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K&L Spirits Tasting Schedule:

Weds from 5 - 6:30 PM

4/23 - Redwood City: Ardbeg Single Malts (w/the chopper!)

2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

1988 Littlemill 25 Year Old K&L "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Lowland 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!

Bladnoch 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive Lightly Peated Single Barrel #303 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Bladnoch 23 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #1054 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Talisker "The Speakeasy" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

2005 Glenrothes 8 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Sherry Barrel 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

1991 Cambus 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

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!

1989 Cragganmore 23 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 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!

1983 Miltonduff 30 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750m IN STOCK NOW!


Is The Best Tequila Blanco Really From Charbay?

I hold traditional white tequila as the last bastion of the fight against liquor gentrification.  Why does everything have to be smooth, and soft, and gentle instead of flavorful?  Camper English wrote a fantastic article a while back on his website Alcademics about tequila being the new vodka, and after tasting some of the "hot" new products today it's so clear that this is the case.  Tequila is becoming a lifestyle product for rich guys with big egos who want to make more money, so they decide to start up their own brand of alcohol.  It used to be flashy designer vodka (remember the Donald Trump vodka?) but now it's all about Mexico - likely due to the cheaper labor and the success of Patron.  Tequila must be made in Jalisco, Mexico so these guys don't actually do any of the producing, but rather just the label designing.  They hire workers at a co-op to make a tequila and then buy it from them, slap a label on it, and send it over to marketing to start the advertising blitz.  I'm so tired of this trend I could honestly scream, mostly because I love Mexico, mexicans (my wife included), tequila, and cultural tradition, but also because these guys don't care about booze.  You can tell because their tequila tastes like watered down agave with vanilla and cream.

Just when I thought I'd never see another fantastic blanco again (besides Los Osuna which isn't technically tequila), in walks my Southern rep with a sample bottle of Charbay's take on silver tequila.  Even though I recognize Marko's talent as a distiller, the Charbay products (mostly fruit injected vodkas and liqueurs) have never been my thing.  I think they are all well made and they never seem to cut any corners, but I just don't drink vanilla Tahitian rum or green tea vodka.  However, Marko has a passion for doing things all the way, so when I heard that he travels to Mexico once a year to make a batch of tradtional blanco tequila, my ears perked up.  This spirit is personally double-distilled in Arandas, Mexico, by Miles and Marko, in small Copper Alambiques Tequilano Pot Stills, the Blue Agave is hand selected by Jimadoras, baked for four days to transform the fresh Agave into fermented "Mosto," which is then crushed and pressed and ready for fermentation in small wood fermenters. Once the Mosto ferments into a dry Mosto Muerte, it is ready to be distilled.

The result is simply fantastic.  The balance achieved in almost surreal - the pepper, agave, citrus, and spice all dance on the palate with plenty of heat and lots of tang!  The nose is a tequila fan's dream - plenty of floral elements in play with the agave never losing itself in the barrage of aromas.  I had to take three tastes to really believe what I was tasting.  Not everyone here thought it was a great as I did, but that's because I am prejudiced.  I know exactly what I am looking for with tequila and Charbay has hit the nail squarely on the head.  Tequila should be an extension of authentic mexican cuisine - it should be spicy, flavorful, and expressive!  Like my wife always says, "who wants to eat bland meat and potatoes when you could be eating carnitas tacos?" 

To drink a new world tequila with gobs of oak, vanilla, and soft textures is to eat at Chevy's.  I'd rather be at the taco truck on the corner of Middlefield in Redwood City.  Thank the lord that Charbay feels the same way because I now what I'm buying for the fiesta from now on.

-David Driscoll


Thursday Surprise

Somedays at K&L can get rather tedious and slow on the sales floor, but it always seems like some minor miracle of joy tends to occur in these situations - a birthday feast for the staff, a special celebrity customer, or in today's case a special tasting of the greatest bourbon ever produced.  One of our former staff members came to me a few weeks back about finally pulling the trigger on a bottle of Hirsch 28 Year Bourbon, the very last remnants of the legendary Pennsylvanian distillery Michter's, which tragically closed in 1989 due to bankruptcy.  Like Port Ellen and Stitzel Weller, once the stills were removed the possibility of a reopening was lost and the famous flavor of the whiskey could only be captured in the few aging reserves left.  What currently remains is all in the hands of Hirsch, which used to be made at Michter's, and is currently being bottled in a 28 year old edition.  We can still order it, but it isn't inexpensive, clocking in at $459.99 a bottle.  However, many bourbon enthusiasts consider it to be the finest bourbon ever made. 
When Don ordered the bottle I was excited for him to eventually open it and tell me what he tasted.  Instead he did me one better and brought me a small sample for me to form my own opinion.  For me, only in the case of Port Ellen whiskies has the prestige and hype behind a whiskey ever lived up to the actual tasting, so I was both nervous and overjoyed.  What would it actually taste like?  The result is sublime, although maybe not worth the pricetag.  It is surely one of the most fantastic bourbons I have ever sampled, and perhaps the most deceptive one as well.  The flavors are dark and powerful, but the structure is integrated almost like an old Bordeaux can be.  There is never any true heat or strength to overwelm your senses, yet you feel as if you are tasting intensly.  Despite 28 years in wood, the tannins and richness never approach the levels found in Van Winkle 15 or 20, or even 23.  How this is possible is beyond me, but the accomplishment it is to their credit.  20+ year bourbon is always too woody for at least one person in the room, but the Hirsch 28 is balanced beyond a doubt.  There is little vanilla or sweetness left, and most of the flavor comes from the wood, but somehow it is enough to unleash layer upon layer of spice and character.  The once soft mouthfeel becomes a long, slow heat on the way down, and you realize that you're still drinking straight bourbon only after you've swallowed.
I suggest that our next tasting be extinct distilleries and we do two whiskies only: a distillery bottling of Hirsch 28 and a distillery bottling of Port Ellen cask strength.  Any takers? 
-David Driscoll


