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K&L Spirits Tasting Schedule:

Weds from 5 - 6:30 PM

8/20 - San Francisco: No Tasting

8/20 - Redwood City: K&L Signatory Single Malts

2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #344 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #345 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1990 Glenfarclas K&L Exclusive Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER


Glenfarclas "The Faultline Casks" K&L Exclusive First Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER


1997 Bunnahabhain Heavily Peated 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Chieftain's Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1998 Laphroaig 15 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1983 Caol Ila 30 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Refill Sherry Hogshead Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW


1992 Bruichladdich 21 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1988 Balmenach 25 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Benrinnes 17 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Dailuaine 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Glen Elgin 18 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Glenlivet 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Butt Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!!


1981 Glenlivet 32 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength 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!


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

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!


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!


Tuesday
Jan102012

Our Greatest Fears - Anxiety & Booze

I've really been in a funk since the New Year hit and, as much as I've chalked it up to the January blahs, I really had to do some soul searching to determine why I felt so down.  Part of it is that my adrenaline has finally run out - that extra little kick that got me through the holidays has been exhausted and now I'm finally coming down.  The other piece of this puzzle is the fact that my body internalizes the anxiety of the customers I help, regardless of whether it's justified or not.  The stress that surrounds the holidays therefore becomes something larger than just running around the sales floor in a mad panic.  Every fear that someone has about a blown dinner party or imperfect gift becomes another ulcer for my sleepless mind.  That's not a healthy way to live and I'm now dealing with the after effects.

Two themes in human nature made themselves ever present to me this week.  The first is our desire for others to know we're more special than we may come off.  I can think of a million examples from my past where I went out of my way to let someone know that I was actually smarter, more talented, or more interesting than I was leading on.  It's that chip on our shoulder that cares so much about what society thinks, even if they weren't thinking anything until we put ourselves out there to be judged.  I was talking to a friend's mother this week and she told me a story about how a now-famous San Francisco rocker did some construction work at her house many years ago.  She remembered him so well because he was adamant about telling her he wasn't really a carpenter, but rather a musician up in the city.  Like waiters who are really actors, or unemployed college grads who are really future business leaders, the anxiety surrounding who we think we really are is rampant in the booze world.  Every bottle says something about the people we strive to be whether we're actually aware of it or not.  Customers are sometimes apologetic at the counter while ringing up everyday bottles of wine, saying things like "I just need something easy for dinner tonight," as if not buying bottles of Pichon Baron made them feel less than.  "Normally I'd get something better."  I need to do something about alieving this pressure because no one is assessing one's character by scanning the goods at K&L's checkout counter.

The second theme that reared its head this week concerns the subject of worth.  Not self worth, but rather the value of a transaction and the validation of its worth by others.  Making sure to get some much-needed rest this weekend, I perused a few newspapers on the couch while keeping an eye on Boogie Nights.  In the film, after Dirk Diggler finally cashs in on his talent, there's a sequence of jump cuts where he talks up his new house, furniture, and wardrobe to his friends.  The whole scene would become the template for the future MTV Cribs.  The brilliance of the dialogue is the gut-wrenching naiveté from Dirk as he talks about Italian prints, leather upholstry, and asian art-deco with the authority of a six year old.  It's clear he hasn't a clue why his new acquisitions are so luxurious, but they're still important to him and he wants others to understand why they're expensive.  PT Anderson captures a quintessential piece of humanity in that sequence.  There are reasons why certain whiskies, wines, or tequilas are expensive, but if no one understands but us, then can we really enjoy them? 

There's a book on the window ledge in the K&L public bathroom about becoming a wine expert in an hour.  The book advertises on the cover "how to avoid getting ripped off" as one of its main attributes.  The fear of purchasing a pricey bottle, only to discover that it's not all we thought it would be is ever-present in the booze world.  People want assurance that a wine or whisky will be a guaranteed hit, but how can one guarantee personal taste?  Sometimes it isn't about the quality - it's more about the specs.  Like Dirk Diggler lets Rollergirl know while dancing at the disco, "this shirt is a limited edition print made by a really famous Italian designer who only imports a few of them a year." The irony of that moment is the fact that Rollergirl really couldn't care less - her eyes glossed over as she acknowledges Dirk's comments out of politeness.  I've been in that situation so many times on the sales floor. 

My other goal for 2012, along with making K&L a place where we can all feel at ease, is to erase the need for quality justification.  If you can't taste why our new single cask whisky, bourbon, Cognac, or tequila is amazing, then I'm not going to fill you in on boring details.  Explaining that something is made by hand, on a small farm, in the middle of Easter Island isn't going to be enough to make it on our shelves.  Booze needs to speak for itself, so that people can taste the quality upon first sip, thereby removing the need to explain further.  I love a good story, and I love telling one even more, but I want our customers to say, "Taste this - it's amazing," rather than "taste this - it's made by a bio-dynamic farmer in Malaysia."

