The "Real" Napa

Imagine it - you drive up to Napa for the weekend with a bunch of co-workers.  You're staying at a magnificant Italian-style villa taken care of by the company, overlooking the Palisade mountains and a smattering of cabernet vineyards.

The house itself is gigantic and the table is all set for what will be a decadent meal.

On site are a pair of private chefs whose first task is to make one after another of fresh-tossed, wood-burning-oven baked pizzas, before moving on to the dry-rub-aged beef.

For dinner, you've got magnum bottles of some of the world's best wines.

For after dinner, your spirits guy brings a selection of world-class single malts (in this case that's me, so I have to imagine it a bit differently). 

You swim and play bocce ball until long after midnight as co-workers bond and spend time with one another, until, one of them suddenly goes missing.  Hours go by and more people start disappearing, just like out of a slasher movie.  You try to call the police but the house has no landline and no one can get any reception on their cell phone.  In the end, only one of you survives the night and lives to tell the tail.  This is exactly the type of weekend I just had, well, up until the swimming and bocce ball part.  K&L staff from all three stores met in Napa this weekend to visit some outstanding winemakers, learn more about our craft, and come together in solidarity.  I learned much about the "real" Napa and drank some amazing wines that had the acidity and balance I never thought possible from local producers. As soon as I have some time I will write up the experience and share information about how anyone else interested can visit and organize their own trip.

-David Driscoll


Return of the Tasty, Affordable Malt

William Wemyss walked into the RWC store on Friday all ready to tell me about his new house blends.  We met in the tasting bar and began to discuss his first selection, The Spice King.  "This one is made with primarily..." "Talisker," I interupted, finishing his sentence for him.  "Have you had these before?" he asked and I smiled.  We had the Wemyss selections about two years ago when they were with another distributor, but eventually stopped selling them once that relationship was terminated.  Now that they're back with new representation and even better pricing than before, we're more than happy to put them back on the shelf.

All three Wemyss expressions are tasty examples of their particular styles, and all are made with 100% single malt of at least 8 years of age.  The Spice King, made with a high amount of Talisker, is lightly smoked with lovely flavors of vanilla and rich fruit.  The Smooth Gentleman, made with a good dose of Aultmore, is the Speyside nod, rich sherry, raisined fruits, smooth textures just like the name states.  The Peat Chimney is the Caol Ila-dominated whisky and is exactly what you would expect - lots of smoke, but also enough richness to balance it out.  It's not the lean and mean Laphroaig style, but more like sherry-aged Caol Ila. 

All three will retail for $39.99 which makes them very competitive.  These are far more interesting than anything else we offer in the $40-ish and under range, besides maybe Ardbeg 10, but that's a very specific flavor.  These are easy drinking and very enjoyable.  I'm delighted to have them back.  They also have a lovely gin made with Elderflower called Darnley's View, by the way, that should reappear at the same time.

Also in stock for the moment is the new release from Compass Box - the Great King Street blend! Another fantastic whisky for $39.99 but the initial release was small and we've already sold over half of what we got.  In time, however, there should be no problem keeping this in stock.  I think it will slowly win people over and become a staple of every serious whisky drinker's home bar, namely because it's the ultimate rocks and soda bottle. 

The Great King St. actually tastes better in a cocktail than it does as an everyday sipper and I think that's an important thing for people to know.  I've heard from a few customers who were excited over the fact that the Malt Advocate rated a $40 whisky 91 points, thinking that it was just as good as the $90 whiskies they give 91 points to.  However, I'm thinking this needs to be put into perspective.  When a $10 wine from Spain gets 91 points in the Wine Spectator, they're not telling us it's just as good as the 91 point $200 Bordeaux wine - they're saying that it's good compared to its other peers.  In the case of the Great King St, I can't think of another blended whisky that's nearly as delicious. Just remember how it's supposed to be drunk because I have the feeling someone's going to read that review, take a bottle home, pour a wee dram, and say, "Oh....that's it?" However, that isn't it - you just need to add a few ice cubes!  I'm happy it's so inexpensive because when I'm adding rocks and soda, I tend to pour big!

The Laphroaig Triple Wood also quietly debuted yesterday and again, as with the Cairdeas, I was very impressed with the effort from this distillery.  This is the same formula as the Quarter Cask, but with an additional maturation in European Oak.  Ex-bourbon + QC + Euro Oak = Triple Wood.  Nice oaky, woody flavors mingle with subtle sweetness and a healthy dose of peaty punch.  I could drink this all day (and all night, too).  Again, Laphroaig has been great about keeping their prices down - especially when their limited-edition, collectible malts could be demanding far more. 

Kudos to all of these malts. Thank you for keeping us in good spirits without breaking our banks.


Your bargain hunting whisky fans.

