Guilty Booze Pleasures?

Everyone has that thing they like which would embarrass the hell out of them were anyone to know they actually enjoyed it.  I'm going to put myself out there right now and say, yes, I have a secret Gilmore Girls affinity.  I can't help it - it's so cleverly wholesome and comforting.  Watching it is like living in a world where all of my innermost worries and anxieties don't exist, but rather melt away as I dream of New England and the pleasures of small-town suburbia.  Laugh all you want, I will still watch it because it makes me happy.  At K&L, there are definitely guilty pleasures related to booze - those products we enjoy that would cause our co-workers to shake their heads in disbelief because a wine professional should not succumb to such infantile desires.  Is it the pineapple and butter-infused Rombauer Chardonnay?  Perhaps a six pack of Bud Light?  Or maybe a vodka-cranberry after work?  I've been thinking about what my alcoholic GP would be and if I had to choose now it would be the Godiva Chocolate-Infused Vodka which we don't have yet, but will shortly.  I can't help it, it's good!  What do you want me to do, not buy it even though it's delicious?  Do you have a guilty booze pleasure?  What is it?  Comment, please.

-David Driscoll


Good & Evil In The World Of Booze

So I'm sitting here alone in bed looking at my order history via the K&L website (my wife is out at West Side Story) trying to find the name of a bottle I bought a while ago and I get reminded about a wine book I bought some time back called The Battle For Love and Wine, which I actually wrote a review about when I regularly published on our wine blog.  This book was very influencial to me in my formative drinking years, but I was thinking that were I to read it again, I believe my attitude towards Alice Feiring would be very different today, mainly because I have done a complete 180 in most of my opinions as of late (I don't know why, but explaining it will get me off track, so let's stick to the point).  Searching for it on Amazon, I was curious as to how many people had actually read it and reviewed it, so I went right for the negative reviews.  Sure enough, there were a handful of people who believed that Feiring had a valid point in her fears of wine homoginization, but that she was far too black-and-white and solipsistic in her rantings about Parkerization - exactly what I was thinking in retrospect.  I remember reading the book as a naive, bright-eyed, young wine clerk who wanted desperately to understand what was cool in the wine world, so I was very much impressed and taken by such a brazen and passionate outrage against New World wine and its scientific approach to vinification.  I bought into the evils of Parker much like I bought into the evil of corporations as a college student (not to say that I now feel the opposite) because that's what happens to inexperienced people who can't wait to have an opinion.  Now that I'm a bit more grizzled, I have a different view on good and evil in the world of booze, and life for that matter, and it might do some good to lay it all out.

I'm usually kicking around the remnants of past conversations in my head, dwelling on points and contrasting them with similar experiences from various times in my life.  This morning, for example, my wife and I discussed the trend of enjoying authentic pizza in the Bay Area (i.e. Una Pizza Napoletana, Zero Zero, Tony's, A16, Delfina, etc.) and how it belongs to the majority of subcultures that eventually break out and become the trendy thing to do.  Combine that debate with another conversation I had after work concerning the loss of my political passion to change the world and you end up with the realization that sometimes people and their ideas can get out of control, so we just need to take a breath and focus on what's important in life.  In the end, pizza is nothing to be taken too seriously and the world is likely not as bad off as we think sometimes. However, reading the vitriolic comments on SFGate on trivial issues like the pet peeves of restaurant servers doesn't give me too much hope for the prevalence of common sense and understanding.  There is simply a need to be right and wrong, cool or uncool, for it or against, and the world of booze is no different.

Alice Feiring believes that science and technology are ruining the soul of wine.  If a winemaker uses new oak, reverse osmosis, micro-oxidation, or too much sulfur then they are stamping out the character of the grapes and the terroir of the wine.  While I agree with much of her argument, I don't believe that these winemakers are ruining the world - I simply believe that they want to make money by catering to the general palate and that they don't mean anyone harm.  Don't get a natural wine geek started on this subject however because they will tell you flat out that a wine that gets high marks from Parker is a sure sign of the devil, bringing an end to traditional winemaking as we know it and the destruction of all vino-diversity.  Feiring goes too far however in that she drives towards getting Parker alone in an inteview and telling him off, as if doing so would prove her right and forever vanquish her enemy (the same dillusion a motorist suffers from when he attempts to tailgate the guy who just cut in front of him - "Ha! That'll show him!"). The whiskey world has a similar snobbery that condescends to the drinkers of mass-produced blended malts and glorifies the small microdistillery using only small batch pot stills and 100% organically farmed grains.  Johnnie Walker = evil.  Old Potrero = good.  The mixology folks are just as guilty with their belief that vodka drinks are a bastardization of the genre, blending itself flavorlessly into sugary-sweet Lemon Drops in the name of easy alcohol delivery.  In their mind true lovers of the cocktail use only gin, brandy, or whiskey in their libations as they speak to the traditional pre-Prohibition craft of Jerry Thomas. 

