Things I've Heard Or Been Told This Week

My buddy Adam Herz from the LA Whiskey Society emailed me this week about my Whisky Algorithm. Not only had he created the same chart long before me, he had made one that was far better and more explanatory (and wonderfully sarcastic!). You can check that out on his webpage, but I've posted it above for fun. He wrote: "We had to create an easy answer for all the people asking us on Facebook, 'Is this any good?'" Well done. That answers the question pretty clearly.

Yesterday I was listening to my colleague Joel (whose desk is next to mine) talk to a customer who was asking about Pappy availability (which still happens every day). "We used to have it on the shelf all the time a few years ago," he said. "Sometimes I'd buy it." That cracked me up. The guy on the other end of the phone was obviously shocked to find out that Pappy wasn't all that big of a deal when you could get it at will. "Why didn't you buy it all?!" I heard the guy scream through the speaker.

The idea of something being cheaper or readily available in the past is an interesting subject. "Why didn't I buy in (or buy more) when I had the chance?" people tend to lament. Why? Because no one can predict the future, that's why, and nothing is ever as special in the moment as it is in our memory. We never think things are going to go as far as they do, and we're always shocked and dismayed when we're wrong. In 2008, $600 was a lot of money for a bottle of Port Ellen. I watched more than a few customers struggle with that number. They were really uneasy dropping that amount of coin on a bottle of whisky. Today, however, that's a drop in the bucket compared to the current $3000 price tag. Pappy and Port Ellen aren't the only examples though. It's just the progression of time. That's how life works.

My parents told me this week that they bought their first house in Modesto for $25,000 because the other one they were looking at for $33,000 was just too expensive. Of course, knowing what they know now, they would have spent the extra eight grand.

Working in a wine store I tend to hear a lot of Americans complain about the Bordeaux market being influenced by big money in the East. Asian customers travelling from overseas are willing to spend thousands for first growth Bordeaux wines, putting them out of reach for many local clients who aren't willing to spend nearly as much. "This is just getting ridiculous," I heard one person say yesterday when they were looking at the prices of our big ticket bottles. "What's funny," my colleague Jeff later told me, "is that the British felt the same way about the Americans in the 80s." Apparently, the American thirst for Bordeaux at that time drove prices up past what British claret drinkers were willing to spend. This, of course, led to a number of British collectors unloading their cellars and doubling, if not tripling, their money to finicky American buyers.

Basically, Americans have no room to talk when it comes to complaining about foreign interests driving the booze market. In any popular movement there was always someone there before you, and you probably ruined it for them. Someone out there saw the Sex Pistols in a room with three other people at one point. It probably got way too commercial when the venues starting holding, you know, maybe twenty five people. My co-worker Gary told me yesterday, "I remember when we would go see Operation Ivy and Green Day on the same bill for five bucks. If you had a few extra bucks you could get a 40 oz., too. It was fun, but it didn't seem all that special at the time." Today, people would pay thousands of dollars to see an Op Ivy reunion. Speaking of punk rock, you could quote Minor Threat's "Salad Days" here: "Look at us today, we've gotten soft and fat, waiting for the moment, it's never coming back."

In my experience, the people who are constantly longing for the past aren't the ones who lived it, but rather the ones who never got the chance. I wish I could have been at CBGB in the late 70s, or on the Manhattan streets in the early 80s looking at Keith Haring subway paintings. To be there would have been amazing, in my mind. But when I once met a guy who had hung out in New York at that time, all he said to me was, "It was fine." Isn't that always the case? The people who actually got to experience these things are never as reverent about it.

I feel like the people who were late to the party are always the ones with the chip on their shoulder about it. I had a guy tell me yesterday in the store: "You know, I was drinking wheated Bourbon before it was popular." I told him, "You, and everyone else." He kinda tensed up and said, "No, I was actually doing it. You don't believe me?" It's not that I didn't believe him, I just didn't really care.

