K&L Awards 2012: Best Discovery - Jacques Esteve

While traveling to Scotland has given us the opportunity to purchase some amazing whiskies, everything we buy is a one-off. We have to buy barrels with finite quantities of juice that will last a couple months until we sell through. Then we have to hope we can do it again. Our French spirits program, with the help of our friend Charles Neal, has worked much like our direct import wine program - we find small producers that are not represented in the U.S. and import their booze right to our store. We can consistantly offer the same products from the same producers because we're importing their standard portfolio, not something made just once for our store. It gives people a reason to shop at K&L. You can't find these wines or these spirits anywhere else domestically and, over time, people begin to depend on them.

Normally when you're dealing with a smaller producer, you're getting something a bit different from the norm. When we buy a cask from Kilchoman, it's a much younger, spicier single malt. Same goes for when we buy casks from small independents. There's a big difference between our barrel of Bunnahabhain and the standard distillery expressions. In the U.S., there's a large chasm between, say, the rye from Old World Spirits and something like Rittenhouse. Cognac, however, is a big industry made of little producers. Remy, Hennessey, and all the large houses buy all of their product from the same little guys we're buying from. Take Jacques Esteve, for example. He sells a ton of his brandy directly to Remy and Hennessey. That's where his financial stability comes from. The income he earns from his big house contracts allows him to focus on making more serious Cognac under his own family label.

When you drink big house Cognac, you're essential drinking a marriage of many different brandies. If you drink Hennessey XO, there's probably some older Jacques Esteve brandy swimming around in there. However, why not buy it straight from Jacques Esteve himself and get an older, undiluted Cognac for less than half the price? That's what Hennessey does! That's why we wanted to go to France and that's what we did when we got there. The Esteve brandies are not different, unique, or outside the norm of standard Cognac. They're simply richer, more supple, more textural, and more delicious. The Coup de Coeur we imported costs about $90 and blows every other Cognac we have out of the water. I don't see how anyone could go back to big house Cognac after tasting it. It's a combination of 1979 and 1981 vintage brandies and the length and complexity of flavor are astounding.

The best part about Jacques Esteve's Cognac is that we can keep buying more! True, the Tres Vieille Reserve de Famille is a single cask of 1979 bottled under his standard label, but we're heading back over in March to find more sustainable expressions. The Coup de Coeur is fully-stocked and loaded for the holiday season. It's a brandy we hope to have on our shelves for some time. I can't remember a spirit at K&L that has had a larger influence on the category as a whole. There have been some fun single barrels in the past, but nothing we could continuously sustain. That's why discovering the Jacques Esteve Cognacs and securing their exclusivity for K&L was probably the best thing we did all year.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll