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K&L Spirits Tasting Schedule:

Weds from 5 - 6:30 PM

4/23 - Redwood City: Ardbeg Single Malts (w/the chopper!)

2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

1988 Littlemill 25 Year Old K&L "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Lowland Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1996 Bowmore 16 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Bladnoch "Young" K&L Exclusive Heavily Peated Single Barrel #57 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Bladnoch 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive Lightly Peated Single Barrel #303 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Bladnoch 23 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #1054 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Talisker "The Speakeasy" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

2005 Glenrothes 8 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1997 Glengoyne 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #172 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #74 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

2013 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky Still Available

1991 Cambus 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

2005 Island Distillery 7 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

2001 Royal Lochnagar 10 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

1995 Glendronach 18 Year Old Single PX Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

1994 Benriach 19 Year Old Single Bourbon Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

1989 Cragganmore 23 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1992 Longmorn 21 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1987 Mortlach 25 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1983 Miltonduff 30 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750m IN STOCK NOW!


Updated Calender

Now that we have a tasting license for both stores, I've managed to fill in some dates for September.  If you need to plan your schedule around some of these tastings now is the time to start organizing!  All tastings go from 5 PM to 6:30.  Here's what's in store:

August 31st

RWC – Varnelli Italian Liqueurs - a must for all of you cocktail lovers

SF – Yamazaki Japanese Single Malts - this should be a big deal

September 7th

RWC – Oban Single Malts - Steve Beal in the house from Diageo

SF – Camut Calvados w/Charles Neal - Camut makes the best Calvados - PERIOD

September 14th

RWC – Kilchoman Single Malts - Try the new Spring 2011 release and some other peated malts

SF – Leopold Distillery - Gin, whiskey, and Maraschino liqueur!

September 21st

RWC – Germain-Robin Distillery - brandy from CA's legendary producer

SF – Old World Spirits: Rye Whiskey Launch! - Davorin's new rye will be ready to go!

September 28th

RWC – Diageo Single Malts (distillery TBA) - Steve Beal comes back again, which distillery will it be?

SF – St. George Distillery: New Gin Launch! - The new gins will be on hand!

-David Driscoll


Varnelli Liqueurs Have Arrived

We don't have the Punch (far left) or the Anice (far right) just yet, but the big three are here.  I am super excited about these products as I have a true supergeek affinity for Italian bitters.  In stock and on the Redwood City shelf as of this moment.

Varnelli Caffe Moka 1L $41.99 - Simply amazing espresso-based liqueur from Italy's Marche region.  The Varnelli family has been distilling there since 1868 and this newly-arrived coffee spirit has our heads spinning in pure delight.  It tastes like the finely-ground cup you drink after a long Italian meal - with a kiss of sweetness and, of course, some alcohol.  Italian buyer Greg St. Clair and I about fell over ourselves in sheer awe of this bottle.

Varnelli Amaro Sibilla 1L $51.99 - An amazing new amaro from Italy's Varnelli family, a producer from the Marche region of Italy that has been distilling since 1868.  Their products blew myself and our Italian buyer Greg St. Clair away!  This is quite bitter, made with gentian root, it's herbal with soft hints of chocolate and a very supple mouthfeel.  Definitely not for everyone, but wow is it interesting.  For those who truly love the wonderful world of bitter liqueurs - you will go bananas for this.

Varnelli Amaro Dell' Erborista 1L $61.99 - My bitter-loving jaw dropped after tasting this elixer and Greg St. Clair, our Italian buyer, begged them to leave the bottle.  Think rhubarb, dried orange peel, cloves, gentian root, and more in fantastic balance.  This is a cloudy and unfiltered spirit that is quite supple, but bitter as bitter can be on the finish.  Simply amazing.  There is absolutely nothing else like this available.

Varnelli will also be the guest for next week's Wednesday tasting in the RWC store.  Come taste!

-David Driscoll


Wednesday Whiskies

It's here.  It's great.  It's everything you hope it will be.  The new Four Roses barrel has finally made its way over to our stores and I couldn't be more happy with the results.  Big, caramelized vanilla, resiny notes, strong oak tannins, bold red fruits.  This whiskey has the goods.  At 9 years old it already wowed the staff and the few friends that I let taste it.  The nose is simply divine.  Another sure-fire winner that will make a great addition to any bourbon collection or home bar. 

We also had a great tasting at K&L RWC today with St. George's Dave Smith.  They unvealed the new label for the single malt whiskey and I really like it.  We had 40+ people for the tasting in RWC and I heard that another 35+ infiltrated SF to taste the A.D. Rattray malts with Todd and Andrew.  Good things are coming!  This is already turning out to be an effective way to communicate with customers!

-David Driscoll


No Longer Just Pre-Arrival

No longer just an idea that costs money!  These are now tangible bottles, able to be touched, caressed, and held with love.  Now in stock for as long as we can supply them - our first three casks from the 2011 Scotland barrel hunt!

Banff! In stock and just a good as we remember it!  Customers have been coming in today to pick up a bottle and many have already emailed me back to tell how great it's tasting.  All three - the Auchroisk, Ben Nevis, and Banff are available by clicking on the appropriate links in the right-hand margin under the cask list!

