Things To Think About

-It's hot. Today was slow. The blog server wasn't working all morning. I've now been watching Food Network programming for three straight hours. Here's what's on my mind:

- If dissatisfied customers (of any business, not necessarily K&L) were willing to give their feedback to a manager or owner face-to-face, rather than anonymously take to the internet later, would they go away so angry? Our manager bends over backwards to help our customers, as do I, so I can't imagine anyone leaving unhappy after talking to one of us and working out the issue. If the internet age is making us more afraid to interact with one another in person, then we're all in trouble.

- Is it bad that I can drink an entire bottle of red wine and not feel a thing?

- What is it that you hope to discover when you search internet sites about booze each day? News? Gossip? Validation?

- If any one wants to get me a Christmas present, this would be a good start:

- If there were 10, 12, 15, and 20 year old grappas, would the average whiskey fan care, or even be remotely intriged?

- Walking before and after work can burn more calories than running if you keep at it every day. I've lost a few pounds by accident.

- If I had only $20 to spend on any liquor bottle in the store it would still be Four Roses Yellow Label. If I had only $30, I'd choose the Rhum Clement Barrel Select. That rum is seriously amazing. $40-ish, I'd choose one of our Dickel barrels. Those casks are so interesting, rich, and intriguing beyond what most American whiskies offer right now. For $50, maybe the Ognoas XO Armagnac? $60 is an easy choice: the 2002 Thorin Vintage Cognac. $70? I'd step it up and do the Signatory Glenlivet 16 for $80. $100 no question: I'm a big fan of the Rhetoric 20 Year Bourbon. Say all you want about provenance, perceived scarcity, or the parent company: it's tough to compete with that juice. Michter's 20 is $450 a bottle and the two I just recently acquired sold off the internet not even five minutes after I received them in.

That's it for now. Big Friday tomorrow. Brandyfest needs planning. Caol Ila 30/Glenlivet 32 email going out. Say bye-bye.

-David Driscoll


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