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Friday
Aug042017

Pellehaut Jackpot!

It's always nice to catch up with old friends and have a little reunion to see how everyone's life has evolved over time. There are a number of folks from Modesto I haven't seen in years that I'd love to catch up with, but in the meantime I'm visiting with some old vintages from Pellehaut that I haven't tasted in ages! They've all been stewing about the barrel, gaining complexity, and some are a little fatter than I remember (aren't we all?), but they're all doing quite well. You recognize them, don't you? Familiar faces, a little bit older, but all happy to see you! Let me give you an update as to their individual conditions:

2001 Chateau de Pellehaut 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Tenareze Armagnac $62.99 - Now 16 years of age and at 49.8%, this little number is just as I remember it: full of sweet oak spices, but now with more fruit and even a floral element that comes through from the folle blanche. Those looking for Armagnac that tastes like brandy will love this. It has the richness of a great whiskey, but it's totally vinous on the finish with raisins and grapey elements that linger long. Fantastic.

2000 Chateau de Pellehaut 17 Year Old K&L Exclusive Tenareze Armagnac $69.99 - Now at 17 years of age and at 49.7%, the 2000 vintage—like the 2001—is also distilled from folle blanche, but it couldn't be more different in its flavor profile despite being just a year apart. This one is for Bourbon drinkers as it's loaded with oak, peppery spice, woody richness, and lots of vanilla on the finish. This is very much like an American whiskey, and quite a delicious one at that!

1996 Chateau de Pellehaut 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive Tenareze Armagnac $79.99 - Now at 21 years of age and at 50%, this is one of the most legendary vintages of Pellehaut we've ever carried and I was under the impression it was all done. Apparently not! My buddy Charles was able to go back and snag a few more cases for me, which is exciting to say the least. This 1996 is the ULTIMATE Bourbon crossover. In fact, if you poured this for me blind there's no way in hell I would ever guess brandy. Anyone who tells you differently is lying. This is pretty much a 100 proof bottle of 21 year old Bourbon that happens to come in a French Armagnac bottle. It's monstrously powerful, bold and assertive, loaded with spice and absolutely saturated in oak. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to traditional Armagnac fans. I would however jump up and down trying to convince Bourbon fans to at least try a bottle. The folle blanche flavors have definitely become more nuanced with age. 

1986 Chateau de Pellehaut 31 Year Old K&L Exclusive Tenareze Armagnac $89.99 - Now at 31 years of age and at 48%, the 1986 is the big winner of the Pellehaut reunion. It's better integrated, sexier, more seductive, and all around better than it was years ago when we last had it in stock. Simply put, this is the perfect expression of Armagnac. It has loads of richness, oak spice, and sweetness, but it also has traditional brandy character. It's raisined and round with gobs of fruit on the finish that start quite creamy, but then flutter out into more spiciness. This is the whole package. Distilled from ugni blanc.

1973 Chateau de Pellehaut 44 Year Old K&L Exclusive Tenareze Armagnac $159.99 - Now at 44 years of age and at 43.8%, the 1973 is just as soft and enticing as it's always been. If you're someone who likes your aged booze smooth, silky, supple, and effortless, this is the brandy for you. Creamy and round with plenty of wood, the spice has become almost herbaceous at this point and it plays nicely of the vanilla. This tastes much more expensive than it is.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Aug032017

Rum(blings) Down South

After watching over a hundred different customers from all over the country scramble to get their bottle of the Foursquare Criterion rum last week, it's clear that we've got something of a rum movement on our hands. The question I have to ask is: are rum fans interested in rum the same way early whiskey geeks from the last decade were originally interested in whiskey? To give you an example, when I first started learning about single malt and Bourbon, I wanted to try everything. I wanted to find cool new producers, dig into every nook and cranny, and search out the most interesting bottles I could possibly find. I went all over Scotland, all over Kentucky, into every liquor store and every dead-end bodega I could find, hoping each location might have something out of the ordinary to sample. When it comes to rum, I'm clear on what the collector market is after: pot still Jamaican funk, full proof Bajan spice, and ancient Guyanese treasures. Are we willing to go further, however?

What about something outside of that limited idiom? What about an American secret that's been making rum right under our noses for almost a decade and who started the project back in 1999? Not just rum, mind you, but single estate rum from its own home grown sugar cane. Georgia's Richland Rum has come to K&L and Bourbon drinkers might want to take notice. While Foursquare rum might have the backing of the greater Bourbon community, I don't think there's a specimen in the category that more resembles American whiskey than Richland. 

