The Days Are Full

Considering I had spent all weekend binge-watching the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, it was a bit surreal to head over the Golden Gate yesterday morning, through San Rafael where many of the scenes were shot, and past Vallejo where the story itself takes place. I'm not sure how many of you have watched the show yet, but let's just say if I were still teaching I would make it required viewing for high school students. Imagine something in between Twin Peaks and Clueless, but with better acting and a clear message about the ills of social media and technology. Imagine thinking back on every stupid thing you ever did as a teenager and feeling nothing but regret. That was hard to shake off as I drove through the rolling green hills and watched the sun begin to peak out from behind the rain clouds. I was on my way to Napa for a meeting and these days I simply refuse to go over the Bay Bridge through the traffic mess that is the East Bay. Why would I do that when the route along Highways 37, 121, and 12 through Marin and Sonoma offers views like this? I never take 80 anymore to wine country. It was so pretty I pulled over twice to take pictures.

Not only had I watched thirteen straight hours of television on Sunday, I had also read that Oprah's greatest extravagance consists of the specialty English muffins she has flown in from Napa. Apparently there's a family-run operation in downtown Napa called the Model Bakery and it turned out I would be driving right by it on my way up to St. Helena. I was making good time, so I figured I had to stop and check it out. There were only two people in line when I walked in, but by the time I got up to the counter to order there were more than a dozen folks waiting behind me. I didn't want to seem too Oprah-oriented, so I added in a few other items like the olive batard and a medium coffee. I could see the grease glistening through the paper English muffin bag after only a few minutes. These were clearly going to be tastier than the store-bought Thomas version I'd been eating for most of my life.

At 11 AM on the dot I pulled into Wheeler Farm, a new winemaking facility nestled in between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail that run parallel through the valley. Bart Araujo was there to greet me. You may know the man. In 1990, he and his wife Daphne established Araujo winery at the Eisele Vineyard site and turned it into one of the most renowned cabernet expressions in California. The wines sold for well over three hundred dollars a bottle until 2013 when the Araujos sold the property to the owners of Bordeaux's famed Château Latour, who promptly renamed the wine for its famed single vineyard. The first vintage under the French winemaking team received a perfect 100 point score and currently sells for $500 a bottle. The sad part is: the wine is probably worth it. Without a doubt, the 2013 Eisele is one of the best California wines I've ever had. So what's Bart up to now that he's no longer at Eisele? That's what I was there to find out.

It turns out that Bart and Daphne took the money they made from the sale of Araujo and put it into creating one of the most technologically-advanced wineries in the entire state at Wheeler Farm. Why? So that they could achieve their dream of making blends. Yes, I'll say it again: to make blends. To put it into a whisky perspective, imagine that Dr. Bill Lumsden were to quit distilling at Ardbeg and Glenmorangie because he thought that single malts were too constricting. Imagine if he said to you: "The best whiskies I've ever had were blends, not single malts. So I want to make blends." That's exactly what's happening here with Bart Araujo. 

"I went back to my formative experiences with California cabernet—the great Inglenooks of the sixties and the Mondavi Reserves from the late sixties and early seventies," Bart said to me; "I thought: wouldn't it be great to try and replicate those wines?" I had to admit; I didn't fully understand the distinction. Weren't the Araujo wines from Eisele Vineyard already considered the benchmark for the region? Bart explained further: "The Eisele wines were great, but they were all from a single vineyard, whereas the wines that inspired me initially were blends. They were blends of multiple sites. I wanted to know: could we make a wine that's the equivalent? Could we achieve that?" So the Araujos are now purchasing cabernet from six different sites throughout Rutherford and Oakville and blending them together in an attempt to chase history. The result is Accendo Cellars and—having now tasted it with Bart and Daphne at the winery—I have to admit it's pretty damn delicious. I also have to admit: I'm pretty damn intrigued by this project. The wine industry in California has moved in the exact same direction as whisky and other spirits. It's all about single locations, terroir, locality, and single casks. Bart is moving completely against the grain here in an attempt to resurrect the past. This is his John Glaser moment. It's pretty cool.

So that's what I did with my morning. Yes, that was just the first half of the day. By 2 PM, I was back at work in Redwood City, putting in orders, stocking, talking with customers, and finishing out the afternoon in my office. I got home just in time to see the Sharks score their first goal in two games, only fifteen seconds into game four with Edmonton. It didn't end there, however. By the third period it was 7-0, a player for the Oilers had been ejected for spearing another Shark in the groin with his stick, and San Jose was on their way to one of the biggest beat downs in their playoff history. I had to celebrate with a few of those deliciously doughy English muffins and a small glass of the Wiser's Red Letter Canadian whisky I smuggled back from Ontario last week.

Another busy day in the books.

