The Rum Classification Dilemma

Let me start off by saying that if you're looking to get into rum, there's no better online destination I've found than Matt Pietrek's Cocktail Wonk blog. Not only does Matt go into extreme detail about some of the geekier, scientific details of production, he manages to do it all with great photos and an approachable attitude. Never once in reading his work have I felt like I was being lectured, or learning from a man that I would never actually want to meet! More importantly, his blog is the exact opposite of this blog. I don't think I'm that great of a writer, but I can write fast. I make grammar mistakes, there are always typos, but there is new content just about every day. Matt, on the other hand, may only add a new post every few weeks, but when he does the work is substantial and all-encompassing. I've been utterly captivated by his website for the last few months, especially since my Bordeaux and Burgundy duties have taken serious time away from my spirits researching. I'm happy to say, however, that thanks to Matt, some speed tasting, my friend Martin Cate, and a number of great books about rum that have been released over the last year, I think I'm back up to market speed. While I've always thought I knew a little something about the category, I took my finger off the pulse of the underground and that's my fault. No longer!

One of the most interesting conversations happening in the rum world right now relates to how we talk about rum (Matt actually attended a panel at the recent Tales of the Cocktail called "Moving Beyond Colour" that you can read about here). As you may or may not know, rum is often labeled and categorized by color: gold, dark, white, etc. The Coruba Dark Jamaican rum pictured above (we have it available in liters), made by J. Wray & Nephew is such an example. You'll sometimes hear dark rums like this referred to as "Planter's rums" as well because of their role in the famous Planter's Punch cocktail, a classic tiki drink made with dark rum and plenty of fresh juices. What a number of industry professionals are pushing for, however, is a new way of thinking about rum via a new classification system, one rooted specifically in how a rum is produced. I'd check out Matt's article linked above if you want to see all of the different takes on the issue, but I'm going to post Martin's system from his Smuggler's Cove book/bar here as I think it's the easiest to understand for those of you coming from a whiskey background:

- Pot Still (unaged, lightly aged, aged, long aged)

- Blended (lightly aged, aged, long aged)

- Column Still (lightly aged, aged, long aged)

- Black (pot still, blended, blended overproofed)

- Cane (Coffey still aged, pot still unaged, pot still aged)

- Cane Martinique AOC (blanc, vieux, long aged)

- Pot Still Cachaça (unaged, aged)

Phew! You can see how complex the rum category is now, right? There are so many different types of rums out there that it can be difficult to manage if you don't know exactly what you're getting into. Many of you already understand the different between pot still spirits (single malt Scotch, Cognac) and column still spirits (Bourbon, rye, Canadian whiskey, Armagnac), but rum (much like blended Scotch) often uses both in a blend. Black refers to rums that have added color and sometimes sugar. Cane refers to rums made from sugarcane juice/syrup rather than molasses. Martinique has its own protected appellation for rhum (like Bordeaux or Burgundy), so it's listed separately. And then there's Brazilian Cachaça. 

If you're curious as to which rums at K&L fit into which categories, stay tuned. We'll get there. Understanding how rum is made is paramount to moving beyond many of its misunderstandings. 

-David Driscoll


The Doctor Is In

Every now and again a spirit sneaks in under the radar and manages to succeed solely on word of mouth press and niche internet popularity (you know, the way Pappy Van Winkle originally started before it became a giant shit storm), surprising you entirely with both its quality and affordability. It doesn't happen often these days, but when it does happen it can be quite exciting. The Doctor Bird rum is such an example. I can see why this bottle has captured the imagination of our insider crowd right now.

Brought in by Two James Distillery in Detroit, Doctor Bird is made from Worthy Park pot still rum, aged for more than six years in Jamaica before being shipped to Michigan and filled into fresh Moscatel Sherry Casks. Those of you who enjoyed the tropical funk and ester-driven flavors of our recent Golden Devil releases will go bananas for this. It's bottled at 100 proof, has a lovely sweet wine finish (reminiscent of something like the Glenmorangie Nectar d'Or aged in Sauternes casks), and it comes in at a more than reasonable $24.99 (at least for now it does). 

In this budding age of rum rejuvenation, we've seen a growing interest in the unsweetened, unadulterated rums of both Barbados and Jamaica, but in my mind there's no question which island has the upper hand in terms of character. I've been quite pleased with the new full proof releases from Foursquare that have had our spirits customers buzzing over the last few months, and I've been even more excited about how crazy the demand has been. They're fun, tasty, and they're dialed up at the high proofs that today's modern spirits fans are looking for.

