Next Batch of K&L Brandy Arrives, Plus More.....

Whoohoo!  What a week this is going to be!  Tons of stuff arriving within the next few days – a whole month's worth in a matter of days.  First off, our second batch of Armagnac from our trip last January just hit earlier this afternoon.  Here's the scoop:

2000 Domaine d'Ognoas Vintage Bas-Armagnac $55.99 - For all the traveling we do to Scotland, and now France, it's very, very, very rare that we find a value-priced spirit of quality for our K&L exclusive collection.  Usually, it's simply better to pay the extra $25 and just go with something older.  That logic has held true almost 100% of the time until we happened upon Domaine d'Ognoas distillery in Armagnac last January.  As a property that's been in existence since the 1200's, Ognoas spends much of its time as an agricultural school and a training ground for young distillers.  Because of their status as a "co-op" of sorts, the operation is partly subsidized by the French government, which means the prices are insanely low!  Lucky us!  Ognoas uses local trees for their cooperage and puts a medium toast on the barrel for a kiss of sweetness in the brandy.  The 2000 vintage is a blend of 30% Folle Blance and 70% Ugni Blanc.  On the nose, aromas of pencil wood, vanilla, and marzipan come brimming out of the glass.  The palate is all dark fruit and soft cocoa, with spicy notes on the long, dry finish.  For about $50 I don't think there's any amount of this we can't sell.  It's easily the best value we've ever found spirits-wise across the Atlantic.  For anyone even remotely interested in experiencing a taste of our new French spirits import program, this is a must-buy.  Now I just hope we can get more!

1987 Chateau Pellehaut K&L Exclusive Tenareze Vintage Armagnac $79.99 - While Bas-Armagnac gets all the press, and the Haut-Armagnac gets completely ignored, the Tenareze region of Armagnac is quietly producing some of the best brandies in the world.  Much like the Borderies region in Cognac, the Tenareze brandies seem to have more fruit and a bit more life than the more classic  Armagnac style.  We visited Chateau Pellehaut on our first day in Armagnac last January and were completely overwelmed by the quality of spirit.  Using only new or first fill barrels for the beginning years of maturation, the Armagnacs have richness, weight, and spice.  The 1987 vintage was one of the most attractive brandies we tasted on the trip, or what we would call a "sexy" spirit.  There are gobs of fruit coming on the entry with a Bourbon-like spiciness that gently permeates the rest of the palate.  Beautiful concentration and a fantastic finish of toasted nuts with more round stonefruit make this one of the most accessible Armagnacs we've ever carried.  Pound for pound, I'm not sure any brandy under $100 can hang with this. 

1973 Chateau Pellehaut K&L Exclusive Tenareze Vintage Armagnac $129.99 - While Bas-Armagnac gets all the press, and the Haut-Armagnac gets completely ignored, the Tenareze region of Armagnac is quietly producing some of the best brandies in the world.  Much like the Borderies region in Cognac, the Tenareze brandies seem to have more fruit and a bit more life than the more classic  Armagnac style.  We visited Chateau Pellehaut on our first day in Armagnac last January and were completely overwelmed by the quality of spirit.  Using only new or first fill barrels for the beginning years of maturation, the Armagnacs have richness, weight, and spice.  While Pellehaut has since switched to entirely Folle Blanche grape varietals, the 1973 vintage is composed of 90% ugni blanc. The palate opens with loads of caramel and a creamy richness the spreads quickly.  The aromas are quite Bourbon-esque, with hints of soft vanilla and charred oak drifting out of the glass.  The complexity of the brandy is astounding - candied fruit, stewed prunes, toasted almond, baking spices, and earthy warehouse notes, all swirling around at the same time.  For an Armagnac of this quality, at an age of nearly 40 years old, the price we negotiated is amazing.  I'm expecting this to be one of our best selling Armagnacs ever and I expect it to really put Pellehaut on the map stateside.

