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Wednesday
Jan182017

Molto Bene

I've been working with my friend Oliver McCrum, the Bay Area importer and expert on all things Italian, for years now as a quasi-advisor and taste-tester as he continues his foray into the spirits world. Oliver has had one of the strongest, most interesting, and quality-oriented wine portfolios for more than a decade, but over the last year or so his distilled category has really picked up. As someone who drinks amaro just about every single night of the week, I'm always on the hunt for new blood; especially when it comes from someone like Mr. McCrum. If you're a geek for Negronis, bitter liqueurs, or obscure family recipes, you're going to want every single one of these. There's not a weak link in the chain! Just in...

ALPE

Fulvio Calvetti is the third generation distiller for Alpe, a distillery started by his grandfather in 1948. Located in the Valle d'Aosta, a mountainous area in the northwest corner of Italy near France and Switzerland, Alpe produces a range of products showcasing the area's fresh alpine herbs.

Alpe Amaro $34.99 - The only thing more beautiful than the bottle's stunning art-deco label is the exquisite balance of bitter and sweetness that derives from the secret recipe of herbs and spices all grown at high-elevation . A fantastic new entry to the digestivo category from one of the nation's premier Italian importers, Oliver McCrum. Imagine something in between Nonino Amaro and Montenegro.

Alpe Lys Liqueur $29.99 - The Lys liqueur features a recipe of twenty different herbs, most sourced locally, infused all together like a gigantic batch of tea. Simultaneously sweet and bitter, there are almond and vanilla notes balancd by citrus and bitter baking spices, making the Lys a fantastic cocktail option for Negroni variations, or a complex drink to be sipped neat.

Alpe Genepy $34.99 - Many of the herbs in the Alpe spirits grow wild at high elevation in the nearby Gran Paradiso National Park, where the most prized of the area is the Genepy flower (aka Artemisia/wormwood), which is used in their Genepy. In addition to Genepy flowers/wormwood, Alpe also infuses oregano, mint, and cinnamon, among other ingredients, into the grain-based spirit. The result is something in between Chartreuse and an amaro; a Calvetti family tradition for fifty years at this point!

BERNARD

Enrico Bernard is the fourth generation of distillers at Bernard, a company started by his great-grandfather in 1902. Back then the facility specialized in Gazzosa, a lemon soda which they still produce today, but today they're moving into liqueurs and specialty spirits. The secret ingredient in both their soda and spirits is the area's mountain spring water, which is sourced at a high elevation near the town of Pomaretto, in the Germanasca Valley; based in the Piedmontese Alps, southwest of Torino near the border with France.

Bernard Barathier Liqueur $39.99 - After hiking at an elevation between 5000-8,500 feet in the early morning to harvest flowers and herbs at their peak fragrance, Bernard then spreads out the botanicals on mats to be dried in the mountain air. Heat is ever used during the process; even the maceration is done in cold water and alcohol. Bernard uses only Italian-made neutral grain spirit produced in Saluzzo, infusing each herb separately in small glass containers for up to twelve months. The Barathier is a blend of seven botanicals, most notably wild Juniper Berries, Angelica, Milfoil (sunflower family), and Gentian, both root and flower. The flavor is soft, slightly bitter and spicy. It's typically served after dinner to aid digestion or with soda as a refreshing spritz.

Bernard Serpoul Liqueur $39.99 - Sërpoul is a wild thyme liquor using herbs grown at 8,500 feet. The higher the elevation the more fragrant the thyme tends to be in the Alps. Floral on the nose and palate, the flavors are unmistakable. Great in a cocktail with gin and Suze!

BORDIGA

Bordiga is a Piedmontese producer that makes all of its own infusions, and many of the wild plants they use, such as gentian, juniper and chamomile, are still gathered in the Alps nearby. They produce vermouth, including the classic Vermouth di Torino, gin; and a number of amari.