In my own personal opinion, however, the Jamaican rums are the pinnacle of rum excellence. They're not crossover rums. They're not obvious rums that everyone will like right off the bat from the very first sip. They're rums for rum drinkers—the kind of thing you enjoy only after an initiation period into the intensity that pure pot distilled rums offer. I like that. I like that there's still an opportunity in today's world of instant gratification to nurture a slow appreciation for a complex and profound flavor profile. That excites me.

If you're still exploring the world of rum and you're not quite sure Jamaican pot still rums are for you, don't feel like you have to go all the way in right away. The Appleton 12 year is a fantastic introduction to the genre that offers the essence of that pot still flavor with more richness from the column still rum blended in. To me, it's the category's great sipping rum. When you're ready to dial it up, however; know that the Doctor is in and he's gaining quite the reputation for quality.

-David Driscoll


A Very Special Bordeaux Dinner (and Opportunity!)

As many of you know, I took over a number of our head wine buying duties last Fall and I'm now heavily involved in both the Bordeaux and Burgundy departments, traveling with our owners to taste each new vintage moving forward. During that time I've made a number of friendships and acquaintances, which I've continued to develop and maintain via email. When I made my first official en primeur trip to Bordeaux in 2016, I was most taken and impressed by the wines of Hélène Garcin-Lévéque, the owner of chateaux Barde-Haut, Clos l'Eglise, Poesia, and d'Arce on Bordeaux's Right Bank. Based in St. Emilion, she was my Bordeaux counterpart—a person firmly interested in tradition, but willing to buck the old ways when necessary in the interest of inclusivity. She was the only person who didn't serve us beef when we visited her home, and her youthful approach to wine enjoyment captivated me immediately. 

So why am I telling you this here on the spirits blog?

I'm not the Bordeaux guy (yet) who's going to wax philosophically about how the 1962 Lafite was better than the 1985. I don't have those chops at this point in my career. I'm simply here to bring you on the journey with me, just like I've been doing with spirits for the last eight years. While I can't give you the level of expertise I'd like to at this point (although every day I get a bit better) I can create opportunities for my customers to have their own epiphanies, while gaining some insight into what might be a new and exciting hobby. That's why I've put together one of the coolest dual events ever, one that should be of equal interest to the Bordeaux veteran and newcomer. On Thursday, August 31st we'll have a Redwood City in-store tasting with Hélène between 5 PM and 6:30 PM where you can walk in and taste previews of the fantastic 2015 vintage (still not yet released!), along with a few other gems for a mere five bucks.

Pretty cool, right? I had to fly all the way to France to taste those samples, but you can drive over to the Redwood City store and taste them for only a few dollars.

That's not it though. 

If you want to go even further, you can join us at Donato afterward at 7:30 PM for a pre-fixe dinner where Hélène will unveil advance samples of the even more heralded 2016 vintage, one that has been heavily lauded for the last few months during our en primeur campaign. You'll get the chance to taste wines that so far only wine writers and retailers have had the chance to taste, and you'll get to compare them with the 2014 vintage, as well as library editions from 2000 and 2005. 

You not only get to do this, you also get to eat dinner with one of Bordeaux's iconic personalities and (in true David Driscoll fashion) you're going to get to do it for only fifty bucks.

Let's recap:

August 31st - special Redwood City walk-in tasting - 5 PM to 6:30 PM - $5

2015 Clos d'Eglise (sold for $80 on pre-arrival)

2015 Barde-Haut (sold for $35 on pre-arrival)

- 2015 Poesia (sold for $40 on pre-arrival)

2015 d'Arce (sold out at $17)

- plus a few other gems

August 31st - special K&L dinner at Donato - 7:30 PM - $50

2016 Clos d'Eglise $99.99

2016 Barde-Haut $37.99

2016 d'Arce $14.99

2014 Clos d'Eglise $64.99

2014 Barde-Haut $29.99

2014 d'Arce $16.99

- 2005 Clos l'Eglise $169.99

- 2000 Barde-Haut $69.99

- all of the above wines, and dinner for fifty bucks. 

You can reserve your spot below. I only have room for forty people and I'm offering them to the spirits blog readers first because I think this is an amazing opportunity for budding Bordeaux enthusiasts. I can promise you that as soon I as send this out to the Bordeaux list, there will be people fighting for every spot available and they will be gone in a heartbeat. I'd like to see some new blood in the category, however.

