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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

Wednesday
Jan112017

Bordeaux-Fest

You've been to Whiskyfest, but have you been to Bordeaux-fest? No? Then you need to come. In truth, it's not actually called Bordeaux-fest. It's something much classier and un-American in name: Les Unions des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, and it's coming to San Francisco this January 27th. And guess who's hosting? K&L is! 

If you've ever wanted to get your feet wet and learn more about Bordeaux, this is the ultimate experience.

Even when you go to Bordeaux for en premeur tasting like I did this past Spring, it's impossible to visit each property individually. For the sake of time and efficiency, you end up in these huge halls that are broken down by region where each château has its own table and representative nearby. The UGC pretty much takes that same experience and brings it across the Atlantic. You get access to more than eighty different producers and a large variety of wine styles including some of the sweet Sauternes as well. It's a veritable who's who of the region, including Léoville-Barton, Branaire-Ducru, Gruaud-Larose, Kirwan, Pichon-Baron, Lynch-Bages, and basically every other non-first growth player that you can think of. They're all there in one room, pouring their top wines, and you can actually talk to the people who work at each property to get the information you need while you taste. Unlike Whiskyfest, it's not a madhouse. You can work at your own pace, take as long as you like with each producer, and leisurely learn about the wines in the way you want to. I've gone for the last four years and I've always walked away with a better understanding and appreciation of the category (as well as a few new friends). 

This year's UGC tasting is on Friday, January 27th at the Westin St. Francis on Powell Street and starts at 6 PM. Tickets are available here for a mere $65. I'll be there with a fancy suit on. Hopefully I'll see some of you there, too!

-David Driscoll

Monday
Jan092017

Singani Stuff

I stayed in for most of the weekend watching TV, drinking, and doing some more drinking. When it's cold outside, the rain is coming down, and the wind is rattling your windows with vicious gusts of dramatic effect, there's nothing better than curling up on the couch and having a few cocktails—say six or seven. I've been experimenting with my pal Steven's Singani 63 in various drink forms for about two years now, but I think yesterday I discovered its most magnificent incarnation: in a copper Moscow Mule mug with Diet Squirt. If you think I sit around all day drinking high-end Bordeaux and top shelf Scotch, think again. I'm from Modesto. I get ten times more excited about a potential everyday cocktail like this one than I do a rare bottle of whiskey. 

I made sure to tell Mr. Soderbergh about the new creation as well. 

ME: "Do you drink diet soda?"

SS: "God no! That stuff will kill you."

ME: "Oh...because I think Diet Squirt and Singani is the holy grail of pairings."

SS: "Well, if you're talking about Singani, in that case I'm all for it!"

I watched All About Eve for the first time in a while, as my kitty slumbered in the distance. It's suuuuuuuuuch a great drinking movie. Bette Davis must throw back five bottles of Champagne and ten martinis during the course of the film. There's a great line halfway in where Eve is doing party preparations and says: "Does Miss Channing know she ordered domestic gin by mistake?" Heavens! What a faux pas back then!

Speaking of movies, I'd clear your calendar for the night of Monday, January 23rd. That is if you want to hang out with me and Steven Soderbergh in San Francisco, drink Singani cocktails (probably without Diet Squirt), and watch Erin Brockovich at the Alamo on Mission St. Figure standard movie ticket fee, special menu, a Q&A session with me and SS in the theater, then a party afterward where you can have a drink with the man himself.

More on that very soon. 

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Jan072017

Something Better Down the Road

I had dinner with a close friend this past week who I hadn't seen in almost two years. We drank and talked until late into the night and she gave me the lowdown on some other old faces I hadn't thought about in some time. In the case of one of our historically-depressed acquaintances, I was both curious and concerned to know what he had been up to for the past decade. 

"He finally moved home," my friend told me. "I think that was always his goal in life: to get back home somehow and be closer to friends and family."

"So is he happy, do you think?" I asked.

"To be honest, I don't think so," she answered. "I think he's just an unhappy person by nature and, no matter where he goes, he's going to think there's something better just down the road. It's his way of coping and deflecting blame from his own behavior." 

I know people who have moved out of the Bay Area over the past few years due to increased traffic, higher rents, and a general loss of artistic culture. Some of them went to Portland, some to Seattle, and others to Austin. For many, if not most of them, that move brought them an incredible amount of happiness. Their rents are now lower and their commutes are a lot shorter, which was ultimately the source of their displeasure. For a few of these folks, however, the move to a new location only relocated the same emotional baggage. They quickly identified new problems in their new environments and went right back to being unhappy. 

I remember a few years back when Rittenhouse Rye was out of stock just about year round, there was a customer who would come by the store every few weeks and ask if we had any. The answer was always no. Then, when it finally came back into stock, I remember being excited to tell him it was available again. He came in a few days later and asked about it. 

"Yes! I've got tons!" I told him.

"What do you mean tons?" he replied with a surprising lack of excitement.

"I mean like 600 bottles," I responded. 

He seemed defeated and he left without buying a bottle. I was rather shocked at first to tell you the truth, but then it dawned on me: he only wanted the whiskey in the first place because he couldn't have it. Once he could easily find it again, the idea of owning a bottle was less thrilling. 

