A Few Reads

Spring weather is gracing us with its presence here in Northern California. The temperatures are up, the night air is electric, and people are beginning to ask for refreshing cocktails like a Daiquiri or Margarita. There's just one problem: we can't get any limes. Scratch that. I mean we can't get any limes that don't require one to squeeze profusely just to secure a few precious drops of bitter, tart, and overly-acidic liquid.

What's going on? Read this here. It's going to be a long summer if I have to use lemons for lime-based drinks. I had dinner tonight at my local Mexican hangout -- El Sinaloense -- and they were definitely feeling the pinch. What a bummer.

For those of you lamenting the decline of some of your favorite whisk(e)y brands, I suggest you read Steve Hyden's piece about the Pixies -- one of best rock bands of all time that just put out their first album since 1991. Steve is one of many people (myself included) who is scratching his head about the quality of the music. However, he correctly points out that our expectations are to blame, not the Pixies themselves. There are a lot of whisk(e)y similarities.

-David Driscoll


Leviathan III Arrives

While Bryan Davis's famous wooden pot still is a thing of the past (he had to destroy it after a chlorine leak infected the entire thing with TCA -- the same thing that taints the cork in a bottle of wine), some of the whiskey still lives on in the cask. Bryan just dropped off the third batch of his wonderful Leviathan. Grab it while it's hot!

Lost Spirits Distillery Leviathan III Single Malt Whiskey $54.99 - Can you believe we're already on batch three of the Leviathan series? Made from 100% California barley and peated with 100% Canadian peat, the Leviathan whiskies from Bryan Davis represent his most mainstream work to date. Heaps of smoke and vegetal earth power this bold and brash Pacific Coast single malt. The peat dominates the nose, but the green-planted goodness overwhelms the finish with hints of salt and phenolic action. I think I taste fresh-picked carrots after a few minutes of letting the flavors develop. WARNING: the Lost Spirits whiskies are not for the unadventurous. These are wildly savage single malts with assertive and challenging profiles!

-David Driscoll


It's All About ME!

A few days ago my pal SKU, knowing my penchant for hating on internet comment boards, sent me the funniest link I've seen in ages. NPR, a wonderful news outlet that attracts some of the most pedantic people, pulled a fast one on its "readers" -- check that out here before reading further.

I understand that not everyone who comments on the internet is a self-righteous, sanctimonious, attention-needing know-it-all. However, this little joke really shows you quite clearly where some of National Public Radio's "readers" are focused: INWARD. It takes a certain type of solipsism to read a headline, completely ignore the article and the perspective of the person writing it, and get right to typing about one's own opinion. But that's exactly what hundreds of "readers" did on NPR last week. And, man, it took some serious guts on NPR's part to punk their own audience in such an embarrassing and revealing way.

And it's probably a bad idea that SKU sent me this link because it only reinforces what I already thought was the case: a large percentage of internet users see comment fields not as a tool to discuss the topic at hand, but rather as a way to talk about themselves; the comment field is simply the vehicle for the id. But SKU also wrote something very funny himself the other day, when he posted:

If you post something with a technical error on a whiskey forum, it takes an average of .48 seconds for someone to post a correction, and the average number of posts that will then repeat that same correction is 37.

Much like comments have little to do with discussion, people who correct the mistakes of others online usually have little interest in correctness; the correction is simply the vehicle for showing you what they know. They can't just go around talking about how smart they are (because that would be anti-social behavior), but spotting a mistake gives them the justification to do so. Of course, there's no difference in the way those corrections are received (we all still find it annoying), but it allows the corrector to claim he's doing it for the public good, rather than his own sense of self-aggrandisement.

As I watched Wrestlemania last night, I had to take a deep-breath and not let some of this behavior get to me. There are more people holding signs than ever at WWE events and those signs have nothing to do with wrestling. They promote the people in the audience or their websites (and they block the views of the fans behind them who actually came to watch the show). It's no different than hijacking a comment field to direct readers to your own domain, except that in this case it's ruining the experience of everyone forced to sit near these people. But, who cares if you can't see? Who cares what you think? This is about ME!

If there's a way to interject yourself into something, you can bet that someone out there is going to figure out how to do it. There will always be people who wait to talk, rather than listen. There will always be people who skip to the bottom, rather than read the details. There will always be people who need approval, recognition, and acknowledgement, yet do not understand the proper way of going about getting it (FYI, there is no proper way of getting approval, recognition, or acknowledgement -- if you have to tell someone you're funny, or smart, or good at something, well....).

I just wonder if these people know what we're really thinking. Of course, that would require them to think about something besides themselves.

-David Driscoll


Industry Shockers

I'm in Modesto watching Wrestlemania XXX with one of my best friends and the Undertaker has just lost. For twenty-one straight years the Dead Man has risen victorious at sports entertainment's Superbowl, but tonight he finally fell to the freakish Brock Lesnar. Gasps were heard when the ref counted three. The crowd was not ready for what it witnessed. Shock. Disbelief. Horror! The countenances were absolutely priceless. Just look at the guy in the above photo! These are grown men behaving as if a scripted sport were unscripted. Needless to say, the internet boards lit up within seconds of the finish. The outrage was contageous. If the Undertaker was going to sacrifice his streak, why now? Why to Lesnar? Why would the WWE tarnish a legendary legacy with little build up? This was not the correct decision according to the pundits.