Meanwhile, I tasted with Todd from Pacific Edge today and my friends the Morrisons over at A.D. Rattray have really outdone themselves, it seems.  Next week we'll be bringing in their fantastic Bank Note Blended Scotch for $19.99 a liter!!!!!  Now, granted, some of you high-browed single malt drinkers out there might not even flinch about something like this, but trust me, anyone interested in pouring a whisky on the rocks is going to have a new house bottle - forever.  At this price and for whisky this drinkable, I can't see anyone coming close to touching the Bank Note.  The sherry influence is there, soft vanilla and all that, and the grain comes clean on the finish like any other blend.  However, with 40% actual single malt inside each bottle, the supple richness is much more lengthy than say Walker Black or any other comparable blend.  I'm buying loads of this.  If the public won't touch it, believe me, K&L staff members will be happy to have it all for themselves.

There's also a new "blended single malt" called the Islay Cask soming in for around $50.  It's mainly Laphroaig and it tastes like Laphroaig, soft, supple, bright peaty notes, high-toned baking spices, all that.  Plus, the a fantastic new 20 year old Bunnahabhain single cask that really delivers for about $120. 

Oh yeah, and I haven't even gotten to all the new Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte, and Octomore coming tomorrow.  I'll have to address that when it arrives!

-David Driscoll


It's Memorial Day....Drink Your Booze

I'm in Modesto, spending the weekend at my parents' house, eating well and drinking my fair share in the warm, Central Valley weather.  Even though I brought plenty of booze with me to sample, my parents have a large selection of wine and liquor (as do most people who have remained in contact with me since I started with K&L).  After diving into some of the single malts I received in Scotland, I opened the cabinet under the sink where my mother stores most of her supply and found a treasure trove of great stuff: Camut 6 year old Calvados, High West Rendezvous, Labet Marc des Jura, No. 3 gin, Firelit Coffee liqueur, Kuchan's Walnut, even a freaking bottle of Berry Bros & Rudd Guadaloupe rum!  "Wow!" I exclaimed, "You guys have some great stuff!" As if they had ordered it all on their own.

When my liquor cabinet gets too big to handle, I bring bottles to parties, pass samples off to friends, or load up a box for my parents in Modesto.  I simply can't drink all of it.  Between the wine, the beer, and the cocktails, it's not always easy to make it through dessert and on to the nightcap.  When we visited France last January, this was a major concern of the brandy producers.  People were becoming healthier, driving laws more stringent, so most were trying to drink less, and spirits were the sacrifice many French citizens were making.  Looking through my parents' liquor supply, I realized that my generous donations to the Driscoll booze cabinet were presenting my mother and father with the same dilemma I had hoped to shed: when the heck are we going to drink all of this?

It's all so delicious! What should we drink right now? We only have enough room for one, so which will it be?  I can't decide with all of these options!  We ended up going with the Port Ellen because that's what I had planned for in advance.  The 200ml bottle of the 25 year 5th Release had been a generous gift from some friends at Diageo and I had been looking forward to sharing it with my parents.  No time to get sidetracked now.  Stick with the original plan. 

For anyone who loves to drink as much as I do, a well-stocked liquor supply can become a guilty burden from time to time – a neglected stepchild that gets overlooked.  I know many of you out there drink only spirits, forging a fantastic relationship with brown water due to a lack of interest in red or white.  For the equal opportunity drinkers like myself, we sometimes have to choose one or the other because work, exercise, or other responsibilities await us the following morning.  That's why it helps to devise a plan for consuming your liquor.  I have to decide in advance what we're going to drink and it aids my plan to eventually sap each and every bottle.

