Finally.....Small Hand Foods Makes It To K&L

It was last September when I took over the spirits buyer position at K&L and my first mission was to tap into the Classic Cocktail revival that is happening in comsopolitan cities like our own San Francisco (although ironically Cosmopolitans are not a part of it).  We have always had a great selection of brown booze, but we weren't doing enough to tap into this newly blossoming scene of pre-Prohibition libations.  For those of you who know nothing of this so-called movement here's a quick synopsis: when Prohibition made alcohol illegal in the U.S. it destroyed the craft of bartending - and during those days it was indeed a craft.  There were unknown quantities of secret recipes for syrups, bitters, liqueurs, and cordials that disappeared with the men who had created them, not to mention to collective knowledge of building cocktails with them.  Luckily there is some documentation from this period - such as the now reprinted Savoy Cocktail Book - that gives us a peek into some of the recipes.  Unfortunately, unless you have a bottle of orgeat or pineapple gum syrup somewhere in your cupboard, you're going to have a tough time recreating many of the best drinks.  Enter Jennifer Colliau.

Lucky for us, the Bay Area is brimming with some of the planet's finest bartenders and one of them has taken matters into her own hands.  Small Hand Foods is the result of one woman's desire to provide bartenders (including herself) and cocktail enthusiasts everywhere with the missing pieces of the pre-Prohibition puzzle. With other producers focusing on lost liqueurs such as Creme de Violette and Falernum, Jennifer Colliau decided to fill in the gaps and focus on forgotten sweetening agents such as gum syrups and quality grenadine.  Practicing her craft behind the bar at top destinations like the Slanted Door, and currently at SF's top cocktail destination Heaven's Dog, she had mixologists everywhere in a frenzy for her historically accurate drinks.  The demand for quality versions of these syrups was so high that she started bottling her recipe and selling it herself.  Because of increasing interest in classic cocktails nationwide (and the fact that Jennifer is the only one currently producing and selling these things) she has finally found a producer to help her concoct the recipes to her own high standard.  Now that they are being distributed throughout the state, there is finally enough supply for K&L to stock it consistantly and I couldn't be more excited.

You might be thinking at this point: "David, that's great that your so happy, but what exactly am I supposed to do with these things?"  That's a great question!  Did you know that a drink called Pisco Punch was once the most popular drink in San Francisco?  Do you know what a real Whiskey Cocktail is?  Did you know that the Jack Rose is my favorite drink but that it needs Jennifer's grenadine or else it just plain doesn't work?  Do you want to know where you can find these recipes or what exactly orgeat is?  Click here!

The Gum Syrup and Pineapple Gum Syrup will be in stock as of next Thursday.  The Orgeat and Grenadine will for now still be hand made by Jennifer herself and they need an extra week, so the following Thursday for them. 

-David Driscoll


Russian River Brewery Blows My Mind (Again)

The Supplication is insanely delicious - get some now!

Not to deviate from the emphasis of this blog for too long, but since our beer guy Bryan Brick doesn't care much for weblogging, I'm going to give it up for Russian River Brewery today.  For those of you out there who haven't noticed our beer department lately, it has been completely transformed.  No longer sporting Becks, Corona, or Budweiser six-packs for those last minute wine shoppers who forgot they needed a few cold ones, our new selection is on a single bottle basis and features the best and brightest craft-brewed beers from artisan brewers world-wide.  The entire Redwood City staff has been along for the ride and we have witnessed an entirely new base of customers frequent our store on a daily basis.  Some of these bottles are priced like a normal bottle of Anchor Steam, and some can be as much as $40 (for a single bottle of beer!).  Like whiskey, many beers are now being aged and enhanced in bourbon barrels, wine casks, you name it.  It is a market that has taken the booze world by storm and, in my opinion, it is the most exciting part of our store at the moment.  

My epiphany during this entire process came with my first sip of Russian River Brewing's Pliny The Elder.  When Bryan first aqcuired this beer for us it was nothing short of a phenomenon.  We were selling out our allocation in minutes with people rushing over to get their hands on the two bottles we limited our customers to at that time.  Some people were driving over 100 miles to reach us!  Wondering what the fuss was all about, I threw down my money, bought a bottle, and I've never looked back since (once you've tasted Ardbeg or Talisker, can you really go back to Glenlivet 12).  I can safely say at this moment that it is my favorite beer in the world and my appetite for it is insatiable.  Brimming with concentrated hoppy flavor, the palate is soft and graceful with smaller bubbles and it finishes with a clean and refreshing bite.  The intensity of the flavor never overpowers - like other beers that I can't drink more than a few sips of despite their deliciousness.  

While the Pliny has been their bread and butter, Russian River Brewing has made beer geeks everywhere salivate with their heavier offerings noted for their big rich flavor, as well as Belgian-styled ales that made our locals forget about Brussels; the Consecration - a dark ale aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels; the Temptation - a blonde ale aged in French Oak Chardonnay casks; and the award winning Damnation - a strong Golden Ale done in the Belgian style.  While I enjoyed each of these beers, they weren't something I wanted to unwind with after a long day of stocking whiskey bottles. 

