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2000 Labégorce, Margaux $39.99

A great value in Bordeaux! This bottle is mature enough to drink now, but has time in hand if you want to keep it in the cellar for the future. We love it for its laid back elegance and classic balance. A must try for your next nice steak dinner.

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Entries in cocktails (12)

Wednesday
Mar312010

Getting to Know: David Driscoll

Name: David Driscoll

What’s your position at K&L and how long have you been with the company?

I am the spirits buyer for Northern California, and I have been with K&L since October of 2007.  I also write a lot for the website and blog.

What did you do before you started working here?

I was teaching elementary school part time in Chinatown while getting my master’s degree in German. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

What I like to do is hypothetical. What I actually do is clean the house, cook the food, and read up on the latest booze.  I feel I used to do much more, but I can’t remember what it was.  I like to cook Italian food, that’s for sure.

What’s your favorite movie?

Impossible question. I will say that the best movie ever made is Boogie Nights, but it isn’t my favorite.  I wrote a paper in college on that subject to prove this subjective opinion as an objective fact.  I did convince one professor. 

What was your “epiphany wine”—the bottle or glass that got you interested in wine? Is there a current wine that you consider the equivalent?

I don’t understand how other people have had an epiphany wine.  Maybe it’s like having a kid, and I wouldn’t know because I don’t have one. When I first tried Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley and could taste the crushed stones and minerality is when I knew that wine tasting wasn’t a bunch of baloney, but I don’t remember what the wine was.

Describe your perfect meal (at a restaurant or prepared at home). What wine(s) would you pair with it?

I would be somewhere in a small Italian village eating at restaurant that makes 100% of their own produce (raises the livestock, grows the veggies, etc.) and I would drink something out of a ceramic pitcher that probably costs two Euros. 

How do you think your palate’s changed over the years?

Just like every other employee who has answered this question: from big, fruity, silky wines to more obscure and interesting flavors. I think it is human nature to seek out what isn’t just like everything else when you’re constantly subjected to the same old thing. At least, I hope it is for the sake of others. 

What do you like to drink?

Lately it’s been Italian and French regional wines, but mostly cocktails. My spirits bar has gone from 10 bottles to 70 bottles in the last four weeks.

What words of advice do you have to offer people just getting into wine?

Don’t let anything intimidate you, be it a wine store clerk or the lack of a recognizable word on the label.  Be patient and stay humble (and those last two are things that I do not do particularly well).

If you could have dinner with any three people in history, who would you invite? What wine would you serve each of them?

I would want to invite people that I never got the chance to meet and who I know enjoyed a good drink, like my dad’s father, Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski.  We probably would drink the whole time and would end up ordering pizza because I’m not going to cook.  I would shut up for once in my life and listen to these guys trade stories.

 

Tuesday
Aug112009

Absinthe: No Longer Trendy, Still Very Essential (Home Bar, Part 4)

I can always remember my first few months here at K&L well because it was around the time that the US lifted its ban on absinthe, and the nation went crazy on what they thought was going to be the revival of a once-great elixir. There were reports of people camping out overnight at the Hangar One Distillery in Alameda in order to secure their place in line for the first batch of St. George, and I recall practically the entire staff here buying a bottle of the limited allocation when we received it (even the non-spirits drinkers). Absinthe was the hot ticket in the Bay Area. Fancy stainless steel pourers were being showcased along with slotted spoons in an attempt to market the romanticism behind the enjoyment of the spirit, made famous in numerous classic novels and movies. People were having absinthe parties lavishly prepared with designer sugar cubes and sterling silver four-spouted drippers in an attempt to recreate the legendary sessions of Van Gogh and other European artists said to have gone mad from intoxication. Absinthe was on top of every enthusiast’s shopping list and then all of a sudden: absinthe sales died.

What happened is still not 100% clear. There seem to be more than a few reasons behind the declining interest, one of which being the underwhelming experience that newcomers like myself had upon introduction. Having tasted guests on my own personal stash shortly after the boom, I found a general sense of disappointment among those who sampled it. It basically just tasted like hot alcohol and anise, and when watered down it tasted like watered-down alcohol and anise. The mythical legend of wormwood as a possible hallucinogen was quickly put to rest as untrue, which discouraged many thrill-seekers looking to indulge in a seemingly-legalized narcotic. Plus, it was outrageously expensive and no one wanted to drink very much of it in one sitting. For the people who were previously inexperienced, the much-hyped absinthe turned out to be a bit of a letdown. For those who had been previously disposed, the selection of quality absinthe upon re-launch was even more disappointing.

