Stay Connected
What We're Drinking

 

One of the most serious English Sparkling producers. This historic estate has been in the Goring family since 1743. The tiny 16-acre vineyard is close-planted on a steep south-facing chalk escarpment described as 'similar to the Côte des Blancs' in Champagne. The fruit is picked very selectively with quality being the absolute focus. The grapes are pressed gently using a traditional Coquard press. After three years on the lees this wine, composed of 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay & 22% Pinot Meunier, is hand disgorged and balanced with a minimal dosage of just 4g/L. It has a fine counterbalance between toasty richness and power from the wines élevage in Burgundian French Oak barrels, with racy acidity, tension and a focused chalky minerality.

Recent Videos

Tasting with Oliver Krug

Upcoming Events

We host regular weekly and Saturday wine tastings in each K&L location.

For the complete calendar, including lineups and additional details related to our events, visit our K&L Local Events on KLWines.com or follow us on Facebook.  

 

Free Spirits Tastings at K&L! Now that we have our license for spirits tastings in Redwood City and San Francisco, we’re excited to host regular free spirits tastings in those locations.  Check the Spirits Journal for an updated tasting schedule.

All tastings will feature different products from the Spirits Department and take place on Wednesdays in Redwood City and San Francisco. Visit our events page on Facebook or the K&L Spirits Journal for more information.

>>Upcoming Special Events, Dinners, and Tastings

See all K&L Local Events

Archives

Entries in bourbon (6)

Monday
Sep282009

Some Notes About Domestic Whiskey

With all the great American whiskey we’ve been bringing in lately, I’ve had a lot of questions about the specifics of the product; some that have really tested my knowledge and put me back on my heels a bit. In order to make sure that I am up to the task of handling these inquiries, I have begun to re-read a great reference on the subject of whiskey:  Chicago columnist Chuck Cowdery’s Bourbon, Straight. I read this book immediately after I got the spirits buyer position here at K&L, but I’m finding that a second time through is really paying dividends in my whiskey education, especially when it comes to the logistics of bourbon. I’ve only gotten about 20 pages into my second run through, but there are numerous facts that I want to share with you that I think will help shed some more light onto whiskey in the United States, even for those who already know quite a lot as it is. I would advise any serious whiskey fan to bookmark Cowdery’s page and, at the very least, purchase his informational book and read it slowly and carefully.

-Whiskey in the U.S. is defined as grain spirit that is distilled at less than 190 proof.     Anything distilled at higher than 190 proof is considered grain neutral spirit (GNS), which is without color, aroma, taste, or character. Vodka, for example, is GNS with water (and Cowdery does not shy away from taunting the vodka drinkers from rationalizing how something neutral can be better or worse than a contemporary).

- All U.S. distilleries use No. 2 grade corn, rye, and wheat to make their whiskey, so all this talk about “only the finest grains” is a bunch of fluff.  They all buy from the same suppliers.

- American whiskey has the entire mash, grains and all, go through the fermentation process unfiltered, unlike in Scotland and other countries where the filtered mash (called wort) consisting of only the sugary water goes into the still.   

- Good water is crucial to making good whiskey. The spring water in Kentucky and Tennessee is filtered through natural limestone, which adds calcium and removes salt, making it favorable to yeast come fermenting time. 

- What is sour mash? - Sour mash is made when slop (the already fermented and spent mash) is pumped back in with the unfermented mash giving it a sour taste. This is done to help keep the pH consistent to keep the whiskey uniform. It could be done differently now, but, as Cowdery states throughout the book, heritage and tradition reign supreme in whiskey making. 

- Yeast is very, very important. Not all yeast is the same. It is major contributor to the flavor of a whiskey, much like wine, and knowing how to cultivate and control it is an important job of a distiller. If you didn’t know that Beaujolais Nouveau tastes like banana because of commercial designer yeast, then you need to contact me about other reading materials. Yeast is crazy important. 

- In order to be called bourbon or rye, the spirit must come off the still at less than 160 proof.  All whiskey distilled between 160 and 190 goes into blended whiskey.  Flavor is inversely proportional to proof, so you want to keep it lower if you want the grain to come through.

- Bourbon and rye must be reduced with water to less than 125 proof and aged in new oak charred on the inside.  The red color of whiskey comes from this charred barrel. Whereas warm weather causes the whiskey to expand into the wood, the cool evening temperatures contracts it and the whiskey pulls out the color, tannins and flavor of the barrel.  The char from the wood helps to tame the negative congeners (the remaining flavors of the original distilled substance).

Speaking of congeners, Cowdery really makes clear what the art of distillation truly is: it lies in being able to retain the positive and good tasting congeners, while eliminating the other negative ones.  The goal of distilling, as Cowdery says, is making the beverage palatable either by making it neutral (as with vodka) or by using herbs, fruit, spices, barrel aging, etc.  Whiskey should retain the flavor of its original element, so knowing how to distill it properly and making it palatable is an art form. 

