What's In David's Bar - 1/25/10

So this bottle is not a staple of my home bar, but rather something that I just purchased today.  I've been tempted by this bottle since it first came in, as I've only ever tasted Talisker's standard 10 year bottling.  This malt is considered to be not only one of their best, but also one of their best values.  For $75.99 you get an 18 year old whisky!  Oban 18 = $130.99.  Bruichladdich 16 = $99.99.  Highland Park 18 = $89.99.  Talisker is one of the great all-rounders in the single malt world: it has the peat of Islay, the sweet richness of Speyside, the fruit of the Highlands, and the seawater of the Islands.  I rarely buy whisky these days because I taste for a living; if anything, I'm begging for a bottle of wine.  However, I'm so satisfied with this bottle beacause it's both comforting and interesting.  Some Speyside malts are a bit too bland with only the Sherry wood to carry them.  Sometimes the big guns of Islay are too intense for unwinding during the evening.  Talisker gives me everything I desire and the 18 year is a spectacular expression of the Isle of Skye's finest dram.  The nose is primarily peaty smoke, but a second whiff shows honey and caramel.  The flavors are soft, but concentrated with smoke, honey, hints of sweetness, and seawater notes.  The finish is still lingering as I type this nearly a full 20 minutes after I finished my glass.  My buddy John Hansell over at the Malt Advocate considers this whisky to be one of the true values in today's market and I understand why.  It overachieves and astounds in every way.

-David Driscoll


It's Savoy Night at Alembic! Sunday Jan 24th

Once again, that time of the month is upon us.  If you think you can't drink anymore after sitting around and watching football all day, then you are WRONG!  You CAN drink more and you should do it with me at Alembic on Haight St. in San Francisco - the home of great cocktails in the city.  I will step behind the bar for my second time and attempt to craft drinks with the great precision used by my colleagues: "Mr. Savoy" Erik Ellestad, Danny Louie, and Alembic boss Daniel Hyatt.  The entire book is the menu and you are free to order the zaniest, craziest, most-out-of-date libation you can find.  The vibe is mellow and the ambiance makes Alembic a great place to sit, relax, sip on something delicious, and chat with a friend.  I hope to see you all there.

-David Driscoll



New Arrivals and Updates!

Here's a peak at some new arrivals and some bottles that we've had for a little while, but forgot to tell you about.

Tuthilltown Whiskies From New York - Some of these we've had in the LA store for a bit, but we're going to expand and offer the whole line up.  From a state that used to boast numerous distilleries before Prohibition, Tuthilltown is the first to operate since then!  They're making some crazy young whiskies that are use only local grains and are hand crafted to perfection.  They also use smaller barrels so the maturation rate is faster.

Tuthilltown Four Grain Bourbon 375ml $49.99 - The four grain bourbon from New York's Tuthilltown is the only whiskey currently being made with four different grains - primarily corn, but also rye, wheat, and malted barley.  It is aged less than a year in barrel before bottling and is full of herbal peppery notes and an intriguing intermingling of all four grain elements.

Tuthilltown Hudson Baby Bourbon 375ml $49.99 - Tuthilltown Spirits is located along New York Hudson's River and has the distinction of being the first New York distillery to (legally) make bourbon since Prohibition. The Hudson Baby Bourbon is a single-grain bourbon made entirely from New York corn, and it is aged in small American oak barrels that impart vanilla caramel notes and soften the spirit's edges. Mild, this is a great introduction to bourbon, but enjoyable for even the most discerning connoisseur.  It is the only 100% corn bourbon in production.

Tuthilltown Hudson Manhattan Rye 375ml $49.99 - It wouldn't really be fair to say that this Hudson River distillery is hopping on the current rye-loving band wagon  when, in actuality, the state of New York was well-known for its ryes before Prohibition. But, surprisingly, rye hasn't been made in the state (legally) since that time. Tuthilltown Spirit's Hudson Manhattan Rye revives the tradition with class. This small batch whiskey is made with whole grain rye and it has a lovely floral and fruit-filled nose and a smooth palate with the fantastic rye edge that makes this many bartenders' spirit of choice. The hand-filled bottles are sealed with wax and numbered.

