricable connection to the next massive political upheaval a hundred years later be ignored. While Bourbon may be the national drink, rum is more responsible for shaping the character of our nation than any other spirit. And for all that rum represents historically, we as a populace understand it the least. So let's start now, little by little with these three unusual offerings. All from French speaking islands. Both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were heavily connected to French thought, culture and language. A fitting choice for the day after Independence. 

Marc Darroze has spent the last 20 years perfecting the art of aging and blending Armagnac in the house of Darroze, which father Jean had nearly 5 decades earlier. Jean was a restaurateur and enamored with the complexities and diversity of the tiny domaines of Gascogne. Likewise, Marc has taken that endless curiosity and epicurean ideal out to the rest of the world. His line of specially selected spirits from all over France and the rest of the world is called Bapt & Clem. Here he's bottling some of the most unique and interesting spirits on the market today and although he's working closely with suppliers to select excellent stocks, he's not dictating the elevage to the same degree as he might with the domaines he works with back home. 

Bapt & Clem 4 Year Old "Oxenham Distillery" Maurice Rum (750ml) $69.99

The Oxenham Distillery was founded in 2010 on the Isle de Maurice. The island known as Mauritius in English is renowned for it's unique climate and fertile soils making it one of the finest places to grow cane in the world. The Oxenham family has been importing and distributing wine and spirits on Mauritius since 1932. The confluence of those factors and a greater interest in craft spirits and rhum in general are what encouraged the family to build this tiny distillery in the Wilhems District in the center of the Island. It is truly an honor for Marc Darroze to have been allowed to work with a small portion of some of the distillery's first distillates. This rum was distilled from molasses to 83% alcohol. It's reduced to 70% before being aged in 600L Sherry butts in the hot humid cellar with an average temperature of close to 80 degrees. That means upwards of 8% evaporation and an extremely quick and powerful maturation. So despite the young age expect a ton of rum and sherry character for this unusual offering.

Bapt & Clem 12 Year Old "Savanna Distillery" Réunion Rum (750ml) $99.99

The exceptional Savanna distillery has been notably unavailable on the American market despite accolades from across the rest of the world. The small distillery on the Island of Reunion is probably one of the most exciting things you can't get in this country. It's unique in that it's operated similar to the Agricole distilleries of the Caribbean, but distills rhums from both fresh cane and molasses. In this case the rhum was distilled from molasses supplied by the Bois-Rouge refinery on the island, so it's truly an exercise in rhum terroir. The rhum is distilled in an alembic column still like an Agricole Rhum and aged in the chai on site for 12 years in used ex-Cognac barrels. Marc was lucky to get the keys to the warehouse and selected this special lot of barrels for his new line of spirits. The first rum from Reunion that we've ever sold and hopefully not the last.

Bapt & Clem "Reimonenq Distillery" Guadeloupe Rum (750ml) $179.99

The Reimonenq Distillery is one of Guadeloupe's finest. Founded in 1916 by Joseph Reimonenq in Sainte-Rose on the island of Basse-Terre, the distillery was destroyed in a fire in 1970. After being rebuilt and modernized, the distillery launched a Rhum Museum. It’s one of Guadeloupe's most popular tourist attractions, yet the distillery sells no rum in the United States other than this unique offering. Like all Agricole, it's distilled from fresh cane juice. The cane is harvest and crushed in a short period of time to preserve the quality and prevent spoilage. The highly unstable juice is fermented in tanks for up to four days before being distilled on a highly unusual double column still. This design is unique in the West Indies and was developed by the current proprietor Leopold Reimonenq. The fermented juice or "bunch" is heated indirectly by a serpentine heat exchanger. This allows incredible control during distillation and offers one of the highest quality distillates in Agricole Rhum today. The hot humid aging offers incredible depth of character yet doesn't hinder the inherent finesse of this high quality spirit. Considering the incredible cost and significant amount of loss (nearly 70% of the volume evaporates within 10 years) and the extremely high cost of comparable vintage Agricole Rhum, this ones high price tag is understandable and well warranted considering the rarity and complexity of old Caribbean aged Agricole.

More rum to come. It's the next big thing after all...

-David Othenin-Girard

 

Wednesday
Jul042018

A Day For Tradition

Happy 4th of July!

We're open today (until 6pm at all 3 locations) if you need anything last minute for your own celebrations! Here in Redwood City we're having a "Major BBQ Event" for the staff. Jimmy has some chicken thighs in the smoker and Gary and Cindy are prepping for burgers. The weather is perfect and it's going to be a great day.