I hope some of you can make it out, either to the in-store tasting, or the dinner, or both!

A Special Bordeaux Dinner w/ Helene Garcin @ Donato, Redwood City - August 31st; 7:30 PM - $50 - Join us at Donato Enoteca in Redwood City on Thursday, August 31st as we sit down with esteemed Bordeaux winemaker Helene Garcin-Leveque for a very special sneak peak of the heralded 2016 vintage with preview samples of her Clos l'Eglise, Barde-Haut, and d'Arce properties. Also included will be a side by side look at the current 2014 releases, as well as special library editions of 2000 Barde-Haut and 2000 Clos l'Eglise. The cost of the tasting, your pre-fixe meal, and gratuity are all included for an amazing price of only fifty dollars. Space is very limited and tickets are first come, first served. 

-David Driscoll


Special Whiskey Tasting in SF Tomorrow

If you're in downtown San Francisco tomorrow between 5 - 6:30 PM, then you should come by the K&L on Harrison Street to meet Steve Beam and taste some of his Limestone Branch editions for Luxco. We'll be opening the Minor Case Sherry Cask Finished rye whiskey, as well as the Yellowstone Bourbon, and another whiskey to be named later (although I'm thinking maybe the Rebel Yell Reserve so we can get a little wheated action going). I'll be there to help support the cause and the tasting is free of charge! What do you have to lose besides a few brain cells?

See you there!

-David Driscoll


Rules of the Road

I get a lot of emails from people who want to know what the rules of drinking are. I'm also subjected to endless opinion where people say ridiculous and sweeping statements in unrequested quests to either enforce these rules or fully reject them. Normally I try to evade these rabbit holes as lightly as possible with quick and breezy responses because it's not a subject I enjoy, but after someone forwarded me an article about ice in whiskey this morning, I felt a bit of diarrhea building up in my mouth and I had to let it out. 

If someone told me they never put ice in their whiskey because they didn't like it, I would probably shrug and say "to each their own."

But when most people say "I never put ice in my whiskey" it's usually followed by a haughty rationale that has something to do with how much respect they have for the craft and the heritage of whiskey. It's usually some sort of melodramatic hogwash that makes you throw up in your mouth just a little bit. 

Rejecting the rules or taking a more liberal mindset—a laissez-faire approach, if you will—doesn't necessarily work either. There are moments in life where having at least some respect for decorum and tradition is important. If I'm visiting the queen of England, I want to know what the expectations are for my behavior. If I'm dining in Tokyo with the heads of Suntory, I'm going to brush up on Japanese dinner table etiquette. Not because I want to impress these people, mind you, or show them that I'm cultured, but because I don't want to do something to upset them or embarrass myself. 

It's the intention, in my opinion, that separates rule followers from one another. Believe it or not, many people follow rules not to avoid attention, but rather to welcome it. 

When I was finishing up my BA in San Diego, I took a number of political courses in which my fellow students were practically tripping over themselves to show the professor how much they understood and agreed with his opinions. In one particular case, the more they followed the professor's lead, the happier he was and the better he treated them. If you voiced an opinion that was contrary to their mindset, you were immediately attacked by the gang of sycophants (and you think you're sending your kids away to be cultured and have their minds opened!). The rules of the classroom were no different than the politics of life, which is ultimately the same foundation for the rules of drinking. 

The rules you should follow in the wine world depend entirely on who you want to impress. The French snobs? The Napa cabernet bros? The natural wine hippies? Or the food and wine sommeliers? The same goes for whiskey. Who are you trying to fit in with? The Bourbon geeks? The single malt maniacs? The cocktail crazies? There's a completely different set of rules for each group, just like high school. You wanna hang out with the goth kids, go buy a Bauhaus t-shirt and ten pairs of black Levis. You wanna be down with the Bourbon crowd? Pick a fight with an NAS whiskey producer on social media and needle them about transparency. You'll be welcomed with open arms.

I'm happy to help when people ask me about simple booze protocol because I understand that no one wants to embarrass themselves by not understanding the guidelines. The people I try to avoid, however, are the ones who want to understand the rules in order to embarrass you! They're the strictest rule followers of all and the most stringent of enforcers because they live to point out the various faux pas of others. In their minds, the rules are there to be mastered not abided. 

It's a contest, and I'm not interested in competing. I'm here to drink.

-David Driscoll