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Tuesday
Dec232014

No Limit

Liquor is like a symphony, or like a classical song, or something. You don’t use it as a downer; you use it to leap up into the sky when you’re in pain.

-Charles Bukowski

When I think of the words "No Limit", I immediately think of Master P. I picture the No Limit soldiers jumping up and down, dunking basketballs, riding in gold-plated tanks, and showing that bling. It gets me excited to think about no limits, and I love it when I can provide great products at great prices in large quantities. It makes me want to drink whiskey and get crazy! Today, I give you my final Christmas present: as much wheated cask strength Maker's Mark as you want! No raffles, no trivia, no one bottle limit. I pulled some strings, backed up the truck, and made some shit happen (because that's what I do). So we've got 1,000+ bottles of some of the most exciting Bourbon in the land and you've got a license to buy as much as you want.

Make 'em say uhhhhhhhhhhh! Na, na, na, na!

You wanna buy 50 cases? Go for it. It's a red wax-coated Maker's Mark Christmas frenzy. No limits. These will be placed as special orders and we will fulfill all purchases AFTER the holiday. We have all the booze, but we're a little backed up at the moment, as you can guess.

Maker's Mark Cask Strength Bourbon 375ml (half bottles) $39.99- Kentucky's most popular wheated Bourbon that isn't called "Pappy", Maker's Mark has long been famous for using winter wheat as the flavor grain (along with the majority of corn) instead of the ubiquitous rye. The only thing that ever kept Maker's Mark from capturing the hearts of serious Bourbon aficionados everywhere was the low proof. In 2014, however, they released a tiny amount of cask strength whisky (in tiny bottles) to Kentucky residents and people went bananas. Seeing that landing a bottle of Pappy today is like winning the lottery, the Maker's Mark Cask Strength is easily the next best thing (and, depending on who you talk to, it might even be better!). Big richness, bold spice, and that classic, creamy wheated profile combine into one epic ride. We've been forced to limit customers to one bottle only, and most people were lucky just to get that. But somehow, someway, we've managed to grab a truckload of this stuff and offer it to every K&L customer with no limits or restrictions on quantity. This is the best holiday present we could have asked for: a giant allocation of highly-allocated, highly-desired Bourbon at the time of year when folks are searching for something special. Load up while they're here because we don't expect a shipment of this magnitude again.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Dec222014

Literally the Best

I worked at Tower Records for over two years and never once did a customer walk into the store and ask me for the best album we carried. They mostly wanted to know where the newest Madonna single was. In high school, I worked at Hollywood Video and I can't ever remember anyone asking me for the best movie in the store. Most customers just wanted to avoid paying late fees. When it comes to music and movies the general public has a pretty good sense of what they like and what they don't; we recognize that different people have different tastes and that there are genres for these various interests. However, I've now worked at K&L for seven years and I can't remember a day when someone hasn't asked me for the best wine in the store. Not for my opinion, mind you, but for the literal, factual best bottle we carry. The best bottle for $20. The best German riesling. The best Champagne. The best gift.

There must be one, right? Which one is it? Tell me where it is.

Can you imagine walking into Amoeba Records and asking them what the best record is? They would look at you like you were crazy. Can you imagine walking into Whole Foods and asking them what the best vegetable is, or the best whole grain? Can you imagine walking into Macy's and asking them what the best shirt is? Or the best dress? Maybe walking into Tiffany's and asking them for the best diamond? What's the best table at IKEA? The best shower curtain print? What's the best painting in the Louvre? What's the best ocean: the Pacific or the Atlantic? What's the best planet? Jupiter? These questions sound ridiculous when you talk about certain subjective subjects—points of personal preference that clearly have no clear-cut answerbut for some reason asking for "the best" sounds perfectly reasonable when requesting a bottle of wine or whisky. Why is that? Why do we think there is ultimately one bottle to rule them all when it comes to booze?

Part of the answer lies in the way wine and whisky are talked about; the world is and has always been obsessed with ranking its alcoholic beverages. When you learn about Bordeaux, for example, you start with the Classification of 1855; when the Emperor Napoleon had every chateau in the Medoc ranked and organized into five tiers of quality. One hundred and sixty years later these rankings still dictate pricing and desirability for France's most coveted Cabernet-based wines. In Burgundy, one starts by learning the great vineyard sites; where the soil has been ranked by its mineral content to decide which properties are capable of greatness and which are not. It's a longstanding class system that cannot be overcome. Montrachet will always make better wines than the Macon. Greatness has been predetermined. The rest of the world has followed this lead, creating their own appellations, determining their own standards, and handing out medals or awards that also carry a certain measure of factual standing. 

