Navigation
Sunday
Jun102018

The Wait Is Over.

 

It’s been a hell of a Championship weekend. The Capitals won Lord Stanley’s Cup on Thursday, Warriors steam-rolled the Cavs on Friday, Justify took the Triple Crown on Saturday, and now…Woodinville Whiskey has arrived! The American Distilling Institute crowned Woodinville Bourbon Whiskey of the Year in 2016. And just like the Warriors, they went back to back with Rye of the Year in 2017. Now in 2018, Woodinville is finally available outside of Washington State!

What makes a champion whiskey? People don’t want sourced whiskey with dubious label claims about a 200 year history. They want an authentic product, made well, and a company with the patience to turn it into great whiskey before trying to sell it. Woodinville founders Brett and Orlin heard the message loud and clear. When they opened in 2010, Woodinville worked hard and delivered.

From conception they set out to build something focused around their community in Washington and on extraordinary quality. You can’t make great whiskey without great grain. They found third generation farmers who know their land and know what it takes to pull the best grains from the earth. Then they made a commitment to that farm and joined the family. All of Woodinville’s grain is grown on the Omlin Family Farm in Quincy, Washington.

Despite a passion for whiskey and a tremendous vision, Brett and Orlin didn’t have extensive experience making whiskey, so they sought out the best teacher. From Day 1, the distillery set up and operation has been guided by David Pickerell, famous for his 14 years as master distiller at Maker’s Mark. From the incredible foundation of great farming and distilling knowledge they added the most important trait for making great whiskey: patience.

Everything they make goes into 53 gallon barrels. No short cuts here. They wisely limited their early releases to their local market while building stocks for the future. As the whiskey quietly aged, Woodinville raked-in award after award. But without a trip to the Evergreen State, you couldn’t get a bottle. Until now. It’s finally time to reap the rewards of their patience and forethought. Their two incredible flagship whiskeys were just released exclusively in Northern California.

Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Coming in between 5 and 6 years old, the bourbon is a high rye mash. It sings with sweet corn, beautiful spice, a little chocolate, and a mellow finish. It’s rich and smooth. It’s absolutely wonderful on its own or in an Old Fashioned.

Woodinville Straight 100% Rye Whiskey
Pour the rye in your glass and you can't help but be struck by the nose. It is ethereal. I was taken aback by the wonderful fruitiness to it. The baking spices make an obvious appearance and meld with the fruity tones perfectly. The palate is full of honey, bits of pepper, a touch of fresh cut grass, and cinnamon sugar. The finish is stunningly long.

Remarkably, the most incredible achievement of Brett and Orlin isn’t necessarily the whiskey itself. It’s the fact that they’ve done all of this and managed to sell both the rye and bourbon for under 40 bucks! It’s the creation of real value that makes them champions in my book.

 

- Andrew Whiteley

Friday
Jun082018

Oof...

It's been a rough week for both the hospitality and the fashion worlds. Two pioneers in their respective industries lost, leaving the nation mourning and shocked. Anthony Bourdain was one of the first voices to get me interested in food and booze. I read Kitchen Confidential after senior year in high school and it probably changed the trajectory of my life more than any single source. I still believe strongly in values of "Système D" as described in The Nasty Bits. Not that I necessarily envied the grueling, greasy world behind those swinging shiny kitchen doors, but because it gave me the confidence to consider with world of food, wine, and whisky an actual career.

This man and legendary drinker is one the most integral influences in the dramatic opening of American culture to the wide wide world of food over the last two decades. Always fighting for the underdog and attacking many of the most powerful elements in his industry and others, one thing he proved was that speaking truth to power could be meaningful. His biting style -intelligent, irreverent, sardonic, yet undeniably just- will remain a timeless source of power for the underdog in this industry. The revelation that life can be about sensual experience, hedonism over egoism, without diminishing one's commitment to what's right and good in the world will be the legacy that I cling to always.  

