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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!


Drunken Rum Seminar

I tend to go on benders every now and then.  I'm generally a man driven by extremes, polarized between two poles, fluctuating frantically between yin and yang.  Sometimes I don't drink a drop for days.  Sometimes I pass out on the living room floor.  Lately though I've had the thirst, and when I have this insatiable thirst for booze I now try to make it at the very least educational.  Tonight I feel like drinking a ton of rum because I am simply curious about what makes rum unique.  What's the difference between Jamaican rum and rum from Barbados?  Does Fijian rum have a distinct profile?  What should one expect when purchasing one rum from the next?  As I posted earlier this week, rum is a melting pot of different styles and it is hardly regulated, making consumer education quite difficult.  I'm purposely leaving out sweeter, Cognac-style rums like Ron Zacapa, Zafra, Zaya, Diplomatico, and El Dorado because they all fit into the same smooth and supple mold.  Tonight I am looking to break down some unique flavor profiles, nothing more.  We'll save the book smarts for another time.  Right now, I just need to get into this booze, understand it, and break it down.  Low light photography, here we come!

Leading off tonight's session is the 1997 Rhum J.M. from Martinique, an agricole rum that is made from the freshly fermented sugar cane juice, rather than molasses.  This is a vintage dated rum from an actual AOC rhum classification on the island of Martinique, giving it regulated standards like Cognac or Armagnac.  JM has been in operation since 1845 and makes a variety of outstanding products.  This particular agricole rum has been aged in cask for about ten years, but the earthy and heavy flavors of the spirit still dominate.  Agricole rum is always funkier than rum distilled from molasses, to the point that some people who are unaware of the difference think they have purchased a tainted bottle.  This particular rum is quite mellow, but there are some serious herbal notes on the finish - freshly minced sage and grassy flavors penetrate.  Quite interesting, but not something to toy around with.  Hopefully, you know what you're getting into for $100.

Next up, Eric Seed's Smith & Cross Jamaican Pot Still Rum - the choice of champions for cocktails, but quite a tasty speciman with fantastic typicity.  This is a heavy, earthy, aromatic rum that is brimming with molasses and fermented aromas.  There is no sweetness to this rum, however, so don't let the aromatics fool you.  This is a hot and heavy rum made to cut through any tropical juices you may care to add with it. Bottled at "navy strength" and very similar to the Black Tot rum that the British would ration out to the Royal Navy as part of their munitions.  However, it doesn't taste anything like Appleton, perhaps the most famous Jamaican rum in the world.  Maybe the pot still, small batch distillation gives it more character?  Add some water to this if you plan on sipping it.  It's quite special.

Next up is the now sold-out Alchemist bottling of Gardel 10 Year Old Argricole rum from Guadeloupe (I won't hyperlink it because hopefully you got one when we still had it).  Gardel was a sugar refinery and rum distillery (these two have always gone hand in hand) that closed some time before 1990.  This independent bottling from Scotland's Alchemist series combines the sherry-aging sweetness with the earthy and powerful flavors of agricole style rum.  Caramelized richness on the nose, bold and spicy character on the palate, with a lengthy, herbal finish - peppery and earthy.  I did have the chance to taste the Berry Bros. Guadeloupe rum and it was nowhere near as powerful, but I also don't believe it to have been an agricole.  It was more mild, with vanilla aromas and a dry, spicy heat.

I just polished off the last little bit I had of this rum (this full bottle in the picture is for a friend) and it is one of the most amazing, complex, and exciting rums I've ever tasted.  The Berry Bros. 11 Year Old St. Lucia is expensive and worth every penny of the price.  It exudes fruit tea, menthol, eucalyptis, and cherries.  It explodes on the palate and makes me want to try more rum from St. Lucia.  However, I did try some Chairman's Reserve rum from St. Lucia the other day and it tasted NOTHING like this.  Why is this rum so amazing and where did it come from specifically?  This is the problem with poor regulation - there's no information!

The rest of the BBR rums.  Let's start with the Panama 10 Year - hints of fruit, subtle toffee, mild sweetness and a rather spirity finish.  Is it from Don Jose distillery possibly?  The home of Zafra?  Maybe.  Could I pick Panama out of a line up?  No chance.  It's rum.  Nothing stands out other than that it makes me happy to drink it.  Barbados 11 Year - the home of Mount Gay distillery and and likely the origin of the rum industry as a whole.  These guys on the Caribbean island have been distilling since the 1600's and dealing with pirates, scallywags, and all that.  This is a luxurious rum - loaded with sweet tropical fruits, but not sweet in itself.  Barbados could be the quintessential style of rum and this tastes like what you expect good rum to taste like - honey, molasses, golden fruit, yum.  The Fijian 9 Year smells an awful lot like the Smith & Cross - big, heavy, earthy molasses with a load of fruit and honey mixed with tea.  This is really quite nice and very special.  I've never seen another Fijian rum in my retail career so this is very unique.  It's probably from Seven Tiki distillery located next door to a large sugar refinery and the only producer on the island that I'm aware of.  The Grenada 13 Year is a combination of the Fiji/Jamaica style with the Barbados - richer and fatter mouthfeel, but an earthy and heavily aromatic nose.  Lots of fruit and honey as well. 

