Visiting Corbin Distillery

Since I was going to be in Modesto this weekend, I figured why not truck it on down to Atwater and meet David Souza at his home distillery. We're planning a big email later this month concerning his new Corbin Cash Merced Rye Whiskey, so it might be nice to have a few photos to help highlight the promotion. Plus, I was just plain excited to see a local Central Valley distillery. My dad and I made the thirty minute drive down Highway 99 and exited into farm country just north of the Atwater city limit. When we pulled into the driveway we could see the Holstein still through the open garage door. That's when I realized I had forgotten my camera and would have to use my iPhone for the rest of the appointment; hence, not nearly as high a quality of photo as I would like. Bummer.

David and Erik were there to greet us and take us immediately over to their makeshift mill, currently grinding down a few sacks of freshly-harvested rye. They've got the science down with their milling, but they're lacking in speed at the moment. David is working on a few solutions to help the scale of production, but it seems to have been working fine so far.

I've seen a hundred different distilleries in my time with K&L, so I didn't need a run down on the fermentation tanks or the still practice—what I wanted to see was the farm. Corbin is one of the only distillers I know of that handles every aspect of their production—from the seed to the bottle. We all hopped in David's truck and drove out to one of his many sweet potato fields where we got a lesson in potato planting.

A twelve-seat plough is used to plant new sweet potato seedlings into the earth. In order to get a seedling you first have to take harvested potatoes, pile them up in rows, and then cover those hotbeds with a few inches of dirt. The potatoes will eventually sprout and produce new vines that are then clipped by hand and placed into little bags. The twelve men on the plough then pull these seedlings from the bag and place them one-by-one into the wheel mechanism that deposits the plant down into the earth.

You can see the already-growing rows of sweet potatoes all around you in Atwater.

Of course, David's family has always used rye as a rotator crop to help replenish the soil once a crop of sweet potatoes has been harvested; which is how why they also decided to make rye whiskey in addition to sweet potato vodka. There are therefore fields of freshly-harvested rye scattered in between the rows of sweet potatoes.

We were lucky enough to see a sweet potato harvest as well. A slowly-moving plough, pulled by a giant tractor, digs about twenty inches into the earth and pulls everything out onto a conveyor belt where hired workers sort through the selection and organize the potatoes by type and grade.

Some potatoes go to market, and some go back to the distillery for distillation purposes. David told us, "Before we founded the distillery, we were selling the extra sweet potatoes for cattle feed, but we would only get about $5 per 1,000 pound container." Distilling the unsalable surplus was a much more attractive idea (and fun!).

After the potatoes are harvested, they're washed and then boxed up by workers on the assembly line nearby. When you talk about "handcrafted" spirits, the Corbin products bring that over-used (and often ill-fitting) term to an entirely new level. Hundreds of Corbin hands are touching these sweet potatoes long before they ever get cooked and fermented.

Visiting a distillery is a great way to put a name and a place to the products we enjoy drinking. Visiting David and Erik at Corbin today, however, was an entirely different experience. It was more about farming than anything else—and, let me tell you, these guys know a lot about farming sweet potatoes. And their spirits are pretty damn good, too. Visiting Corbin is more of a reminder about what's going into your spirits, long before they're ever distilled.

-David Driscoll


Deutschland Über Alles

I always got that growing up as a kid—"So you're German, huh?" No not really.

Yes, my mother is a high school German teacher. Yes, I speak German. Yes, there are always German people staying at our house. Yes, I have a master's degree in German Literature. Yes, I can enjoy the music of David Hasselhoff, but no—I am not German.

I think there's a little Swiss-German action on my mom's side of the family, but there's no real heritage. Culture, however, is more about familiarity and nostalgia than it is purity; it's really a sense of identification and comfort, in my opinion. And when it comes to soccer, I identify with the Deutsche Nationalmannschaft more than my own American counterparts. In 1986, I was in staying with my parents in Mainz—a small town in Germany's Rheinland near Frankfurt—watching a tiny television set when Argentina beat West Germany in the cup final. I remember eating gummy bears and playing with Playmobil toys while the screen flickered away. In 1990, we celebrated with our German friends from Iserlohn when West Germany exacted its revenge on the defending champions and hoisted the Weltmeisterschaft trophy into the air; it was my first real taste of sports-related excitement (something I wouldn't really feel again until the Giants won the World Series).

