Berry Bros & Rudd - A London Visit

Berry Bros & Rudd is the shining example of what a wine and whisky merchant can strive to achieve towards - an international company with offices all over the world, bottling their own casks of liquor acquired from the relationships formed over three centuries of business.  This storefront has been around since the late 1600's when it opened as a coffee merchant.  The store itself is more like a museum than an actual place of business. There are bottles to see and choose from, but most of the selection is buried under the building in the many rooms and cellars.  The main entryway still has the scales that were used to weigh coffee beans.

When the coffee business ceased and the booze business began, BBR began using the scales to weigh customers as they awaited their wine.  Apparently it was pricey to visit a doctor and receive one's measurements, so BBR offered it as a gratis service for their loyal patrons.  The original logs are still located at the front desk where one can trace the growth of notable historical figures such as Lord Byron.

The whisky room is where I met Doug MacIvor, a Scotsman who moved to London as a boy and is now in charge of the liquor operations for BBR.  He tastes and purchases all of their independently-bottled single malts and even does the blending for their own line of vatted malts.  He was nice enough to take me around the store and into some of the more historical rooms in the building. 

Behind the main storefront is a small and cozy lounge where one can quietly taste and concentrate on some serious whisky analysis.  It also happens to be the room where the owners sat one evening and created a little brand called Cutty Sark.  You might have heard of that whisky before. 

Underneath the first floor is the famous Napoleon cellar where BBR still holds private events and corporate meetings with important guests.  It's called the Napoleon celler because Napoleon used to visit and have a few drinks within it while plotting his subsequent invasion back into France.  There was also once a tunnel that connected it with the royal palace where deliveries of wine would be transfered subterraneously to the king and queen.  It's quite a sight and the room itself is filled with ancient relics.

Bottles from the 1600s adorn the glass cases attached to the inner walls.  They are embossed with family crests for identification purposes because bottles were once more valuable than the commodities they contained. 

The reserves of old wines and whiskies in the storeroom await the visitation of significant guests for whom they are intended.  Some of the selections are incredible and I spent a few minutes just staring in awe.  Did I tastes some whisky at BBR? A little.  Did we discuss some future business?  Of course.  However, visiting the St. James St. location is like visiting Westminster Abbey or the London Tower, it's an experience in itself and needs to be given its proper due.  Visiting Berry Bros. and Rudd is a must-do for any whisky fan who finds himself in London just because of the history.  It was and continues to be the destination for any distinguished drinker and connoisseur of fine spirits.

And, yes, we will probably be bringing in some casks with them in the near future.  Needless to say both David OG and I are excited about working with such an extablished and esteemed company with a flawless reputation for quality drink.  We can only hope to achieve the same lofty heights.

-David Driscoll


Alchemist Closeouts Are In!

I'm sitting in my hotel room in London after a long day of drinking and eating, and I just found out that these bottles finally showed up!  I'll repost the old info from before now.  These won't last long after the blig email goes out so get what you need right now.

Get ready for some AWESOME whiskies at low low low prices.  There were dropped by the former importer and closed out at ridiculous prices. I did my homework on this deal, made sure I got over to the importer's warehouse once they arrived, tasted through these, and jumped all over every bottle of the best expressions.  The Alchemist single malts are independent whiskies from Gordon Wright, a member of the Springbank family with close associations to Bruichladdich as well.  That explains how he got all the good stuff.  There are other expressions besides the four that I cornered, and while they are also less expensive, they don't represent the slam bang deal that the others do.  There are other spirits as well such as a 15 year old Calvados, an older Armagnac, and some aged Guadalupe Agricole rhum.  Those will also be brought in most likely, but I'm sticking with these four as the highlights and I bought over 100 bottles of each.  We will be shooting out an email to the big list when these arrive but you will have plenty of time to nab as many as you want.

Macallan 18 Year Old Alchemist (elsewhere $150) $79.99 - I've seen this as high as $150 in other countries and over $100 in the UK, but it is not available in the U.S.!!  While not as heavily sherried as the standard distillery offering, the Alchemist version still brings the elegance. Vanilla, hints of stone fruit, soft textures, a smooth and lasting finish, and hints of sweet baking spices - everything one would expect from well-aged Macallan. Do not wait to secure your order. These could very well sell through in minutes.

Macallan 15 Year Old Alchemist (elsewhere $80) $65.99 - While everyone else is out there eyeing the fantastic price on the Macallan 18 Alchemist, trust me folks, the 15 year is the jewel of the bunch. This whisky simply explodes with flavor in the traditional Speyside style. Big, chewy, intensely rich flavors of toffee, raisined fruit, candied orange peel, and thick, malty goodness. This is personally the best Macallan I've had in....well, I can't actually remember tasting another Macallan I liked this much! Simply wonderful whisky and I can't recommend it highly enough. This whisky delivers the goods in everyway possible, both for beginners and for single malt experts. Stock up for holiday gifts, or save for yourself because once this is gone, that's it forever. At this price it's hard to decide how many I want!!

