Three Words That No Longer Mean What They Once Meant

I've got a bunch of booze-related stuff on my mind right now, but I need a bit more time to let it sort itself out. In the mean time, I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving. Maybe you noticed one of the following changes while you were visiting with friends and family:

Ironic – Any one who's familiar with the film Reality Bites can define ironic, as one of the funniest scenes in the movie comes when Winona Ryder seeks support from Ethan Hawk after another fateful job interview. "I mean, can you define ironic?" she asks, believing he'll laugh with her and say he can't. "It's when the actual meaning is the opposite from the literal meaning," he says quietly before walking away. While that may be the dictionary definition of ironic, it's not what the word means these days. Almost twenty years after Alanis Morrissette sang an entire song about things that were tragic, unbelievable, and the result of plain old back luck, calling it "Ironic", we're now faced with a new definition of the word. Ironic today means anything coincidental or too crazy to believe.

Literally – Speaking of the "literal meaning", the word literally itself has completely changed its meaning over the last five years or so – at least in Southern California. Literally used to mean something happened to the exact definition of the word. You would separate it from the figurative sense by saying that you "literally fell over laughing," meaning that you actually did fall over – you're not just saying that for dramatic effect. Today, however, the word literally is used simply as an intensifier, helping to separate something kinda intense from something really intense. It almost means the opposite of what it once meant because it's often used in a very unliteral fashion. If you need an example then check out an episode of the Kardashians and watch the three sisters light up the screen. "I literally just went shopping." "I literally am so late for my appointment right now." Rachel Zoe is a good example as well.

Dry (wine terminology) – A dry wine is a wine that isn't sweet. A dry martini is a martini without any additional sweetness, i.e. vermouth or simple syrup. The term "dry" simply refers to the lack of sugar – nothing else. It does not refer to the flavor of a wine, the mouthfeel of a wine, the acidity of the wine, or the tannic structure of the wine. However, when most people describe a wine as dry (and this has taken me years to figure out) I think they're really talking about the herbaceous flavor versus the fruit flavor in their drink. Most often when I hear the term "dry" used in an uncertain manner it's in reference to Sauvignon Blanc – a wine with grassy, peppery, herbaceous qualities. The same goes for gin martinis – a drink with savory, peppery, herbaceous qualities as opposed to soft and fruity ones. When most people say they like or don't like "dry" wines, they'll immediately follow up that statement with an example of a wine they do like. That wine will usually be the ultimate example of the opposite of what they just said (i.e. "I love dry wines. My favorite wine is Rombauer Chardonnay). Today, when you listen to people talk about "dry" wines, they're usually referring to an herbaceous characteristic and the lack of round fruit or supple texture, rather than the lack of sugar.

-David Driscoll


I'm Dreaming of a....

If you didn't see the big K&L email yesterday, this is in stock and moving fast. Anchor Steam releases a Christmas Ale every year and it's always one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. I've been drinking this beer with my dad every Xmas since I was 21. Last year Anchor had a few hundred bottles left over that they decided to distill secretly into a very, very, very small batch of bierschnapps, or white whiskey - depending on which title sounds more appealing to you. I got the chance to taste it this morning and, while I don't often advocate on behalf of white dog, this tastes very much like the beer itself. That clove, nutmeg, and foresty goodness are all there within the spirit itself. Now please note: this isn't going to go down as the best whiskey of the year. It's just a super-limited, fun experiment from a Bay Area legend. An iconic beer distilled into something fun for fans of the brand. LIKE ME! Anchor made around 600 bottles: TOTAL. We're getting a large chunk of that, but that's still not very much!

Anchor White Christmas White Whiskey $49.99

-David Driscoll


Adventures on El Camino: Joe's of Westlake

There seems to be a lot of controversy concerning Bay Area techies in the news this week. Willie Brown went off on a small tirade in the Chronicle yesterday, and the New York Times made it front page news today. There's a boiling frustration over the changes brought on in the city by the influx of wealth from internet success and it's quite an interesting conversation. Not having lived in San Francisco since 2005, I can't say that I have much of an educated opinion on the subject, so I'll leave that discussion to those who do, but I will tell you about a different conflict that does bother me. Not to get all Stephen Colbert on you, but there's a war going on against American values right now that I'm rather tiring of. This frustration of mine does not in any way stem from U.S. nationalism or pride on my end, but rather from the embarrassment I feel for others. It's an attempt by haughty Americans to escape what defines them, hoping to create a new identity that seems more interesting and exotic and cultured and everything that they wish they could be (although, I guess I could also needle Facebook for contributing to that, right?). Food culture in the Bay Area is ground zero for this behavior.