Even with that commitment to pleasure, experience, and love - life is still filled with pain. And today we are all hurting, but we can't let pain win. If you're feeling like it's all too much -please talk. Tell your friends or your parents. Likewise, if you think a friend or family member seems distant or different, don't shrug it off. Stop them, talk to them, be annoying has hell if you have to. Tell them you love them, tell them they matter, tell them that you value them. Tell them that their existence is the source of your joy. Even if they don't want to hear it, repeat it. Nothing breeds belief like repetition. Love wins, love wins, love wins...

-David Othenin-Girard

Friday
Jun082018

The K&L Brandies

Since the beginning of their brandy program back in 2012, K&L has brought in a lot of French brandy, much of which is hard to find anywhere else in the U.S. David Othenin-Gerard just got back from France, so hopefully there will be more to come.  I thought it might be handy to list out some of the domaines I've really enjoyed from the K&L brandy program
 
Type: Armagnac 
Region: Tenareze 
Grapes: Folle Blanche 
Vintages: 1973, 1978, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2001 
 
K&L seems to get a steady stream from this Tenareze house including multiple ages from some of these vintages.  These are some of my favorite brandies and they tend to be very consistent with a characteristic balance of fruit and spice. I especially like the 1990s bottles. 
 
Domaine de Baraillon 
Type: Armagnac 
Region: Bas Armagnac 
Grapes: Baco/Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche 
Vintages: 10 yo, 1893, 1933, 1974, 1976, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1995, 2003 
 
More than any other spirit, Baraillon made me a brandy drinker. They are a bit more inconsistent than Pellehaut and sometimes they need a lot of air, but at their best, they are unrivaled and full of spicy/earthy goodness. I particularly like the '70s and '80s vintages and tend to prefer the Baco/Ugni blends to the Folle Blanche.  
 
Type: Armagnac 
Region: Tenareze 
Grapes: Ugni Blanc 
Vintages: 1964, 1993, 1994, 2000, 2001, 2005 
 
Grangerie was most popular for the very affordable 50 year old from 1964, but my favorites have been the stuff from the 2000s. This is one of the few brandies I prefer young. 
 
Cardinat 
Type: Armagnac 
Region: Bas Armagnac 
Grapes: Folle Blanche, Colombard, Baco, Ugni Blanc 
Vintages: 1981, 1987, 1992 
 
There were only three of these, but man were they good...and different, from the oak monster 1981 to the spicy/earthy 1992.  I hope there will be more one day (hint, hint).  
 
Domaine de Pouchegu 
Type: Armagnac 
Region: Tenareze 
Grapes: Baco  
Expressions: 1986 
 
There was only one bottle from this domaine which is no longer in production, but it was fantastic -  spicy/fruity/oaky and very complex.  A real bourbon lover's brandy.  I was excited to hear that there will be a few more coming in soon.  
 
Domaine de Jean Bon 
Type: Armagnac 
Region: Bas Armagnac 
Grapes: Baco 
Vintages: 1974, 1979, 1987, 1990, 1995, 1999 
 
These were nice and fruity.  
 
Type: Armagnac 
Region: Bas Armagnac 
Grapes: Baco 
Vintages: XO, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1995 
 
Brandies from this small domaine tend to be dry and spicy with ginger, menthol, clove and lemon.  
 
Type: Calvados 
Region: Domfrontais 
Fruit: Pears and apples. 
Expressions: Reserve, 15 yo, 2010 
 
Pacory is one of the few Calvados producers from which K&L has been able to bring in multiple expressions. I really love these pear heavy brandies.

-Sku
Wednesday
Jun062018

Peat, Love, and Rock 'N Roll

 

A bit late is better than never. I guess we should have expected it from these goddamned hippies in Scotland. Luckily, the good vibes are endlessly mellowing at Ardbeg and all is forgiven after one sip of the new release from that special little distillery at the end of the road on Islay's south shore. We got a decent chunk and no we do not have the Committee Release any longer, sorry. This guy is pretty dang tasty, so quit harshing the vibe and get with the Grooves... 

