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Wednesday
Jun202018

Single Cask Super Store!

Over the years we’ve worked closely with nearly every Scottish Independent bottler. Often times we are the first retailor in the US to feature a particular brand, but it’s not often that we’re able to secure truly exclusive sale. We’re not an importer and have no particular rights or claims to any brand. Instead, we build relationships through positive interaction and responsible stewardship. We’ve brought many brands to the US that our importers would otherwise not have the opportunity to sell and likewise we’ve secured exclusive rights with certain international brands in California.

The John Milroy line of Single Malts is precisely one of those relationships. We’re not going over there to select casks. In fact, we rely on the honorable Doug McIvor to make his astute  selections for the brand. He is the Director of Spirits for the formidable Berry Bros & Rudd Co. in London. This wonderful company is a hybrid of high-end retailer, negociant, independent bottler, and brand incubator. He started his illustrious career running the Milroy of Soho whisky shop – the baby (literally the shop is tiny) of brothers John and Wallace Milroy. When Jack Milroy sold his diminutive Soho shop, he turned to Doug to help continue his legacy of bottling exceptional Single Malts.

We’ve tried many times to work directly with BBR and had only limited success. Our industry is a complicated web of relationships, trade agreements, and back channel dealings. Most brands can't simply turn around and sell products to us directly. We’re just not a big enough fish to fry some of the national relationships BBR has developed over the years. When the Milroy line came up as an independent brand free from the complexities of Berry Bros other dealings, I jumped on the opportunity to work with them. While these aren’t true direct buys and we only take a fraction of the total amount imported, we are negotiating incredibly advantageous pricing and selling these exclusively in California. That means if you live in CA you're going to spend 30-50% less for a bottle of Milroy's than if you lived anywhere else in the world.

After our initial purchase a year ago, we've had to wait a long time before the right casks popped up. Since we're not fully in control and even the Milroy's offering exceptional quality across the board, we simply can't offer products that don't provide our customers with the extreme level of value that they expect. We’re lucky to have found these three special casks that represent the ethos brand and its highly distinctive style perfectly; an odd, yet wonderful Island whisky, a shockingly affordable and bizarrely drinkable young peater and a classic zesty summer Speysider. We’re still a few months out from the next big container of Whisky (the Season is coming don't worry) but these three gorgeous casks will help you bridge the gap.

Glen Keith 21 Year Old "John Milroy - K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky (750ml) $110

This wonderful cask of Glen Keith was selected by our friend Doug McIvor for its exceptional balance and character. The distillery in Keith has been rare in modern times due to its closure from 2000 until 2013. While it served as a partner to neighboring Strathisla as one of the component malts in the Chivas Blend, it was also the site of much experimentation and some unusual production techniques. There they developed unique yeast strains and alternative was of peating whisky -namely the use of extremely peaty water to ferment the mash. Keith has long remained out of sight and out of mind of the modern whisky consumer, but now we're starting to see wonderful casks pop up from the period right before the closure. The gorgeous aromas and purity of malt are astounding. Extremely round ripe orchard fruit and subtle highland grasses. The seamless body and silky texture are what set this whisky apart and create the perfect frame for the creamy malt and subtle savory nuttiness to balance the zippy citrus and apple fruit. A subtle whisky that might seem a little shy at first, but blossoms into something absolutely lovely. An easy go to for the summer Scotch drinker.

Tobermory 8 Year Old "John Milroy - K&L Exclusive" Single Refill Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky (750ml) $55

