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Monday
Jul172017

Memories

I woke up this morning and sat down at the computer, looking for a few good archive photos to throw on the K&L Instagram account. I decided to dig through the "Scotland 2011" folder on my external hard drive and that's when I found this: a shot of David OG and Bowmore's Jamie MacKenzie, standing in front of the distillery on a cold, misty Islay night, a glass of 1969 Bowmore in their hands, and the smell of the sea whipping through their nostrils.

I texted it to David right when I found it and he responded immediately with" "probably the greatest night of my career."

I have to concur. When we both talk about how much we love Bowmore, much of that emotion stems from this incredible evening back in the early Spring of 2011. At around 1 AM, after running through the entire distillery, raking barley in the mill and taking samples from the still as it ran, we went around behind the warehouse where the water comes into the bay and sat there taking pulls from a bottle of 12 year. 

It was incredible. If I ever owned my own distillery, I would spend every waking moment creating memories like this for whomever came to visit. They last a lifetime. (P.S.- I'm going to post never before seen photos from this night over at On the Trail later today).

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Jul152017

News & Notes

I'm a little groggy this morning and slow on my feet thanks to the bottle of Paranubes Oaxacan rum I almost finished last night, but otherwise I'm feeling great! Is it possible to drink that much 54% ABV agricole in one evening? Yes, it is. If you cheat, which is what I do. It's always the sugar that gets you, so every now and again if I'm drinking and eating in volume I'll hack my cocktails by using diet ginger ale. It sounds ridiculous and probably blasphemous to some, but it totally works. Get a rocks glass, fill it with big cubes, add your two ounces of rum (or tequila, or gin, or vodka), squeeze in half a lime, then top with diet ginger ale. High proof alcohol and lime juice, tons of flavor, very little sugar.

I can't promise you your stomach will feel great in the morning, or that you won't spend an hour on the toilet processing whatever they put in diet soda these days, but one thing you won't be is hung over. It's also easier on the old waistline.

OK, let's talk about news and notes:

- Some of you have been emailing over the last six months or so about no longer getting the spirits emails from me. This is what's happening: we switched the Whisk(e)y News over to the general K&L server, meaning they no longer come from me personally. As an account holder, you have limits as to how many emails you want to receive per month from us. Now that the whiskey emails are part of that general list that includes new arrivals, the newsletter, and whatever else you have specified under your profile settings, once you hit that max number you'll miss out on whatever comes after. Whereas before my emails would not be counted under that quota, now they are. So adjust your settings if you think you're missing out. I can also do it for you if you email me. I'd recommend adding yourself to the RSS feed of this blog as well.

- We've got a big spirits newsletter coming out this Monday, but you can get the jump on what's coming in the Scotch world right now. We've got an AMAZING new cask of 15 year old Bowmore as well as a 28 year old North British that is so full of richness it's insane (as is the price). I was trying to hold back on doing much promotion as I didn't want the barrels to sell out before Monday, but feel free to take a peek now. I think we can hang on until then even if I give away the feature a few days in advance. I'm expecting both to fly as they're prime grade A whisky specimen.

- More Denver & Liely whisky glasses just arrived and we're going to go ahead now with shipping orders. I think we can package these safely, so if you've missed the boat the last few times now's your chance. These things have been flying out faster than we can get them back in stock.

- In addition to the incredible new Paranubes that came in yesterday, we've got two new rums from Venezuela's Diplomatico that are worth your time: a drier expression called Mantuano and an aged blanco called Planas. I like them both more than the Reserva Exclusiva that we sell tons of because they're more focused on flavor than sweetness. The Planas clocks in at 47% as well with 50% of the blend a heavy pot still style. It's good stuff.

- The Mount Gay 50th Anniversary Cask Strength XO also came back into stock, for those of you looking for bold Bajan juice. As did the Appleton 25 year "Joy" edition (which is actually a marriage of 25 and 35 year old rums). We've been lacking some top shelf selections in the rum department as of late. These help to flesh out that selection and both are delicious.

- Your favorite value-priced Calvados is also back in stock! The Hubert K&L Exclusive returns at $29.99 for your mixology and sipping needs. Thank Charles Neal for that one. 

- We'll have a reload on Pellehaut vintage Armagnacs very soon. Stay tuned.

That's it for now! I'm going to go enjoy the sunshine, sans a hangover. 

