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Tuesday
Mar042014

Putting Theory Into Practice: El Dorado Lessons

For the last few weeks we've been telling you how great El Dorado rum is. We've given you the history, photos of the distillery, a breakdown of their numerous antique stills, and a peek at drinking culture in Guyana. What we haven't done, however, is put that information to practical use. We don't live in Guyana where rum is king. We live in the United States where whiskey rules the cocktail scene. Rum, however, is so much more versatile than whiskey, which is why we want to get you excited about its potential as a crossover spirit. You can sip it, shoot it, pour it on the rocks, make a martini, or use it as a replacement to Bourbon in just about every drink you enjoy. But it's one thing for me to tell you that and it's another to hear it from Martin Cate: the owner and operator of what is perhaps the best rum bar in the United States – Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco.

Martin is also a big El Dorado fan. So much so, that Smuggler's Cove is the number one on-premise account for El Dorado in the country. They go through more Guyanese bottles on Gough Street than at any other cantina in America because they believe in the product and El Dorado's potential to create great cocktails. If the best rum bar in the U.S. is using loads of El Dorado for their drinks, I think that's a heavy endorsement as to the quality of the spirit.

Martin is a wizard behind the stick, so I wanted to pick his brain a bit about helping whiskey customers discover a new friend in rum cocktails. Seeing that he had visited the distillery just weeks before we went, we were both eager to share stories and memories from our trips. I told Martin that Daiquris and Mai Tais were the obvious drink recommendations for the younger El Dorado rums, but I was curious about using the older expressions like the 8, 12, and 15 year. What were some basic drinks that one could make at home that would showcase the flavors of these spirits without complicating the recipe or overloading our customers? He asked, "Have you ever heard of a Bombo?"

"No," I answered. "What is it?"

"It's basically a rum Old-Fashioned, except you use Demerara simple syrup and nutmeg instead of bitters. It's one of the oldest rum cocktails, dating back to the 1600s," he said.

That sounded great!

Bombo Cocktail (also known as Bumboo)

2 oz. El Dorado rum (use the 8 year or the 15 year)

1/4 oz. of Demerara simple syrup (stir 1/2 cup of Demerara sugar into 1/2 cup of water until fully dissolved)

Stir in a highball glass with ice and top with grated nutmeg

How simple is that? I would have drunk the entire thing in ten seconds if I hadn't been on the job. Something about El Dorado and simple syrup is a beautiful combination. I see many a Bombo cocktail in my future, but I'll have to wait until I'm not driving anywhere for the next ten hours. It scratches that Old-Fashioned itch, but isn't nearly as rich or overpowering. You can nurse this before dinner and keep your appetite, or savor it after a meal with the fresh nutmeg acting as a dessert.

Bartender Steve Giles was also on the scene with a few drinks up his sleeve. "You know the El Dorado 15 is like the single malt rum of the lineup, and the 12 year was made for Bourbon drinkers. That's why I love using the 12 in a Rum Manhattan," he said. Seeing that the 12 year has more column still rum, while the 15 employs more pot still distillate, this made perfect sense.

"Could you make me one so I can try it?" I asked.

"Of course!" he answered.

El Dorado 12 Rum Manhattan

2 oz. El Dorado 12 Year Old rum

1 oz. sweet vermouth (Dolin works great)

A dash of both Regan's orange and Angostura bitters

Stir in a mixer with ice until cold and the strain into a cocktail glass

Steve used the 2/1 booze to vermouth ratio with his Manhattan and I think that was a very smart move. The older El Dorado rums are a bit sweet, so you don't need to add much more to the mix. Just a bit of vermouth for flavor really helps accent the baking spices and molasses flavors inherent in the rum itself. I don't dislike Bourbon Manhattans, but I would never order one myself. Bourbon, for me, is already rich enough without adding more richness from the vermouth. The El Dorado Manhattan, however, wasn't nearly as heavy as most of my previous whiskey experiences. I would happily order one at a bar or mix a few for friends should they stop by to have a drink. It's incredibly simple, delicious, and hard to mess up.

