Closeout "Deal"

We have an automated program that combs through our inventory and marks down long-standing products when they don't sell at the appropriate speed. That means I might walk into the store one day and say, "Holy Christ! When did we start selling ________ for that price?!" That happened today when I noticed we were selling the 1985 Talisker 28 Year Old for a loss (yes, for less than what we paid for it). I wasn't particularly surprised about the discount because, like I said, this type of thing happens. It was the fact that I had just tasted this whisky for the first time about a month ago and I was absolutely blown away. In all honesty, I think the 1985 Talisker is the best single malt whisky I've tasted in the last year; maybe even longer.

At my last tasting group we had old Lagavulin, old Port Ellen, an older bottle of Caol Ila 18, and numerous other relics of whisky's "golden" past; however, despite all of these wonderful single malts and their impeccible quality, I still think the superstar is the Talisker 28. Which is to say, I would take the Talisker 28 over the most recent edition of Port Ellen, over the stunning Lagavulin 37, and over any number of other bottles that are no longer available anyway. I wasn't alone in my praise. Many of my tasting group friends were also astonished by the Talisker—it's evocative salinity and intense brine character. At this stage in the game, when you've tasted so many delicious whiskies from all over the world, you're not just looking for quality, but also for individuality. I've never had a Talisker with this much maritime action. It invokes the sea and coastal air in a way that few Islay whiskies I've tasted ever have.

I haven't done much investigating online to see what other critics think about the 1985 Talisker, so I don't know if it was a boom or a bust with the experts (nor do I really care). All I'll tell you is that if you like Island whiskies and you're looking to treat yourself, you can capitalize right now our loss. It's not often that we can't sell something this good for a profit.

-David Driscoll


The Lost Art of the Full Meal

I went to the Van's in Belmont last weekend to have dinner with friends and, boy oh boy, did we do it right.

- gin martini to start (w/olives)

- bottle of clean aperitif white wine w/ appetizers

- aged Bordeaux with our steak dinners

- glass of whiskey with dessert

And we did this over the course of three hours. I felt great when I got home that night. I wasn't full, drunk, or sick to my stomach, just completely satisfied in a way that I rarely am these days. Every itch had been scratched, every indulgence had been responsibly indulged. Now granted I can't (nor should I) eat and drink like that every night, but it makes for a lovely bookend with booze on both sides every now and again. It's a slow, progressive way of eating that allows me to dip into each one of my alcohol-related interests, rather than simply choosing one and sticking with it.

Yet, for as wonderful as these experiences are (to me), they're an entirely lost art in the United States today, and are becoming so in the old world as well. The past two years while David and I have been in France, we've spoken with Cognac and Calvados producers who worry about the effect that modern living is having on their livelihood. Lower blood alcohol driving limits have put a serious kibosh on the post-dinner nightcap, and younger generations are moving more towards pre-dinner cocktails anyway (which is why we ended up drinking warm, iceless Cognac and tonics while visiting producers—at least they're trying!). Even in Italy, grappa and amari producers (like the Noninos, who talked about this in our recent podcast interview) are having to embrace the mixology trend in order to stay relevant. It's ironic to me, that in this neo-renaissance of old world practices and ideals—organic, hand-picked, rustic, and old-fashioned—there's still a relative amount of Darwinism going on. Not everything can be made cool again, and post-dinner digestivos are definitely missing this new boat of enthusiasm.

In fact, grappa is getting to be so irrelevant that I'm almost considering eliminating it from our selection. Grappa doesn't mix well into most drinks, it has a dubious reputation with most Americans (almost like tequila did in the early 90s), and it isn't necessarily inexpensive. However, for any connoisseurship to grow and prosper there needs to be an appreciation of quality—an ability to recognize what makes a spirit taste better or different than its competitors. Not only do few people understand what makes one grappa better than another, few people care to understand. Ten years ago no one gave two shits about where their Bourbon was made or what made it taste good. Today, people are willing to spend ten hours on the internet fighting about it. Grappa and other post-dinner oriented spirits are going to need that injection of enthusiasm to survive in this new era.

However, if there isn't another way to drink grappa—other than as a delicious sipper at the end of a long meal—how are more folks going to take an interest? I don't see it happening. We live in the age of five minute meals and twenty-four hour work days and there's little tradition of long dinners in the United States as is. It's a tradition that's died out, just like many grandkids don't speak the language of their grandparents. I just hope I can still get a glass of it every now and again when I do have the time to enjoy it.

In the meantime, I'm going to make one last effort.

-David Driscoll


Single Barrel High West

What would happen if you took the High West Rendezvous (a marriage of 16 and 6 year old Barton & LDI rye whiskies) and put it back into a used Bourbon barrel for an additional 1.62 years, then bottled that single barrel at 100 proof?