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jul142017

The Best New Rum of 2017

I hadn't seen Judah Kuper in at least a year when he walked into the Redwood City store a few months back. He had a huge grin on his face as he approached me and he asked if I had a minute to taste something special (when don't I have a minute to do that?). Many of you are familiar with Judah's Mezcal Vago selections, the result of a surf trip to Mexico that led to a marriage that led Judah into the family business of mezcal distillation. Since he's originally from the Bay Area, he routinely comes back home to visit and check in on accounts like K&L. I assumed he had a special rare agave distillate to share with me, or perhaps an aged family assemblage, but that wasn't the case. "This isn't mezcal," he told me as we entered the tasting bar; "This is agricole rhum."

Because most of us automatically associate the Mexican state of Oaxaca with mezcal, we assume that—like Jalisco—the area must be brimming with agave plants. Oaxaca is a very diverse region, however, and the climate varies with altitude. In the highlands of the Sierra Mazateca mountains, the conditions are perfect for growing coffee, tropical fruits, and sugarcane—much like many of the top rum-producing areas of the world. When Europe discovered that it could derive sugar from beets back in the mid-1700s, it spelled the end of many a sugarcane refinery in the French West Indies, which is why today you mostly find rum distilled from fresh sugarcane juice rather than molasses on the islands of Martinique and Guadaloupe. When rum is made by fermenting the fresh juice of what is essentially a talk stalk of grass, those characteristics find their way into the flavor of the final distillate; hence why many people describe agricole rhum as grassy and herbaceous. Like those islands, Oaxaca was once part of a more robust Mexican sugarcane trade, but today much of that cane is used to make panela or piloncillo, or distilled to make the Oaxacan version of agricole called aguardiente de caña

If you've tasted through the Mezcal Vago line-up, then you're probably aware that the distillates come from a few different producers. It was while hunting for new blood that Judah came across Jose Luis Carrera and his pine fermentation vats that were fermenting various Oaxacan cane varietals like típica, dura, negra, and criollo. Rather than repeat all the fascinating details that make up Carrera's thirty-five year history of rum production, I'll send you over to the official Paranubes webpage for more photos, specs, and pure romanticism.

What I will tell you is that the Paranubes Oaxacan aguardiente de caña is one of, if not the, best agricole rhums I've ever tasted and it beautifully balances a smooth and fruity character with the grassiness and the intense cane flavor of something like Neisson. What it removes is the funk, the earth, and the sometimes bitter notes that send some people running for the hills. The aromatics are absolutely stunning—there is a pure and unflinching note of raw cane that absolutely explodes from the bottle. At 54%, the rum is no slouch. But it's clearly distilled with a master hand because it's incredibly polished despite all that intensity. I could drink this straight out of the bottle, neat in a glass, on the rocks, in a cocktail, or simply with soda. It's complex enough to ponder and enjoy as a solo act, but affordable enough at $39.99 a liter to throw into a mixed drink.

Judah was not kidding. This is indeed something very, very special and it couldn't have come at a more opportune time. In a moment when rum fans are pushing for a real renaissance, the Paranubes has arrived to capture some of that momentum. While many of us are looking to Jamaica, Barbados, and Guyana for real classic cane character, it turns out that Oaxaca might be at the forefront of rum's resurgence. The Paranubes has a sweet sugar cane character that should please casual rum fans, but again a complexity and intensity of flavor that will stun the geekiest of rum geeks. My colleague Ryan Woodhouse, not usually the biggest agricole fan, was blown away. He was draining his glass to savor every drop. That's when I really knew this was going to be a big deal.

I'm going to be nosing my bottle all day, sipping it all weekend, and coming back for another Monday morning. This is one of the most exciting new spirits I've tasted in 2017 and I think once the word gets out, rum fans are going to seriously flip out. I can't get enough of it—it's that good. 

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Jul132017

The Future of American Whiskey

I had the pleasure of dining with Westland's head distiller and whiskey creator Matt Hofmann this past Monday and talking in depth about not only the Garryana project, but also the future of whisky-making for the Seattle distillery. These guys are just on another level, and now that they've partnered with Bruichladdich under the Remy umbrella, I think the sky is the limit. There's something about not having to worry about where your next check is coming from that allows some people to flourish. It can definitely make a lazy person even lazier, but in Matt's case his ambition and creativity is only being fueled by the additional time he can now spend on shaping his vision.