I love it when the WWE pulls one on the "insiders": the people who "know" what's going on in wrestling. The guys who don't work in the business, have never worked in the business, and will never work in the business, telling a business what's best for business. The insiders love to bitch about everything and this gave them plenty of fodder. However, one guy really summed it up when he posted:

All the negative reactions are from sad bitter hardcore fans who burnt out years ago and only watch now to get angry. If for some reason they don't get angry they will bitch about how "predictable" it is. It's pretty pathetic really, some people should just stop watching.

There are simply two kinds of wrestling fans: those who love to analyze every single detail, rank the matches in terms of where they fall historically, pointing out exactly what was good and bad, and those who just like to watch and be entertained by the theatrics.

I'm definitely in the latter group. I reveled in the reaction and found myself completely taken in by the magnitude of the moment. I removed any egotistical desire and allowed all cynicism to wash away. It was like being a kid again. Isn't that what entertainment is about?

-David Driscoll



With all the excitement we're feeling towards Armagnac, Cognac, and Calvados, I thought I would temper that enthusiasm with a few clear cut statements. One -- I cannot promise you that you are going to love French spirits as much as you love single malt whisky or Bourbon. Two -- I cannot promise you that they will scratch the same itch or satisfy the same cultural craze, fulfilling a life-long desire to taste something you'd previously only read about online. But I can promise you one thing: K&L will have the best selection of French distilled spirits in the United States (and maybe the world!) before 2014 is over. So if you want to geek out about French spirits, we’ll have you covered. If you remember our French harvests of 2012 and 2013, then picture in your mind how many new products we imported in those years. Now quadruple that number. And now quadruple the new number. Once again, quadruple your most recent total. That should give you an idea of how many new products we plan on bringing in this year. We're serious about this. There's a lot of value and a lot of variety within the Cognac and Armagnac game, and the best part is: we buy our spirits directly from the producer. There are no middlemen, no corporations involved, and no fancy marketing fees attached to each bottle price; it's just them, us, and you.

While most of what we featured on the blog won't be available until later this summer, don't think we didn't get this ball rolling last year. Some of the products we were previously interested in didn't make themselves available until recently and they've finally arrived, just in time to quench your recent thirst.

Marquis De Montesquiou is like the Sauza Tequila of Armagnac -- a brand that was sold to a corporate portfolio, allowing the family members to strike out on their own and create more serious, small-production spirits. Much like Guillermo Sauza created Fortaleza Tequila and continued on with the family business, Claire de Montesquiou and her husband decided to purchase a small estate named Domaine d’Esperance and follow tradition. In 1990, the couple began planting grapes in the sand-based soil of their Bas-Armagnac estate (a lovely terrain mixed with clay and iron -- perfect for Baco and Folle Blanche) and get the ball rolling. By 1995, they were distilling again Armagnac again.

Much like an American craft distiller might sell vodka or gin while waiting for their whisky to age, the Montesquious sold wine while their brandy sat in waiting. They planted Ugni Blanc and Colombard along with their distilling varietals to allow for white production on the side. Even with the wine, however, we're not talking about a large production at Domaine d'Esperance. On two small stills -- one over a hundred years old, the other from a traveling-distiller -- the Armagnacs are distilled at an extremely slow speed. They only make enough to fill about four barrels each day. Couple that with the fact that they only distill for one week per year after the wines are ready. You can do the math from there: 4 x 7 = 28 barrels filled per year.

Immediately after distillation, the spirit goes into medium-charred new oak made by a local cooper named Gilles Bartholomo. He's a third generation casker who uses local Gascon oak from the Allier and Limousin forests. Domaine d'Esperance is only filling the choicest of spirit into the best possible wood they can buy. The result is an incredbile brandy that at times can mimic the finest American Bourbons, and at others the richest and darkest of Cognacs. While there are a number of incredible values coming from larger producers in the region, the Armagnacs from Esperance are focused 100% on quality over price. They are more expensive because of what it takes to produce them.

Domaine d'Esperance 5 Year Old Bas Armagnac $54.99 - Distilled from Baco, the five year old is a soft and more gentle distillate, despite its young age. The wood is integrated and the flavors are smoother and more rounded. It's a lovely foray into the world of French spirits, beginning with flavors that are easy to understand, yet absolutely high in quality.

Domaine d'Esperance XO Bas Armagnac $79.99 - The XO is a marriage of four different Baco distillates, the youngest being ten years of age. The flavors are rich and full of spice with a lengthy finish of round fruits and salted caramel. Having seen no additional coloring or sweetening agents, this is what XO Cognac drinkers often think they're drinking, but aren't. This is real XO brandy for people who appreciate nuance.

1998 Domaine d'Esperance 14 Year Old Bas Armagnac $99.99 - Bottled at full proof, the 1998 14 year old Armagnac is distilled from Baco and bottled at cask strength. It resembles a solid cask of 14 year old Four Roses Bourbon, more than it does French brandy. With big toasted wood flavors, bold spice, and a solid backbone of charred oak, this is high-level Armagnac of the highest quality. As much for American whiskey fans as it is for Frenchophiles.

1995 Domaine d'Esperance 17 Year Old Bas Armagnac $109.99The 1995 is the richest and most brandy-like of the line-up -- it's dark, dense, loaded with concentrated vanilla and barrel spices, and decadent on the finish. Bottled at full proof and with no additional sweetners or coloring, this is high-quality French brandy at its finest.