The question you have to ask with Richland is: do you want rum that tastes like rum, or rum that tastes like Bourbon? Because if you want rum to taste like rum, Richland doesn't taste like any rum I've ever had. To me, it tastes like Heaven Hill or LDI single barrel juice. Maybe that's because it's aged in standard size virgin oak barrel made from Wisconsin white oak. I get a hint of sweet sugar cane on the nose, but from the first sip, to the mid-palate, to the rich and spicy finish I get baking spices, sweet oak, and loads of wood. Founded in the late nineties by Erik Vonk, Richland is no Johnny-come-lately to the booze game, but in order to create a single estate rum you first have to create the estate. It wasn't until 2011 that Richland bottled its first rums, distilled on a small alembic pot still from his its own sugar cane syrup. It wasn't until 2017, however, the Richland decided to reach out to some of California's key retailers in the hope of taking its rum mission beyond Georgia's borders. In a spirits market that continues to be dominated by Bourbon fever, they've got the right flavor profile.

If you're seriously geeky about rum, and happen to have a taste for American whiskey, I'd recommend checking out a bottle. This is the first American rum (beyond St. George's limited agricole series) that I think establishes a new American genre. There's a lot of good information and photos on their official website as well. As of now it's available on the website and in the stores!

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Aug022017

Summer Continues!

Not even the horribly bad photo lighting in our Redwood City tasting bar can spoil the vibrancy of these two new summer arrivals. One of them is a perfect summer whisky and the other is literally called "summer!" In writing the news and notes from yesterday's post, I realized I never did a formal blog for another of our great summer whiskies from Old Particular: the Fettercairn 21 year. Unfortunately, that one is already destined for the history books given the rush of sales this week, but I'll throw the link in above. It's a delicious bottle, but I'm on to the next one now; especially since it's from my favorite Highland distillery!!

I'd highly recommend picking up a bottle of each of these for your August drinking needs. They're both sensational spirits that perfectly reflect the weather outside. Plus, they're both really well priced for what they are.

2005 Benrinnes 12 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $49.99 - Over the last four years we've completely fallen in love with Benrinnes distillery, one of Diageo's Johnnie Walker satellites that rarely sees the light of day as a single malt release. There's something inherently joyful about the whisky from Benrinnes; there's a freshness and a vibrancy that sings from the glass no matter the age, proof, or type of cask that it's been aged in. Their staff members are much the same. Upon our last visit to the facility, we showed up unannounced and were welcomed with such incredible hospitality and friendliness that we left Benrinnes even bigger fans than we already were. Since that time, we've purchased almost every single cask of Benrinnes that's come our way and our customers have responded with a similar enthusiasm. This 12 year old edition from the Highland distillery is brimming with sweet grains, vanilla, creamy malt, and round summer fruits on the finish. At 56.7% ABV, those characteristics are dialed up and intensified, but the whisky is still quite drinkable without water. Rocks drinkers will be thrilled, however, as a couple of cubes don't dilute any of the potency. There's very little that can diminish the unbridled Highland malt character of Benrinnes, which is why we're head over heels in love with this whisky.

Leopold Bros. "Summer" Limited Edition Gin $27.99 - Part of a new season series of gins, Leopold's "Summer" Gin is a 47% ABV limited release from the Colorado brothers who have paved the way for artisanal distillation in the U.S. Made with their trademark blending process, in which each botanical is distilled individually into its own spirit and married afterward, the Summer recipe includes juniper, blood oranges, lemon myrtle, and coriander. It has the freshness and the spice of a classic London dry gin, but the citrus and fruit of something like Four Pillars. It's the perfect ingredient for your summer gin and tonic, for as long as we can manage to stock it! Highly recommended.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Jul312017

News & Notes

Just a few things to keep you all up to speed with for the upcoming week. Let's go down the list:

- It turns out that even with the allocations put on both the Bomberger and Shenk's releases from Michter's, it wasn't enough to ration out the rush. Both whiskies are already sold out in CA and there are no reinforcements scheduled for the time being, so ignore what I said previously about ongoing allocations. There's nothing left to allocate, so be happy if you managed to snag a bottle!

- There will be a few more bottles of Whistlepig's "Black Prince" landing up north this week. At $500 a pop you might not expect these babies to move all that quickly (at least I didn't), but that shows you what I know. We blew through the SoCal allocation in minutes. 

- We'll have a special Tuesday night spirits tasting in the San Francisco store next week, in addition to our usual Wednesday night affair. Luxco's Steve Beam will be in the house to taste you on the Rebel Yell wheated Bourbons and talk all things whiskey. That's a freebie, of course, as we cannot charge for spirits tastings, so if you want to taste delicious Bourbon on the house make sure you stop by on August 8th from 5 PM to 6:30.

- The email for the Fettercairn 21 year from Old Particular went out this morning. We tore through about 100 bottles in the first few hours, so don't sleep on that deal if you were eyeballing that whisky. I don't think it will last the week.

- The Leopold brothers are stepping up their game with a new series of seasonal gins, the first of which is called "Summer." This should be popping up on the website mid-week and it's a steal of a deal at $27.99. As you may or may not know, Todd Leopold distills each botanical individually, then blends the spirits together to make the final product. There's a heavy proportion of blood orange in this new concoction and it lit my taste buds up. Totally yummy.

