KKKKKKKKKKKKKKan you believe how well Tim Lincecum pitched last night? Thank God I was manning the door at our intimate Amrut Single Malt tasting and had full view of Elixer's television. Because I was checking names off the list I didn't get a chance to partake in the experience but the word was that Rakshit did a great job with the tasting. This week has been such a busy one and I am really on my last legs here, but I think I can make it through one more night. We had Rachel Barrie from Ardbeg all to ourselves at Heaven's Dog the other night and got to ask her everything we could think of. She was politely vague concerning just about everything, but a true pleasure to be around. How cool is it that we got to drink a glass of Ardbeg with the woman who made it? That's awesome and I can't believe more people didn't show up. However, as one person said, if more people had come we wouldn't have gotten that amazing intimate experience. Tuesday was a blast at Martin's West in Redwood City where we posed next to the choppers and took back a few drams. We had an enthusiastic crowd and I had a great time chatting with everyone. Yesterday I went out to lunch with Stan Morrison and Frances Dupuy from A.D. Rattray and we discussed some future projects they're working on. I got to taste a new whiskey they're currently vatting, which includes Lowland, Highland, Speyside, and Islay whiskies. Even though so many people seem to shy away from blends, I am still going to stand by the idea that people want good whisky at a good price. Plus, they're going to release it at cask strength which should catch most people off guard. When has anyone released a blend at cask strength? Last night, before the Amrut tasting started, I was setting up at Elixer and got to have a few beers with the Malt Advocate group including Mr. John Hansell. Getting to kick back and just chit chat with people in our industry who aren't trying to sell you something is a rare treat these days. Even though the bar was swarming with brand reps as well, I got to spend a good twenty minutes just BSing about whiskey and whiskeyblogging with a guy who knows a whole lot about both. We both have been communicating via blog posts and emails for a few months now so it was fun to meet in person and sip on a cold pint together. And now, here we are, a few hours out from the biggest whisky event of the year. I'm looking foward to tasting everything, chatting with people about booze, and hanging out in the city, but man am I ready for it to be over as well. Hopefully I'll see some of you there. -David Driscoll
So the first new Islay distillery in 120 years has finally released their first malt for the United States and we just got our first drop here in Redwood City. Alex and I immediately popped a bottle of the Kilchoman 2010 Summer Release as we were eager to see how it measured up to other young Islay whiskies we have tried. At three years old we weren't expecting greatness, but merely a hint at things to come in the future. What we got however was more than drinkable for the present. The Malt Advocate had given their last release a very good score, which got us excited as they are known for giving young whiskies a hard time. The fact that they liked it was surprising. As Alex and I nosed our first pour we both smelled campfire smoke with plenty of tropical fruit - dried mangos, smoked pineapple, and passion fruit. It's rare that I get so specific with tasting notes, but in this whisky those aromas are clear and easy to identify. The palate shows its youth, but never falls apart under its own greenness. The fruit comes through, but plays second fiddle to the peat. The mouthfeel is softer than you would expect (ABV is 46%) and the finish not nearly as rough as what I was bracing for. I would happily drink this in my free time. The best part about this whisky is that it is going to prove to be more than just a curiosity. If you choose to buy one, you'll get a taste of what Islay's newest distillery is going to taste like, but also a very tasty malt that is much better than it had any right to be.
Being a young wine & spirits professional, I'm often confronted by customers regarding my youth and expertise. How could someone of your age be knowledgeable enough to sell me the right wine, whisky or cognac? I'll confess that working retail is by far the best way to learn this industry. There are, however, many ways to gain experience in our industry. When it comes to wine, you have countless resources -books and classes, seminars and tastings. Universities all over the world teach classes on oenology, viticulture, and even wine tasting/appreciation. The world of spirits however is much more difficult to grasp. Just finding a place to learn the craft of distillation is a difficult and complex process. There are in fact few proper programs on distillation. They're generally centered around the main distilling regions in the world (Edinburgh, Charentes, etc.) The craft distillation movement has opened the door for knowledgeable professionals to impart some of their knowledge to enthusiastic amateurs, but of course amateur distillers also happen to be criminals, so this complicates things.
In general, knowledge regarding Spirits is difficult to come by. While there are plenty of critics, reviewers, and bloggers, there are very few sources for actual information. You can't turn around these days without bumping into a "single malt expert," but finding actual information on the distilleries of Scotland is not easy. While there are some great books about the spirits world and its history, most of what you find is little more than opinion or marketing. The spirits category is just as complex as the wine world. For starters, almost everyone distills something. From Japan to Africa, and everything in between, they are fermenting, distilling, and drinking something. Each sub-category has its own set of rules, history, and geography. These are almost never codified thoroughly. Needless to say, the complexity and lack of resources can be both exciting, as well as incredibly frustrating. There's an impossible amount of information.
