What's New This Week?

Back at work today. Lots to taste. Lots of new stuff to think about.

While I was entertained by all of the talk on the Whisky Advocate blog this week about super high-end whiskies, I'm not too worried about those prices. I'm worried about the prices on whisky that I can afford, or maybe I should say could once afford. Another week of placing orders has been met with more hikes on the brands you all know so well. It's not noticeable to most consumers because K&L isn't going to change their price every week, nor is any other retailer. That's not a feasible business model. Nevertheless, my invoices keep showing up with prices $1.25, $2.00 higher per bottle than previously. Jesus, freakin' Mount Gay Rum went up $5 per bottle this week!  Their wholesale cost is now higher than our previous retail! It's getting out of hand.

When we see Laphroaig 10 go from $29.99, to $32.99, to $36.99, and eventually to $42.99 (yes, that's coming soon) within the span of six months, something crazy must be going on. There are shortages that are driving prices, but the market has yet to balk at any increase so far. Whisky companies have yet to experience their Netflix moment. Until that happens, get ready to start spending more money for the products you love. Macallan is scheduled for their second increase of 2012 in October.  Buffalo Trace, I've heard, will take an increase company-wide by the end of the year. In some cases, it's just the natural course of inflation that most markets experience over time. In others, its a blatent attempt to keep profits consistent despite a shortage of physical product to sell.

Here are some things I tasted earlier today that I'm pretty excited about:

With Oktoberfest ready to begin next week, now is the perfect time to reintroduce one of Germany's top distillers back to K&L.  They've switched distributors and the pricing is now lower than it was before (a welcome relief after a week of price increases). I really enjoyed all four of these products, so much so that I've invited them to pour in our Redwood City store next week.  We'll be having our own little Oktoberfest next Wednesday to celebrate the long tradition of German fruit distillation. For all the Clear Creeks, St. Georges, and Old World Spirits, we have to remember that most American producers were inspired by the German/Austrian producers we rarely see in the states. The Schladerer family has been distilling since 1844, passing down the knowledge from generation to generation. We'll be bringing in the kirschwasser and himbeergeist (cherry and raspberry eau de vies) which are filling in a serious hole for us at K&L.  We haven't had any true German schnapps available for years. The kirsch and himbeer liqueurs are also quite stunning.  The liqueurs will be $30 for a full 750ml, while the brandies will come in at $38 for the himbeergeist and $44 for the kirschwasser. Please come next Wednesday if you can make it. I'm very excited to start featuring more booze aus der Schwarzwald. Ich kann mich nicht daran erinnern, als ich so begeistert war! Ja wohl! 

Sullivans Cove. A small single malt distillery in Tasmania that has been quietly making outstanding whisky since 1994. I say "outstanding" having only read the reviews from guys like Jim Murray, who have been rating their whisky very highly for years. JVS has finally reached a deal to bring their products into the U.S. and I was very excited to taste them today. All three expressions are eleven years of age, which gives us in the states a chance to peer into the future at what our own craft distillation boom might eventually offer. Much like Kilchoman or any other small producer, their prices are not inexpensive. Couple that with the importation costs of shipping from Australia and the extra decade their malts have over most other American craft distillers and you're talking some serious cash.  Are the whiskies worth it? That's not something I can answer for others, but I don't think they're outrageously priced. Not when there's so much crap on the market at comparable levels. I like all three, but the Doublewood (aged in both American and French oak - ex-Bourbon and ex-Port) is very nice, almost like an unsherried version of Linkwood. It's bottled at 40% and will come in around $90. The American and French Oak batches are bottled at cask strength 47.5% and are far more intense. The American Oak whisky is a spicier version of the Doublewood, while the French Oak is darker, richer, and almost sherry-like.  The flavors are familiar, yet new and exciting at the same time. I'll be bringing in all three expressions for those who are interested in what's been going on down under.

David OG should have an email for all of you on the insider list tomorrow. Lots of new Bourbons to discuss, plus a few other knick-knacks.  See you then!

-David Driscoll 


Champagne Cocktails

K&L Champagne buyer Gary Westby is really enjoying the Uncorked Wine Blog as of late. Our work here on the Spirits Journal has inspired him to unleash his inner blog nerd. Every Friday is Champagne day on Uncorked and Gary has been wanting to do more research on Champagne cocktails for an in-depth article. Since our desks are right next to each other in the Redwood City office building, we have plenty of time to discuss the inner-workings of our jobs. Gary had a few sample bottles from K&L's exclusive, direct import Champagne selection next to his chair and he wanted me to use these wines for some cocktail exercise. Being the dedicated worker that I am, I sat down this weekend for some experimentation based on a list of classics from the pantheon of Champagne cocktails. Mr. Erik Ellestad also suggested two drinks for good measure.  Here's how they went:

Death in the Afternoon

If you want to be a real man's man, reading Ernest Hemingway's writing is a good tutorial. The masculine author supposedly invented this drink as it was posted in a book of cocktails from 1935 with his instructions to:

Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly

Using the fabulous, pinot noir-driven Elizabeth Goutorbe Champagne, one of Gary's best acquisitions for our K&L direct import Champagne program, I followed Hemingway's instructions precisely. You would think that a jigger of full proof absinthe would completely destroy the delicate flavors of the Champagne. Surprisingly, it does not.  The nuttiness from the wine marries well with the anise from the St. George absinthe.  It's not a drink I'm in a hurry to make again, but it might be fun for a group of testosterone-driven men to drink something other than beer or whisky while trading war stories.

