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Saturday
Dec122009

Glenrothes Gift Packs are Back. Best Sampler EVER.

Everyone's (at least everyone who works at K&L) favorite Speyside producer is back, just in time to impact the torrential holiday shopping season.  This year's sampling has culled the terrific 1985 and 1991 vintage distillations, along with the always superb select reserve blend, in the cutest miniature versions of their unique and atavistic whisky bottles.  For those disconsolate souls keening about the lack of fun and inexpensive gifts for the truest of single malt drinkers, you are bereft no longer.  The Glenrothes is a tried and tested ballast in the Scotch whisky world; a florid and elegant malt that never fails to deliver the goods with any of its bottlings.  For $29.99, it's far more exciting than a 750ml bottle of a comparable price and it's a great way to try out the 1985 before committing to a long-term relationship with it (I've long been married to it - no need for commiseration, it's a great romance). 

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Dec102009

K&L 2009 Spirit of the Year: Carpano Antica

Coming up in our January newsletter all the company buyers list their wines of the year and their predictions for 2010.  Since we are spirits buyers, David OG in our LA Store and I have named Carpano Antica the 2009 Spirit of the Year because both of us cannot get enough of it.  Embarrassingly, I got on the CA train a bit late.  I only first tasted it in November even though I had known of its greatness for over a year.  I'd had it in a cocktail numerous times but had never tasted it straight up on the rocks.  It is now just about the exclusive beverage of my 2 person household.  What is Carpano Antica and why haven't you had it?  Read on, friends.

Carpano Antica is an Italian sweet vermouth that seriously puts others to shame.  I was so lovestruck with the Dolin vermouths that I was too blind to see it, but I am now a reformed CA convert.  As David OG states in the upcoming newsletter, "I had never wanted to drink vermouth straight up until I found the Antica."  Now neither of us wants to drink it any other way.  The complexity of the palate is really utterly amazing.  There is a sweetness that intermingles with baking spices, cloves, and floral components before finishing with a profound richness.  The cocktail enthusiasts will say to try it in a Manhattan in order to experience its transformative effects on whiskey, but there is one drink where it does shine a bit brighter: The Negroni.  One part Old Tom gin, one part Campari, one part CA and I'm on the couch watching HDTV in complete and utter bliss. 

Carpano Antica is made by the Italian distillety Fratelli Branca in Milan, who also produce Fernet Branca (which I recently read is consumed more in SF than any other part of the world) and Punt E Mes.  Bow down and hail the new king of vermouth.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Dec092009

Distillery of the Day! (and other news)

 

Know your Speyside distilleries!  Today's featured producer is Linkwood, an active distillery that only bottles 1-2% of its production for single malt consumption.  The other 98% goes to blends like Johnnie Walker, White Horse, and Abbot's Choice.  Linkwood's incredible fruity and floral whisky is so carefully guarded that former distillery manager Roderick Mackenzie was prohibited from changing a single thing when he took over - even spider webs - for fear that it would adversely alter the whisky.  Linkwood produces roughly 2,600,000 liters of whisky a year, but you'll rarely ever see a bottle.  Diageo, who owns the distillery, will be releasing a Manager's Choice bottling of 1996 Linkwood soon, but you'll be paying a minimum of $500 if you can even find one.  Luckily, my good friends at JVS have a bottle that is currently only being distributed in California and it's delicious:

1995 Linkwood Signatory Single Malt Whisky $69.99

It is an unchillfiltered, fruity, fragrant, and tasty single malt delight that really tastes like no other whisky I've ever had.  So if you're looking for a unique tasting experience, you know where to go.  That's it for your distillery of the day.

In other news, I've been in talks lately with Martin's West pub in Redwood City and we have January 27th as the tentative date for our first single malt whisky tasting.  It will likely feature Highland and Speyside malts as we begin the first in a series of tastings, starting with the lighter styles and building up to the powerful ones.  Not sure what the cost will be but I'm estimating around $35 for a bunch of booze, information, and hors d' oeuvres.  More info to come as we get this thing organized.

- David Driscoll

Tuesday
Dec082009

Books on Whiskey and Other Booze

If there's anyone who turns to solid book research when trying to make up for a lack of experience, it's me.  I was a graduate research student before working at K&L and spent my 2 years of that life in a library.  That being said, when i got the job at K&L I started diving into the wine manuals as fast as possible.  Same for when I thought I might give this spirits thing a try.  For every good book about booze that exists in this world, there are five bad ones.  Here are some that are worth your time if you are looking for something to expand your own knowledge or are looking for a non-alcoholic gift (concerning alcohol) for someone you know.  I have read and fully recommend each of the following.

Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide - Michael Jackson - This is simply the most informative, interesting, and colorful book about whiskey that exists.  The attention to detail concerning production, sourcing materials, water, malting, history, and distillery specifics is incredible.  It's even fun for people who don't like whiskey.  Put together by the late, great Michael Jackson (not the pop singer), it's more of a coffee table reference that won't ever be read cover to cover, but will be returned to time and time again like a solid atlas or encyclopedia set. 

The Scottish Whisky Distilleries - Misako Udo - Not an easy book to track down (currently out of print and being updated for a new edition sometime in the future), I had to order mine from the Ben Nevis distillery in Scotland, pay for it in English Pounds (not a good conversion rate for us) and then pay for international shipping.  Was is worth it?  Yes, indeed.  This book is simply a straight forward whisky almanac. There is little text concerning style, tasting notes, or history - this work is all about the specs.  Wash bin sizes, type of still, capacity, amount produced, barley type, and even the name and picture of the distillery mousers (the cats that keep the rodents away!).  It's only for the hardcore whisky fan, but it's indispensable for those who care. 