-David Driscoll


Some Fun New Stuff

Two new Tempus Fugit products have arrived: a vermouth rosso from Torino, and a Chinato. Both are flippin’ awesome, as you would expect no less from the TF label. The vermouth isn’t quite as sweet as Carpano Antica, but not as lean as the Cocchi. The Chinato is stellar. Beautiful labels, of course. But that's really their calling card, isn't it?

Tempus Fugit Alessio Chinato $21.99

Tempus Fugit Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso $18.99

We're expanding into more sake in the Redwood City store as well. Jeff Garneau and I tasted a bunch yesterday and we thought our shelf would be better represented with the following products:

Tentaka Kuni "Hawk in the Heavens" Junmai Sake 720ml $24.99 - Milled to 55%, this Junmai sake from Tochigi Prefecture made from Gohyakumangoku rice is brewed with water from an underground mountain spring.  This is round in style, with a floral note at the finish. "Dry and crisp, the flavors are dominated by mixed nuts, fresh cut green grass and other earthier flavors. Very pleasing for those who want fresh sake flavor, but more complexity beyond the fermented fruit flavors. 


Nanbu Bijin "Ancient Pillars" Junmai Daiginjo Sake 720ml $69.99 - Yamada Nishiki Milled to 35%, made by Nanbu Bijin Shuzo in the Iwate Prefecture (one of the coldest and snowiest regions of Japan). This is a nama-chozo (pasteurized only once) genshu (not diluted with water) sake, which means it was pasteurized only once before shipping (rather than twice) and was naturally brewed to 17.9% alcohol. Nanbu Bikin is located in the southern part of the Iwate Prefecture in a region called Nanbu, known specifically for its prestine water. Very fine in flavor, with a juicy note of citrus and a searing mineral backbone. Simply fantastic. 

Nanbu Bijin "Southern Beauty" Junmai Ginjo Sake 720ml $32.99 - With 50% of the rice polished away, the creamier elements of the grain are allowed to shine in the "Southern Beauty". Rounder on the palate, with hints of white pepper of the finish, this is like a fuller-bodied Chardonnay. Lovely stuff.

Tensei "Thousand Waves" Tokubetsu Junmai Yamahai Sake 500ml $49.99 - You might recognize this one from our sake night on the town post a few weeks back. This was the one we finished with. A rare and highly-refinded sake from Tensei, made from rice polished down to 60% and bottled in hand-made, hand-painted ceramic bottles. Only 1000 bottles are produced each year using the yamahai method, using naturally occurring lactic bacteria at the beginning of fermentation to create a wilder, more explosive flavor. The palate is a layered wave of sweet, tart, and gamey flavors. Citrus, banana, cocoa, with higher acidity than normal. Kumazawa Shuzo brewery was founded in 1872 and has been in the family for 13 generations.

-David Driscoll


Big Box Tasting

Last night I met with my private tasting group to open a few bottles from the 2014 Diageo special releases. The new editions were the focus of the event, but I definitely was looking to create a theme for our evening, asking the question: with whisky prices on the rise, do you get what you pay for when you buy the fancy booze in the fancy box? While we were opening canons like the Talisker 25 and Rosebank 21, we were most excited about sampling the new Benrinnes 21; a distillery we've done very well with on some of our independent market cask selections, but never dreamed we'd see an official release from. After tasting the new Diageo version, however, it was clear to me that no matter how many great single barrels of any particular distillery I can get my hands on, the parent company will always have the power to create something more spectacular (should they choose to). The Benrinnes casks we've purchased from Signatory have been outstanding. The current barrel we have via the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a revelation. But the distillery version is something quite different, indeed. There's a mountain of sherry blended into this baby, and it's a whisky that resembles something more like Mortlach or Macallan, than what I've previously had access to from single cask options.

