Drink & Watch: Bad Santa

I think Bad Santa might be my favorite movie ever made. Every holiday season when the weather starts getting chilly and the leaves start falling from the trees outside I like to open a bottle of whisky, watch Billy Bob Thornton drink himself silly, and laugh my fucking ass off while having a few drams myself. Ever since I discovered the Classic Bay Area Kron channel in the non-HD section of my Comcast guide (an area I rarely look at these days since I like everything as highly-defined as possible) I've been on a huge Three's Company kick. My God, does that show hold up over time! John Ritter as Jack Tripper may be even funnier to me now than he was when I watched as a kid. John's final role before he passed away was as the soft-spoken, uncomfortably conservative mall boss in Bad Santa and it's such an opposite turn from the loud, over-the-top, physical comedy he exuded as Tripper. The scenes he shares with the late Bernie Mac are like duels between two masters of hilarity, battling back and forth in a contest to see who can make the other one laugh first with just a facial expression or an odd twitch of the mouth. I watched this flick again last night and rewound John Ritter's final moments back over and over. I always find new things to laugh about each time I watch this movie, which is why I love it so much.

Of course, I got about as drunk as Billy Bob himself before all was said and done. I was texting my thoughts to a friend at the time, who responded with great news: "You heard they signed on for a sequel, right?"

I had not heard that. Bad Santa 2 in 2016? I'll have to prepare both my funny bone and my liver.

-David Driscoll



2015 was the year I went from knowing almost nothing about Paris and the French language to knowing more than most. In January, I decided I was going to put the work in and start learning the tongue, seeing that I was becoming more involved with the import side of our business and would be spending more time abroad. I went from having been to Paris three times over the course of my life to three times over the course of a few months. After Thanksgiving I'll be heading back to Paris again for a fourth time, finishing up a personal project for K&L I've been working on for more than six months. I can't wait. For me, the city has gone from an overwhelming mass of incomprehensible jibberish to my home away from home. Simply put, I love Paris. It's the perfect place for me and it occupies a special place in my heart after my experiences there this past year. In fact, I think I've been happier hanging out in Paris this year than I have been visiting anywhere else at any other time in my life. 

To me, Paris is the beacon of everything a great city should and can be. If I could afford to just pick up and move there, I would do so without blinking an eye. It's a place I'm constantly thinking about when I'm not there, and a place where my worries wash away as soon as I enter it. It's a place where everyone is welcome, but no one is special. It's a place where you can blend in and disappear, yet where everyone is simultaneously on display. It's a place full of unique world cultures, yet with a clear culture of its own. It's the most beautiful and wonderful city in the world. The idea that anyone could see Paris in any other way is crazy to me. The fact that someone would seek to destroy that ideal is painful.

-David Driscoll


Terroir in Spirits

It's a question I hear often concerning Cognac, and it's one that deserves some serious thought: if there's such a difference between the fruit in Grand Champagne and Petit Champagne vineyards, or between the soils of the Borderies and the Fins Bois, then why don't Cognac houses ever bottle single vineyard, unblended brandies? Why don't they show consumers exactly what the differences are? 

There are dozens of different reasons why producers like Hennessy and Remy don't bottle single vintage, single vineyard selections, but let's start with the obvious ones: volume, consistency, quantity, and price. Some of the best Cognacs I've ever tasted were single vintage selections at the Hennessy warehouse this past Spring, but the problem is scale. Hennessy is a gigantic corporation with millions of customers all over the world to think about. It's not even worth a minute of their time to think about a 200 bottle release of some esoteric exercise catering strictly to a few geeks out there who want to talk about terroir for their own educational purposes—something that would likely taste nothing like any of their other products. Then there's the idea of pricing. If a blend of hundreds of different Cognacs costs $50, then a single, isolated cask that's incredibly rare and unprecedented in the category should cost what? $200? $300? $1000? No one really knows. More importantly, no one really cares to find out either. It's too much trouble for not enough reward.