Let's make 2012 the year we live outside of fear and anxiety.  Let's drink $5 wine and be happy with it.  Let's drink whisky alone sometimes and keep it to ourselves - satisfied with the knowledge that we think it's good.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Jan092012

T-Minus One Week to France

Starting Monday of next week David OG and I will be live blogging from Armagnac, Cognac, and Normandie where we will be traveling the countryside in search of fine brandy.  We hope to do very much the same style of report we did last year from Scotland, but of course any updates will require a strong internet connection.  I'm not sure of how much wifi is streaming through the small farms of Armagnac, but hopefully our places of lodging can help us out.  Get ready to learn more about French spirits!  We certainly will be.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Jan082012

Burgundy's Overwhelming Complexity

From the title of this article you may think this is a piece about the amazing depth of flavor present in many of Burgundy's finest wines.  It is not.  This post is the result of my feelings after another week in which I drank one absolutely stunning bottle of pinot noir from the Marsannay, only to follow it up with massive disappointment from a premier cru Beaune.  Regarding the second wine, however, the blame is entirely on me.  I simply don't know enough about what I am opening and it's this complex level of knowledge needed to understand great Burgundy that I am referencing in the above title.  Because both the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune are broken up into a vast landscape of tiny vineyard sites, each with its own microclimate and terroir, truly knowing the wines of Burgundy requires years of tasting, experience, and patience.  Unlike Bordeaux, where one can memorize the various chateaux and their particular house style (much like single malt distilleries), Burgundy can be single vineyard, single commune, or a blend of many different wines (much like independent bottles of single malt).

With so many different owners and producers making wine in Burgundy, there has always been work for those with specialized knowledge of the terrain. One also needs to be familiar with the winemaking practices of each producer.  Two wines may come from the same vintage, region, and vineyard site, however, one may ferment with stems and create a tannic, earthy wine, while another chooses to destem and make a more light-bodied style.  Unlike California, where a winery like Ridge owns the entirety of the famed Monte Bello vineyard, Burgundy vineyards are usually divided up into parcels with as many as 85 different owners presiding over different rows of vines! How do you know who owns which plots and which plots make the best wines?!

For this reason, up until the 1980s, Burgundy was primarily run by brokers and négociants rather than domaine-bottled estates. To put it into whisky terms, think more indy bottlings and blended brands, rather than actual distillery bottlings.  After the French Revolution, the formerly church-owned vineyards were seized and divided up, only to be further fragmented by inheritance laws.  The négociants would buy the grapes or even the wines from many of these small owners and bottle them under their own name.  If they bought lots from a single vineyard, the wine could be bottled as such, must like A.D. Rattray can bottle a single barrel of Highland Park, or blend it with other whiskies to create a blend.  Therefore, the names of Nicolas Potel, Louis Jadot and Drouhin adorne many of the bottles you'll see in the Burgundy section, rather than the names of actual wineries like you'd see in the California department.

What has changed in Burgundy, however, is that many of these small owners are now deciding to bottle their own wine rather than sell it off to the négociants.  Faced with a shortage of available wine to purchase, the négociants needed to purchase their own vineyards to ensure supply.  The exact same phenomenon is happening right now in Scotland, with Signatory buying Edradour, Gordon & MacPhail buying Benromach, and Chieftain's buying Glengoyne. WhenI look at a wine from Burgundian négociant now, I'm not sure if they made the wine or if they bought it from someone else.  Whose winemaking style am I purchasing?  It’s like buying a bottle of Mortlach and not knowing if it’s been sherry-aged or not.  On top of all this information, one still needs to be aware of vintage, weather, and the nuance of each particular locale.  It's enough to make your head explode, which is why many people are intimidated by Burgundy to begin with.

Last night I opened a bottle of 2005 Nicolas Potel Beaune 1er Cru Les Bressandes.  Here's what I knew going in: Potel is a reputable négociant with a penchant for quality Bourgogne, 2005 was perhaps the best vintage of the decade for Burgundy, this bottle had about six years of bottle age, and all the fruit was from a premier cru vineyard.  I didn't know much about the Les Bressandes vineyard itself, but the Beaune appellation usually produces lighter, cherry-filled pinot noirs that I typcially enjoy.  That led me to believe that this would be a fantastic pairing for my salmon fillet.  We decanted the bottle for over an hour and enjoyed a cocktail before we finally sat down to dine.  I took a sip of the wine – it was just not there.  The palate was too earthy, the fruit was buried under the acidity, and, more importantly, it was definitely not the wine for this meal.  My real frustration, however, besides the fact that I no longer had any wine to drink, was that I wasn’t sure if I had opened the bottle too soon, not decanted it long enough, or if this was actually how the wine was supposed to taste.