Ardbeg "Grooves" Limited Edition Islay Single Malt Whisky (750ml) $109.99

The ever popular Limited Edition from Ardbeg is a yearly release that's slightly more available than the Committee Release from a few months previous. This year's release is another unusual experiment and a throwback to the summer of love. Back in the late 60s, the tiny hamlet of Ardbeg thrived on the southern coast of Islay, a de facto commune on that far flung island on the western coast of Scotland, the queen of the Hebrides. There, a small community enjoyed an alternative lifestyle in one of the world's most unique locals. This era of openness and love inspired this special whisky. It begins with Islay's most heavily peated whisky. There's not too much detail about the process, but one assume they begin with reused American oak. Then the whisky is aged for an undisclosed amount of time in a heavily charred red wine cask. The casks are not cleaned or shaved before charring and the resulting pattern is what gives the name. Similar to the old Alligator, the new charred oak with the sweat intensely peated malt is a match made in heaven. Add the caramelized fruit and spice of the red wine casks and you've got one of the most exciting and unique Ardbegs yet to be released. Expect big smoke, deep candied apple, and sweet smoked fruit. A totally groovy experiment from our good friends on the south shore.

-David Othenin-Girard

Tuesday
Jun052018

Gascogne Day #3: La Vie Gersois

After spending time in Gascogne, falling in love with the people and products made here, I imagine that this would be the ultimate destination for any foodie craving an authentic experience. It’s certainly not an easy place to get to, and, beyond the Chemin de St-Jacques that meanders its way through the region, there’s very little tourism. I discussed the reasons for that with my friends Bernard and Vero in Montréal-du-Gers on Sunday. You may remember some of the insane meals that they’d prepared for us over the years at Bernard’s restaurant Chez Daubin. For a number of reasons, Bernard and Vero were forced to close the doors to the special spot in Montréal, and they’d spent the last year in Aix where Bernard worked in a kitchen at some swanky restaurant.

Needless to say that was not the life they wanted to live. So when I pulled into Montréal on Sunday afternoon after eight days straight of travel and meetings, I was filled with joy to see Bernard and Vero at the café on the town square eating oysters and sipping Gascogne Blanc. The whole town was out enjoying the gorgeous weather, and I’d happened on the festivities by chance. After nearly two years away, I simply walked back into their lives and it was as if nothing had changed. We talked about work, family, responsibility, and particularly that most unique and enigmatic condition that afflicts all who accept it, “La Vie Gascogne.”

While Bernard forced oysters and wine on me, Vero talked about how incredibly difficult it was to make a living in this tiny town serving food that the locals had no interest in. I was genuinely shocked that they weren’t able to keep the restaurant open considering the incredible quality I’d experienced there. But, Bernard was unpredictable, stubborn, and uncompromising, personality traits that work great if the Chef doesn’t leave the Kitchen.

But at Chez Daubin, Bernard isn’t just back of the house, he IS the house. If someone doesn’t like his food, he’s just as likely to kick them out as he might be to cook their magret further. And in a tiny town with mostly hikers and religious pilgrims visiting, that sort of bullheadedness, despite how authentically Gascogne it may be, is not great for business. That’s not to say that Bernard doesn’t have his proponents. He’s known throughout the region (for better or worse) and has garnered an incredible following of people who came to eat from all over France. Nonetheless, to continue on as usual was just too much for the pair.

So they’ve blown up their old way of life to try something new. I suggested he call it, “Omakase Daubin.” I’m not sure the name will stick, but he’s done cooking for anyone but himself. The idea is to close the restaurant and turn it into a supper club. In order to get access, you must have the card. In order to get the card you must have access. This concept that’s become extremely popular in Los Angeles at some of the most high-end Japanese restaurants, and it strikes the perfect balance for someone like Bernard. He can spend the week preparing and catering and schedule two or three nights of dinners over the weekend. He’ll have more flexibility and less overhead, not to mention total control over who actually shows up. And it’s a concept that is altogether foreign for many in Gascogne.

