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Thursday
Jun162016

Update From Above Water

Excuse the five day absence here; it's so very unlike me to be away for that long, but we've been smack in the middle of Bordeaux season here this past week and I've been scrambling to get my photos and notes updated from our trip to the On the Trail blog. Some very big Bordeaux guns came out recently including Haut Brion, Margaux, Angelus, and Ducru-Beaucaillou. Keeping my head above water this week has been my main goal, especially after the Japanese whisky onslaught yesterday. I managed to secure some rather sizable allocations of incredibly desirable Yamazaki and Hibiki expressions and the whole system went nuts under the volume of orders coming in. I know some customers think that the internet and automated website do all the hard work for us, but unfortunately that isn't quite the case. When we release high-demand, highly-allocated whiskies in somewhat sizable amounts I have to sit there and babysit the queue for hours, making sure the orders get split off as we run out in certain stores while cancelling the orders of customers who go back in to try and skirt the bottle limits. It's a full time job once those bottles go live on klwines.com.

There does seem to be some confusion from time to time about what the term "one bottle limit" means when it comes to limited whisky supplies. Literally it means you can only buy one bottle per order with us (and we limit those orders to one per week), but there's nothing other than one's honor and goodwill preventing further purchasing. You could of course log back into the site after checking out, place a second order and test your luck, but unfortunately the big eye in the sky (me) is watching more vigilantly than ever these days. We have so many people asking, requesting, literally begging us for these rare bottles that my goal when releasing them is to put as many bottles in to as many different hands as possible. To spread them out as widely as we can. To help those who are constantly missing out to secondary marker scalpers and hoarders around the world locate a bottle they can actually consume. I'm very sensitive to people who try and circumvent those restrictions by creating new accounts, or having their wife, cousin, and sister also buy a bottle with the same credit card. That's why I'm constantly asking folks to please respect the limits and each other! It's hard enough to find enough whisky for everyone as it is! It shouldn't be that hard to sell it fairly and equitably.

In terms of new things coming into stock, keep your eyes peeled to the website and the blog. We've got two new casks of Four Roses coming in soon (both over 10 years of age!) and two single casks of Kavalan that should be hitting live inventory any time now. And, if you can believe this, I finally located a single cask of Glen Garioch that we selected at the distillery with Rachel Barrie more than two and a half years ago! It got lost in a warehouse, and then further buried when Beam and Suntory merged and switched importation over from Campari. That should be arriving soon as well: and for the original price we were quoted back then!

There's a lot to be excited about! Now pardon me as I go back and monitor the sales queue again.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Jun112016

D2D @ OTT

In case you're a spirits blog-only reader, I've got a few new interviews about drinking lined up for 2016 beginning with Gerald Casale from Devo. If your familiarity with the band Devo extends only as far as the hit single “Whip It,” then you owe yourself a good weekend of listening to their back catalogue (and watching the scene from Casino where Scorsese spins their cover of "Satisfaction"). Albums like Are We Not Men? We Are Devo and Freedom of Choice have long established the band as more than just new wave wonders. Devo is firmly in the realm of the intellectual and brilliantly wacky when it comes to rock and roll. Not only is Devo considered one of the most important and revolutionary rock groups of all time, their music and extreme creativity still holds up today. Founded by a pair of brothers from Ohio in the early 1970s (the Casales and the Mothersbaughs), David Bowie once called them “the band of the future.” He wasn’t too far off. Forty years later, their songs and ideas sound just as fresh, and the band’s comic warning of societal de-evolution perhaps even more dire. Neither the Mothersbaughs nor the Casales ever accepted the mainstream restraints of the modern rock band, however. Their artistic reach led them further into the realms of conceptual and visual art, and—in the case of Gerald Casale—to wine.

I was introduced to Gerald via a mutual friend earlier this year and he invited me to try some of the wines from his label 50 by 50: a Sonoma Coast pinot noir and a rosé from the same origin, both of which are in stock now at K&L. Not only were the wines delicious and interesting, in true Devo style there was much more to the project than simply fermented grape juice. The 50 by 50 (you can learn more by visiting the website) is also an architectural quest; an agricultural vision; an attempt to fuse core elements of calculated modern design with the uncontrollable forces of nature. Something like that, I think. Maybe I should let Gerald tell you.

