New Stuff

It's been so long since I've done my actual job I've almost forgotten what it entails. Tasting products, making notes, and posting photos on the blog? I haven't had time to do that since late October! Here are some new things that might interest y'all.

Duncan Taylor returns! They're now with my man Val over at JVS so we'll be expanding our selection. The stocks at Duncan Taylor are of serious quality. There is very little in their portfolio that doesn't measure up to the best independent bottles on the market. These selections are no different. We've got a few more on the way, but these are the first three to have landed.

1996 Longmorn 16 Year Duncan Taylor Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $115.99 -
Delicious, classic, unsherried Speyside whisky from perhaps the best distillery in the region. This Longmorn is full of sweet malted barley with accents of fruit and flowers, finishing with hints of vanilla and spice. Another reason to love Longmorn, as we continue to mourn its scarce availability and long for it here in the States.

1993 Glen Keith 19 Year Old Duncan Taylor Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $139.99 - Currently out of production, the Glen Keith distillery has been lying dormant since the mid-90's, but the whisky continues to live on in the independent world of single malt barrels. This is a spectacular example of what the distillery can offer - soft fruits, heather and flowers, sweet grains, and a pleasantly rich finish. The low 50's proof makes this quite drinkable right out of the bottle.

1996 Macallan 15 Year Old Duncan Taylor Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $139.99 - Unsherried, but full of round, supple, malty goodness. A nice break from the normally Oloroso-saturated style of the venerated Highland distillery.

Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch Bottled in Bond Straight Kentucky Bourbon $44.99 - I was bit on the fence about this Bourbon at first, but something really clicked after tasting it again yesterday. At first I thought it was just Old Weller Antique, but at a higher price. After another go Tuesday night, there really is much more to like about this whiskey. The richness is really quite lovely and it stays with you longer into the finish. After drinking it next to the OWA, there's really no comparison. The Taylor Small Batch isn't a hot deal, but it is a lovely Bourbon. I'm probably good for one after my next paycheck.

Glenfiddich Malt Master's Edition Single Malt Whisky $79.99 - This is Glenfiddich's answer to Balvenie and Aberlour - a double-matured single malt that began in oak and was finished in sherry. What I have to love about this whisky is that it's a total sleeper. Not one of us (and you know you're included in this) is really too excited about this release, but I've found the limited editions from Glenfiddich over the last few years to be quite good. This is far better than Balvenie's 17 Year Doublewood. Given the lack of an age statement, I'm sure it's not nearly that old, but it still tastes better than 17 year old Balvenie. At $80, it's far less expensive as well.

1985 Bruichladdich DNA Single Malt Whisky $599.99 - I'm nervous for people to buy this whisky because of the expectations that come with $600 booze. People assume it's going to be some amazing new flavor that completely surpasses anything that would normally cost $100 or even $200. That's not this whisky. The DNA is old-school, classic, no-frills, wonderfully-balanced, gentle, delicious Bruichladdich. They haven't released anything like this in the last five years that I can remember. That's why it's expensive. Whereas the Legacy release represented a marriage of whisky barrels about to go over the hill, the DNA is as fresh and alive as anything I've tasted recently. Imagine an old 27 year Stitzel-Weller Bourbon that wasn't overly wooded and was brimming with fresh whiskey spirit. It would be worth at least $300 to $400 if not more. This is the Bruichladdich version of that.

-David Driscoll


You Can Continue to Enjoy Your Drinking Relationship

It's not always easy to keep the relationship between you and booze interesting. She can be a difficult wife. An annoying husband. An inconvenient responsibility. An overburdening nag. Yet, we love alcohol and our goal is to keep the burning fire of romance strong. It's only natural after so much time with booze to start letting your guard down. You don't always put on make-up before mixing a cocktail. You let a fart slip out while you nurse that Bourbon rocks. Such is life the older we become. I not only live with booze, I work with her too. It can be a challenging interaction, but I work hard to make sure we keep things hot and heavy.