-David Driscoll


Back @ Mathilde This Friday

Anyone interested in eating some fois gras, drinking a bunch of good Rhône wines from Château Montfaucon and Moulin de la Gardette, and sitting on the lovely back patio at Mathilde in San Francisco with our owner Clyde Beffa, the winemakers from both properties, and the rest of the K&L staff? If that sounds like fun to you, then grab a ticket here for this Friday's soirée:

Winemaker Dinner w/Montfaucon & Moulin de la Gardette, Friday April 21st @ 7 PM - $110 

The part actually starts at 6 PM at the San Francisco store where we'll taste: the 2014 Gardette Tradition, 2015 Baron de Montfaucon CDR Blanc, 2010 Ch Montfaucon CDR out of magnum, and the 2014 Château Montfaucon. 

Then we'll head over to Mathilde (a two minute walk from the store) where you'll have your choice of quail or duck confit for the mains of our three course affair along side a bevy of great wines like: the 2014 Montfaucon "Madame de Comtesse" Clairette Blanc Vieilles Vignes, 2014 Moulin de la Gardette Tradition, 2013 Baron Louis Lirac, 2014 Moulin de la Gardette Ventebran, 2014 Baron de Montfaucon CDP, 2009 Baron Louis out of magnum, 2007 Baron Louis, and the 2015 Moulin de la Gardette Tradition.

There's still plenty of space so grab your ticket and come drink wine with us!

-David Driscoll


Three of the Four

Of the four standard gins that together support the four pillars of Four Pillars, we've previously only had access to two: the Rare Dry and the Navy Strength, both of which constitute the top-selling gins at K&L currently. The other two foundational gins—the Bloody Shiraz, a saturated sloe gin-esque version that's been held up do to legal definitions in the U.S., and the Yarra Valley chadonnay barrel-aged gin, one that lends the soft-fruited and clean flavors of the great wine from Four Pillar's home in Australia—have been held up in the import process. Until today that is! 

Introducing the third pillar: Four Pillars Barrel Aged Gin, the same citrus-dominated recipe as the incredible Rare Dry transferred into a solera of nine French oak chardonnay barrels, each with its own unique flavor. The solera is tasted every six months by head distiller Cameron Mackenzie who blends a portion to his liking, creating a new expression for each batch. The vanilla tones are light adding hints of cinnamon and baking spice to the citrus. You can sip it neat like a whisky, but it still mixes a fantastic gin and tonic. Try it as a whisky replacement in a Manhattan or as a Cognac replacement in a Sidecar. Any way you drink it, it's pretty darn delicious.

-David Driscoll


Classic Laphroaig

Have you ever thought about what your favorite Scotch whisky distillery is? I have to be honest: I don't spend a lot of time tackling that subject in my mind these days. It's funny though because when I was a kid and a teenager I was constantly updating and re-ranking my favorite things: my favorite bands, my favorite movies, my favorite baseball player, etc. When it comes to distilleries, I don't really have a favorite. I have soft spots in my heart based on experiences and memories, but when it comes to whisky there's not one I generally prefer over another. At least, not one that comes to mind easily.

However....when I go back and check my purchase history at K&L, and then look at my bar to see which whiskies I've consumed the most of, there's a clear winner: Laphroaig. I've never thought about it until now, nor have I really looked into it before, but apparently I drink more Laphroaig than any other Scottish single malt. Does that make it my favorite? Maybe. I really, really like Laphroaig. I like the 15 year immensly (that one's almost gone...sigh). I drink the standard 10 year on the rocks at least once a week. I have a few old Signatory bottles I'm saving for my birthday in my wine locker that we bought a few years back. I've bought every limited or Cairdeas edition they've released since 2011. I've not done that for any other distillery. Does that make Laphroaig my favorite? Or better yet...does it merely mean that Laphroaig has consistently released the best bang for your buck whiskies since I started drinking single malt?

I'll bet you it's the latter. Since I don't play favorites, I've probably continually bought Laphroaig whiskies over the years because I've felt the price to quality ratio was in balance. Seeing that's been the status quo from the distillery, I feel obligated to continue that tradition with this single cask 16 year old edition I found in Glasgow last year. It's a textbook Laphroaig speciman, aged in a refill hogshead with light vanilla and sweet fruit on the entry, loads of peat and Islay smoke on the mid, and a breathy note of iodine and soot on the finish. At 53% cask strength, it's also dialed up a bit. But not so much as to overwhelm your taste buds without water. I feel keeping this sub-$100 is the move, despite the fact I know we could sell the whole cask in a day at $120.

But where's the fun in that? That's not what Laphroaig would do. At least, it's not what they've done thus far.

