Building Your Bar: 2013 Summer Edition

I haven't done this for a while, but due to the amount of emails I've been getting about recommendations and advise, I thought it might be time for another edition of "Building Your Home Bar" - the column where I let you know what I would drink and you can decide if that's what you want to drink too. Remember, that BYHB is only based on my own personal opinion and not meant to be the gospel truth or final word on what's good in the world of booze. The K&L Spirits Journal always fluctuates between travel blog, news release, customer info, salesmanship, philosophy, and personal opinion. This would fall into the latter category.

So what's good right now?

Single Malt Whisky

HIGH END: K&L's Mortlach 22 Year Old or the MacKinlay's "The Journey" Blended Single Malt. If you want the big sherry flavor, the mature wood, the big spice, and the richness of two decades in first-fill splendor, then it's definitely worth splurging on the Mortlach. The only people who haven't loved it are the people who don't like big sherry, and even they still like it. For something lighter, it's really tough to beat the nuanced flavor of the MacKinlay. There's nothing this soft and fruity with peat right now and I can't help but find every sip simply charming. Some people don't like the gimmickry, which is fine, but there's good whisky in that package either way.

MIDDLE ROAD: This is a tough category right now because everything seems to be really expensive or a super bargain. Either it's super rare, or it's so competitive of a product that everyone is struggling to be the low-price leader. Many of my favorite mid-range whiskies are currently sold out from distribution. Things like Aberlour 16 and Glendronach 15. There's always great booze to be found at Bruichladdich. The 10 year old standard edition and the Port Charlotte 10 are fantastic choices for any aspiring Islay fan, offering both the richness and the peat if you want it. We still have a little bit of Glen Garioch 14 Single Barrel as well for those looking for the malty goodness of the Highlands. I still think the Aberlour 12 NCF Edition is as good as it gets for $50 right now - it's so chewy and rich. I'm also really enjoying my bottle of the standard Longrow right now.

VALUE: Now that we have the Glenrothes Select Reserve back in stock that's a solid choice at $35. Glenmorangie 10 as well, but that's not quite as exciting. For blended whisky there's still no beating the Bank Note at $19.99 a liter.

American Whiskey

HIGH END: Nothing. There is no high-end American whiskey right now because it's gone - it's been drunk or it's sitting in a collector's basement. You also might find some at an out-of-the-way corner store that no one knows about. Whatever the reason, it's not here at K&L, so I've got nothing for you.

MIDDLE ROAD: High West's Rendezvous Rye is still delicious and less than $50. I've actually become quite enamored with Blanton's lately, although that may be just a phase. Maker's 46 is quite surprising in its qualtiy seeing that I'm not typically a fan of the standard edition. Same goes for the Knob Creek Reserve.

VALUE: Most of what I'm drinking falls into this category. If you managed to snag one of the Henry McKenna 10 Year Old bottles we had a few weeks back, that's about as good as it gets in my mind. I drank that again last night while watching the Mad Men season finale on my DVR and marveled over how good that whiskey was. In the meantime, if you can find something better than Old Weller Antique, Buffalo Trace, Evan Williams Single Barrel or Four Roses Small Batch for the money, let me know.


HIGH END: Nothing worth talking about right now.

MIDDLE ROAD: You don't need to pay more than $50 to drink great tequila. Anything from ArteNom, Ocho, or Gran Dovejo should make you very happy, as long as you're not looking for caramel coloring or vanilla. The lower mid-range prices of Campeon also offer a lot of bang for the buck.

VALUE: Calle 23 definitely brings the flavor for about $22-$25 a bottle. Espolon is fine if you're in a pinch for margaritas.


HIGH END: I still think that the Ron Abuelo Centuria is one of the better and most impressive sippers around. The El Dorado 21 is also quite nice.

MIDDLE ROAD: This depends on what you're looking for and what your intent is, either an agricole mixer or something nice to sip on its own, but I really like the Barbancourt 15, the new Banks 7 Year Reserve, and the Mount Gay Extra Old for versatility. They mix well, but also drink nicely with ice.