My Spirits story starts early. I'm the product of two families, each with a special connection to the wine & spirits world. My paternal grandfather owned a small vineyard outside of Geneva. He was an amateur wine maker and committed lover of alcohol (in a good way). You could generally count on him to ferment anything he could get his hands on. His large garden provided the means to this end. I remember helping him stir a vats of fermenting plums during the summer, which would eventually be distilled by traveling stills much like Armagnac. When I was ten, Grandpa Pepe was teaching me the difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy. This is where my love of wine & spirits started. ON the other side, my grandfather and his father were part owners in a bourbon distillery in Bardstown in the 1950s. They were also involved in spirits importation and distribution. My great grandfather claimed to have been the original importer of Kahlua and his hand written notes and recipe survive today. My family history is why I became interested in wine & spirits and because of that I started to learn the business at a very young age. When I graduated college, I made the distinct decision to follow my love of the epicurean, rather than utilize my degree in economics. I wasn't even 22 when I got my first job in wine & spirits.
The point is that my heritage helped me find what really makes me happy. I was lucky to realize early that what I really love is great food, wine, spirits, company & conversation. Heritage and tradition play a big part in distillation. Kentucky is by no means the exception to that rule. Heaven Hill Distillery is the world's second largest holder of bourbon whiskey and the last operational family owned bourbon distillery. In 1996, a tragic fire raced through the distillery and warehouses destroying equipment and more 90,000 gallons of bourbon. All that survived were the original yeast strains that Master Distiller Parker Beam had stored in a home fridge for safe keeping. Heaven Hill was able to resume distillation after purchasing the Bernheim distillery in 1999. This bottling marks the 10th Anniversary of Heaven Hills acquisition of the wheated Old Fitzgerald brand and the Bernheim Distillery. Hand selected by Master Distiller Parker Beam, it is bottled at 63.9% and not filtered. The most affordable of the Parker's Heritage Collection to date, less than 5000 bottles will be made. No need to consult the oracle on this one.
We did our Four Roses tasting the other night with Jim Rutledge, who actually was NOT in town for Whiskyfest. He came all the way out just to do a few barrel release dinners and say hello, and he was nice enough to come by our event to meet our customers. I had a sample bottle of our new barrel with me so I decided to give him a taste to get his thoughts. It would be the first of many tastes he would keep returning to. Not only was Rutledge floored with the quality of his own whiskey, but so were the marketing reps traveling with him. So impressed that they came back later to buy bottles back from me and bring around on their travels with them as a marketing tool to convince other stores to do the same. I think everyone is going to agree with Mr. Rutledge that this is some damn fine bourbon. We just got our initial drop but there are 100 more bottles on the way - get 'em while they're hot.
Four Roses K&L Single Barrel Cask Strength Kentucky Bourbon 59.99 - Once again, we're teaming up with Kentucky legend Jim Rutledge to bring our customers a single barrel of his beautiful Four Roses whiskey. This time around we opted for yeast strain OBSO, which brings a different mash bill of 60% Corn, 35% Rye, 5% Barley. This bourbon is a liquid manifestation of the phrase "an iron hand in a velvet glove." The palate opens up to some big time flavor, rich sweetness, and fruity spice, enveloping the senses with sheer power and force. The finish is all nuance however as the whiskey dies down to a meer whisper and gently glides away, softly hinting at the beautiful barrage of flavors it battered you with only moments before. Another legendary whiskey for our K&L customers to enjoy!
Luckily I have some very nice customers who shop at K&L and sometimes they feel moved to share some of their most amazing bottles with me. I am always humbled that some of you out there think of bringing your own favorite spirits into the store so that I can taste them. One such customer just returned from a trip to Scotland and, since he has been shopping here since the Susan Purnell days, he wanted to visit Bruichladdich and take Mr. Jim McEwan out to dinner. While there, he was able to convince Jim to let him leave the island with a super-secret bottle that hopefully will be hitting the U.S. market at some point in the near future. Your eyes do not deceive you, it is a bottle of Bruichladdich gin and it is very tasty. Made with 21 botanicals local to Islay, it is big and herbal andbrimming with character. It's definitely in the London Dry style so get ready for some martini and gin & tonic action sometime down the road, courtesy of Bruichladdich.
As if it were not fantastic enough to get a sneak peak of the gin, this wonderful customer also brought me a taste of the Bruichladdich DNA, which is one of the most amazing whiskies out there on the market. The DNA is 36 years old and it is bottled at cask strength, which in this case ended up being a meager 41.1% - no water needed here. This whisky is so soft and supple on the entry before the dried fruits and toffee kicks in, but unlike most older whiskies, this one was finished in wine casks, Chateau le Pin for that matter. The result is really wonderful as the red fruits from the wine really add a certain depth to a whisky that may have been one-dimensional without it. Much like the Black Art benefits from the enchancement, the DNA really seems transformed by it. A fantastic whisky that will definitely leave a hole in my heart as I know that I will likely never taste it again.