Slieve Foy 8 Year Irish - Best Whiskey In A While

As someone who gets paid to select whiskey for a retail store, I am really earning my salary by having a taste for what will sell, rather than for some expertise knowledge about what is good.  I am not a whiskey expert, but rather learn by getting the opportunity to taste frequently.  Believe me, any of you would know as much if not more than I do about spirits if you were in my shoes.  I like to think that the real trick behind my job is to know what people are looking for and then give it to them with a level of service that most people either aren't willing to provide or don't care enough to deliver.  It is why I stay up answering emails until midnight, or write this blog in my free time.  Why am I rambling on about this?  Because what I am normally raving about whiskey-wise is rarely what I actually drink at home myself.  In fact, I rarely drink whiskey outside of the store or tasting events.  That's the real tragedy of this position - it can be overkill.  After a long day I'm ready for a beer.  However, there is one new whiskey that has really blown me away and I went to some effort to track down every available bottle for our store.  The new release from Cooley has absolutely charmed my pants off (in this case literally because I just had some and now I am typing this in my underwear). 

The point of that long intro you just read was to really stress the irony that is how rarely I actually drink whiskey on my own and to therefore drive home the point about how good this Cooley actually is.  If you can get me to drink whiskey after a long day of drinking whiskey, then you have done something right in my book.  Cooley, recent winner of the Malt Advocate's distillery of the year award, is one of only three active Irish distilleries, with Bushmill's and Midleton being the others.  We all know there are more than three brands of Irish whiskey, however, so therefore these distilleries are making product for multiple brands.  Redbreast and Paddy's, for example, are made by Midleton.  Cooley is the only independent distillery however as the other two are both members of the Irish Distiller's Group.  They make Connemara, Tyrconnell, Greenore, and now this new eight year old release brought in via Preiss Imports rather than Young's.  When I tasted a sample that Preiss sent me two months ago, I was on the phone with them in a matter of seconds.  However, this time it was for myself rather than to get an edge on a particular product.  I knew K&L's fortunes weren't riding on an obscure Irish whiskey.

Two months later the whiskey is actually available and in our store, and currently in my house.  This is why I love this Slieve Foy bottling: it has character, drinkability, and complexity, and just about anyone can love it.  I've never taken a whiff of a whiskey that smelt more like wine - it has the stone fruit of Sauvignon Blanc and even that mineral component.  You can detect that bit of sweet malt, but it's really white wine dominated.  The first sip is all fruit - even more of what you can smell on the nose.  The hints of sweetness start to pass over the tongue, but then it all passes in an instant and the richer side turns over - sweet grains and caramel.  These are the flavors that linger with you on the finish as the whiskey slides down into your belly.  It's surprising that a whiskey that begins with such fruity wine components can end so sweetly.  Everytime I taste it I am more and more perplexed by this duality.  Every time I drink it I want more and more. 

Every day people come into the store and ask me what I like and I tell them.  No one, however, ever asks me what I drink at home.  If you were to come over to my house and drink with me this month, this is the whiskey I would be offering you.  Slieve Foy 8 Year Old.  I love it.

-David Driscoll


Stressed! So Much Going On!

I'm not ready to bury my head in my hands like the guy in the photo, but I have been piling on the pressure lately and it's mostly all my own doing.  Nobody sat me down when I got this job and said, "David, you need to do as many extra-curricular events as possible!" (that was actually what my high school guidance counselor told me so that I would get into a good college).  However, simply doing the minimum is so boring and I'm usually someone who can't sit still as it is.  In any case, all these events I've been donating my services to as of late have left me little time to do much with the blog here, so forgive my absence.  I will make it up by inviting you now to join us at one of the many upcoming tastings or dinners we are promoting.  Plus, there have been some more whisky deals to broker, so look at some of these new arrivals, as well.

Tastings & Events

September 22nd - Wednesday - Farmer's Market Cocktails @ Ferry Building in SF -$40 - 6 PM

September 23rd - Thursday - Cocktail Class @ Heaven's Dog in SF - $25 - 3 to 5 PM

September 25th - Saturday - Field Trip to St. George Distillery (Whiskey Club Members Only)

September 30th - Thursday - Four Roses Tasting @ Martin's West in Redwood City - 7 PM - FREE

October 5th - Tuesday - Ardbeg Tasting w/ the Chopper @ Martin's West - 7 PM - FREE

October 6th - Wednesday - 5 to 6 PM - Special Ardbeg Tasting w/ Master Distiller Rachel Barrie and the Choppers! @ Heaven's Dog in SF (needs RSVP via email w/me)

October 7th - Thursday - Amrut Indian Single Malt Tasting @ Elixer in SF - 7 PM - FREE (needs RSVP via email w/me)

October 8th - Friday - WhiskyFest SF @ Marriott in SF - 6 PM - $100 (tickets available @

New Arrivals!