As we moved into the old restaurant to eat a little lunch I asked Vero about why the people of Gascogne don’t do more to attract tourists. Over a plate of sashimi du Gascogne and this delicious duck andouillette (yes that’s duck stuffed into pork intestines), I  found myself trying to figure out why we don’t see more food tourists, Francophiles, history buffs, and general interest in this wonderful little region. It’s impossible to understand why the incredible rise in interest in French food and culture hasn’t resulted in increased interest in one of the most historical and important sources for both. I asked Veronique about why the Gersois don’t do more to attract international tourism. She was a bit coy in her response; she explained that people here do not like change.

You see, once you’re in, you’re in for life. They’ll share everything with you. But, if you’re out they don’t want you in. While they’re perfectly hospitable and gracious hosts, they simply don’t want to include everyone in this special way of life for the simple reason that it’s precious and seems like it needs to be guarded. In retrospect, it took me years to ingratiate myself here, and as I learn the culture it becomes easier to connect with people I meet. It’s a catch 22 considering the region desperately needs more tourism and outside money, yet locals aren’t actively interested in bringing them here. The level of skepticism toward the outside world reminds me of my own home country. Only the Swiss have a more broad definition of what it means to be a stranger. It’s not easy to achieve, but once you’re in you’re in for good. And once you catch the sickness, that deep aching love for this place, you can never shake it. Your affliction is a badge of honor here, something people here can sense on you. It’s a shared passion and pain that endears you to your fellow participant in “la Vie.”

I shared this feeling with the man I met the following day, Mr. Denis Lesgourgues. His family has run one of the most prominent and well-regarded Armagnac estates since 1974, Château de Laubade. It’s situated on a pristine 260-acre single vineyard outside of the town of Nogaro, in the tiny village of Sorbets. The Château was originally constructed in 1870, but rose to national prominence when French statesman and agronomist Joseph Noulens took over in 1904. His second wife was the influential fashion designer Jeanne Paquin, who dressed queens throughout Europe and contributed significantly to the international reputation of the wonderful estate.

Over the last 35 years, the Lesgourgues Family has been determined to resurrect the historic prominence of this unique property. The beautiful site is spotted with modern art, designed by resident artists commission by the family to create art inspired by the gorgeous surroundings. From the beginning, they began by amassing a portfolio of aged Armagnac from small producers across the region and now represent some of the largest stocks of old brandy. They’re also committed to creating an authentic representation of the famous brandy, but aren’t so stuck in tradition that they’re unwilling to experiment. Almost everything they bottle uses multiple grapes varieties, as they believe that each provides a unique element to create a whole picture of what this special brandy is about.

While I still believe the best things they’re doing are the full-strength, undiluted single barrel -something not generally marketed in the states- there is no question that, of the larger scale producers, Château de Laubade is one of the best. Few are so connected to the land and completely devoted to the production at this scale at such a high quality level. For example, the estate is more than four times bigger than the Domaine Boignieres in Le Frêche to the north. We’re trying to coax some single-cask cask strength out of the vast cellars at Laubade and I’m convinced we will one day achieve that goal. Nonetheless, we’ll have some high-proof offerings from them soon and hopefully build a relationship going forward that will allow us access to some of their amazing stock.

This eye-opening and all-too-quick trip to France’s Southwest has finally come to an end with one final stop, thanks to my friend Denis, Brasserie Bordelaise. A little taste of Armagnac after a poulet rôti and a glass of Bordeaux leaves you in an utter state of bliss, desperate to cling to this special way of life. We can only approximate this state of being and thank god we can take a little piece of the story home and savor its complexities for hours: that golden nectar in all its idiosyncratic glory, the perfect allegory for the unusual place from which it came, warming you like the embrace of an old friend who will never forget you.

-David Othenin-Girard