Our job at K&L is to make sure that your relationship with booze stays fresh and exciting. We can't always do it alone though. It takes an effort on both sides. You need to bring an enthused energy to the equation, while the liquor companies continue to challenge your conventional thinking and give you considerable options. My job as matchmaker is to help you decide which bottles are your best match. However, it's not always about what's in the bottle, but rather how you use it. Here are some tips that I've been thinking about lately to keep your relationship with booze strong:

1) Be Honest With Yourself. You can't continuously lie to yourself. People will eventually see through the facade and alcohol always knows the truth. In fact, the more you drink, the more you will be confronted with this reality. It's best to avoid any embarrassing, wasteful, or overindulgent experiences by knowing exactly which type of drinker you are before hand. Use your experience to guide you and don't be swayed by basic opportunity. If you don't like high-proof Bourbon then it doesn't matter that the George T. Stagg is sitting in front of you on the shelf. I know – you may not ever get the opportunity to buy it again. However, purchasing booze that you don't need (and don't even like!) is the fastest way to ruin a strong relationship. Eventually, you'll look at your bottle collection and say, "What the hell am I doing?" That's no good.

2) Spice Things Up a Bit. Forget Victoria's Secret or a romantic walk on the beach. Nothing strengthens a friendship like diversity. Go outside your comfort zone. Do something spontaneous. Grab a bottle of Scotch you might normally never purchase - like Scapa 16, Edradour 10, or Stronachie. If you like to buy unique, off-the-beaten-path spirits, then get a bottle of something totally basic. Buy some Booker's. Get some Maker's Mark. Make a date with Glenlivet. Find solace in the classics or expand your horizons with the unknown. I've been doing this with wine lately and it's been a complete blast. It forces me to re-examine my opinions and preconceptions about what quality means and - ultimately - why I value my relationship with booze. This leads into my next point...

3) Loosen Up. We don't all have unlimited means. I know that not everyone can afford to be loosey-goosey with their income. However, that isn't any excuse to be a cheap, spend-thrift, tightwad jerk who complains about every purchase and painstakingly analyzes every single review to make sure he never makes a mistake when buying a bottle. There are TONS of great options for affordable prices and I don't mean just at K&L. I went to Trader Joe's yesterday and they have an 18 year old private Speyside bottle for $25! That's crazy even if it tastes like shit! You can still drink interesting, exciting, thought-provoking, delicious booze on the cheap. Weller 12. Old Weller Antique! Buffalo Trace. Elmer T. Lee. Eagle Rare 10. Bulleit Rye. Old Forester. Larceny. Great King Street. Isle of Skye. Ferrand Ambre Cognac. Bowmore Legend. Campari. Cocchi Americano. Blue Ice Vodka. Tariquet Armagnac. I could spend two bucks a day and drink well for a month: A Bottle of Four Roses Yellow, a bottle of Bank Note Blended, and a bottle of Citadelle Gin – BOOM! I could live off of that if I had to. It's like a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. If pressed for cash, I could still drink very well on $60 a month. But I don't have to. I'm guessing that neither do you if you're reading this blog. Despite the recent price increases on liquor we can still drink well all year long. Girls don't like guys who stress over every dollar. Booze feels the same way. The key is knowing how to spend your money well rather than complaining about it. You don't want booze to get fed up and quit liking you. At the same time you don't want to feel like you're spending too much money on it.

4) Make the Effort. You don't try hard enough anymore! You're satisfied with going home, plopping down in front of the TV, and drinking the same damn thing every single night. You're boring the hell out of yourself and your partner! Read up on something new. Go to the library and checkout a book about whiskey. Subscribe to the Whisky Advocate. Go get a drink at the Slanted Door and have Jennifer Colliau make it for you. Pull up a barstool at Heaven's Dog and talk to Erik Ellestad about obscure cocktail recipes. There is plenty of fun out there to be had with booze, but it's not always going to come to you. Sometimes you have to make the fun happen and your effort will usually be rewarded. It's amazing how envigorating a little interaction can be. If you can't afford a night out on the town, then invite some friends over and make some drinks on your own. Use your "Spice Things Up" or "Loosen Up" tips to surprise them with something out of the ordinary.