Last night, however, I finally brought home the newest release from RR Brewing called Supplication and I was very impressed.  Having been introduced to sour beers last year with Bryan's selection of Belgian Lambic Geuze ales, not only was I fully prepared for the tartness, I was eagerly anticipating it.  Adding some barrel-aging to the sour beers seem to be the hot thing right now, but I've been bowled over by the last few I had.  Something about the combination of tart with the dark, thick richness of a stout was too much for me.  However, the Supplication - not nearly as heavy as some of the others - was spot on.  While some barrel-aged sours had tried to punch you in the mouth with intensity, Russian River Brewing knew how to tone it down a notch and balance everything perfectly.  The brown beer is aged in Pinot Noir barrels with sour cherries added and then fermented in the bottle.  The result is a masterpiece of harmony with the tartness, the bubbles, and the hoppiness of the ale all working together in perfect unison. 

I now face a tug-of-war between two amazing flavor profiles both hankering for my complete love and affection.  The Supplication is no one-trick pony - it is a sour beer that I can drink on a nightly basis.  Now I just have to afford it.

-David Driscoll


Smoke & Coke! Take That Jack D.

I was reading a trade magazine yesterday and there was a photo of Jimmy Page, Slash, Steven Tyler, Mick Jagger and one of the guys from ZZ Top at some Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame event with a big banner for Smokehead in the background.  Somehow the guys from Ian MacLeod got Jack Daniels out of the picture and pushed their own mystery Islay malt into the frame.  That must have taken some major PR work, but the reviews of the new "it" beverage - the Smoke & Coke - have been highly positive.  I've yet to try one myself, either with the Smokehead or any other peated whisky, but if it's good enough for these hard-drinking rock legends, it should be good enough for me.  If any of you out there have tried this flavor combination let me know.  I'm not much of a soda person.

Speaking of Smokehead, some of the blog sites out there are having some very interesting debates about the origin of the whisky.  I think it tastes like Ardbeg and many others seem to agree, but the new 18 year release is really fanning the flames of argument.  The 18 year - which we do not yet have access to - is selling for over $100 a bottle causing many to speculate as to how MacLeod can justify that price for a nameless dram, while other 18 year malts - such as Talisker - come in at around $75-$80.  I've read some retailer responses claiming that they have spoken with sales reps for MacLeod and have confrmed that the casks were indeed purchased from Ardbeg some time ago.  Because of the high demand for Ardbeg, and the lack of an Ardbeg 18 year old on the market, MacLeod may indeed be justified in charging the price that he currently is - if the rumors are true, that is.  I haven't tasted it, but I've heard it's pretty fantastic. 

-David Driscoll


The Wonderful World of Bittermens - FINALLY Available!

Well the timing couldn't have been better for the highly-anticipated cocktail enhancers to hit the domestic market.  Angostura is going into full-blown crisis mode with a shortage of their market-dominating, top-selling bitter and an ETA of April before it gets back behind the bar and onto the shelf.  That leaves a gaping hole in the market and with cocktail afficionados scrambling to find a bottle of bitters in our stores, where ever will they turn?  Enter Bittermens!   Founded by former San Francisco dwellers Avery and Janet Glasser, these fantastic flavors have only been available before if you knew how to make your own homemade batch.  Can you imagine adding chocolate mole to your margarita or celery to your Bloody Mary?  Just a dash can really transform a great drink and when added to sparkling wine or soda water, you get a whole 'nother level of spice.  The first round should be in next week with VERY limited quantities before they re-up with another load in March.  The initial batch will offer Celery, Xocolatl Mole, Aromatic, Orange, Grapefruit and Lemon.  They will retail at $15.99 and I expect them to sell out in a flash.  I first read about these over a year ago and had contacted Germany's Bitter Truth in an attempt to get them shipped over from Europe.  All of the bitters are handmade made in small batches and are the definition of artisinal.  Can't wait!

-David Driscoll


New Murray McDavid Bottlings Arriving Next Month

Two of our most successful single malt whiskies of the last year have been from independent bottler Murray McDavid - a branch of Bruichladdich that sees Master Distiller Jim McEwan selecting some of the most interesting casks available and then often manipulating them with wine barrel acing (a brief maturation process meant to enhance the flavor).  We are about sold out of the 2000 Caol Ila aced in Ridge Zinfandel and the 1999 Laphroaig aced in Chateau Margaux - two whiskies that were standouts at last years SF WhiskyFest.  I was able to visit my local distributor recently who had cask strength samples of the new selections that will be hitting the docks this March.  I was very excited by some of them.  The real standout was a Springbank 9 Year Old aced in Yquem Sauternes cask.  The Cambeltown malt is rarely seen outside of its distillery release, so to find one for a reasonable price is a bargain.  The sweetness of the wine barrel truly enhances the malt, much like the old Bruichladdich 15 release that I loved so much.  The whisky will be diluted down by the time it gets here, but I'm super psyched to get this guy in stock.  We're working on a big deal now that should get it close to $50 a bottle and bring in most of what will be available to California.  That's a fantastic price.  Other candidates that we will likely see are a Macallan 14 and Bowmore 13 aced in Petrus.  We might do a pre-arrival price on the Springbank to offer you all a chance to reserve one in advance.  Stay tuned!

-David Driscoll