Many thanks to Martin and Steve for their ideas and their time! If you want more ideas for dynamic El Dorado cocktails you should stop by Smuggler's Cove and have these guys mix you a drink. However, if you feel like practicing at home these should keep you occupied for sometime. That's if you need something more than just El Dorado in a glass.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Mar042014

New Cognacs From Esteve

Of all the Cognac producers we've worked with over the past few years, Esteve is by far my favorite. I love the family, I love their estate, and I love their Cognac. They're located right on the border of Petit Champagne and Grand Champagne and most of the brandy is stored underneath their house (check out our first visit back in 2012 when we went spelunking). We get a lot of requests for 50 year old spirits around here, but the price tag of the standard 50 year single malt scares people off pretty quickly. That's why we're pretty excited about the new Propriete. For the serious baller, who only drinks mid-19th century spirits, there's the lovely Plentitude.

Jacques Esteve K&L Exclusive Tres Vieux de la Propriete Cognac $179.99 - Our relationship with Petit Champagne producer Jacques Esteve continues! This time we really went for, bringing in the family's esteemed Tres Vieux de la Propriete: a 50 year old expression that really brings the rancio along with the caramelized fruit. Even with five decades in wood, the brandy hasn't lost its freshness. The fantastic freshness of Esteve's base wines is still on full display, but quickly turns into a savory and oak spice flurry of flavor. The caramel becomes more of a burnt sugar note and the wood helps balance out the sweetness. This is a cigar lover's brandy if there ever was one. If you want 50 year old single malt, get ready to spend at least four figures. But 50 year old Cognac? Straight from the source, grower/producer-direct, from a single estate on the border of Petit and Grande Champagne, aged in a warehouse on the estate itself? Try $179.99. Now you see why we're so anxious to get back to France!

Jacques Esteve K&L Exclusive Plentitude Cognac 375ml $799.99 (these are half bottles) We've slowly built quite a following for the Jacques Esteve Cognacs here at K&L -- the small producer we began importing directly two years ago following our spirits expedition to France. On our last visit, the family brought down one of their closely-guarded treasures: the Plentitude expression, made from pre-Phylloxera brandies distilled in the 1800s. The Cognac used to create this very limited edition were distilled by Esteve's great-grandfather on the same estate more than 150 years ago. The flavors are very concentrated, rich and decadent on a level that cannot be replicated even with 40 and 50 year old expressions. We're not simply dealing with older brandy here, but rather Cognac distilled from an entirely different era when the winemaking and distillation practices were much different. Bottled in 375ml containers, these twelve bottles represent a piece of history as much as they do an extravagant spirit. Drinking the Esteve Plentitude is as much an homage to the past as it is to your palate. Only 12 bottles available.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Mar032014

The Plight of Plight

I've had a great time writing the Plight of the Whisky Blogger comic strip and an even better time emailing with people about it – primarily other bloggers. One thing that's surprised me however is how many of our online allies thought I was spoofing them! Let me be clear: this comic is about no specific person. I'm not going around the internet, reading blogs, and looking for new material. If there's any inspiration for the Whisky Expert blogger it's the comic book store guy in The Simpsons. Disgruntled collectors and obsessive superfans are going to be the same whether you're talking about whisky, comics, wrestling, music, or movies. It's always the same anger being unleashed towards the system they secretly love with a resentment for their own lack of importance within it. It's a pretty simple observation.

But it's been interesting to see what other whisky fans thought the motivation was. Do I hate bloggers? Why am I acting aggressively towards whisky fans? Those types of questions. The reactions hinged on whether you consider me a blogger who works retail, or a retailer who happens to write a blog. If you don't see me as a blogger then it might seem a little like bullying, but I consider myself a blogger, for sure. That's why I feel right at home mocking my own hobby. I'm the guy who sits in his underwear each morning with his cup of coffee. That's me. The fact that the Whisky Expert is even a blogger at all is because that's the only way the comic strip works: he has to make his views known somehow. The jokes, however, aren't specific to bloggers whatsoever. They're particular to a certain type of personality that all of us recognize, so if you're a blogger and you don't behave that way then there's no need to take offense!

I love whisky blogs. Like I wrote a few days ago, it's because of the work that whisky bloggers do (myself included, thank you) that we're able to enjoy the educated clientele we now cater to. Do you think True Detective could be a show today if it weren't for all the groundwork laid by Twin Peaks, The Sopranos, and The Wire? Hell no! It's way too detail-oriented, slow, long, and drawn-out. "Get to the point!" the TV executives would have screamed. But today's viewer is much more sophisticated and has a higher level of expectation. The same goes for today's whisky fan. We couldn't sell fifteen casks of Miltonduff, Mortlach, Bladnoch and other lesser-known single malts if there weren't people out there writing and blogging about them every single day. It's because of whisky bloggers (both professional and amateur) that we are where we are.

