Calling All Spirits - Good Food Awards 2012

Last year's Good Food Awards, the Bay Area-originated competition for responsibly-produced cheeses, preserves, beer, and other delicious edibles, marked the first time the event had included a spirits category. Jennifer Colliau, from the Slanted Door and Small Hand Foods fame, gathered up a group of local industry professionals (myself included) and we took entries from distilleries all over the country.  There were whiskies, liqueurs, vodkas, gins, and eau de vies from American producers who were committed to the finest base ingredients, sourced from sustainable agriculture.  We tasted spirits from entrants nationwide.  We chose what we felt were the best of the bunch.  We had an absolute blast. 

This year they've handed the reins of the Spirits category over to me and, while I'm still a bit overwhelmed by the task Alice Waters and the gang have given me, I've joined up with my co-chair Brittany Smail and, this time around, we've decided to bring in spirits specialists from all over the U.S.A.  Of course, the first thing I did was call David OG in Hollywood.  Then I rang New York - "Palazzi, are you in?"  We got master cocktailian Dale DeGroff on board.  People were excited.  In order for the Good Food Awards to truly be a national celebration of artisan distillation, there would need to be nationwide representation!  We would unite the clans!  The list would continue to grow.

Now, finally, August 5th has come upon us.  The entry period for this year's Awards has begun.  If you're a distiller of spirits committed to using the finest ingredients from responsibily-produced agriculture, then we're interested in hearing from you.  To win a Good Food Award shows consumers that you're interested in more than just bulk production.  Winning a Good Food Award means you understand what good booze is about and that you're willing to take responsible, eco-friendly steps in order to produce it.  It also means that some of the most-experienced, most-respected names in the business (and me) have tasted your product blindly and decided that they think it's pretty good.  As far as booze awards go, this is the only competition I'm willing to be a part of. 

If you feel your spirit would make a great entry for this year's Good Food Awards, you've got all month to submit your form.  Follow this link to the GFA website entry form and become a part of the movement. I've already heard from so many of last year's hesitant entrants, like Clear Creek's Steve McCarthy, who told me it was the best thing they did all year.  I'm expecting 2012 to be bigger and badder. 

See you at the finish line!

-David Driscoll


My Baby is Back

The boat from Scotland just landed and I was there to greet it.  We nabbed it all again.  What can I say, I freakin' love this whisky!  I want to kiss the bottle and just lay down next to it.  I might even sleep with it under my pillow tonight.

Kilchoman Machir Bay Islay Single Malt Whisky $53.99 - It's no secret that we're big fans of Kilchoman distillery here at K&L. Our recent visit to the distillery on Islay really opened our eyes to the incredible job they're doing. Kilchoman is a tiny operation, producing on one still and malting whatever they can inside their humble barn. Because of their small scale, their cost of production is higher and prices for their whisky have not been inexpensive. But having tasted the new-make spirit right off the still, I can firmly say that, in my opinion, there is no higher quality peated whisky being produced anywhere else. Kilchoman's hands-on style and attention to detail make a world of difference. Every release has been better than the last, albeit extremely limited in supply. All that said, this small farm is finally introducing a full-time, affordable, house recipe, rather than another pricey single barrel release. The Machir Bay is not only incredibly delicious, it's a huge victory for a distillery that had to overcome huge obstacles. At $54, this is what Kilchoman fans have been waiting for: incredibly delicate, finely-tuned flavors of soft smoke, sea salt, creamy vanilla and butterscotch. It's a more subdued version of their high-toned barrel expressions, but it's still very much Kilchoman. Think Bruichladdich meets Lagavulin. Think possible best whisky of 2012.

-David Driscoll


Whisky Season 2012 Update: Another Great Deal

1990 Aberlour 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (Pre-Order) $89.99 - For all the esoteric, exotic, and outside-the-ordinary casks of single malt we plan on bringing back from Scotland this year, we feel the need to balance them out with some sure-fire, no-nonsense whiskies that offer old-fashioned quality for a fantastic price.  The Exclusive Malt warehouse outside of Glasgow offered us so many fantastic expressions at great pricing that we couldn't help but take everyone of them.  Perhaps the most impressive of the bunch was a 21 year old cask of Aberlour, one of the most popular Speyside distilleries around.  With the recent upsurge in sales for their 12 year old and A'Bunadh single malts, we knew the time was right for an older expression that built upon the foundation of flavor our customers love so much: sweet barley, rich vanilla, hints of creme brulee and burnt sugar, with a rich and opulent finish.  At 51.1%, the whisky is easily drinkable at the bottled cask strength, but a drop of water really opens up the palate to more complexity.  The less-than-10 year old cask strength A'Bunadh sells for $60 on the shelf, but for an extra $30 we're offering more than a decade of extra barrel aging and far less-sherry dominated character . This is the bottle you buy for someone who likes Scotch whisky of any kind.  It's very, very tasty and just about everyone can get behind its classically-styled flavor. A ripe deal from a fantastic new bottler.