All this information comes from about four pages of the 250+ pages in this book.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.  Then you can come into the store and totally put me in check with your extreme knowledge.

David Driscoll

 
Tuesday
Sep012009

New Spirits Arrivals...

Today is the big day for me and for David Girard at our Hollywood store.  We are officially, as of September 1st, in charge of K&L’s spirits selection (even though we’ve been lurking in the background for a while now).  Susan Purnell has single-handedly built up our entire liquor selection for the last 10 years and we will be sorry to see her leave us.  She knows more about single malts than our entire staff put together, and I am relieved that she has offered me her personal contact info should I get myself into a bind.  That being said, David G and I are looking to build upon Susan’s legacy and expand our spirits selection to include more hard-to-find, quality, hand-crafted products than ever before.  If you’ve kept up with this blog recently than you are aware of our new tequilas, but, let me tell you, we have so much more that has just recently arrived.  I have tasted so many good spirits lately that I am very excited to share and am currently at bursting capacity—I need to let this out.  

Starting today, I am going to be managing a separate email group for spirits enthusiasts who will be the first to know about all new arrivals in the liquor department.  If you are interested in being a part of this list, please send me an email with the title “Email List” at daviddriscoll@klwines.com.  Every time I bring in a new product, I will immediately send out an email with all the details to everyone on the list.  For the next few weeks I will post the new releases on the blog, but after September it will be mainly in email form.  So, without further ado, our latest superstars:

Germain Robin Absinthe Superieure (375ml $35.99) Some super craft distillers have come up with interesting and delicious takes on what absinthe should be. None has been more impressive to me than the Germain Robin Absinthe Superieure. While the base spirit for absinthe is traditionally brandy distilled from wine, Crispin Cain used the Ukiah-based alambic still where he learned to make the renowned Germain Robin brandy line-up (arguably the best brandy produced in the US, if not the world), and used it to distill an apple-honey mead instead. He then threw in the traditional wormwood, but also included rose geranium and a few other aromatic devices, and then he distilled it to an untraditionally low 90 proof—far less than the 120 proof most absinthe sees.  The result is a softer, more mild-drinking spirit that still packs a ton of flavor.  While most absinthe is greenish, the Germain Robin is almost clear.  Not being a traditionalist, I’m not bothered by that, but the spirit does cloud up like a true absinthe should when water is added.  Best of all, it comes in a half bottle, so if you’re looking for the most economical choice for your home bar, this is it.  So far I haven’t found very many places carrying it, so I’m happy to be leading the charge.
 
Germain Robin Grappa Of Zinfandel (375ml $55.99) One of the most amazing spirits of any kind I have yet tasted.  This is not Italian-styled grappa with the heat and the power, in fact, I'm hard pressed to believe that this grappa even has alcohol in it!  The flavors of the Zinfandel grape are so fragrant and apparant on the nose that it seems as if the glass is full of red Zinfandel wine and not its distillate. The grappa is so soft, smooth, delicate and flavorful that I find it difficult to even call it grappa. This is not just for spirits enthusiasts. This is a beautiful work of art that everyone must try at least once. Very much worth every penny of its price tag.  
 
Germain Robin Liqueur de Poète (375ml $39.99)
Yet another in the Germain Robin line-up of small batch, craft distillations that absolutely blows my mind.  A wonderfully interesting, intriguing and delicious spirit distilled from pears and aged over seven years in barrel.  A true labor of love for Hubert Germain-Robin who worked on this eau-de-vie for 16 years!  The result is an exotic and stunningly complex spirit that shows barrel spice, port-like caramel and toffee notes, pear sweetness, and a sherry-like finish. One of the more amazing spirits I have tasted and one I am so proud to be carrying and recommending for our customers.
 
Germain Robin Single Barrel Pinot Noir Brandy (750ml $139.99)
If you thought that the Germain Robin XO was the best domestically produced brandy in existence, you would be wrong, but I wouldn't blame you for thinking so.  In fact, I thought the same thing until I recently tried their Single Barrel Brandy distilled from 100% Pinot Noir.  It is, in my opinion, without a doubt the best brandy in their arsenal.  This has an absolutely stellar nose that shows the rich barrel aromas of age, but also the soft red fruit of the Pinot Noir. The palate gracefully shows red fruit and spice with as soft and delicate a profile as is imaginable.  It might be THE great brandy of my short tasting experience.  This will give any fine Cognac a serious run for its money.
 