Traditionally in Redwood City, we throw a BBQ lunch party and enjoy a glass of rose on the 4th of July. We are proud to uphold this tradition yet again this year! Our celebration features some classics from BBQ's past: the Olema Provence Rose, Domaine de Cote Blanches Sancerre Rose (out of magnum, of course) and a couple of new entrants to the field this year. Jim has provided the mini-keg of Oberon from Bell's Brewing. And of course Gary, never to be outdone, has broken out a bottle of Michel Arnould "Grand Cuvee" to really class up the joint!

We have to keep working after our lunch BBQ, so we've got to cut ourselves off after just a glass (okay. maybe two). If you don't have to work today, and need inspiration, consider indulging in the Evan Williams American Heroes Edition Bourbon. This is a special edition bottling of the regular Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon. The twist is that each bottle of this limited edition Evan Williams honors someone who has served in our military and continued their community service after returning home. 


Evan Williams "American Hero Edition" Straight Bourbon Whiskey (1.75L) $24.99

Every bottle sold helps support a charity of the honored soldier's choice. The story that resonates most with me personally is USMC Veteran Christopher Baity. He specialized as a Military Working Dog Handler and Kennel Master. After 3 tours in Iraq with his canine team canvassing for IEDs he started Semper K9. Semper K9 Assistance Dogs is a non profit that turns rescue dogs into service dogs. Chris and his team train rescued dogs into service dogs that provide support to veterans. They tackle everything from PTSD to mobility challenges and his services are free of charge. They've graduated over thirty dog teams since 2014! To learn more about Chris Baity and the other great work being done by the American Heroes honored by Evan Williams, please visit http://american-madeheroes.com/ . You can learn more about each charity selected and donate directly if you are compelled to do so.

When I get home tonight, I will be celebrating America by raising an American Heroes Old Fashioned to Old Glory. Celebrate safely today, folks- Happy Independence Day!

-Andrew Whiteley

 

 

Tuesday
Jul032018

Crack the Code

There's nothing worse than pointless marketing hooey designed just to confuse or obfuscate a product's quality or provenance. With that in mind, I was ultra skeptical when I first heard about this project from Glenlivet. But having gone through the process, tasting the excellent whisky that they've put in this surprisingly cool looking bottle, I'm totally sold. So grab your bottle and login to use your senses to break the code. We only got a few bottles and the speculators are already driving the price up, so crack the cipher before it's too late.

Glenlivet "Code" Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky (750ml) $109.99

-David Othenin-Girard

 

Wednesday
Jun272018

End of Quarter Housekeeping

It’s been more than a month since our esteemed former colleague David Driscoll quietly bowed out from this space. He'd spent the last 10 years chronicling the growth of both the Spirits Department and his personal journey through the complex world of this industry. You may have noticed a lot of changes here including a few new voices. We’ve asked our dear friend SKU to help out with some interesting and informative pieces. Our new NorCal Spirits Buyer Andrew Whiteley has already been making waves, launching the new wonderful Woodinville whiskies (NorCal Exclusive), as well as securing loads of the elusive Hakushu 12 year for our customers. He’s been Driscoll’s right hand man in Redwood City for years, so he knows what’s up.
And while a lot has and will continue to change around here, some things will stay the same.

I partnered with Driscoll nearly 10 years ago to build the Spirits Department together. We had a vision of doing something better. The dream was to bring our customers something no one else could offer. We knew by going the extra mile we could offer new exciting products at exceptional prices as well as provide our customers with the best possible prices on brands they already know and love. We dreamed to do all of this while offering a level of expertise and attention that our competitors simply couldn’t match. Nothing about that mission will ever change, but it’s undeniable that David’s absence will be felt, especially for people who check the Spirits Journal regularly. I’ve spent the last decade happy to be behind the scenes, developing our game plan, working the SoCal market, connecting with new suppliers around the world and manning the logistics of our single cask program. Now I’m compelled to become a more public part of this special section of the K&L’s excellent website. It's a big change for me and I'm easing into it.

With that in mind I’m going to steal something from Driscoll that I always thought seemed really helpful for our customers. It’s time to BUDGET!

We have an incredible array of exceptional products racing toward us from every edge of the globe. Today I’m going to run down the long list of insane things we have coming:

ARMAGNAC

ENCANTADA – after tasting as many barrels as I could get my hand on we’ve selected 5 of the most incredible brandies you’ll ever have. These are full tilt, no additives, zero reduction, and pure Gascogne magic.