Read the interview here. Then come by the Hollywood store on July 14th and meet Gerald in person, shake his hand, and ask him: "Are we not men?" Previous interviews are archived here.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jun102016

A Category Redefined

Part of the reason I'm rather obsessed with the film No Country For Old Men has to do with the rugged beauty of the landscape. The way the Coen brothers capture the atmosphere of the Texas/Mexican border reminds me of memories both from dreams and real experiences. I never get tired of watching that movie because I never get tired of looking at that terrain. There's a feeling that gets into your blood when something truly speaks to you. You know you truly love something when you choose to spend your free time researching and learning more about it. That's Mexico for me—all of it. The people, the places, the language, the food, and the drinking culture. I love being there, soaking it all in, speaking Spanish and learning new slang. The valley of Atotonlico in Jalisco reminds me quite a bit of the scene in the aforementioned film where Josh Brolin looks down on a group of abandoned trucks and ultimately finds trouble. I found trouble myself in Atotonlico. I found myself looking at a treasure trove of the oldest Tequilas ever made wondering how I could do them justice.

In the warehouses behind Enrique Fonseca's private estate are stacks of barrels as far as the eye can see, full of aging tequila from Enrique's distillery in the town of Tequila, about three hours to the west. Enrique is more than just a distiller, however. He's a fifth-generation grower and landowner whose family was once one of the most prominent in the region. As many of you probably know, aged Tequilas like reposados are generally six months old, while the añejos clock in at the one year mark. Recently a category was created for Tequilas aged three years or longer in wood called extra añejo—a description for really old Tequilas. So what term should we use to describe Enrique's collection of eight to ten year old Tequilas? What about his fifteen to twenty year old Tequilas? Or maybe his twenty-five-plus year old barrels? Extra, extra, extra, extra? I'm not sure. 

Much like French brandy producers, Enrique moves his Tequilas into different sizes of barrel over the course of their maturation to prevent the oak from completely taking over. Part of the reason Tequila isn't often aged longer than a year in barrel is because the oak can become too pronounced, diminishing the essential flavor of the agave and transforming the spirit into something more like Bourbon. Enrique's Tequilas are more like a fine Armagnac—spicy and rich, but with clear and vibrant flavors from the inherent material. The distillate often begins its life in a huge wooden foudre before being transferred into ex-Bourbon casks later on down the line.

But again, Enrique can afford to sit on his Tequilas, watching them mature slowly and steadily over time, because Tequila isn't his main source of income. It's one of many projects in Jalisco that he oversees. There's no rush here. He's not in a hurry to recoup his expenses. It's simply a labor of love; one that he believes will establish a new precedence for mature Tequila and ultimately redefine the category. We've put together two different mature blends of Enrique's ultra-aged expressions over the years, none more popular than the 2014 Edition of Fuenteseca: a marriage of four, seven, and eight year old Tequilas that is deceptively rich and dynamically spicy on the palate. We've been sold out for the last few months, but our final reinforcements have arrived. When you compare this Tequila to comparably-priced alternatives, there's really no competition. There's no caramel coloring in this Tequila. There are no sweeteners like glycerol to add texture or weight. The complexity is unrivaled. The level of maturation is......well.....beyond.

Fuenteseca Ensamble "2014 Edition" K&L Exclusive Extra Añejo $99.99

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jun102016

Craft Extravaganza – Part III

It's David OG again—back for part three of the craft extravaganza. Finally, a single malt from Alsace! Last year I spent a good 4 days weaving my way around Switzerland and eastern France in search of the next great single malt. After three terribly depressing days in Switzerland -a country filled with great whisky priced tenfold above the market, I made one last ditch effort through Alsace. I left early from Basel and made my way through the beautiful region to the tiny Hamlet of Uberach.

