Rum Hunting - Day One - Miami

Let me get this out right now: I freakin' loooove Miami! This place has it all going on. Beautiful scenary, glitzy glam, gorgeous looking people, a melting pot of Caribbean culture, outdoor cafes and bars galore, and a splendid selection of great grub. I had never been to Miami before today, but with a six hour layover looming over my early morning pre-Barbados departure, I decided to come out a day early and spend the day wandering through South Beach. Boy, was that the right move.

Our old pal Nicolas Palazzi emailed me two days ago and told me that I needed to contact a friend of his if I planned to spend a day in Miami. Jennifer Massolo is a Miami based cocktail enthusiast who is currently engaged in a number of education-based projects geared towards bringing the craft spirits culture to her beachfront community. Her blog Spirited Sirens focuses on booze from a feminine perspective and she admits to being a big fan of our K&L Spirits Journal. We connected last night when she told me to drop my bags off at the hotel, catch a cab over to Lincoln Lane, and do some people watching until she could join me. I did as she instructed. I got myself a little cafecito, a Cubano ham sandwich, and walked down to the shore to take in the view. The water in Miami is gorgeous. It's truly on another level from what the Pacific Ocean offers us Western beach goers.

Jen knew I was on the hunt for rum and general Caribbean culture, so our first stop was a Haitian restaurant and bar called Tap Tap. We sat at the counter and looked at the rum selection - Barbancourt all the way across. This was my kind of place. One thing only – loyalty to the culture! I love it. 

I'm in Miami. It's warm and balmy outside. I'm getting the Mojito. And can you please mash up all the ingredients in that gigantic, tribal-looking mortar and pestle? Thanks!

Tap Tap is my kind of place. Simple, spicy, flavorful foods with honest prices and quality ingredients. We started with a Chiktay Salad - lettuce, tomato, avocado, and smoked herring with super spicy chilies chopped up into the cilantro dressing. Then on to the Mayi Moulen - rice and beans mixed with cornmeal, Zepina Nan Sos Kokoye - spinach in coconut sauce, a bowl of fresh shrimp in creole sauce, and a plate of fried plantains. 

And, yes, I would like more passion fruit cocktail with Barbancourt rum, thank you.

Jen and I talked cocktail culture and booze basics for hours as we sipped, sampled, and skipped around South Beach. I had a blast just people watching and getting a sense of the scene. Miami is like New York, Los Angeles, and Italy wrapped all into one. You've got the trendy, urban nightlife of LA, the tall, thin, everyone-is-a-model beauty of NYC, and the cafe culture with the it's-still-cool-to-smoke attitude of Italy. But everyone is speaking Spanish.

What a great place. I will be back soon. Barbados mañana!

-David Driscoll


Rum Country

Tomorrow the K&L Spirits Team will make its first trip to rum country in the hopes of expanding the limited selection of sugar cane distillates in our stores. Of course, we will be reporting live from the road. I'll be in Miami tomorrow for a solo trip to the Calle Ocho, then we're off to Barbados on Monday morning. I've got some high-SPF sunblock, my swimsuit, a copy of Hemingway's Islands in the Stream, and a positive mental outlook. This is a quick trip – a whirlwind of travel for three nights before we're back at the counter ringing up orders. We'll be testing the waters (figuratively business-wise and literally once we're on the beach) to see if K&L can create a third direct component to complement our whisky and brandy programs. Are there great barrels sitting at Mount Gay Distillery for the taking? If there are you know we're going to sniff them out.

Is there business to be done beyond Barbados? Can we get Demerara Distillers in Guyana to open their doors as well? What about Ron Abuelo in Panama? Hopefully we'll know more within the next few days. Stay with us as we document the entire trip here on the K&L Spirits Blog.

-David Driscoll


The Monolith Arrives

It's here. We've got our allocation. It's really good. The new Ealanta - Glenmo's special release for 2013 aged in charred new oak barrels - does one thing and it does it extremely well. It's a big, rich, seamless, warming, supple new oak-driven single malt with a fantastic burst of candied fruit on the finish. It's full of new wood and baking spices, but much more restrained than Bourbon or rye. Everyone needs a bottle like this at home. You'll invite your friends over for dinner, have some Scotch after you're done, and you'll want to taste them on a few different things. However, after they taste that super rare bottle of Ardbeg that you had shipped from overseas or that Brora you've been hoarding for years, they'll kind of look around the room, pause, and say, "Hey, can I try that Ealanta again? That was delicious." You'll sigh, wonder why none of your friends appreciate the effort it took to acquire these hard-to-find whiskies, but you won't be able to argue with their logic. One glass of Ealanta is like a tease. It's too good for just one glass. You'll kill this bottle in two weeks - max.

