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Tuesday
Jul122016

London: June 29th, 2011

It's the summer of 2011. My wife and I are vacationing in London. Wimbledon is in full swing. I've been drinking Pimm's Cups all day long. I meet my friend John Glaser from Compass Box at a bar in SoHo called HIX. We sit at the counter and taste two custom blends that he's prepared for the restaurant, both stewing in giant glass jugs upon the bar.

"You can make your own blended whiskies on-premise in the UK?" I ask in astonishment. 

"Of course!" John answers. "We're not nearly as regulated over here."

I sit in silence for a few moments thinking.

"We should do a blend with you," I spit out. "One for K&L, I mean."

"We should definitely think about doing something like that down the road," John answers.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Jul092016

Westland's Garryana: A Preview

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm a big fan of Seattle's Westland distillery. If pressed, I might go so far as to say it's the best whiskey distillery of any kind in the United States. Few whiskey producers possess the entire package, from branding to personnel to quality to drinkability, but there are a number of reasons beyond the obvious that endear me to Westland; characteristics that contribute to the growth of the entire industry not just the company itself. Number one: Westland is urban and accessible. You can visit Seattle and the distillery without having to drive two hours out of the way. Number two: it's run by a group of kids all under the age of forty (many under the age of thirty) who have a better idea of the modern palate and a modern style. Number three: they realized early on that making good whiskey involved both heavy investment and creative innovation. These guys not only put together one of the most incredible distilleries I've ever visited, they also invested in their own local peat bogs and their own local source of oak, and I must point this out here: Westland didn't go local because it was cool, trendy, or à la mode. They went local because they're in this game for the long haul, which was clear in the way they approached each facet of their business right from the start. In the modern spirits era where more than half of new distilleries are speculative investments, these kids wanted to build a dynasty. They wanted to create the next great Pacific Northwest company, which was apparent in their admiration for other local enterprises like Filson. I love everything they're doing and I think they're a model for other budding American distillers. 

Now that I've got all my gushing out of the way, let's talk about Garryana—an upcoming limited release of 2500 bottles from Westland that uses Quercus Garryana white oak to mature the whiskey. Garryana is a species native to the Pacific Northwest, hence Westland's branding of the whiskey as part of its "native oak series." Let me add some perspective here again: I've tasted dozens of spirits over the last few months that stress locality—local botanicals, local water, local native yeasts, local barley, local fruit, and even other examples of locally-coopered oak barrels. Few of them tasted unique. Even fewer of them tasted good. It's important for me to make that clear because my fear is that Garryana is going to get bogged down in the saturated sea of similarly-marketed spirits when it's clearly the cream of the crop. When you smell the new Westland Garryana, you instantly inhale something special. When you taste the new Westland Garryana, you draw back quickly from the intensity. There's a roasted, seasoned flavor on entry. It's oak, but it's not your standard American oak profile. It's exotic and alive, brimming with spiced vanilla and toasted goodness. What's even more interesting is that only 21% of the blend was aged in Garryana oak. The other 79% was aged in standard Quercus Alba oak, leading me to take distiller and blender Matt Hofmann seriously when he says "Garryana is not Quercus Alba, nor does it behave like it, as we've quickly discovered." Not unlike the famous Japanese mizunara oak that imparts an intense profile of sandlewood and coconut, and therefore must be used with restraint, I get the feeling that Garryana oak must handled with care. 

The recipe for the Garryana blend is as follows:

21% pale malt aged in new Garryana oak

26% peated malt aged in new Alba oak

10% pale malt aged in used Alba oak

43% five malt aged in new Alba oak

It's bottled at 56.2% cask strength and it is insanely delicious. Regardless of whether you care about Westland's philosophy, its homegrown story, its sense of style, the sleek and modern design, or the intensity of flavor imparted by a species of oak native to the Pacific Northwest, I'd still advise any and every whiskey fan to grab a bottle of the Garryana simply because it's wonderful. It's a symphony of malt, vanilla, oak, and spice—four classic components of any great dram—that succeeds simply because it's well made. There's nothing gimmicky or contrived about the flavors. It's not some weird, science project whiskey that you'll only drink every once and a while when you're in the mood. It's a great bottle of booze, pure and simple—the kind of thing you'll have to force yourself to stop drinking when you're seriously jonesing for seconds and thirds. The finish, however, is where you really comprehend the power of the Garryana oak. I've been sipping on my mini sample bottle while typing this post and all I can taste in my mouth right now is that roasted, dusty, and sweetly-scented oak profile mingling ever so happily with the subtle peat smoke. The whiskey is as much of a testament to Matt's clever blending as it is to the oak. The shape of the whisky is remarkable—the way the sweetness tickles the tip of your tongue on the entry before moving through to the spice and power of the oak. I'm thrilled. 

I don't know how much we're getting, how much it will cost exactly, or when we'll be getting our allocation, but I'm buying a bottle as soon as this whisky arrives. I can't promise anyone they'll love it as much as I do, but I can promise one thing for sure: you're not paying for bullshit.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Jul072016

Drinking to Drink: Live in Person, July 27th

In what will be my second live Drinking to Drink themed event (and my first publicly available one!), I'd like to invite you to join me and Gerald Casale from Devo for dinner at Donato Enoteca in Redwood City on Wednesday, July 27th at 7 PM. Gerald is one of the coolest, most interesting dudes I've had the pleasure of interviewing and I'm excited to introduce him to all of you drinking fans. For fifty dollars you'll get ample portions of Gerald's 50 by 50 Sonoma Coast pinot noir, his 50 by 50 rose, a three course meal along with plenty of appetizers, and a sneak preview of our upcoming 50 year old K&L Exclusive Scotch whisky. You'll have all evening to talk music history, de-evolution, wine, architecture, and whatever else comes to your mind! Tickets are non-refundable so please plan ahead! There are no paper tickets for this event; your name will be placed on a guest list at Donato. There are vegetarian options as well on our prix-fixe menu, so don't fret!