Bruichladdich 15 Year Old Alchemist (previously $75) $52.99 - Gordon Wright, the man behind the Alchemist bottlings, used his great relationship with Bruichladdich to secure this super batch of whisky from their library of casks. It's everything you want from the classic style of the distillery - grassy, herbal aromas that lead into a saline, and fruity palate. The finish is rich and warming, brimming with toasted vanilla and barrel spice. When you think that that standard distillery bottlings of Bruichladdich 15 retail for over $70, you realize what a crazy, ridiculous price this is for a whisky this good. Classic in every way and one of the best deals we've stumbled across in some time. This won't last long - especially once our old whisky buyer and Bruichladdich super fan, Susan Purnell, realizes it's here. This is unavailable anywhere else in the U.S. right now, so grab it and grab it quickly.

Highland Park 16 Year Old Calvados Finished Alchemist (unavailable in the U.S.) $72.99 - Currently unavailable anywhere else in the U.S.! A rarely seen gem has suddenly re-emerged and fallen right into our lap at a ridiculously low price! This Calvados-finished Highland Park is astoundingly good, supremely delicious, and likely to sell out as fast as it came in! Imagine all the grace and balance of Highland Park, with the campfire smoke and sweet grains, maturing inside of an apple brandy cask! I couldn't believe my mouth when I tasted this! The apple highlights linger softly on the entry and brood slowly on the palate before they give way to the bit of peat smoke and subtle richness that coat the finish all the way down. I've never seen a Calvados-aged HP and I don't think I'll ever see one again. After tasting this, I can't imagine why that would be the case - this stuff rules.

-David Driscoll


Borough Market

South of the Thames, near the London Bridge crossing, is London's answer to San Francisco's Ferry Building - a concentrated population of organic produce, artisan cheese and charcuterie makers, wine shops, hip pubs, and interesting restaurants open for trade every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  The selection is vast and the quality is incredible.  Just a brief visit to the market is enough to cure any Bay Area foodie of their homesickness in seconds.  That's because Borough Market is like a combination of the farmer's market, Bi-Rite, and Whole Foods, except waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better.

First off, Borough is about fifteen times as big as any high-end market we have in the States - the selection is mind-boggling and causes one's head to spin as the senses are inundated with intoxicating sights and smells.  Intoxicating drinks are also available and one can walk freely with a beverage in hand (so of course we both grabbed a Pimm's) while perusing the various stands and storefronts.  Imagine if you could sip on a beer while picking out vegetables at Whole Foods!

Sure you can get fresh fruit, crisp produce, and all the usual snacks we see in the U.S., but it's the foods we don't see at home that one should concentrate on, i.e. England's traditional meat pie!  There are numerous choices available and they all seem quite delicious.

We made a mistake eating lunch before we came because the hot meals available at Borough Market are wonderful.  Most vendors will let you sample just about anything and that leads to trouble quickly.  This giant bowl of green seafood curry was almost my second lunch.

Of course there's seafood as well.  Fresh-shucked oysters on the half shell are ubiquitous and there's a plethora of fine fish and chips with an option to choose your own fillet for deep-frying from an eye-popping selction of varieties.

Don't even get me started on all the bread and baked goods.  We opted for a half loaf of Spelt Sourdough to go with our cheese purchases, but these flower pot-baked treats had me captivated.  What a creative way to cook and present!

The cheese is what will break you at Borough Market.  We had nearly purchased a pound of various cheese before we even made it to Neal's Yard Dairy.  We tasted their Stilton and began talking to the staff about how highly we thought of their shop.  They asked us where we were from and we said San Francisco.  They then said that a guy named Adam from Cowgirl Creamery had come over from SF to work in their shop recently.  I about freaked out because Adam is the brother of our RWC store assistant manager Zach.  You're never too far away from six degrees of K&L no matter where you go.  Neal's specializes in the farm cheeses of the UK and the selection will make you drool with delight.

I was about to leave when I spotted the New Forest Cider stand out of the corner of my eye.  These guys are making some amazing, apple ciders and a good lot of them are non-carbonated.  We never see bubble-free cider in the States and I'm not sure why because it's quite nice to have a few pints without filling your stomach up with air.  They also sell apple brandy from a small distilery in Sheffield, but I was too entranced by their delicious cider.

By the time we arrived back at the hotel we had quite a booty.  Bread, meat pie, various cheeses, fruit, and some cider to wash it down.  If you're in London, you simply must go to Borough Market.  I'll be heading back tomorrow and Saturday to take in more.  Can't wait.