1993 Glenmorangie Ealanta 19 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $115.99 - It's getting to the point where the annual Glenmorangie special edition release is personally my most anticipated whisky of the year. The peated Finealta from two years back was a splendid release, super refined and very lithe on the palate. Last year's Artein was simply magical - it was easily in my top three favorites of the year. 2013 brings us another slam dunk, gotta-have-it, masterpiece release with the Ealanta: a 19 year old whisky aged in new oak from Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest. While that may not sound too interesting to the average whisky fan, it is very unusual for single malt whisky to see new wood - especially charred. American Bourbon must always be aged in new oak barrels, but Scottish single malt is almost exclusively aged in ex-Bourbon or ex-Sherry casks, which have already been seasoned with a previous liquid. The barrels used to age the Ealanta were air-dried for over two years, but were never used otherwise. The resulting flavors are not foreign, but they are intensified. The richness is richer, the oak spice is spicier, and the vanilla is creamier. This is absolutely one of the most polished whiskies I have ever tasted from Dr. Bill. There's nothing fancy going on with the Ealanta - it's simply perfect single malt whisky. Flawless. Round, robust, intriguing, with lovely baking spices and candied orange peel on the finish. I can't imagine anyone - either new to single malt or a chiseled veteran - not adoring the Ealanta. A true must-buy for me.

-David Driscoll


Woolly Whisky

It begins again!!! After announcing to Committee members a few weeks ago, Ardbeg has just "publicly" announced the existence of this year’s Ardbeg Day release. In the process they have also announced that Ardbeg Day 2013 will be known instead as ArdBOG day. I guess they've been doing some excavation at Ardbeg and perhaps they've found something extinct? Hard to say what exactly this will be, but anything with a badass looking Mammoth and a T-Rex skull on the box has got to be special right. Not only are they calling it Ardbog day, but the whisky is also being referred to as the Ardbog! Hopefully, there will be some sensible correlation between this name and the bottling, because if they are simply saying, "Hey, it's peaty. Let's call it Ardbog," I will be forced to refer to Ardbeg as Ardbog forever more. The unfortunate consequences of over marketing? Perhaps, but let's hope they've done something interesting either way. I know everybody will be asking about this stuff and we'll update you as we get more information. Until June 1st, however, we've still got Galileo (not sure how or why that's still around) and our incredible prices on the distillery's standard offerings. Looking forward to the greatest day on (peaty) earth Mr. Head, but we'll miss you this year on Islay! No whisky for sale there, unless you've got a special cask saved for us.

-David Othenin-Girard


Exciting New Stuff From Germain-Robin

Ever since St. George one-upped North Shore and showed that one could successfully sell three different gins, rather than merely two, three has remained the magic number. Local Mendocino distillers Germain-Robin, famous for their California brandy selections, have decided to jump into the gin game as well with three of their own. Under their Craft Distillers label, the portfolio showcases distiller Crispin Cain's contributions to the ever-expanding lineup. The labels and the overall packaging are as elegant as the spriits themselves. Here's a rundown of each gin's particular profile:

Russell Henry London Dry Gin $35.99 - Bright juniper aromas with floral elements and white pepper on the nose. The palate is clean and fresh with vibrancy. Lovely stuff for martinis or just sipping out of the bottle (don't act like you don't do that).

Russell Henry Malaysian Lime Gin $35.99 - The best part about the Malaysian Lime gin is that it isn't overly citrus-oriented. The pith from the lime is apparent, but it marries well with the herbaciousness of the juniper and the spiciness of the pepper. This would be great in almost any cocktail because of its nuance.

Russell Henry Hawaiian White Ginger Gin $35.99 - If you've been making Moscow Mules with vodka, the time for doing that is over. The Hawaiian White Ginger gin is the perfect replacement. While the spice and sizzle of the fresh ginger comes through on both the nose and the finish, the profile isn't dominated by it. This is a very graceful gin that moves over the palate with lithe balance.

Then there's this lovely new selection for you mezcal fans. The Mezcalero series, to me, is without a doubt the finest collection of mezcals I've ever tasted. Nothing from Del Maguey or any other bottler even comes close, in my opinion. Release #5 was one of the most amazing expressions of agave to ever cross my palate. The new #6 release is one of the most challenging, but rewarding as well.

Mezcalero Release #6 Santa Maria la Pila $75.99 - Made from Agaves Mexicano, Madrecuishe, and Bicuishe, the newest batch of mezcal from Craft Distillers is an earthy, savory beast of a spirit. Tangy fermented notes, pepper, with a hint of tropical fruit coming on the finish highlight this tasting experience. Each sampling provides the possibility for new discovery. Sometimes I get hints of banana. Other times I notice smoke and ash. This mezcal is like a chameleon. Another winner.

-David Driscoll