The price point is obviously the game changer here: $399.99 is more than most people are willing to spend on a no-name distillery. But for everyone in the room last night, there was no denying the impact of that whisky on our collective psyche. We wholly want to believe that whiskies that come in beautiful boxes, with romantic labels, and a bit of lore behind them are really just over-priced trophies for guys who have more money than brains. We all know there are whiskies out there that fit that description. But what you're actually paying for in some cases, is a polished, no-risk, guaranteed-to-be-good, total package of a whisky from the people sitting on all the best casks. At least, that's what's happening with the Benrinnes 21. Our Signatory bottles were good, but they weren't flashy, and they varied from barrel to barrel. While I enjoyed them thoroughly, they weren't on the level of the Diageo release. This whisky was spectacular. It utilized a backstock of barrels to create something with far more depth than what independent bottlers are sitting on. It was a whisky crafted to symphonic harmony, rather than just one beautiful solo note. It took the best barrels, of the finest quality, and blended them together into something wonderful. That's why it costs more. And we all knew it was worth paying for, even if we didn't want to admit it.

The guys in my whisky tasting group don't dabble much with tequila, so I wanted to bring a bottle of the Casa Dragones for them to try as a comparison. The $250 joven tequila in the shiny blue rectangle with the beautifully-clean bottle often gets lumped into that same mindset: it's packaged in a big box so it can't be good. But, again, times are changing. When I see something that looks crafty and purposely-created to look small or rustic, that's when my red flag goes up (not the other way around). The market is flipping in the other direction. Companies know that "small batch" booze is all the rage, so they're doing whatever they can to act like they don't have money (kind of like billionaires who wear ripped-up jeans and a hoodie) because they don't want to lose their street cred. Boutique liquor bottles are becoming just like the people who use them to nurture their own image: they think telling you what they're about will overshadow the blaring truth of the matter that's awkwardly staring you both in the face. 

Casa Dragones, on the other hand, isn't some big booze company trying to act like they're really being run by a poor peasant farmer whose family has been making tequila by hand since the early 1900s. They're a fancy tequila company that makes a really fancy tequila in a really fancy bottle. Everyone at the tasting last night was fucking blown away by the Casa Dragones. Why? Because it's really fucking good unaged tequila. Anyone who even remotely likes tequila will think it's incredible. My wife. Oprah. Anyone. The only people who don't like Casa Dragones are the people who are pissed off about how expensive it is. And it is expensive. Really expensive. 

But, like I said before, you're getting what you pay for. You can get something good in the tequila market for less than $250, but it probably won't be as polished, breathtaking, beautifully-packaged, or as accessible. If you want to give someone a really nice gift, and you want to be absolutely sure they'll love it, then you go with the Dragones. Yet another case of something truly superb coming in a big box. While the price may put you off, at least Casa Dragones isn't putting on airs. They're telling you exactly who they are and what they're about.

-David Driscoll


The Original Sideshow – Yay Area: Part II

The first time I ever heard mention of a "sideshow" (or anything like it) in a hip-hop lyric was in 1993 when I got Too Short's new album "Get In Where You Fit In" from The Wherehouse on McHenry Ave. There's an interlude in the song "Just Another Day", between two of the verses, where Short talks about the guys in Oakland doing donuts on the freeway and driving all crazy in parking lots. I was a freshman in high school at the time, and I used to put that song on repeat every day when I got home from school. In 2005, more than a decade later, my girlfriend (later my wife) and I bonded over our mutual love of the new Bay Area "hyphy" movement; an East Bay hip-hop shift that achieved fame by utilizing specific lingo made famous by artists like Mac Dre and E-40. They talked about "ghost riding the whip" (putting your car in drive while getting out and walking along side it), going "dumb" (dancing in an awkward manner), and riding in your "scraper" (another word for car). It was a local terminology that eventually turned into its own geographical sound. The "sideshow" was the underground parking lot party where all of this action went down.

It turns out, however, that before Oakland had its own scene of wild youngsters gettin' "hyphy", nearby Foster City—a planned community meant to be clean, peaceful, and perfect in every way—was going off in the 1970s. The 1979 film Over The Edge (featuring the debut of Matt Dillon) is actually based on "real" events inspired by an old San Francisco Examiner article called "Kids on a Crime Spree", a piece about the restlessness of Foster City teens. Apparently, the planners of Foster City never considered the fact that the community offered little to no entertainment for its younger residents. Having grown up in Modesto, I can tell you first hand that teenage boredom leads to creative mischief. That tension is the subject of Over The Edge. The film was so controversial that it never saw an actual theatrical release, but has since gone on to legendary status in the annuls of cult cinema. Nirvana's Kurt Cobain actually noted that the iconic song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was based on the film and his love of watching it as a child. Having never seen Over The Edge and only recently discovered that it was based off the town next door, my wife and I decided it was time to sit down and give it a go. Unavailable on any paid streaming service, I would have to order the actual DVD and have it shipped.

