Big Bay Area Weekend

We had WhiskyFest last night, the Castro Street Fair, the Blue Angels for Fleet Week, the America's Cup boat race, the Giants vs. the Reds in the divisional playoff, and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.  Unless you're going to one of these events, I'd stay away from the city! If you're all boozed out from last night's whisky extravaganza, check out these sweet wines from Lanessan I just wrote up for the wine blog.

-David Driscoll


Hide the Salami

While I won't be able to attend tonight's WhiskyFest extravaganza in San Francisco due to a previous engagement, I will be sending my assistant Kyle......or rather his alter-ego, the sexy loverman Rodrigo.  Take a look at this photoshoot he did recently for Veuve Cliquot, featuring his world-famous pout (take that "Blue Steel").  If you'll be attending WhiskyFest and you can locate this man amidst the gigantic crowd of enthusiasts, you'll win a prize.  Rodrigo will have something in his front pocket for you.  No!! It's not what you're thinking!!  Disgusting! It will be whisky-related and you'll be very excited if you manage to track him down.

The rules are this: you must approach Rodrigo and say, "Rodrigo - I hear you've got something in your pocket for me," to which he will respond and reward you with your prize.

Happy drinking tonight! Say "hi" to everyone for me! Find Rodrigo! Find Rodrigo!

-David Driscoll


Whiskyfest Visitation: Benriach

With the biggest whisky-tasting event in the U.S. happening in San Francisco tomorrow, many of the producers are flying in tonight to prepare and make the rounds. I expect I'll be shaking hands with many Scotsmen as the day goes on, who want to come say "hello" before the big show tomorrow. I just met with Stewart Buchanan, the brand ambassador for Glendronach and Benriach and he had a few new malts to show us – a 16 year old Sauternes-finished whisky and a fantastic, peated 12 year old that had been finished in PX sherry. We all really loved the 12 year and can't wait to add that to the shelf (if you're going tomorrow night, make sure you taste it!).

Chatting with Stewart, he told me some interesting news about the distillery happenings. The first thing that caught my attention was the increased fermentation times. Stewart said that Billy Walker, the managing director, had been pushing the fermentation up to 96 hours per mash! Many distilleries are around 40-50 hours. Previously, the longest fermentation I had ever heard of was at Oban, where 90 hours was the norm. Because it takes so long to make Oban as fruity and round as possible, it's the only Diageo-owned distillery that doesn't go into any of their blended whiskies (they don't have time to wait around, gotta keep pumping out that Walker Black!). Because of this extended fermentation time, it takes much longer to make Benriach whisky now, which leads to the second interesting fact: they're no longer selling extra whisky to Diageo or Pernod-Ricard. 

There's a long history of whisky-swapping in the Scotch industry. Many times, this is how independent bottlers end up with casks from various distilleries. I guess Benriach had been making extra whisky for other blended whisky companies over the past decade who were always in need of more juice, but that's all coming to an end.  Sorry, guys. Benriach is too busy making some of the best single malt on the planet. No time for you anymore!  This doesn't surprise me one bit. Benriach and Glendronach are slowly becoming two of the most-respected malts in the business. People are catching on to their quality and sales are going up.

Can't wait to get our 27 year old cask in, along side these two newbies. Yum.

-David Driscoll


Back on the Wine Blog Today

You know you want to read about Bordeaux.

Come check it out.

-David Driscoll


High Proof Gin All the Rage

Gin producers are getting smart. They're paying attention to the spirits industry. They're watching the whisk(e)y developments and the cocktail revivals, and they're reacting swiftly with tact. The bold new market of spirits lovers wants bold new flavors in its spirits. The revival of high-proof gin is mirroring the trends we've seen with single malt and Bourbon. Much like with whiskey, the extra alcohol can sometimes bring out and even balance the flavor of an expressive or botanical gin. I love gin. I feel like it's a part of my blood sometimes (and for much of the night it literally is). Distributors with new gins are getting smart as well.

"Hey, that David Driscoll guy over at K&L? Bring your gin. He'll buy anything that's gin"

It's kind of true. I really love adding new gins to our shelves so I'm much more open to try a new spirit if the letters G-I-N are on the label in that particular, consecutive order. Navy Strength are two words we're beginning to see more often on the label, as well. Some producers tell the romantic, swashbuckling story of how naval captains needed to be certain their gunpowder would still fire should the ship's supply of gin happen to soak into the explosives. 57% was supposedly the strength at which the powder could still catch a spark if it happened to be as inebriated as the crew. While that's a fantastic tale, I think the higher proof probably helped the royal navy make sure the crown wasn't watering down its ration of hooch. Whatever the reason, I'm happy a few new producers are raising the alcohol levels without raising the prices.

Plymouth Navy Strength Gin $33.99 - Finally here, the 57% version of Plymouth Gin is a huge improvement over the standard expression. The pepper is more vibrant, the botanicals more herbacious, and the gin finally feels like it's in balance. I've always liked Plymouth, but I really like this. There's no going back at this point. You're getting a massively-potent, high-quality gin for the same price as most average craft distiller gins. This will be limited.

Leopold Bros Navy Strength Gin $44.99This high-octane, full-throttle gin is loaded with herbacious character and tons of bitter citrus peel. Even at 57%, it doesn't feel overproofed, but rather in total balance. What I really like is that Todd Leopold didn't just bottle his standard formula with more alcohol. It's an entirely new formula for people looking to make serious cocktails. Try it in a Tom Collins or gin and tonic and taste how wonderfully concentrated the flavor is!

Royal Dock Navy Strength Gin $27.99 - Eric Seed found a real winner with this one, and an incredible value to boot. Hayman has come up with a steal of a deal - a bold, cuttingly dry and herbacious London Dry gin that's almost too much. You can't help but keep drinking it, despite the fact that your liver and kidneys are screaming otherwise.

Martin Miller's Westbourne Strength London Dry Gin $29.99 - Not quite navy strength, this higher-proof gin (45.7%) from Martin Miller offers a less-biting, more floral and citric flavored flavor profile. It's classic in every way and marries well with just about every cocktail ingredient.  A very good gin.

-David Driscoll