The party at the Berliner Tor in 2006

In 1994, when the tournament was in the states, our friends Lilo and Dieter came to visit for the summer and we watched Brazil go all the way through (Dieter seemed to know Germany stood no chance against the South American giants). In the summer of 1996, I was a high school exchange student in Germany and I stayed with my mother in a small youth hostel (or jungendherberge) in Bacharach, high upon the riesling-terraced cliffs, sitting in the heat of the common room as thirty or so sweaty Germans cheered their team past the Czech Republic in the Euro Cup final. That was a night I'll never forget.In 2006, when Germany finally hosted the World Cup again, I was there—working on my masters degree at the Freie Universität in Berlin—singing this song before every game:

...and sitting with a devastated crowd in the local Biergarten when Italy defeated the Nationalmannschaft and went on to be the world champion (although my wife and I did travel to Italy the next day and it was a giant party).

For my entire life I have rooted for the German national soccer team—in Germany with Americans, in America with Germans, with a beer or without a beer, as a kid with my parents, and as an adult with my wife. My relationship with the country and the language has continued to forge new relationships in my post-graduate career (a German artist created my wife's wedding ring after I sent him an email in German, and we got the jump on the Monkey 47 gin because I had communicated auf Deutsch with the Black Forest Distillery long before anyone knew it was coming to the states). Even though I rarely speak the language these days, I still keep up with friends I made while abroad and I still love reading Der Spiegel.

Today I am heading over to Modesto with a huge box of wine (magnums only, because Germans like big bottles), some sausages, cheese, and various other snacks where I will join my parents for another Germany/Argentina showdown. And it will be just like old times.

German or not, I'll still be wearing the jersey.

-David Driscoll

My lunch at the Goethe Institüt in 2004


The IKEA Home Bar

I just had a customer in the store today who wanted to build a quality, well-stocked home bar with all the basic necessities, but with one small caveat: he only wanted to spend around $100. Because many of you spend $100 on one mere bottle of single malt every month, it might seem crazy to think you could create an entire collection of spirits—good ones, nonetheless—for the same price, but it can be done. I did it today and the guy left with a big smile on his face (and he'll still have one when he gets home and opens everything because they're good products).

What did we go with? Here's the quick rundown based on today's inventory if you're on an extreme budget:

Vodka: Green Mark (Zelyonaya Marka) Russian Vodka $12.99 — A total steal. No one knows what it is in the U.S., but it's the third biggest selling vodka brand in the world (because if you're third in Russia, you're third in the entire world). It's clean and neutral in the best possible way.

General whisky: Royal Canadian Small Batch Canadian Whisky $12.99 — Today's upgraded version of Seagram's VO. Perfect for a number of uses and quite tasty on its own. I've been buying this for the past year just for my own personal drinking. At this price you should buy a case.

Gin: City of London Gin $14.99 — This is from the same distillery portfolio that imports Hayman's Old Tom and the Royal Dock London gins. It's clean, dry, and it's the personal home bar gin of both myself and Champagne buyer Gary Westby. Another unknown gem.

Bourbon: Old Bardstown Black Label Straight Bourbon Whiskey $18.99 — Black Maple Hill at half the price. You could do the Four Roses Yellow too, but since we're being super stingy I'll take the extra dollar.

Tequila: Cimarron Blanco Tequila 1L $15.99 — That's right! Enrique Foneseca makes a clean, delicious blanco that comes in a liter and costs you a mere $15.99. Watch for the email next week going out to the big K&L database — this shit is going to FLY out of here.

Rum: 10 Cane Barbados Rum $13.99 — We've still got a bit left from the previous Dramarama deal, so might as well take advantage of it. Barbados quality, mega-discount price.

Subtotal: $89.94

CA Tax: $8.32

Total: $98.26

-David Driscoll


Dramarama Deal #5 — Lexicon

We got anooooo ARRRRRRGGGHH.............whiskey.........graptyhrraaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhHhhhh!!!!!!!

.........................blooooof................gimme gimme your hands, gimme gimme your minds........gimmeee..


Dramarama deals, push and shove, drink drink drink, wreck this club! ARGGGGHHHHH!




Royal Canadian!!! $$$$$ (shhhhh...what we do is secret!)


gimme gimme your hands, gimme gimme your minds......