These battles between opposing mindsets end up being all out wars, and are being fought in books, in blogs, on message boards, and in bars (in fact, if you go back to that link for the SFGate comment field you'll see a fierce battle between the avid Grey Goose defenders and some gin-loving pre-Prohibitionists!).  Getting a bit of understanding about booze (or anything of for that matter) usually leads people to a frustrating understanding about the habits of the uniformed, as they completely forget they also once knew nothing.  Those who still practice a casual interest get annoyed by the soapbox spouting arrogance of these so-called true afficianados and, in their defensiveness, they lash out in response.  If you don't believe me, you only need visit a message board to witness it.  "You losers eat at Round Table? Bleh, I only eat quality pizza at Beretta!"  "I'll stick to my vodka drinks at home and let all those trendy losers waste their time getting their overpriced, fancy cocktails."  These are real comments that I read on the internet everyday!  People are so upset with one another and their contrasting opinions! It is pure and utter hatred!  Where is all this anger coming from?

Of course I have my opinions and I tend to side with the snobby insider most of the time, however, I don't feel the need to argue vehemently or post outrageous comments somewhere.  The truth is: this is a world of tastes and taste is thankfully neither black nor white.  From what I've witnessed, it's never the most knowledgable people arguing about semantics, but rather the inexperienced with a chip on their shoulder.  That would at least help explain why I have mellowed over time.  It's a fine line that you walk between expert and asshole if you choose to explain to a customer why you would never drink California chardonnay or Chivas Regal and this attitude can really turn people off if you're not careful (I was very tired one day and unable to do this little tapdance - the result was one infuriated customer).  Not everyone cares about booze as much as I do, so I need to remember that and, as Jack says in Sideways, "If they want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot!"  Once you realize how unattractive it is to start delving into to that sort of opinionated schtick, you really just want to avoid it from then on.

I understand how Parker points are leading more and more winemakers to change their style in search of that goldmine of a positive review, but I don't think that Alice has anything to worry about really.  There is room in this vast world for Parker's wines and for Feiring's as well.  Sure, Marcel Lapierre has recently passed on, but his son will continue to make unsulfured Beaujolais because we are here to drink it.  Whiskey lovers - no one is forcing you to drink anything blended.  Yes, that corporate umbrella Diageo is continuing to raise their prices, but Ardbeg and Laphroaig just lowered theirs so it balances out.  Let's mellow out a bit.  Cocktail afficionados - let people drink their vodka and enjoy themselves.  We don't need to point out what they're missing or why their drink isn't any good.  In fact, I just tasted a chocolate vodka that was so good I plan on buying it for the store (even though it is a bit embarrassing). 

 -David Driscoll



Not that you need anymore encouragement, but here are the specs for 2010 Fall Release.  Keep the hands off your phones, bottles won't be here until the announced time and date. 




-David Girard



Is The Buffalo Trace Fall Collection Worth It?

The "Pappy" is a popular man these days

Now that serious whiskey enthusiasm is reaching a wider audience than ever before, the cult favorites that insiders looked forward to every year are becoming even harder to obtain.  While there are still a plethora of fantastic single malts flying under the radar, there are no more secrets in Bourbon County.  This is partly due to the fact that there are so few actual bourbon distilleries (especially compared to Scotland's single malt producers) and partly because of America's spirit-blogging, food-blogging, Facebooking culture.  Everyone is excited to share their latest discovery, their newest adventure, a picture of them standing in front of a landmark, or a photo of them drinking a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.  The word is out on the Buffalo Trace Fall releases and they are no longer being snatched up by only the faithful following.  The Antique/Van Winkle is becoming known as the "it" thing to be drinking and it only takes a few Google searches and a little bit of browsing to figure that out.  Anything that is difficult to obtain immediately becomes more desirable, especially in the spirits world where trophy hunting and Ebay flipping have become commonplace.  I didn't need to use the Internet this year however to learn that more people are seeking the BT bourbons than previously were. 

Everyday when I get to my desk there are ten voicemails with new customers from all over the country asking when I might get these whiskies in and if they could reserve three of each!  Then there are the fifteen emails that I have to answer, all with the same apologetic words: I'm sorry, but I cannot reserve any bottles in advance.  All I can do is smile and fight back that nervous feeling in my stomach that knows how upset some people are going to be when they don't get any.  On one hand, it seems like people know that these bottles are not plentiful and are doing their homework early, but on the other hand I'm not sure they know how limited they are. 

