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Tuesday
Sep132016

A Rare Faultline Single Malt Edition

It's been a while since we bottled a cask of single malt whisky under our exclusive Faultline label, but in conjunction with our friends at Seven Grand in LA, we decided to co-purchase a barrel of Caol Ila and do a little co-branding. Keeping true with our tradition, we brought in another local artist to do the label. Linh Do, who posts her incredible whisky-related artwork on Instagram as "whiskyanorach," created this maritime-inspired image for our Islay delight. Rum barrel-aged Caol Ila definitely reminds one of the sea! The nose is an explosion of both freshly-cut and burnt peat, mixed with a little sea breeze. The rum influence comes later on the palate as a subtle sweet highlight to a classically Caol Ila profile of creamy fruit and bright smoke. The finish flutters with a flurry of fresh baking spices before morphing back into a phenolic frenzy. Nothing about this whisky feels overtly powerful or brash despite the 58% ABV. Everything about this Faultline Caol Ila moves as gently as the wind and waves upon a mellow, rum-soaked sea. Only 261 bottles were tapped from this barrel and a large portion of those went to Seven Grand's back bar. Available for a limited time only!

2009 Caol Ila 6 Year Old "Faultline/Seven Grand" Single Rum Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $69.99

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Sep112016

Respect

CM Punk was never my favorite WWE wrestler. Unlike millions of other fans, I wasn't inspired or intrigued by his unique style or his famous speeches when I watched Monday Night Raw. However, two years after walking out on top, leaving the industry behind, and attempting a new career as an MMA fighter, my feelings about CM Punk have completely changed. After last night—despite the quick loss and the busted face—I am now a HUGE CM Punk fan. His post-fight speech after getting beaten quite handily was nothing short of inspiring. He wasn't dejected, or embarrassed, or down on himself; nor was he mad, or defensive, or attempting to make excuses. He had a huge grin on his face. His ear was twice its normal size, he had cuts around his eye, but the man was ecstatic. It was never about winning for Punk. It was about taking a shot and having the guts to try something new at age 37 (I'll turn 37 this December, so it's a bit close to home for me).

You can read a hundred other in-depth articles about this subject (I recommend this one) that are much more informative than this little post, so I'll get to my favorite part about this Punk story. What's funny to me is how negative, sarcastic, and snarky some MMA fans were about Punk's performance, yet how much respect the actual MMA fighters had for what he did. Even UFC star Conor McGregor, one of Punk's biggest detractors and a known WWE hater, showed his respect in a brief interview after the event. "Fair play to Punk. He got in there and faught," he said when asked about his feelings. The gulf of opinion between the real fighters and the guys on the internet who like to comment about fighting was huge. 

In the end, Punk lost. "See? I told you he would," said many a person. But if you thought the story of CM Punk fighting in the UFC was about him turning into a world class martial artist in less than two years, winning his first fight, and becoming the next great UFC champion, you're missing the point. You know who didn't miss the point though? The actual UFC fighters. Because only they know what it's like to get in that octagon. It's their respect that Punk earned, even if the brave and all-knowing armchair warriors of the world still think otherwise. There's a big difference between talking about something, and doing it. People in any industry know that (even the drinks business). That's why Punk was all smiles last night. That's why he was on top of the world. He had the courage to get in the ring and take a beating, and that was a milestone for him. In the end, he had nothing to prove to anyone but himself.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Sep092016

More Fun Stuff From Italy

It's always fun to be surprised by an appointment and discover exciting new stuff when you really have little expectation going in. More than any other country, Italy has all these old timey booze labels that don't necessarily reflect what's in the bottle. We're so used to serious, modern, or romantically rustic artwork these days that it's surprising to find something of a high quality in more jovial packaging. Italy seems to be full of that type of stuff, however, and I find it endearing. I discovered the products of Distilleria Caffo after tasting with an Italian food importer who is distributing the brand in California. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Italy is full of secrets like this and I think there are plenty more still to be discovered by cocktail crazy Americans in search of new adventures. Distilleria Caffo is located in Calabria, south of Naples on the toe of the boot. It's a fourth generation family company and the products are honest, natural, and affordable. I bought everything they presented to me because, for the price, how could I not??! Here's what just came in:

Distilleria Caffo Amaretto $21.99- One of the few truly great amarettos on the market, this outstanding liqueur from Caffo distillery is made from 100% Sicilian almonds and subtle herbal infusions. There are no chemical additives, just natural flavors and colors from pure Italian produce! If you're a baker, this is definitely the way to go.

