It's On

If you already thought it was a great time to be a whiskey drinker, get ready—it's about to get really, really good.

I say that not because whiskey today is better than it's ever been, not because of the industry's currently vast selection of new craft distilleries, and not because exciting young producers are popping up every day, adding depth and intrigue to the booming market.

And not for any other reason you might expect either.

Why is it a great time to be a whiskey fan, you ask? Because you're about to see what happens when an entire retail industry goes to war over pricing due to an oversaturated, overstretched, and overexposed whiskey market that's beginning to buckle under all that extra weight. I've been smelling blood in the water for months and every week that goes by the desperation to move product seems to get stinkier. The tension is now beginning to boil. All the sleazy deals and hidden skeletons that the major players have been attempting to sweep under the carpet are getting exposed. 

Take a seat.

Get some popcorn.

You're in for a treat.

Things began to get interesting yesterday morning when one of the nation's largest retailers put in a formal complaint about our pricing on a particular spirit—one that was actually the result of temporary inventory reduction measures, rather than any actual deal or favorable treatment from the supplier. That little spoiled temper tantrum put into motion a series of further inquiries that shed light on other retailers whose below-wholesale pricing now has a number of other stores pretty upset. I won't go into the nitty gritty details, but if you understand business it's pretty clear what's happening. It's everything I've been predicting since I did my infamous "work is what's next" interview/blog post a while back:

1) the brands and distributors are under pressure to beat last year's numbers

2) there's no way in hell they can, however, because there's too much competition in the market now

3) the sales folk whose jobs are on the line eventually get desperate and cut deals they shouldn't

4) the promises made by the recipients to hold retail prices in line with competitors are immediately broken

5) all hell breaks loose as a result and the market gets flooded with crazy deals 

6) things really heat up when retailers begin shedding inventory to recoup cash against that instability

Don't think this is a bad thing for K&L, however. Personally, I couldn't be happier! I absolutely live for moments like this. I love starting some shit, getting my hands dirty, going deep into the low post and knocking out a few teeth with an elbow before going baseline for the one-handed stuff. I'm predicting some pretty good deals for the rest of 2017. Whiskey drinkers are going to be thrilled, especially when I start dumping stuff at prices too good to be true. 

As the late, great Eazy-E once said: if it's on, then it's on.

So let's get it on, guys. Let's duke it out and let the customers win. I can go all day and all night. 

-David Driscoll


R.I.P. Prodigy

The older I get, the more that music becomes atmosphere to me. It's crazy for me to think about, but almost every modern artist I listen to today religiously is electronic and without vocals, a huge departure from the rock and roll-biased days of my youth. Music is less a statement of interest or a badge of honor in my life at this point, rather it's a catalyst—something that gets my brain working and moving towards some sort of realization or catharsis. In the world of hip-hop, there is no album more atmospheric or earth-shattering in my mind than Mobb Deep's legendary debut The Infamous, what is to me—at this point in my life—perhaps the greatest rap album ever made. 

Dark, dreary, hauntingly melodic, and utterly macabre, there is no The Wire on HBO without Mobb Deep's gritty, mid-nineties depiction of the inner city streets. The album's core—its backbone—are the lush and layered instrumentals, but it's more than that. It's everything. Prodigy's rhymes are ultimately the detailed brushstrokes on that masterpiece canvas. 

Even if you've never downloaded a hip-hop album in your life, you should own a copy of The Infamous. It's that important of a record. Even if you have no idea of its historic context or its avant garde status at the time, I have no doubt you'll be taken by its dream-like atmospherics. It's a lasting memory of a fading era, cut ever more short by this untimely passing.

R.I.P. Prodigy.

-David Driscoll


The Magical Norman Shed – Part II

We’ve been preaching the gospel of Camut for as long as I can remember here at K&L. As I often tell customers, there are few genres of wine and spirits from which I can unequivocally declare a “world’s best,” but in the case of Calvados there’s Camut and then there’s everything else. From the age and condition of the family orchards, to the meticulous sorting process, to the blending and maturation, there’s simply no other distiller in Normandy—or the world, for that matter—who is making fruit spirits with the same complexity, pureness of flavor, and utter awesomeness. I’ve been visiting the Camut brothers—Emmanuel and Jean-Gabriel—at their grandfather’s original estate for seven years now, getting to know the two giants (literally and figuratively—they’re both quite tall!) of apple brandy quite intimately. It wasn’t until my last visit, however (possibly because it was the first time I had spoken to the brothers directly with a more intermediate grasp of the French language), that Emmanuel felt comfortable sharing with me a lingering secret. “I need to show you something, David,” he said to me cryptically after dinner, his voice quivering under the weight of strong drink. “It’s in the shed behind the barn.” I was both intrigued and utterly nervous. Did he have a body hidden back there? Did Emmanuel kill someone? What was in that shed?!!

The answer is over at On the Trail today.

