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


Craft Extravaganza โ€“ 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


2016 Craft Extravaganza โ€“ 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


2016 Craft Extravaganza โ€“ Part I

Hey guys—David OG here. We’ve had a pretty wild month with all sorts of limited stuff coming and going quickly. So much new delicious gin, brandy, Scotch, it just never ends. One category, however, has been starkly missing from our recent new offerings. Craft Whiskey! We’ve spoken here in the past about how we’ve had trouble finding craft Bourbon producers that hit all the notes we need. They can be too brash, too young, or exhibit too much rough oak from smaller barrique aging. Today, however, we’re truly breaking ground for K&L and the spirits category in general. Three new hand-crafted products available exclusively through K&L. The first is simply a triumph in every way.

Tom Herbruck is an unassuming gentleman with a solid career and a beautiful family. He’s also a man with a secret. In the shed behind his house sits hundreds of barrels of whiskey. Tom’s love affair with distillation started early, like before he was fifteen. His father was a doctor and did well and, when Tom was just a boy, his father bought a vineyard outside of Cleveland, OH. Now you cannot make good wine in Ohio. It’s both too hot and too cold. But you can grow grapes and those grapes will become wine with a bit of coaxing. Tom’s father thought it perfectly natural that he be responsible for converting that wine into spirit and Tom enjoyed it too. So basically this guy has been distilling in his back shed for the better part of thirty years. Eventually, Tom had kids and they started to get to that age where Dad’s little hobby was seeming more and more interesting—maybe a few too many questions. Maybe it was time, Tom thought, to go legit. And that’s just what he did. After years of “practicing” on a tiny little Portuguese alembic, Tom got all licensed up and bought a serious piece of equipment.

The Michter’s pot stills were original built in the 1970s as a semi-tourist attraction at the distillery in Schaefferstown, PA. This famous distillery was responsible for the original Michter’s Brand Sour Mash and several other exceptionally well regarded products like the A.H. Hirsch line. After success in the 50s and 60s, tourists had started showing up to see the distillery. Since production only occurred a few days out of the month, they’d often be disappointed to see absolutely nothing happening. A plan was devised to create a one barrel a day still that could be run continuously to provide some sort of experience for those who had made the trip. Known as the Michter’s Jug House, America’s first microdistillery was born. This was the first pot-stilled Bourbon distillery since the end of prohibition. In an era when the industry had completely industrialized and consolidation was rampant, this was a bit of a revolution. The big distillers had converted to stripping/doubler set up that’s common in KY today and the thought of building something less efficient than possible must have been shocking to many. But alas, whiskey would not stay cool nor would it be cool again for nearly three decades. When the distillery closed in 1990, the impressive stills and the corresponding tank/fermenters were sold to none other than David Beam, who stored them at a motel he owned in Bardstown, KY. Tom eventually connected with David and brought the old set up to his newly licensed home distillery. There he experimented with several mash-bills and with the help of industry luminaries like Willie Pratt and Fred Noe. Over the next several years, Tom built stocks of high quality pot stilled bourbon, rye, and apple jack. Last year, the new Michter’s Distillery made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse and the legendary stills were sold and reunited with their original namesake. Tom’s back to distilling on the little pot-still he started on, but he’s recently acquired a 200 year old cognac style alembic in original condition. He’s excited to continue making his whiskey on these new stills and insists that he can get the same quality out of those pot stills as he did with the wonderful Bomberger stills.

When I visited him in early 2016 at his home in Chagrin Falls, he was excited to show me his new product: a bottled in bond Bourbon; perhaps the only pot-stilled bottled in bond Bourbon on the market, craft or not. Pot-stilled Bourbon is just something different. We hear marketing about Woodford and their pot-stills, but honestly they only use a tiny fraction of the pot-stilled whiskey in that blend. In fact, true pot-stilled whiskey is definitely the realm of the craft distiller, but it’s not an easy thing to do. It requires patience and experience and generally the craft world has avoided going straight at Kentucky because it’s just too daunting. Tom doesn’t care. He’s making whiskey expertly and aging it exclusively in traditional 53 gallon new charred oak barrels. Some of his whiskey won’t be ready for years more to come. Others, like this Bourbon are absolutely singing. I was lucky to have made the trek to Chagrin Falls on that cold afternoon in March. We’re in the process of picking single casks and we’ll try to offer the Applejack and standard release Bourbons and rye when they’re available, but right now I’m going out on a limb and saying unequivocally that this is the best craft bourbon you’ll find at any price. And while it’s not cheap by any means, it doesn’t fly in the face of Kentucky’s pricing just because it’s “craft”. Indeed, I believe it’s well work the $50 we’re asking. This small first batch of bottled in bond bourbon was limited to 1200 bottles and we’re the exclusive supplier for the California market, but we’ve only received a fraction of the total offering. So buy it, try it, and load up if you love it.

Tom's Foolery Bottled in Bond Batch #1 Ohio Straight Bourbon Whiskey $49.99

-David Othenin-Girard


To Boldly Go

While David OG and I do a lot of travelling together, we've begun dividing our time as of late; figuring we can cover more ground by splitting up from time to time. During our 2015 trip to France we parted ways towards the end—I headed back north to Paris and David went to Alsace in search of single malt. His solo voyage through the countryside took him to multiple French whisky distilleries and David worked out deals to bring some of those unique selections back to the states. I think you'll be excited about what he has to tell you. Perhaps most exciting, however, was the text I received from David last year while he was visiting family members in Ohio. 

"I've just tasted the next big American whiskey," he told me. 

"In Ohio?" I asked.

With thousands of new micro-distilleries having sprouted up across the globe over the past few years, you have to work harder than ever to taste everything. Sometimes that involves sending one David east and the other west. Expect an update from the other David very soon. There are some interesting new bottles that have just arrived.

-David Driscoll