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Thursday
Jun122014

Drink Your Way Through the 2014 World Cup: Day 2

I've got a big night of drinking planned for Friday because I have to work all day until 7 PM, but then come home to watch three straight World Cup matches while drinking profusely through each one of them. It's not going to be easy.

Let's take a look at the schedule:

Friday - June 13th

Mexico vs. Cameroon

I have no idea what to pair with the Cameroon side of this card alcoholically-speaking, so I'm just going to begin the night with a Paloma (as pictured above) -- a big glass full of tequila and grapefruit soda with ice to represent the Mexican side of the match. The Paloma is one of my favorite cocktails in general, and seeing that I'm married into a large Mexican family, I'll be rooting heavily for El Tri in this game. I might need two Palomas, however, to get that excitement up to the proper level; three Palomas if Cameroon pulls out the win.

What tequila will I use? Probably the Pura Sangre Blanco $25.99 because I'm currently smitten with its unique agave flavor, although it's tough to beat the value on Enrique Fonseca's other brand, Cimarron. That one's only $15 a liter and it's plenty good enough for cocktails.

It's gonna be tough to pace myself for the next game with so much action expected in this first bout.

Spain vs. Netherlands

There's a lot of room for fun with this match-up (and for serious intoxication). Spain obviously runs the full gambit of wine, beer, and spirits, while Holland pretty much has Jenever--the Dutch version of gin. If I'm feeling spry after the Mexico game, I might do a Bols Genever martini (or you could use Anchor's Genevieve, but that's not really from the Netherlands now, is it?) with Valdespino "Inocente" Fino Sherry instead of vermouth. If you've never used dry sherry as the wine component of your cocktail, you might want to give it a shot. It's so much nuttier, saltier, and more expressive than a number of aperitif-style wines like Lillet and its the same basic ingredient: fortified white wine.

If I'm too drunk, however, I might just sip the sherry from a small glass and skip the Genever. With Australia vs. Chile still to go, I'm definitely going to be opening a bottle of wine at some point and I'll need the stomach space for that sucker.

Chile vs. Australia

A battle between two wine-focused regions! Chile has a number of fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon wines, some lovely Carmenere selections, and a few Malbecs here and there. Australia has as much diversity as the United States. The choices are endless. What to do?

I'm sticking with white wine as this is the last match of the night and I have to work in the morning. After a few Palomas and the possibility of a heavy Genever-based martini, I'm going to have to keep it lean and mean.

I'm going with our outstanding Oakridge Local Vineyard Series "Barkala Ridge" Chardonnay $24.99 as it's one of the best K&L imports we carry from any country. The volcanic soils of the "ridge" give this wine a crisp and mineral-driven backbone with all the acidity I'll need to stay awake for a third match.

Hopefully, I can make it through all this hooch in the matter of a few hours, fast-forwarding the commercials on my DVR!

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Jun122014

More From the Mailbag

Here are some more repeat questions from the Spirits Department inbox:

David - Do you think there's a conflict of interest being both a retailer and a blogger?

Good question! Let me say this: those who feel that retailers are automatically free from criticism or are less responsible than independent blogs or publications are absolutely crazy. Retail is a neverending onslaught of people giving you feedback about your service--day and night--either in the store, via the telephone, or in an email.  We are the people dealing directly with the consumer every single day! As a blogger and a retailer, I do double-duty. Hell, I spend 15% of my day answering questions from people who have no intention of ever shopping at K&L. If a blogger says he likes a whisky and someone buys a bottle based on that opinion, the worst thing that could happen to that particular blogger is an unhappy email or disagreeable comment from the person who feels the information was inaccurate. If I say I like a particular whisky and a customer buys the bottle based on my opinion, that person will bring that bottle right back to the store and demand a refund if the selection doesn't work out. If our reviews and opinions are not accurate, we lose customers, which means we lose money and possibly our jobs. If we mislead people, we deal with the resulting wrath face-to-face, not anonymously via some made-up handle on a message board.

Ultimately, we are the people who deal with unhappy drinkers when a bottle doesn't work out, even if they bought the bottle based on Robert Parker's review. If you think unhappy shoppers are writing the Wine Spectator asking for a direct refund on the bottle they purchased, they're not; they're going back to the store where they bought the bottle, no matter whose opinion influenced the decision. That means we're apologizing for a "bad" bottle even when we didn't recommend it. You can imagine what happens when we're directly responsible. It's the same argument with the comments on the blog. I laugh myself silly every time someone says the lack of a comment field shields me from criticism. You think people don't call, email, or walk into the store where I work? You think people don't complain directly to us about mistakes or misinformation when we get it wrong? It's tough to say there's a conflict of interest in whisky reviewing when the person recommending you the bottle is 100% liable for your overall satisfaction.

David - Why do you think Jim Beam gets left out of serious discussions about Bourbon by collectors and enthusiasts?

