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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 domestic (3)


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


Staff Tasting: Domestic Wines


Some customers are amazed that we can remember the aromatic and flavor profiles of so many different bottles of wine. “How do you guys know so much about so many different wines?” they ask us. The short answer is: we taste...a lot. Every Tuesday is staff tasting day and we have a cyclical schedule that goes by region. We hit the tasting bar in shifts and take as many notes as we can in the allotted time given to us. We make an effort to remember what we like and we pass that information on to our customers. For those of you who are not able to visit us locally, or who prefer to shop online, you can find many of those notes on the Staff Review page. I also thought blogging about these tastings to help highlight some of the wines that we are currently excited about. I hope I will be able to convey the excitement that I usually exude in person.

Our last tasting was a test in endurance as our domestic buyers delivered a flight of nearly 50 different products. Here are some of the standouts:

2007 Cesar Toxqui Cellars North Coast Pinot Noir ($14.99) Rich aromas with hints of wood and earth. A smooth, medium-bodied palate with vanilla notes. Supple and silky. A very good deal for the price.

2007 Joseph Swan “Cuvee de Trois” Russian River Pinot Noir ($26.99) A smooth entry, far less gritty and rustic than Swan’s other pinots, with soft cherry fruit and very subtle earthy flavors. This should be a slam dunk favorite with just about everyone.

2007 Willowbrook Mendocino Pinot Noir ($16.99) Soft, juicy, cherried-wine with depth and complexity. It really opens up on the palate after some time. A real bargain that gives the under-$20 Pinot category another great bottle to offer.

2007 Morgan “Twelve Clones” Santa Lucia Pinot Noir ($26.99) Always a great wine and this vintage is no different. Cherry and strawberry aromas are followed by more red fruit on the palate that balances with perfect acidity, weight, and structure. One of the best California Pinots from the vintage I have yet tasted.

2006 Thorne “Rio Vista” Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($29.9930) My new favorite Pinot that we carry. It has a classic Burgundian nose with red berries, clove, baking spices and earth, with juicy cherry fruit on the palate. Firm acidity and a long, long finish. I can’t decide if I want to drink it all now or save some for later. What to do?

2007 Lang & Reed North Coast Cabernet Franc ($19.99) Bell pepper aromas let you know that this is real Cab Franc. Supple red berry fruit on the palate with black pepper notes and tannins that grip. More Loire-like in style but with riper fruit. Very nice.

2006 Tamarack Cellars Columbia Valley Merlot ($23.99) This is the bottle that will help to revive Merlot’s tarnished reputation. Toasty aromas, juicy fruit, a luscious full-bodied palate and a restrained use of oak. Structured, but showing beautifully. I can’t wait to tell everyone how good it is.

1999 Mayacamas Napa Merlot ($49.99) The most interesting bottle I’ve tasted in some time, and maybe the best older pure Merlot I’ve ever had. Tangy, earthy, but still showing some fruit. Perfectly balanced and wonderfully aged. This should impress the hell out of Old World drinkers.

2007 Waters “Interlude” Walla Walla Red Blend ($26.99) Washington is the source of practically every great red blend I have tasted recently. The Waters displays rich black fruit with that classic violet tinge on the palate. Structured, but still very smooth and graceful. This wine is outstanding and should please just about anyone who likes anything red.

2006 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Red ($34.99) I would buy this wine every year without tasting it because it has never failed me. The 2006 is more tightly wound, however, than the ’05 and should be decanted for a few hours or stored away for a few years. All the flavor is still there - the black currant, the earth and the chewy tannins. It just needs a little air to reveal itself.

2005 Mount Eden “Saratoga Cuvee” Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon ($24.99) Like the Ridge, I’ve found that this wine is 100% dependable, even though the vintages are very different from one another. This year’s offering is more earthy and mineral, but it tastes exactly like Mt. Eden made it. It’s that classic gravel and earth that I tasted in the 1995 Estate bottle I had last week. Delicious.

2002 Joseph Swan “Lone Redwood” Russian River Zinfandel ($15.99) Rustic, gritty and tangy with underlying earth. Just what you expect from Swan’s unfiltered Zins. Delicious. Always a deal.

2007 Mauritson Dry Creek Zinfandel ($22.99) Big, thick and tannic Zinfandel that’s still showing plenty of rich red fruit. I was expecting a big Port-like monster and instead I got really well-made wine. This is the most interesting Zin I’ve had in some time and I will make sure to point it out to everyone.

2008 Palmina Pinot Gris ($14.99) Solid wine with firm acidity and citrus fruit that is perfectly balanced. Crisp, clean and refreshing with depth and complexity. A very good domestic option for PG.

2007 Mount Eden “Wolff Vineyard” Chardonnay ($17.99) Once again, Mount Eden makes great wine. A wonderful balance of barrel aging, honeyed fruit, and crisp acidity makes for tasty Chardonnay that doesn’t overpower or bore. This is the California style that I want to show out-of-towners. Don’t miss out.

2008 Seven Hills Columbia Valley Riesling ($11.99) Bursting with apricot, this off-dry Riesling is fresh with crisp acidity and more cocktail fruit on the palate. Perfect for Asian dishes or other spicy foods. Load up. At this price it rivals its German counterparts.

David Driscoll



New Beer, Part 2

I told you it was coming. After I recovered from my all-American Memorial Day, which involved a city-wide garage sale, chicken-fried bacon, betting on the horses and a BBQ, I’m finally ready to tackle the next installment of Beer.