These are four easy steps to spicing up your booze life. Don't be worried if booze starts to overwhelm you or stress you out or make you agitated. These are symptoms of any healthy relationship. What's important is that you address these issues and take the necessary steps. I'll always be here to help you if you get confused or frustrated.

-Dr. Driscoll


No Spirits Tasting Tomorrow

Just a heads up to those of you in the area. We're having trouble keeping these tastings informative, interesting, and enjoyable on a weekly basis. Vendors are starting to use the opportunity as a way to hold us hostage for new positioning, i.e. "I'll do the tasting if you promise to bring in these new products."

Not really what I have in mind. The other problem is that we cannot (by law) conduct any part of the tasting, so if the rep doesn't show up for some reason then we're totally screwed. If it were a wine tasting I'd just jump behind the bar and do it myself, but we can't do that for spirits. We might move to a less consistent schedule, but offer more exiting tastings on a more sporadic timeframe.

We'll see how it goes.

-David Driscoll


On the Sideways Trail (without Miles)

When my wife and I pulled over to feed some ostriches on the road between Solvang and Buellton, we thought we were doing something rather spontaneous and kooky. However, after we got inside and those huge beaks started nose-diving into my bowl of grub, another couple walked up to join in the fun.

"Yes....this is part of Sideways, too! Yes it is! The part during the montage when the jazz music is playing. Remember?"

You can't escape that film in SoCal wine country these days, but it's not like the locals are complaining. Sideways has brought a huge boost of film tourism to the area, full of young Miles wannabes who go from location to location, hoping to recreate their favorite moments from the movie. It's kind of cool....I guess. I liked that movie when it came out and it did do a great job of making the Santa Ynez Valley seem romantic. However, what's interesting to me is how people tend to view Paul Giamatti's character. He doesn't like Merlot, so the entire U.S. stopped drinking it for almost five years because he must know best. Personally, I think he's an idiot who doesn't know anything about wine, but tries his hardest to act like he does. He's the last guy I'd want to be seated next to at a tasting. He's the kind of person who makes me embarrassed to like wine. But, in all honesty, I didn't feel that way when I first saw the film because I didn't know any better. It's an evolution that has occurred only after a half-decade in the business.

That being said, we couldn't go anywhere without other tourists quoting that movie. We thought about grabbing dinner at the Hitching Post (one of the film's main locations), but we were so over the Sideways experience that we decided to go out of our way to do the complete opposite of whatever Miles would do. There is so much to do along the Central Coast. It is a cornicopia of quaint downtowns, beautiful scenary, and inexpensive, yet delicious booze. There must be a way to have fun and get to know the area without mimicing every step of the world's most anal-retentive, fictional wine snob.

Where to go?

Pea Soup Andersens.

You've seen the billboards. There's a sign about every twenty miles as you go south on 101. The place looks like a gigantic truck stop full of tourist-trap bric-a-brac. And it is! But it's a nostalgic piece of America's road trip past, the kind of place we both remembered stopping at with our families as children (but without the crystal meth). It's so kitschy that it's heartwarming. Miles would never be caught dead here. How unauthentic and touristy! Except that it's not!

We walked in at around quarter to four on a Wednesday; apparently this is when the locals gather at the 1970's style U-shaped counter for coffee and a Danish (we are near Solvang). No tourists in here at this hour, only the funniest eavesdropping one can ask for. We could barely eat our food because we were so engulfed in local topics like farming trends and the grueling semi-truck schedule between Santa Barbara and Salinas. We expected to find traveling folk like ourselves, but apparently the tourists are eating at the Hitching Post. Because of Sideways the locals are gathering at the last place you would expect them! You must make an effort to eat here at 4 PM on a weekday.

