Big Week Ahead

On Saturday night after work I picked up my wife and we went out to dinner. We took a cab because I knew I was in the mood to drink. Dinner was excellent—a bottle of wine and a nice spread of various appetizers and snacks. The only problem was that the restaurant was too efficient. We were in and out in less than an hour. 

"Let's walk down the street and see if we want to grab a drink somewhere else," I suggested.

"Have you ever been in there before?" my wife asked, pointing to a Japanese restaurant I'd seen many times, but never entered.

"No, let's see if we can just sit at the bar," I replied. That's what we did.

I won't go into all the details, but let's just say that within twenty minutes we had struck up a conversation with the owner and within another twenty minutes we were drinking extremely rare and expensive whisky in a secret VIP room underneath the kitchen. We stumbled out of there around midnight and I hit the bed hard when we got home. What an evening, however! I'm being vague about the details on purpose because I want to plan a few upcoming events at this place and I don't want the location to leak out quite yet. There are some big Japanese releases at K&L this week and I think we might be able to throw a couple of tasting parties in correlation. Obviously the Ohishi single cask is a big deal, but the email for that whisky goes out on Wednesday and I'm expecting it to be gone within the week. Suntory just released the pristine Ao vodka here recently and I just got our inventory on the shelf. Nikka will also be releasing the long-awaited Coffey Malt in California this week, which is pretty much my favorite whisky they make (malted barley run through the column still!). Keep your eyes peeled for those and for potential events revolving around them.

Springbank is also geared for a few special releases this week including a 16 year old expression from their extremely rare and collectable Local Barley series. Springbank was about four decades ahead of the localvore curve with this idea. They were distilling special batches of single malt using only local Campbeltown barley as far back as the 1960s, and today those whiskies often sell for anywhere between $1000-$3000 per bottle. We'll have a limited allocation of the 16 year coming in this Friday so make sure you check the website. This is the first time that I can ever remember getting a Local Barley release here in the states since I've worked at K&L (if I'm forgetting something let me know). I've already put my order in for two bottles. There will be a few other oddballs as well.

There's a lot happening this week, and it doesn't even include our K&L Exclusive Kavalan casks that just landed. Stay vigilant!

-David Driscoll


Introducing Ohishi

Round two of our single cask, rice-distilled Japanese whisky exclusives is here! And you're all going to be pretty stoked about this bottle of sherry-matured goodness. David OG's technical notes are below:

The special Ohishi distillery is located on the banks of the Kuma River one Japan's fastest flowing rivers. The distillery was founded in 1872 and produces some of the most exciting whisky coming out of Japan. Ohishi grows at least 30% of the rice that they distill and thanks to the fertile soils and exceptional growing climate make for some of the finest base ingredients available. The strain of rice is call "gohyakumanishi" (meaning 5 million stones) and utilizes an organic method of cultivation which requires the use of koi carp for weed control. The rest of the grain is procured from local farms in Kumamoto prefecture and is of the short grained Mochi varietal. The grains are partially malted and then distilled on the traditional Japanese stills before being filled into ex-sherry and brandy casks and aged for long periods of time in the high altitude warehouses. This cask brings in a great balanced sherry influence and definitely feels more like Scotch than our single cask from the Fukano Distillery. This cask will likely be the only one we get for a while considering the recent events in Kumamoto prefecture.

What do I think? 

I think this is slam dunk sherry-aged whisky for those who like that pure sherry flavor. Because the Ohishi is distilled from rice you obviously lose the inherent maltiness normally present from a barley-distilled single malt whisky, but what you get instead is a cleaner canvas onto which the sherry itself can paint its masterpiece. This is soft, supple, and rich on the palate with loads of that caramel, fudge, chocolate, and rancio character I associate with whiskies like Glendronach or Glenfarclas, but with more of that Glenmorangie or Macallan finesse. If you like sherry-aged whisky, this is a must buy. If you like Japanese whisky, buy six of these. You'll be sorry when it's gone and it goes down pretty damn easy. 644 bottles available. About 60 of those have sold already just off the website.