French 75

I know this is one of Gary's favorite cocktails, as he has posted on the Uncorked blog before. He's got his own special recipe for a rather massive pre-meal goblet, but I thought I'd go with Dale Degroff's measurements for something different. Despite the French 75's storied history – invented in 1915 at the New York Bar in Paris – I'd never really dabbled with this cocktail before. 

1 oz. Cognac

3/4 oz. simple syrup

1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice

Shake the first three ingredients well with ice and strain into a goblet with ice. Top with Champagne.

I loved this drink. My wife loved this drink. It's delicious. The Goutorbe marries perfectly with the richness from the Ferrand 1840, a Cognac at 45% made especially for mixing, and the sweet/sour balance of the lemon juice with simple syrup (again, I'm using Erik Adkins cold stir method rather than boiling, which really works well). I'll be buying Champagne in the future for this drink specifically.

Kir Royale

The classic Kir cocktail is made with creme de cassis and Aligote white wine from Burgundy. With Champagne instead of Aligote, it becomes a Kir Royale. I've heard that a 1/10 ratio of cassis to wine is the official recipe, but I decided to just dollop in a quarter ounce or so and filler up.

1/4 oz Creme de Cassis

Top with Champagne in a traditional flute.

Again, another classic drink that I just never think about making. I'd usually rather just drink Champagne straight, but the Chermette Cassis is outstanding and the cocktail itself is a beautiful color. For something out of the ordinary, I'd definitely make this again. Especially for parties. The richness of the liqueur and the acidity of the wine make a wonderful pair.

IBF Pick-Me-Up

I had never heard of this drink, but it appeared on a list that Erik sent me and he's previously tackled it here. I think I added a bit too much Champagne in the end, but I could see this being quite lovely if done by someone more professional (like Erik).

In a wineglass place one lump of Ice, 3 dashes of Fernet Branca (1 tsp. Fernet), 3 dashes of Curacao (1 tsp. Grand Marnier), one liqueur glass of Brandy (1 1/2 oz Cognac), fill remainder with Champagne. Stir and squeeze lemon peel on cocktail glass.

I need to try this one again.

I know many people who feel that Champagne is simply too precious to be wasted on cocktails. I used to feel the same way. However, the simple balance of the Kir Royale and lovely freshness of the French 75 have me thinking otherwise.  The strengths of a truly fine Champagne, like the Elizabeth Goutorbe, are only highlighted if mixed properly. Gary also wanted me to know that Champagne keeps perfectly well for a few days in the fridge with a stopper attached, so there's no need to feel like you have to finish the bottle once it's been opened.  Overall, this was a very enlightening experience and the genre is one I am excited to return to quite soon. 

-David Driscoll


Enjoy Your Weekend

We're calling it a day.

-David Driscoll


Following Up on the Lesson: The Army & Navy

Last night I followed up on one of Jennifer Colliau's "lost cocktail" recipes.  She dug into the old David Embury book, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), pulled it from page 235 and tweaked Embury's own 8:2:1 ratio in place of the 2:1:1 listed.  I followed Jen's specifications:

The Army Navy Cocktail

- 2 oz. gin

- 1/2 oz. Small Hand Foods Orgeat

- 1/2 oz. lemon juice

Shake with ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass

This is basically a Gin Sour with Orgeat used as the simple syrup. I thought the Orgeat added a nice creamy texture, but I think I'm going to lighten up on the lemon juice next time around and add a bit more Orgeat to give the almond notes more life.

In any case, this is a simple, easy, deliciously dry aperitif cocktail to wet your whistle before a meal.

-David Driscoll


Whisky Season 2012: First Two Casks on the Shelf!

The pre-arrival orders have been processed, so I'm putting these two babies on the shelf!  Reviews so far have been very, very positive, both from customers who have tasted and our staff members.  The Laphroaig is freakin' fantastic, much better than I remember it tasting in Scotland.  David and I were at one point considering not taking it, but now I don't know what we could have been thinking.  Transfers to SF and LA will be done next week. Redwood City people can begin feasting now!

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $109.99

1994 Laphroaig 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Chieftain's Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $139.99

The Laphroaig is going to fly once people start tasting it.  At 55% it drinks beautifully with no additional water needed, really. 

-David Driscoll