Then you've got the French laws to think about. Get this: you can only label your Cognac by vintage if you have a French government official seal the barrel once filled, and then unseal the barrel when you're ready to bottle. They won't simply take your word for it. Oh, and there will be a fee involved for both visits. Make your check out to: French Tax Bureau. Luckily for us, despite all of these hang-ups, there is one major Cognac house who thinks we're doing some pretty neat things with our expanded Cognac/Armagnac program and is interested in the idea of pure, unadulterated, single barrel Cognac. Luckily for them, they still operate partially out of the UK, meaning they can send a portion of their casks to be aged outside the country (at the Glenfarclas distillery, to be exact). This little side operation helps from a logistical perspective. It allows them to do things outside the realm of other Cognac producers.

In the realm of big house producers you've got Hennessy, Courvoisier, Remy, and Martell. But ask just about any serious Cognac aficionado which major house has been bringing nothing but rock-solid juice for the last three decades—Cognac that isn't overly-sweet, overly-adulterated, and mass-produced—and they'll all tell you Hine. It's one of the most storied houses and also one of the most respected—if not the most. One thing I'm sure about is that Hine is by far the most forward-thinking of the major Cognac producers. They're embracing the new market of drinkers who want more from their booze—more flavor, more information, more access. They contacted us about working together on a new project. We listened. We liked.

This past Spring we visited the company headquarters in Jarnac and tasted through a number of single vintage, single vineyard Cognacs that blew our minds. Again, this wasn't the first time I had tasted Cognacs of this nature. It was the first time, however, that I had tasted anything of this nature on this level of quality. These were incredible. They were pure and clean, fresh and invigorating, but with depth and complexity that rivaled anything else I had tasted in Cognac.

And kudos to Hine for wanting to give this project a try. Full transparency, details, location, no coloring, single barrel Cognac.........FROM A MAJOR HOUSE!!!! This isn't some tiny little grower offering us something in his backyard. This is Hine we're talking about here! They have customers all over the world who would kill for stuff like this.

But I guess in today's market there's one store that's making waves in the French brandy department and it's starting to get the attention of the major players in the industry. There is something to this whole sense of place concept as it pertains to spirits. People want to understand these products—to know what makes them tick. It's simply up to the producers to decide whether that idea interests them as well. 

Hine stepped up and got it done. Who else is gonna join us?

-David Driscoll


Last New Armagnac Delivery of 2015

Our last delivery of Armagnac for the year just arrived this week as well—a small drop of two selections from a new producer we met this year called Domaine de Papolle. The domaine was recently purchased by the Piffard family from a British businessman and today is run by the son Frederic. The estate on the property is very Gascogne, with dark wooden interiors, antique country furniture, and paintings with still-life fruit bowls, half glasses of wine, and a spreads of vegetables adorned with dead pheasants. It's quite a romantic domaine with a rustic gothic style. We loved their wonderful brandies, especially the older baco vintages from the late 70s and early 80s, but we also fell for some of the folle blanche expressions. Digging through the warehouse was one of the more exciting parts of this year’s trip. They had vast stocks and a number of delicious expressions. The Papolle Armagnacs are big, rich, powerful brandies. These are not delicate spirits, but they have balance which is what makes them unique. Here are the two we went with: 

1987 Domaine de Papolle 28 Year Old K&L Exclusive Folle Blanche Armagnac $79.99 - The 1987 expression is a 28 year old folle blanche distillate that really packs the spice and the aromatics one expects from the varietal. The wood is also intensely integrated, adding serious richness to all that punch. It's a brandy that's equal parts weight and finesse. A fantastic deal as well for the price.

1973 Domaine de Papolle 42 Year Old K&L Exclusive Armagnac $139.99 - This 42 year old baco distillate is almost coffee black in color and is as brooding and dark as the inside of the Papolle manor. It's intensely rich, leathery in character, and unpolished as a rustic country brandy should be. Toffee, mocha, and dense caramel linger long on the finish. Considering the more than four decades spent in wood, the price is almost absurd.

