Lost in the Shuffle

For those of you who shop online and don't ever make it to our Redwood City store, this is the liquor aisle. The long, and eclectic shelf that houses most of our spirits selection. If you live nearby, this is where you spend most of your time browsing.

I, on the other hand, spend most of my time back in this room; this long, packed, overflowing warehouse of liquor that requires constant attention and maneuvering. It's a lot like Tetris back here. With all of this booze flowing through, it's easy to lose track of what comes in and out. We do our best to keep you up to speed via the blog and email list, but we do forget things from time to time.

I was walking around the store this morning with my camera when I saw this Longrow 10 year that David OG worked out an amazing price for. The 100 proof is such a great whisky and it's been a while since we had it for sub-$100. At $65 it's a great bottle. We probably should have sent an email about that when it came in weeks ago. 

Then there are all these new Japanese things we've got trickling in, like new Shochus made from brown sugar and sweet potatoes. For $25 they're super fun, but I've been struggling to find the necessary time to write about them.

Of course, with the current fascination for sherry-aged whisky, I've been working out some deals for fantastic sherry-matured Spanish brandies. Gonzalez Byass Lepanto's Gran Reserva for $45 brings layers of rich sherry, opulent sweetness, and decadent Oloroso flavor. I hope I can write it up at some point.

The best new deal in rum is the English Harbour Antigua for $26.99. It's very similar to the Cadenhead's Green Label we just had for $40, but at $13 less per bottle. Pot still molasses funkiness with just enough richness. Sip it, or mix it. You're good either way. At some point, I'll give you a longer description, but at the moment I'm swamped! 

And I'm really loving the new A.D. Rattray packaging. The Stronachie 18 (which is really just Benrinnes 18) looks much more elegant in the new blue box. Our Benrinnes 17 cask now being sold out, this is the next best thing. I really love that little distillery. Then there's the new Cask Islay black box package that is 100x better than the cardboard tube they used in the past. Plus, it's now labeled as single malt whisky, so maybe it's 100% Laphroaig now? I'll have to do some research.  

The new A.D. Rattray blend package is also vastly improved. I'm kind of obsessed with blended malts that offer precise ingredients. 1989 Tamdhu, 1991 Strathmill, 1991 Cragganmore, and 1992 Mortlach. That's fun.

Speaking of transparent blended malts, where the hell did this come from? Did I even order this? I can't remember anymore. I just went into the back room and there it was; appearing like magic from under a box of stuff. Chapter III is here complete with a list of exactly which casks were used in the Punch Bowl.

It's easy to get lost in the shuffle at this time of year. Considering we're expecting our new drop of Signatory casks next week, it's going to get even tougher to keep our heads above water. A photo might be the best we can do!

-David Driscoll


Three New Wild Turkey Barrels

The madness continues! I told you Fall was going to be nuts—multiple blog posts per day, tons of new hooch, bottles selling in minutes, pure mayhem! How in the hell is one person supposed to afford (let alone drink) all this new stuff?!! I don't have the answer to that question. I'm just here right now to tell you about more bottles that you absolutely, positively must have. I'm up for a breath of air with this blog post, and then I'm back down to the sales floor again where shopping carts full of new arrivals need to be stickered and stocked. Here we go:

Round two of our single barrel Bourbons from last September's visit to Wild Turkey distillery have finally arrived! If you don't recall all the buzz, we were full of excitement following an intimate barrel tasting with both Jimmy and Eddy Russell. We hadn't planned on taking any single barrels from Wild Turkey, yet we left Kentucky with more WT whiskey than Bourbon from all the other distilleries combined! The profiles of the Russell's Reserve selections are much more mellow than some of their Kentucky brethren. Think candy corn rather than spicy oak, and rich vanilla rather than peppery rye. At 55% they're brimming with gusto, but never do they overpower the palate.

Russell's Reserve K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #15 Kentucky Bourbon $59.99 - Barrel #15 is the softest of the three new releases, gliding down the palate like a liquid beam of butterscotch, and flurrying on the finish with notes of cinnamon and clove spices. It's a dangerous Bourbon that deceptively disguises its 110 proof profile with soft and supple sweetness. A fantastic gateway bottle to the Wild Turkey style and a whiskey you'll think about all day long, sitting in the office, waiting to get home and pour another glass.

