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Sunday
Nov232014

Giving Thanks Around The World – Part I

This is my brother, David OG, resting in a state of complete peace and harmony on a boat, while cruising along the Caribbean coast of Barbados circa 2013. This guy and I have been all around the world together. The fact that we get along and love each other so much is a godsend. I couldn't think of a better person to travel with and do my job alongside. I've been going through old photos lately, trying to organize them a bit, and possibly turn them into an album of sorts. It got me thinking: I'm so thankful for the global relationships David and I have made over the last five years (we just hit the anniversary as spirits buyers), so I thought it might be a fun time to go back—seeing that the holidays are upon us—and give thanks to both my partner (the Notorious DOG) and the folks all over the world we've met on this crazy journey together.

Since we're already talking about Barbados, let's give thanks to the locals down at the rum shack who taught us the proper way to drink in the Caribbean. Banks beer, shots of Mount Gay, and a carefree attitude. Have fun talking about your collection of rare cask strength rums in this place.

Since I'm getting all sentimental on you, I'll even break my own rule and share a few pictures of myself. The first time we went to France I couldn't wait to run through those vineyards. When we drove through Burgundy I made Charles Neal—our importer for all things French—pull the car over and let me out. "I'm going to frolic in those fucking vineyards, Charles," I said, "And there's nothing you can do to stop me." I give thanks to the French countryside for continuing to inspire our work each day.

A hearty thanks to the village of Montreal-du-Gers in Gascony; a town that David and I have come to call home. It's our base of operations in Armagnac and a place we've both come to feel quite comfortable over the years.

Thanks to Simone, Charles Neal's mother-in-law, who always keeps us fit and fortified during our stay in Montreal. She's a saint.

And thanks to her son, Bernard, who stuffs us like the pigs he slaughters daily by hand. His food is maybe the best I've ever had—anywhere, anytime, anyhow, anyway. This man can cook like no one else I've ever met.

Thanks to le chat, who always seems to find his way into my room each time we stay in Montreal. This cat cracks me up. The owner of the hotel always apologizes for letting the cat sleep on my bed, but I think it's great. This little guy bites the shit out of my hand, scratches me, and follows me all over the guesthouse when we stay there. We've become good friends over the years.

Thanks to the Claverie family—the people behind Baraillon Armagnac—who always treat us like kin each time we visit. David and I want to fly Laurence (the daughter standing to the right) out to California for a mega-tasting event. She's the sweetest person in the world.

Thanks to the Camut brothers, Emmanuel and Jean-Gabriel, who have hosted us year after year at their grandfather's house in Normandy. We've sat around that table, roasted meats on an open fire, and drunk apple brandies dating back to 1941 together. The time we've spent with those two French giants (literally, they're huge men) has been some of the most memorable in my life.

Thanks to the Esteve family, who always provide us with incredible, ancient vintages of their heritage each time we visit their estate in Cognac. Jacques continues to be one of our great partners in the Petit Champagne region.

Finally, thanks to Charles Neal, who treats us like family when we travel through France, and allows us to party with his family each time we stay in Montreal. David and I are both very blessed to have you, Simone, Bernard, and the rest of the gang on our side each time we stay in Armagnac.

We'll be raising a glass to you all this Thanksgiving.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Nov232014

In the Thick of It

I can't even begin to tell you the difference that two additional staff members makes on a busy pre-Thanksgiving weekend. We hired two young and energetic sales associates last month and—my God—did it make a difference yesterday. Last year at this time we were getting pummeled, barely holding our heads above water, in need of reinforcements. This year, despite a larger mob and an even more hectic sales day, we never once felt overrun or overburdened. We were in complete control, even when the line began bending around the store, past the old and rare section, and down the Rhone aisle towards the tasting bar. We gave great customer service to each and every shopper because never once did we have to look over our shoulder to see if the front counter was secure. We simply knew that someone would be there to take care of it. Again, I can't put into words what a wonderful feeling that is.

This time of year brings all types of people into K&L. From the annual visitors who only buy one bottle of booze all year, to the guys who have no intention of buying anything (they just want to come in, tell you about their collection, and brag to you about where they're been), to the folks who fill up two shopping carts in a mad holiday dash, to the people who bring in their Thanksgiving menu written on the back of an envelope, and want help pairing each part of the meal. When you're understaffed it's difficult to see the beauty in that great cornucopia of desires. When there are ten people waiting in line and some guy in a kilt pushes you into a corner and says, "Now let me tell you about the third time I visited Islay," you can't help but start squirming. When the registers are heavily manned, however, I'm up for anything. In fact, I'm loving the small talk. Sure—I'll help you find that bottle, ma'am. Of course—I can definitely help you pick out a Scotch. Wow—I had no idea that your grandkids were getting so big! Yes—it certainly does look like rain.