-David Driscoll


Copper & Kings: The Next Big Thing Is Here

I am often weary of people just getting into distillation these days. There's too much opportunism guiding the motivations towards the spirits business and unfortunately not enough passion. Ironically, most of that money hungry desire to cash in on the current demand for aged booze usually gets set straight quickly because few people are getting rich. You talk to almost everyone who's started a distillery in the past few years and they'll tell you the same thing: "If I'd have known how much this was going to cost, I never would have done it." Simultaneously, the exact opposite problem can also be true of newcomers to the industry: too much passion, not enough street smarts. I get samples in the mail almost every day for some of the strangest distilled spirits you've never heard of. "Why would anybody want to make this?" I think to myself sometimes when I see the crazy concoctions people send me. It's that exact weariness that crept across my mind when Copper & Kings Distillery owner Joe Heron emailed me a year ago to ask if I would be part of a brandy panel with him at Tales of the Cocktail. "Why me?" I asked.

"Because your writing and insight has heavily-influenced our brandy endeavors," Joe wrote back. Apparently this guy had started distilling brandy somewhere in Kentucky and read my blog quite frequently—the latter of which made me even more nervous. Anyone who would base serious business decisions on my drunken ramblings must be totally nuts! While the brandy panel never came to fruition, Joe would continue to email me periodically with thoughts about the industry and questions about K&L, and his messages were always friendly and courteous. However, when I started writing live from Louisville this past September Joe noticed immediately and sent me an invitation, saying he would love to show us around if we had the time. We were on a pretty tight schedule and I wasn't sure if visiting some "craft" upstart was a good idea in lieu of our Bourbon hunt. But on our first night in town, while sipping Bourbon at a well-stocked local restaurant, I noticed a Copper & Kings brandy bottle on the back bar. "Excuse me," I asked the bartender, "Can I get a pour of that?" Thirty seconds later, after having tasted the standard American brandy, I was fiddling with my iPhone trying to get Joe on the horn. I had gone from weary to wanting in the span of two quick sips. We needed to check this place out.

Joe said he'd be at the distillery the following day, so we made plans to come by. The next evening after having finished our Kentucky Bourbon rounds we decided to walk to the facility, so as to get a sense of the neighborhood. Copper & Kings is located in what's known as Butchertown—an old industrial section of Louisville with classically-midwestern architecture and an Americana atmosphere that seems almost frozen in time. Amidst the charmingly rundown buildings and empty warehouses sits the impeccably-remodeled distillery—half of it refurbished brick from the site's original foundation, and the other half a modern making of steel and glass. It blends into the general construct of the area, while simultaneously standing out like a beacon of light on the corner of Washington Street. "Wow," I thought to myself as we approached, "these guys are not kidding around." 

Joe met us out front, shook our hands, and immediately took us up the walkway into the main courtyard where the stills stood underneath the open hangar doors—three gigantic pots that were cranking away, just coming to the end of a late-evening run. Not just any type of stills, mind you, but real, hand-crafted copper Vendome stills—the top of the line, created by the local Louisville brassworks company (and neighbor to Copper & Kings); the Cadillac of distilling equipment. "Who paid for all this?" I asked Joe with a huge smile on my face. "We did," he answered. "no investors, no outside interests. It's just Lesley and me." The brandy was delicious, the distillery itself a revelation of tasteful design with artistic accents, and the owner a seemingly nice guy who loved reading my blog. Where in the hell did this place come from? Thin air? Was I walking into the spirits industry version of Brigadoon? No, it was real and here's the story:

