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Wednesday
Dec022009

Tequila Talk

So the last time a tequila vendor walked into my store and wanted to talk to me without an appointment, I ended up acquiescing and wound up with a new, locally-distributed tequila on my shelf.  Then the word got out and another vendor did the same thing, so I ended up with two new, locally-distributed tequilas on my shelf.  Those tequilas were so accessable and fun that they drew the attention of Costco who bought a gazillion bottles and beat our retail price by almost $12.  Well, I've got news for you Costco, you are not the low price leader anymore (even though their rule is they must be!).  I dropped the prices on Don Pilar and Mejor Blanco & Reposado to a ridiculous new low, so take advantage while you can if you need a gift for a tequila drinker.

So yesterday, a third tequila vendor walked into my store with the above bottles and wanted to taste. Given how my first two encounters with what I thought were small vendors ended up causing a price war with the country's largest wholesaler, I was a bit apprehensive, but I was taken by the absolutely beautiful bottles (which you can see above) and I had to taste what was inside.  "I'll just do the blanco.  Come on, we have to go fast because I'm super slammed right now," I said.  I ran to the tasting bar, poured a quick splash of clear tequila, and took a quick whiff.  Clean, crisp and floral, with pure agave aromas lingering with citrus and pepper.  "Oh jeez," I thought, "This is really good."  So I ended up trying all three and they are all very, very good.  What is this new tequila you ask?  Why are we the ONLY (sorry Costco) store that has it now?  Here is some info straight from the source:

Los Osuna 100% Blue Agave comes to you today from the same picturesque countryside as in 1876 and continues as a part of the long-established Osuna family heritage. Made with all natural blue agave through traditional processes, Los Osuna products exhibit the distinguished and characteristic flavors that have been imparted through generations of the Osuna family for over a century. 

 Only the finest agave plants are harvested and roasted using traditional underground ovens, where they are infused with the aromas of fruit, flowers, spices and earth.  Next, the agave juices are fermented with a special Osuna-family blend of ingredients unique to the environment; it is this proprietary mixture which shapes the unique flavor of Los Osuna Blue Agave.  After fermentation and distillation, the flavor is further refined as the product is aged in oak barrels, where it achieves the perfect balance of texture and body to yield an incomparably smooth finish. 

 Whether you prefer to sip a young Blanco with crisp flavors and notes of citrus, or you prefer the more complex and refined nature of a Reposado or Añejo, you’ll experience the aroma and distinctive smoothness only this authentic Sinaloan native can provide.

Seems like the normal info right?  However, there are two very important hints, however, as to why this is NOT your normal, everyday tequila.  Did you catch them? 

1) Do you see the word tequila in those paragraphs?

2) The very last sentence "this Sinaloan native" 

Sinaloa is not in Jalisco - therefore this is not legally tequila - a fact I didn't realize until after I bought it.

I don't care if it's true tequila or not, however, because I know that what I tasted was better than most stuff coming from the real source. As of now, we have Los Osuna Blanco on the shelf in Redwood City and I'm very excited to see how it does.  It's the only blanco I have ever tasted that gives Arette a run for its money.  We should be bringing in the other two soon, but it's the blanco that's going to wow you.

And they have no desire to ever be in a Costco store. 

-David Driscoll

 

Tuesday
Dec012009

Pacult's Spirits Journal Reviews Our Other WhiskyFest Bottle & More

Sweet! Right when the SF Chronicle showed our Murray McDavid selections a little love, Paul Pacult gave us a little more.  Our Highland Park 8 Year just got 4 out of 5 stars: Highly Recommended.  He writes:

"Initial sniffs detect light peaty smoke and minerals...entry is keenly ashlike, tobacco-y and peaty; midpalate is more saline and kippery than smoky; ash-like and finally a delicate cereal sweetness emerges in a finish that's all Highland Park...an intriguing insight into the young stages of this classic malt."

I'm very excited that people ended up liking this as much as I did.  We really focused on bargains this year and, me being very new at this, I'm glad I didn't blow it.

Speaking of Pacult.  He also review the new 1991 Glenlivet 18 Year Old Triumph Nadurra that I just ordered today.  It will be in tomorrow.  It got a great review from Malt Advocate and Pacult gave it a perfect score 5/5 stars, writing:

"The entry is fat like sweet creamery butter and honey; the midpalate is deeply flavored with honey, dark caramel, fudge, and sherry.  Ends on a stupendously sweet note that brings the experience t a spctacular finale."

I'm not normally crazy for Glenlivet but this one is getting crazy good reviews everywhere.  I've got 24 bottles for Wednesday the 2nd.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Dec012009

Oh Man...Tons of New Whisky Coming In.  

For those of you that got the email from yesterday, here are the specs on all the new drams.  For those of you who didn't get the email, there's a boatload of new stuff coming in, mostly from Diageo.  Nothing will be in stock as of today Tuesday December 1st, but it looks like I'm going to get a big fat birthday present on the 2nd (if you think unloading tons of booze and stocking it on the shelves is fun, which sometimes I do).

