Weekend Thoughts

This weekend I was once again reminded of the similarities between booze and art.  Here are a few musings:

– While watching the first epsiode from this season's Project Runway with my wife (a show that has taught me a lot about doing my job, I should add), the two judges discussed whether a contestant was good enough to make the cut:

"I wouldn't wear her clothes personally, but I think they would sell right off the rack."

I've felt the same way about whisk(e)y many a time.  There are whiskies that I personally wouldn't buy for myself, but I still think they have general appeal and should be included in the K&L selection.  It seems that the judges on PR are divided between the designs that are easy to like and the more challenging fashion that appeals to their sense of art.  Spirits are no different.  The difficulty on PR is that they have to eventually choose one winner.  Fortunately, I do not.  I get to have shelves and shelves of both types!

– Driving in the car yesterday, I was listening to some old Sonic Youth songs and remembering how much I loved their music in high school.  In all honesty (which I have to confess if I want to make this point), I think I liked the idea of Sonic Youth back then. Much like Christian Lander claims that white people like "the idea of soccer," I thought that people might be impressed by my musical tastes, seeing that Sonic Youth were always the critical darlings without much general fanfare. I, therefore, perhaps stood out a bit from the crowd by professing my admiration for the art-house rockers.  Just like in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, there are certain records you just have to own if you want any credibility as a serious music fan.  The same is entirely true about wine and spirits.

I think there's a certain amount of pretending going on in the booze world, but it's mostly innocent.  I definitely liked Sonic Youth (and I probably like them even more now), but I don't think they were actually my favorite band like I claimed they used to be.  I've seen the same type of relationship with esoteric Burgundy or Loire Valley reds that possess a certain cool factor when brought to a dinner party.  Ultimately, they're never really the most friendly wines, but they are interesting.  However, you get the same type of street cred if you talk about how much better they are than California Pinot Noir, even if the Swan Russian River really was the most enjoyable of the evening.

If you define yourself by the musical artists you admire, then telling people what you drink is no different than telling people what you listen to – you always craft that list carefully to include some interesting, off-beat choices in between some safe selections.  If you've ever read High Fidelity, or even seen the movie, it's really the same thing going on at K&L.

-David Driscoll


Mark Your Calender!

Charles Neal will be invading the San Francisco store this Wednesday evening to pour some Chateau Pellehaut brandies, including two K&L exclusive vintages!  Don't miss your chance to taste some of the best Armagnac we've ever carried - for FREE. 

Redwood City will be hosting Boyd & Blair vodka for another session on macerating your own herbs and spices into a collection of homemade bitters.

Tastings start at 5 PM and run until 6:30.  See you there!

-David Driscoll


More Fun Stuff

Jacob Lustig, the fabulously-connected importer who brings us the jaw-dropping ArteNOM tequilas, is back with his latest Mexican acquisition - Vallet bitter liqueurs.  In 1864, Henri Vallet moved to emigrated to Mexico from France and chose to stay put in his adopted homeland.  By the 1880s, he had become one of Mexico City's premier distillers.  Over 120 years later, the brand is still going strong and, with the new American palate for French and Italian bitters, the time was right to cross the Northern border.  The Fernet Vallet is made from a maceration of aromatic plants, roots and spices including cinnamon, clove, Quassia wood, gentian root and cardamom.  It doesn't have that menthol note that Fernet fans adore, but it is a fantastic expression nonetheless.  The Vallet Amargo Angostura is made from Angostura bark and a maceration of cherry fruits, cloves and other roots and spices.  It's the more traditional of the two, mirroring things like Nonino or Montenegro, but with that Angostura note that you get from the eponymous bitters.  Both are well under $30 and should make fans of the genre very happy.

We've all been a bit disappointed by the shortage of Tempus Fugit spirits since Gran Classico took the world by storm.  Supply and production issues have plagued the beloved producer, but we're happy to report that the Liqueur De Violette is back in stock for the time being.  Still no word on the Cassis or Menthe, but the Gran Classico should reappear in late August.  I have no idea if this is a temporary fix or if they plan to keep this around for awhile, so if you know you like this stuff it would be good to buy in early.