VALUE: Our new cask of Mount Gay Black Barrel #1107 is unstoppable for the money. Lots of flavor and spice for $26. You'll drink the whole bottle in two days.  Blanco mixers will still find the El Dorado 3 as the benchmark for Daiquiris.

-David Driscoll


Peatin' Meetin' is a Comin'

We here at K&L are all about supporting the the local whisky lovin' community. With so few opportunities to familiarize yourself with the vast world of whisky, I always like to make a point of providing our readers with information regarding special events that they might enjoy, even if K&L is not a sponsor. Soon begins without question one of the year's most fun, interesting and informative events available to SoCal whisky lovers. My dear friends at the LA Scotch Club work tirelessly to provide everyone willing to huff it out to UCLA and pony up $100 an unforgettable experience. So here's the deal.

LA’s peated whisky festival, Peatin' Meetin', is coming to UCLA campus this Saturday, June 29th. Many of you are familiar with Islay’s famous smoky, earthy flavored malt and if that reek makes you weak this is the party for you. This huge annual gathering, presented by the LA Scotch Club, celebrates peated whisky from around the world and even serves up peat smoked BBQ for all the lovers of that smoldering smell. Peatin’ Meetin’ is not a traditional whisky tasting, but instead an entertaining celebration. It does not occur in a stuffy exhibition hall, but outside on the UCLA picnic grounds. Live Celtic rock bands will perform as grass-fed NY strip is smoked over authentic peat fires. Even the peated cocktails from Seven Grand's mixologists are included with admission.

But Peatin’ Meetin’ is really about tasting a lot of great whisky. Over 50 unique bottles, many old favorites, many were not released in the United States, and even some American craft distilleries will be there to show off their peaty prowess.

In addition, both Single Cask Nation and Whisky Magazine will offer special discounts exclusively for attendees of Peatin’ Meetin’. Ireland Earth will showcase their new imported peat briquettes, which you can start using for all your fumy fuel needs. Over four hours of whisky tasting, dinner, and all of the extras for only $100.  If you're attending but not tasting whisky you can get in for $40. And the whole thing can be accessed through your smart phone on The Peetin' Meetin' App!!! Crazy...

Please make sure that if you attend you've got someone to drive you or you have your UBER account set up. It's extremely important that everyone who attends is 100% safe at all times.

While you're at it, be sure to sign this petition to keep UBER, Lyft and other new wave car services running in the LA Area. It is an important issue for all the sporting classes to have access to safe affordable transportation.


• Unlimited peated whisky

• Peat-smoked NY Strip (grass fed)

• Live music by Celtic rock bands - the Brick Top Blaggers and Green Ashes

• An engraved “Perfect Dram” whisky glass

• Peated cocktails by the mixologists from downtown LA’s Seven Grand

• Meet the Peat Monster

• Smartphone app for event and bottle information, personal notes, and grading

• Sponsor discounts from the likes of Whisky Magazine, Single Cask Nation, and Ireland Earth

Tickets may be purchased at

-David Othenin-Girard


Beer and Clothing in Las Vegas

I looked up "vega" in the online Spanish dictionary and it means "a flat and fertile plain or valley." That should mean that the name Las Vegas refers to several flat and fertile plains or valleys, yet all I see from my window at the Trump Hotel is desert. Mountains to the right, the strip at dead center, with more mountains to the left. I'm definitely positioned within a valley, but I'm not sure how fertile it is, or ever was, for agriculture and wildlife. One thing that does grow in Las Vegas, however, is money and I'm not even referring to the gambling. My wife and I usually fly to New York once a year for vacation and end up doing a bit of shopping while we're there. It's New York, so there are boutiques and small shops literally everywhere. Lately, however, we've mainly used Manhattan for walking, eating, and catching a few shows. Ever since we started coming to Vegas, we've been doing the bulk of our purchasing at the carnival of outlets mainlining through the strip. Nowhere else are there so many stores, with so much merchandise, in so concentrated of an area.