Russell's Reserve K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #17 Kentucky Bourbon $59.99 - Barrel #17 is the superstar choice for me, although both 15 and 18 have their own merit. I can't promise that everyone will be as enamored as I am. That kiss of candied sweetness, balanced beautifully by a second wave of spice and vivaciousness is just pure heaven. The woodier notes come towards the back, but quit just before they turn bitter or overpowering. They took this baby out of the barrel at JUST the right moment. Any longer, and it's too much. Any less time, and we're not getting the same level of richness. One bad-ass bottle.

Russell's Reserve K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #18 Kentucky Bourbon $59.99 -Barrel #18 is also the most powerful of the three, so those in search of big, bold flavor should go with this bottle. You still get the sweet caramel corn notes that scream Wild Turkey, but there's definitely more of a rye note on the finish. A great contrast to the other two casks, but only for those who like intensity. It's more in the Willett style and that's definitely a good thing.

-David Driscoll


Germain-Robin O&R Now in Stock

The wait is over! I know many of you placed your pre-orders a week or so ago, butfor those of you who have been holding back until these bottles were in stocknow is your time. Yesterday, I popped one of the Small Blend #3 bottles for the staff to taste. I wouldn't be able to open everything from the incredible Old & Rare portfolio (and not everyone has the time to drive three hours north to Ukiah), but at least I could give my co-workers an idea of what we were dealing with here. Right after I left yesterday evening, while I was driving up 280 North listening to the Giants unload on the Royals, I received this text from my colleague Joel:


 When I got to the store today people were freaking out. "Holy _____!!!" said our Aussie/NZ wine buyer Ryan Woodhouse. "I don't think I even have words to describe how good that brandy is. The best part is that you can taste each of the listed components in the blend, and understand exactly why they married them in those proportions."

That was a pretty good way of describing it, in my opinion.

In any case, I could list all my notes again, post links to the bottles, and give you quotations from every staff member, but I won't. Instead, I'm going to send you to the man himselfAnsley Coalewho is busy uploading videos that describe each of the O&R selections in fine fashion.

Check out the site here. It's much more compelling than anything I could write or say. The video links are under the descriptions for each individual expression.

-David Driscoll


Corti Brothers Exquisite Whiskey

Here I was thinking no one knew anything about this Corti Brothers project but me and a few guys in Sacramento. Yet, I woke up this morning to find my friend SKU had reviewed the exact same whiskey! That lead to a funny email exchange of "Wow! You too?" In any case, I've linked his review. Both of us have pretty much the exact same impression: the whiskey is very good, but hardly recognizable as Bourbon. In fact, when I let my colleague Joel taste it yesterday, he said, "That's the best American single malt I've ever had! Even better than Cut Spike!"

"It's actually Bourbon," I replied.

"No, I mean the sherry-aged one I just tasted," he answered.

"That's the one. It's Bourbon aged in sweet wine casks," I stated again.

He grabbed the bottle with a puzzled look on his face and stared confusedly at the label.

There are two sizes: 750ml and 375ml. We have way more of the latter. While the larger size is obviously the better deal, this is quite a rich whiskey so it may not be something you need a whole bottle of.

Here are my notes:

Corti Brothers 7 Year Old Exquisite Whiskey 375ml $29.99 - half bottle size.

Corti Brothers 7 Year Old Exquisite Whiskey 750ml $49.99 - Those looking for Bourbon flavor will want to look elsewhere, as the sweetness of the Mission Del Sol wine is the star of the show. I never in a million years would have guessed wine-enhanced Bourbon. The nose is all molasses and brown sugar, but the spiciness of the Bourbon keeps the palate from being anywhere near as sweet. Rich, however, it is. Big tawny Port flavor with a dash of dried herbs. The finish is all Bruichladdich circa 2007, back when they were releasing those big, oily whiskies finished in red wine casks. There's that earthy, vinous character on the back end. Knowing that it is indeed Bourbon, however, and not single malt, you can taste the oak and the clear Bourbon profile for about two seconds on the initial sip, but moments after that it gets buried by a gigantic wave of Amador County Mission Del Sol. Easily the most exciting and unique whiskey I've tasted this year. And one of the few moments in recent memoryif not the only momentwhere I've looked at the price and said, "That's it?!"

Must have. Buy two or three.