-David Driscoll


A Library of Fresh Produce & Booze

Matt Biancaniello is the perfect bartender for the food-oriented Northern California lifestyle.  He makes spectacular drinks, combining exotic combinations of seasonal fruits and vegetables, specially-infused house liqueurs, and tweaked modifications of branded spirits. Adorning his countertop are pint glasses filled with fresh herbs, jars brimming with peppers and spices, and containers of liquids macerating with rhubarb and coffee beans. The moment we arrived I was handed a champagne flute of bubbly topped off with his clear gazpacho (made by letting his homemade tomato recipe steep through a sieve for four hours) and a handful of local cherry tomatoes. My first actual drink was a hot chile-infused Campari with fresh grapefruit juice and blended papaya.  The fruits were vibrant, the spices sharp and fragrant. For Alice Waters devotees, Matt Biancaniello is a dream come true - he's not a mixologist as much as he is a chef dedicated to the finest seasonal produce.  For every foodie in Northern California, the ones who scour the farmers' markets in search of the choicest selections, these drinks created by an enthusiastic culinary force are exceptional and represent everything that the food-conscious San Francisco lifestyle has come to embody.  There's only one issue - Matt lives and works in Los Angeles.

For much of our time at Hollywood's Library Bar, my wife and David OG sat next to me asking if I was alright.  My normal, boisterous personality was subdued, pensive, and silent.  I sat and watched him muddle, listened to him talk, and eyed his concoctions with a combination of both shock and awe.  I'd seen plenty of cocktails made with fresh produce, but never to this level and never with this much dedication.  "This type of operation isn't possible in Northern California because they don't have year-round farmers' markets," Matt explained as he worked.  "I go to the market four or five times a week, so what would I do when winter came around?"  A normal bartender would make due, but Matt's dedication to finding new ingredients is incredibly intense.  He would fly to Afghanistan to rummage for wild herbs if he could be back in time work his night shift.  For him, that's half the fun.

One of the night's main topics for discussion was the divide between San Francisco's classic cocktail scene and the more loosely regulated drinks of LA.  Matt is correct in his assumption that his drinks would likely be frowned upon by many a NorCal bartender, mainly because they do not adhere to the pre-Prohibition revival philosophy.  They don't break down neatly into aromatic or citrus-based, they are not tailored forms of established classic recipes, and they don't seek to take tame various alcohols by mixing them into a subtle harmony.  Take his Umami Milkshake for example, a thick and milky combo of mushroom cap-infused whiskey with eggs, milk, and sugar topped with spices, which tastes closer to a savory dessert than an old-fashioned brandy nog.  The foundation for the drink pictured above (that we snapped with David OG's iPhone) escapes my mind now, but it had horseradish in it as well as edible flowers on top! I can just picture some SF bartenders having a heartattack at the thought of such a beverage, such spice and garnish getting in the way of the pure alcohol flavors.

However, where SF bartenders say things like "We don't have vodka," or "Long Island Ice Tea? Fat chance," Matt sees an opportunity to expand the minds of unassuming patrons.  "I'll make them a Bloody Mary, but I'll make it with fresh tomatoes, onions, cilantro, mezcal, olive juice, chile-infused gin, and other ingredients I have around the bar."  Because of the Library's placement on one of the most touristy spots of the Hollywood Strip, the walk-in clientele aren't always ready for what he has in store.  Matt has made plenty of Long Island Ice Teas, but they've been his version and his vision rather than the standard booze party with a Coke floater.  He's taken vodka tonics to an almost unrecognizable creation that serves both his needs as well as the customers, and in doing so, he's revitalized an important part of the bartender's role - customer service.  Too many times have I watched "mixologists" revel in their own splendor while a customer cowers in sheer intimidation, so to watch Matt in action was quite refreshing.  He would holler to the back of the bar all night, "Everything all right back there?" making sure that every patron was satisfied - and they were.  They had asked for five pisco sours, so Matt made them five - five different ones.

Current cocktail culture revolves around the philosophy that bartenders should use the flavors in booze to their advantage, rather than attempt to mask them with sugar and fruit.  While it would be easy for some to assume that Matt's drinks fall into the latter, they don't.  However, current foodie culture embraces the idea that cuisine should source the freshest ingredients possible from local resources and that menus should be seasonal in order to serve what's currently peaking - this is exactly what Matt is doing.  "I'm not really concerned with what other bartenders are saying about my drinks.  I care more about what other chefs think," Matt explained.  "Not that I don't want other bartenders to like them," he clarified. With all the celebrity chefs landing TV deals on the Food Network, we told Matt that he should get his own reality show because he has such a likeable personality to boot.  "It's in the works," he said coyly. 

While Northern California tends to favor the pre-Prohibition style, any animosity that other, more classically-trained bartenders could feel towards Matt's drinks would be based more on jealousy, I would think.  Matt told us that he does hear things every now and then, but he shakes it off.  One other well-known personality apparently did say in reference to him, "I'm not going to spend my free time clmbing a mountain just to find some special herb to put in a drink for one night!" However, it's in that desire to find something new where we found solidarity with the man.  David OG and I are willing to fly all over the world if it means bringing back interesting booze for our customers, and if other people find that frustrating because it takes time and effort, then so be it.  Like us, Matt uses his days off to learn everything he can about his craft. Half of Matt's ability is his energy and his desire, which is written all over his face right when you meet him.  He has no formal training as either a chef or a bartender, but he has the confidence and drive that make the best stand out. 

Go to the Library in Los Angeles on a Sunday and sit at the bar.  Watch this man in action and see what you think.  If you have a love for fresh food and you're interested in booze, it may just an epiphany for you.  There's no one else combining food and cuisine into fresh cocktails like this, and if there is, they're definitely not doing it this well.

-David Driscoll