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The Freewheel line with a couple of English friends.

It takes a lot of beer to keep the wine business running smoothly. Here in Redwood City, we are very fortunate to have a great English style ale producer right in our backyard: Freewheel Brewing Company. The staff of K&L are fictures at our local pub, and it is a rare moment when one of us isn't there having a pint and a bite of their excellent food. We are also lucky enough to be the first place to offer their bottled beer for sale. If you have never had it, the Freewheel Brewing "FSB" Freewheel Special Bitter, California (500ml) is the benchmark in fresh, balanced, smashable ale. We will do our best to keep some in stock for you, the customer too!

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Entries in building a home bar (2)


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!


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.


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




Building The Perfect Home Bar, Part 2


In the previous home bar article, I focused on different gins and the variety of drinks that can be created from them, plus a few different ingredients. I really believe that gin is the centerpiece of any home bar collection because it is so mixable and perfect for warm-weather concoctions. But it’s also important to have a few liqueurs and mixers on hand to spice up your drinks. Some of my favorites may be familiar, while others may be completely foreign, but I think all of them are essential to the perfect home bar. They are easy on the palate and most of them can be enjoyed simply by adding sparkling water or soda. If I’m not drinking a gin cocktail, then I’m sipping on a simple libation made from one of the following products.

Campari (1L $26.99) Campari is an Italian liqueur made by infusing a combination of alcohol and water with herbs, aromatic plants and fruits. Its trademark flavor leans towards the bitter and can be an acquired taste for many, but it can be sweetened with a bit of orange juice to make a refreshing, grapefruit-like libation. The classic drink made from Campari is the Americano, which is made by simply adding sparkling water. It was the original drink of 007 James Bond, and it is the perfect pre-dinner aperitivo. In an effort to appeal to a new generation, Campari hired Selma Hayek for some very sexy magazine ads and most recently has tapped Lady Gaga as their new cover girl. It also makes one of my favorite cocktails - the Negroni (in home bar article, part 1).

Cynar (1l $21.99) A darker, more bitter version of Campari made primarily from artichokes (Cynara scolymus is Latin for artichoke). It can be substituted for Campari in practically any drink to add a darker color and a more intense flavor. I like it with the Hansen’s Diet Tangerine-Lime soda that I buy at Trader Joe’s. If you need help digesting your food, a few sips after dinner can really do the trick.

Pimm’s No.1 Cup ($16.99) There are six different variations of Pimm’s Cup that I know of, and each is formulated with a different spirit. I think that No. 1 is the best because it is made with gin, of course! The gin is steeped with herbs, apples, oranges and spices to make a tea-colored liquid that does taste faintly of tea. At 25% alcohol it mixes well with ginger ale, lemonade, or lemon-lime soda to make the trademark Pimm’s Cup, one of two signature drinks served at Wimbledon every year (the other being Champagne).

Aperol ($23.99) Another Italian aperitivo comprised of herbs and fruit - in this case rhubarb, bitter orange, gentian and cinchona. Lighter and more fruit-forward, it is the perfect alternative for those who cannot handle Campari’s strong bitterness. It mixes with grapefruit juice to make a Pompelmo, or with Prosecco to make a Spritz. It is only 11% to Campari’s 22% alcohol, so you can have a little more before dinner.

Lillet Blanc ($14.99) This is an absolute must for any drinker. Lillet Blanc (there is a Rouge as well) is a French aperitif made from 85% wine and citrus liqueur made from oranges. It has been in production since the 1800s and, when poured over ice, makes an ideal companion to a book and a lawn chair. Besides drinking deliciously on its own, it is 25% of my favorite gin cocktail - The Corpse Reviver #2 (recipe in home bar article, part 1). Lillet is also a favorite of James Bond, who orders (and invents) the Kina Lillet Martini in 1953’s Casino Royale, which I believe substitutes Lillet for vermouth. Some restaurants, like San Francisco’s Dosa, have made an entire drink menu out of Lillet cocktails.

St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur ($31.99) This is a very unique French liqueur made from elderflower blossoms, a small amount of citrus and some natural cane sugar. It is pear-like and floral in taste and mixes extremely well with (you guessed it) gin to form an Elderflower Gimlet. Also, try it with sparkling wine. Most customers who have sampled it have come back to buy three or four more bottles.

Prunier Orange Liqueur ($24.99) Of all the unique and tasty spirits we have found, I am perhaps the most proud of this bottle. It is a million times better than Grand Marnier or Cointreau and it costs 10 bucks less! Made in France, the Prunier Liqueur d’Orange not only has all the flavor and texture of the fruit, but also the blossoms and peel. Think of Grand Marnier without all that sweetness that can quickly turn a perfectly happy stomach into a nauseous one. Your margaritas will taste fresher and brighter, your desserts richer. Add it with Lillet, Gin, lemon juice and Absinthe for the best drink ever, or sip it straight.

David Driscoll