Distilleria Caffo Amaro del Capo $27.99- This bitter liqueur from Calabrian herbs is one of the most popular amari in all of Italy, and now it's finally available again at K&L. 29 different herbs are infused into the spirit including orange peel, licorice, camomile, tangerine peel, and juniper to create a bitter, citric, and spicy elixir with supreme versatility.

Distilleria Caffo Dominique Brandy $25.99- Brandy Dominique was the first spirit produced by Distilleria Caffo back in 1915, a company now in its fourth generation of family distillation. Pot distilled and aged for more than three years in oak, this is the value brandy we've been waiting for from Italy. Sidecars, Manhattans, and more await you!

Distilleria Caffo Mezzodi Aperitivo 1L $18.99- From Caffo distillery in Calabria, on the toe of Italy just south of Naples, comes this delicious, inexpensive, Campari-like substitute, brimming with juicy Italian citrus and a nice level of bitterness. Less sweet than Aperol and lighter than Campari, you can use it in a spritz, Americano, or a Negroni quite effectively. Tonic water also adds an extra dose of bitter without overwhelming the cocktail. A welcome addition to any bar and a must for Italian amari hunters (and it comes in a liter!!!)

Distilleria Caffo Solara Orange Liqueur $26.99- The abundance of superb citrus in Calabria was the inspiration for this orange liqueur from Caffo. Made from both sweet and bitter oranges, the harmony of flavor is perfectly balanced on the palate. Pick this up instead of Grand Marnier or Cointreau for your next cocktail party.

Distilleria Caffo Liquorice Liqueur $32.99- Licorice liqueur? That's what we said when presented with this fantasic new spirit from Caffo distillery in Calabria. Balanced by infusions of anise, mint, and various other bitter herbs, this is a unique and fasincating expression of "liquorice" in liquid form.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Sep082016

Whiskey Season 2016 – Round Four

Here we go with round four! Don't worry, however, as I've only got one whisky to show you this time. I thought it might be nice to let everyone catch their breath and recover a bit before the next wave hits. Our latest Hepburn's Choice edition is another teaspooned cask, which means once again (as with the Balvenie) we're dealing with a blended malt whisky: one that is 99.9999% Macallan and .0001% something else. I was really overwhelmed by this cask when I tasted it in Glasgow and having tasted it again this morning I'm still impressed. I often hear people say things like "I don't get why Macallan is a big deal," when looking at the astronomical prices for the whisky on the market today. I'll admit: I feel that way as well sometimes, but when I tasted this particular specimen everything came into focus. It's a simple, no frills, ten year old hogshead cask that is as basic as basic gets. But in that simplicity is complete balance and grace. Without the bright lights, the make-up, the pomp, and the heavy Oloroso sherry maturation, Macallan is a pretty damn good whisky. The proof? It's right here. It's all sweet grains, lush fruit, and soft vanilla. But man is it good. So is the price.

2006 William Hepburn (Macallan) 10 Year Old "Hepburn's Choice" Single Barrel Cask Strength Blended Malt Whisky $49.99- Here again we have a "teaspooned" single cask of whisky, meaning the distillery has added a teaspoon of a second malt whisky to prevent the bottler from using the brand name. That doesn't mean we can't tell you who made the whisky, however; it just means we can't market it or label it as a single malt! This ten year old gem of a malt whisky was made at Macallan (all but that teaspoon) and has all the classic fruit flavor one would expect from the classic distillery. It's rich and round on the palate with bright and pleasant notes of stonefruit, honey, rich malted grains, and supple vanilla. It's utterly pleasing and for the price it's a whisky you can't turn your back on. Getting cask strength Macallan is hard enough these days, let alone finding a barrel for this price.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Sep072016