Joe Heron and his wife Lesley came to the U.S in 2002 from South Africa—via England and Sweden—settling into Minnesota before diving right into the drinks business. They founded a soda company called Nutrisoda which they sold to PepsiAmericas in 2006, then Crispin Cider in 2004 before eventually selling off the label to MillerCoors in 2012. "We lost our minds and decided to start another business," Joe told me later on. So why Kentucky brandy and not Kentucky Bourbon? "We were interested in the romance of what a definitive American brandy could be," he said. "We wanted to do something inspired by American whiskey and it seemed brandy was less crowded. But brandy distillates are not conductive to the smaller, accelerated techniques being used by some of the smaller, newer distilleries today, so we knew we would have to source some of our product to get up and running." There were plenty of aged stocks available for the company to source while waiting for their own spirits to age—from Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Ohio, Michigan, and New York. They were selective, however, choosing only brandies distilled from pot stills—never from column. And what did they do with all those mature stocks? They made a gigantic solera system, what Joe likes to call the "DNA base". The new make spirit distilled onsite is slowly blended into the aged blend to create an expression based upon brandies created all over the country. When you read "American brandy" on the label, it's truly that.

Copper & Kings not only sourced a variety of grape-distilled brandies, but apple as well, creating a number of distinctive expressions that rival the quality and value offered by any other small producer in the states. We tasted the soft and delicious American brandy, the powerful and energetic Butchertown 124 proof edition, the pure and fruit-forward apple brandy, and a number of other creations that had me impressed beyond words. Lesley had begun the search long before the distillery was ever built, taking a page from Utah distiller High West—a producer that presciently purchased vast stocks of various American rye whiskies before the market eventually took off. "The solera will carry on for about four more years, as we continue to blend old back into new," Joe said, "using the DNA to move backwards continually to maintain the integrity of our American brandy. We manage consistency, we don't manufacture it." 

As Joe took us down to the cellar, I was able to get a better perspective on exactly how much mature brandy Copper & Kings had been able to lay down. "People were happy for us to take it off their hands. You have to remember, David, " Joe continued, "up until very recently the only legitimate person actively writing about brandy in America has been you. That's part of the reason we're excited to have you here!" As the visit kept getting more fantastical by the minute, I wasn't sure who was actually more excited: Joe, or me. After loading up the warehouse, Joe began distilling on site in the Spring of 2014 with unfiltered wines sourced and trucked in from California. "We distill muscat, colombard, and chenin blanc," Joe told me. "They're classic brandy grapes—lovely, aromatic varietals with high acidity. Muscat is the fun and forward girl who dances on the bar. Chenin blanc gives you length and finesse—she's the girl in the elegant black dress. Colombard is the glue that holds them both together—she wears the black dress and may occasionally dance on the bar."

"Our goal," Joe would later say, "is to establish brandy that is on an American paradigm. We're trying to provide the spice and the rambunctious nature that we love about American whiskey. We want full structure. We want drums, bass, and guitar—the whole fucking band". You can see that influence in the incredible Butchertown expression—a full-throttle 62% ABV blast of brandy flavor that straddles the line between Four Roses at cask strength and something like Germain-Robin's pureness of fruit. And who's to say you can't make brandy like American whiskey? "I hate dogma," Joe went on to tell me. "Dogma is the root of all evil, especially when it comes to alcohol. We choose grapes based on what they deliver to the final spirit, not because of where they're grown. We age in Bourbon barrels. We don't dilute. We don't add boisé or caramel coloring. We want to extract that new American oak flavor, that beautiful vanilla note that can come out from there. We're very much about pure pot distillation and no adulteration. We don't chill-filter. Our brandy comes out of the cask with its full integrity intact. Without sounding sycophantic, your blog helped to lead us down this path."

As we walked out of the distillery, the warm Louisville evening in full bloom, I strolled into the street and took a few more shots from the exterior. Joe had made it clear he was interested in working with us, and I had made it clear that I really wanted to sell his stuff. Since then I've been sitting on my thumbs, trying to keep this incredible story to myself, wondering if I could keep my enthusiasm from bubbling over prematurely. The deal is long done. The booze is being delivered this week. Copper & Kings will be sold exclusively at K&L in California and we'll be working with Joe and company directly to bring their fantastic brandies to your home bar. My weariness has worn away, replaced with sheer exhilaration and excitement. I can't wait for you all to taste these! I'll be back with a full breakdown as soon as we're ready to launch.

The next big thing is here.

-David Driscoll