Midsummer/early fall

POUCHEGU – The wonderful Domaine in Castalnau d’Auzan was one of our best finds over the years. Pierre Laporte sadly passed and with him we thought we’d lost his incredible old brandies as well. But thanks to some serious sleuthing by our friend Charles Neal, we’ve located the stocks and purchased AS MUCH AS they’d sell us.

Fall

CARDINAT – The fun little estate is run by a young couple who doesn’t really have the expertise of the previous generation, but are learning and building around a great history. We’ve bottled a few vintages which will come through at the always reasonable price.

Fall

Chateau Vacquie– This new producer outside of Lectoure is not in the most renowned region for brandy production, but their little estate is so perfectly situated and the tiny calcareous outcropping is producing some extremely exciting Armagnac.

Midsummer

Cognac

Dudognon – The spectacular higher proof Napoleon which includes the ultra rare Montils grape in the blend remains the only Cognac producer I can guarantee has never used a single additive in any of their products. It’s just the purest Grand Champagne eau-de-vie, 15 years in the highest quality barrels, and a slow subtle reduction. Easily one of the most soulful, complex and valuable in the Cognac in our portfolio.

Next week

Bouju – We’ve secured a line on more of the classic Fine Saveur as well as the outrageous Royal and Tres Vieux Brut de Fut. The pricing should stay very close to previous offers, which makes no sense, but I’m not complaining.

Fall

Bourbon & Rye

1792 – No doubt this stuff will be gone in the blink of an eye, but after years of pushing our supplier, they’ve finally agreed to send us casks at FULL PROOF. Easily one of the best values in Bardstown, this insane cask strength 9 year old bourbon should retail for less than $50. Considering the recent disaster at the site, we’re not sure we’ll get another crack at these any time soon. Expect this in the next couple of weeks.

July

Heaven Hill – Finally, after a multi-year hiatus, Heaven Hill is back with an Elijah Craig barrel program. Still not Cask Strength, but it is absolutely delicious! We’re hoping to have this in the next couple of months and we’ll be back in KY in the fall to secure more.

Midsummer

Four Roses – Last month I did two quick nights in Louisville. We had the extreme pleasure of picking casks out with the illustrious Al Young. Tasting with all is crazy because he insists on tasting the whiskies blind. 5 of the best Four Roses we’ve seen in years are the result. Three being bottled in July and two more in August.

August & September

Maker’s Mark – Obviously we’re doing more of this. Too good to ignore. One in the classic style (that sweet spot we've developed over the last two years) and a total oddball selected and blended by our SoCal Assistant Manager and resident Kentuckian Illya Haase.

Late summer

Whistle Pig – Lots more of this delicious full strength Canadian magic coming. These casks fly because our people know that to find high proof rye at this age and quality level is impossible elsewhere. These will be arriving over the next few months and likely last as long as the last casks.

Every few months!

Russell's Reserve - We've taken a HUGE position on the incredible single cask whiskies from Wild Turkey. We have 8 new single casks coming in the next month or so. Two of those were casks bottled 2+ years ago and lost in the distributor’s warehouse. I don't know if people realize how special the current stocks in the Russell's program really are, but considering the old distillery was torn down in 2010 and these whiskies are around 9-10 years old, they represent the some of the last barrels we'll ever have access to from that special old distillery (Old Ripy). Yes the new distillery is cranking out excellent stuff, but it will never be exactly the same as the Old Ripy stuff. Sure they'll sit on plenty for Master's Keep projects etc. but they won't be that bold Russell's 10 Year Old style. The real WT. That makes these final stocks the equivalent to me of what the Jefferson/Willett/Van Winkles had from Stitzel-Weller in the early 2000s. No one seems to really appreciate how special they are, but I certainly do. Of course once they're gone everyone will want them. I can hear it now, "Do you have any Old Ripy WT?" "No, it's long gone."

July or early August.

RUM

Velier/LMDW (LM&V) – While my dream of being their exclusive retailer in California is dead, I’m nonetheless extremely excited to have the incredible spirits from this European duo in the market. Expect Clairin and Caroni in the coming weeks.

Next week

Foursquare – the elusive special releases are done for now (in particular the Dominus, which seems to have been caught up in a trademark dispute), but we’ve just secured a single cask of the wonderful Bajan distiller and will be selling it under the Faultline or Golden Devil Label.

Fall

Hampden – LM&V (That's Le Maison & Velier's international partnership) has exclusive rights to export the distillery's brands, although someone else has the Rum Fire in the US right now. Expect those exceptional products soon. Nonetheless, we’ve secured a 16 year old single cask that might be one of the most exceptional rums from Jamaica I’ve ever tasted through our suppliers in Scotland.