There's going to be plenty of wine, whisky, and food on hand. Where else can you eat and drink this well with a famous rock star from one of the most influential bands of all time?

Tickets are available here.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Jul062016

Los Don Amados Nuevos

Jake Lustig, the man we all love behind ArteNOM Tequila, has finally brought his expanded portfolio of Don Amado mezcales north of the border! You can revisit part one of my trip to Santa Catarina Minas here, with details of the distillery here if you need production specifics, but know right away that Don Amado is one of my favorite mezcales simply because it isn't all that smoky. It's a flavorful, graceful, nuanced spirit that always places the inherent flavors of the agave above the need for power or vigor. These three higher-end expressions are living proof of that synopsis; they're complex, ethereal, and delicately-detailed spirits that truly encompass what top shelf mezcal has to offer. I first tasted these over a year ago and have been impatiently waiting for them to arrive ever since! Check out the score below:

Don Amado Largo Mezcal $89.99- Originally established in 1700, the distillery that produces Don Amado is renown throughout the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca as one of the finest producers of premium mezcal.  The distillery uses only estate-grown agave to ensure the plant's high sugar levels, and mixes steam into the agave's smoke roasting to smooth out the mezcal's characteristically smoky flavor. "Largo" which means "long" in Spanish is how the folks refer to "Karwinskii" or "cuishe" agave in Santa Catarina Minas, where the distillery is located. Cuishe is known for its exotic and subtle complexity of flavors, a plant-like note bolstered by a nuanced spiciness and mild roasted finish. The finish of the Don Amado Largo is a symphony of sweet agave pulp, baking spices, and mild vegetal goodness. It tastes expensive.

Don Amado Pechuga Mezcal $89.99- Whereas "pechuga" usually refers to the chicken or turkey breast added to the distillation process to provide oils and fats, owner Jake Lustig has never been a fan of decomposing meats. Instead, he uses a combination of locally-sourced wild apples, wild apricots, stubby bananas, along with walnuts, cloves, cinnamon, and market-bought spices, the result is something in between mezcal and gin. The flavor of the agave is never compromised, but rather heightened and brightened by the addition of fruit and spice. Absolutely delcious! It's almost like mezcal gin.

Don Amado Arroqueño Mezcal $89.99- The arroqueño plants are gathered, roasted, and distilled in ceramic and bamboo pot stills, resulting in a slightly smoky and earthy distillate. The aromas are incredibly complex, almost meaty, but the distillate is 100% pure grace; a long and meandering road of picante spice, pepper, and chili. There are few mezcales on the market with this level of depth for under $100.

-David Driscoll 

Tuesday
Jul052016

Time Machine – Part I

The past is the past, they say. We need to move forward; think about the present moment; live in the now! Yes, yes, yes; I know. But I can't help but think about the good old days every now and again. Back when we could actually buy single casks directly from an actual distillery! Back when you could actually go into a major company's warehouses, meet with the blender, and put together something cool and interesting that had yet to be done. Today the demand for this type of bespoke whisky is through the roof, so most distilleries—now completely overrun by requests like these—have backed away from private bottlings. Everyone wants their own exclusive barrel or their own customized blend to distinguish their bottle from the pack. Everyone needs their own special story, their own unique experience. It's too much! System overload! Abort! Let's just go back to selling regular old whisky, they began telling us. We can't manage this type of program fairly or consistently. Shut it down. Shut this all down! Welcome to 2016. 

But let me bring you back to March of 2013; back when whisky kids could still be kids. David and I drove to Glen Garioch to meet Rachel Barrie. We picked out a delicious 15 year old cask from the Morrison-Bowmore stocks. We toasted to a successful journey, placed our order, and left with a smile. Then a funny thing happened in between the time our cask was bottled and the time our cask was due to be received: Suntory and Beam merged, Campari (who was acting as an importer to the U.S. for Suntory) was given the boot, and all hell broke loose. We never got our cask. We never knew what happened to it. After a few years went by, we kinda just forgot about it. 

About a year ago I reached out to Beam to see if maybe they could figure out what had happened. They recommended I ask Campari. Campari recommended I ask Beam. It didn't go much further than that. However, for the past six months I've been working with a new team at Beam-Suntory that is incredibly detail-oriented and proficient. These guys are serious pros and are motivated to make deals happen. I mentioned to them the story about the lost cask of Glen Garioch. "Maybe you guys could track it down?" I asked. Two weeks later they had found it.

Three years and three months in the making, our cask of 1997 Glen Garioch, distillery-direct, cask strength single malt whisky is here. More importantly, it's here for the same price I was quoted in the Spring of 2013: $89.99. I LOVE THIS WHISKY. There's a particular flavor in Glen Garioch that I love that I don't get in any other single malt (kind of like Clynelish) that's inherant rather than the result of specific cask maturation. It's a sweet grainy note, almost like butterscotch and oatmeal, and the whole town of Oldmeldrum (where the distillery is located) smells this way. I remember getting a chicken salad sandwich at a cafe nearby that came with a side of "mealie." Mealie? "What's that?" I asked the woman working behind the counter.

You take a finely-chopped onion, fry it in oil, and then gently add in some oatmeal.  You finish it off in a steamer until the consistency comes together and, voila, you've got mealie.  It has a semi-hard texture, almost like Grape Nuts after they've soaked up a bit of milk. Apparently, it's wonderful with chicken dishes as well as with mince and tatties. That's Oldmeldrum in a nutshell. That's Glen Garioch. That's the flavor in this fifteen year old K&L single barrel selection. Here at last.

-David Driscoll

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