Meaning "just beyond the river bend," Uberach is in the heart of the Alsatian orchards. Perfectly situated to capture the highest quality fruit in the France, many distilleries exist in the area. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of people drinking fruit eau-de-vie these days even in Alsace. When the proprietor of the famous Bertrand Distillery caught the whiskey bug in the early 2000s, he made an historic moved to distill exclusively malt whisky. They’d been distilling some of France’s best fruit brandy since 1874, but Jean Metzger saw a future called “single malt” and never looked back. He uses locally sourced organic barley, about 25% of which is peated to 5 ppm. He’s partnered with the organic brewery down the way who ferment the wash before it’s distilled on his antique copper alembic stills. It’s then filled into five casks types: new, used and reused French oak, Banyuls, Rivesalte, Rasteau, and Vin Jaune.

Our blend, which will likely be followed by cask strength single barrel offerings in the near future is an “assemblage” of two cask types at different fills; meaning we have both first and second-fill French oak in the mix as well as second and third-fill Banyuls casks. All the whisky in the bottle is around six years old and is absolutely wild. Not surprisingly it has a lot in common with some of the best eau-di-vie on the market. Big powerful nose of pears, cotton candy, big yellow flowers and subtle malt. The palate is very much on the floral side, but not perfumed or acrid, just very fresh and seamless. This truly is carving a new malt category out from the wide world of world whisky. While it hits some of the notes of a fresher styled highlander, it’s truly unique and unlike any other product in the store. I hope you enjoy.

Uberach "Assemblage" Alsace Single Malt Whisky $59.99

-David Othenin-Girard

Thursday
Jun092016

2016 Craft Extravaganza – Part II

David OG here, back for part two. Next: another wild whiskey, which is not going to be for everyone, but certainly spoke to me. In the tiny town of Hérisson, France an unusual man made an unusual choice in 1983. Hérisson is at the center of a region called Allier, famous for its forests, its grains, and its royal family. This is indeed the realm of the Duke of Bourbon. The area is part of a geological region called the Massif Central, a large raised hilly plateau that stretches across most of south central France. The illustrious Mr. Balthazar was a well respected artist and thespian, famous also for his love of life and food. Hérisson has long been a cultural center of the region, hosting summer theater and musical festivals. The good Monsieur decided one day that he wanted to create a spirit that captured the essence of his beloved region – his creation was dubbed The Hedgehog – spiky yet alluring (also the English translation for the town Hérisson). He spent decades tinkering on his tiny still, trying different mashbill and wood treatments, yeast strains and distilling temperatures. The process was 100% self regulated and he specifically avoided outside influence. He eventually settled on a formula that he believed exemplified his region in the same way that Cognac exemplifies the Charente or Armagnac is of Gascogne. A rugged spirit of great power and intensity, he dubbed it “Straight Whiskey Bourbonnais”. Of course we cannot call it that, so Single Grain Whiskey will do for the TTB.

The distiller starts with locally grown corn and malted barley, these he mills himself and blends in about 20% rye which is milled locally as his apparatus can’t get the consistency correct. These are then put through an enzymatic breakdown process of different temperature washes. The whole mash is then fermented on the grain using two proprietary yeast strains which the distiller has cultivated over the years from local sources. Fermentation is very slow, sometimes up to 14 days in small tubs. This unlautered mash is then distilled with all the solids (not unlike bourbon) on a small Holstein still built in Germany. The second distillation takes him close to 70% ABV, which is cut to 60% before filling in heavily toasted new French oak barrels. After a year of oak extraction, the spirit is transferred into ex-cognac barrels for another three to four years.

The result is rustic, uncompromising spirit that’s as wild as the man you created it. Honey, oak, slight grappa notes on the nose are balanced by a supple mouth feel and a long easy finish. It’s truly unlike any other whiskey in the world. Undoubtedly some will turn their nose up at this unrefined specialty, but I find this hearty beverage ultimately delicious, unique and unpretentious in the best way. I would recommend some serious aeration before judging this whiskey as the powerful nose softens nicely with air. This whiskey is a labor of love and production is miniscule. We received a very small allocation, but it will likely sell quickly thanks to pure curiosity.

Hedgehog Single Grain Whiskey $44.99

-David Othenin-Girard

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