Gotta get pea soup if you're going to Pea Soup Andersen's. How about a plate of boiled red cabbage on the side? A cold beer and a glass of white wine for the wife. The great part about the Buellton area is that literally every restaurant has local wine of quality available for a very reasonable price. The wines of the Central Coast tend to be a bit more restrained than the standard Napa fare, which is great for purists like me. You can get great wine at CVS in Buellton, if that helps illustrate its ubiquity. Everyone supports the movement; a show of solidarity that is touching and quite helpful for people like us who like to get drinks all around town. The pea soup and cabbage were delicious by the way. I ended up buying the official Pea Soup Andersen's cookbook before leaving.

The best place along the Central Coast to have some fun is the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obisbo. You need to visit the website and look at the rooms to really understand what I mean, but I'll share a few photos with you. This place has been an eclectic destination for kooks of all kind since the 1950's. It's even bigger and badder in the new millenium as the next generation of Madonnas have expanded the property to include a drive-in movie theater and world-class health spa. This caveman/Mr. Brady urinal stall is equipped with a sensor-driven waterfall, although it's hard to pee with people snapping photos of it every five minutes. If I had to advise someone between seeing Hearst Castle or this bathroom at the Madonna, I would choose the bathroom.

The dining room is from another era entirely. Over-the-top, yet classy as hell – a juxtaposition that isn't easy to pull off anymore. We didn't get a chance to dine, but we heard that this is a destination for every rock star within 300 miles.

There's a fantastic bar around the corner from the dining room and we decided to post up there for lunch and a few cocktails. Our bartender was a guy named Brad who kept the stories coming for nearly an hour. We were on the edge of our seats listening to tales of the L.A. punk scene from the early 80's and Trent Reznor parties in New Orleans in the 90's. You're not going to get this kind of history lesson drinking chardonnay in the Au Bon Climat tasting room.

There are all kinds of old liqueurs gracing the top shelf of the Madonna Inn bar. They're all for sale as well. I can't promise you that they won't have been oxidized, but they won't charge you if they taste like flat cola. I wanted this 1970's bottle of Amer Picon to blow my mind, but it was long past expiration.

When you're all done eating and boozing, you need to head to downtown Solvang and stop at every single bakery you see and stuff your face. Strudel, Danish, Bear Claw? You can have whatever you want! It seems like overkill, but it's amazing how many you can eat when you're determined.

Overall, I would recommend a few days along the Central Coast to anyone like me who hasn't been in almost twenty years. There is an endless amount of fun to be had that doesn't include hiking, cycling, camping or wine-tasting. You don't have to be a nature person. You don't have to be a wine person. There are loads of places to stop for mood, atmosphere, nostalgia, and booze.

And you can find some great Merlot.

-David Driscoll


New Experiences?

For several years I had been bored. Not a whining, restless child's boredom (although I was not above that) but a dense, blanketing malaise. It seemed to me that there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative (although the word derivative as a criticism is itself derivative). We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can't recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn't immediately reference to a movie or TV show. I've literally seen it all, and the worst thing is, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: the secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can't anymore. I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of use who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.

- Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl

I've already written four different posts about what this paragraph means to me, but in the end I deleted them all. I about choked up reading this part of Gillian Flynn's outstanding new novel Gone Girl. For me, as a child of the same generation, I couldn't agree more with everything said here. There's a lot of relevance to the booze world in these words as well. However, we've already established on this blog that booze is life, haven't we?

What happens when life becomes complete media mimesis? Do we even know why we like what we like anymore, or are we simply playing a part? A part we've seen numerous times on television or in a movie. What happens when we drink spirits because we want to be like other people who drink them? Will we even recognize quality then? More importantly, where will actual entertainment exist if entertainment is merely mimicing what others are doing or have already done? Will we even know when we're having fun or if we're actually having it?

Do you not drink Merlot because you don't like it, or is it because the guy in Sideways doesn't drink Merlot?

I'm freaking out.

-David Driscoll