-David Driscoll


New Arrivals Today

A couple of fun new items that just landed today.  We've been anxiously awaiting their arrival:

Tequila Tapatio 1L $29.99 - "Tapatio" is a word that refers to a man from Jalisco, the Tequila-producing state in Mexico. In this case, it refers to Don Felipe Camarena, who opened the La Alteña distillery in 1937 where his grandchildren now make Tapatio tequila. The family has roots of making tequila that reach back to the 1800s, but the family's destillery was destroyed during the Mexican Revolution. The blanco is wonderfully vibrant with plenty of spice and a clean finish.  Wonderful for sipping or for a killer margarita.

Charbay R5 White Whiskey $49.99 - Marko from Charbay distillery in St. Helena bought 6,000 gallons of the famous Racer 5 IPA a few years back and decided to make whiskey out of it.  The aged expression spent over a year in stainless steel tank and really captures the hoppy flavor of the ale in a clean, vibrant white dog version.  A wonderful crossover for the beer geek/whiskey geek.

Charbay R5 Aged Whiskey $69.99 - Marko from Charbay distillery in St. Helena bought 6,000 gallons of the famous Racer 5 IPA a few years back and decided to make whiskey out of it.  The aged expression spent over a year in new oak barrels to soften up the palate, but the hoppy goodness of the ale still shines through.  A wonderful crossover for the beer geek/whiskey geek

Bunnahabhain Toiteach Peated Single Malt Whisky $85.99 - The first heavily-peated whisky to ever hit the U.S. directly from Bunnahabhain, the Toiteach is an unchillfiltered small production offering from the most underrated distillery on Islay.  Oily and resinous, with lively phenolic notes, the nose is floral and peppery, while the palate is thick and buttery.  A fantastic new expression from a distillery with a lot to prove.

-David Driscoll


More on the Midwest Corn Shortage

I don't know why I didn't tackle this subject sooner because it appears the current drought in the midwest could put a serious dent in Kentucky's Bourbon production.  The more I talk to people at the major distilleries, the more I'm beginning to break out in a cold sweat.  Yesterday afternoon I communicated with Jim Rutledge, the master distiller for Four Roses, and he had the following to say:

 I don’t think I’m telling you anything you haven’t already heard, but my three main concerns are: 1) will we, the Bourbon industry, have a sufficient supply of corn, 2) will the drought have a negative impact on the quality of corn and 3) the cost. I’m pretty sure we’ll see prices per bushel that we’ve never seen before, but the cost is a minimal concern relative to the supply and quality of corn. Relative to quality – it’s not worth producing and barreling a proof gallon if the quality is not excellent. My philosophy has always been: quality is always premier to quantity, and do it right the first time when filling up a barrel. My focus has always been on the distillates, the white dog, versus what comes out of the barrel. If you do it right from the get-go there aren’t many worries with matured barrels of Bourbon.

When Mark Brown told me the other day that each distillery would be affected based on "how they account for the corn used," this is what he meant.  Jim at Four Roses is very selective about his base product because he believes the distillate is the most important part of the process (others may stress cooperage over distillation).  If he's forced to use corn that doesn't meet his standards, that also happens to be more expensive (and that he may be lucky to even get anyway), he would end up making limited amounts of Four Roses Bourbon that he didn't like and having to charge us more to drink it!  That would be awful.  Knowing Jim, I think he'd rather make less whiskey than make Bourbon that didn't meet his personal approval.  So far, Four Roses has been one of the few Bourbon distilleries to avoid any serious supply shortages of aged stock, but that may change if they have to limit production due to a lack of corn.

Another interesting dilemma resulting from the corn shortage is the use of GMO (genetically modified) corn in distillation and if distilleries like Four Roses and Wild Turkey, who normally choose not to purchase it, will be be forced into changing their policies.  Again, I'll be posting more on this story as I find more information.

-David Driscoll