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Monday
Aug292016

New Faultline Rums (and, again, there's not much)

I've been doing everything I can to actually slow the sales of these rums in anticipation of today's spirits newsletter. However, when you manage to snag a 15 year old beauty from Nicaragua and a 17 year stunner from Cub....I mean....from the Caribbean, people tend to get excited. The Faultline Caribbean blend (another teaspooned cask, a la the Balvenie malt I posted about a few days back) is indeed full of delicious, forbidden fruit. Despite my best efforts, we've already sold more than 30% of our inventory with absolutely zero marketing, zero blog posts, and zero emails. That's because all your spirits dudes and dudettes are so savvy these days. In any case, these both say "Product of Scotland" on the label because they were aged in and purchased from Scottish warehouses, but they are indeed from Nicaragua and Cub...I mean...somewhere in the Caribbean. They're bottled at 100 proof and without additional sweeteners or additives. Rum fans, rejoice!

2000 Faultline 15 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel Nicaraguan Rum $59.99 - Those in search of "smooth" when it comes to rum will want to check out this special single-cask bottling of Faultline from Nicaragua; especially because the richness and roundness of the spirit is entirely natural and not due to additives like caramel or sugar. This 100-proof beauty comes from the distillery in Nicaragua widely considered to be the finest Spanish-style distillery outside of Cuba. In fact, many have speculated that this distillery is responsible for much of the expansion of Cuba’s rum exports due to the stark similarities in style and unprecedented growth in that category. There is a big nose of fudge, caramel, sweet earth, slight barnyard and burning wood. After some time, there are coffee and darker smoke flavors. On the palate it remains phenolic, with a good bit of funk to balance out the elegant, sweet, dark flavors. This is as complex a smooth-styled sipping rum as we've ever bottled under the Faultline label.

1998 Faultline 17 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Caribbean Blend Single Barrel Rum $79.99 - We don't expect this single cask of 17 year old "Caribbean" rum to last very long, partly because it's so delicious and partly because of its origins. We can't say where it's from exactly, just that it's from somewhere in the CUribBeAN region. This incredibly complex and fragrant rum combines many of the ester-driven flavors we love about rum from Jamaica and St-Lucia with the richness and elegance of the Spanish style. The flavor profile is drier and more old school in character. There's a big dusty mineral note framed by tropical pineapple, overripe banana and powerful baking spice. On the palate, fresh grassy cane, touches of mint and anise and dried fruit that meanders in between tea and cola. It's a rum you absolutely do not want to miss, especially if you're interested in forbidden fruits.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Aug262016

Garryana Arrives (and there's not much)

If you can get yourself up to Seattle any time soon, you can go by the Westland distillery tasting bar and grab yourself a bottle of the fantastic new Garryana whiskey release while they still have a few left. That's what my colleague Joel is doing in this photo with distiller Matt Hofmann.

However, if you want to grab one of these bottles in California, you're on the clock. There ain't much and we ain't gettin' any more after this. I got mine. Joel got his. I'd advise you to get yours. See my original preview here for the specs.

Westland "Garryana" Limited Edition Single Malt Whiskey $124.99 - ONE BOTTLE LIMIT (try to order two and, I promise you, you'll end up with zero) - Westland's Garryana is bottled at 56.2% cask strength and it is insanely delicious. Regardless of whether you care about Westland's philosophy, its homegrown story, its sense of style, the sleek and modern design, or the intensity of flavor imparted by a species of oak native to the Pacific Northwest, we think every whiskey fan should grab a bottle of the Garryana simply because it's wonderful. It's a symphony of malt, vanilla, oak, and spice (four classic components of any great dram) that succeeds simply because it's well made. There's nothing gimmicky or contrived about the flavors. It's not some weird, science project whiskey that you'll only drink every once and a while when you're in the mood. It's a great bottle of booze, pure and simple; the kind of thing you'll have to force yourself to stop drinking when you're seriously jonesing for seconds and thirds. The finish, however, is where you really comprehend the power of the Garryana oak. It's a roasted, dusty, and sweetly-scented oak profile mingling ever so happily with the subtle peat smoke. The whiskey is as much of a testament to distiller Matt Hofmann's clever blending as it is to the oak. The shape of the whisky is remarkable; the way the sweetness tickles the tip of your tongue on the entry before moving through to the spice and power of the oak. It's a must have whiskey.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Aug262016