Denver's Distillation Future

Meet Todd Leopold, co-owner and distiller of Leopold Bros distillery in Denver, Colorado. You may think you know him and his products, but I assure you: you do not. While you may be aware of his family's many achievements and the incredible portfolio of spirits they've produced over the last few years, I can promise you this: you have yet to really experience and appreciate just what Todd Leopold's family can do. Sure, his father is a landscape architect who helped decorate one of the most pristine campuses in the industry. Yes, his mother is a textile expert who put together the distillery's stunning interior piece by piece. Of course, his brother Scott (co-owner of the brand) trained as an environmental engineer at Stanford and constructed one of the greenest, most eco-friendly distilleries in the country. This information is common knowledge to the many people who think they know the Leopolds and their business. But what I learned this week is that the products that will ultimately come to define the Leopolds and their distillery have yet to be released. They're sitting in wood, racked in a dunnage style warehouse immediately next to the production facility. They are magnificent spirits, steeped in flavor, tradition, and an incredible amount of historical accuracy—painstakingly researched with a level of sophistication usually reserved only for savants. What we think we know of the Leopolds is founded in the present. We know their current work quite well at this point. What we will come to know them for, however, has yet to be unveiled.

The Leopolds have moved around a great deal in their lives. Their father worked for the government when they were kids and was forced to relocate frequently, rendering the two brothers almost defacto best friends. Their work together has also migrated; the current incarnation of the Leopold Bros distillery is the third of its kind. The first was located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The second was also in Denver, just a few blocks down the road. The latest facility (and hopefully final) has only been operational for about two years now, meaning the whiskey currently being made has yet to hit the market. That’s an important point to consider when evaluating their previous work because the strides they’ve taken since then are unparalleled in the American whiskey scene. Leopold Bros does everything from scratch. 100% of the grains used are floor malted by hand, meaning rye, wheat, and barley. With the exception of their grape-based absinthe and maraska cherry liqueur, all of their base spirits are made in house. Even their silky Silver Tree vodka starts off as a fermented barley, wheat, and potato mash in a Vendome pot still before finishing its distillation on the column. While you may have guessed chemistry, Todd Leopold’s background is actually in malting. From 1995 to 2008, he made beer for a living. He has studied and worked in Germany as well, including a stint at Würzberger Hofbräu, perfecting a number of hefeweizen and pilsner recipes before moving over to distillation. In fact, he's so good at malting that a number of breweries are now coming to him for their base malt. As he if he wasn't busy enough, contract malting has now become a side business for the company.

Properly malting one’s grains also involves drying them in a kiln. Just like at Port Ellen and many of the beloved Japanese distilleries, Leopold is adorned with a romantic pagoda roof through which the warm air is released during that finishing process. While Todd does make single malt whisky, he uses a fan rather than peat smoke as as a heat source because once that smoky, peaty, campfire aroma gets in, there's no getting it out. Seeing that the grains for all his whiskies must pass through the kiln, peat is strictly forbidden. I was curious as to why exactly Todd preferred old fashioned floor malting to the more modern and efficient practices maltsers have developed over the years. Was it just for rusticity's sake, or was there indeed a better flavor that came from more antiquated methods? “A floor malt has its own unique environment," he said to me; "It's cooler than a malting house and it's inconsistent, which is the point." Apparently the malting temperature can vary by two or three degrees throughout the floor, meaning different kernels malt to different levels. "It's inconsistent, but it's not imprecise; I'm monitoring it so there's just enough difference to add depth of flavor," he added. Those small differences create a variance that ultimately adds richness and complexity of flavor in the final spirit. "It's more hands on," he continued, "and a combination of technical science with hands on experience is important when making whiskey.”

The other thing to keep in mind about Leopold Bros is that it isn't all that small of an operation. There are eight different stills operating and about a dozen wooden fermenters, making a number of different spirits at any given time. The variety of different shapes, sizes, and pots allows Todd complete versatility at a level I've never seen at any facility ever. A distillation run might begin on one still, then receive it’s second distillation on a completely different machine, depending on which flavors he's looking for in that particular batch. Believe me—he's constantly geeking out about this stuff. I would explain it to you but it involves a lot of talk about esters, acids, and various chemical compounds. I understand it in theory, but I’ll leave it at that.