Stone Brewing Co. has dropped some new releases on us over the last week or so. Well, to be exact, these have both been released but hard to come by and I finally wrangled a few cases of each. Both the Stone "Sublimely Self-Righteous" Ale (22oz $5.99) and the Stone Brewery "Cali-Belgique" IPA( 22oz $5.99) have made it to the shelf. These are both very limited, especially the Self-Righteous, so get in touch soon if you want a few bottles.

Another recent arrival that has got Beer Fans around the Bay buzzing is the Brooklyn Brewery "Blue Apron Ale" Dubbel (750ml $9.99). This beer was made by Brooklyn specifically for Thomas Keller at French Laundry. The only problem was the batch was too large for Keller to handle in a timely fashion. So the distributor needed to dump some and BINGO! We have the first Brooklyn Brewery beer, that I know of, to be distributed in CA.

The major part of this latest installment, however, will be composed of the last Shelton Brothers special order that just arrived. I’ve had to take over a bit more space in my cold box just to make it all fit, but I’m sure you’re all happy to hear that. Here goes….

Brasserie De Saint-Sylvestre "Gavroche" Bière de Garde, France (4-pk $14.99) A rock solid Biere de Garde rarely seen here in the states. When you absolutely, positively need to get your funk on.

Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! "Rigor Mortis Abt" Quadrupel, Canada (11.2oz $5.99) These beers are quickly gaining a following with not only our customers but also our staff

Brasserie La Choulette Framboise, France (750ml $12.99) An adult raspberry beverage.

BrasserieThiriez "Xxtra" Saison, France (750ml $11.99) One of my favorite French producers, if you are a fan of anthing and everything Saison this will rock you

Brouwerij De Ranke "Cuvee de Ranke," Belgium (750ml $14.99) Easily one of my favorite producers, this is there version of Lambic and it is a perfect summer refresher

Brouwerij De Ranke "Kriek De Ranke," Belgium (750ml $16.99) If I actually have any of this left by the time this e-mail goes out it will be a miracle. I had my first of many bottles to come the other night and it is easily one of the best Krieks I've ever had.

Brouwerij De Ranke "Noir de Dottignies," Belgium (750ml $14.99) The newest beer from De Ranke to hit the US market, somewhere between a Dubbel and a Belgian Strong Ale; dark, malty and mysterious.

Brouwerij der St.Benedictusabdij de Achelse "Achel 8° Blonde" Tripel, Belgium (330ml $5.99) The smallest of all the Trappist breweries and one of two where the monks still brew, this is a rare treat that is getting gobbled up quickly. We actually had the Brune as well, but it all sold the day we did our last tasting. More will come soon...

Brouwerij Kerkom "Bink" Tripel, Belgium (750ml $14.99) A pure triple, earthy, bright, tropical and full of character rather that simple alcoholic heat

Hook Norton Brewery Co. "Hooky Bitter" Bitter Ale, England (500ml $5.49) A perfect everyday beer in every way.

Inveralmond Brewery Ltd. "Blackfriar" Scotch Ale, Scotland (500ml $5.99) Malty with a creaminess like chocolate and toffee pudding.

Ise Kadoya "Genmai Ale," Japan (500ml $7.99) From a brewer that also made soy sauce and Mochi. Genmai rice is used in the brewing process here adding malt like complexity to this one of a kind beer.

Ise Kadoya "Triple Hop Ale" IPA, Japan (500ml $7.99) A Japanese version of a "West Coast" hop bomb, who knew?

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales Biere de Mars, Michigan (750ml $14.99) Anyone that has ever drank beer with me knows my affinity for this brewery. Their latest seasonal release and a perfect puckering sour aspect that makes this wholly refreshing.

Mahr’s "Der Weisse Bock" Weizenbock, Germany (500ml $6.99) Think Aventinus rather than Vitus and you will head down the right track with this one.

Mikkeller "Draft Bear" Imperial Pilsner, Denmark (750ml $14.99) My go to beer when you have to absolutely, positively have the most refreshing Pilsner out there.

Mikkeller "Not Just Another Wit," Witbier Denmark (750ml $14.99) The boys from Denmark have another hit on their hands with their Wit. Brewed with an unusual amount of Hops (goldings, amarillo, saaz and cascade), spices (orange peel and coriander seeds) and flaked oats.

Mikkeller "USAlive" Belgian Wild Ale, Denmark (750ml $19.99) A version of their "It’s Alive" bottling with a more pronounced US hop profile.

Nøgne-Ø Brown Ale, Norway (500ml $8.49) There is something about a well-crafted Brown that really does it for me. And yes it is worth $9.

Oppigårds "Well-Hopped Lager" Plisner, Sweden (500ml $5.99) Do I really need to say more?

The Nils Oscar Company "India Ale" IPA, Sweden (330ml $5.49) With a strong malt base and a ton of Amarillo hops this is like a DIPA without all the alcohol.

Farnum Hill Ciders Extra-Dry Cider, New Hampshire (750ml $14.99) First the Henny’s and now these guys. Cider is the new lager. Crisp and full of kick-you-in-the-shins acid, this better than a cool glass of water on a hot day.

Farnum Hill Ciders Summer Cider, New Hampshire (750ml $13.99) Seasonal and maybe even a bit more refreshing than the Extra Dry above, this has a pinch more sweetness and a broader texture.

Oliver's Cider & Perry "Blakeney Red Varietal" Perry, England (750ml $14.99) True English Perry. Dry, no bubbles and with as much pear fruit as any sane human being can handle.

So there it is. Part 2. In the can. The great part is I’m already composing our next email, where you may find new, and old, bottlings from AleSmith, Port Brewing Co, Avery, Stone, Cantillon and Fantome. Keep in touch.


Bryan Brick