But as every interest grows and evolves into a heightened state of self-awareness, it will attract rigid, detail-oriented personalities who use their knowledge as a self-esteem booster. It's that personality that I'm ribbing in the Plight comic strip. It's not a personality specific to whisky bloggers, whatsoever, or even to whisky as a whole. It's a personality specific to life, and when you're writing a comic strip, life is what you take your inspiration from. The broader the understanding, the funnier it is.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Feb282014

Retro Weekend

It's not easy to get your prices down to a competitive level nationally. There's always someone out there who managed to get a better deal than you from a sales rep that needed to move some units. But, seeing that David OG and I are absolutely exhausted right now and on the point of a complete mental breakdown after processing all these pre-orders, we thought a nostalgic trip to the past might be just what we needed. Remember when Talisker 18 used to be reasonable? It wasn't averaging $145 across the country, but was around $100 or less? We do, too. So we thought we'd lower some prices and remember those heady days....

Talisker 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $109.99 (was $130) - It's not quite sub-$100, but it's as close as we're going to get. Let's keep pushing and maybe we can get the folks in charge to come to their senses again.

Bulleit 10 year old Bourbon Whiskey $31.99 (was $45) - I'm much more comfortable with Bulleit 10 at this price. I liked it before, but for a little more than $30 I feel much better about putting it in your hands.

Zaya Gran Reserve 12 Year Old Trinidad Rum $22.99 (was $30) - We’re in a very rum-centric place right now. We fell in love with Guyana. We also have to thank the fine people of Trinidad for introducing us to the unforgettable Hot Doubles and Potato Pies that truly made our 8 hour layover in this odd little country bearable. Enjoy this sweet little number from the island.

Cadenhead's 20 Year Old "Creations" Batch #1 Blended Scotch Whisky $79.99 (was $100) - Twenty year old, sherry-aged Bruichladdich, Mortlach, Cameronbridge, and Invergordon. It's quite special. And now it's quite affordable!

Let's start with those for now. Who knows what else we might find to add to the pile? We're definitely in the Spring cleaning mentality right now, so keep your eyes peeled for more hot deals.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Feb282014

Education Goes A Long Way

Some of the old guard in the liquor industry aren't used to the new era of consumer information. They're not prepared for the fact that the people calling often know more about the products than they do. They don't realize there are thousands of blogs, message boards, social media groups, and 24/7 updates about wine, whisky, and beer available online these days, going much further in-depth than what's typically available from the basic promotional sales sheet. They're used to the old days of people asking them questions about what's good, about what they should buy, and what they should be looking for. The fact that they're now often just facilitating orders for an educated public can be tough to accept, but many of our customers today already know what they want. The consumer has already researched, read the reviews, and made up his or her mind in advance of our solicitation. As retailers, we're simply the middleman in many situations.

I watched the two hour NXT event on the new WWE network last night and I saw the same thing happening with the live audience. This was meant to be a coming out party for young, up-and-coming wrestling talent, but the crowd already knew everything about these fresh faces. They were chanting various phrases like "Match of the Year" before the match had even started because they knew what was about to happen. Twenty years ago people thought professional wrestling was real!! People thought that Andre the Giant really did betray Hulk Hogan -- in real life, not as part of some scripted storyline. Today's fans, however, not only know it's a script, but also what's going to happen before it actually does. They're glued in to the rumor mills and the updates. You can't surprise anyone anymore.

While some folks are getting their egos bruised at the idea of the "smart" consumer, feeling that their knowledge isn't as valuable as it used to be, I'm overjoyed by their presence (being one of them). The more we educate people about whisky, the distilleries, the business, and how we do what we do, the less we have to explain ourselves. We don't have to play the hype man as much anymore because people already know what we're talking about. We can simply sit back and let the whisky speak for itself. The word will spread organically via the many web outlets available to discerning consumers. It's already happening for us, so why not put your feet up and enjoy it?

This is the moment we've been building towards as retailers -- the point when intelligent consumers would come looking for us, rather than the other way around. I can't help but laugh when I watch some of the older guys in this business try and guard their knowledge, like it's something that couldn't be Google-searched and learned in seconds. There's no point in fighting the future.

Embrace it.

-David Driscoll