-David Driscoll


Jolly Ole London Town

OK, so I'm live blogging from London and I broke my absolutely-no-work-while-on-vacation rule, but there's no way I could have remembered every detail if I had waited until I returned home.  I needed to get some of this info into print while it was still fresh in my head.  London is such an amazing city.  In fact, it's so amazing that we completely canceled our trip to Paris so that we could spend another week in London.  There was a bit more to it than just that (namely the $1100 train tickets to Paris because we waited until the end to buy them), but it was no disappointment for us - we love it here.  In fact, I'm still not sure we're coming back.  They've got Pimm's o' clock here and that's heaven for two Pimm's addicts like ourselves.

London is gigantic and London is old.  The Prospect of Whitby has been open since the 1800's and it used to serve such booze enthusiasts like Dickens, Thackeray, as well as various thieves and deviants. You can go along the Thames, through an old neighborhood, and into an unassuming pub like the Prospect and be engulfed in a historic booze milleu.  It's quite overwelming if you stop to think about it.

Pimm's Cup.  One of the most popular cocktails in England.  Horridly under-appreciated in the U.S. and rarely seen on a pub menu.  I plan to rectify that transgression.

If you want some high-end with your history, you can head over to the Rules restaurant and bar - the oldest continuously-operated establishment in London, open since 1798.  Dickens used to have a private room here upstairs which you can visit and H.G. Wells was a perminant fixture at its tables.  The food is quite splendid and the drinks are practically unmatched.  Check this out:

I thought that I was making authentic Blue Moons at home with Creme de Violette, lemon juice, and gin, however, the Rules bar is taking it to a new level.  They don't use Creme de Violette as far as I can tell and the mixture utilizes crystalized violet petals instead.  It's still a gin base, but the color is actually a vibrant blue as the name would imply.  The crescent-shaped lemon peel sealed the deal for us - it's like an actual moon floating amidst the pale night sky.

If you want to visit one of London's premier drink locales, head over the Hix Bar in the Soho region for some serious cocktails and service.  Abou Jollow is running the scene there and making some outstanding beverages for the faithful who attend his service.  Chiseling ice from a giant block, Abou made me a wild highball full of PX sherry, single cask rum, Spanish brandy, lemon sherbert, green tea, and soda water which was then topped off with house-made pineapple syrup and a Champagne float!  As if that wasn't enough, John Glaser joined us for a few rounds and things got nuts.

Sneaking in a bottle of his new King Street blend, John conviced Abou to start pouring off rocks glasses of Compass Box + soda, King St. on the rocks, and a straight shot for the three of us to sample.  The new release is wickedly smooth, unassuming, and well-crafted - just as you would expect Glaser to do it.  I can't wait for it to hit the States this September and I am already excited to pop the few bottles I plan on smuggling back.  Then John pointed to two giant punch bowls of whisky sitting on the bar.

It appears that John was so friendly with Abou and the Hix bar staff because he had been there not too long ago for a blending lesson.  The staff members were allowed to create their own blends and John had taken the top two creations and created a larger scale version of each one.  Both are available to order from the menu - how freakin' cool is that!?  I only wish we could do such projects in the states!

After taking a few days to recover in the countryside, we got back to London tonight and happened to head around the corner to a local pub called Cask.  They claimed to have to largest beer selection in London.  When I got inside I couldn't believe what I saw.

We talked with C.J., an ex-pat from Maine, and his wife for practically the entire evening as we drank Mikkeller from the tap!  They have an insane selection of craft beers in bottle and a staggering selection from cask and keg that would make Bay Area beer geeks cream in their pants.  If you're in the Kensington/Chelsea area then this is a must-visit stop on your itinerary.  The fridge looked like the K&L Redwood City selection with all the hard-to-find selections that we work so hard to obtain.

C.J. recommended we try a new stout from Magic Rock distillery, a brand-new producer from the Yorkshire that had been tearing up the local beer scene as of late.  We were mightly satisfied with the result.  Full of rich flavor, but light on the tongue, it was the perfect contract to the limited-edition Mikkeller triple-IPA that was also on tap tonight.

There is so much booze culture in London that it would take you years to merely scratch the surface.  They are so far ahead of us in every way possible.  That's partially due to the lax restrictions on what they can do.  For example, you can pour booze and sell it for take-out as well.  That's insane, but that's the way it should be.  More to come in a few days.  I broke my silence but it was worth it.

-David Driscoll



Generic Independence Day Post

The Fourth of July is a drinkers Holiday.  Fireworks, beer, bbq...what better way to celebrate our independence than by doing exactly what everyone else is doing?  At my house we do it a little different.  We celebrate our country's independence by celebrating our personal independence.  That means this year we're going to do the standards from scratch, just to prove we can.  Grinding our own meat, stuffing our own sausages, making the condiments - an idea that is both gratifying and delicious.  The one thing I won't be doing is distilling or brewing my on hooch for the party, so instead I'm going to be very unpatriotic and sip the delicious Del Maguey Espadin Especial.  What I'd love to know is how you're going to make your 4th special?  If it's Milwaukee's Best and Farmer John's franks don't bother, but if you do something special to show how much you LOVE freedom, please let us know.