-David Driscoll


Still the One

The first time we visited Ragnaud Sabourin, I had tasted a fair amount of Cognac. Not hundreds of different species like I have now at this point in my career, but a good number. That was back in 2013. Today, three years later, I'm much more a veteran of French brandies and I can say safely that of all the Cognacs we've sampled over those years, I still think the Ragnaud Sabourin brandies are the best. I'm not alone either. The people of Cognac (at least the ones I've met over the years) think the small family-run estate is tops as well. They describe the epic No. 35 expression as "perfect." I remember when we met with one particular producer last year and he had no idea who we were or what K&L was. "Who do you work with from Cognac?" he asked with a smug look. 

"Uh...Dudognon, Ragnaud-Sabourin...," I began to list off.

"You work with Ragnaud-Sabourin?" he asked, his eyes as wide as saucers.

Apparently that was some big time name-dropping. The more we've continued to work directly with the estate, the more the respect of our Cognac department grows. And for good reason! These thirty-three hectares of Grand Champagne fruit produce some of the most ethereal brandies in the business.

Annie Ragnaud-Sabourin is one of the kindest, most gentle producers we work with as well. Tasting at her house was one of the great memories from that trip. In terms of the style of the Cognac, there's a variety as well. The leaner of the two we carry is the No. 20, a fruit-driven, clean, and fresh-tasting brandy that presents the quality of the ugni blanc in full bloom. It's a stunning Cognac, remarkable for its lack of richness, yet smooth and satisfying character. The No. 35, however, is the big house killer. I would find it tough to ever go back to (insert big brand name here) XO after tasting this Cognac. A blend of mature Cognacs at a minimum 35 years of age, this is the rich, decadent, caramel and toffee-laden experience you wish all Cognac could be. For my money, it's the best traditional Cognac we carry and the best brandy per dollar on the shelf because it's so crowd-pleasing. You don't need a PhD in French spirits to understand it. The five minute finish speaks for itself. I'd throw Dugognon in there too, but I find that many customers can't deal with the complete lack of boise. They want the sweetness. You have to admit: it tastes pretty damn good when it's done well.

Back in stock after a brief absence:

Ragnaud Sabourin Reserve Speciale No.20 Cognac $89.99 

Ragnaud Sabourin Fontevieille No. 35 Cognac $169.99

-David Driscoll


New Armagnac Arrivals

Here’s a photo of David OG looking positively taken aback by the holiness of Grangerie’s warehouse. If you don’t know the store, the Armagnac is all stored in what was once an old church that dates back to the 11thcentury. The only thing more beautiful than that warehouse was the quality of the 2001 vintage expression—an Armagnac that we sold out of last year VERY quickly. Why so fast? Because it’s that good.

2001 Chateau de la Grangerie 13 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. 

Here’s a new Armagnac for you! I snagged this on the trip back in December when Charles and I rolled through the old Baraillon warehouse in Gascony. A 30 year old Baraillon for a HOT, HOT price. When’s the last time you saw anything at 30 years of age for eighty bucks?

1986 Domaine de Baraillon 30 Year Old K&L Exclusive Armagnac $79.99 - Just in time for the 30 year old birthday parties of 2016 comes the 1986 vintage from Domaine de Baraillon, one of the most beloved of the small Armagnac produces we work with exclusively here at K&L. The Claverie family has become renowned around our retail stores for their robust, rich, and old school brandies; spirits of grit, complexity, and power. This 30 year old expression captures all of those elements entirely, bringing the intensity of an older Bourbon with the dark fruit and caramel of a sherry-aged Scotch. It's all made, however, on a tiny farm in the middle of Gascony. There are cows, chickens, and pigs running around the estate each time we visit. It's the epitome of quaint country French spirit. And the spirit that derives from it!