- I'm still in Vegas until tomorrow, but I'm working remotely today. I spent the whole weekend shopping in the casinos and analyzing the retail trends of fashion first growths like Gucci, Prada, and Ferragamo, doing some comparative analytics. Gucci in particular has seriously stepped up its game, as has Kate Spade, and both designers are doing limited edition garmets, shoes, and clothing selections based on location. The Caesar's Gucci location was spectacular—like an art distillation. It was awe inspiring, and I'm not normally a Gucci fan. There were loads of foreign tourists hoarding in to get the exclusive merchandise, which made me think back to a time when customers would email me angrily about how difficult shopping for whiskey had become.

"I have to work, dammit! I can't just spend all day online shopping for hard-to-find bottles!" people would write.

Women, however, have always known how competitive shopping can be and many consider it a sport as a result. It's only now that the men are beginning to understand the concept, with Bourbon, and retro Nintendos, and various other manly must-haves becoming difficult to source.

Welcome to the show, guys! Shopping is most definitely a competition. That's what makes it so much fun when you win! But you have to spend time doing it to get better at it. In Vegas, for example, the best things are never available online. You can still dig for treasure here.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Jul302017

Scenes from the Desert – Part II

Take a look at the above photo. If this room looks like your worst nightmare—like a room you'd never be caught dead in—then we're probably never going to be friends. However, if this room looks like the coolest, vintage, kitschy lounge you've ever seen, then you'd probably enjoy running around Vegas with me. I've been wanting to go to the Peppermill since I saw Sharon Stone kiss Robert DeNiro there in Casino. Since it's open twenty-four hours and has a decidedly lengthy menu, we decided to go there for breakfast before hitting the northern outlets. The bar (above) was dead at 8 AM, but the diner itself was packed. The bar menu is an absolute spectacle—packed with various neon colored tiki drinks in tall glasses with long straws. I could spend all night here and never get bored. This is the Vegas I love. 

When you dine at a gangster lounge, you should eat like a gangster. Protein to help fortify the stomach against the coming onslaught of non-stop walking and non-stop drinking. Legit steak and eggs at the Peppermill. I would have done a Bloody Mary to boot, but I'm not that much of a lush. Even 8 AM is too early for me.

When it was time to finally quench my insatiable thirst, I was still in the mood for tiki drinks after lusting over that long list at the Peppermill. Normally I would have to wait in line for over and hour just to get a seat at San Francisco's premier rum spot Smuggler's Cove (because Martin has done an amazing job there), but here I can walk into Rhumbar at the Mirage and sit down whenever I damn please. I did just that today at 1 PM and there wasn't a person in sight. I even get a real waterfall to look at while I drink.

The important thing to remember about Vegas is that its smarter than you think it is. Remember the scene from Swingers where Jon Favreau thinks the waitress didn't understand his "pancakes in the age of enlightment" joke (the menu said "breakfast served any time")? Turns out she understood the joke, she just didn't feel like playing along with an asshole who was trying way too hard. Vegas, in general, can often behave the same way. It's not going to pander to pedants. It doesn't have anything to prove. For example, you might look at the happy hour menu at Rhumbar, see the $5 Bud Lights and strawberry vodka coolers, and think, "This place doesn't have good drinks." But when you go inside and sit down, you can get a Trader Vic Mai Tai made with Appleton, Cointreau, orgeat, and lime, along with numerous other tiki classics to enjoy while you take in the beautiful scenery. Don't ever underestimate Vegas.

I've found that the Bay Area has become so focused on its food and drink rules that it's completely forgotten about its culture. Part of the reason Smuggler's Cove is so popular is because it's equally atmospheric. Why more bars in San Francisco don't understand that is beyond me, but going to back to what I said earlier: there's an element of fear at play. After ten years of working in the booze business, I've seen more than my share of it. There's this undercurrent of anxiety about not being taken seriously that permeates everything. Everyone wants to be an expert and heaven forbid you don't recognize that expertise. Some will do whatever it takes to prove to you how serious they are about their job. Chefs get tattoos of knives to show you serious they are about cooking. Bartenders get literal cocktail recipes tattooed on their wrist. Heaven forbid you can't literally see at all times how serious they are about their craft, just in case you don't already know who they are. In Vegas, I haven't found that chip to be much of a problem. The bars are never stale, stuffy, or serious. They're expansive and dreamy. We stumbled into a newer Latin-inspired spot called Chica in the Palazzo and sat down for drinks in an absolutely beautiful space.

Let me preface this paragraph by saying that I'm not as up to speed on my tiki culture as some very serious folks are today, so my apologies in advance if this isn't anything new. However, I have to say that I was blown away by this cocktail at Chica. It's a rum Old Fashioned (or "new" fashioned, as they call it) made with aged Rhum Clement agricole, but instead of using simple syrup they sweeten it with a Mexican Coke reduction! The result is basically a fancy rum and Coke, but one with serious complexity and flavor. I was seriously wowed. It's easily the most creative and enjoyable cocktail I've had this year and it's one I'll be coming back for again very soon (plus Chica gives you tortilla chips and plantain chips with their guacamole, which really dials up that dish).

More from Vegas shortly.

-David Driscoll

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