Bordiga Vermouth Bianco (375ml) $19.99 - This classic vermouth type is based on Piedmontese white wines, including some Moscato, and infused with more than thirty different botanicals, many of them grown in the Occitan Alps near the winery. The flavor of this vermouth is complex and vivid, with an excellent balance of sweetness and bitterness. Some vermouths taste strongly of a single botanical, but the interplay of components here is distinctive and delicious. All of the herbal infusions are done individually and in-house. Add it to your favorite cocktail, but not before you try it on the rocks with a splash of soda. The Bordiga is so delicious and complex that it easily stands alone.

Bordiga Extra Dry Vermouth (375ml) $19.99 - The Bordiga extra dry takes all the herbal complexity and concentration of the classic bianco and simply removes the sweetness. Based on Piedmontese white wines, including some Moscato, and infused with more than thirty different botanicals, many of them grown in the Occitan Alps near the winery, the macerations are done individually and in-house.

Bordiga Rosso Di Torino Vermouth (375ml) $19.99 - Lighter in style than the other Italian rosso vermouths we carry, the Bordiga Rosso di Torino is based on Piedmontese white wines, including some Moscato, and infused with more than thirty different botanicals, many of them grown in the Occitan Alps near the winery. A tinge of cola sweetness on the finish accents the pureness of the bitterness and spice.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jan172017

Keeping Things in Place

One of the more common consumer requests I've received over the years has to do with our ability to order spirits from overseas. It usually comes from someone who has recently returned from vacation, tasted something delicious while traveling abroad, and now wants to recreate that experience here at home. They want me to track down whatever it was they had. It could be limoncello from Italy, or a special brandy from Spain, or a gin from New Zealand. More often than not, however, these spirits are not exported to the U.S. and are unavailable for us to purchase. I then have to explain to them the ins and outs of booze importation, and their eyes typically gloss over at that point from the boredom of that explanation.

"Can't you just order a bottle?" they ask.

No, unfortunately. We can't.

"Why is that?"

Well, first off: most countries use 700ml bottles for distilled spirits and we here in America use the 750ml size. That means that any distilled spirits entering the country for sale need to be rebottled in our official format. As you can probably imagine, there's no way a tiny distillery halfway around the world is going to create an entirely new package just so a few American tourists can order their nostalgic momentos once they return home. Second of all, it's illegal to ship spirits internationally unless you're sending the bottles to a licensed importer. That's what importers do. That's their whole job. If it was legal to ship spirits in the mail from overseas, there would be no need for licensed importation! Yes, I know, I've heard it a hundred times, so hold off that email you were getting ready to send me:

"But _________ ships whisky to the U.S. and they're located in ____________, so it must be legal!"

I know there are many retailers who are willing to ship from abroad, but I also tend to get this email from customers quite often:

"David - I ordered a shipment of whisky from ___________ and I just got a letter from U.S. customs saying I need a license to receive these bottles. Is that something K&L can help with?"

Unfortunately, it isn't. The U.S. customs office is a lot like the U.S. border: a lot of things can sneak through, but sometimes you get caught. It's up to you if you want to take that gamble. For me, however, I'm torn on the idea of complete access to the world at our fingertips. I kind of like the fact that I can only get certain things in certain places. If I can eat New York pizza anywhere, then why go to New York? If I could get Parisian pastries anywhere, why travel to Paris? If I could buy anything I wanted without ever having to leave my house, what special momento could I buy when actually on vacation? Sometimes I think I we should keep things in their place so that we help to maintain their value.

Sometimes I think we're making the world a less special place.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Jan162017

Four Pillars Gin Pairing @ MiniBar Hollywood - Thursday January 19th

 

Join us to welcome the wonderful Four Pillars Gin to the Minibar at the historic Best Western in Hollywood. Four Pillars is Australia's second most popular gin, despite being a tiny little craft operation. They sell more than everyone, but Tanqueray and that's not because the Aussies are particularly patriotic. It's because the stuff is absolutely delicious! This lovely little event will feature a welcome cocktail using the wonderful Rare Gin and a gin pairing with two exclusives not yet available in the States, the Chardonnay solera aged gin and the outrageous Bloody Shiraz gin. Yes that's right, you'll get a taste of these exceptional yet-to-be-released products along with MiniBar's incredible special pairings designed just for us. After the pairing the bar will feature $10 Navy Strength cocktails, some heady jams and good times all around. Doors open at 6:30pm and your reception cocktail will be on the bar at 7pm sharp, so don't let that ice melt. Free valet parking is included in the price admission, but we recommend taking a cab or ride service so that you can let loose a bit. Enjoy this one-of-a-kind experience for only $10.