It used to be that American tourists abroad were stereotyped and laughed at for their complete and often-purposeful inability to integrate into a foreign culture. They would attempt to speak English where no English was spoken, they would expect McDonald's on the corner wherever they went, and they were loud, brash, and uncompromising in their demands. The backlash to that type of behavior created a new generation of travelers who wanted to integrate, to blend in, and to be seen as educated in the cultures they visited. They did not want to be seen as "typically American," so they went out of their way to do the opposite. Twenty years later there's a backlash forming against this generation's version of American obnoxiousness. The irony here is that, in an attempt to avoid being a stereotypical American, these people have created an entirely new version of the stereotypical American: the condescending I-can-speak-the-language, I-studied-abroad-in-France-so-I-get-it, never-be-caught-dead-in-an-American-style-restaurant, citizen-of-the-world who understands foreign cultures so well that they often lecture natives of those cultures about their own cultures. It's getting out of control.

Now that I've got that off my chest, let me tell you of an iconic American restaurant with incredible ambiance where you will never in your life run into one of these people: Joe's of Westlake in Daly City.

You will never run into a neo-stereotypical American at Joe's of Westlake because it's absolutely jam-packed with people who do not give a shit about what you think. Last night I walked into a bar at full capacity, brimming with silver foxes drinking vodka cocktails, singing "Volare" at the top of their lungs while dancing to the live Karaoke. The live music, by the way, is played by this man pictured above who must be at least eighty years old, but brushes those cymbals like Max Weinberg in his old Conan O'Brien days. Joe's is pure old-school peninsula: all ages, all cultures, all creeds, all types, sitting together, having a hearty meal, and enjoying themselves.

Joe's is also old-school American-Italian. You start with a cup of minestrone that tastes straight out of the 1980s (in a good way). If you order the filet mignon you don't choose a side salad, but rather a side pasta: spaghetti, ravioli, or rigatoni covered in a delicious, new-world meat sauce. All of the workers at Joe's are unionized. All of the prices are reasonable. All of the seats are full. Every space in the entry is consumed by the forty-five minute wait for a table. Old school martinis with a big fat olive are being whisked around the room by waiters in tuxedos and an old-fashioned line-cook caller sits at the middle of the counter yelling out orders to the chefs. Our server was a grey-haired, delightfully-sarcastic Italian man of about seventy-five. You could tell he loved his job. He definitely contributed to my enjoyment of the evening.

Everything happening around you at Joe's of Westlake in Daly City feels like the complete opposite of what's going on elsewhere at hip and happening new restaurants. Conversations are taking place between complete strangers. People are there to socialize and to exchange stories and ideas. There's no pressure to be authentically Italian, or French, or Vietnamese. There are no hipsters around you being ironic in their love for kitschy Americana either. The clientele at Joe's has been eating and drinking there for decades, some of them since the place opened in 1956. I told my wife, "We should come here every Sunday!" Upon hearing that, the guy next to us at the bar said, "You've only got a few Sundays left. They're closing in January." Sadly, having just discovered this incredible place, we learned it had been bought out by Original Joes in San Francisco and will be closed down until a re-opening in 2015 with new staff and a new menu.

For those looking for an American diner, a place so retro and old-school that you can't even make a joke out of it, then you need to visit Joe's of Westlake within the next few weeks before it's completely lost forever. My search for unpretentious, genuine, and truly unique experiences along the El Camino corridor will have to continue without the presence of what is (or was) my new favorite. Sorry to lose you Joe's. I just met you.

-David Driscoll


Last Two Casks of 2013 - IN STOCK NOW!

