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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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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 or follow us on Facebook.  


Visit our events page on Facebook or the K&L Spirits Journal for more information.

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Entries in California (14)


Girls Like Beer

Girls like beer. Maybe not all girls, but a lot of us. Enough of us, in fact, that it shouldn't come as a suprise to find out we do. So I was shocked when one of my usually-enlightened colleagues seemed surprised that I showed up to this week's staff beer tasting, and eagerly at that. For me there is only one caveat: the beer has to be good.

Fortunately for me, we've never had more good beer at K&L than we do now. Our beer buyer Bryan Brick and his liasions - Steve Greer in Hollywood and Mike Barber in San Francisco - are doing an incredible job stocking our shelves full of delicious and even thought-provoking beers from the US and around the world. We've got "session" beers and age-worthy beers and sour beers that beg for a spicy, salty sausage like the kind at Wurstküche here in L.A. or at Suppenküche in San Francisco.

Anyway, we tasted through about 20 beers in Hollywood this week, and I really liked about half of them. That doesn't mean the other half weren't good, they just weren't my style. I prefer dark beers - porters and stouts - Trappist ales, Saisons and sour beers. I am generally NOT into West Coast uber-hoppy beers (or any uber-hoppy beers for that matter); they make me fall asleep. That said, here are my favorites from our tasting:

2009 AleSmith "Decadence" Dunkel Weizenbock, California (750ml $11.99) This is AleSmith's anniversary brew, a rich, dark wheat beer with a really creamy palate and a banana-y nose with a graham cracker counterpoint. It was a little sweet and fruity, but with a good salty pretzel or one of Rockenwagner bakery's pretzel rolls it would be sublime.

Brouwerj De Ranke "HOP Flower Power" Belgian Pale Ale, Belgium (750ml $15.99) So there always has to be an exception that disproves the rule. This Belgian beer may have HOP in its name, but it's remarkably balanced and that's what I liked most about it (that and Flower Power used to be my nickname in college). The nose was quite pretty here, with citrus and flower aromas, and it had nice weight, bitterness and crispness on the palate with a hint of minerals.

Dogfish Head "Festina Peche" Berliner Weisee, Delaware (12oz $2.49) Delaware is one of those states that you don't hear much about, but man do they make some good beer. This low-alcohol peach beer isn't the sweet, sticky, girly drink you might imagine, but instead something very sour and lactic. I imagined sipping it on a very hot day with homemade sausages on the grill.

HaandBryggeriet "Dark Force" Double Extreme Imperial Wheat Stout, Norway (500ml $8.99) At 9% ABV and full of letters you ordinarly wouldn't see together, I strongly advise against asking for this or trying to spell it after you drink it. Just grunt and point. This beer smells like unbaked pumpernickel bread - with distinctive molasses and coffee bitterness - rounded out by bacon and chocolate notes. It's surprising crisp on the palate and goes down easier than you might expect.

Isle of Skye Brewery "Black Cuillin" Scotch Ale, Scotland (500ml $6.49) This is the second Scotch-style beer we tried, and I lreally liked them both. It drank like a light-bodied stout, perfect for when you're craving a heartier beer on a hot day. Mint, tamarind, cocoa and anise on the nose, with a smooth and toasty palate girded by faboulsly salty bacon flavors. Yum.

Oskar Blues "Old Chub" Scottish Ale, Colorado (12oz $1.66) I really have to give props to the folks at Oskar Blues, time and again they prove that canned beer can be good. This Scottish Ale is similar to the Isle of Sky Scotch Ale, though a little lighter in chararcter with a hint of carob and caramel.

Russian River Brewing Company "Supplication" Brown Ale Aged in Oak with Cherries Added, California (375ml $10.99) I've been a fan of RRBC beers since my college days at Sonoma State, and honestly I think their beers just keep getting better. This is super sour, like fermented sour cherry juice, and probably not for everyone. But I thought it was well-balanced and just needed something fatty and slightly salty to go with it. I would love a glass with a pork terrine.

Valley Brewing Company "Decadent Evil" Belgian Style Golden Ale, California (22oz $6.49) Prior to trying this beer my only experience with Stockton, where its from, was on a road trip in college. Needless to say, this beer is better than my foggy memory. Its malty nose has notes of citrus and banana that carry over to the palate. Its creamy middle and slightly sweet finish made me think of Gewürztraminer, which made me think that this beer would be really awesome with some spicy Thai or Vietnamese food.