Let's talk about this guy now: the big secret that everyone's dying to know more about, from whiskey historians like David Wondrich and Mike Veach, to whiskey super nerds who masterbate over production details and spec sheets. This girthy piece of equipment is called a chamber still and it was once used in a number of American distilleries around the turn of the 20th century and into the mid-1900s. Few people, however, seem to understand exactly how or why it was used. Fortunately for us, Todd is a dedicated researcher and reader of old documents. He spends his free time digging out the recorded minutes from forgotten community farmer meetings, or various malting essays written by brewers in the 1920s. Even Vendome, the heralded American still company that made the equipment for him, doesn't really understand how the chamber still works—and that's exactly how Todd likes it. This is his baby—his reenactment—and he thinks its going to set Leopold Bros apart from the general market in a major way. Working from a design he located in an old diagram of Hiram Walker's former plant in Peoria, Illinois back in 1910, Todd helped to create this three column monster that—despite its look—distills in batches rather than continuously. I don't want to give away too many of Todd's secrets, but lets just say that there is mash loaded into each level and as the liquid vaporizes it passes through the mash as it moves up through the chamber. Think of gin vapor moving through a botanical basket, but instead it's actual whiskey vapor moving the same flavorful whiskey mash from which it was originally boiled. Todd has been distilling rye on this beast for the last six months and the result is pretty ungodly. We're still many years away from a release to market, but expect heads to explode once Todd finally decides to share it. The resulting spirit is far more flavorful and oily than any rye whiskey I've ever tasted. I can't even imagine what it will taste like after four years in wood.

Fermentation technique also sets Leopold Bros apart from many of its colleagues. Todd chooses to ferment his whiskey mash at a much cooler temperature than most Kentucky distilleries, for example. He also lets it go for more than 120 hours which is longer than I've heard of for any whiskey producer. The result is a fruity and complex liquid that has more inherent flavor than just about any whiskey beer I've sampled in my distillery visiting days. It’s slow and low, baby; just like Texas barbecue! Then take into account the other factors that Todd is utilizing like the fact that he's purposely planted fruit trees outside the distillery wall so that, when the windows are opened, the wild and native yeasts from the fruit make their way into the building, embedding themselves in the wooden fermentation tanks. At this point there's so much organic matter playing an active role in Todd's mash that it actually forms a layer of bacteriological flor! I've never even heard of that happening at a whiskey distillery, but apparently it's common in the brewing of sour beers with all that lambic action.

Regardless of what the Leopolds are doing now, it’s what they’ve already created and sold that customers know them by. Two world class gins made by distilling each botanical separately into its own spirit, then blending those resulting spirits into two completely different small batch products. A ridiculously vast and delicious portfolio of liqueurs including three fruit-macerated whiskies that taste like heaven. A Campari-like aperitivo. A pristine vodka and, of course, a small batch American whiskey. However, it’s what’s sitting here in barrel that I believe will some day elevate Leopold Bros from a devoted boutique distillery into the upper echelon of serious American whiskey culture. It’s inside the dunnage warehouse—an exposed floor building with no electricity and all natural lighting—where the temperatures fluctuate greatly between the hot Colorado summers and frigid Denver winters, creating the perfect environment for whiskey maturation. It’s there that you’ll find Leopold Bros single malt, Tennessee style whiskey, Maryland style rye whiskey, Bottled in Bond Bourbon, and the coveted Leopold chamber rye still whiskey still in its infancy. All five whiskies are beyond anything Leopold has brought to the general market thus far, and—with the exception of the Maryland rye—four of them have never been released whatsoever. But it’s not just the fact that Todd Leopold is making Bourbon, or Tennessee whiskey, or chamber still rye that has me excited. It’s that Todd Leopold is going back into historical manuals, doing his homework, researching even the filling proofs of these former whiskey styles, and incorporating a number of traditional and overlooked techniques long forgotten by the current generation of distillers in order to do so.

From the particular strain of the barley and rye, to the hands on specifics of floor malting, to the kilning and the milling of the grain, to the cultivation of yeast, to the time and temperature of fermentation, to the type of still, to the charring of the barrel, to the natural conditions of the warehouse, Todd Leopold has geeked out about the minute details of whiskey production to a level perhaps unseen in this business. He’s not only the co-owner of his company; he’s the bonafide expert of every single process of its production from front to back. In the process, he’s become a beacon of American distillation knowledge; a veritable sponge of semantics. But does that maniacal level of dedication make the whiskey taste better, you ask? I don’t want to ruin the ending of such a great story so far in advance, but you’ll know in a few more years—right about the time the Leopold brothers take over the world. What you should be most excited about is this: everything that American farmers, maltsters, brewers, and distillers have discarded and removed from whiskey production over the last century in the name of efficiency and economics has been painstakingly researched, rediscovered, and reinserted back into the process by Todd Leopold. Come bottling time circa 2019, you’re all going to find out exactly what you’ve been missing. You’re going to find out a lot more about the Leopolds and their incredible spirits than you thought you knew.

-David Driscoll