1996 Caol Ila, Murray McDavid, 13 Year Old Chateau d' Yquem Sauternes Cask Whisky $65.99 - Just when you thought the cask enhancement revolution was over, Bruichladdich's Jim McEwan is still ready to say otherwise. While the combination of peat and sweet is nothing new to the single malt world, the latter has almost always come from sherry wood influence, adding a toffee and caramel balance to the smoky and spicy flavors. This very limited Caol Ila bottling uses the same formula, but in a whole new way. This is bourbon cask-aged Islay, further enhanced by the lush dessert wine of the world's most famous Sauternes: Yquem. The result is a flavor profile that currently has no comparison - rather than simply balancing the peaty campfire smoke, the wine cask seems to restrain it, transforming power into elegance. Stonefruits swim through the palate, bringing Highland flavors to an Islay malt, but the salty edge of the island style is never dilluted. This is beautiful peated whisky in the vain of Port Ellen rather than Ardbeg.

Slieve Foy 8 Year Old Irish Single Malt Whiskey $41.99 - Yet another fantastic whiskey from Cooley distillery, who is looking to retain its newly awarded title of "best distillery in the world," as recently deemed from Malt Advocate. The Slieve Foy is alive in a way that most other whiskies are not - zesty fruit, sweet spices, and soft vanilla are all singing upon the entry. The vibrant character fades towards the back as the softness of the barrel aging slows things down, but the memory of it stays with you on the finish. The Slieve Foy is an Irish whiskey that screams to be heard above the more mild Redbreast and Paddy-filled crowd, but without losing its traditional Irish character. A solid, solid whiskey. -David Driscoll, K&L Wine Merchants "Pretty pale yellow/lemon juice/sauvignon blanc/oyster color; superb clarity. Reminds me of white pepper, butcher's wax paper, and beeswax in the first pungent sniffs after the pour; six minutes of additional air contact bring out tropical fruit scents, most notably papaya, as well as cereal grains. Entry flavors caress the taste buds in silky smooth sheets of flavor, especially palm oil, unsalted butter, and sweetened breakfast cereal; midpalate is a study in whiskey elegance and power co-existing in harmony as the taste profile exhibits controlled grainy sweetness, light, fresh honey, baking spices (cinnamon, nutmeg), and light wood tones. Concludes with style and grace. Delicious and serious." Spirit Journal September 2010: 4 stars/Highly Recommended

Four Roses K&L Single Barrel Cask Strength Kentucky Bourbon $54.99 (special order for now - due in before Oct 1st) - Once again, we're teaming up with Kentucky legend Jim Rutledge to bring our customers a single barrel of his beautiful Four Roses whiskey. This time around we opted for yeast strain OBSO, which brings a different mash bill of 60% Corn, 35% Rye, 5% Barley. This bourbon is a liquid manifestation of the phrase "an iron hand in a velvet glove." The palate opens up to some big time flavor, rich sweetness, and fruity spice, enveloping the senses with sheer power and force. The finish is all nuance however as the whiskey dies down to a meer whisper and gently glides away, softly hinting at the beautiful barrage of flavors it battered you with only moments before. Another legendary whiskey for our K&L customers to enjoy!

-David Driscoll



K&L Teams Up With SF Cocktail Week!

*As Part of San Francisco Cocktail Week
Cocktails Through The Modern Lens - A Seminar w/ Jennifer Colliau & Erik Ellestad
Thursday September 23rd 3-5 PM @ Heaven's Dog in San Francisco  $25.00 per person
DO NOT MISS THIS.  This is a more expanded and hands on version of the sampler we did at Martin's West earlier this year.  If you don't remember, that was maybe the best event we've done in the last year or two - and we didn't even have a real bar!!  Now we're taking the class, expanding it to 2 hours, and doing it on their turf at the best bar in San Francisco - HEAVEN'S DOG!  I am so excited to finally be doing an event there because it is not easy to book these much sought-after venues.  Getting a private tutorial on cocktails is a fantastic experience. With the help of two consummate professionals, your domestic mixology can achieve loftier heights than you've ever imagined. Jennifer Colliau, a bartender at Heaven's Dog and the Slanted Door, is the creator of Small Hand Foods, a small company dedicated to reproducing forgotten sweeteners and mixing ingredients.  She specializes in pre-Prohibition drinks and is a master behind the stick.  Erik Ellestad is also a bartender at Heaven's Dog as well as at the Alembic and has garnered national fame for his Savoy Cocktail book project - making every drink in alphabetical order.  He makes a hell of a drink and is encyclopedia of classic cocktail knowledge.  They are going to get behind the bar and show you how, with just a few simple tricks, you can bring your home cocktail mixing to a new level. You will get $25 worth of booze easily, so consider the education and the experience free of charge!
Tickets are currently available through the website 
-David Driscoll


Old School/New School Part II

A few months back, SF cocktail blogger Camper English blogged about tequila being the new vodka on his site Alcademics.  This led me to eventually write this series of columns about Old School/New School spirits.  I'm not the only one who was inspired, however, as this article turned up in the Washington Post.  Read on!  This article works well as a pairing piece to the previous OS/NS Part I.  Simply more information about the current state of tequila.