Today is my third day in Sin City and I awoke with a great excitement when I learned that All Saints would be having a huge sale this morning. I'm very particular about my denim, mainly because I have a thin waist with large legs, making my search for the perfect fit a bit more difficult. My jeans have to be cut just right and when I find some that are tailored perfectly, I'm willing to pay - a lot. It's not so different from how many of my customers feel about whiskey - they know exactly what they're looking for and how difficult it can sometimes be to find it. As with spirits, there are designer brands that will deliver both the style and the quality for the money. Some deliver only one of the two. Many offer neither, yet charge you as if they did. It takes time, experience, and a few failures to ultimately understand what you're paying for when it comes to good denim, as it does with good whiskey. In many ways, shopping for designer jeans is not unlike shopping for a nice bottle of booze.

I decided to take a cab over to the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where the huge All Saints store is located, and hike the couple miles back for some exercise. I hailed a taxi in front of the lobby and slid into the back seat. My driver's name was Mimiko and she had beautifully vibrant skin with an African accent.

"Where are you from originally?" she asked after I told her my destination.

"San Francisco," I replied. "Where are you from originally?"

"Kenya," she answered, but I had already guessed Kenya. East Africans have absolutely the most beautiful cheek bones in the entire world. Mimiko's face gave her away.

"How often do you get home to visit?" I asked.

"Once a year. It's a long flight."

"Where do you connect through?" I inquired.

"London," she said. "Only one stop to Nairobi with British Airways."

Another thing that flourishes in Las Vegas is hospitality. I've never had so many friendly conversations with complete strangers than I have in my last few days here. Spending the bulk of my time alone while my wife attends a conference, I've managed to make a few new friends. Mimiko and I talked about the food on the BA Heathrow route and how global warming is making the transatlantic flight more turbulent.

"I almost flew out of my seat last time over," Mimiko shared, "and I went home during the dry season to nothing but rain."

"It's not good for our commute, but maybe Kenya will become the new Napa Valley. We can go in on some land together and plant Cabernet vines. What do you think?"

She laughed in what sounded like musical spasms and told me she already knew of the perfect site. As we pulled into the Cosmo lobby we agreed to 50/50 terms for ownership. A handshake sealed the deal.

The open container policy in Las Vegas isn't good for containing public drunkenness, but it is handy when you've got a can of beer in your back pocket and a budding thirst under the desert sun. I popped the lid, took a sip, and made my way upstairs to do some shopping. After escaping with two pairs of Iggy fit acid wash and some navy blue shorts, I began my trek back to the North end of the strip. In typical Vegas style, the most convenient (and comfortably shaded) path cuts through some of the most affluent shopping districts: the Forum at Caesar's and Canal Street inside the Venetian. Seeking a break from the overhead heat I decided to seek refuge inside the air-conditioned hallways.

One thing that blows my mind about Vegas is the amount of people out and about, spending freely and extravagantly. We happened to come during an especially crowded time of the year with the Electric Daisy Carnival descending on the city this weekend. The EDC is like a city of its own walled inside the local racecar speedway - 300,000+ people dressed in 1990's rave culture garb, dancing with Molly (the new name for MDMA instead of Ecstasy), and swinging neon-colored glow sticks with flashing lights. However, being that I was out at 10:30 AM, only a few hours after last night's festivities had finally ended, I only had the usual gang of tourists and thrill-seekers to contend with.

I couldn't help but stop at the Chanel store as I walked by, just because someday I would like to have the means to buy my wife a purse there without taking out a mortgage. As I perused the selection, I was secretly eavesdropping on a group of women at the main counter, harping over which two purses they were going to end up with.

"No, no! You need a classic look!" the mother, I'm assuming, said to one of her daughters.

"But you can't see the CC logo!" she whined back.