Valley Brewing Company IPA, California (22oz $5.99) Did I mention that I don't like hoppy beers? That usually means that I don't like IPAs, but I liked this one. Full of peach, melon and Cara Cara orange aromas, this beer tastes like tangerines and nectarines, witha  sour note from pineapple and a mild hop bitterness. The 22oz bottle is mighty dangerous considering how well this drinks.


Don Pilar Tequila – Direct Buy

Don Pilar at age 18 working the orchardsEvery weekend when I head to the farmers' market and pick up my box of produce I am thankful that buying locally-made goods straight from the farm has once again become the thing to do. It is a great experience to buy a product directly from the producer, which is why K&L acts also as a wine merchant—in addition to its role as a retailer— traveling abroad to find the best wines and buying them straight from the source. It offers insight into the story behind a wine, learning how a producer manages their soils, how they prune their vines, the topography of their sites, the weather and how it effects ripening, and many other factors of viticulture that precede the wine making process.

When you learn how much effort one person or family has put into each bottle it truly enhances the enjoyment you receive from drinking one. It is even more rewarding when that person is a member of your own community. While the origins of a wine can be influential in helping one to select a bottle for purchase, I find that such factors are rarely, if ever, applicable to spirits. While it is true that the farming of the grain and the sourcing of the water are both very important to whiskies, gins and vodkas, it is rarely the case that a distiller is handling the entire process from the soil to the bottle. Tequila, however, is a spirit that sees some producers shouldering 100% of the load, but they are usually small operations that never make it to the shelves of American retail stores. Most of the time, smaller agave farmers make their living selling their plants to larger producers like Sauza or Jose Cuervo, but much like in the wine industry, smaller producers are turning to co-ops to help manage the high cost of producing their own distillates.

Don Pilar now, working his own agave fields

Don Pilar Contreras is from a family of farmers in the highlands of Jalisco that has been growing agave for three generations. His family owns their own fields, works their own land, and, in the past, has annually sold off the harvest to Sauza. Wanting to experience life away from his family's ranch, Contreras came to California in the late 1960s at the age of 18 as part of the guest worker program that allowed him to work in the state's many orchards. Over the next 20 years he managed to save his earnings, become a permanent resident and open several successful restaurants here in Northern California (including Tres Amigos in my home city of San Mateo). Despite his new life as a businessman in America, Don Pilar returned home every year to work the agave fields with his family. It was in 2002, after discussing it with some friends at a co-op distillery in Jalisco, that he decided to keep his own estate-grown agave and use it to make his own tequila.

Unlike most tequila producers who have a triple line-up of blanco, reposado and añejo, Don Pilar was only interested in making one product and making it well: a smooth and creamy aged tequila that he could sip neatly. He also didn't want to try and get on board with a big distributor, so he hired his son to set up an import/distribution center in nearby Belmont to reach out to the northern California community. His two associates recently strolled into the Redwood City store and asked if they could taste me on the Don Pilar Anejo Tequila ($39.99). I took one sip and immediately warmed to the smooth richness and the delicacy of the spirit. The pure agave flavor is intricately balanced with the sixteen months of barrel influence it has soaked in. There was no doubt that the tequila was great, and when I heard the story and saw the price tag, I was sure that we were getting in on the beginning of something big.

K&L does buy wines directly, and therefore seeks out the finest small producers in the world, though we do not have the ability to import spirits. Because of this limitation, it is rare that we get to see the fruits of the small foreign distiller grace our own shelves, let alone one with ties to the local community. I am so happy to present the Don Pilar Añejo tequila to our customers, not only because it is a delicious product at a great price, but also because, like the farmers' market I visit every weekend, I get to buy it directly from the man himself. There are no middlemen or sales agents taking a cut of the operation: I simply make the call to Don's son Juan Carlos and he drives over to drop it off. This is the type of local commerce I am so happy to experience as a consumer, and now I am proud to be a part of it as a vendor here at K&L. This is the beginning in what I hope is the expansion of our liquor department to include quality distillations from smaller, locally-based producers, and I couldn’t be more excited to start with the Don Pilar Añejo. Enjoy!

David Driscoll, Spirits Buyer

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