I think a lot of whiskey companies have already found out the hard way that placating that type of personality is impossible. I think a lot more are going find out the same hard lesson in 2017. I have another friend who's planning to build a distillery in Kentucky this year. He told me about it a few months back while we were having lunch.

"There's a Bourbon shortage," he told me. "We're going to help satisfy that demand."

I sat there for a few minutes wondering if I should burst his bubble or not. Then I finally said to him:

"My friend, there's a ton of Bourbon available. I've got Bourbon coming out of my ears at K&L. There's no shortage of Bourbon in general. There's only a shortage of special Bourbon, which is only now special because you can't get it. Once it becomes available, it becomes unspecial; which means no one's going to want it anymore."

"You're shitting me," he said. 

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jan062017

Ancient Armagnac Arrivals

As the K&L spirits department continues to grow, David OG and I have found traveling in tandem to be difficult. With so many producers out there and so little time to visit them all, we've had to divide up the world and use our journeys abroad more effectively. It's hard enough for us to cover all this ground individually, let alone as a duo! While I was holding down the fort this past Fall, David managed to sneak off to France for a week and put together some new Armagnac deals. We've got a reload from Jean-Bon and some incredibly affordable relics from a new producer called Cardinat. David OG will have a longer piece about these guys at the On the Trail blog in the near future, but for now his general notes are below:

Domaine du Cardinat has been in the Lalanne family for over a century. Farmer and grandfather of the current proprietor, Patricia Singh, built the family home at the domaine 100 years ago and cultivated the land long before that. In 1935, Joseph's sudden death thrust Patricia's father, Camille into the fields forcing him to leave school and devote his life to the family domaine. Just four years later, Camille planted the first vines at the domaine and devoted his life to this patient passion. There he worked tirelessly to produce great brandy, but his marketing was almost entirely word of mouth, relying almost exclusively on customers stumbling upon the domaine tasting and return each year to place their orders. Camille's daughter, a certified viticulture and oenology specialist, left the domaine to pursue a career in marketing. She returned to work alongside her father a year before his death in 2010. Patricia made the bold decision to continue Camille's legacy accompanied by her husband Mr. Singh. We're lucky she did because their stocks are exceptional. Cardinat is in the tiny village Sarragachies in the western edge of the Gers directly in between the great Armagnac villages of Lannemaignan and Castex. This tiny enclave of Bas-Armagnac represents some of the finest the Gers has to offer, producing brandies of exceptional grace and complexity.

1992 Domaine du Cardinat 24 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Bas Armagnac $59.99 - Their '92 vintage produced exceptional eau-de-vie, just now reaching maturity. Expect wonderful intensity at a stupendous price.

1987 Domaine du Cardinat 28 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Bas Armagnac $69.99 - The '87 is a famously productive vintage and the best we tasted from Cardinat. This could easily sell for twice the price without much trouble.

1981 Domaine du Cardinat 34 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Bas Armagnac $89.99 - Of all the old vintages at Cardinat, this one was the most interesting. The Domaine in the chalky soils of the western Gers is one of the unsung gems of the region. Farmed by the Lalanne Family for three generations, the property sits on a choice ridge sloping slight down to the south toward the river Adour which meanders toward north eastern border of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department. The tiny five hectare estate is planted to 40% Baco 22a and 40% Folle Blanche, with a tiny portion of the southernmost vineyards devoted to equal parts Ugni Blanc and Colombard. Most vintages are a blend of all four varietals, but certain ones are heavier on the Folle Blanche. 1981 was a tough year in Bordeaux, but a banner year at Cardinat and the resulting brandies are heavy on tertiary components with all the soft elegance that Folle Blanche provides. The magnificent balance between savory earthy flavors, soft richness, and stupendous texture is exactly why we love Armagnac. For 35 year old brandy, this little guy is a real steal, but the limited quantities meant they'd only part with a tiny bit.

And if you don't remember Jean-Bon, check out the original post from 2015 here.

1987 Domaine de Jean-Bon 28 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Bas Armagnac $99.99 - Domaine Jean-Bon was started by a family with three brothers, all of whom were named Jean, crazily enough. It turns out, however, that one of the Jeans was liked more than the other two, so they named the estate after him: Jean-Bon, or the "good" Jean. Jean-Bon produces about four to six barrels of Armagnac per year, all distilled from Baco (although they’ve started now with a bit of Ugni Blanc). The spirits are absolutely incredible values, almost like Baraillon in their richness, but with more sweetness from the new oak. The 1987 is the slam-dunk winner of the Jean-Bon portfolio, an expression that showcases exactly what these Armagnacs bring to the table. It's a mouth-coating whirlwind of caramel, oak, spice and fruit, all meandering in and out of focus, harmonizing in complete synchronicity on the finish.

1974 Domaine de Jean-Bon 41 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Bas Armagnac $139.99 - The 1974 is loaded with rancio and savory herbaceous notes that flicker in and out before the richness from the barrel aging comes through. It shows its age with intensely woody flavors that should send fans of ultra-mature whiskey into a frenzy.

-David Driscoll