2000 Laphroaig 16 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $89.99 - This 16 year old single barrel, cask strength version of Laphroaig is simply classic across the board and having spent that time in a refill hogshead the wood influence is mellow and just enough to round out the edges. At 53.2% ABV, the proof is punchy enough to lift the peat smoke and elevate the phenolic notes, but this is still a whisky you can drink neat. It's full of everything you love about Laphroaig without any of the gimmicky or marketing-related spins we see so often on the mass market today. There's no cask finishing or special lost recipe here, just vintage medicinal Islay goodness. Sweet vanilla gives way to chimney soot, bonfire ash, and that quintessential Laphroaig smoke. The finish goes on for minutes, the potent distillery character sticking to the palate for as long as it can hang on. Considering the price we're currently offering this for, you may want to buy two. This is a whisky you'll want to come back to time and time again, and unfortunately older, reasonably-priced Islay whiskies at full proof aren't so easy to come by these days. You can thank our direct relationship with Old Particular for this hot deal! 

-David Driscoll


Outside Perspective

The nice part about traveling with other booze industry professionals is that it gives you the chance to hear about what’s happening in other markets, to share ideas, and cross reference your observations. Last night at Wright & Co. in downtown Detroit I had dinner with a number of other reps and suppliers who work in large markets and we chatted about everything from whisky to cocktail culture to bar experiences and beyond. I wasn’t alone in my earlier prediction; there are other people out there who feel the end of alcohol’s cultivated and over-complicated connoisseurship is near. We've gone a bit too far towards one side of the spectrum. “It’s going to swing back over to dive bars again,” one guy told me, “but this time around you’ll be able to get more than shitty draft beer or a vodka tonic.” That made total sense to me. The only reason I ever left the dive bar in the first place was because I discovered more interesting and flavorful drinks outside its comfortable confines. If you told me I could get a Four Pillars gin and tonic, a Lot 40 Sazerac, or a pint of Stiegl all while keeping my rock and roll jukebox, pool table, and diverse group of drinkers, I’d be there in a heartbeat. The problem is that you usually have to trade quality for comfort, or vice versa.

“We’ve seen the same thing with food trucks, haven’t we?” I responded in agreement. “I think the best restaurant on the SF peninsula right now is a Mexican food truck called Los Carnalitos, and other people obviously agree because there’s a line every single day.” In the case of food, the market is already proving there's a trend back toward simplicity, but with an elevated quality and a sense of what’s trending elsewhere. This isn’t the same as the ironic or contrarian culture we’ve seen over the last decade, mind you, where hipsters drink PBR or wear ridiculous trucker hats simply because it's so ridiculous. The examples I’m seeing constitute a serious quality and a genuine enthusiasm, just via a medium that used to be a sign of bulk or mass-market mediocrity. More examples? How about good, affordable, and clean white wine in a box? How about really good IPAs in a can? How about wine in a can? How about fresh sushi at the Giants game? Aren’t beer cans and ballgames typically reserved for Budweiser and hot dogs? Not anymore. Times are changing again and we’re evolving out of those old stereotypes. Hotel bars went from the epicenters of fine drinking, to shitty corporate lounges, to cool curators of local cocktail culture once again. Airports? The same thing. The more I travel, the less I mind getting to my terminal early. San Francisco’s Virgin America terminal has a better breakfast spot than my own neighborhood and the bread is fresher in the early mornings. For the last few decades we’ve been stuck between two worlds—one of necessity and one of quality—but now those two worlds are fusing. We’re seeing the market respond to a new consumer demand, one that better accommodates convenience.

Since we’re now able to find good espresso at the mall and a well-balanced cocktail at the chain steakhouse, you know what people are no longer going to settle for? Attitude. The only reason anyone puts up with condescending bartenders or sommeliers in the first place is because we want to eat and drink at their establishments. Kind of like putting up with your asshole friend because he has a good wine collection, or marrying a jerk because he’s rich and at least you’ll be comfortable. Those of us in search of quality will typically put up with a certain amount of inconvenience in order to experience new and exciting taste sensations. When you have a monopoly on anything—quality, knowledge, ability—you can usually get away with being a dick, but not when there are other options. Especially not when those options are both cheaper and nicer! “You can’t get away with being an asshole anymore as a bartender,” one of the guys at the table last night said; “Especially now that there’s a push towards hospitality and customer service in the better places.” I’ve seen and heard the same from my friends who are bar managers or restaurant owners. Even at K&L we’d rather hire people today with less experience, but better attitudes and a desire to actually help customers. Like I wrote in my article from a few days ago, we’re still learning from the by-products of cultural evolution. We’ve created a more serious drinking culture over the last decade, but we also ended up with a serious set of douchebags that we didn’t necessarily plan upon. Now as an industry we’re going back and trying to eliminate those side effects. To paraphrase Office Space: we’re fixing the glitch. 

-David Driscoll