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Wednesday
Feb152017

Australia: Day 6 – Sunny Sydney

You hear people compare the east coast of Australia to the west coast of the U.S. every now and again. If Melbourne is Australia's San Francisco, then Sydney is its Los Angeles. There's a lot of sun, blond hair, beautiful beaches, and a more fashion-oriented crowd. However, while that may be the easy analogy, I've found Sydney to be a lot more like New York than L.A. The buildings go straight up, the people are suave and sophisticated (rather than laid back with flip flops), and everything is centralized and concentrated rather than spread over a large area. In many ways, it looks like a larger version of San Francisco as well. I was telling my wife on the phone: "Imagine the area around the Embarcadero, North Beach, and parts of Union Square, then combine that with SoHo in Manhattan, then multiply it by ten."

Of course, I don't look at travel as a constant comparison. I'm not trying to pigeon hole Sydney into anything. I'm just always looking for easy ways to explain complex ideas to people—in a nutshell. I've found that simply walking around and letting Sydney unveil itself to me has been incredibly rewarding thus far. It's kind of like drinking, in a way. Drinking a new whisky is kind of like traveling to a new place. Just like I never regret trying a new drink, I rarely go somewhere that I don't enjoy because the travel itself is educational. You learn a little bit more about the world each time you take that journey. Maybe you like some more than the others, but in the end each experience adds a little piece to the great puzzle of life. 

That's how Jonathan Walczak feels about whiskey, too; he's a K&L customer in Sydney who writes a really good site about booze called the Whisky Ledger and who also has a huge following on Instagram. We met up over at the Baxter Inn to grab a drink, an underground whisky bar downtown with a large selection of malts and Bourbons. We both drank beer, however, as I think we both knew there were many drinks to follow. While Jon has a passion for whisky, I never get the impression from his posts that he's ranking or judging his experiences. "I don't ever really get mad if I don't like something," he said to me as we discussed our approach to tasting. "I've never regretted buying a bottle. I just see drinking whisky as something fun." I laughed and said:

"I know, my friend. I wouldn't be sitting here with you right now if I thought otherwise."

The last thing in the world I'd ever want to do in my free time is sit down and drink whisky with someone anal who wanted to analyze and critique single malts with me. I think Jonathan felt the same way, which is why we quickly moved on from the Baxter and over to the Lobo Plantation, a thematic rum bar with a great vibe and incredible energy. We watched the fireworks behind the bar while drinking cocktails, before Jonathan turned to me and said: "I think I know just the place for you." It's always interesting to be told something like that because you wonder if the person saying that does actually know something about your tastes. Sure enough, Jon was dead on: Frankie's was exactly what I was looking for. A CBGB's-like underground rock and roll den with pizza by the slice, cold beer on tap, and a fantastic party atmosphere. I was thrilled!

"This place is incredible!" I yelled across the table to Jonathan while taking in the scene. "If I lived in Sydney my wife and I would be here every night!" There were so many different types of people there: young kids, middle-aged guys, punks, squares, nerds, and even a few motorcycle dudes back by the pinball machines. "There's a table of dads as well right behind you," Jon added with a chuckle. We ordered a pizza, got a few more beers (in plastic mugs), and I even bought a long-sleeved T-shirt that said: "Get Fucked at Frankies." Eventually I had to call it a night and head back over to the hotel to get some work done before bed, but I had a fantastic time doing the bar tour with Jonathan. Many thanks to him for reaching out and extending some fine Sydney hospitality my way. I've really enjoyed the city thus far.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Feb142017

Australia: Day 5 – Modern Melbourne

I spent a lot of time on Monday and Tuesday visiting wineries in the Yarra, having fantastic lunches, putting in a few orders, and locating some new producers for us to import, but you can read all about that stuff over at On the Trail. In the meantime, let's talk about Melboune's modern approach to spirits.

What is Melbourne? It's tough to say having only spent one day here so far. But here are my snapshot observations: it's like San Francisco, but with fashion and art. It's like the Mission before it was gentrified. Before women started wearing nothing but Lululemon. Before hipsters stopped caring. Before everyone started looking at a small illuminated screen in the palm of their hands 24/7. 

Sure: there are yoga mats, bicycles, ironic pizza advertisements, and plenty of the same modern developments we see on a daily basis in the Bay Area, but there's still an element of fun here. I don't get the impression that Melbourne takes itself anywhere near as seriously. Example number one? Jason Chan.