-David Driscoll


Spirits of Über-Geekdom

Keep your eyes peeled for these goodies very soon.  Charbay distillery in Napa acquired about 6,000 gallons of the super popular Racer 5 IPA a while back and, in classic Marko style, decided to distill it rather than drink it.  The spirit was then split off into two batches - one that was aged in stainless steel for a little more than a year and another than was put into French Oak for the same amount of time.  For beer fanatics that want to taste some super hoppy whiskey, these are for you.  I thought they did their job very well, exhibiting that fruity and fragrantly bitter character of the beer in the form of a spirit.  We won't have them in stock for another week or so, but expect the unaged to list around $50 while the aged will come in around the $75 mark.  Marko has continued his experiment of transforming drinkable, high-quality beer into high proof booze with great results.

We've got this one in stock right now, but it's only for the most fanatical spirits geeks that exist, who at the same time also happen to have a passion for the most esoteric, remote wines in the world (i.e. me, David and Kyle).  Macvin is like Pineau des Charentes from France's wild and mountainous Jura region - a sweet wine fortified with unaged marc (like grappa from France).  If you've ever had the Domaine Labet Marc de Jura we carry (another incredibly geeky thing to love), the Domaine Macle Macvin de Jura has those same hay-like, grassy aromas with that hint of funk on the nose.  The finish, however, is all sweet, golden raisins and slightly oxidized sherry.  This style of wine has been made in the Jura since the 14th century, but we've never seen one at K&L until today. It's quite delicious and should make a fantastic addition to that Jura wine and spirit party you were planning on throwing this weekend anyway.

-David Driscoll


A Few More Words About Blending

Something that Chuck Cowdery told me the other day should have been addressed in our more recent posts about Bourbon and that's the idea of consistency.  Big brands have to be consistent from batch to batch, otherwise they're not dependable and there's nothing consumers hate more than inconsistent flavor and quality. If every can of Coke or Pepsi tasted a bit different than the last one you had, neither brand would be nearly as successful as they are today.  Jack Daniels, Bulleit, Jim Beam, and every other big money brand needs to taste the same every time.  People hang their hat on the flavor of these whiskies and just how is it they achieve this flavor on a regular basis?  By marrying gigantic amounts of whiskey together.

There's a reason that the Templeton and Bulleit ryes taste different from one another, despite the fact they're basically made from the same whiskey.  Templeton is using smaller batches, while Diageo is dumping huge amounts of LDI booze into each release.  The smaller the amount of barrels being used, the more likely that a single barrel or flavor will dominate part of the overall flavor.  The more barrels used in the recipe, the less likely that any single whiskey will throw off the marriage. When you buy a bottle of Van Winkle Lot B versus the Weller 12 year, this is essentially the difference.  The Van Winkle batch is a vatting of specific 12 year old wheated Buffalo Trace barrels from specific warehouse locations they prefer.  The Weller 12 is a much larger soup.  That's why, even though they're essentially the same juice, the flavors are not quite the same.  It's that special attention to detail that warrants the extra money for the Van Winkle bottle. 

The same process happens in Scotland.  Laphroaig distillery for example has no real master blender because they're not making different types of whiskies.  The Laphroaig 10 year is literally just a marriage of the three-hundred casks closest to the door.  Contrast that with Ardbeg, whose Uigeadail and Corryvreckan whiskies are carefully crafted recipes of young and old stock from former blender Rachel Barrie.  One method isn't necessarily better than the other, but the latter is definitely more time consuming.  If a whisk(e)y comes as the result of extra attention and detail, specific measurements and equations, then it takes longer to make and time, as we all know, is money.  If a whisk(e)y just requires the dumping of x number of casks into a stainless steel tank, then it can be made much faster and more efficiently. 

The idea of crafting a specific flavor is something we're definitely paying for with certain whiskies and it demands an amount of respect.  Not all whiskies are created equally and we need to pay more attention to making these facts known to the consumer.  Sometimes they feel they're getting ripped off, when in fact they're paying for precision.

-David Driscoll