Humble Beginnings

There have been a few interactions in the store lately that have caused me two dwell upon some early experiences in my booze education.  We had a customer in yesterday carrying Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible, scavenging through the aisles in search of the varietals she needed for her studies.  Seeing that book instantly brought me back to Millbrae, summer of 2007, when I lived with my wife (then girlfriend), our one small room in the basement of our landlord’s house, skimming that book under dim light through the characteristics of each grape, running back and forth to Safeway, purchasing bottles that hopefully fit the description. I was still going to grad school, working part-time, so spending $16 on a bottle of Bonny Doon Cardinal Zin was absolutely crazy, but I so badly wanted to know what it tasted like.  That’s how my wine education began.  Not at a dinner table, or in a beautiful wine cellar, or in a fancy restaurant, but rather on an old double mattress, in a dank, underground bedroom, with whatever I could find at the supermarket.

While stocking the liquor shelves in the afternoon, I overheard someone discussing wine glasses and how they needed to get a set for their home.  It was clear this person was new to the wine game, but he was adamant about only drinking “high-end” stuff.  Therefore, he was only interested in glassware that could support wines of quality, not low quality glass for drinking the rinky-dink, everyday slop.  Besides the misguided belief that fine wine cannot be enjoyed from an eight-dollar wine glass, the unnerving part of that conversation relates to society’s obsession with only drinking the “best,” while skipping over the unimportant parts.

Crime author Jo Nesbo has a character in his book Nemesis who only buys greatest hits compellations on CD because he doesn’t have time for anything but the best.  I laughed out loud reading that.  There’s no way to understand context if you haven’t experienced everything, but sometimes people are more concerned about appearance than actual understandingYou can’t understand Steinbeck just by reading the Grapes of Wrath.  You’ve got to read Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, and East of Eden too, even though they’re not as famous.  Buying a fancy camera with expensive lenses won’t make you a professional photographer.  You still need to understand how to use a standard manual SLR before you’re ever going to take better pictures. 

When I look back at drinking inexpensive wine from mis-matched glasses on the floor of my overcrowded bedroom, I don’t think of those times with any sense of embarrassment.  Realizing how my experience has led me to different tastes only makes those beginning stages more important.  I could never realize the beauty of the Ridge Geyserville had I never tasted the Cardinal Zin.  I would never appreciate Tavel rose were it not for the jugs of white zinfandel I chugged during college.  Don’t feel the need to pretend you’re not from humble origins if you are.  Those roots are requisite for any serious appreciation of booze.  Any embarrassment or regret should stem from never having had those experiences, not the other way around.

-David Driscoll


Ardbeg Day - You've Got A Few Minutes....

Feast upon the glory of Ardbeg……..

Ardbeg "Ardbeg Day" Single Malt Whisky 750ml (1 bottle limit) $89.99 - This super-limited release from Ardbeg comes just in time for the annual festival on Islay and the planned June 1st Ardbeg Day celebration world-wide.  Eponymously titled the "Ardbeg Day" whisky, this marriage of casks sees an extra six months maturation in sherry casks for a richer, more full-bodied Ardbeg experience.  Ginger and wood spice on the nose leads into a spicy, yet creamy palate of burnt sugar and big time peat.  The finish shows faint traces of stewed fruit and more fresh, bright peaty notes.  Another fantastic malt from the rock star of the whisky industry.  One bottle limit per person.  These will be gone in a flash.  Grab it while you can. This will likely be the most talked about release of 2012. 

ONE BOTTLE ONLY.  Anyone who tries to buy more than one on various orders will have ALL orders cancelled.  Don’t risk it.  We’re watching you!

These are only the bottles for the North, so there should be one more drop.  LA should be getting another 30 or so if you miss out today.  Have at it. UPDATE: LA now has their bottles so all inventory is live. 

-David Driscoll


Still Stocking - Now Working On Bruichladdich

While Kyle is busy stocking all the new booze from today's earlier post below, I'm frantically adding all the tasting notes in the system for the new Bruichladdich releases.  Then I've got to get it all on the shelf!  Here's what just arrived:

Octomore 4.2 Comus Heavily Peated Islay Whisky $189.99 - Peated at 167 ppm and run at a slow drip through the still, the Octomore from Bruichladdich is the peatiest whisky in the world. At a whopping 61%, this new 4.2 Comus release has been finished in Chateau d'Yquem casks, adding richness to the bright, almost cinnamon-like peat of the Octomore whisky. Rich golden raisins with a peaty punch in the face. Tropical fruits smoked and caramelized to high Heaven. This is not for the faint of heart, yet it's something everyone should try at least once (and perhaps several times for the truly hedonistic).