Germain Robin Single Barrel Viogner Brandy (750ml $139.99) Germain Robin's brandies are California's, if not the nation's, premiere craft-distilled brandies. This Single Barrel brandy made 100% from Viognier is in a class all its own.  Very rare and very difficult to get, this spirit shows the floral and fruity character of the Viognier grape on both the nose and the palate.  The zesty peach flavors are very soft as is the texture of the brandy itself.  It is a major accomplishment for Germain Robin in their quest to produce the very best spirits possible from their Ukiah Alambic pot still.
 
St. George Aqua Perfecta Basil Eau-De-Vie (375ml $36.99) I can't tell you all how excited I was after getting a taste of Lance Winters's Basil Eau-De-Vie.  It is very, very, very good...as long as you like basil.  The Aqua Perfecta is an extraordinary feat of distillation artistry and showcases yet another stong offering in the St. George portfolio.  Distilled from several types of basil, including Thai basil (which is very apparant in the nose), the palate shows a peppery spice and subtle hints of anise to acompany the graceful basil notes. I'm dying to get my hands on a whole bottle so I can try it in a Bloody Mary! This is a tough sell, I know (who is looking for basil-flavored brandy?), but rest assured people, this is worth every penny! A real adventure in alcohol artistry.

Stranahan's Snowflake Whiskey Cab Franc Cask ($59.99)
Part of the new Snowflake series from Stranahan's that showcases their award-winning whiskies finished in various used wine casks.  The Cabernet Franc-finished whiskey is softer-fruited, yet spicy, much like the finest expressions of the Cab Franc grape itself.   It is amber colored with faint touches of sweetness that highlight the complexity of the whiskey and mesh seamlessly with the delicate influence of the red wine.  Very limited in production with a hand written label.

Stranahan's Snowflake Whiskey Paladise Cask ($59.99) Part of the new Snowflake series from Stranahan's that showcases their award-winning whiskies finished in various used wine casks. This whiskey is finished in Hungarian white oak, which contributes to the soft fruit and sweet mash aromas present on the nose.  The entry is impeccably smooth and the rich flavors are capped off with just a touch of vanilla sweetness. Very limited in production with a hand written label.

Stranahan's Snowflake Whiskey Port Cask ($59.99) Part of the new Snowflake series from Stranahan's that showcases their award-winning whiskies finished in various used wine casks.  The port-finished whiskey is a dark brown, almost coffee colored spirit, with a rich and heavy flavor profile coupled with toffee notes.  The influence of the sweetly rich port wine is evident on the finish which lingers on for minutes after the whiskey has been savored.  Very limited in production with a hand written label.

Soldeica Pisco Puro ($19.99) We've been dying for a great Peruvian Pisco that we could keep in stock on a regular basis and we have finally found it.  Robert Canari from Sangre Inca Imports recently walked into the Redwood City store and asked me if I would taste his Soldeica Piscos. Knowing the dire straits our Pisco collection was in, I was excited to taste them and they did not disappoint. Soldeica has been making Pisco in Peru for over 150 years and they take their distilling very seriously. The Puro is their entry level product, and it is by far the best bottle we currently offer on our shelf.  Gone are the harsh tones of the mass-produced brands, and present are the soft textures and subtle fruit tones that make Pisco so accessible. Because I want K&L to offer the very best of everything, and knowing the storied history of Peruvian Pisco in the Bay Area (it was the most widely drunk spirit in 19th century San Francisco) I wanted to make sure that we had at least one quality small production pisco to offer.  Finally we do.

Laird's Straight Bonded Apple Jack 100 proof ($22.99)
Don't be fooled by the less expensive blended variety.  This is the real deal and is 100% aged apple brandy, none of the neutral stuff.  Apple Jack is America's Calvados.  Distilled the old way (freeze distilation) and aged in bonded warehouses.  This is a necessity for anyone creating an authentic bar.  And if you don't have what it takes to make a delcious Jack Rose cocktail, or a Calvados Cocktail, then you don't have an authentic bar.  Laird’s is the Rittenhouse Rye of apple distillates.

David Driscoll

Tuesday
Aug042009

Building the Perfect Home Bar, Part 3

So we’ve covered gin, gin cocktails, how great gin is, and how much I like gin. Then we moved on to some simple liqueurs and digestives that you should have in your home bar at all times. If you need to play catch up, simply scroll down a few pages and find parts 1 and 2.  Otherwise, it’s now time to look at darker spirits, namely brandy and whiskey. Note, the name of this article is not, “Building The Perfect Single Malt Trophy Shelf,” so for today we are going to avoid Scotch altogether. Plus, I’m going to feature products that can be mixed to form some terrific cocktails and personally I’m not about to add anything to my Ardbeg or Bruichladdich. Let’s begin!

Bourbon/Rye:

With American-made whiskey I find the most enjoyable and widely appreciated beverage is the Manhattan. Mixing bourbon with a little sweet vermouth, some ice, and a dash of bitters is a quick and easy way to unwind after work. While bourbon, or even Tennessee Whiskey for that matter, has enjoyed its time in the limelight as the base of choice for the Manhattan, I’m hard-pressed to make my version with anything besides a rich and spicy rye whiskey. However, the great thing about making your own drinks is that you’re the boss and you can make them however the heck you want. Whatever your preference here is my recipe for a Manhattan and the two whiskies I most commonly use at home:

Mannhattan Cocktail

2 ¼ oz of bourbon/rye

¾ oz of sweet vermouth (preferably Dolin or Vya)

2 dashes of Regan’s or Angosturra bitters

1/8 tsp. of Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur (instead of a cherry)

Rittenhouse Rye 100 proof ($19.99) I have yet to find a great bar that doesn’t use this as the base for their whiskey cocktails. It is everything I need flavor-wise with a 24 hour mini-mart price tag. It is spicy, rich, delicious and it mixes terrifically. It wins every award that spirits can receive and it is the standard for the home bar. I don’t even consider a “back-up” rye when mixing a drink.

Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon ($21.99) This is the smoothest and most mellow bourbon around and its price-to-quality ratio is ridiculous. This is a serious whiskey that needs you to pay attention. It is so gentle that you could down a quick shot without blinking an eye, but in doing so you would no doubt overlook the grace and elegance it offers. Smooth stuff made by a master craftsman named Jim Rutledge.

Cognac/Brandy

Once again I would like to reiterate that I’m not going to mention our best “sipping” Cognacs, Armagnacs or brandies. It would be a monumental waste of money to use the 1979 Darroze that you were planning on buying me for my 30th birthday to make a refreshing drink that would only dilute its greatness. Better to find a quality spirit at a more affordable price. I have two fabulous choices for you and the best part about them is, due to their outstanding quality, you can still sip them after dinner with dessert. To start off, here is a terrific recipe that I borrowed from the Savoy Cocktail Book if you need a great idea.

Nick’s Own Cocktail

1 ½ oz of brandy

1 ½ oz. of sweet vermouth (again Dolin or Vya)

dash of bitters

dash of Absinthe (Kubler)

Shake with ice and strain

Osocalis Alambic Brandy ($44.99) I’m going to start with the best quality at the best price, and I like to shop locally, so let me introduce you to a beautiful brandy made outside Santa Cruz. The Osocalis is made on a small antique still imported from Alsace by the guys behind Santa Cruz Mountain Winery. I’ve always been a big fan of their wines, and now I’m gushing about their booze. It is slightly fruity underneath the rich barrel flavors and that’s what helps it mix. No matter how you prepare the Osocalis—in a cocktail, over ice, or straight— it should taste delicious.

Deret 5 Year VS Cognac ($34.99) If you’ve wandered into our Redwood City store recently, you may have wondered why the Cognac shelf has so many empty spots. Is it because we are sold out of all our products? No. Is it because Cognac sales are down? No. It is because of Deret’s Cognacs that we have so many holes. Once we introduced our customer base to these delightful brandies, we couldn’t convince them to try anything else. No matter what else I bring in to the store, everyone still wants the trustworthy Deret. We’ve created a monster here, but until I find something better at that price, what can you do? The five year is an established favorite with its round rich palate that hints towards apple and stone fruit. Everyone loves it, including me.

Calvados/Apple Brandy

I was really out of the loop regarding the potential for great Calvados cocktails until recently. A few bars in the city offer such amazing cocktails using an applejack base that I have been returning over and over again to enjoy them. The apple flavors really contribute to the flavors of these drinks in a way that Cognac or brandy couldn’t, so if you’ve got a bottle of Calvados that you have been ignoring lately, I’ve got a classic recipe here for you.

Jack Rose Cocktail

2 oz of Calvados

¾ oz lemon juice

¾ oz simple syrup

¾ oz grenadine (I will hopefully be getting Small Hands Foods very soon!!)

Clear Creek Eau de Vie Pomme 8-year-old (375ml $24.99) If you ask my opinion (or if you scroll down and read about my trip to Clear Creek), great Eau de Vie begins and ends with Steve McCarthy’s distillates. This apple brandy is the best American produced version that exists and probably will ever exist. It smells like fresh apples and tastes like rich, oak-aged brandy. Beautiful!

Germain Robin Apple Brandy ($61.99) Now you ask, why would you even consider this after you just gushed all over the place about Clear Creek? Because this is amazing apple brandy and it is a more accessible product by a terrific distillery. Germain Robin brandies are the benchmark for American brandy. I declined to include them above because they are too good for mixing. Their apple brandy (which really is only $12 more if you were to buy 750 ml of Clear Creek) leans more to the smooth vanilla side of the barrel-aged flavor, which will appeal to more drinkers, I believe. It is unmistakably amazing and deserves to be mentioned alongside Mr. McCarthy’s bottle.

David Driscoll

 

 

Page 1 2