Bordeaux for the New Generation

While we're planning on launching our big email for the new Old Particular casks this afternoon, today is really all about Bordeaux. We've got our huge UGC tasting tonight (300+ tickets sold out!) in the city, plus a private dinner at Mathilde afterward for friends and winemakers. I'm stoked!! I can't wait to see everyone and taste the wines again. I'm even more excited, however, by the fact that a number of you spirits drinkers are crossing over into some wine appreciation. I'm getting lots of emails from whisky drinkers who are ready for a new adventure, but some are either intimidated or turned off by the stuffiness of old world wine. They want classically-styled, but exciting wines. I've been doing my best to help in that search.

If that describes your own sentiments with wine, then I've got someone to introduce you to: Hélène Garcin. She was born into an old school Bordeaux family, but she's as modern and forward-thinking as they come. I adore both her and her wines, and I think both the reasonable pricing and fresher, drinkable style in which she makes her cuvées are exactly what Bordeaux needs to continue connecting with future generations. More about her new 2015 Château d'Arce here at On the Trail. I bought a case of this wine last week. I'm recommending others do the same before the big email strikes later today.

-David Driscoll


Brexit-Priced Imports – Round II

We’re hoping to make 2017 a value-oriented year in our Scotch whisky department; one that begins to put the fun back into the single malt drinking. With new pricing that reflects our direct dollar-to-pound business, we’re back with round two of our post-Brexit cask selections from Old Particular. Featuring a selection of Highland, Speyside, and grain whiskies, we’ve managed to locate serious whiskies between 18 and 26 years of age, at cask strength, and of a tremendous quality at or under $80 per bottle. If last week’s Dailuaine sherry butt edition whet your appetite for single malt value, we suggest moving on to our first main course: classically-styled selections from Glen Spey, Ben Nevis, Linkwood, and the now-closed Port Dundas that highlight the nuances and intricacies of single barrel whisky for prices that haven’t been seen in years.

1997 Glen Spey 18 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky $64.99 - Glen Spey is one the Speyside's unknown gems, a distillery whose sole job is to make single malt for Johnnie Walker and J&B. If you're a fan of the soft, vanilla-laden, easy-drinking whisky of Scotland's epicenter, then this 18 year old single cask edition of Glen Spey is going to warm your heart while simultaneously warming your palate. When allowed to shine on its own, the nose emits a concentrated aroma of sweet grains, citrus, and malted barley. As it moves over the tongue those flavors become richer: dried orange, dark chocolate, and a wave of vanilla on the finish. At 55.9% cask strength, all of those flavors are dialed up a notch, which is why a few drops of water helps temper the storm and bring the whisky into a better harmony. Think of the Glen Spey as a single barrel, cask strength edition of something like Glenmorangie or unsherried Aberlour, but for a price that has to be seen to be believed. Glen Spey is good, old fashioned drinkin' Scotch and for $65 you can afford pour a little more heavily than usual.

1996 Ben Nevis 20 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky $79.99 - Ben Nevis is owned today by the Japanese whisky company Nikka, who purchased the Western Highland distillery back in 1989. Since that time we've tasted a variety of styles from the Fort Williams facility, both peated and unpeated, but this barrel might be the best expression of Ben Nevis we've ever carried. Supple, succulent, and round on the palate, the malt simply balloons over the palate with big, sweet flavors of dried apricot, honey, marmalade, and vanilla. In fact, the whisky is so creamy and sweet on the finish that we had to double back and ask about the cask type (perhaps Sauternes?), but it turns out this was just a cherry barrel; a perfectly aged hogshead that happened to over-achieve. Fans of our Imperial 20 year casks from Signatory will want to take note: the Ben Nevis 20 is a dead ringer for that fruit-forward Highland style, albeit for $20 cheaper per bottle. Naturally reduced to a very drinkable 51.7% cask strength, this is sure to be one of the friendliest and most popular Highland whiskies we sell this year.

1995 Linkwood 21 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky $79.99 - What could possibly be better than our 19 year old Linkwood cask from Signatory, the whisky made famous for its role in Johnnie Walker Blue? Well, we'll tell you. A 21 year cask of the same whisky that improves upon that foundation in every way, yet sells for $10 less due to our new Brexit pricing! Linkwood has long been one of our favorites, but this 21 year hogshead from Old Particular is one of the more concentrated and expressive we've tasted recently. Known for its elegant vanilla and stonefruit flavors, this particular selection bursts with oak spices from the first sip, then oozes into a mouthful of butterscotch with green apples and toasted almonds on the finish. It's just as elegant as any of our previous editions of Linkwood, it's just that there's more to chew on here. There's a depth and complexity in this particular cask that we never knew was missing from the others. Bottled at 53.6%, the baking spices dance on the finish for minutes with the added proof. For the price, this is an absolute no-brainer.

1990 Port Dundas 26 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Grain Scotch Whisky $79.99 - If there's one thing we can help take credit for here at K&L, it's been helping to remove the undeserved stigma associated with grain whisky in the Scotch industry. Maligned and misunderstood for years, it wasn't until we started launching a number of 25-50 year old releases at ridiculously reasonable prices that hearts and minds began to change. When Nikka brought their delicious Coffey Still editions to the market and people saw just how fruity and delicious these corn and unmalted barley whiskies could be, we think grain whisky finally got over the hump. Crazily enough, today our single casks of grain whisky are some of the most anticipated by our customers. The only thing that gets these finicky drinkers more excited than a new cask of mature grain deliciousness is a closed distillery! Port Dundas was officially closed in 2009 by Diageo who had used the whisky for Johnnie Walker and other blends. This single expression, distilled in 1990 before the closure, is absolutely chalk full of brown sugar, toasted vanilla, peaches in syrup, and sweet, sticky caramel on the finish. It lights up the palate from front to back and it pops on the back end with a 51.9% ABV. Drinking 26 year old whisky this good in this style shouldn't be a luxury. Thanks to our new pricing, you can enjoy this whisky a bit more freely than you might otherwise. The North Glasgow distillery might be shut down, but its legacy will live on in this lovely single cask edition.

