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Wednesday
May242017

Bulleit Barrel Strength Arrives, Party Tomorrow!

The Bulleit Barrel Strength Bourbon is just now landing in our store warehouses and the first bottles are already hitting the sales queue, but you can still try before you buy tomorrow night at Hard Water in downtown San Francisco during our launch party with founder Tom Bulleit himself.

There are still a few seats left for the party here ($50 includes cocktails, samples of full Bulleit line-up, and loads of Hard Water cuisine), but if you want to simply forgo all the festivities and grab yourself a bottle, it's available online now while supplies last:

Bulleit "Barrel Strength" Kentucky Bourbon $54.99

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
May232017

The Legend Returns

Special agent Dale Cooper wasn't the only legend to return this week. We finally received the final batch of one of my favorite Armagnacs we've ever carried: the 2001 Grangerie Armagnac, perhaps the one brandy that best blurs the lines between an enticing Bourbon oak flavor and the characteristics of a rounded fruit distillate. While I'm delighted that we've been able to capture the imagination of American whiskey fans with some of our ultra-mature Armagnac selections, I'm personally not on the hunt these days for brandy that tastes like Bourbon. One of the biggest mistakes we ever made here at K&L was adopting the mindset we originally brought to France, thinking we should treat brandy like whiskey and go for single barrel, cask strength editions that mimicked what the industry was craving back home. Ideologically it may have been strategic and well-intentioned, but looking back I feel like it was equally arrogant and misguided. I think when brandy is matured in new charred oak it can definitely scratch the whiskey itch, but over the years the most satisfying and haunting Armagnacs I've ever tasted ultimately tasted like great Armagnac, rather than a substitute for something else. 

What does that mean exactly? It means today I'm more keen on selecting an Armagnac because it has a brilliant balance of oak and fruit, rather than just power, woody concentration, and richness. These are spirits distilled from wine. They should taste like it! The 2001 Grangerie epitomizes that mindset perfectly because it's not some super dark, incredibly extracted, oak bomb of a brandy that has obliterated any trace of the original grape. It's loaded with vanilla, oak spices, and toasty, woody deliciousness, but the finish is all about the fruit. There are flavors of dried apricot and pear layered into that richness, which is really what I'm after these days. I don't enjoy Bourbon because it tastes like corn, but I definitely do enjoy brandy because it tastes somewhat like fruit. Here you get the best of both worlds: the richness of a whiskey with the fruit of a true Armagnac.

What really made me happy was seeing dozens and dozens of orders go into the queue within the first fifteen minutes of the Grangerie's arrival yesterday after the "waiting list" email went out. Apparently, there were quite a few others eagerly awaiting the return of this prime specimen. I completely understand why!

2001 Chateau de la Grangerie 14 Year Old K&L Exclusive Armagnac $49.99 - Chateau de la Grangerie is a property that was built in the 17th century right next to an old monastery. The church and the housing for its servants was actually built in the 11th and 12th centuries and since the Armagnac is aged inside that facility, it might be the only spirit at K&L matured on hallowed grounds. Like many Tenereze producers, Grangerie distills only ugni blanc for its brandies. However, the sandy and gravel-rich soils are much more like the terrain found in the Bas-Armagnac. They fill about ten barrels a year; two of which are used for Floc de Gascogne and one goes to Pruneau: a prune-flavored brandy made by macerating the Armagnac with the dried fruit also grown on the property. The 2001 is an absolute revelation of baking spices, soft vanilla and pureness of fruit, all perfectly balanced by a gentle layer of oak. At $50, it's instantly one of the best deals in the store with an easy drinkability that's simply off the charts. Sip it straight after a long meal, or mix it into an Old Fashioned in place of Bourbon.

-David Driscoll

Monday
May222017

The Rebranding of Luxco

When I first started learning about American whiskey back around 2007, one of the first things I noticed when talking and emailing with drinkers across the country was how much good, value-oriented, drinkable Bourbon was available outside of California. That's not to say we didn't have quality, inexpensive options here in the Golden State, but rather there didn't seem to be a real appreciation of them. Everyone was dead set on drinking "the best" rather than something dependable on the daily. I remember Chuck Cowdery at one point telling me to try Very Old Barton on my first trip to Kentucky, a whiskey not distributed out west that symbolized to him a great example of Bourbon's true value. To this day I buy a 1.75 liter bottle of Barton each time I visit. At the CVS in downtown Louisville you can get the giant Weller-shaped jug for about $22, which comes out to about $9.50 per 750ml. Whiskey at that price is suspicious to us snooty San Franciscans who think great Bourbon has to cost at least $50 to even be considerable. 

The joke is on us, however.

Bourbon wasn't expensive when the boom hit back around 2009 andwith the exception of the oft-discussed, impossible-to-find trophy bottles—it still isn't priced like a luxury liquid in most places. Not only can you still get a top-notch bottle of Bourbon for less than $30, in many states you can get a decent bottle for less than $20. Two such brands that come to mind are Rebel Yell and Ezra Brooks, labels owned by Luxco—a St. Louis-based company that contracts much of its whiskey from Heaven Hill and MGP, but recently has begun production on a new distillery along the Kentucky Bourbon trail. While I often hear serious Bourbon drinkers and industry professionals discuss Luxco's labels with a smirk or a snicker, I'm not sure what's so ridiculous about quality Heaven Hill and MGP-distilled products between $10 and $20 a bottle. Am I supposed to be embarrassed? I don't get it.