Memorial day is a fantastic excuse to drain something special.  Look through your supply and use today as the special occasion you've been waiting for to open that Brora 30 you bought earlier this year.  There's no point in saving this stuff because we all know we're all going to keep buying more (even though we promised ourselves we wouldn't).  Every bottle we add to the collection presents another challenge to be conquered. I'm a minimalist.  I don't want fifty open bottles in my house.  I want ten to fifteen and I want to drain one before bringing in another.  That's why we're drinking Port Ellen this weekend.  I'm in Modesto, my family is here, they've been following the blog, they understand what makes it so special, so let's f-ing drink it.  I might die tomorrow anyway.

Done.  Happy.  Satisfied.  Guilt free.  Phew.

-David Driscoll


Post-Scotland Musings

As I lay dozing in bed this morning, thoughts of Scotland fluttering around in my brain, a few questions came to mind about single malt and this crazy obsession we all share.  When you go to Scotland and tour the distilleries, watch the process, taste the booze, meet the people behind the curtain, and dine with various industry folk, you are continuously pelted with information that needs to be stored and processed –searched for patterns and for themes.  My internal computer is only now finalizing some of this deciphering and is beginning to ping me with its conclusions.  Here are some of the issues I've been pondering.

- We are not all the same and we are not all motivated by the same concerns.  What motivates me about single malt (and booze in general) is the understanding.  For me, it's simply a fact that whisky tastes better when you know something about it.  That being said, information and education are not what necessarily drive other people towards single malt.  Prestige, conformity, fun, tradition, money, and disease all play a role as well from time to time. 

- If whisky tastes better when you understand it, how often are we actually, truly getting it?  I've read all the books, met with all the brand ambassadors, watched all the videos, even began a series of podcasts, but I don't think I really "got" anything until last week.  Go through Michael Jackson's fantastic Whisky book and there are various chapters about how water, barley, yeast, malting, peat, fermentation, distillation, aging, warehouse conditions and countless other minutiae leave their mark on the whisky's final flavor.  I'm not sure, however, that all of these processes are equally important for each distillery.

For example, we learned on Islay that during the brief closure at Caol Ila last June (in which they installed new equipment) they couldn't afford to actually stop production.  Therefore, they kept distilling down the road at Bunnahabhain, using their own recipe, water, and employees to do the job elsewhere.  Granted, they can't call it Caol Ila, but it's all going into Johnnie Walker anyway, so it's no matter.  In my opinion, the beauty of Caol Ila is in the aging and the blending, not the actual distillation.  When they send tankers full of that juice over to the mainland for filling and warehousing, the team at Diageo works wonders with it.  It's the marriage of casks and the art form of flavor enhancing that make Caol Ila what it is.

With Lagavulin, I'd say their cooperage is the most important component of flavor.  That toffee/butterscotch note on the back of the 16 year makes that whisky what it is.  It's not vanilla from new oak and it's not burnt sugar or cakebread from sherry residue.  It's the result of Diageo's cooperage program that strips the barrels of any wine remnants, then re-chars the inside of it, bringing out the flavors in the wood itself.  To me, the essence of Lagavulin also comes from the mainland, rather than from Islay.  It begins in Diageo's Cambus cooperage plant and it leaves a major mark on the whisky.

Kilchoman's new make is so special, you'd be crazy to think that the distillation process isn't the most important aspect of that whisky.  Oban's slow, 90-hour fermentation gives it so much mellow fruit that everything else becomes rather insignificant at that point.  Springbank's inconsistency comes from its inconsistent malting process, and the funky, earthy notes in the sherry cask malts are derived from that funky, moldy warehouse they're stored in.  Glendronach's tap water tastes like Glendronach, so I'd say that water plays a major component there.  In each distillery that we visited, specific parts of the overall process seemed to carry more weight than at other places.  If someone were ever going to write a new book about whisky distilleries, this would make a fascinating theme (No, I'm not doing it).