 Tuthilltown New York Corn Whiskey 375ml $36.99 - Tuthilltown is currently the only American distiller making 100% corn whiskey and in no other spirit could it be more apparent.  This "white" whiskey can call itself whiskey because it spends a brief week in barrel before being bottled.  Made from a 400 year old heirloom variety of corn all locally grown near the distillery, the whiskey is deliciously smooth with a creamy palate of corn and subtle fruit.  It is completely clear and without color.  A very unique and interesting product that we are excited to be carrying.

 Tuthilltown Single Malt Whiskey 375ml $49.99 - Aged for one year in barrel from 100% malted barley, this New York whiskey sources its barley from Canada and makes one of the most compelling American spirits around - an American single malt.  The nose is a beautiful and fragrant aroma of baking spice and the palate shows more youthful spice and peppery notes.


 Tariquet Bas Armagnac Classique Armagnac 750ml $33.99 - This is our newest Armagnac and it's going to be our best deal on brandy of any kind.  It is simply outrageously smooth and supple, to the point that I can't imagine anyone truly not enjoying it.  The fruit is all handpicked and the Grassa family has been making it in a pot still since 1911.  It spends only three years in barrel, which seems impossible when you feel its velvet texture in your mouth.  The aromas are very delicate with dried apricots and caramel sifting gently in.  The palate is simply lush with rich barrel flavors of baking spice.  The finish has gobs of fruit, to the point that you'd think this is Cognac, not the normally spicy Armagnac.  Made of 60% Ugni Blanc and 40% Baco, I'm expecting this bottle to fly of the shelf once people taste it.  It's such a deal.

 Paul Giraud Cognac Napoleon 750ml $56.99 - The Paul Giraud cognacs are all about hands-on production.  The family has been working the same vines since 1650 and they specialize in authentic, rustic-styled brandies.  All of their fruit is from Grande Champagne amd their 35ha vineyard is in the heart of the appellation.  The Napoleon is a light golden color with absolutely gorgeous fruit on the aromatics.  The palate is full of spice and packs plenty of power for such an elegant flavor profile.  The barrel notes of vanilla really come in on the mid-palate and the spirit finishes with baking spices and a long rich caramel note.  This is exciting Cognac that we are happy to add to our shelves.

 Other Spirits

 Death's Door Spirits - Part of the sustainable food movement in Wisconsin, sourcing all the materials from a small network of local farmers, Death's Door is all about thinking locally.  Located on Washington Island, a small island to the north in the lakes, this distillery (converted from an old hotel) is not only about using sustainable and locally grown grains for making spirits, its about making delicious spirits as well.  I was very impressed with all three bottles.

 Death's Door Vodka 750ml $34.99 -This tastes as good as vodka can taste and is made with 60% winter wheat and 40% malted barley, so it's basically 40% unaged whiskey.  The subtle sweetness kicks in during the creamy mid-palate and the bottle is really cool.  As long as your spending $30+, you might as well get the locally grown, sustainably produced vodka that actually has quality ingredients!

 Death's Door White Whisky 750ml $38.99 - This little guy spends a whole 72 hours in barrel (in order to legally call it whisky) and was only bottled because a supplier offered to buy 50 cases if he would bottle it.  It is softer than one would expect and has some great subtle fruit flavors as well.  The barrels are made from Minnesota oak and the whisky is composed of 80% wheat and 20% barley.  It has become a sort of sensation in bars as mixologists are making "White Manhattans" and "White Sazeracs."  Very unique and definitely worth your time.

 Death's Door Gin 750ml $34.99 - Made from the same 60/40 wheat/barley blend as the vodka, and then infused with only three botanicals: whole fresh juniper berries (which actually grow on Washington Island where it is made), fennel, and corriander (harvested from south of Madison).  The fennel really comes through in the aromatics and the palate is soft with tender perfume notes.  It is a very easy going gin and would make a great addition to any martini lover's collection. 