1792 Ridgemont Reserve $$*&(&(^$^ (SEEEEEECRET!)


Whiskey here, whiskey there, giving you the power, to dhoopp hiiiiiiiiiiggggg YAAGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!


............thank you!

The punk rock lexicon of Darby Crash was very different from yours and mine, but it was nevertheless effective. And Pat Smear went on to be in Nirvana!

-David Driscoll


French First Wave

It's going to get hot and hectic—fast. There's a ton of new K&L Exclusive booze coming in this month and I really think people are going to freak out; mainly because they're going to want all of it and it's simply too much for any one person to handle. Let's start with two old favorites and one long-awaited newcomer:

(for a refresher on Pellehaut click here, and for more info on Pouchegu click here)

1973 Chateau Pellehaut 40 Year Old K&L Exclusive Tenareze Vintage Armagnac $139.99 - NOTE: This is the end of this vintage for Pellehaut. We drained the barrel for this last batch. While Bas-Armagnac gets all the press, and the Haut-Armagnac gets completely ignored, the Tenareze region of Armagnac is quietly producing some of the best brandies in the world. Much like the Borderies region in Cognac, the Tenareze brandies seem to have more fruit and a bit more life than the more classic Armagnac style. We visited Chateau Pellehaut on our first day in Armagnac last January and were completely overwelmed by the quality of spirit.  Using only new or first fill barrels for the beginning years of maturation, the Armagnacs have richness, weight, and spice. While Pellehaut has since switched to entirely Folle Blanche grape varietals, the 1973 vintage is composed of 90% Ugni Blanc. The palate opens with loads of caramel and a creamy richness the spreads quickly. The aromas are quite Bourbon-esque, with hints of soft vanilla and charred oak drifting out of the glass. The complexity of the brandy is astounding - candied fruit, stewed prunes, toasted almond, baking spices, and earthy warehouse notes, all swirling around at the same time. For an Armagnac of this quality, at an age of more than 40 years old, the price we negotiated is amazing. I'm expecting this to be one of our best selling Armagnacs ever and I expect it to really put Pellehaut on the map stateside.

Chateau de Pellehaut K&L Exclusive L'Age de Glace Tenareze Armagnac $27.99 - Chateau Pellehaut has been one of our top direct imports for the past year here at K&L. We've visited the Tenereze producer twice over the past few years, always finding something new to bring home for our brandy fans. What really excited us this year, however, was a new project they were working on called L'Age de Glace: a young brandy meant to drink on the rocks (hence the name "Ice Age"). The fruit of the Armagnac takes center stage here, melding wonderfully with the small hint of vanilla from the wood. It's all distilled from Folle Blanche fruit and it's soft, round, and aromatic, but it still has that little bit of rustic brandy flavor that I associate with old school Armagnac. At 41%, it's light and easy going, but there's still a lot of character. I have a feeling I'll personally be going through bottles of this. Bottles.

1986 Domaine de Pouchegu 27 Year Old K&L Exclusive Vintage Armagnac $109.99 - NOTE: The back label for this Armagnac says "37 year old." It wouldn't be the typical K&L French harvest without a few label errors. Pierre Laporte, the proprietor of Domaine de Pouchegu, believes that new Limousin oak is essential to producing top quality Armagnac and strives to fill only freshly-constructed barrels. The Pouchegu Armagnacs are also bottled at higher alcohol percentages, which helps to balance out the richness and the power inflected into the spirit from the wood. Like most Armagnac producers, Pierre does not own his own still, nor does he carry out his own distillation. It's important to remember that most Armagnac producers are farmers first, and rarely do they have time to get around to a second title or position. Pouchegu, like many producers, hires a traveling stillman to drive an alembique on a flatbed to the property when the fermentation is done, and distill everything for the year in one fell swoop. His property is planted solely with baco grapes. When we visited Pierre in 2013 he hinted that distillation might be done at Pouchegu for the foreseeable future—he feels he has enough back stock to retire at this point and doesn't have any kin looking to carry on the tradition. What's currently in the barrel at Pouchegu is likely all that will continue to exist at this point. The 86 is a flurry of spicy rusticity, savory and herbaceous, but everything after that initial note is dark caramel, brandied fruit, and fudge. Imagine the best parts of an ultra-mature Bourbon with the soft candied fruit of grape distillate and that's what the 27 year old Pouchegu offers. It's decadent.

-David Driscoll