Bring it on. Two extra bodies can turn a nerveracking time of the year, into one of the most enjoyable. So enjoyable, that I'm going into work again right now—on Sunday! Normally my day off, but not today. I'm going right back into the thick of it. And with our fully-staffed sales floor, I couldn't be more excited about it. I'm super pumped.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Nov212014

Back to Basics: Brand Development

Back in the days before limited edition bottles ruled the earth, basic expressions of distilled spirits dominated the shelf space at your local retailer. If you were a tequila brand, you might have three different marks available at any given time: a blanco, a reposado, and an añejo. There were no such things as vintage tequilas, or single barrel tequilas, or extra añejo tequilas. When a brand did try to expand its repertoire, it was a very big deal (remember Crystal Pepsi?). The idea of making only 600 bottles of something was absurd! If you were going to launch a new product, you had to go all in (because there needed to be enough for everyone, ha!!). Of course, because of the risk involved, no brand would dare overextend its portfolio if the time wasn't right and the stars weren't aligned. A period of steady growth would need to precede any attempt at expansion.

Jake Lustig is an old-fashioned booze guy—a grizzled veteran of the distribution business. He's not one to stray from slow and steady growth, into the realm of limited edition, highly-allocated, gotta-have-it types of products—at least not under his ArteNOM label. Jake has worked his ass off building this brand over the past five years and he's done such a great job that—despite our efforts to do otherwise—almost all of the tequila we sell in Redwood City has an ArteNOM label on it. The stuff is just that good. Unlike other producers, however, who bottle the same juice at various ages, Jake took a page from the independent whisky scene and decided to sell different spirits from a variety of distilleries; offering customers a bold variance of flavors under one umbrella. After a few years of healthy growth and sustained quality, however, Jake was finally ready to expand the trio into a quartet. Behold: a new expression of ArteNOM! This is a big deal.

ArteNOM Seleccion 1549 Blanco Organico Tequila $44.99 - Finally! After years of moving between three different ArteNOM expressions, Jake Lustig is back to bring us a new tequila from an exciting distillery. Labeled as "blanco organico", the ArteNOM 1549 comes from Destiladora Refugio located in El Arenal (known as the entrance way to the blue agave region of Jalisco), just west of Guadalajara. One of the few distilleries using certified organic agave, Refugio's blanco spirit is one of the cleanest in the business. The nose is an explosive bouquet of pepper, citrus, salt, and sweet agave, with each flavor making itself completely known in equal amounts. The palate is medium-bodied and clean on the entry, before bursting with more pepper and citrus and ultimately finishing with flavors of roasted agave, tangy fruits, and baking spices.

When your favorite brand decides to add something new to its portfolio, it can be an angst-ridden experience for super brand fanboys like myself. What if the new stuff isn't as good as the old stuff? What if I don't like it as much as the other products? What if it's a total letdown? Will that lessen my exalted view of the brand itself? WILL THINGS EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN? AHHHHHHHH!!!!!

Luckily for us, Jake knocked this one out of the park. It's time to rejoice. We just went from three amazing ArteNOM tequilas to four, and—in typical, old school brand fashion—there's plenty of it for everyone. Now let's drink some fucking tequila!!!

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Nov192014

...and For Dessert

If you're in need of something sweet and delicious with your holiday dessert course, look no further than the above two products. We've got another allocation of Reserve de Lillet in stock, as well as a new cinnamon liqueur from SF. I've actually tried to both blog and send an email about the Cannella cordial twice previously, but both times the product sold through before I was able to get a notice out. Mr. Cinnamon apparently has a huge following for this stuff.

Reserve Jean de Lillet $39.99 - The Reserve Jean de Lillet is made from single-vintage Sauternes (a blend of 80% Semillon, 15% Sauvignon Blanc, and 5% Muscadelle), mixed with orange liqueur flavored with Spanish sweet orange peels and bitter oranges from Haiti, plus 'a secret blend of fruit liqueurs produced in Lillet's distillery' and quinine. The blend is aged for 12 months in French oak barrels that are 225 liters.

Cannella Cinnamon Cordial 375ml $24.99 - Local Bay Area resident, Joe Cannella, has always been known as Mr. Cinnamon (cannella being the Italian word for the baking spice), but now he's taking his heritage literally. Using aged brandy from California's Central Valley, Joe has created an intensely-flavored cinnamon liqueur, adding in two types of the eponymous spice and a bit of cane sugar to balance out the alcohol. The result is an inspiring new cinnamon liqueur that greatly expands the horizons of whisky cocktails, hot toddies, coffee drinks, and just about anything you can add cinnamon to. An absolute holiday must-have.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Nov192014

Holiday Picks

Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner (T-Day is a week from today!), so I've got a number of people asking me for holiday suggestions. Our friends at Anchor are making it very easy for me right now because we've: 1) finally got enough Old Potrero rye to warrant an actual blog post, and 2) got more of last year's White Christmas whiskey ready to rock.

The only caveat is that, due to another brand's ownership of the term "White Christmas", we've had to change the listing to "Christmas Spirit" (even though all the bottles still say White Christmas).

The Old Potrero rye is an homage to a style of rye whiskey reminiscent of what the original American settlers once made and drank, making it the perfect bottle to celebrate your Thanksgiving dinner. It's a 100% rye mash that really brings the peppery, herbaceous side of the grain into focus. The White Chr.....I mean Christmas Spirit....is a small batch of Anchor's classic Holiday Ale run through their alembic pot still and bottled at 45%. It's like drinking the soul of a beer; fresh and spicy with lots of baking spices and Xmas flavor.

These are my two picks. Easy choices!

Old Potrero Single Malt Straight Rye Whiskey 750ml (one bottle limit) $69.99

Anchor Christmas Spirit White Whiskey $29.99

-David Driscoll