-David Driscoll


The Magical Norman Shed – Part I

Back in the winter of 2015 I travelled with my friend Charles Neal to Normandy in search of a few new Calvados producers. While we've long worked with Domfrontais distiller Lemorton for our regional Calvados needs, this time around Charles and I took a side trip over to their neighbor in Mantilly—a producer called Pacory. One thing that separates the brandies of the Domfrontais from other AOC Calvados spirits is the heavy use of pears in the recipe. Domfrontais brandies generally have 60% or more pear distillate in the eventual blend, adding an entirely different dynamic to the flavor. We wanted to see if we could find something with a "high-pear" cepage, preferably with a little age. We were hoping that Frédéric Pacory might have what we were looking for. It was in this magic shed of his that we found a cornicopia of delicious, well-priced, pear-driven brandies.

One of the interesting aspects of Pacory's production is that Frédéric likes to fill at higher proofs than other producers typically do. That meant that a number of his younger Calvados were still be quite powerful. "Would you be open to bottling these at cask strength?" I asked him, wondering if our cocktail-mixing customers might be interested in something a bit more robust. "Bien sur!" he replied. We tasted two delicious candidates straight from the barrel, one from 2011 made from 70% pear and clocking in at well over 50% ABV. My eyes lit up and my heart began to race. "This is absolutely delicious!" I screamed. Claude looked at me a bit worried. "C'est très, très bon." I reassured him with a smile. He seemed pleased.

After tasting an older vintage brandy, one that was 100% pear-distilled, I knew we had found a winner. Pacory's orchards are 100% hautes tiges, meaning the trees are higher and older in age (as opposed to bas tiges orchards that look more like grape vineyards with their tiny trees in vertical rows). It ultimately takes longer to grow the fruit, of course (as you have to wait many years for the trees to reach maturity before harvesting), but the resulting produce is of a much higher quality for two reasons: 1) the yields are lower and the flavors more concentrated, and 2) hautes tiges trees allow for farm animals to co-exist in the orchards. The cows that live in Pacory's orchards help fertilize the soil with their manure and eat many of the weeds that grow around the trees. It's a symbiotic relationship that creates healthy fruit and ultimately higher-quality Calvados. 

We brought in the brandies from Pacory last year to huge success. Our reinforcements for 2017 have finally arrived.

Domaine Pacory "Reserve" Domfrontais Cask Strength Calvados $39.99 - This five year old brandy is brimming with pure stone fruit flavor, bright apples and robust pear, with lovely weight and balance. The color is a golden yellow, much like a pear itself. Distilled from 70% pear/30% apple, it's highly recommended.

Domaine Pacory 15 Year Old Domfrontais Calvados $59.99 - This 15 year old is a sure-fire winner for any lover of fruit spirits. It's equal parts fruit and oak, neither outshining the efforts of the other. The pear flavor also comes to the forefront right off the bat; ripe juicy pears that meld seamlessly with the richness of the wood. You shouldn't be asking us whether you should buy one at this point; you'll be asking us if we can get more once you taste it.

-David Driscoll


Gin de Mahón

Let's talk about styles of gin. Most whiskey drinkers know what "straight" whiskey means by now, as they also know the difference between a single malt and a blend, thanks to the plethora of data on the internet. But do you gin drinkers know about the various styles of gin, beyond Old Tom and genever? London Dry, for example. Much like Bourbon doesn't have to be made in Kentucky, did you know that London Dry gins don't have to be made in London? The term originates from the era of the first column stills, back when sweeter Old Tom style gins were still the norm, to help differentiate the cleaner, fresher, drier gins from the pack. The term London Dry does carry a few rules and regulations as well: it must be made with all natural botanicals and it prohibits added flavorings after the gin has been distilled. You can make it anywhere though.

Did you know that Plymouth isn't just the name of a famous gin, it's also both a style of gin and for many years an actual appellation? Up until 2015, Plymouth gin could only be made in Plymouth and it the water had to come from Dartmoor. The brand itself decided to pull out of the geographical indication for various logistical reasons, but there are still other examples of regionally-specific gin like this; gin de Mahón, for example. Gin de Mahón must be made in the city of Mahón on the Spanish island of Minorca, of which the most well-known brand is Xoriguer. How did this little piece of land become a gin haven, you ask? It dates back to the 1700s, when the island was used by both the British and Dutch navy who wanted gin to consume while stationed abroad. That fad only lasted as long as the militaries remained, and by the 20th century there were no distilleries left. 

Xoriguer was started by a man named Miguel Gusto, who built the distillery in 1910 from salvaged equipment from its predecessors. Today, it's still going strong almost 100 years later using much of the same equipment (Tristan Stephenson notes that one of the stills is supposed to be more than 200 years old), powered by wood fire. The recipe uses pretty much juniper and that's it, sourced exclusively from the Pyrenees, but the American version we get here apparently has traces of coriander, citrus, and angelica. The spirit itself is quite oily and almost piney, with a heaping dose of fresh juniper on the finish. The Spanish love Xoriguer in gin and tonics, and if you didn't know, they drink a LOT of gin and tonics in Spain.

Xoriguer Mahon Spanish Gin 1L $44.99 - enjoy the liter size!

-David Driscoll