The amount of work required to enjoy good Burgundy can be infinite, but it’s exactly that challenge that excites me and many other wine enthusiasts.  I've long heard of Burgundy chasers, the guys who had that one great bottle and spend the rest of their lives trying to find that same high again, and I can empathize to a certain extent.  Great bottles of Burgundy are enough to make one revel in splendor.  To me, it’s worth wading through the sea of disappointments, especially if the experience gained through drinking them helps to avoid future let-downs.  Even with the experience I accrue working in a fantastic wine store, I still don't know enough about these wines to dodge the occasional bullet.  There's simply an overwhelming amount of information to absorb and I wish I had more time to take it all in.  There's a reason why people earn their livelihood in the Burgundy trade - it's a specialized skill that most people don't have the time to master and therefore are willing to pay for.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jan062012

Murray's Back

Remember these guys?  The brain child of Bruichladdich's Jim McEwan, these lovely, wine cask-enhanced single malts are back for the new year.  I just retasted these yesterday and got some fantastic new pricing on a couple of new selections as well.  The following bottles should be available by later this afternoon.

1999 Bowmore 11 Year Old Yquem Cask Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - Bowmore always seems to marry well with whatever Jim McEwan uses for a cask (maybe because he was the distiller there for decades and he understands these whiskies better). Chewy raisins with smoke, then peaches with marzipan, tasty sweet wood on the finish but it never gets too sweet. Very well made and quite different than the last Yquem aged version.

2002 Bowmore 8 Year Old Latour Cask Single Malt Whisky $49.99 - This is quite an oddball in the line up of 2011 releases from Murray McDavid. The whisky has quite a spicy entry and is very dry, almost like sandlewood, all the way across the tongue. Some bitter fruits lead into a big smoky finish with bright red cherries lingering at the end. Amazingly different from the way it begins - a monsterously intense entry leads into a juice box finish! If you ever felt like single malts were getting too boring, this is the type of malt you need to be drinking.

1999 Laphroaig 11 Year Old Lafite Cask Single Malt Whisky $69.99 - Getting something new and interesting from Laphroaig is always exciting, but this Bordeaux-enhanced expression is actually quite restrained.  The lively peat and smoke the distillery is known for is more than present, but it's tempered by the wine.  The fruit and the earth from the wine come into play on the mid-palate and the finish turns savory and chewy.  A truly wonderful whisky and a great addition to the Laphroaig canon. 

1997 Bunnahabhain 13 Year Old Port Finish Single Malt Whisky $65.99 - A lovely burst of phenolic goodness on the entry leads into a surprisingly balanced palate of red fruit and maritime flavors. This Bunnahabhain never really strays too far to the Islay side, nor does it really get rich from the port. The balance stays right in the middle at all times as the finish displays stewed cherries and an oily, resiny hint of earth. Complex and difficult to pin down if you're trying to take tasting notes!

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Jan052012

Back to Everyday Tasting

Remember when we used to be spirits buyers?  Back before the holiday rush began?  We used to taste new exciting products with vendors and write about them here on this blog.  Well, now that we're finally over the holiday hump, we can go back to doing what we do best - taste booze, sell booze.  Yesterday I met up with my man Todd Smith from Pacific Edge and here are some of the exciting new products I have on order for delivery next week.  First, as you can see in the above picture, our friends at A.D. Rattray have listened to consumers and decided to bottle some of their private casks in half bottles (375ml).  Not everyone wants a whole bottle of cask strength single malt, especially when they're experimenting.  There's a Highland Park 16 which has loads of smoke and drips with oily fruits, an 11 year old Cooley that has the white wine flavors of the Slieve Foy 8, but at cask strength, and a few other choices that come in at the $50-ish and under range.

Over in Colorado, the Leopolds are at it again - this time with a fantastic new Fernet Amaro.  This thing is loaded with spearmint and packs a lovely bitter finish.  I'm excited to see what the Bay Area thinks of this, seeing that we drink more Fernet Branca here than practically the whole of Italy.

 Laird's distillery finally has their older expressions for sale in California!  That means, on top of the Bottled in Bond applejack, we've also got the 7 year and the 12 year!  These are fantastic deals for the price.  Cocktail fans should be rejoicing.

 Eric Seed at Haus Alpenz (Dolin Vermouth, Batavia Arrack, Smith & Cross, etc) has finally finished this wonderfully bizarre concoction.  Rum based, but with a smattering of cocoa, leather, and fruit.  Very unique and maybe something to be enjoyed on the rocks? 

These new Bittermens liqueurs REALLY have me excited.  They should all come in around $25 for a half bottle and bring the Amaro category to new heights.  Imagine five new Camparis, all with different flavors!  That's what we've got here.  Bitter grapefruit, gentian root with chamomile, and even a cordial to be added with soda water that turns it into tonic!  I can't wait to get these home and start mixing. 

Look for all of this around Thursday of next week.

-David Driscoll