Case in point: the new edition of Westland Garryana. Not only is it the best single malt made in America, it's quickly becoming one of the best American whiskies—period. For those of you who don't know the story, you can click here and get the full scoop, but the short version is that Matt and company decided to make barrels out of a type of oak native to the Pacific Northwest and use that whiskey as an ingredient in their terroir-driven expressions. Much like Suntory uses Japanese mizunara oak to create an exotic flavor in its Yamazaki expressions, Westland is creating its own unique calling card and I happen to find that spicy, intense, and heady Garryana flavor quite intoxicating. I'm a big fan. 

The second release of Garryana is a more restrained and focused expression of what Matt originally hoped to showcase with the native oak project. Whereas the initial release was a big, bold, and brash expression, full of spice and a bit of smoke, this year's edition dials back the peat and lets the oak have center stage. With 21% of the blend coming from Oregon Garryana barrels, the impact of that influence is allowed to better integrate into harmony with the remaining 52% of ex-Bourbon-aged malt, along with the 27% virgin oak matured whisky. Still present is the BBQ smoke, the molasses, the coffee bean, and robust flavor that highlighted last year's release, but this time around its under complete control, bent and shaped into precisely the right proportions. Many of us here at K&L thought the 2016 Garryana was one of the best whiskies of last year, and seeing that this year's total production was a measly 2600 bottles, we recommend jumping on the one bottle we're allowing customers to buy. Westland has proven again and again that they are America's premier single malt distillery. The 2017 release of Garryana should put any last doubts to bed.

The future is now.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Jul122017

Warm Weather Scotch

Before there was such an incredible diversity of spirits in the retail world—before you were expected to have multiple expressions of mezcal from both cultivated and wild agave piñas—there was such a thing as diversity of Scotch. Much like with beer, you used to see drinkers choose between a light and easy dram (a pilsner), a refreshing Lowland (a lager), and maybe a sherried Speyside (a stout). Today, however, when I go to the bar I can often choose only between an IPA, a double IPA, or a triple IPA, with a barrel-aged sour tacked on the menu just for credibility's sake. In the same fashion, the Scotch world has been whittled down to either cask strength sherry bombs or ultra-peated Islays. Does anyone still drink Auchentoshan? Anyone for a dram of Dalwhinnie? Anyone?

Hello? (crickets)

Of course, beer drinkers and whisky makers are simply responding to the market and right now the market wants IPAs and sherry bombs. That being said, the market is (in my opinion) being utterly dominated by people who don't really drink, or drink only to affect some sort of knowledgeable booze guru personality on to the rest of us. Those of us who do like to drink beer (as in have three or four pints after work, not spend five hours sipping a 15% ABV triple stout aged with blackberries and mistletoe), usually have to struggle to find something fun to drink that fits the mood of the season.

The wine world doesn't have this problem. While some folks drink cabernet year round, the large majority of bars, restaurants, and retailers will pour heavy amounts of rosé and white during summer and switch over to the heartier cuvées come fall and winter. Whisky drinkers, however (at least in America), haven't quite learned how to adapt (hey, it took Agassi a few years before he finally donned the Wimbledon whites). Heavy peat and supple sherry is for September through February. Come March, you switch over to the lighter malts.

Seeing that we're in July, I thought I'd offer you a true summer whisky, one that brings vivacious fruit and sensational sweetness while still adhering to all the cool, geeky things we love about single malt. Most people still picture sherry matured malts when they think of the Speyside district (formerly known as Glenlivet until that got too confusing), but the region's bread and butter is still the soft, fruity, charming, malt-driven style you'll find inside this bottle of Auchroisk 15 year old. Part of the Johnnie Walker empire, we occasionally see Auchroisk here in the states as a Diageo limited edition release, but rarely as a consistently-bottled single malt expression. This particular specimen is like a fresh blast of summer with a huge dose of peaches and apricots on the nose that continue to emanate from the bottle once it's been opened. The palate is seductively sweet, but also light on its feet, with flavors of stonefruit, maple syrup, and bit of compote on the finish, before it turns malty once again and beckons another taste. Bottled at 54.5%, you'd never know this whisky was running at full proof. It's as relaxing and airy as a summer breeze, making this the perfect dram for your backyard barbeques and July campfire evenings. Sixty bucks for 15 year old, cask strength single malt? The summer deals continue!

2001 Auchroisk 15 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $59.99

-David Driscoll