Lagavulin 12 Year Old Natural Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $69.99 - A limited edition, natural cask strength single malt whisky from the essential Islay distillery, Lagavulin, on Islay’s rocky south coast.
Eighth of a series of special 12 year old releases from the original distiller’s stocks. Vatted from refill American Oak casks, each at least 12 years old. Available in limited quantities worldwide.  An elegant classic; massive smoke and purity of flavour supported by complex aromas and delicious sweetness. Less rich and plummy than the 16 year old yet every bit as refined, with all the hallmarks and a fine, complex nose. 57.9% ABV

Brora 30 year old Rare Edition 8th Release Single Malt Whisky $399.99 - A limited edition, natural cask strength single malt from a closed distillery at Brora on the Sutherland coast. Very rare at this age. Eighth of a very limited series of annual releases. Annual allocation has extended availability of this irreplaceable malt but stocks have depleted. Vatted from a mixture of American Oak and European Oak refill casks, at least 30 years old.  Another fine Brora: deep, sweet and rich; yet with great delivery of smoke, as from camp fires in the late summer. Indisputably Brora, yet in an attractive, softer guise.  The palate is tongue-coating and surprisingly citric. Firm oak. Shows its refined maturity in waves of flavour that surge across the tongue. It needs water, but just the merest drop, which allows the texture to show itself. Full fleshy fruits. Rich and smooth, with hints of smoke. 53.2% ABV

1998 Caol Ila 10 years "Unpeated Style" Special Release Islay Single Malt $64.99 - A limited edition, natural cask strength single malt from Caol Ila, an active distillery on the Isle of Islay.  A fourth limited release of unpeated Caol Ila, the first at ten years old. From a batch made only once a year, from unpeated malt, for blending in the “Highland Style.” From 1st fill Bourbon oak casks filled in 1998. Vibrant, summery and a sure-fire summer hit. Reveals the basic structure of the malt, without the flavours being covered with smoke: plenty of sea-side character, interesting to compare both with recent 8 year old unpeated bottlings and with the peated 12 year old.  65.8% ABV

Caol Ila Distillers Edition Moscatel Single Malt Whisky $79.99 - An extraordinarily stylish and complex double-matured expression of Caol Ila; the Moscatel cask wood not over-evident; richly flavoured yet also drying and finely balanced. Brilliant, clean and refined with great balance. The nose is wonderfully concentrated pure, clean Caol Ila – peaty and medicinal, with rich fruit, spicy and fragrant. With water, the    fragrant smokiness comes singing through. The palate: sweetness and maltiness strike first, then are quickly  overwhelmed by peat smoke and intense, clean, crisp flavours. Caol Ila’s signature smoky bonfires are here, and build to quite a size. Overall, drying, in a beautifully balanced, complex, elegant development with cinnamon spice. 43% ABV

1993 Lagavulin Distillers Edition Single Malt Whiskey $105.99 - Double matured in Pedro Ximinez sherry cask. A really distinctive and distinguished dram, full of peat and brine, while the sherry wood naturally has a big say. A more mellow Lagavulin, not quite as deep or intense as the 16 year.  Powerful, peat-rich, sweet and very more-ish. Distinctive and distinguished.  The nose is intense peat and vanilla. A raisiny sweetness checks the smoke. Iodine-edged peat and crisp, roasty malt. Satisfying and enticing. The palate is sweet and luscious; clear, grassy malt, then the peat attacks, smoke filling the mouth. A very salty tang at one point; the middle offers coffee and vanilla with a glimmer of fruit.  The finish is incredibly long, even for Islay. Fruit, peat, and long-lasting oak. Very chewable and more-ish. 43% ABV
1991 Dalwhinnie Distiller's Edition Oloroso Cask Single Malt Whisky $79.99 - Double matured in Oloroso sherry cask.  A rich, spicy nose, then flavours of heather, peat and the bodega lead through to a very dry finish dominated by oak. Spicy, peaty malt and sherry-sweetness with a dry finish. The nose shows fresh sherry embraces the maltier, more honeyed aspects of Dalwhinnie. Peaty and surprisingly, still heathery. Spicy yet grapey.  The palate has a big, spicy buzz, followed by an impressive build up of very clear, well defined malt. After a quick burst of sweetness, a rich, grape effect then moves in towards the middle. The finish has tons of oak. Very, very dry, with vanilla dominating. 43% ABV

1995 Oban Distillers Edition Montilla Fino Single Malt Whisky $89.99 - Double matured in Montilla cask. Fruity, pungent, seriously complex whisky of the very highest order - a glorious zesty nose and masses of sweet fruit attack complemented by salt and chewy, roasty caramel malt. Fruity, pungent, seriously complex whisky of the very highest order. The nose is outstanding. Fruity and pungent; Oban’s salty sea breezes, with crushed grapes, orange zest and hints of smoke - massively complex. On the palate it's the most explosive Oban ever. Soft malt then wave upon wave of delicate yet rich fruit notes on a tide of brine.  The finish shows sweetened Jamaican coffee and oak, with an attractive malt-biscuit effect as it dies down. 43% ABV

1991 Lagavulin Distillers Edition Single Malt Whiskey $105.99 - An updated version, but apparently identical in taste to the last batch according to my recent phone call with Master of Whisky Stephen Beal.
-David Driscoll

 

Monday
Nov302009

SF Chronicle Chooses Our WhiskyFest Selections as Top Choice

You remember those Laphroaig and Caol Ila bottlings that we poured at WhiskyFest this year?  Well you already know that they're amazing, but now the Chronicle has reviewed them so I had to dash over to the importer and get the last of it.  It's moving fast.  They also wrote about the Spice Tree which I think is going to be a huge whisky in 2010.  Check the link below

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/11/29/FD0Q1AO7FU.DTL&type=wine

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Nov292009

Diageo Manager's Choice Series

I doubt we'll ever see any of these whiskies at K&L, but on top of the Distiller's Edition releases that have been so popular these last few years (i.e. 1991 Lagavulin, Royal Lochnagar, 1993 Oban, etc) Diageo is going to release 27 single barrel, cask strength expressions from all 27 of its distillery holdings - a crazy, but intriguing project that has been drawing both the awe and scorn of whisky fans around the world.  Awe from those collectors that seek out the most interesting and rare of luxury malts.  Scorn from those who have neither the funds (the malts will be priced between $350 and $1000 a bottle) nor the means (most have already been reserved) to taste, let alone acquire a bottle for themselves. 

Whisky Magazine has an article in their current issue that discusses the specs behind each bottle and the process of selecting which barrels to eventually bottle.  The most interesting part for me (as someone who has recently selected a single barrel to bottle for K&L) was when they asked Craig Wallace and Nick Morgan about the difference between their bottlings and say another independent bottler like Gordon & Macphail.  The main difference is that Diageo has access to about 7 million barrels - in essence, every single barrel sitting in every warehouse from all 27 distilleries from which they chose 27.  Those being:

-1997 Cardu, 1998 Glen Elgin, 1996 Linkwood, 1997 Mortlach, 2000 Oban, 1996 Teaninich, 1999 Auchroisk, 1996 Benrinnes, Blair Atholl, 1997 Caol Ila, 1997 Clynelish, 1997 Cragganmore, 1997 Dailuaine, 1992 Dalwhinnie, 1997 Dufftown, 1997 Glen Ord, 1996 Glen Spey, 1995 Glendullan, 1992 Glenkinchie, 1999 Glenlossie, 1993 Inchgower, 1996 Knockando, Lagavulin, 1994 Mannochmore, 1994 Royal Lochnagar, 1996 Strathmill, 1994 Talisker

They also said that age did not play a factor in decision or pricing, which I agree should be the case completely.  I have been an outspoken voice in the lack of consistency between age and quality, with the 2001 Bruichladdich Resurrection and McCarthy Oregon Single Malt being two of my prime examples of outstanding whisky at a young age.  However, while I'm sure that Diageo has access to better single barrels than Murray McDavid, G&M, and Signatory, they obviously didn't taste everything.  The exact quote is "I doubt that many independents could come out with 27 single casks in this way and 27 which were good."

While I will probably never taste these malts, Whisky Magazine did and they did not feel that all 27 were top notch.  Only 4 received the highest possible score and 3 of them are already the top whiskies from the Distiller's Edition series that already have top notch expressions available: Lagavulin, Talisker, and Royal Lochnagar.  The other 23 ranged from terrible to great.  To me, that sounds much like the independent bottlers' catalogs - some absolutely outstanding barrels, and a load of other casks of varying quality.  The difference, however, being that nothing from Murray McDavid or G&M comes in at $500-$1000 a bottle.

I don't really have a strong opinion about the other contraversial topic that was raised in both this article as well as John Hansell's editorial in the latest Malt Advocate concerning the outlandish prices being charged for these collectors editions.  Diageo likens them to electric guitars with some players happily settling for the simple Fender, while others have no problem shelling out for the Les Paul - it's still about making money, they say.  I agree. It's not like they're changing the price of the Lagavulin 16 to $300.  They're not forcing you to pay more for what you already love.  However, I do think they're shooting themselves in the foot because they're basically daring people to look elsewhere for their own product - and that's where we come in along with the independents.  If I can find a barrel of a Diageo whisky that compares in quality, but sell it for under $100 a bottle, then I'm going to pick up the Diageo cast offs and build from their disgruntled base.  Eventually the people will revolt when they feel like they're being priced out or taken advantage of. 

Oh, by the way, the fourth whisky that received a perfect score was the 1997 Clynelish, which should sell for close to $800 a bottle.  If you didn't know, we bought a single cask of 1998 Clynelish that freakin' rocks and you can have it for $49.99.