Hennessy's Light Bulb Moment

If there's one big booze company I know inside and out, it's LVMH—Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. I've worked closely with them for more than seven years and the French-based group is one of K&L's strongest and most loyal partners. We're talking deep and long-lasting relationships here. I've been everywhere with these guys and partied with them all over the world. I've overnighted at Ardbeg and drunk crazy rare whiskies late into the night with distillery manager Mickey Head. I've done some falconing (yes, the sport of using a falcon to hunt) at Glenmorangie with their former development director Mark Harvey. I've had lunch at Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux with their esteemed winemaker Pierre Lurton, drinking back vintages of Château d'Yquem for kicks.  I've sipped Champagne with the heads of Ruinart and Dom Perignon at numerous events with my colleague Gary Westby. I've even stayed at the storied Château de Bagnolet in Cognac with Maurice Hennessy himself. Maurice and I even started sharing literature at one point (I sent him a copy of Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle last year for fun). I know every one of their fantastic products like the back of my hand and with all the support they've provided to us over the years, there's nothing I wouldn't do to help these guys out. That's why last year, while having dinner in Cognac, I mentioned to the company's big bosses that a special edition Hennessy would work wonders for a specialty store like K&L. Not some fancy, bling-bling, big baller, crystal decanter version of Hennessy, mind you; but rather a humble, more natural, fruit-forward, throwback edition of Hennessy—one with an entire different look, an entirely different label, and an entirely different style. 

It was at a blending seminar we did with Olivier Paultes, the director of distilleries and part of the prestigious Hennessy tasting team, that the light bulb went off in my head. It wasn't that Hennessy didn't make or collect brandies that were more in line with the style we sell here at K&L, it's just that they didn't blend them to that particular flavor profile. Whereas Hennessy's house style is a dark, caramel-laden, spicy Cognac with more focus paid to the richness of the spirit than the brandy's inherent fruitiness, we're pedaling a more restrained and delicate profile at K&L. We've been working directly with producers like Dudognon, Bouju, and Ragnaud Sabourin for years to bring lighter, leaner, more delicate Cognacs to the market and our customers have responded with open arms. Tasting with Olivier, however, was a revelation. He pulled out a bevy single vintage samples for us to taste in the Spring of 2015 during our visit and I sat there in the warehouse parlor—my industry friends Lester Lopez and Mike Azevedo across from me—drinking in the incredible flavors. These were the Hennessy blending Cognacs? They tasted like finished products to me. They were totally different than what I would normally associate with the brand. They were soft and supple, complex and full of fresh fruit. Gone was the coffee bean and caramel; replaced instead by something far more restrained. I spent the rest of the evening telling the Hennessy brass that I would be much more successful selling Hennessy if it tasted more like that; that maybe they should take a page from the Ardbeg/Glenmorangie side of the business and try doing an annual release of something completely unique and different. "Put it in a flask," I remember saying. "It should be presented in something like out of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade—at the end where he chooses the least gaudy cup of the grail he can find."

Flash forward to more than a year later. In walks my friend Lester with a bottle of something called Hennessy Master Blender's Edition Selection No. 1 in his hand—a special edition scheduled for an exclusive American release later this November. The packaging was totally different. The price would be completely reasonable: less than a hundred dollars. The style was restrained, drier, and focused entirely on that same soft-fruited character I had tasted back at the warehouse last April. It was a glorious edition of Hennessy. I went back for seconds, thirds, fourths, and finally fifths! It wasn't only the most delicious Hennessy I'd ever tasted, it was a Cognac I'd be excited to put into the hands of others so that they could have a similar experience. The palate was so elegant and mouthcoating, while the finish was a whisper of dried apricot and toasted almond. It looks like Hennessy's plan is to let a different master blender (there are a few at Hennessy) create a different blend each year; hopefully, in the style of the one pictured above. I've been waiting for a major Cognac house to do something like this for five years—something more old school, brandy-centric, and most importantly affordable! Hennessy has more delicious Cognac sitting in its warehouse from hundreds of different producers than every other Cognac producer put together. It makes sense they could spare the juice.