Imbibe! - David Wondrich - A beautiful history of the cocktail and the evolution of each style of drink, including the first celebrity bartender Jerry Thomas.  The cocktail renaissance started long, long ago and this book by cocktail historian David Wondrich is the most detailed account of how it has evolved.  Full of recipes as well as facts, it's a book you will literally drink your way through (and that's a fun way to read).

Joy Of Mixology - Gary Reagan - Stay away from those brightly-colored, glossy-covered, "101 Cocktails" manuals you see at Draeger's or Borders near the check out.  This is the only book you need.  It covers tools, technique, and ingredients for making the finest cocktails and it's geared towards the serious pre-Prohibitionist.  If you need another book for mixing drinks you should be writing this blog not reading it.

Bourbon, Straight - Chuck Cowdery - This book is 100% American history and has been one of the most helpful resources for me since taking over the spirits department.  It chronicles the history of the American bourbon families and how bourbon became big business here at home.  It answered about 100 questions that I had about who made what, where they made it, and how they began making it.  If you like rye or bourbon then you need to read this.

Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol - Iain Gately - This fascinating history of alcohol in general covers wine and beer as well, but it starts long before the birth of Christ and is one of the best books I've read all year - fiction and non-fiction.  If you like to drink at all you will get a kick out of learning about the Egyptians drinking unfiltered beer through thick straws and Pliny the Elder's time in Pompeii.

- David Driscoll

 

Saturday
Dec052009

Whisk(e)y Birthday Marathon (not a good idea)

I decided to celebrate my 30th birthday by having my best friend Kai come over to taste some whiskies.  The plan was just to hang out, eat some good food, watch the Warriors on HDTV, and taste some good single malt action.  Kai loves whisky, but never buys it on his own, nor does he know much about anything other than Glenlivet/Glenfiddich.  Needless to say, we both had a blast.  We had such a good time that he decided he would also like to learn more about American whiskey and taste through a whole line up there as well.  That was not the smartest decision I have ever made, but we were having such a good time, and, hey, you only turn 30 once.  In any case, the reason I'm telling you this is because I thought it would be interesting to show you the line up and give you the feedback from Kai - a lover of whisk(e)y who knows nothing about what he's drinking.  If you have some buddies who you are shopping for this holiday season, it might be useful.

Scottish line-up:

1998 Clynelish Highland - Not thoroughly impressed.  This is a bit too gentle and subtle for the newbee.  I really like it though.  Don't get this for a friend, only yourself.

1991 Glenrothes Speyside - Good.  He liked the dark fudge and orange flavor, but I think he didn't quite get why it's really amazing.  Maybe a bit too complex for a young palate.  50/50

Highland Park 18 Year - He loved this one and, really, who wouldn't?  Subtle smoke, sweetness, with a smooth and semi-rich mouthfeel.  Highland Park 18 is a great malt loved by both beginners and experts.  This one tied for first place.

2000 Caol Ila Murray McDavid Ridge Zinfandel Cask - I am loving this whiskey more everytime I try it.  I had a second serving of it.  Kai was intrigued by the cask enhancement and enjoyed the red fruitiness, but I'm not sure if he was crazy for it.

Ardbeg Uigeadail - The overall winner I think, and I was a bit suprised.  I know how much I like Ardbeg, but it can be a bit overpowering for someone who has never tasted the intensity if Islay.  Kai had never tasted the intensity of Islay, but immediately fell in love.  The smoke, the seawater, the power, and the brine.

Suntory Yamazaki 12 Year - Ok, techincally not Scotch, but this one received high marks for its supple mouthfeel and sweet butterscotch notes.  I really enjoy it as well.  A good pick that's not too pricey and it's neat because it's Japanese.

McCarthy Oregon Pot Still Whiskey - Again not Scotch, but more Scotch-like than Bourbon-like so we tasted it here.  The peat is there and the whiskey is sooo smooth despite only being aged 3 years.  This one was also a favorite.  I think it would make perhaps the coolest gift of all and it's not too expensive.

American Whiskies - Where it all went downhill

Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Bourbon - Powerful, sweet, and spicy, this was a big favorite and possibly the winner for the American stuff.  Even a non-bourbon drinker could appreciate the intensity and complexity of the Pappy.

Weller LaRue Antique Collection (09) - Again, the power of the cask strength bourbon really impressed my friend Kai, but I think it was a bit too hot to really appreciate it.  We watered it down, but at this point in the night it simply fried our taste buds. 

Willet 13 Year Single Barrel - Kai was not really feeling this one.  It's less rich and sweet, more spicy and earthy.  This is a bourbon for experts.

Vintage 17 Year Bourbon - The other overall favorite.  How could you not like this whiskey?  It's soft, smooth, rich, and integrated.  Everything is in balance.

Thomas Hardy Sazerac Rye Antique Collection (09) - Not a winner.  Too hot of a whiskey at this point.  Cask strength simply burned our tongues.

Old Potrero 18th Century Style Spirit - This was more like a homework assignment, but I think he really liked the idea that he was drinking what Jefferson and Washington likely drank. 

Old Potrero Single Malt Rye 3 Year - This was also high on the list.  The peppery notes and the clean flavors were well received.  This is the purest rye in existence.

We did not spit any of these.  :()---------

-David Driscoll