Octomore 4.1 Heavily Peated Islay Whisky $189.99 - For a whisky peated at 167 ppm, the peat almost blurs, much like light does on a starship entering warp speed. Big smoke, big spice, earth and bog, heather and flowers, all passing through the palate like a rocket. It's everything Bruichladdich promises it to be and more. It's also 62.5% so watch out.

Bruichladdich Black Art 2nd Edition 21 Year Old Islay Single Malt Whisky $169.99 - Always one of Bruichladdich's more esoteric offerings, yet by no means less brilliant, the Black Art series alludes to Jim McEwan's almost devilish ability to conjure up flavors never-before seen in single malt whisky. Using a combination of various wine casks, this 21 year old whisky undergoes a transformation that takes the rich, oily textures of old Bruichladdich and combines it with cherries, blackberries, currants, and a melee of other red-fruited delights. The vanilla and oak come smoothly on the finish. It's a decadent whisky and it's always quick to sell out. Grab it while it's here.

PC8 - Port Charlotte Ar Duthchas Islay Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - Bruichladdich's Port Charlotte project only continues to progress and evolve into some of the best peated whisky in the business. This eighth release is full of salty sea spray with doses of citrus and bright peat tones on the nose, combining with the oily, textural mouthfeel that defines this distillery. Soft oak on the finish smooths everything out. Another great achievement.

Port Charlotte An Turas Mor Islay Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - Finally! We've got a full-time peated expression from Bruichladdich, not a one-off, limited release we all have to rush out and secure. Not that you shouldn't get one of the An Turas Mor immediately because it might be the best deal in peated Islay at the moment. For $60 you get more sweetness than Ardbeg, less oil than Bowmore, less sherry than Lagavulin, and more richness than Laphroaig. Creamy, yet peaty at the same time. This is the missing link for peated Islay we've been desperately waiting for.

Bruichladdich Organic Islay Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - While the Bruichladdich 10 is getting all the accolades, as it should, the new permanent Organic release is quietly winning over distillery visitors with its gentle grain and vanilla character. Made from the barley of organic Scottish mainland farms, the clean and malty nature of the whisky shines in a way that other straightforward Scotches seem to miss. That's to say that a flavor profile some find boring or bland in basic single malts seems to work fantastically well with the Organic. No longer simply a limited vintage release, the multi-vintage vatting smoothes out some of the harshness from the previous 2003 release and reigns in the power. The citrus is delicate, the vanilla elegant, and the notes of honey and blossom wither in and out on the palate. A wonderfully easy-going whisky made by good people and very special barley.

-David Driscoll


Stocking The Shelves

We've got a lot of new booze hitting the shelves this week.  Taking two weeks off seemed to thin out our supply a bit, so I'm doing everything I can to fill it back up again.  Getting all of the bitters moved to a separate area in Redwood City has opened up the top of our shelves for more retail space, giving me a bit more room to expand.  Today, while I've been upstairs pumping out the orders, Kyle has been in the warehouse cutting boxes and filling carts.  Here's a sneak peek at some of our new arrivals this week:

The arrival of Tequila 916 fills a great niche for us here at K&L.  We've got the $20 price point covered for quality mixing with brands like Espolon and Calle 23.  We've got the high-end, $40+ sippers covered with ArteNOM, Arette and Gran Dovejo.  However, what about the crossover, in-between deal at $28-$32 that can easily translate into either category?  I give you Tequila 916 – a new tequila with the bright, fresh agave flavor to hold up in a mixed drink, but with the quality and complexity to warrant slow sipping.  The packaging is great, the bottles are sleek, the juice is good, and the price is fantastic.  Overall, it's a retailer's dream come true.

Tequila 916 Blanco Tequila $28.99 – The blanco is more vibrant than the average brand name bottles, focusing on the pepper and citrus rather than just going for "smooth."  As a bonafide blanco fanatic, I'm overjoyed that they went this route, rather than simply adding another neutral, inoffensive tequila to the overcrowded mix.  The alcohol is still completely in check, however, and the finish is clean, lingering with baking spices.  Whether you shoot it, mix it, or sip it, there's no way to ingest this Tequila 916 that won't end up pleasurable – especially when you consider the fact that it's less than $30.