And if I had anything to do with making it happen, I'm honored. Look for the Hennessy Master Blender's edition this November.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Aug252016

Whisky Season 2016 – Round Three

Now it's starting to get rather exciting, right? We're moving into some of the heavy hitters, but the value is still front and center. We've got three super mature expressions from Old Particular to show you today, in anticipation of our big spirits newsletter Monday. To be honest, I don't think the Invergordon 50 will last until tomorrow as we just did a big email this morning, but (to be honest again) I think it's the third best whisky of the three. The Garnheath is just incredible. It's so supple and soft and creamy on the palate. The Bunnahabhain is a revelation. It's been the staff favorite so far by a mile. It's tough to choose though. Fifty years is a rare thing to see in this day and age. Especially for under three hundred bucks.

1990 Bunnahabhain 25 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Old Particular" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $149.99 - In what will surely go down as one of the great single malt deals of the year, we bring you the K&L exclusive cask of Bunnahabhain 25 year old single malt Islay whisky: a malt that appears to be even more of a deal considering the new $900 price tag the distillery is asking for the official release. This particular iteration is like a tropical daydream on the nose, fresh peach and sugar cane float lazily across the surprisingly sweet palate. Aged in hogshead, however, there's no sherry and little to no smoke in this expression. Its brilliance nonetheless is a testament to the inherent fruit of the whisky and the benefits of slow, steady maturation in fine cooperage. The finish is all sweet grains and malted barley with touches of salt and the sea. Islay fans will be thrilled. Bunnahabhain fans won't want to miss it. And you get all of that goodness at cask strength for $149.99 thanks to our direct import pricing.

1974 Garnheath 42 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Old Particular" Single Barrel Cask Strength Grain Whisky 249.99 - In yet another of our lost whisky collection (meaning distilleries that have since closed and/or been demolished), we bring you an absolutely stunning cask of 42 year old Garnheath, a grain whisky from the once-active distillery site inside of Inver House's Moffat site located just east of Glasgow on the road to Edinburgh. The distillery was located next to another closed malt producing site: Glenflagler. Closed in the mid-eighties, now just a memory and a story to share amongst friends, the spirit of Garnheath lives on (literally) in this single barrel, cask strength edition bottled just for K&L. Not only is the Garnheath a lost legend, this 42 year old edition is one of the smoothest, roundest, most luxurious whiskies we've ever had the pleasure of selling. It rolls across the tongue effortlessly, coating the palate with rich waves of caramel, honey, and maple syrup. In classic grain whisky style, there's no maltiness or smoke here. It's just four glorious decades of barrel maturation at work: orange zest, candied sugar, and apricot. A true whisky classic in the making and a piece of history, to boot.

1966 Invergordon 50 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Old Particular" Single Barrel Cask Strength Grain Whisky $279.99 - Last year we sold a fifty year old grain whisky for $300 and it sold out in less than twenty-four hours. This time around we've managed to shave twenty dollars of the price tag without reducing the quality or age one bit! The Invergordon 50 is alive and well after five decades with loads of toasted oak, butterscotch, marzipan, and honey flavors that ease over the palate with delicate and lithe profile. Long one of Scotland's stalwarts for grain whisky production, casks of Invergordon are readily available, but few with this level of maturation and depth. Considering the price and the flavor profile, don't expect this one to last long. Only 247 bottles available.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Aug242016