As many of you know, I love to pair alcohol not with food, but with CINEMA! I had to go Bay Area old and new for this one, so I grabbed a bottle of E-40's new Sluricane, a bottle of Moet Ice Champagne from the cooler (the first Champagne meant to be drunk on the rocks), and decided to whip up some Sideshow cocktails.

Moet Ice, Sluricane, actual ice, and a plastic Moet goblet specifically designed for such a purpose. Let's get the action going! 

Add ice, add in Sluricane, and top with Champagne. 

When the resulting libation is red, but not quite as red as the actual liquid in the Sluricane bottle, you know you've done it right. 

Pair with classic Bay Area cinema about youthful rebellion and general chaos. Have candy on hand.

-David Driscoll


Yay Area (Let's Go!)

If the San Francisco Giants, 49ers, or Golden State Warriors ever made a booze product, I would carry it in a split second out of sheer loyalty. I wouldn't care if it was made from Everclear and Tang powder. Sometimes it doesn't matter what's in the bottle when it comes to having fun. Likewise, when a Bay Area booze company comes up with something exciting and interesting, I'm usually there to strongly support them as a fellow local businessman. You've gotta stand by your people. It's exciting for me and the local booze community that we cater to here at K&L. That being said, when I heard that local rap legend E-40 had started his own drinks company and begun marketing a pre-mixed rum cocktail called Sluricane, I knew I had to get in on that action (I was practically begging to get in on that action!). Unfortunately for me, the initial batch of the much-anticipated elixir sold out quickly (prompting secondary market auctions like Ebay to go crazy with price-jacking). When the next batch was ready for release, however, I made sure I was first in line. We've been getting calls about Sluricane non-stop for the last few months and now I can safely say, we've got plenty of it in stock.

Sluricane Pre-Mixed Rum Cocktail by E-40 $17.99 - You know exactly what it tastes like by looking at the bright red color. Don't get confused: this isn't some fancy new mixologist, barrel-aged, hand-crafted specality. This is like Hawaiian Punch with rum in it and it's a guilty pleasure that brings me right back to Tijuana circa 1997. Fruity, festive, and meant to fuel the fire of a long night out. It's a pop culture phenomenon presented to you from none other than Earl Stevens himself: E-40. He'll tell you when to go dumb.

Personally, I would probably do this on the rocks with a LOT of food and loud dance music.

Also in is a new line of re-casked MGP whiskies from local start-up Mosswood; a project started by Jake Chevedden who used to work booze retail in downtown SF. Unlike most non-distiller producers, however, Jake is actually going out and doing something unique with cask maturation. He's reconditioning used barrels with apple brandy, cold brew coffee, and sour ale to make three different selections for Mosswood. 

Jake was actually out of the sour ale expression when I tasted these, so we don't have that one available. I wasn't too upset, however, because I thought the apple brandy barrel and the espresso were the real standouts. The apple brandy influence is very light in that the flavors are present just at the outer rims of the finish. It's very easy drinking and surprisingly satisfying in an Irish whiskey/Canadian sort of way, despite the fact that it's all Bourbon from MGP. The espresso is shockingly delicious. I don't normally associate whiskey with coffee, but if it works in an Irish Coffee then why wouldn't it work as a cask enhancement? What matters is that it does. These are both in stock now in the Redwood City store.

Mosswood Apple Barrel Aged American Whiskey $39.99

Mosswood Espresso Barrel Aged American Whiskey $39.99

Two new Bay Area products in the store and ready to go for all your shopping needs. Now I just need to get E-40 into the tasting bar for a Wednesday night event.

That would be the shit.

-David Driscoll