-David Driscoll


Old School/New School Part I

When my father in law comes over to visit we usually have at least a few glasses of tequila while we sit and talk.  I always have something new for him to try and he enjoys testing them out.  Most of the time however we disagree about which ones we like most.  When I pulled out the Charbay Blanco last week I could tell that it was too strong for him, yet I think it's perfect.  "You can feel it as it goes down," he said as he pointed to his chest with a slight frown.  When we sipped the Don Julio 1942 however he was thrilled.  "So smooth and you don't even notice the burn at all," he replied.  I was not as impressed.  There is a vast difference between the two tequilas, mainly the fact that the Charbay is a vibrant, spicy, unaged tequila and the Don Julio is an añejo so it has been smoothed out and sweetened by spending some time in the barrel.  The most important difference for me however is that one tastes like tequila and the other does not.

Imagine you feel like eating pizza so you head over to Amici's and you order their best Italian-style pie.  When the pizza is finally served it's covered with chicken, bean sprouts, broccoli, and carrots with a Thai ginger sauce mixed into the cheeze instead of marinara.  You take a bite and it tastes great.  In fact, it's very easy to eat because the flavors are so appealing, however, you still flag down the waiter because it isn't what you were expecting.  When you explain the problem to the waiter, he asks, "What?  Did it not taste good?"  You elaborate about how you felt like something traditionally Italian and that's why you came to a pizza parlour - the mozzerella, the basil, the garlic, and the tomato sauce all freshly prepared and baked quickly on a thin, crispy crust.  "I love those flavors because they remind me of a summer I spent in Napoli," you say, but instead of nodding in understanding, he replies, "The point of food is to taste good.  Who cares how we make it or what we put in it as long as we make it taste good?"  "But this isn't really pizza!" you exclaim.  "It has cheese and dough, but you've completely manipulated the flavor into some asian-fusion thing that has nothing to do with real pizza!" You can see where this analogy is going.

If you replace the pizza from the above story with tequila and set the location in a bar instead of a pizza shop, you could probably witness the same scenario.  Tequila more than any other spirit is in danger of losing its soul and identity because producers are changing its flavor to fit the general American palate.  So many Americans have terrible memories from college dorm rooms or juvenile trips to Tijuana that even the smell of tequila can make them queezy.  This has been a difficult hurdle for the distillers to jump over until a few guys got together and said, "Hey, what if we make it taste more like vodka?"  From a capitalistic perspective, it was pure money-making genius and it got even better when those same guys said, "And while we're at it, let's make an aged version that tastes more like Johnny Walker black!"  The money came pouring in and tequila empires sprouted up over night.  Millions of Americans decided to try these brands littering the pages of fashion magazines and billboards everywhere and they said, "Wow, I had no idea I liked tequila so much!"  Guess what America?  Most of you still don't like tequila.

When you take any fermentable substance and distill it multiple times until it becomes soft and neutral, the possibility of it offending a specific taste becomes less and less.  It's like white walls in dentist's office or boiled chicken and potatos for dinner - let's keep this as inoffensive as possible.  However, when one looks to include everyone by excluding no one, they usually end up with something incredibly stale and boring.  When you hear about mixologists trashing vodka cocktails, this is the reason.  Sure it tastes fine, but there's nothing to it!  Where's the originality, the talent, or the pizazz?  Tequila is a delicious spirit that is distilled from the agave plant, so it should therefore retain some of the flavor of its source.  If people are turned off by this flavor, then they don't like tequila and that's perfectly fine.  I don't like cream cheese or mayonnaise and I also have a tough time with melted American on burgers and nachos.  Those are foods I simply don't like to eat.  The problem with manipulating a substance to make it appeal to the masses is the threat of losing the original product.  This is not about progress or evolution, but rather about society's tendency to forget about origins - like the words "ironic" or "literally," no one seems to understand what they actually mean.  This is happening already with tequila.  

With the exception of a few stores in the Bay Area, it is very difficult to find a decent bottle of traditional tequila at a reasonable price.  If I'm on vacation and have to shop at a grocery store then forget it.  Without a doubt, my favorite thing to do at K&L is watch our customers reactions when they approach the tequila section because I know that if they're new to the store they might stare in complete confusion.  Where are all the normal brands? There is hardly a recognizable bottle on our shelves because I've done my best to weed out what I feel constitutes the new school of tequila and worked hard to locate small, traditional tasting bottles that express the true flavor of the spirit. 

While I feel it's important to give people what they want, I also feel I have a responsibility to carry the best products from the most talented distillers.  In this day and age there are a mere handful of tequilas that are actually made by the company selling them.  Anyone can hire a distillery to make them a tequila and then slap their own label on it.  Most distilleries have mastered the popular new school flavor and have completely abandoned the traditional, old school style.  When there is no one left to make old school tequila, then we will have lost one of the great gems of the spirits world.  Today you don't need to know anything about tequila these days to sell it.  Justin Timberlake and Paris Hilton have their own tequila brands!  That should be all you need to know.  Why would anyone buy JT's reposado, you might ask?  Because not only is it popular at the club, it's so smooth and there's no burn whatsoever. 

-David Driscoll