 More stuff

 Ransom Old Tom Gin 750ml $36.99 - Ransom spirits is a one man, artisinal distillery, run by Tad Seestedt and located in Sheridan, Oregon.  The Old Tom gin is all done on an alembic pot still and it is an historically accurate replication of what people were drinking in the 1800's and during the golden age of American cocktails (Cocktail historian David Wondrich collaborated on the project).  It has just a touch of sweetness, a golden amber color, and is made from malted barley and corn.  Make the original Martinez cocktail with the original Old Tom Gin. 

 Averna Liquori Di Limoni di Sicilia $23.99 - Say hello to our new lemon superstar, but don't call it Limoncello.  Averna's Sicilian spirit is not simply Everclear with sugar and lemons added to it, they actually distill the base spirit after a long maceration with the actual lemons, to make sure that the lemon flavor is engrained in the character of the liqueur itself.  The palate is as pure fresh lemon as is possible and the palate reenforces it even more with just a kiss of sweetness and without any of the hot alcoholic notes that usually linger from using a high proof neutral grain spirit.  It will surely impress the heck out of you.



Tasting With Glenmorangie - 1/19/10

Again the priviledges of being the spirits buyer for a major retailer - the master distillers for the world's great whiskies come to see you! Hopefully I will be able to visit them someday, but for now I'm just happy that they take the time to visit K&L.  Dr. Bill Lumsden, the distiller and whisky creator for Glenmorangie, was in the Bay Area this week and brought his whole lineup of fantastic Highland malts with him to make sure that I was familiar with them.  I've been a fan of Glenmorangie since I first started seriously drinking, mostly because they're so accessible and tasty.  I feel like they do something many drams only wish they could do - appeal to both beginners, with its rich and coating mouthfeels, and experienced tasters, with a complexity of flavor that extends throughout the entire portfolio. 

I am usually inclined to sum up Glenmorangie with a story about my two good friends at last year's Whiskies of the World extravaganza in San Francisco.  I had two extra passes and two old buddies who were interested in drinking whisky, but knew very little about the producers.  They tasted at about three different tables until they got to Glenmorangie and then they simply posted up there for the rest of the evening.  They absolutely fell in love with the Nectar d' Or and marveled at the different expressions that were clearly influenced by the barrels they had been aged in.  They had the whole room at their disposal, but Glenmorangie whiskies are undeniably delicious, and after tasting some pretty peaty Islay malts, they simply wanted to stick with something that truly hit the spot, and that's exactly what these malts do.

The core of Glenmorangie's range is the 10 year, and then a series of 12 year old whiskies all aged 10 years in Bourbon casks before distinguishing themselves in how they spent the last two, and we began the tasting by sampling them.  With the exception of The Original, I believe they are all unchillfiltered.

Glenmorangie "The Original" Single Malt Whisky $35.99 - A classic 10 year old whisky aged solely in Bouron barrels that is a paragon of restraint and subtlety.  The citrus (which is clear and apparent in a few of their malts) really shines in the nose along with honey and vanilla.  The vanilla continues on in the supple and creamy palate, and the finish lingers with a touch of sweetness.  This is a great whisky for anyone's collection and it's very reasonably priced.  Who wouldn't like this?

Glenmorangie Lasanta Extra Matured Range Sherry Cask $47.99 - The Lasanta gets the extra two years in sherry casks and really captures the dried fruits and nutty flavors that I associate with traditional Speyside malts.  The aromas are toffee and raisins and the finish showcases them again.  This whisky is less expensive than many Speysiders and it tastes better, so I'm glad we revisited this.  I will make sure that I pass this on to people who think they want Macallan!

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban Extra Matured Range Port Cask $47.99 - This dram really stands apart from the others with its dry and spicy flavors - completely lacking the sweetness that the others all display.  You get the dark chocolate, the baking spices, the orange peel on the palate, and the aromas are pure incense and sandalwood.  I can't remember trying this in the past, so I'm definitely excited about having gotten the chance to taste it.  I've had some other port-matured whiskies and I haven't been nearly as impressed.  This is distinctive and very good.