Jason not only runs one of the coolest bars I've ever been to called Hats & Tatts, he's part owner of West Winds; a small boutique gin distillery that has a line of Aussie-influenced expressions coming out of Margaret River. His American-themed watering hole had me in stitches. They have two retro arcade machines (NBA Jam and Street Fighter II), plus posters of "Big Trouble in Little China" as well as Tom Cruise's "Cocktail" on the interior. There's no pretense here, folks. You're here to drink.

I tasted through the entire line-up of West Winds, as well as a number of other local distillates. Jason is a great guide to the spirits scene in Melbourne, and he also has a friend who's making outstanding glassware. Denver Liely's unique and hand-blown editions made tasting spirits that much better. I snagged the whisky glass to bring home with me. I was impressed. 

After meeting with Jason, it was over to Starward: Melbourne's single malt distillery and a rising star in the world of micro-spirits. 

I'll go into more detail in a later post, but there's a lot to be excited about here. Three year old single malt aged in Aussie wine casks and bottled via a solera system for a reasonable price? Yes, please.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Feb122017

Australia: Day 4 – Distillation

I walked into Four Pillars this morning to find a smorgasbord of botanicals awaiting me; all kinds of fun stuff like red and green szechuan, grains of paradise, and peppermint gum. My job was to get an idea of what I wanted our K&L batch of gin to taste like, map out the recipe, and fill Cam in on the details. I already knew the direction I wanted to head. I wanted to build on the core pillars (pardon the pun) of the brand and simply dial them up in a different way: big citrus and big fruit, accented by sweeter spices and oily residues. I got to nosing and note taking.

Cam had a big batch of juniper berries soaking in the still as I started to dump in my selections: roasted wattle seeds, strawberry gum, lemon myrtle, cubeb, cassia, and Tasmanian pepperberry, followed by a heaping handful of sandalwood nuts. "These should release heavier oils, right?" I asked Cam as I haphazardly began tossing more spices into the pot. "Absolutely, and that will add texture," he answered. 

As the small Carl still began to boil, you could start to smell the citrus aromas from the botanical basket permeate the room. In addition to the spices, herbs, and nuts we tossed into the liquid, we also hung a huge selection of various fruits and citrus into a bag for the vapor to pass through, adding an aromatic and zesty element to the liquid. It's been about an hour since we started and we've been trying the gin about every ten minutes or so. The first drops were full of lemon peel, but after about twenty minutes you could really taste the nuts. It's very flavorful and incredibly potent already. I'm hoping it continues to develop!

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Feb122017

Australia: Day 3 – New Friends

I'm over at On the Trail today. Come meet some of my new friends!

Tomorrow we make gin at Four Pillars! Until then.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Feb112017

Australia: Day 2 – Sights and Sounds

I spent much of Saturday taking a drive with the gang out to the Macedon Ranges and the famous Hanging Rock, near which a friend of Stu and Cam has a summer home and a vineyard site. Pulling up to the estate I noticed a huge gum tree with the bush out in the distance and immediately thought of the old Kookaburra song my mom used to sing to me as a kid. Whereas the Yarra Valley feels very much like home, Macedon—located to the north of Melbourne—looks and feels more like I expected Australia to.

The friend I alluded to above was a boutique wine and spirits importer named Robert Walters who has spent twenty-five years supplying Australia with wines from producers like Didier Dagueneau, Francois Chidaine, Robert Weil, and pretty much every other global winemaker you generally find at K&L. He's also the author of a book called "Bursting Bubbles," documenting the rise of grower Champagnes in the industry—another one of our specialties! I had a lot to talk about with Robert and a lot in common with him in terms of taste and experience. We started our visit with a glass of rosé and a walk around a property he's recently planted with high-density chardonnay and pinot noir vines.

Because Robert is a more serious and studied wine professional, Stu spent the first ten minutes of the vineyard tour antagonizing the hell out of him; peppering him with technical questions, overwhelming him with pessimism and sarcasm, and judging every word that came out of his mouth within seconds of him having uttered it. It was absolutely hilarious. It was like a comedy duo feeding off each other's energy. Ultimately Stu respects the hell out of Robert, which is why he loves to tease him. We were all taken aback by his commitment to viticulture and the way he's turned his attention towards winemaking from his importation experience. 

One thing I've learned from my colleague Ryan is how serious the food scene is around Melbourne. Actually, I shouldn't say "serious" because it's actually quite laid back, but the quality is tremendous! Robert's wife Kate was amazing, putting together small snacks of anchovies with lemon and chili on perfectly toasted slices of baguette. It was quite a lunch and a further example of how awesome the place is. Everywhere I've gone so far I've met nice people who like to eat and drink nice things. When am I supposed to come back again?

-David Driscoll 

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