-David Driscoll


Our Friends In Sacramento (CA Pioneers - Part III)

If you live in Northern California and you're into local fooderies, then you've undoubtedly heard of the Corti Brothers; the Sacramento grocery outlet started by Frank and Gino Corti in 1947. Focusing on wine and other delicacies previously unavailable in the area, the two siblings set the bar for what a retailer of fine goods could bea purveyor of both quality and education for those interested in learning more about the things we consume. Frank's son Darrell would eventually take over the family business and today he's known in our industry as a man with impeccable taste. Even serious whisky geeks might recognize his single malt prowess from Serge's Whisky Fun blog, where a number of the Corti Brothers whiskies (bottled back in the 1980s) have been reviewed recently (to great acclaim). Darrell and our co-owner Clyde Beffa go back decades, and remain friends today; both having taken a stand for excellence in retailing long before such a thing was popular. There's no doubt a number of similarities between the infrastructure of both K&L and the Corti Brothers retail storestwo family run merchantiles that have long searched outside the box for the finer things in life; importing their own exclusive products from abroad, complete with a simple, plain white label (Kalinda would be the K&L wine version).

I bring the Corti Brothers up now because tomorrow we're getting the chance to finally do a little business together. Let me start by pasting in this text from the recent Fall 2014 Corti Brothers newsletter pertaining to an old California wine they're currently offering:

CHARLES MYERS began making MISSION DEL SOL wine at HARBOR WINERY in 1972. The last vintage he produced, the 1986, was bottled July, 2014. This 28 year old wine is the last vintage of this unique production. It is an exceptional bottling of an exceptional wine. It is also a relic of California wine, that when gone, will probably not be seen again.

Made from what is considered a worthless, yet historically famous grape variety, MISSION, it is the product of a fermentation technology, first described and written about by W.V. CRUESS, in 1916. This fermentation technology, syruped fermentation, for the production of high alcohol dessert wines, came about due to the lack of fortifying spirit in California in 1915. Professor Cruess writes about it in his book, The Principles and Practice of Winemaking [2nd edition, 1947.] Cruess’ book was the winemaking guide Charles Myers followed.

In 1972, it was difficult to make fortified wines, since to fortify necessitated the presence of the Federal officer responsible for alcohol. Charles thought this was onerous. In 1969, Stony Hill winery in St. Helena started to produce a sweet semillon wine for Corti Brothers called Semillon de Soleil. Charles thought he could produce a similar sweet wine with Mission grapes from Amador Co. As a home winemaker he had tried making such a wine in 1967. Thus, with a humble variety no one wanted, and old technology, which no one wanted either, nine vintages of Mission del Sol were produced. The grapes were always from Amador County vineyards and varied from Deaver to Eschen, to Story. This last vintage, the 1986, is from the century old vines at Story vineyard.

The production technology at Harbor winery has always been as “non interventionist” as possible. The wines didn’t make themselves, but were handled with as little manipulation as possible–what was just necessary. ANGELICA is probably the closest wine type that Mission del Sol corresponds to. It is different from classic Angelica in that not being fortified with spirit, it has a softer, less hard flavor, with great fruitiness that is not just simple.

The aged character of the 1986 comes through with a striking ruddy amber color, a marvelous “rancio” character and pungency, reminiscent of a fine Bual or Verdelho Madeira. A soft butterscotch flavor is due to the wine’s age. It is sweet, but with a dry end. With 22.7% alcohol and only 8 grams of sugar, it is not cloying or sticky. When fermentation finished and the first analysis of the wine made, it had 15.7% alcohol. In 2010, it had 19.5%. Its alcohol at bottling is simply concentration due to evaporation. Curiously, the sweetness is less than dry Sercial Madeira would have.

I got the chance to try one of these bottles a few weeks ago and it was quite an eye-opening experience. Not only is the Mission wine a relic of California's booze history (a subject I've been covering recently on the blog), but it got me immediately thinking: what would whisky taste like were it to be aged in a leftover Mission Del Sol barrel? The profile is very similar to a sweet sherry flavor and could probably do quite a number on the right spirit. Maybe that was something we could work on together.

But then, of course, that curiosity was soon satisfied. I got the answer I was looking for and it seemed that someone was far, far ahead of me in that line of thinking. Tomorrow, you'll see exactly what whiskey aged in Mission Del Sol looks like. It looks like Darrell Corti is back in the whiskey business. That's good news for all of us.

-David Driscoll