Some Sauvignon Blancs Do Age Well - 1987 Paul Cotat

Alright, I know this is the "Spirits" blog, but today I'm breaking the rules because the most interesting thing I've tasted all week was not whiskey or a well-mixed cocktail, but rather an aged Sancerre.  I'm a person who has learned to rise and fall with the tides of my alcohol mood swings, rather than fight them.  Sometimes I just don't feel like drinking the hard stuff, or sometimes I don't feel like drinking at all, but for the last few days I've been on a wine resurgence.  Looking for an excuse to celebrate Bastille Day, I pulled this homework bottle out of the fridge and gave it a whirl. 

At the Redwood City store we have what we call the "Hazerai Box" which is where we put the leftover wines from an old and rare purchase.  When we buy a private cellar, we buy the entire collection and if there are a few bottles included that are right on the line, we discount them heavily and put them in this box for someone to take a shot.  Many times these wines are spent, done, dead.  But every now and then you get an amazingly preserved bottle for a fraction of what it should cost.  In this instance, I found a 1987 Paul Cotat Sancerre Chavignol, a legendary wine made by one of two famous brothers in France's Loire Valley.  Why was it less than $10 and sitting in the box?  Because 23 years should be over the hill for sauvignon blanc.  However, there are a handful of producers in Sancerre, guys like the Cotats and Edmond Vatan, who make crisp, chalky, acidic wines that are said to turn rich and custard-like in their old age if you have the patience to wait.  The question with this 1987 was: had this wine already long passed its golden years?

The answer to that question was thankfully "no" and the result was a fantastic experience in my on-going wine education.  I'd never had what I consider to be "mature" sauvignon blanc, so I really had no idea what to expect.  That vibrant Sancerre acidity was still there holding the wine together structurally, amazingly enough, yet the palate was rich like an old Burgundy.  The combination of these two elements is very enjoyable I learned and I was grateful that I didn't have to lay this down myself to figure it out.  However, since our old Loire buyer literally forced me to purchase a 2004 Edmond Vatan when I first started working here (although I had no idea what I was spending $50 on), I have a better idea of what I'm now patiently waiting for.  The point here is that if you get the chance to snag one of these wines, they will surprise you with their longevity, as many wines often tend to do.  Wine is a funny business in that the more I drink, the more I think most people have no idea what they're really talking about.  Sauvignon Blanc is an age worthy varietal, despite what is often said.

-David Driscoll



The Best Pisco Ever Made?

Pisco is a somewhat neutral, simple, uncomplex brandy made from unheard of varietals and usually made in Peru (or Chile if it's a lesser substitute).  It's usually creamier and less fiery than grappa, but a bit more flavorful than vodka.  It's a base for a cocktail, and usually needs lime and simple syrup to make it anywhere near interesting.  There is a small demand for it in the Bay Area, so we usually keep a few on hand as the now ubiquitous Pisco Punch was invented by a San Franciscan.  I usually get as excited about pisco as I do about Cachaca (I maybe raise my eyebrows and say, "eh"), which is why when a representative for Encanto called me up and said he wanted to taste me on his pisco, I sighed and acquiesed, headed down to the tasting bar, and wondered to myself how I was going to let this guy down gently when I didn't want to buy his product.  One sip later, I was falling all over myself, gushing about how amazing this pisco was to a guy who merely closed his eyes and smiled faintly - he had obviously been in this situation before.  The Encanto pisco is something I would drink straight and really enjoy.  It is produced in Peru in the Ica valley, but the entire process is overseen by some native San Franciscan bartenders, who really wanted to make a quality pisco for the current Bay Area boom.  The flavors of the fruit are gentle and pure, the mouthfeel is soft and elegant, and the finish is clean without a trace of harshness.  If you compare Encanto to any other pisco, you'll simply be amazed.  It's pricier than other piscos as well, but worth every penny.  I'm not sure how we're going to sell any other brand from now on.

-David Driscoll


Redemption For Rye Fans

Nobody at Rittenhouse or Sazerac could have predicted years ago, when they were barreling their rye, the demand that would be awaiting them in 2010.  Rye whiskey is as popular as it's ever been (it may have been a bit more popular in the late 1700's, but I can't be sure) and the cocktailian crowd has a thirst for it like never before.  Old Fashioneds made with rye have become a staple at every Bay Area watering hole and even higher end products like Old Potrero and High West can't seem to make enough.  Unfortunately, most producers did not make enough, and they have left us high and dry this summer without anything affordable to mix with.  Rittenhouse is gone until late August and Sazerac is praying to get back into stores before then.  I really thought we were doomed until this little guy popped up last week and saved all of us.  The timing couldn't be better as no one really has a choice, but you're really really going to like the Redemption Rye $26.99, a fantastic whiskey with a 95% rye mashbill - a percentage that is only surpassed by Old Potrero.  Therefore, this is real peppery flavor country, but the barrel aging really smooths it out and adds the vanilla to even things a bit.  I can't believe how good it is given all the bad new whiskies that seem to be popping up lately.  This is not going to be something that rye drinkers turn to as a quick fix, but something that they stick with even after the other guys get their supplies back up.  It's smoother than Rittenhouse and spicier than Sazerac.  It will mix flawlessly into a cocktail, maybe even better than its contemporaries.  I can't wait for people to try it.

-David Driscoll