The Magical Norman Shed – Part I

Back in the winter of 2015 I travelled with my friend Charles Neal to Normandy in search of a few new Calvados producers. While we've long worked with Domfrontais distiller Lemorton for our regional Calvados needs, this time around Charles and I took a side trip over to their neighbor in Mantilly—a producer called Pacory. One thing that separates the brandies of the Domfrontais from other AOC Calvados spirits is the heavy use of pears in the recipe. Domfrontais brandies generally have 60% or more pear distillate in the eventual blend, adding an entirely different dynamic to the flavor. We wanted to see if we could find something with a "high-pear" cepage, preferably with a little age. We were hoping that Frédéric Pacory might have what we were looking for. It was in this magic shed of his that we found a cornicopia of delicious, well-priced, pear-driven brandies.

One of the interesting aspects of Pacory's production is that Frédéric likes to fill at higher proofs than other producers typically do. That meant that a number of his younger Calvados were still be quite powerful. "Would you be open to bottling these at cask strength?" I asked him, wondering if our cocktail-mixing customers might be interested in something a bit more robust. "Bien sur!" he replied. We tasted two delicious candidates straight from the barrel, one from 2011 made from 70% pear and clocking in at well over 50% ABV. My eyes lit up and my heart began to race. "This is absolutely delicious!" I screamed. Claude looked at me a bit worried. "C'est très, très bon." I reassured him with a smile. He seemed pleased.

After tasting an older vintage brandy, one that was 100% pear-distilled, I knew we had found a winner. Pacory's orchards are 100% hautes tiges, meaning the trees are higher and older in age (as opposed to bas tiges orchards that look more like grape vineyards with their tiny trees in vertical rows). It ultimately takes longer to grow the fruit, of course (as you have to wait many years for the trees to reach maturity before harvesting), but the resulting produce is of a much higher quality for two reasons: 1) the yields are lower and the flavors more concentrated, and 2) hautes tiges trees allow for farm animals to co-exist in the orchards. The cows that live in Pacory's orchards help fertilize the soil with their manure and eat many of the weeds that grow around the trees. It's a symbiotic relationship that creates healthy fruit and ultimately higher-quality Calvados. 

We brought in the brandies from Pacory last year to huge success. Our reinforcements for 2017 have finally arrived.

Domaine Pacory "Reserve" Domfrontais Cask Strength Calvados $39.99 - This five year old brandy is brimming with pure stone fruit flavor, bright apples and robust pear, with lovely weight and balance. The color is a golden yellow, much like a pear itself. Distilled from 70% pear/30% apple, it's highly recommended.

Domaine Pacory 15 Year Old Domfrontais Calvados $59.99 - This 15 year old is a sure-fire winner for any lover of fruit spirits. It's equal parts fruit and oak, neither outshining the efforts of the other. The pear flavor also comes to the forefront right off the bat; ripe juicy pears that meld seamlessly with the richness of the wood. You shouldn't be asking us whether you should buy one at this point; you'll be asking us if we can get more once you taste it.

-David Driscoll


Gin de Mahón

Let's talk about styles of gin. Most whiskey drinkers know what "straight" whiskey means by now, as they also know the difference between a single malt and a blend, thanks to the plethora of data on the internet. But do you gin drinkers know about the various styles of gin, beyond Old Tom and genever? London Dry, for example. Much like Bourbon doesn't have to be made in Kentucky, did you know that London Dry gins don't have to be made in London? The term originates from the era of the first column stills, back when sweeter Old Tom style gins were still the norm, to help differentiate the cleaner, fresher, drier gins from the pack. The term London Dry does carry a few rules and regulations as well: it must be made with all natural botanicals and it prohibits added flavorings after the gin has been distilled. You can make it anywhere though.

Did you know that Plymouth isn't just the name of a famous gin, it's also both a style of gin and for many years an actual appellation? Up until 2015, Plymouth gin could only be made in Plymouth and it the water had to come from Dartmoor. The brand itself decided to pull out of the geographical indication for various logistical reasons, but there are still other examples of regionally-specific gin like this; gin de Mahón, for example. Gin de Mahón must be made in the city of Mahón on the Spanish island of Minorca, of which the most well-known brand is Xoriguer. How did this little piece of land become a gin haven, you ask? It dates back to the 1700s, when the island was used by both the British and Dutch navy who wanted gin to consume while stationed abroad. That fad only lasted as long as the militaries remained, and by the 20th century there were no distilleries left. 

Xoriguer was started by a man named Miguel Gusto, who built the distillery in 1910 from salvaged equipment from its predecessors. Today, it's still going strong almost 100 years later using much of the same equipment (Tristan Stephenson notes that one of the stills is supposed to be more than 200 years old), powered by wood fire. The recipe uses pretty much juniper and that's it, sourced exclusively from the Pyrenees, but the American version we get here apparently has traces of coriander, citrus, and angelica. The spirit itself is quite oily and almost piney, with a heaping dose of fresh juniper on the finish. The Spanish love Xoriguer in gin and tonics, and if you didn't know, they drink a LOT of gin and tonics in Spain.

Xoriguer Mahon Spanish Gin 1L $44.99 - enjoy the liter size!

