Drink & Watch: Ashes & Diamonds

Two Polish guys walk into a bar and ask for a drink.

The young and pretty blond bartender says: "Starovin or Jarzebiak?" 

"Two small vodkas," the men respond.

The bartender walks over with a clear, unlabeled bottle, sets down two small glasses, and attempts to pour two shots of vodka, as requested; however, one of the men moves the glass to a different spot on the bar each time she tries. Eventually he pulls a small tin container out of his jacket and asks her to fill that instead of the glass.

He smiles wryly. She obliges with a similar smirk.

This all may sound like an introduction to a bad joke, but it's actually one of the best scenes from Ashes & Diamonds, one of the first movies I ever watched with my old professor Jean-Pierre Gorin (who crazily enough used to be married to Alice Waters—although I had no idea who she was at the time). I remember staying after class with him, smoking cigarettes in the parking lot, and him waxing poetically for ten minutes about some of the scenes from this 50's era Polish classic. He called actor Zbigniew Cybulski the "Polish James Dean," and told me a long story about Polish vodka that I can't remember now, but seemed ridiculous at the time (JP had a tendency to ramble about crazy stuff, half in French).

I hadn't watched this movie since 1998 until last night, when I got home to an empty house at twilight, my wife being away for the weekend and my cats dozing on their beds against the windows. Man, some things are so much better when you're older. And when you're drinking a bottle of Potocki Polish vodka, the best vodka in the world—in my opinion.

You can see why Scorcese loves this film so much. The grittiness of the characters. The lighting with the shadows in each room. The menacing anxiety of the communist officials. It's all so much better with vodka!

-David Driscoll


A Rare Treat

For those of you who didn't get out of town already for the Memorial Day weekend, we had a rare treat drop into our laps before the trucks closed down for the day:

About 100 bottles or so of Angel's Envy rye whiskey, one of the most elusive American whiskies on the market right now.

In celebration of the weekend (and life in general), I'm going to remove allocations and allow everyone to buy as many as they like!

Angel's Envy 100 Proof Rye Whiskey $74.99

The Angel's Envy is to rye whiskey what the Whispering Angel is to rose: a somewhat gimmicky product that people act like they hate, but secretly love and covet like crazy. I know this because people ask me about five times a day if I can get them a bottle of Angel's Envy rye, but then they say something like "it's for a gift" or "I have a friend who loves it."

Same with the Whispering Angel. I just had a friend call up and order a case, saying "don't judge me" as she read me her credit card number.

There's no reason to feel bad, people! Angel's Envy rye is delicious! It tastes like bacon maple hedonistic splendor. Same thing with Whispering Angel. It's fruity and cold and easy to pound on a warm Memorial Day weekend.

Too bad it's going to be cold here. Maybe drink the rye instead.

-David Driscoll 


More New Arrivals

It's been a busy week at K&L for spirits, which is always exciting for our customers and my co-workers alike, even if it means putting in a little extra elbow grease on the sales floor. We had to do a little reset in both the SF and RC stores this week in order to make room for all the new hooch. Let's look at a few things that just showed up:

Bulleit "Barrel Strength" Kentucky Straight Bourbon $54.99 - This one I mentioned yesterday, but we'll throw it up again with an official-looking bottle shot. In what was once only available as a limited edition bottling from the Bulleit Experience at the defunct Stitzel-Weller distillery in Kentucky, Diageo is now bringing Bulleit Barrel Strength to the metropolitan market! Bottled at 62.7% cask strength, this is a punchier, more powerful expression of Bulleit than what we're used to. At over 120 proof, the whiskey really benefits from a few drops of water that help to coax out the softer vanilla and barrel oak flavors lying underneath all that heat. Drink with care! 

The pride of downtown Edinburgh is now the joy of the K&L gin department. Once contracted from London, today the complete line of Edinburgh gin is distilled either underground at the eponymous Edinburgh Gin Distillery, or at their recently opened second distillery at The Biscuit Factory in the historic port of Leith. Focusing entirely on gin, the company recently merged with Ian Macleod of Tamdhu, Glengoyne, and Chieftain's fame to resurrect Scotland's great distillation traditions. Not only are they making one fantastic gin, they’re making four outstanding gins! We thought each of them had merit and deserved a place on our already crowded gin shelf.

Edinburgh Gin $29.99 - The standard Edinburgh gin is a juniper-forward London Dry style, given a unique Scottish identity with its carefully balanced blend of fourteen botanicals. Fresh and snappy on the palate, it makes a gorgeous gin and tonic.

Edinburgh "Seaside" Gin $34.99 - The "Seaside" expression is istilled with foraged seaweed, scurvy grass, and ground ivy from the Scottish coast, boasting a sweet yet refreshing salinity.

Edinburgh "Christmas" Gin $34.99 - The limited edition Christmas gin uses frankincense and myrrh along with juniper to create a festive, holiday-infused spirit.

Edinburgh "Cannonball" Navy Strength Gin $44.99 - Inspired by the famous One o’Clock Gun, this navy strength libation has an intense flavor, defined by distinct juniper, citrus and szechuan pepper. The pepper really adds a kick to the 57% proof!

And, of course, you recognize these two characters. Our two most beloved Cognacs have also returned, adding a much needed elegance to our brandy shelf. I think most K&L shoppers at this point understand that Ragnaud Sabourin is as good as Cognac gets. If you’ve been getting low on your last bottle, no need to savor that last little sip. We’ve got you covered.