Glenmorangie Nectar D' Or Extra Matured Range Sauternes Cask $65.99 - This had previously been my favorite of the Extra Matured Range, and it still tastes as lovely as it always has.  Since the Bruichladdich 15 year in Yquem cask ran out, this is where I've gotten my fix.  The lemon custard, honey, and sweet syrup flavors leap out on the palate, and the nose is pure vanilla and orange peel.  The finish is all lemon tart and cream, however, despite the dessert-like descriptors, the whisky isn't all that sweet.  I still would drink it after dinner however as a substitute for something sweet.

The rest of the tasting consisted entirely of whiskies I had never before tasted and bottles that we have not yet carried, therefore I do not have a link to our website for them.  They were very exciting and of amazing quality, so I hope to make them available very soon.

Glenmorangie Private Collection Sonnalta PX - This whisky follows the formula of 10 and 2, but the sherry barrels used for the final aging are very different than those used in the Lasanta.  First of all these are Pedro Ximenez barrels - the sweetest and richest of sherries. Second, they are custom made for Dr. Lumsden - they are not simply used PX barrels.  Dr. Lumsden has spanish oak barrels made and then toasted on the inside.  He then requests that they be filled with PX sherry for one year so that the charred wood soaks up all the flavor.  The result is an aging vehicle that inflects its flavor deeply into the malt whisky.  The aromas are gigantic, punch-you-in-the-face aromas of dried fruit, toasty oak, and roasted nuts.  The palate is suprisingly soft on the entry, but hugely concentrated with plenty of raisin fruit and sherry notes.  This was supposed to be for duty free stores only, but they decided to release it into a few international markets.  The finish goes on forever.

Glenmorangie Astar Single Malt Whisky - This is almost cask strength, pure and unadulterated Glenmorangie whisky that spends all its time in designer casks made from American white oak from the Ozarks.  It is bottled at 57.1% ABV and really sings of toffee, butterscotch, and honey all the while intermingling with peppery herbs and gobs of fruit on the finish.  It is delicious and big in everyway.  I think it retails for around $80, but probably a bit less from us. 

Glenmorangie 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky - This is a very rare expression of Glenmorangie that sees 70% of the whisky spend its entire 18 years in Bourbon cask, while the other 30% does 15 years in Bourbon before being transfered to sherry for the final 3.  The nose is extremely fruity and full of floral aromas.  The palate shows citrus fruit with honeysuckle notes and the finish is all hazelnuts with dried fruits.  It is absolutely top notch whisky that I think I would pay top dollar for.

Glenmorangie 25 Year Old Single Malt Whisky - This dram used to retail for $900!!!  I couldn't believe it, but yet I could because I can easily say it's one of the finest whiskies I have ever tasted - EASILY.  I think they are dropping the price to around the $500 mark, which helps, but I'm not sure that even this gushing review is going to help them sell it at that price either.  It sees Bourbon wood for the first 20 years and then 12.5% goes into used Burgundy barrels and another 12.5% sees sherry casks.  The nose is stupendous - tons of aromatics with marzipan, berries, mint, and an oily characteristic that I love in a Scotch Whisky.  Everything about this whisky is perfect especially the balance.  The weight, the mouthfeel, the hints of sweetness, and the level of richness are all majestically in tune with one another.  If you are going to Whiskies of the World in March, go to their table first and try to get a taste of this right away.

Glenmorangie Signet Single Malt Whisky - Even though the 25 year was my favorite, I am saving this review for last because it was the most intriguing and the one bottle I am most likely to bring into K&L in the near future.  The Signet is one of the most complicated whiskies I have ever had explained to me.  It begins with Dr. Lumsden's love of coffee bean and chocolate roasting.  He decided that instead of drying his barley in a heated kiln, he would roast the barley like coffee beans in a heated revolving barrel.  The result was that the little buds of barley actually looked brown roasted beans and they are then used to make the beer and then the whisky!!  He calls it "high roasted chocolate malt."  The whisky is then aged up to 34 years and is then blended with other ancient Glenmorangie malts including a rare 1974 and another 40 year old from their archives.  The flavors are like almond biscotti and dark chocolate.  The color is dark and the palate is brimming with super soft dried fruit and loads of richness.  But it's not overdone.  That's the amazing part.  The SWA obviously took some time off from bothering John Glaser to pay Dr. Lumsden a visit and make sure this "chocolate malt" thing was kosher, but in the end they though it was brilliant.  I concur.  Well played, doctor.