Not having known a thing about absinthe upon its rebirth, I visited an absinthe education-based website called the Wormwood Society and learned a few things from the experts. What stood out immediately was the lack of enthusiasm towards many of the products that were primarily available. It seems that more than a few of the first-born bottles were quickly (and shabbily, according to these guys) formulated and speedily released in order to capitalize on the movement. The distilleries that got involved with their “me-too” absinthe variations got it all wrong because, in their haste, they didn’t adhere to the original recipe and failed to capture the true nature of the beast. Some producers made terrible bottles with fancy labels to disguise the inferiority of their absinthe. Basically, because it was the hip thing to do, many people who shouldn’t have been making absinthe decided to and, in my opinion, they didn’t do a very good job of it.

However, as is usually the case, the best things come to those who wait. In this instance, it applies to both the producer and the consumer. The distillers who took their time and really attempted to faithfully reproduce the absinthe of pre-Prohibition America have given the faithful public some truly remarkable bottles. The shining example of this is the newly arrived Marteau Absinthe de la Belle Epoque ($79.99). It isn’t cheap, but neither is a fine Ardbeg single malt, and in both cases you’re getting the absolute highest, hand-crafted quality spirits. It is appropriately made by Gwydion Stone, the founder of the Wormwood Society and the leading expert of absinthe on this continent. Look at it this way though, most of the bad absinthe was $80 or more upon release and it wasn’t nearly as good. The Marteau is colored only with natural herbs and contains no artificial flavorings or other additives. It is distilled from 100% grape spirits, just as the very best historic brands were, and made with Artemisia Absinthium wormwood, anise seed, and fennel, the three principal ingredients of all superior, traditional absinthes. For once, the high price tag for an absinthe bottle matches the quality of the spirit within it.

If you are interested in absinthe for sipping and reliving the “Green Fairy” experience (cue Gary Oldman and Wynonna Ryder in Coppola’s version of Dracula), then the Marteau is being hailed by many experts as the only true version on the domestic market. However, what has been recently killed as a trendy sipper has been a huge boost to the world of classic cocktails. Many recipes from the early 1900s call for absinthe as an ingredient and, until 2007, it wasn’t possible to create a faithful reproduction. I’ve come to find that absinthe is a principle ingredient in many of my new favorite drinks. For the purpose of mixology, the second batch of the St. George Spirits Absinthe Verte ($79.99) is very well equipped to handle the job. While considered too intense in flavor by some drinkers, its powerful anise notes and sharp herbal qualities are just what I need to spice up my current favorite cocktail, the Corpse Reviver No. 2.

Corpse Reviver No. 2

1/4 gin
1/4 Lillet
1/4 orange liqueur
1/4 lemon juice

A dash of absinthe

Shake over ice and strain.

Again, don’t fret over the price tag. If you buy it once, you likely won’t have to replenish it for a long time. All you need are a few drops at a time and it really makes a difference. Is it $80 worth of a difference, you ask? The answer is a strong affirmative. The addition of absinthe to a cocktail seems to breathe an incredible amount of life into drinks that would normally seem rather mild. If you need proof, go to Heaven’s Dog on Mission Street in San Francisco and order their trademark Pan American Clipper cocktail. A tasty combo of calvados, grenadine, lime juice and absinthe, if it doesn’t knock your socks off, then you don’t like to drink.

Taking time for contemplation, rather than rushing something to the shelves, has also allowed some producers to decide if they want to travel the traditional route into the absinthe market. 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 (375 ml $35.99). While the base spirit for absinthe is traditionally brandy distilled from grape-based wine, Crispin Cain returned to the Ukiah-based alembic 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 threw in the traditional wormwood, but also included rose geranium and a few other aromatic devices and distilled it to an untraditionally low 90 proof— far less than the 120 proof most absinthe sees. The result is a softer, more mildly-drinking spirit that still packs a ton of flavor. While most absinthe is greenish, the Germain Robin is almost watery 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.

There are international choices as well for absinthe that are available on the domestic market, though they do not score too terribly with traditionalists. The Obsello Absinthe ($44.99) from Spain, while not the best of the best, does more than an adequate job of spicing up a cocktail and clocks in at a relatively affordable price for a full 750ml bottle. To conclude the fourth entry in the home bar series, I must stress the importance of an absinthe bottle to your domestic drinking habits. I have presented you with four viable options that would make a great addition to your home collection. I’ll end with a few more recipes to entice you further.

Piccadilly Cocktail

2/3 gin
1/3 vermouth blanc (Dolin is the best)
Dash of grenadine (again I hope to have Small Hand Foods soon)
Dash of absinthe

Shake over ice and strain.

Phoebe Snow Cocktail

1/2 Osocalis brandy
1/2 Dubonnet Rouge
Dash of absinthe

Shake over ice and strain.

Nick’s Own Cocktail

1/2 Osocalis Brandy
1/2 sweet vermouth (again, Dolin)
Dash of absinthe
Dash of Angosturra bitters

Shake over ice and strain.

David Driscoll

Monday
Jul272009

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

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