Four Pillars Gin @ MiniBar, Thursday January 19, 6:30pm-8:30pm at MiniBar in Hollywood's Best Western - $10

Friday
Jan132017

Drink & Watch: Live In Person w/Steven Soderbergh

On Monday night, January 23rd, starting at 7 PM, we’ll be teaming up with the gang at the Alamo Drafthouse to bring you a screening of Steven Soderbergh’s Academy Award-winning film Erin Brockovich, featuring a live Q&A session with the director himself (hosted by yours truly) and a meet-and-greet cocktail party after the show. As some of you know, I’ve written a column on the K&L spirits blog for years called “Drink & Watch,” where I pair alcohol with movies rather than food. Mr. Soderbergh, who for some reason gets a kick out of those articles, thought it might be fun to take this idea and turn it into a party. As many of you also may know, the Alamo Drafthouse allows you to order food and alcoholic beverages while you’re watching a film, so we’re planning a special cocktail list with Steven’s drink of choice: Singani 63, the grape-based Bolivian spirit he discovered while filming Che on location. We’re big supporters of the brand here at K&L, but we also understand that the spirit needs a bit of an introduction. That’s why we’re inviting you out to the movies on Monday the 23rd to watch a great film, drink some great Singani cocktails, listen to Steven talk about the film, then have a drink with the man at our private after-party. It’s the most exciting event we’ve ever hosted, in my opinion!

Tickets are available here via the Alamo Drafthouse website where you can choose your own seat and reserve your spot:

ERIN BROCKOVICH & SINGANI 63 SCREENING PARTY - $14

Drinks are not included with admission, but there will be a specialty menu for you to order from while in attendance.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Jan122017

Kentucky Deliciousness

As the market for unique and interesting Bourbon continues to be crowded, competitive, and catty, you've got to rely on your strengths as a retailer. I've never been someone who was interested in knowing the most about whiskey (although I've met plenty of people who are). If I wanted to know the details about production, it was always with the intention of linking that information back to to flavor. Ultimately, if a whiskey doesn't taste good, then why would anyone care about the back story? As a buyer, I think that's my biggest strength (maybe my only redeeming quality, to be honest): the ability to know what tastes good and what doesn't. You might think quality is an obvious characteristic to everyone, but believe me it isn't. Anyone can pick the oldest cask in the line up, or the one with the highest proof. You don't need to be a whiskey master to do that. But when the stocks start dwindling and everything is less than nine years old (as is the case right now at Four Roses), you're going to figure out real fast who can assess the winners and who can't.

I offer as proof of our fine palates this delicious new Four Roses selection that we picked out this past Fall. It's a hair under nine years old and it's nothing short of scrumptious. If you're all about the stats, I'm sorry to inform you that there's nothing impressive or rare about this whiskey. But if you like to drink Bourbon because it tastes good, then I think you'll be pretty impressed:

Four Roses 8 Year, 11 Month Old "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel OESO Cask Strength Bourbon Whiskey $64.99 - The first selection from our 2016 trip to Four Roses has arrived and it's absolutely as charming as we remember it. Aged just a hair short of nine years, this OESO selection has a mash bill of 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley and uses the O yeast strain known for imparting a rich, full-bodied, and vanilla-laden character onto the whiskey. Bottled at 53.25% ABV, the Bourbon is full of sweet oak and baking spices galore on the nose. The palate follows suit with vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves balanced by the sweetness from the charred barrel notes. Simply put, it's the type of whiskey you look forward to coming home to. It's full of flavor, never overpowering despite the cask strength power, and balanced on all fronts. It's not difficult to understand, nor is it hiding many deeper secrets. It shows you everything it has right off the bat: creamy vanilla, lots of sweet spice, and a healthy dollop of oak for good measure. Another winner purchased directly from the Four Roses cellar.

-David Driscoll