Early fall

Single Malt

Old Particular/Sovereign/OMC/Hepburn’s Choice – We’re loading up an astounding amount of incredible Scotch right now. Some old Glories from Teaninich, Springbank, Bunnahabhain. Tons of old grain. Some fabulous values in the sherried 20+ year range and some stupidly delicious young and middle aged whiskies at ridiculous prices. We’ll continue to offer some insane values out of Scotland as long as our government doesn’t stick some stinking’ tariff on the glorious golden nectar of the north.

Fall

Balblair – An often underappreciated little distillery near Glenmorangie, they’re finally offering a proper single cask program at not ridiculous prices. We’ve bought a gorgeous 2005 vintage cask that should clock in at 56%+ and sell for around $70. It’s an absolute dream whisky for those who love pure highland in first fill bourbon casks.

Late summer

Couvreur – We’re getting the only 60 bottles of the coveted and ultra rare single cask peater in PX Sherry. The half liter sells in Europe for €200 and we’ll have 750mls for about $275. It’s fancy stuff, but only 60 people in the entire world will ever get to own one and it was hand selected by the widow of Mr. Couvreur herself.

Mid July

That’s just a tiny slice of what’s to come, but nonetheless a little road map to help you plan the next several months of booze spending. I’m a strong advocate in the power of budgeting, but I also only spend money on booze, food, and travel so my priorities are bit lopsided. I guess some people have other hobbies, but I still don’t get why.

-David Othenin-Girard

Monday
Jun252018

Whiskey Disasters

A collective shudder spread through the bourbon community on Friday as a story about a warehouse collapse at the Barton 1792 Distillery went viral. Photos showed thousands of bourbon casks lying in a heap of rubble.  Luckily, no one was injured in this collapse, the cause of which is still unknown.   

Distillery disasters are nothing new, fires being the biggest threat given all of that flammable alcohol and fumes. In recent years, the expansion in craft distilling has increased the number of explosions at small distilling outfits. Here are just a few of the major disasters that have befallen American distilleries through the years.   

June 11, 1904: An explosion destroys a warehouse at the Corning Distillery in Peoria, Illinois and spreads rapidly to nearby structures including a stockyard with cattle. Ten die and six suffer serious injuries. At the time of the explosion, the structure is the world's second largest distillery warehouse.  

Nov. 24, 1905: A fire destroys an Old Overholt warehouse in Broad Ford, Pennsylvania burning 800,000 gallons of whiskey valued at over $4 million.  

Jan. 15, 1919: A two million gallon molasses tank at the Purity Distilling Company in Boston explodes causing a huge wave of hot molasses which kills 21 and injures 150. The incident comes to be known as the Great Molasses Flood.  

Sept. 1, 1935: A huge fire at the Hiram Walker Distillery in Peoria, Illinois destroys a warehouse containing 81,000 barrels and damages several nearby structures.  One worker is killed and several firefighters are injured.  

Aug. 4-5, 1954: A massive, two day fire at an American Distilling Company distillery in Pekin, Illinois kills six and injures 33.  

May 4, 1963: Faulty wiring causes a fire at an American Distilling Company distillery in Sausalito, California which destroys several buildings. The distillery is shut down seven years later.  

Nov. 7, 1996:  A massive fire engulfs the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky destroying the distillery and seven warehouses.  Heaven Hill outsources distilling for the next ten years and eventually acquires the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville to replace the Bardstown Distillery.  

May 9, 2000: A fire destroys a warehouse at the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Two firefighters are injured fighting the blaze. 

Aug. 5, 2003: Lightning strikes a Jim Beam warehouse releasing flaming bourbon into a nearby lake which then creates a fiery waterspout. 

July 13, 2012: A large explosion occurs at the Alchemical Solutions distillery in Ashland, Oregon, blowing a door off the warehouse.  

April 24, 2015: An explosion due to an over-pressurized still at the Silver Trail Distillery in Hardin, Kentucky causes one distiller's death and seriously injures another.  

May 30, 2017: An explosion occurs at the distillery in the basement of the Winery at Wolf Creek in Copley Township, Ohio.  

Nov. 6, 2017: Three are injured at an explosion at the BJ Hooker's vodka distillery near Houston, Texas when vodka fumes ignite.  

Dec. 23, 2017: A distillery tank explodes at Island Beach Distillery in New Jersey injuring the owner.  

Jan. 4, 2018: An explosion at Wigle Whiskey in Pennsylvania causes minor injuries to one worker.  

As you can see, distilling can be a dangerous business.  Stay safe out there everyone!  

-Sku