- There's a lot of insecurity in the whisky world.  There's a lot of false confidence.  There's also a huge divide between the last generation and the new one.  The old school guys, like Iain McArthur at Lagavulin, are who keep the true spirit alive.  They're humble, hard-working, kind, and they'd never say a bad word about any other distillery.  The new generation is cocky, forward-thinking, and bold, but without experience.  They wouldn't hesitate to take a swipe at a competitor in front of other business folks.  I definitely came of age with all of the negative attributes from the new generation - arrogant and sure of myself.  I'm hoping, however, to become more like Iain, like John MacLellan at Kilchoman, like Des McCagherty at Edradour – guys who quietly do their jobs well and know that's enough.  Young people tend to think the world won't notice you if you don't point yourself out constantly.  People do notice, however, and not always for the better.  I've certainly noticed the difference.

-David Driscoll


News & Notes

Well, I'm at my desk, eating a package of Whole Foods sushi (which is actually pretty good), and I'm getting ready to go back down to the store where we've got former Giant J.T. Snow pouring wine in the tasting bar.  I'm likely going to blush like a little girl because J.T. is my all time favorite Giant, I think.  Love the way that guy played first base.  In any case, I thought a few little notes would be nice before the long weekend.  Here's the scoop.

- More K&L exclusive Armagnac hitting the store on Tuesday.  We'll have two crazy deals from Chateau Pellehaut: a 1974 vintage for about $130 and a 1987 vintage for around $80.  Both are crazy good and represent tremendous value.  A 38 year old brandy of this quality for $130!  It's nuts.  We'll also be bringing in the value bottle from Domaine d'Ognoas.  All three of these bottles are must-haves for me.  I'll retaste them before posting the final descriptions, but my notes from the trip are super enthusiastic (but really, when are they not?). 

- Ardbeg's "Day" Committee Release will be coming out next weekend.  I'll send an email to the list and post a link on the blog.  We'll have a good amount.  Price should be around $90 or so.  This is a special release that has been matured an extra six months in sherry, so there's a bit more richness on the back end.  Please.......please, don't send me an email when they're all sold out telling me that you're in the actual committee and that these bottles were supposed to be for committee members only. 

- We'll be focusing on a few new rums over the next week.  I met with the head of Ron Abuelo from Panama the other day and was really impressed with the operation.  They do everything themselves from their own sugar cane, and the value is there - especially the 7 year, which I plan to bring back into stock immediately.  For $26, it's going to "wow" a lot of people.

- David OG's bitter obsession is finally making its way North.  I just got the go-ahead today to take over an entire shelf back by the glassware in Redwood City, so I'm going to move all the mixers, bitters, tonic, cherries, etc, over to that area.  That means I can really expand our selection and you won't have to reach to the tippy-top of the normal shelf now. Maybe we'll add some bar tools as well.  I don't see why we shouldn't be the one-stop shop for everything available cocktail-wise.

- I've had a good amount of new shoppers in the RWC store lately who have found us due to this blog.  Hooray!  People actually read this thing!  Welcome to K&L.  Please visit us more often. If you need any help my email is so please feel free to ask questions.

- David Driscoll


Remember Me?

Hey everyone, remember me?  I'm the Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Bourbon $32.99 and I used to be one of the biggest sellers at K&L, back before young David Driscoll was even working at the store.  I was known to be soft, creamy, rich and smooth, and all of the staff members made me their number one choice for all customer recommendations.  People loved me.  I was so accessible.  Excited drinkers just getting into spirits found me easy to enjoy, while the grizzled veterans celebrated my quality at such a bargain price.  Then one day I went away.  There simply wasn't any of me left.  Hirsch had long since lost the Michter's distillery stock, so they relied on other sources to make more of me.  They couldn't find the whiskey they needed, however, so I was gone for quite a while.  Then, out of the blue, I awoke one morning to find that I once again existed.  I made sure to tell K&L right away so that they could buy more of me quickly, before the other stores found out.  Right now they've only got about 40 bottles of me, but the word is they're going to secure more soon.  Make sure you get some of me now while I'm still available!  It's so good to be back.  

-Hirsch SBR (David Driscoll)