I sighed and thought to myself how much the wine and spirits world has become like the fashion one. We've gotten farther and farther way from actually enjoying the quality of our wine and clothing, and more concerned with others knowing how much we spent on them. I examined what I thought was the most elegant of the larger handbags and checked the card inside for the price: $3600. That's a lot of money, I thought. However, it's not more than I see bottles of Bordeaux go for daily on our auction site. At least you can wear this for the rest of your life, I reasoned, rather than drink it down during a single meal. There's something about shopping while you're intoxicated that fills you with courage, a bravado that replaces your usually rational common sense. The fact that I was in Vegas only made it more intense. Isn't that what this city is about? Making bold decisions, doing what's normally impossible, and feeling great about it?

In the end, I balked because I knew my wife, while probably sleeping with the bag by her side and marvelling over it like her first born, would never be able to wear a Chanel purse without feeling guilty about what she could've done with that amount of money. Seven years at K&L has also shaped my wine connoisseurship in a similar fashion. I'm more than able to appreciate why first-growth Bordeaux is revered so highly. I'm definitely a sucker for mature, Grand Cru Burgundy. However, I'm not willing to trade cases of great bottles, two months worth of fantastic drinking experiences, for the one lone bottle of Chateau Latour. At least not at this point in my life. I'd never be able to rid that thought from my brain while uncorking two grand's worth of grape juice. There's just no way.

When you're actually considering a purchase of that magnitude, everything else seems like an absolute bargain afterward. What's $300 when you were just about to drop four grand? I was searching for a nice gift for my wife, seeing that we were celebrating later that evening, so I stopped by another high-end store in search of the perfect shoes. I spotted them instantly. They had her size. I threw down the credit card. Deal done, with thousands of dollars saved, instead of hundreds spent. I was giddy and electric the rest of the way back.

When my wife came by later that evening and I surprised her with the gift, she was stunned. She instantly removed her ballet flats and slid into the elegant fit of the new pair."Oh my God," she said, "They're sooooo comfortable! I can't believe how they feel!" I was relieved. Not only were the shoes incredbily beautiful, they were "hand-crafted" (another great booze-related term) with the finest leather inside as well. For the money, I had hoped there would be a big difference in the quality and fit, as well as the exterior, and there definitely was.

Ultimately, that's what we're all shopping for. We want something special. We want something of quality. But we also don't want to feel like we overpaid for something that wasn't worth it. There's plenty of amazing shopping to be done in Las Vegas, the land of fertile valleys and plains. It can be an oasis in the middle of a desert if you know what you're looking for, but endlessly barren and empty if you don't.

-David Driscoll


Darroze Tasting in SF this Wednesday


Come and taste three Armagnacs from Darroze this Wednesday evening in our San Francisco store. We'll have Susan Thornett behind the bar from Vintage 59 to walk you through the selections. The tasting runs from 5 PM until 6:30. Free of charge, as always.

-David Driscoll


Añejos Ridiculosos

Since we've been talking about tequila all week, I thought I'd update everyone on a project that's almost two years in the making now. Since 2011 I've been dropping hints about a ridiculously old tequila we've been planning to release here at K&L, made by Enrique Fonseca in Atotonilco (right next to El Viejito actually). Enrique has insanely old tequila in cask that he carefully monitors using refill barrels that are moved around the warehouse to make sure they don't age too quickly. The initial plan was to release a single vintage or single age statement tequila, i.e. a 1999 13 year old expression. However, there was one small issue: the oldest ones weren't good enough on their own to justify the cost, and the young ones weren't complex enough on their own to offer anything new to the extra añejo genre. What to do?

I know what John Glaser would do. I know what just about any whisky distillery would do. They would attempt to blend the young with the old, hoping to make something better than the sum of the parts. After some serious work I think we may have done it. I'm not a master blender. Heck, I'm not even a novice blender, but either by osmosis or dumb luck I think we may have created the perfect balance of young and old. It's not going to be inexpensive because there's 21 year, 18 year, 14 year, and 11 year tequila in this marriage. No producer in the history of the tequila industry has released anything that old as far as I know (please let me know if you've heard of anything older). However, it will be far under $200.

And it will be the most interesting, most aged, and most incredible añejo tequila ever released.

And it will only be at K&L.

More on this later!

-David Driscoll