-David Driscoll


The New Master's Keep

The second release in the Master's Keep series, the Wild Turkey "Decades" is a marriage of casks aged between 10 to 20 years that, in my opinion, is a huge step up from the previous 17 year old release for a number of reasons. The first: it's bottled at a higher 52% ABV that really adds lift and vigor to the richness and spice of the whiskey. Whereas the 17 year was quite mellow and soft having been aged in a brick warehouse off-site, the Decades is bold and quite lively. Second reason: whereas the 17 year was a marriage of similar casks, the Decades is a marriage of whiskies between 10 - 20 years old, carefully constructed so that the best parts of each barrel highlight one another. Think of this as Wild Turkey's version of the Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition - mature casks, blended with skill to create a whiskey greater than the simple sum of its components. Everything about the Decades tastes fantastic. There's plenty of sweetness, a roundness of fruit, loads of baking spices like clove and cinnamon, and a bold, mouthwatering finish. There's no need to add water, but you can if you like. Perhaps the whiskey's greatest strength is its immediate accessibility and gorgeous bottle, making it the perfect gift for any Bourbon lover. As someone who's tried pretty much every Bourbon in the book, I'm planning on adding the Decades to my collection. But I can just as easily imagine the casual whiskey drinker being absolutely wowed by this. 

As my collegue David Othenin-Girard pointed out to me, who visited the distillery recently and spoke with the Russells about the project: the Decades was originally going to be a blend of 20 and 15 year old - as these old stocks had been located at some offsite warehouses. Campari only managed to digitize their whisky inventory in 2010 and experimental batches where hidden all over Kentucky. The original blend would have been made up of these old casks but for the protests of Mr. Jimmy Russell. He likes his whisky at 10 years old and felt the older stocks lack the distinctive flavor profile he expected from his bourbon. So they added a bit of 10 year (apparently about as much 10 as 20), but most of the blend is 14-16 year old whiskies. 

In any case, it's here and it's pretty darn good.

Wild Turkey "Master's Keep - Decades" Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey $129.99

-David Driscoll


Hayman Family Distillers

Some of you savvy gin drinkers may be familiar with an expression of Beefeater's called "Burrough's Reserve," named after distillery founder James Burrough who started the company back in 1863. What you many not know is that Burrough's great-grandson, Christopher Hayman, sold the Beefeater's distillery in 1987 (today it's run by Pernod-Ricard), but he didn't take his family out of the gin game completely. With the money from the sale he was able to re-purchase the Burrough's plant in Essex that specialized in industrial production of grain neutral for other distillers and cosmetics alike, as well as bottling for producers who outsourced that part of the process. He continued to invest in gin, buying a piece of the Thames Distillery, the biggest contract gin distiller in England (a number of your favorite brands like Fifty Pounds, Oxley, Darnley's View, Ford's are made there), from where he eventually launched his own brand under the family name.

In 2013, the production of the Hayman's line was moved from Thames to the Essex distillery, where Hayman continues to make clean, fresh, and affordable classically-London style gins that are some of the best in the business. The problem with affordable booze at K&L is that it's often suspicious to our boutique-oriented clientele, used to (and, frankly, looking for) $30+ bottles of craft gin. We have the same issue with inexpensive Bourbon, but let me tell you: our well-versed customers and knowledgeable staff aren't complaining about plenty of delicious, bargain-priced hooch on the shelf! All of the Hayman's gins use juniper, orris, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange, lemon, liquorice, angelica, and coriander for their botanical recipes, just in different quantities depending on the expression. The Royal Dock in particular has to be one of the most amazing values in the gin world, weighing in at 57% navy strength ABV, with a vibrant and bright snapiness of flavor, yet with a sub-$30 price point. All are fantastic, however, and represent textbook examples of what English gin has become renowned for.

Those thinking the great value brands of the UK have all become corporatized just need to dig a bit deeper. Hayman's, with direct lineage to Beefeater, is a family-run and family-owned distillery making top-notch gins in an old school style for everyday prices. Don't overlook these next time you come in.

Royal Dock Navy Strength Gin $27.99

Hayman's London Dry Gin $26.99

Hayman's Old Tom Gin $26.99

-David Driscoll


...And a Few More!

I forgot to mention these as part of the previous post about new arrivals, but they came in with the recent gin release from Copper & Kings and they're only available at K&L in California. Both, like the in, in my opinion are must buys (so long as you like absinthe and brandy).

Copper & Kings "Zmaj" Serbian Juniper Barrel Aged Absinthe $69.99 - Named after the mythical Balkan dragon Zmaj, this Serbian juniper barrel-aged absinthe is an absolute thing of beauty. Typically the leaky, difficult-to-cooper Balkan wood is used for aging balsamic vinegar, but in this case it adds pepper, spice, and lift to all the botanicals present in the spirit. Using a pot-distilled muscat brandy base, classic botanicals like wormwood and fennel are used to add bold flavors of anise and licorice, bolstered by a Chartreuse VEP-like herbaceous backbone. At 65%, the absinthe is massive in its intensity, but never does the alcohol overpower the intricate flavors. Put simply, this is one of the best American absinthes we've tasted since the ban was lifted a number of years back.

And, by popular demand, we have the Blue Sky Mining muscat brandy. I must have received 100 emails asking me if we were going to bring this in. Now it's finally here so jump on it!

Copper & Kings "Blue Sky Mining" Brandy (375ml) $39.99 - A special edition of pot-distilled muscat brandy aged in reconditioned wine casks and finished in an American oak hogshead from the acclaimed Kentucky distiller. Packed with the richness, weight, and fruitiness of the expressive varietal with the oak spice and wood influence of barrel aging, this is a rare treat indeed.

-David Driscoll