Catching Up With Amaro Fever

Elisabetta, Antonella, & Cristina Nonino with a bottle of their Moscato grappa

A few years ago, back when I still ran a regular podcast and did interviews with distillers from all over the world, I conducted an audio interview with the Nonino sisters—the three famous (and beautiful) heirs to the Nonino family distillery in Italy’s Friuli region, one of the country’s most famous grappa producers. We were hoping to bring attention to the traditional and regional spirits of Italy—a blossoming category we thought would be of immense interest to our cocktail consumers who couldn’t seem to get enough Campari and sweet vermouth to satiate their thirst. In 2016, however, that message is no longer in need of broadcast. The vast and complex world of Italian spirits is no longer a secret. The word is out; the cat is completely out of the bag. The category is all the rage with today’s curious cocktail drinkers and bartenders across America are continuing to innovate and create exciting new drinks from the country’s long-held and spirited traditions. If you thought there were few Italian cocktails beyond the ubiquitous Negroni and Aperol Spritz these days, think again. You’ll find the Nonino family’s amaro recipe on drink menus across the nation mixed with whiskey, rum, Cognac, tequila, cachaca, and even mezcal. The combination of sweet spices with bitter herbs adds an incredible depth to a number of different libations, no matter what the base ingredient. Amaro means “bitter” in Italian, and as America seems to have lost its sweet tooth as it pertains to alcohol over the last decade, it has developed a real taste for Italy’s unique category of bitter liqueurs known as amari. Spirits that were once sipped neat as a way to settle the stomach after dinner are now moving to the forefront of the meal. As the awareness for Italy’s historic regional spirits has continued to spread, it’s brought with it a new renaissance of distillation in the old country and the resurrection of a category once associated with older generations long past. It’s also opened the door for new developments in Italy, casting a wider spotlight on distillers who are branching out into whiskey and even gin. I caught up once again with Elisabetta Nonino this past week to pick her brain about the recent explosion and find out how her family is adapting to the trend.

David: I just tried to order more Amaro Nonino yesterday and I was told by the distributor that the product has backordered because—once again—it’s sold out from the supplier. This is becoming a regular thing! You must be seeing record sales in the United States right now due to our county’s current fascination with amari.

Elisabetta: It’s doing very, very well; both in the United States and in Canada. There’s a big amaro trend in North America right now, especially with the mixology scene.

David: Are you visiting more with bartenders and sommeliers these days rather than with retailers and supermarkets?

Elisabetta: Yes, I was just at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. It’s funny because in Europe the bartenders are saying that London is the origin of this new interest in amari. On Monday, we had a meeting because they’re starting a new mixologist fair and event in Italy, so there were a few bartenders at the meeting saying that London was the source. But I told them: I don’t think so. I think it’s coming from the U.S.; especially the West Coast. Starting about eight to ten years ago we saw interest in San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland for amari, so I think it started there. Don’t you agree?

David: Yes, I do. I remember seeing Manhattans made with Amaro Nonino instead of vermouth back in 2007 when I first started exploring the Bay Area bar scene.

Elisabetta: There is a massive consumption of amaro happening in the American cocktail scene. They are the pioneers, in my opinion. If you study the history of American cocktails before and during Prohibition when alcohol was illegal, I think that’s the origin of today’s mixology. The beauty is that Europe—and especially Italy with amaro—has a long tradition of classic liqueurs. In Italy we make amari, liqueurs, and bitters—we use all three terms. They have always been of a very high quality and a very precise flavor. We used to drink them straight, but the American mixologists have shown that it’s possible to use them in a different way with very good results.

David: Are you seeing bartenders in Europe follow suit?

Elisabetta: In London, yes, because that’s the most important place for cocktails in Europe right now. In Berlin, too; from what I’ve heard. There are a lot of famous bartenders in London right now who are Italian, so they understand the tradition and the history of vermouth and bitters from Italy. Globalization has helped to spread these ideas, I think. What I have noticed, however, is that in Europe we often use fewer ingredients in our cocktails than what’s normal in the U.S.

David: As someone with a long family tradition of producing after-dinner spirits, what does your family think about this new trend of drinking Nonino products as part of a cocktail before dinner?

Elisabetta: We are excited! It’s a great thing. I think it’s also the best way to introduce younger people to spirits, so that eventually—when they are adults—they can appreciate grappa and amaro by itself. When I was young and just starting to drink grappa or a glass of wine, I didn’t really like it. I think I was like most young people—I wasn’t used to it yet. In Italy and in my family, we are used to eating and drinking very good products, but when you are in your early twenties it’s difficult to appreciate that quality when it comes to spirits. If you start by mixing it, however, you can dilute the alcohol a bit and start to understand the flavor slowly. Then, when you are in your thirties or forties, you can start to appreciate grappa and amaro the traditional way. With cocktails, this same evolution works perfectly.

David: Do you think grappa will follow the same path as amaro? Are you using grappa in cocktails now?

Elisabetta: Yes, and we are proud to be one of the pioneers to use grappa in cocktails. We have a cocktail that my mother helped develop at the Grand Hotel bar in Rome made with our grappa, so we have been interested in grappa cocktails for some time. But the real moment has been in the last five years. It’s nice to see more young people appreciating spirits and not linking grappa or amaro to merely something that their grandparents would drink.