Ragnaud Sabourin Réserve Spéciale #20 Cognac $89.99 - The vineyards of Ragnaud-Sabourin stretch far over the hills in Grand Champage. 33 hectares of Ugni Blanc with a bit of Folle Blanche as far as the eye can see. This estate is known throughout France for having the goods and we couldn't have been more impressed after visiting the property this past Spring. Today the estate is run by Annie Sabourin, who is the daughter of the late Marcel Ragnaud, and she makes sure every drop lives up to the property's reputation. The collection of Ragnaud-Sabourin selections we tasted were spellbinding, easily one of the most polished portfolios we've ever come across. The Reserve Speciale No. 20 is a 20 year old expression with supreme delicacy and elegance. The fruit is dainty, but never faint or flat, while the vanilla and caramel provide the backbone of the brandy's structure. It's simply delightful Cognac, but never overly rich or sumptuous. It's not decadent, but yet it's memorable and haunting. I think it perfectly represents the quality for which Ragnaud-Sabourin is widely recognized.

Ragnaud Sabourin Fontevieille #35 Cognac $169.99 - The No. 35 is a 35-year-old Cognac of immense quality and seamless character. It's named after a special property (Fontevielle) from which the fruit is sourced. Locals in the area say, "the Cognac is perfect," and we couldn't agree more. It's rich, supple-fruited, and textural, almost luxuriously so, and the caramel comes in on the finish to warm your mouth. It goes on forever. I think it's easy to say that this is the one of the best Cognacs we've ever tasted and it should make many aficionados very happy. All it takes is one sip to realize why Ragnaud-Sabourin is widely respected throughout Grande Champagne. We couldn't be more pleased to represent them here stateside. 

-David Driscoll


Bulleit Barrel Strength Arrives, Party Tomorrow!

The Bulleit Barrel Strength Bourbon is just now landing in our store warehouses and the first bottles are already hitting the sales queue, but you can still try before you buy tomorrow night at Hard Water in downtown San Francisco during our launch party with founder Tom Bulleit himself.

There are still a few seats left for the party here ($50 includes cocktails, samples of full Bulleit line-up, and loads of Hard Water cuisine), but if you want to simply forgo all the festivities and grab yourself a bottle, it's available online now while supplies last:

Bulleit "Barrel Strength" Kentucky Bourbon $54.99

-David Driscoll


The Legend Returns

Special agent Dale Cooper wasn't the only legend to return this week. We finally received the final batch of one of my favorite Armagnacs we've ever carried: the 2001 Grangerie Armagnac, perhaps the one brandy that best blurs the lines between an enticing Bourbon oak flavor and the characteristics of a rounded fruit distillate. While I'm delighted that we've been able to capture the imagination of American whiskey fans with some of our ultra-mature Armagnac selections, I'm personally not on the hunt these days for brandy that tastes like Bourbon. One of the biggest mistakes we ever made here at K&L was adopting the mindset we originally brought to France, thinking we should treat brandy like whiskey and go for single barrel, cask strength editions that mimicked what the industry was craving back home. Ideologically it may have been strategic and well-intentioned, but looking back I feel like it was equally arrogant and misguided. I think when brandy is matured in new charred oak it can definitely scratch the whiskey itch, but over the years the most satisfying and haunting Armagnacs I've ever tasted ultimately tasted like great Armagnac, rather than a substitute for something else. 

What does that mean exactly? It means today I'm more keen on selecting an Armagnac because it has a brilliant balance of oak and fruit, rather than just power, woody concentration, and richness. These are spirits distilled from wine. They should taste like it! The 2001 Grangerie epitomizes that mindset perfectly because it's not some super dark, incredibly extracted, oak bomb of a brandy that has obliterated any trace of the original grape. It's loaded with vanilla, oak spices, and toasty, woody deliciousness, but the finish is all about the fruit. There are flavors of dried apricot and pear layered into that richness, which is really what I'm after these days. I don't enjoy Bourbon because it tastes like corn, but I definitely do enjoy brandy because it tastes somewhat like fruit. Here you get the best of both worlds: the richness of a whiskey with the fruit of a true Armagnac.

What really made me happy was seeing dozens and dozens of orders go into the queue within the first fifteen minutes of the Grangerie's arrival yesterday after the "waiting list" email went out. Apparently, there were quite a few others eagerly awaiting the return of this prime specimen. I completely understand why!

2001 Chateau de la Grangerie 14 Year Old K&L Exclusive Armagnac $49.99 - Chateau de la Grangerie is a property that was built in the 17th century right next to an old monastery. The church and the housing for its servants was actually built in the 11th and 12th centuries and since the Armagnac is aged inside that facility, it might be the only spirit at K&L matured on hallowed grounds. Like many Tenereze producers, Grangerie distills only ugni blanc for its brandies. However, the sandy and gravel-rich soils are much more like the terrain found in the Bas-Armagnac. They fill about ten barrels a year; two of which are used for Floc de Gascogne and one goes to Pruneau: a prune-flavored brandy made by macerating the Armagnac with the dried fruit also grown on the property. The 2001 is an absolute revelation of baking spices, soft vanilla and pureness of fruit, all perfectly balanced by a gentle layer of oak. At $50, it's instantly one of the best deals in the store with an easy drinkability that's simply off the charts. Sip it straight after a long meal, or mix it into an Old Fashioned in place of Bourbon.

-David Driscoll