In the end, what does this teach me about the regional differences of rum?  I'm not sure.  I can definitely pick out an agricole rum from a flight of other rums, and I might be able to sniff out a Jamaican, but as for the other guys I'm still pressed to find a real difference.  Only more tasting will solve this dilemma.  I have more work to do before I hit the hay.  Rum is fascinating to me.  What a fun job!

-David Driscoll


Thursday Pics

Thursday started off slow, but finished with a bang.  Our search for small production, "authentic" tequila continues to progress.  Another local importer came by to taste us on their tequila made from their family's estate grown agave in Michoacán.  Technically that's not tequila country (although the neighborhood around K&L in RWC is known as "little Michoacán"), but they decided to bring their piñas over to Jalisco and have them distilled properly.  I love these tequilas because they're the result of one family's necessity.  The Rodriguez clan only planted the agave in the first place because of the shortage taking place in the late 1990's.  However, every other farmer decided to plant agave as well, so then came the glut.  They were faced with tough decision: lose money or learn how to distill it.  The result is Mi Casa tequila and this stuff is good.

Something about their soil in Michoacán gives the agave a larger size and a higher sugar content, so these tequilas are quite supple despite their graceful flavor.  They tend towards the creamy, butterscotchy type textures, but they never lose the agave flavor.  The bottles are also quite beautiful, showing a lovely picture of the Rodriguez estate on the back.  I'm really excited for the public to try these because they're well priced and very accessible.  They taste expensive.

After hours was our fantastic Willett tasting at the Hideout in SF's Mission District.  We had a sell-out crowd that packed both floors and the bourbons were exquisite.  The 16 year old came from a Stitzel-Weller wheated cask (the original Pappy Van Winkle juice for those who don't know it) and was a HUGE hit.  People were begging for more and I couldn't blame them - it's a 140 proof, full-throttle tour de force.

Drew from the Willett family was also on hand to talk about the booze, their new distillery opening this Fall, and just mingle with the enthusiastic drinkers on hand.  Todd from the Hideout was so jazzed about the turnout that we immediately decided to do this on the 3rd Thursday of every month.  Look out SF!  Whisk(e)y flights at the Hideout are here to stay.

-David Driscoll


Thursday Tasting Tonight in SF!

Come join me at the Hideout, a small and aptly named speakeasy at the back of Dalva Bar on 16th St. between Guerrero and Valencia.  Buy your ticket at the bar and come upstairs to taste some Willett bourbon with Drew from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers.  You can ask him all kinds of questions about Willett, Noah's Mill, Rowan's Creek, Johnny Drum, Pure Kentucky, Black Maple Hill, and all their other kooky labels!  He'll probably tell you nothing specific about anything, but at least you can ask!  Cost should be about $12 for three glasses.  The tasting starts a little after 7 PM and goes until a little after 8 PM.  See you there!

-David Driscoll


Authentic Spirit

"That workers are toiling so hard for authenticity amid a wholly artificial environment, meant to evoke another time and another place, causes my heart to skip a beat in admiration of the utter complexity of American life."

- Wayne Curtis in And A Bottle Of Rum...

The United States of America is a mix of so many different backgrounds and ethnicities that has, over time, merged into one steady American culture.  As immigrants continue to make their way to our shores, they and their families become Americans too.  Their kids grow up speaking English and soon forget the native language of their parents, losing in the process the identity that their ancestors once held true.  It's a natural part of cultural integration in any country, but in America it's a bit different because every tradition in the New World is, in a sense, new.  Let's take me as an example - I'm a mix of Scottish, Irish, Portuguese and a bit of German, yet, as I'm the product of fifth generation Americans, I have absolutely no connection to the practices or heritage of my people.  I am not alone in this situation either.  Millions of other Americans have completely lost touch, or simply lost interest with their ancestral past and that's fine because in most places it's not seen as a negative thing. 

In hip, young, urban America, however, cultural authenticity is the new dogma for what's cool and interesting.  No one wants to go to Cancun for vacation anymore because that's an uneducated American tourist outpost.  Cool, educated people want to be in Oaxaca where you can get the "authentic" Mexican experience - real culinary adventures (no burritos) and no cheesy holiday packages.  As a teacher in San Francisco's largest Asian community, I was well aware of the distinction between "fake Chinatown" (Grant Street which is the Disneyland version for tourists) and "real Chinatown" (Stockton Street which is where the actual residents shop and eat).  No cool San Franciscan would be caught dead eating on Grant Street because it's not "authentic" and if it isn't authentic, it isn't good.  I can only surmise that the disdain and fear of the inauthentic stems from an inner embarrassment about our own disassociation from our culture.  Our own insecurities about our lack of heritage have created the need to make up for them in full force, which inevitably has lead to snobbery.

Today I watch my generation of Americans without a culture flock with an almost religious ferocity towards the adoption of chosen foreign cultures, always making sure to point out what is commonly misunderstood about them by most of us ("I lived in Italy for a year during college and no one actually eats red sauce.")  While I certainly have a desire to fit in and respect the cultural practices and travel the world in the hope of experiencing them, I don't advise doing so at the expense of pleasure or enjoyment.  However, there is something genuinely romantic about authenticity when it comes to booze and it's based more on getting something made to standard than mass produced.  No one wants to drink tequila from a factory because where's the fun in that?  We want tequila made with agave being crushed by a donkey-powered mortar and pestle!  We want wine made by a farmer out in the middle of rural France who is making it with the traditional, regional practices handed down to him from generations of other family winemakers!  We want to drink single malt in small Scottish pub in downtown Bowmore with a dozen inhabitants of Islay while bagpipes play in the background!

While I've spent the last few years researching the authentic practices of making Scotch whisky, Mexican tequila, French Cognac, and American Bourbon, I've spent very little time dabbling in the world of rum.  However, I've been plowing my way through a few history books recently and have found that rum is considered to be the true, "authentic" American spirit.  It's been around since the beginning of the New World and has played a role in many historical movements. It's never really been the cool thing to drink and it's never seemed to speak to artisans of the authentic the way the above spirits have.  Maybe it's because rum is made in so many different ways in so many different places?  That might be the case, but ironically enough rum might be the most authentic spirit our culture has! Wayne Curtis writes in his book And A Bottle Of Rum...: "Bourbon fanciers, who often claim for their tipple the title of 'America's spirit," drink one of the most regulated spirits known. To be labeled bourbon, it has to be made with a cetain percentage of corn and aged in a certain kind of barrel.  But excessive regulation is not the spirit of America. Unrestricted experimentation is. Rum embodies America's laissez-faire attitude: It is whatever it wants to be. There's no international oversight board, and its taste and production varies widely, leaving the market to sort out favorites. Rum is the melting pot of spirits - the only liquor available in clear, amber, or black variations"

The melting pot of spirits!  Yes, our own lack of a definable culture fits in perfectly with the culture of rum itself!  Like rum, America is a mix of so many different influences and different styles, so it only makes sense for rum to be authentic to what we are as a culture.  As the weeks go by I'm going to be educating myself more about rum and hopefully passing on some interesting facts to all of you.  Maybe we'll all learn something cool and authentic about America that makes us proud to know a bit more about ourselves - a combination of many authentic cultures.

-David Driscoll


Tuesday News & Notes

- Had a staff tasting today with Ferrand and their lovely line of products.  It's really tough to beat everything they make for the money.  What Cognac is better than the Ambre for $35?  What gin is better than Citadelle for less than $20?  What liqueurs are better than the Mathildes for $15?  What rum is better than Plantation for $17?  Heck, the Plantation 5 Year Barbados is better than most rums at $30.  They're the Buffalo Trace of European distillation and they're more versatile.

- We had a dinner this past weekend with Bill Blatch and a boat-load of old Bordeaux.  Bill is the super-expert negociant from England behind the Blatch Report - the most detailed and worthwhile annual review of the Bordeaux vintage (i.e. rainfall in each square foot of each vineyard, etc).  I realized that I am not buying enough young Bordeaux to age and old Bordeaux to drink.  How can we turn down things like the 1997 Langoa Barton when it's right in our face and affordable?  I ponied up for this today because we opened it with Bill and it drank like the transcendant wine experience that many people assume old Bordeaux will be, but rarely actually is.

- Rum is becoming more and more the best deal in the booze world.  I never thought that it could outdue bourbon or rye, but there's not much good rye left on the market (and what's tasty and available isn't cheap) and maybe I'm just getting a bit tired of the same old bourbon selections.  The new Banks 5 Island Rum really impressed me the other day with its earthy aromas and complex flavor profile, so we brought it in.  The El Dorado rums are an outstanding value for sipping options, Batiste Agricole is slamming for the price, Lemon Hart 151 is the Rittenhouse Rye of the rum world (and it's readily available for now), and the Smith & Cross continues to make my cocktails taste world class.  I realize now more than ever that I need to learn more about rum, where it's being made and stored, and how to source it for K&L exclusively.  The BBR rums still blow my mind, but they're expensive and not many people are willing to take the plunge.  I need to bring them in directly so we can lower the ticket price and let more people experience the show.

-David Driscoll