You're going to find out next month. This was a no-brainer. I took one taste and said, "Yes, please." We sent them the logo today, so our very own K&L Exclusive single barrel of extra-matured Rendezvous is coming soon. They did other wine and vermouth-finished casks as well, but I wanted the straight oak-aged juice. It's really, really, really good with extra richness and extra sweetness from the wood.

Stay tuned!

-David Driscoll


Vintage Cognac w/Age Statement

While I've been anxiously awaiting the arrival of our ultra-mature Armagnacs from Baraillon, Laballe, Pellehaut, and Pouchegu, I have to say that I'm currently most excited about this little guy: a straight 2002 vintage, 12 year old (stated clearly on the label), no-color-added Grand Champagne Cognac from Claude Thorin. It's not the most complex, or awe-inspiring brandy; nor is it rich, decadent, or layered. It's just a complete break in tradition from what we normally get from the Charente. There's no VS, VSOP, XO, Napoleon, Hors d'Age, or any other non-descript wording on the label. It's just 2002 vintage, 12 years old.

And the flavors are so light and haunting. It's pure fruit, but it's not sweet or juicy. It's lithe, snappy, fresh, and clean.

I'm totally smitten. Get ready for more Cognac like this from K&L this Fall.

2002 Claude Thorin 12 Year Old K&L Exclusive Vintage Cognac $59.99

-David Driscoll


Fog City Revamp

San Francisco's Fog City Diner has been an iconic movie location for years, if not a great restaurant. Located at the end of Battery Street, close to where the Embarcadero meets Pier 39, it's been a neon-flashing tourist attraction due to its semi-famous reputation and presence in movies like So I Married An Axe Murderer with Mike Myers. I worked at Pier 39 from 2001 to 2003 and we would sometimes meet at Fog City after work, strictly for the kitsch factor. That's why, while walking our half-marathon through the city yesterday (which is really just a twelve mile jaunt buoyed by plenty of food and booze), I looked at the decor of the Fog City Diner and said, "What the hell?"

The place had totally been revamped. So, of course, we went in.

Gone are the grilled cheese sandwiches and BLTs, replaced by modern takes on diner classics like the "Saigon" Dip—the beef is instead roasted pork with cilantro, red chiles, and mint; the au jus is a bowl of pho (genus!!). You can still get a cheeseburger (which we did), but the appetizers are now comprised of things like oysters or blistered peppers with olive oil (which were both attractively-presented and delicious). The cocktail menu takes the cake, however. They're operating with more than fifteen speciality libations on that drink card and the Bloody Mary comes with a freakin' deviled egg (made with mustard instead of mayonnaise and topped with bacon and crispy quinoa).

The new Fog City Diner keeps the hot locale, the beautiful waterfront views, and the iconic name, but gets rid of all the other stuff. The food is now incredible and the drinks top-notch. I almost want to go back again today (and I might!).

Part of the reason we like to walk so much is because only by walking can you stumble upon hidden gems and unknown spots that take you by surprise—even in your own city. While taking Sacramento back towards the water, we saw this beautiful, London-esque/Upstate New York-looking restaurant called Wayfare Tavern (which I'm sure many of you know about, but for me it was a complete unknown). It looked so regal from the outside and the interior was even more impressive. It felt homey, cozy, yet refined in a way that California rarely does. For as much as I love the West Coast, there's a relaxed and almost too-familiar vibe that's often difficult to escape (should you want to). Even when you go out somewhere nice, there are still people wearing flip-flops, or hoodies, or exercise clothes.

Not one person at Wayfare last night was dressed down, however. We almost felt like we were in a completely different part of the country. The crowd was very un-San Francisco and the decour, with its dark wood paneling combined with exposed brick, felt very (New) English.

Deviled eggs must be making a comeback, because the Wayfare Tavern also specializes in the much-maligned American classic. Fried chicken is also back with a vengeance. I was impressed that Wayfare didn't feel the need to put every drink in a coupe glass, as both our cocktails came in standard rocks glasses with a straw. I love a coupe cocktail, but in the end I'm going to drink it no matter how you serve it, so why not get creative? The Rickey in a simple glass with pebbled ice was just fine. We had a Blue Moon variation on the rocks as well.

Seeing that we only sat at the bar, I'm very tempted to come back for dinner soon. There's an upstairs dining room that's absolutely gorgeous and a private room you can book for special occasions. The bartender also told us they're planning a top floor "members only" club. I took the bar manager's card before I left because I'd be interested in holding a few single malt tastings there. I can't imagine a better atmosphere for Scotch drinking in SF than the Wayfare.

-David Driscoll