Between both our NorCal and SoCal locations (a luxury that no other California boutique retailer knows) we get two allocations of Buffalo Trace, basically doubling what other stores get.  Even with these numbers, we're getting a case or less of each expression.  We're only getting six bottles total of Sazerac 18 and the Van Winkle Rye, if that helps give you the idea of what we're dealing with here, so how does that help the 500+ people out there who have been calling me for weeks in anticipation?  What if I want a bottle, or Girard, or my manager Alex who loves bourbon?  Then we're down to even fewer available with demand through the freakin' roof!  The situation is so dire right now that we're no longer holding back bottles for our long-time customers or helping out friends of K&L.  We simply cannot play favorites and we have to open it up to first-come, first-served. 

My question to any readers out there is this: knowing what you know about the difficulty in getting these bottles, is the Buffalo Trace Fall Collection worth all the trouble?  I love these whiskies and find them all to be fabulous specimen of Bourbon and Rye, but are they so amazingly good that you would line up around the corner or set your alarm early to get one?  If so, which ones in particular and why?  I'm very curious to see what other people think.

-David Driscoll


Missiles over LA!!!

So while the government denies any knowledge of the missile/airplane/ufo that was filmed over LA this Monday evening, everyone else is either frantically awaiting the release of Van Winkle and the BTAC stuff, or like David and I, awaiting our new single barrel stuff with baited breath.  Amazingly, other things are still happening in the spirits world and the world at large.  Here is a brief rundown of some of the new arrivals this week.

This was a serious favorite of mine at Whisky Fest and was well received by Malt Advocate. Compass Box Flaming Heart Third Edition Malt Scotch Whisky 750ml - $89.99. John Hansell says, "A marriage of three different single malts, aged in American and French oak. This whisky shows the advantage of marrying whiskies from more than one distillery (when properly done). Vibrant, with a complex array of fruit (orchard fruit, sultana), sweetness (light toffee, marzipan, honeyed malt), spice (creamy vanilla, mocha, warming pepper), smoke (tar, smoked olive, coal), and lesser notes of toasted almond and beach pebbles. More smoke and tar on the palate than the nose, yet always in balance. Well played!  I like this version (the third Flaming Heart release and second one brought to the U.S.) better than the last one imported here. I love the balance on this one, all the way through to the finish." 95 points.  Needless to say I don't feel bad about falling in love with this small production vatted malt.  Compass Box Whisky Co. represents a breath of fresh air in an industry stuck in tradition and slow to adapt.  Always the innovator, John Glaser, has often run afoul of the "scotch authorities" and continues to push the limit of what we expect from blended single malt.  Mr. Glaser has succeeded when many assumed he'd fail and this bottling is another poke in the eye (nail in the coffin) of the naysayers.  The bottle is beautiful and the juice is even better; The price is right as well.  Get it before everyone else does. 

Next we have a classic that any American Whiskey collector can appreciate.  Woodford is one of America's most popular bourbon brands and each year they release a small production experimental bottling.  The Master's Collection is meant to honor tradition while incorporating innovation.  This years release is finished in Maple Wood.  The Sugar Maple tree was often over looked as a source wood for barrels as the staves are very difficult to manipulate.  Maple wood has a very complex structure both physically and chemically.  As the name would imply the Sugar Maple tree has an exceptionally high level of sugar in its sap as much as 3%.  The barrels are toasted rather than charred in order to accommodate the fickle maple wood as well as prevent this whiskey from becoming overly sweet.  Bottled at a satisfying 47.2%, this Woodford must be tried to be understood.  Only 18,282 bottles produced. Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Maple Wood Finish 750ml - $84.99

Here's something different - Deleon Anejo Tequila 750ml - $149.99.  Deleon has come to the saturated tequila market with a new twist.  Using the very best ingredients at every step, Deleon has set a new standard for quality and innovation.  From what I can tell its not just another gimmick either.  The few opportunities I've had to interact with actual agave growers from the Jalisco region they've all agreed that Deleon represents the finest juice available.  This comes in conjunction with a marketing savvy that makes Patron look like amateur hour.  Anyway,  the excellent Blanco and Reposado, now have a big brother to look up to.  Deleon's Anejo spends 18 months in frent oak barrels untainted by whisky.  The golden delicious liquid is then ace'd for several months (secretive is an understatement for these guys) in Chateau d'Yquem barrels.  The intense agaveness is not lost after the nearly 2 years in barrel.  The sweet Bordeaux barrels add and interesting twist to an already exceptional package.  My tasting notes are as follows, "Nose: Stone fruit, salt water taffy, pink pepper corn. The palate delivers a soft smooth agave tweaked with the Sauterne barrels depth. Buttercream, bell pepper, and rich sweet agave fruit."  Very interesting indeed and the bottle makes it a most impressive gift.  Please act fast as production levels are supposedly "extremely limit."

Compass Box Flaming Heart Third Editon Malt Scotch Whisky 750ml - $89.99

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Maple Wood Finish 750ml - $84.99

Deleon Anejo Tequila 750ml - $149.99

-David Girard