-David Driscoll


Changing Perceptions

"That's what I do; I drink and I know things." -Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones

I'm sure wine and spirits journalists, writers, bloggers and wannabe drinking professionals all over the world about fainted last night when they heard Peter Dinklage blurt out that snarky, yet poignant line to the other city officials on Game of Thrones. I haven't checked for memes or Twitter numbers yet (nor do I want to), but I'm sure it must be in the tens of thousands at this point. "That's me!" I can imagine millions of people thinking. "That's what I do! Get drunk and say important shit!" Yet, what's funny to me is how many of the people I've met over my career who write about drinking don't seem to actually drink. They'll have a glass of wine or a small nip of single malt when we go out, but the people who get the most analytical, the most anal-retentive, and the most scholarly in their work tend to care more about the idea of drinking than the actual practice of it. I'm usually on my fourth beer by the time they've stopped babbling. I may be wrong as a whole, but that's been my experience. On the opposite side, the folks who actually like to drink could rarely give a flying you-know-what about the details. My point is: it's odd to find a person who cares about both in equal volumes. 

But that doesn't stop thousands of people each year from trying to become the next Charles Lebowski or Hunter S. Thompson. They think getting drunk and writing down their thoughts while doing so is all it takes to be relevant. What many of them fail to consider is how generally miserable, unhappy, and unhealthy many of these now-iconic writers were during their lifetimes. But, of course, that's what made them cool! They didn't care about the consequences, and if they did they certainly didn't make the necessary life changes to prevent them from occurring. They sacrificed their bodies for their art. Today we've got "food and wine" critics who think eating and drinking each evening at dinner is enough to be a professional—that each and every thing they consume is relevant, important, and interesting when it couldn't be less the case. Who's going to be the next Bourdain? Who's the next Robert Parker? If you ask me, the answer is: nobody. Anyone trying to fill those roles is in it for the money or the fame or both. Anyone with any inkling of creativity, with one ounce of the sarcastic spunk we see in Tyrion Lannister, will do something new and different, something we don't even know about yet. It won't be a travel show, or a daily blog (you can see how lame mine has become), or a 100 point rating scale. It will be something outside the scope of tradition.

Tradition is wonderful because it shows a sense of value over time, but it's also nice to break from tradition once and a while. As thoughts and perceptions change about drinking and general consumption, you're seeing people alter the way they consume their alcohol. For example, as healthier lifestyles become more fashionable (and logical!), people are eating smaller plates, lighter foods, and choosing to skip dessert. That changing mindset has been a huge blow to traditional closing-course beverages like Port, Madeira, Sherry, and Cognac. Meanwhile, cocktails, whiskey, and Champagne continue to thrive because they're generally consumed pre-dinner and few folks are interested in giving up drinking as a whole. I had a talk with a number of Sauternes wine makers while we were in Bordeaux a few weeks back and there's chatter about introducing a new marketing plan for the heralded sweet wine, one that flaunts its credentials as a fun and fruity party wine rather than simply a foie gras or lemon tart pairing. "Sweet wine before the meal?" an outraged, rather-snooty person standing next to me asked in disgust. "You've got people drinking Manhattans as an aperitif all the time," I responded. "What could be sweeter than sweet whiskey and sweet vermouth?"

But healthy is definitely the new black around the Bay Area. People wear exercise clothes to dinner as if simply showing you they work out is proof of their healthy lifestyle. Vodka with a twist. Tequila with fresh lime juice. Dry chardonnay. These are the new happy hour beverages of choice. People are also drinking more frequently it seems, but in lower volumes per session. That's absolutely the wisest and healthiest way to imbibe (other than abstaining as a whole). It's a sign of maturity as a responsible drinker and the best thing you could possibly do for your longevity. But that's never been Tyrion Lannister's mindset or his outlook. If you think you drink like Tyrion Lannister and you're one of these neo-Joyce wannabes, I'd be curious to compare consumption rates. I had a two glasses of Champagne, an entire bottle of red wine, and four glasses of Scotch yesterday and I don't even come close to guys like Faulkner and Hemingway. Nor do I want to.

-David Driscoll