-David Driscoll


Scenes from the Crowd

Below is a real conversation between myself and a guest at last night's K&L movie party at the Alamo Drafthouse:

GUEST: "Hey David, I had a quick question about upcoming events like these."

ME: "Suuuuure...."

GUEST: "So, in the future, is there a way to find out about parties like this via the K&L website?"

ME: "......uh....."

GUEST: "........"

ME: "Sorry, give me a second. Steven and I drank an entire bottle of Singani during the course of the movie and I'm feeling it now."

GUEST: "Ha! That's funny!"

ME: "Yeah, so if you check my blog we'll probably post the next event there. I definitely want to do this again, so that's probably where we'll post any news about future parties."

GUEST: "What's the website for your blog?"

ME: "', I'm feeling it."

GUEST: "Are you OK?"

ME: "Yeah, I'm just drunker than I planned on being right now."

GUEST: "Did you drink too many Singani cocktails?"

ME: "Yeah, but Steven and I also drank an entire bottle by ourselves after that."

GUEST: " were being serious?"

-David Driscoll


Singani Showtime!

Our 100 person party in San Francisco is all sold out tonight, so I have to extend a hearty "thank you!" to everyone who bought a ticket. I'm looking forward to sharing a few cocktails with everyone in just a few short hours. I just talked to Steven Soderbergh and the gang, and they're in route to the city. The Alamo is getting the Erin Brockovich reel ready and I'm getting set to hail a cab into the Mission; just need to put on a little make-up first. This is show business after all!

-David Driscoll


Insular Isolation

As humans I think it's natural to gravitate towards those with common interests, but I can't remember a period in my life where I found as much insularity as I have over the past few years. I don't just mean politically, either; I mean generally. As someone who works in a retail environment, I talk to people all day long, so I get a sense of what's on the mind of our Bay Area residents. On top of that, the spirits blog has put me in contact with thousands of people around the country, many of whom send me emails on a regular basis. Through them, I gain a little more insight into what's happening in other parts of the land. There's a common thread through many of these interactions that mirrors what I read in the news each day about America. What's interesting to me is that, simply within the conversation of wine and spirits, there seem to be completely different takes on reality—in both the consumer and professional spheres! Those views, right or wrong, stem entirely from a number of insular communities that seem to reinforce whatever conclusion has drawn them together. It's no different than a Facebook group, a politically-oriented news feed, or a religious sect where each populace seeks to surround itself with likemindedness. I approach personal relationships in the same manner. When I go out with friends or colleagues socially, I want to talk with people who have common interests and avoid those with whom I might have philosophical conflicts.

I think that fear of confrontation is ultimately what isolates us as humans. We're often afraid to disagree or present opposing viewpoints, so we keep quiet and simply avoid the subject the next time it threatens to arise. When we are passionate, honest, or forthcoming about our views, it's usually within a safe and supportive environment of likeminded individuals and that's where we lose our sense of reality. For example, it's easy for a group of wine sommeliers to believe that grüner veltliner is going to be the next big wine craze when they go from restaurant to restaurant, talk with other geeky professionals, and reinforce each other's advanced interests. But when grüner veltliner doesn't take off and remains an outlier on the wine list (where it's always been), you begin hearing snotty quips like: "people don't get it" or "consumers don't know what's good." Most people would call that wine snobbery, but in reality it's simply what happens when the general population doesn't reinforce the preconceived notions of insularity. It's no different than thinking you're a shoe-in for the presidency, then finding out you've lost. I heard the same things this past November: "What are people thinking?" or "How can society be so stupid?" You could call that elitism or condescension, but what it really means is: why doesn't everyone else think the same way I do? Why didn't my version of reality come to fruition?

As of late, my favorite conversations at K&L are the ones that challenge both me and the consumer. I actually prefer dealing with customers who don't share my tastes or opinions about wine and spirits. It forces me to look outside myself and see the market realistically—as it truly is! I've worked with a number of people over the years who approached wine retail in just the opposite manner, however. They pushed their tastes, their opinions, and their beliefs on the customer and then wondered what the problem was when the client didn't like the selection. "They just don't understand wine," they would scoff when the patron left in a huff. These are the two extremes I see in the world today when it comes to human interaction: we either look to avoid straightforward conversation, or we seek to impose our will upon others. Few people have the patience or the desire to venture outside their little islands. Rather than challenge that isolationism, we allow people to tailor their lives to the reality that best suits them. That type of insular living might make us happier in the short run, but it presents a fairly large problem when we're forced to communicate or work outside of these boundries. 

You don't have to agree with someone else's opinion, but I think it's always beneficial to try and understand where they're coming from—especially if your job is to serve a broad spectrum of the public!! If I only bought spirits that I myself wanted to drink, K&L would be a much different store. I wouldn't know what people wanted unless I talked with them and listened to what they had to say. 

-David Driscoll

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