When we read about alcoholic beverages in this manner, where rules and certainty are laid out before us with clear explanations as to their rationale, it's difficult not to believe in their existence. It's not easy to learn about wine and spirits on your own. It takes years of practice and dedication to differentiate the nuances between similar products, and most people don't have the time or the interest to reach that level. But it's not like there's a way we can literally determine what the best wines or whiskies are. It's not like Napoleon held an actual tournament in Bordeaux—like the World Cup or the NCAA 64—to determine the victors in 1855. It's not like the Yamazaki 2013 Sherry Cask defeated all other whiskies by submission or knockout in Jim Murray's own personal Kumite this year. These are merely the opinions of certain educated people; andjust like assholes—everyone has an opinion (especially assholes). There may be mountains of empircal evidence and plenty of sound reasoning to reinforce these opinions, but ultimately these are just musings. They're beliefs. They're points of advise that rely entirely on the preferences of certain tastes. 

And, let me be clear, that's not to say that these opinions don't have merit, standing, stature, or worthiness. We all have strongly held opinions based on our own personal experiences. More importantly, we trust certain opinions from people we know think on similar wavelengths. I love reading opinions about booze, film, music, and literature, but it's because I'm interested in learning about how other people think, not because I'm researching quality. Why do we like certain things? What makes something interesting or desirable? Why do people make things in a certain way? If I like this what else might I like? These are the questions that opinions can help us to answer. 

For seven years, however, the one question I've constantly faced at K&L that I have not been able to answer and will never be able to answer is: what's the best? But I don't think I'll ever stop being asked.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Dec212014

Conversaciones de una Fiesta

I went to a huge Mexican birthday party last night after work and all I can tell you right now is: I am so happy I decided to learn Spanish back in my mid-20s. Most of the people there were over forty, drinking Tecate, Pacifico, Don Julio, and reminiscing about the old days in whichever part of Mexico they hailed from. Instead of banishing myself into the English speaking corner with the rest of the gueros, I decided to caucus with the latinos. Grabbing a plate of stewed pork, rice, and beans, I sat down in a circle of native Mexicans who were having an intense discussion about beer. There are certain moments when my Spanish comprehension is really on point, and thank God this happened to be one of those evenings. The conversation they were having was fascinating.

"The water is totally different in that part of Mexico," said the man sitting next to me. "The minerals create a totally different flavor. That's why the Tecate they make in that part tastes different than what we get in the United States."

"They make it stronger, too," added in the guy sitting across from me. "There's a more powerful flavor in the Mexican version."

"Corona is the same," said the older gentleman to my left. "All of the bottles in America have a skunky aroma. It's not like the version we get back in Sinaloa, which is clean and fresh. It's not the same at all."

One of the things that will often drive me crazy about the wine and spirits industry is the sense of self-importance that "educated" drinkers often give to themselves; as if their understanding and appreciation of certain beverages has elevated them to a higher level of consciousness (and class). They shun basic brands and shit on what they believe to be inferior products because they want to believe that their more sophisticated palate separates them from the general shit-swilling public. I interact with these people all the time. Yet, if I were to tell one of these elitist pedants that I met two carpenters (with hands like sandpaper) and a plumber talking about the various regional differences between the intricate flavors of big-brand Mexican beer, what do you think they would say?

"Oh please! As if there's really a difference between all that crap," is what I imagine I would hear (as I hear statements like that fairly regularly).

There definitely is a mindset in the booze community that scholastic appreciation and conversation generally revolves around the expensive, rare, and geeky—and that to have a serious dialogue about something basic, ubiquitous, and mass-produced is boring or irrelevant. There's also a further hypothesis that the people drinking brands like Coors or Tecate don't care about or are unable to recognize quality in what they're tasting (I hear statements along these lines quite regularly as well). That being said, the most interesting and inviting conversation I've heard about alcohol in the last few months came at a birthday party from three working-class guys without any formal training in alcohol appreciation, concerning the production of inexpensive Mexican beer and how the variance impacts flavor.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Dec202014

Preparing for the Onslaught

For the past few days I've been going into work early—hours before the store opens—in an attempt to get the shelves stocked before the holiday crowd hits. Yesterday, I spent four hours just removing empty cardboard boxes from the warehouse and moving new inventory into their place. I've never seen anything like the rush we're currently experiencing. A few customers who read the blog have been dropping by to say hello and shoot the breeze, but twenty minutes later—after they've waited in line for an eternity—they get up to the counter and say, "Dude, you weren't kidding." It's a total shit show, so be prepared if you're coming by to do some "quick" shopping. Today and tomorrow should be utter chaos, which is why I'm mentally preparing myself now. Not only are we exhausted, mentally destroyed, and on our last rope as a staff, but our patience is now going to be put to the ultimate test. This weekend is when all the frantic, last-minute, in-a-hurry shoppers come out of the woodwork, so we'll have to have our A game today. It's like playing in the Super Bowl after you've just finished the NFC championship game yesterday.