-David Driscoll


New Local Booze! - Old World Spirits in Belmont

I was excited today to meet and taste with Davorin Kuchan, the master distiller for the newly-opened Old World Spirits in Belmont - just down the street from the Redwood City store.  Kuchan is a Croatian-born, but locally-educated product of a family that has been making booze for generations.  His traditional methods have brought him to search out the finest local produce for sourcing his brandies.  He is also a former member of the group behind Sarticious Gin, a Santa Cruz spirit that had a legion of adoring fans before folding last year.  He's now on his own and he's got the updated version of Sarticious, which he now calls Blade Gin, as well as a whole other line-up of goodies.  Most of these will be in stock by the end of the week, while others will be special order only.  The Blade Gin is not quite ready yet, but it will be hopefully in stock within a month or so.  We are the first retailer to carry his products and I couldn't be more excited.  Here are my tasting notes and info:

Kuchan Indian Blood Peach Eau De Vie 375ml $35.99 - All the fruit in this brandy comes from Placerville's Apple Hill and are all Indian Blood peaches - a variety that is difficult to sell as produce because it splits easily. However, the Indian Blood peaches are incredibly flavorful and as the base for fermentation, they really come through in the spirit.  The aromas are delicate, but unmistakably peachy and the pure flavor carries over to the flavor on the palate as well.  This is very good eau de vie.

Kuchan Poire William Pear Eau De Vie 375ml $35.99 -  The pear brandy has a lovely nose that jumps right out of the glass, and the entry is softer than most other fruit eau de vies.  The difference according to Kuchan is the yeast he uses during fermentaion - a trade secret he keeps to himself.  He also ferments the fruit for over a month, letting the slow process really give the spirit character.  The result speaks for itself - these are amazing products that we are very excited to see in our store.

Kuchan Juglans Nigra Black Walnut Liqueur 375ml $28.99 -  This liqueur has no perceptable sweetness whatsoever, so it's more like a walnut-macerated brandy - it is unlike anything you've ever tasted.  The California black walnuts are crushed and then macerated in the Zinfandel-based brandy for over nine months! At the end a bit of cinnamon and vanilla is added, as well as organic tapioca.  This is a tradition that has been in Kuchan's family for generations, and is part of the Croation tradition of planting a walnut tree in front of the house where a baby has just been born.  Both the tradition and the spirit are beautiful.  The color is a brown-amber and the flavors are nutty, as the brandy intermingles with the natural oils in the walnuts.

La Sorcière Absinthe Supèrieure Verte 750ml $72.99 - The spirit is brandy-based and is distilled from wine made by local California growers.  The Verte is macerated with wormwood, fennel, anise, star anise and other herbs before distillation, then the spirit gets a second maceration and the chlorophyll from the leaves colors the absinthe green.  La Sorcière has gotten rave reviews from the Wormwood Society, and from us here as well.  The aromas are not as bold as some of its comtemporaries, partly because Davorin tones down the proof to 100, but the concentration is beautiful.  The anise really shines and the flavors are clean and focused.  This is an absinthe I would like to drink straight, with no water added.

La Sorcière Bleue Absinthe Supèrieure 750ml $72.99 -   The spirit is brandy-based and is distilled from wine made by local California growers. The Bleue is clear and without the standard greenish tint seen with most absinthes because all the maceration is done pre-distillation, meaning that the flavor needs to be strong enough to transfer over into the finished spirit.  That's a difficult tast, but Davroin pulls it off.  The flavors are more ginger and spice, rather than herbal, but the result is still beautiful.   La Sorcière has gotten rave reviews from the Wormwood Society, and from us here as well. We are very happy to have them on our shelves.

-David Driscoll