The only thing that would have embarrassed me about drinking Rebel Yell Bourbon a few years ago might have been the label, but that's all changed now. Luxco has finally brought their new and improved packaging out to the West Coast so that we can finally get a taste of what $13 wheated Bourbon tastes like out of a more respectable bottle. The other kicker is the $24 bottle of 101 proof 7 year old Kentucky Bourbon from Ezra Brooks. It's the same price as Elijah Craig, likely comes from the same formula, and it's higher in proof. Again, what am I supposed to be snickering about? It's delicious, inexpensive, and easy to drink with a supple graininess that really hits the spot. If you're a whiskey purist, you can always take shots at MGP rye products that have the name of a different distillery on the front (like the Minor Case), but at the same time there aren't a lot of sherry-aged ryes out there to choose from. At least Luxco is offering you something different here, in a nice little flask no less.

Luxco's Bardstown distillery is still in the construction phase, but in the meantime enjoy the closest thing we have out here in CA to a Very Old Barton-like value. Ezra Brooks rye for $15? Wheated Bourbon for $13? 

You wanna know what's funny? Watching someone pay $100 for a bottle of Weller 12, not $13 for a bottle of Rebel Yell. 

(P.S. - We're sold out of Rebel Yell Bourbon until later in the week if you're searching the site now).

-David Driscoll

Saturday
May202017

It is Happening Again...

I have been waiting twenty-five years for tomorrow night. 

Twin Peaks is my all-time favorite television show, David Lynch my all-time favorite director, and Agent Cooper is my all-time favorite on screen character. I'm so in love with special agent Cooper, in fact, that I don't think I've ever been right since the series finale (I won't spoil it for you, but it's unnerving). I think I loved Coop more than Audrey Horne. 

Now that all changes. All the wrongs can be righted and my life's trajectory can finally be put back in order! Agent Cooper returns to TV tomorrow night and I'm praying to God we will finally get the ending we deserve.

For those of you who don't know, actor Kyle MacLachlan is a big wine guy. He actually makes his own label in Washington, which I was trying to have on the shelf by today, but Kyle's been busy lately (obviously) so we'll have to get that done later. In the meantime, I'm going to wake up tomorrow, pour myself a cup of hot, black coffee and watch the minute hand on the clock tick by ever so slowly. 

I CANNOT WAIT. Rejoice! It is happening again! What are you going to drink while watching tomorrow's season three premiere? 

-David Driscoll

Friday
May192017

Wild Portland Nights

I landed in Portland yesterday morning and caught a cab directly to the "Old Portland," a wine bar owned by my friend Courtney Taylor, ironically situated in what has become new Portland. All the up and coming hip spots are situated in the Northwest sector with new restaurants, bars, and cafes opening every month. Courtney, who was born and raised in the Oregon city, is nostalgic for the way things used to be (aren't we all?), so he named his bar accordingly. Within those walls he curates and celebrates Portland's quirky past, pouring old school wines at great prices to help lighten the mood.

I arrived to find my friend straightening up the space and getting the bottles ready for our afternoon's festivities. As a long time K&L customer, Courtney has been a big supporter of our Bordeaux program and many of the other great wine deals we're able to import from all over the world. I had shipped up some of our best bang-for-your-buck bottles and we were preparing to host about forty of his drinking buddies—guys who eat, breath, and sleep all things wine. As we ship a lot of wine into Oregon, I was hoping to expand our customer base a bit with the private event. Courtney was stoked, too—mainly because he would get to drink everything in the process!

Courtney is, for those of you who don't know him, quite the draw in Portland. He's the world-famous lead singer of the Dandy Warhols, one of the most beloved rock acts to come out of the Pacific Northwest in the late mid-to-late nineties. You can catch my old D2D interview with him in the archives for a more detailed story on how he caught the wine bug, but let's just say the guy loves his grape juice. It's funny because our roles as friends are totally reversed. In theory, I should be the one fawning over him and his rock star status, but in all honesty I think he's more excited to hang out with me. Courtney loves sipping, swirling, nosing, and tasting good wine and—obviously—that's a beloved activity we share a passion for. I think he greatly appreciates people who appreciate it. He was giddy from the moment I got there and I tried to stay humble as he introduced people to me using an arsenal of various accolades.

I won't bore you with the details as to which wines we tasted, or what happened while I was behind the bar for four hours talking shop. Let's just say it was a big party and everyone seemed quite pleased with the spread.

The crowd was dynamite and full of serious personalities, many of whom had some sort of artistic background. The shocker (and high point) for me was getting the chance to meet Paige Powell who—if you're not familiar—worked as Andy Warhol's assistant at Interview for many years. She was also dating a guy named Jean-Michel Basquiat before he passed away tragically. No big deal. Maybe you heard the news this morning, about how one of his paintings just sold for $110 million at auction? I spent almost an hour listening to her tell stories about New York during the eighties and what it was like to work for Andy. She and I have a lot in common in that we like to take pictures and talk to people while drinking wine. In this instance, she's taking a photo of me while I take a photo of her. What an experience!

We drank from about one in the afternoon until about eleven in the evening, telling stories and jokes, eating snacks, exploring Courtney's studio, and drinking the selection of K&L imports. We ended up down the street at Besaw's late night, drinking a bottle of 1989 Lilian Ladouys and eating duck confit with Courtney and I pounding a huge plate of french fries, hoping to soak up all that wine with some fried starch. We did our best to walk it off afterward, but in the end we were both too exhausted.

What a night! What a party! I can't wait to do it again.

-David Driscoll