While the rest of the world is sleeping in, making breakfast, and leisurely sipping their coffee on a Saturday morning, I am stretching right now as I type this. Stretching, loosening up, getting my game face on for what is certain to be total annihilation. Today is one of the three busiest days of the year at K&L (this coming Wednesday will be the busiest), so I've got to be in peak physical performance. Before I head off for work, however, I wanted to let you know that the last two casks of the year have arrived (everything else due will arrive in Jan/Feb) and they're both spectacular.

The Benriach 19 year cask is here, but it tastes a bit differently than we remember. Our impression was of a slightly phenolic, peated single malt with lighter, Caol Ila-like fruit. What we have now is like Caol Ila unpeated -- yet another example of how whisky can change when it's left in the cask for an additional six months after the initial sampling. While I was completely caught off guard by the change, I can't say I'm disappointed ultimately. What we have now is like Oban 18 at 52.2%. It's a lighter, yet mature, style of Highland whisky with just the slightest bit of something. Remember the Banff 35 we bottled a few years back with Duncan Taylor? If you're lamenting the loss of that bottle, I'd grab one of these. This is the closest thing to that flavor I've tasted since that whisky. That oily wood flavor comes through right off the bat and the supple vanilla and stone fruit balance it out with a long, malty-sweet finish. It needs a few drops of water, nothing more, but those few drops make a huge difference.

1994 Benriach 19 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $149.99

This guy, on the other hand, is exactly what you expect it to be. What's interesting about this particular Glendronach is how cakey it is. It's not so much super-rich and decadent, fat and supple, but rather it's like eating a big piece of Christmas cake. The spices, clove and nutmeg, run rampant and the texture is smooth as silk. At 52.5%, this is not the monster we've seen in holidays past. It's going to be the go-to bottle for our staff when in doubt for a nice recommendation because, let's get real here, if you don't like this whisky then you might as well not like puppies or kittens. It puts a smile on your face instantly and the PX note comes in on the finish, chewy toffee and caramel. YUM!

1995 Glendronach 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $149.99

These are in-stock now in San Francisco and Redwood City. All the pre-orders and LA stock will be down as soon as we can load the truck!

-David Driscoll


More New Faces

A few more new faces to show you today. David OG sent out a notice about these yesterday, so I thought I'd get some cool photos up on the blog to help get the word out. I'll use David's notes since they're already typed up and well-written:

Bigallet Viriana China China Amer $37.99 - Well, I've only been waiting my entire life for this product to arrive. This is truly the quintessential bitter French liqueur. They start with high quality neutral spirit. Both bitter and sweet orange peels are macerated in the be spirit before being distilled. Then they do it again. Wait, then they do it one more time. Then they add more peels, spices, botanicals, etc. A small amount of sugar is used to balance the bitter and stabilize the color. This is the Franco-phonic answer to Amaro and it is so so good. Truly a special treat for anyone smart enough to include this in their shopping list. It can also be used as a substitute for bitter liqueurs in various cocktails, vermouth and amaro alike. Enjoy! (David OG)

Giffard Pamplemouse Rose Liqueur $26.99 - Giffard is one of France's highest quality liqueur producers. They're sourcing the highest quality fruits and spices for their liqueurs and have committed to using local ingredients where ever possible. Because Giffard liqueurs are truly designed specifically for use in cocktails, the aromatic profile is the most important aspect of this product. While the flavor on the palate is excellent, the depth of flavor on the nose is second to none. This is definitely your best bet when utilizing a liqueur in a cocktail. The grapefruit is snappy, tart, and fresh. Incredible.

Giffard Peche de Vigne Liqueur $26.99 - Soft fruited and pure in flavor. Lovely.

Giffard Violette Liqueur $26.99 - The violette is a deep, brooding, stark violet color and the flavors are delicate yet concentrated, without getting soapy. Lovely.

And if you want to hang this little guy on your Xmas tree this year, then check back with me later today. We're taking a large chunk of Anchor's newest, very, very limited product. Last year the San Francisco legend had a bit of the Christmas Ale left over and they weren't sure what to do with it. I'm a huge fan of the Christmas ale. My dad and I have been drinking it for more than a decade. Now it's been distilled into a bottle. Y-U-M.

-David Driscoll