To have an understanding of what I mean, let me give you an example. There was a guy in yesterday from out of town who was walking around the store, yelling at his companion about every product he saw. Finally he read the sign about the Cut Spike Nebraska single malt, and screamed at the top of his lungs: "Single malt from Nebraska?!" Crazily enough, the store was so busy that his antics went largely unnoticed by most of the shoppers. He finally made his way over to the counter, looked at me with a squinted, discerning eye, and asked "So.....is that single malt really as good as y'all say it is?"

I've been in this situation a million times. You're obviously not going to say, "No, sir it isn't. We just made all that up," so that only leaves the affirmative as an answer. However, if you say, "Yes, sir it is," then they think you're just a salesman who's full of shit, going along with the other "propaganda" in the store that they're too smart for (which is what they're setting you up to be). They're usually waiting to follow up with something like, "Well, it had better be, otherwise I'll be back here looking for you, and you'll hear about it." Me being me—always looking to make a joke out of things—I said, "Well, I sure hope it is because I wrote that sign." The guy just stood there and stared at me. He stood there for at least thirty seconds with a deadpan on his face and didn't budge one inch while I kept scanning the bottles on the counter.

"You see what he did there?" his friend said, breaking the half-minute of silence. "He turned it back around on you. That wuddent no answer." The guy suddenly spun around, began storming down the aisle, launching into hysterics, "What the hell kind of an answer is that?! I'm not looking for no damn mindgame. I just want to know if this thing is good or not. Goddamn single malt from Nebraska! That ain't no goddamn answer!" And then he walked out and never came back.

And that was the fourth weirdest thing that happened yesterday. I'll let you use your imagination about the other three.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Dec192014

Farm to Bottle: Corbin Returns

David Souza was in the store this week, tasting me on his new batch of Central Valley whiskey, as well as a few other new concoctions he's been working on. I asked him how it was going. He said something in return I've heard from many a producer: "If I would have known how hard this was going to be, I don't think I would have gone through with it." Unlike most small producers in the rye business, David set his retail price at around $50 (what he thought would be fair) and tried to work backward from there to set profitability. His is the only mature rye whiskey that I know of in the United States that is handled from farm to bottle by the same person. David planted the rye, grew the rye, harvested the rye, milled the rye, fermented the rye, distilled the rye, matured the rye whiskey for three years, and bottled it himself in his garage.

I don't think he's figured out how to get rich in the whiskey business yet, but he damn sure has figured out how to make a tasty rye whiskey. What I love about David is that he understands the long-term vision. He's not asking consumers to subsidize his growing pains, but rather is willing to eat the profit to ensure a fair whiskey for a fair price. As time goes on I'm sure he'll win over more consumers with that approach. Batch two is here! Enjoy.

Corbin Cash Merced Rye Whiskey $46.99- Corbin is a farm located in Atwater, California (just south of Modesto) that grows sweet potatoes. A few years back, David Souza, whose family has farmed in the region for a hundred years, decided to add a still to preserve the unused harvest (just like farmers have been doing for hundreds of years) and Corbin Sweet Potato Vodka was born. It turns out that Corbin hasn't only been distilling sweet potato vodka over the past few years; they've also been growing, harvesting, fermenting and distilling their own rye--purchasing custom-charred, 53 gallon white oak barrels from Missouri and filling them with their 100% farm-to-bottle distillate. The sandy soil of Atwater, however, leeches a lot of the nitrogen deep into the earth and a cover crop is needed to help remove some of the nitrogen before another round of sweet potatoes can be planted. It just so happens that rye is the perfect cover. Distilled on the same German Holstein still, the almost 4 year old rye (3.75 years) shows a perfectly-balanced nose of rich oak and rye grain aromas, and a leaner, more classically-styled mouthfeel with hints of baking spice from the barrel aging. It's not a full throttle high proof experience, nor is it a softer, gentler spirit like the Bulleit or Templeton products. The Corbin is its own thing--a purely Californian whiskey, 100% from farm to bottle. The Souzas planted the seeds and handled every step along the way until the booze was bottled. It's real deal whiskey from a local farm.

-David Driscoll

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