That's a great question. I don't think it's solely a matter of quality because most of their higher-end expressions (Booker's, Baker's, Knob Creek, Basil Hayden) are tasty, reasonably-priced, and sell very well. People like Jim Beam whiskey. I think the reason they don't get more love from the insiders is due to their size. When you're the biggest producer of anything it's difficult to tap into the niche market. Big, commercial rock bands don't get much love from insider music fans. Big, commercial movies don't get much love from independent film geeks. There's no way to be cool with the discerning crowd that prides itself on its eclectic and out-of-the-ordinary taste when you're the ubiquitous brand.

I'd say it has something to do with that, but I definitely know a few people who feel like Beam's whiskies are a bit lackluster when compared to other brands. Personally, I'd say any gap in quality has shrunk significantly over the last year, however. I've noticed a decline of quality in a number of noteworthy brands, while tasting a few over-achieving Beam whiskies. The Knob Creek Single Barrel, for example, I thought was much better than I ever expected it to be.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Jun112014

Drink Your Way Through the 2014 World Cup: Day 1

As I told some of my colleagues earlier this morning, this year's World Cup at K&L is going to divide the store into two distinct groups: those who record the games at home to watch later, and those who keep track online as we work. I am definitely going to be part of the former, so that means I'll have to go all day without checking the internet, looking at incoming text messages, and participating in the discussions on the sales floor. Part of my strict adherence to avoiding the spoilers stems from the fact that World Cup soccer games are such a rarity that I want each one of them to be an exciting mystery to me. The other reason is that each game is an opportunity to drink both heavily and culturally -- to the point that you can tailor your beverages to the countries playing on the screen.

This year, with so many different forms of booze at my fingertips, I'm going to drink my way through the entire World Cup. I'm going to imbibe something different for each game; even when there are three to four games in one day. For those of you who want to play along, I'll make sure to post the menus for each day in advance just in case you want to snag some of these things for yourself. It's going to be one hell of a month for my liver and kidneys, but man is it going to be fun!

Let's start with tomorrow's opener:

Thursday - June 12th

Brazil vs. Croatia

I already wrote a bit about cachaça yesterday, so I won't go into too much detail here. To start off the World Cup in Brazil and celebrate the first game for the home country in the tournament, I think we're all pretty much obligated to drink a caipirinha. I mean, it's pretty much required, don't you think? I've got the ingredients laid out on my cutting board at home: a glass, limes, sugar, a muddler, and some ice. Now we just need the booze.

We have four pretty good choices for cachaça at the store right now. Let's go through them briefly:

Novo Fogo Organic Cachaça Brasil $27.99 - Novo Fogo is the first cachaça with a distinct sense of place.  Coming from the Southern jungle town of Morretes, Novo Fogo represents 300 years of cachaça experience from an organic and sustainable distillery.  Everything is used and reused never wasted.  The quality of the estate grown cane is unparalleled and distillation is of free run, first press cane juice only.  Needless to say this is not your industrially produced cachaça (i.e. the stuff used to power most of Brazils vehicles), although they do use the heads and tails to run their cars and power the distillery.  The cane juice is distilled in small alembic pot stills, instead of the industrial column stills like 95% of the world's cachaca.  Using only gravity to move the spirit, it is then rested in steel for at least a year to allow it to mature and mellow.  Each bottle is hand produced from recycled glass and even the decorative neck cover is created by hand from recycled cane fiber.  One of the finest cane based spirits I've tasted.  Costs more than the industrial stuff, but it's in a whole different league. The depth and complexity make Novo Fogo a mixologist's dream.

Velho Barreiro Cachaca 1L $15.99 - It's not often I'm on the lookout for a new cachaca, but my good friend Val brought me this absolutely delicious, strikingly-labeled liter bottle of pure bargain-priced booze. Velho Barreiro Cachaca is only $15.99 and is briefly aged in Brazilian wood (I think oak, but as we talked about in yesterday's post, who really knows since most of them are not allowed via the TTB approval system). It's full of real rum character and should make killer drinks for those looking for a new mixer. And the price...my God!

Avua Prata Cachaça Brasil $34.99 - The very special Avua Cachaca is from one of Brasil's highest quality cachaca producers. There are essentially two types of Cachaca, industrial and artisanal. This is truly the artisanal style, hand crafted from field to bottle. Because of the small scale and seasonal nature of production, each batch will be a unique expression of the soil, sun, and stills. This is not the stinky harsh Cachaca that some many people are used to. Instead, this is clean and bright with incredibly precise aromas of fresh tropical fruits and lush floral tones. A brilliant example of why cachaca should be considered a world class spirits category.