-David Driscoll


Only The Best - Part II

It seems I'm not the only person in the liquor industry who's worried about the current trend of drinking "only the best."  A customer recently passed along an article from the most recent Malt Advocate and I was quite startled to find Lew Bryson had written about something quite similar.  Unlike me, however, Lew had the guts to just come right out and say exactly what he felt:

"We - you and me - are the people new whiskey drinkers learn from.  When we're excited about the Antique Collection, Birthday Bourbon, Parker's Heritage, or the Knob Creek Single Barrel, the aspiring whiskey drinker short-cuts to them, fixates on them, and never realizes that there are bourbons for all times.  They have bypassed learning their own bourbon tastes to get right to "the best" - what someone else has told them is the best. We've failed them. They don't know what a table bourbon is."

Quite a compelling statement, eh? 

Speaking solely from retail experience, I have repeatedly worked with customers who conveyed to me their interest in taking wine more seriously and were therefore ready to invest in a gigantic, $10,000 wine storage unit, plus an additional $5,000 to fill it up with whatever I thought was good.  That's a lot of dough and a lot of trust for someone just starting out, but who am I to argue?  What I have usually said, however, is that a wine storage unit is really only necessary for someone looking to meticulously age their wines over a 15-20 year period. "Do you like to drink mature wines mostly?" I would ask.  "I'm not sure, I haven't had that many," was the usual response. I would then attempt to convince the customer to start with a selection of older Bordeaux and California cabernets, taste them over the course of a few weeks, and then decide if this was what they were interested in.  Otherwise, why not just keep your wine in the closet and spend ten grand on something more worthwhile?

I'm not sure if other generations were the same, but many people today under the age of 45 have a desire to dive head first into everything.  I am one of them, but I have worked very hard to scale back this enthusiasm and focus it into acquiring actual wisdom.  I've listened to cycling enthusiasts in the Bay Area mock the newcomer who shows up on the first day with a $10,000 bike and $500 worth of new clothing, despite never having ridden a day.  I've heard amateur golfer friends ridicule the guy with the $5000 bag of clubs, but zero ability to actually use them.  There's an idea out there that beginning with the very best therefore makes you the very best, but it isn't true.  Being able to afford something is very different than actually appreciating it.  It's far better to start slowly and listen to those around you before making any serious declarations.

Going back to Lew's statement, the part that caught my eye was the addition of "what someone else has told them is the best."  Every purchase or experience in life that I value was probably at some point recommended to me by someone I trust.  Whether it was a restaurant recommendation or what type of car to buy.  I don't see anything wrong with listening to other people's opinions.  We just have to make sure that we don't derive our own pleasure through them.  If I were to go out to dinner and someone told me that the wine we were drinking got 92 points, I would probably sigh because there's no actual passion behind a statement like that.  If that same person were to just tell me that he or she thought the wine was really good, I would be much more excited. 

-David Driscoll



The day is finally here.  If you ordered one of our Ladyburn bottles for pre-arrival, they should be ready to pick up today for Northern California.  Hollywood orders will be there this weekend.  If you need to have yours shipped then give us a call as we won't automatically do it until we've heard from you.  So far I've tasted about 20 different customers, friends, and colleagues on the sample I have open and the reactions have been fun to watch.  Superlatives, cursing, and complete bliss.  No one has been underwelmed yet which makes me very happy.  This is as good as it gets!  Happy drinking to all of you who got one.  We really appreciate your support!

-David Driscoll


Bitter is Better

Over the last year we've developed the Spirits Department into one of the most dynamic programs being offered anywhere in the world.  The one aspect of the Sporting Life that we've never truly focused on plays a integral role in the development of our drinks culture, Bitters.  By the strictest definition a cocktail cannot exist without the bitters.  Most people don't realize how important these special little concoctions are to the drinks that they love so much.  Using them is not always easy, but once you've gained some experience they can be wildly pleasurable.  There is absolutely NO money in bitters.  The classics dominate and the general public won't pay $18 for 100ml of booze designed specifically to be unpalatable by itself.  Nonetheless, I'm committed to becoming the countries premier bitters destination.  I'm not going to carry every bitter on the market, but I'm going to give you the best of what's available.  Honestly, my quest to become one of the world's premier bitters suppliers has been met with skepticism.  My staff thinks its crazy!  The owners laugh at the invoices.  Most customer just gawk.  Honestly I don't care!  I'm gonna work to make sure that we carry every bitter worth its salt or die trying.  Our new bitters section is up and running in Hollywood and you can get them sent ANYWHERE in the US because they are classified as non-potable.  While many specialty retailers charge EXTREME prices for there bitters, we do not have to rely on excessive margins to justify our increased inventory - why?  Cause I say so, that's why.  We need people excited about these products because they're so important to making great drinks.  IN order to do that we need people to feel comfortable using bitters, so PLEASE come on in and have a taste.  All our bitters are open for you to taste so don't wait!  I will be tasting our wide selection over the coming weeks and giving you my impression.  Any questions please let us know! 

-David Girard