David: People in the U.S. are fascinated by that tradition, I think. It’s almost cooler because your grandparents did drink these spirits. How do you feel when you come to America and see all these young bartenders mixing your family’s traditional spirits in a new way?

Elisabetta: It’s incredible because in the U.S. people are really in love with Italian spirits right now, especially the amari. It’s nice to see so many amari that I remember from my youth—that I remember from the advertisements—come back. In Italy, they had all but disappeared. We’ve been producing our amaro since 1945, but it was originally produced and sold just in Friuli. It was a regional product. My parents were always very focused on pure spirits and distillation—brandy and grappa—whereas the amaro is a mix of ingredients with a brandy base. To see a regional spirit like that become popular in the U.S. makes us very proud of our tradition. It’s also nice to see a renewed focus on quality in spirits. People everywhere are appreciating the high quality of what Italy is doing, but in a different way. In this case, globalization is a good thing.

David: Are young people and bartenders in Italy now embracing their country’s traditional spirits as well?

Elisabetta: Yes, in the big cities we’re starting to see more cocktail bars. Compared to the U.S. it’s a very small number, but it’s increasing. The bartenders and mixologists are all very young people—in their twenties and early thirties—and they are very interested in the history. They love to research the ingredients and the historical background of cocktails as well. Maybe they weren’t interested in spirits at first, but they fell in love after learning more and more about the history and the tradition involved. There’s a high level of knowledge required today to make classic cocktails. When there is research, there is usually an increase in quality as well, so I think we’ll continue to see good things. Research and innovation go hand-in-hand.

David: Do you think the resurgence and research we’re seeing now with traditional Italian spirits might lead to innovation at Nonino?

Elisabetta: Yes, we may look back at some old recipes from my grandmother. My father lost his father when he was eight years old, so my grandmother Sylvia Nonino ran the distillery by herself until my father was about twenty. My father learned how to distill from his mother. When I was in elementary school I remember we had a big selection of liqueurs and amari. My father, however, was more focused on pure distillation. We will probably go back and look at some of those recipes; something linked to tradition, but also innovation.

David: What does the older generation at Nonino think about the new trend of Nonino cocktails?

Elisabetta: In the beginning, they were not really convinced. However, they realized that this is the gateway to traditional appreciation, so it’s great. Nowadays when we go out to a restaurant, my mom loves to drink a Nonino grappa and tonic instead of wine. She says she feels better the next day after a cocktail. She doesn’t have a headache and she thinks it’s better for her overall health. She loves that she can still sense the fresh aromatics of the grappa, but with less alcohol.

David: Lower alcohol drinks are really becoming the norm. We eat differently today than previous generations did. We’re not sitting down for multi-course meals, so it makes sense that we would alter our drinking practices around this evolution. It’s nice to see, however, that traditional Italian spirits are adapting to that change.

Elisabetta: For sure. That is the beauty when you look at the evolution of the way we eat, the way we dress, and the way we live. We’re able to appreciate food and drink in ways that weren’t possible before. Sixty years ago many people didn’t have heat in their home, or air conditioning. Most people did physical jobs to make a living. Now people work in the office, so they eat differently—they don’t need a big meal at lunch anymore. Sixty years ago you might eat meat once a week and you were lucky to have it; now you can have it every day if you like. Since then we’ve moved from fundamental needs based on survival to more specialization. Back then wine was red or white, but now we want to know the vintage, the variety, and the region; with spirits, it’s the same.

If you're a whiskey drinker looking to try using the Amaro Nonino in a fun cocktail, here are a few options. Personally, I haven't made a Manhattan with vermouth since trying it this way:

The Amaro Nonino Manhattan

- 2 oz. of rye or Bourbon

- 3/4 oz. of Amaro Nonino

- 2 dashes of bitters

Stir well and strain into a cocktail glass with our without ice. Add a cherry!

There's another drink someone showed me once called the Paper Plane that, like a Negroni, is easy to remember because it's all equal parts (so long as you remember what those parts are!).

The Paper Plane

- 3/4 oz. Bourbon or rye

- 3/4 oz. Amaro Nonino

- 3/4 oz. Aperol

- 3/4 oz. lemon juice

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

-David Driscoll

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