Avua Amburana Cachaça Brasil $44.99 - Avuá is a small batch, single-sourced cachaça lovingly crafted by one of Brazil’s few female distillers. She uses a family recipe honed to perfection over three generations. The lush, crisp spirit, which offers up subtle botanical notes, is perfect for the art of mixology or simply shaking up a classic caipirinha. What sets Avuá apart from other cachacas is that it originates from cane that has been single-sourced from a farm in the rolling hills near Rio de Janeiro before ending up in an ancient alembic still in along thin valley between hills in Carmo, Brazil. Avuá Amburana Cachaça is aged in Amburana wood, found only in the forests of Latin America. Resting in this indigenous wood produces a stunning mix of warm and savory notes on the nose and palate that provides a truly unique taste experience for cocktail experimentation or sipping neat.

I'm going to cut one of those limes up into quarters, squeeze each one into the glass, then drop the piece into the glass with a tablespoon of sugar and muddle that together into a citrusy syrup. Then I'm going to pour in a little more than 2 oz. of cachaça, drop in the ice, and stir everything up.

That should get me through the first three minutes of the opening ceremony.

Once the game gets going, however, I'm going to need more than just a rum cocktail to sustain me through ninety minutes of play. It will then be time to open some dry Croatian red wine -- Plavac Mali, if you will. It's inexpensive, shows great typicity of character, and did I mention that it's inexpensive?

2010 Dingac Vinarija Plavac Peljesac Peninsula Croatia $9.99 - Grapevines have been adorning the southern slopes of the Peljesac Peninsula on the Dalmatian Coast since the beginning of mankind. The Plavac Mali grape variety thrives remarkably well in such sunny Karst soil. This one is a terrific introduction to the grape. Lingering and long, spicy and a bit rustic, it's a natural with red meat, and washes down grilled burgers exceptionally well.

I'll have to grill up some meats to go with all this wine. I haven't decided if I should do some chorizo sausages or maybe a flat iron steak? Decisions, decisions.

And this is all just for one game! Imagine this Friday night when I power through three straight games! I'll do that menu tomorrow.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jun102014

Get Ready to Hear a Lot About Cachaça

With the 2014 World Cup slated to begin this Thursday in Brazil, the booze-marketing companies are readying their press releases and shiny handouts to give you 1,001 ways to use cachaça in a cocktail. What is cachaça, you ask? The oft-overlooked rum of Brazil, distilled from sugar cane juice, also known as aguardente, pinga, and caninha, but more commonly-known for its role in the caipirinha cocktail––essentially, the Daiquiri of South America.

You can use Brazilian cachaça in the exact same way you use any white rum. The taste profiles can vary from clean and simple, to a more earthy, agricole style (which is more often the case, seeing that cachaça is made in a similar manner to agricole rum). While most aged rums are put into oak, most aged cachaça, from what I've been told, is usually not aged in oak but rather in a wide variety of exotic woods, about ninety-nine of them documented. These include chestnut, amburana, jequitibá, ipê, grápia, balsam wood, almond, jatobá, guanandi, brazilwood, cabreúva, tibiriçá, garapeira, or cherry and yes occasionally even oak (but not usually).

That's utterly fascinating to me.

So why don't we see more cachaça in the United States, especially with the big push for World Cup cachaça parties beginning this week? According to a few producers I've talked with, while cachaça is now recognized as its own category of spirits by the TTB, the requirement that "rum" be aged in oak has thrown up a few roadblocks. The TTB doesn't recognize the exotic woods used for aging cachaça as legal vessels for aging spirits. Thus, the low variety available in the states and why domestic selections like Novo Fogo have crossed over to Bourbon barrels for their aged expressions. Others have simply left the wood designation off the label, so we don't know if it was aged in oak or something more interesting.

My source at Avua Cachaça told me recently, however, that "somebody cleared the way for amburana wood, so we didn’t have a problem." That's good for those of you who want to have a fun, tasty, and authentic World Cup party this week because the Avua Amburana is one of the tastiest cachaças I've ever tasted. There's so much potential for unique rum flavor with all of these crazy woods being used in Brazil that I'm almost bursting with excitement just thinking about it.

If you're interested in getting some ideas about cachaça cocktails, flavors, and history, then you should come by the Redwood City store this Wednesday and meet the guys from Avua. They'll be pouring samples and mixing up some cocktail ideas in our tasting bar from 5 PM to 6:30 PM for free!

If you can't make it, check out this great article about Avua that was in Gourmet magazine recently. There are few things that make drinking more fun than a television and booze pairing; whether it's Mad Men and whiskey, Entourage and tequila, or the World Cup and cachaça.

Get ready to hear a lot more about cachaça starting this week. Get ready to start drinking some of it, too. You can start by making one of these:

Caipirinha

- Squeeze four quarters of a lime into a glass and then drop the pieces into the bottom

- Add a tablespoon of sugar (or more if you want it sweeter) and muddle the sugar into the lime juice

- Add 2 oz. of cachaça (or more if you want to get more excited about the soccer match you're watching)

- Add plenty of ice and then stir everything up.

Then get your drink on. I'll be recording this Thursday's opening game and drinking one of these babies the moment I get home to watch it.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Jun082014

Happy Weekend!

You know you're doing the same thing!

-David Driscoll

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