Tequila 916 Reposado Tequila $31.99 – The cinnamon and vanilla comes wafting right out of the glass, fulfilling all expectations for a classic reposado tequila. The palate is clean and gentle, with more soft richness before finishing with a bit of white pepper.  Again, for $32 you simply can't argue with the price.  What a deal.

Tequila 916 Añejo Tequila $33.99 – Much like my appreciation for the more traditionally-styled Tequila 916 blanco, I'm once again relieved that they didn't feel the need to pump in the caramel and create a Cognac instead of an añejo tequila.  The extra barrel spice is there, more clove and cinnamon, but the agave pepper is never overwelmed in spite of it.  The finish is spicy and fun, unlike many more expensive añejos in the market.  Well done.

I think what's exciting about Tequila 916 is the fact that all three expressions are equally as good.  Usually, most brands have a blanco that stands out, but struggle with the reposado or añejo.  In the case of Tequila 916, there isn't one expression I would recommend over another – all are equally solid and represent tremendous value for the money, as well as utility.  They're obviously not made for the tequila geeks of the world, but they're not boring or bland either.  I'm excited to see what people think.

Who said all we deal with is the expensive stuff?  In conjunction with our new bargain tequilas, we're bringing in the bargain rum of 2012.  As I mentioned a while back, I met with Ricardo March from Ron Abuelo last week and retasted their line up of all-estate produced Panamanian rums.  We've carried their top-shelf Centuria rum for some time – a fantastically complex rum for serious cigar smokers – however, where was my head when I passed on carrying the seven year?  The Ron Abuelo 7 Year Old Rum is only $24.99 and has the subtle sweetness, rich molasses, and smooth texture to be the best-selling rum at K&L.  I can't imagine anyone not loving this.  You might as well hate puppies or kittens if you don't.

Here's another new product I had meant to bring in before we left for Scotland, but completely forgot to do so.  DOG has had it in the Hollywood store for a little while already, so here are his notes:

Amaro di S. Maria al Monte Bitter Liqueur in a 1 Liter bottle! $36.99 - The Vignale company has produced the S. Maria Amaro since 1911, but the recipe goes back generations before that. It was first created by the monks of the Santa Maria Monastery near Florence. In the last half of the 18th century, the monks donated the recipe to the Duke of Aosta as a show of loyalty. In 1911, Mr. Vignale purchased the recipe and began producing it for the Liguarian region. The ingredients are 100% natural with absolutely no artificial flavors or colors. Each herb, root, and plant is macerated by hand to prevent heating by mechanized processing. Any type of heating, during maceration or infusion, will result in evaporation of the essential oils and limit the potential complexity of flavor. Once the infusion is filtered it is allowed to age for a long period of time to ensure mellowness and integration of flavors. Some of the ingredients used are Chinese Rhubarb, China Root, Gentian Root, Orange Peel, Angelica, Juniper, Muscat Nut, Saffron, plus many more. This is a truly exceptional after dinner drink and highly versatile cocktail component.

Come on by and check out our newly expanded selection!  It's only getting bigger and better.

-David Driscoll


New to the Shelf Today

Our favorite local barber is at it again, whipping up another round of small, limited distillates for those looking to dive deeper in the super-geekdom that most whiskey nerds find themselves in now and again.  Sal's newest releases are two of his best yet, really capturing the flavors of his base products quite exquisitely.

1512 Aged Wheat Whiskey 375ml $55.99 - Aged in ex-rye barrels, this lightly-colored wheat whiskey captures more of the wheat essence than the "wheated Bourbons" of the world, which use wheat in addition to corn.  The 1512 uses wheat almost entirely in the mashbill, producing a soft, wonderfully toasty spirit of fantastic quality.  1512 may be the only craft distillery in the world worthy of the "boutique" pricing needed to recoup expenses.  Their distillates are perhaps the best around for those interested in whiskey outside the box of standard, large production Bourbon and rye.

1512 Poitin Potato Whiskey 375ml $38.99 - A very limited release from 1512, this Poitin smells like a baked potato and the creaminess with which that potato essence fills the palate makes one wonder why potato vodkas couldn't be more like this.  Grab one while you can.

-David Driscoll