This crazy little Tobermory is exactly what I love about the strange little distillery on the Isle of Mull. It was filled into a used sherry butt in 2008. This distillery sometimes gets a bad rap, in particular because the independently bottled stuff is usually filled into 4th and 5th fill cask. The slightly feinty style of the malt really needs some higher quality oak to be softened enough to release its complexity, but once it does it can be an absolute treat. There's no question that Tobermory has the potential to provide incredible depth and enjoyment, but it's often a challenging whisky not necessarily designed for the novice. This particular cask represents that dichotomy perfectly. Second fill sherry butts are perhaps the perfect vessel for this funky spirit, adding and taking from the whisky in perfect balance. As expected this whisky is as fun and funky, but it also represents one of the starkest examples of the benefits a few drops of fine spring water to a quality single malt like this one. It's nearly mandatory with something this youthful to at least try it with a few drops of water and thank god we did because this thing absolutely transforms. What was once hard edged and idiosyncratic is now opulent and enlightening. There is complete turnaround in the glass and one of the most unique and exciting drinking experiences we can ever offer at any price point. An odd yet beautiful whisky that will appeal to the real malt geek.

Staoisha (Peated Bunnahabhain) 3 Year Old "John Milroy - K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel Cask Strength Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (750ml) $35

An astonishing whisky in so many ways. We've tasted young peaty whisky many times and while it can sometimes be delicious (I'm thinking Kilchoman here), it's typically much more neutered and spirity than you'd expect. The peatiness can take many years to really poke through especially when you've got high proof and powerful malt to hide behind. This goofy whisky, however, is exactly the opposite. It's a true peat bomb even at this young age. But that's not all, the dense ashy smoke is tamed by robust sweet malt and some hints of salty fruit. This is an impressive whisky by any account and while it will by no means be in anyone's top 5, I'll challenge anyone to name a more interesting and drinkable cask strength peater under $35 that's even half as good. I'm not sure what they're doing over there at the bay north of Port Askaig, but there's definitely something amazing happening there. We can only pray that we'll continue to see such affordable and delicious whiskies coming out of Scotland in the future.

-David Othenin-Girard

Thursday
Jun142018

Three Japanese Greats

Last night I found myself in the enviable position of "needing" to taste three great whiskies all at once. You know, for a proper apples-to-apples comparison. The Kaiyo Peated Mizunara oak bottling just arrived a couple of days before some Yamazaki 12 and Hakushu 12 became available. I was volunteered as tribute to be the poor guinea pig to conduct the research and find out how the three compared. For full disclosure: The Kaiyo and Hakushu are from this week's shipment. Kaiyo is a sample, as you can tell from the bottle in the photo. The Yamazaki is a bottle I've owned for a couple of years and has been open but fairly full since the day I bought it. Here are my rather unstructured notes with a more formal summary after:


Nosing - Kaiyo Peated Mizunara vs. Yamazaki 12 vs. Hakushu 12

Kaiyo - Fruitiest by far. Tropical, salty. Second nosing: very peaty, which didn't really show up as much the first time around.

Yamazaki - Surprisingly green toned, like a sour apple Jolly Rancher, very vanilla-laden. Even more intense vanilla and riper melon notes on the second pass.

Hakushu - Shows the most cereal notes, also verdant and green. Second nosing: cool and minty, very pretty earthiness. Like fresh, moist peat and forest floor.

Palate

Kaiyo - Green apples, salted caramel, taffy, cereal, and very tropical, coconut/honey/pineapple. Sweeter still — not vanilla sweetness, but, like, brown sugar sweetness.

Yamazaki - Feels softer, but lively. Less peaty by far. Very fresh and cool. Second time around: more briny, more fruit, still lighter in body, but doesn't feel thin at all. Supremely elegant. More fruit and a little tropical coconut as well. Constantly changing — hard to pin down.

Hakushu - Very sweet - more peat than Yamazaki, less than Kaiyo. Extremely balanced. Second time around: very luscious. Spicier wood notes come through — more pepper and a touch of cinnamon. Very malty. Really rich and easy-going smoke. Just enough to liven everything up, but not overpowering smoke.

Finishes

Kaiyo - clean and medium+ length. Salt, delicate fruit, wafting campfire smoke.

Yamazaki - Most grain notes on the finish, sweet malt really comes through, also big pop of vanilla, fresh fruit, bit more coconut, complex finish.

Hakushu - Longer grain tones, like a brown sugar/maple syrup oatmeal.  Very lengthy. Subtle smoke helps persist. Earth/tea.

Summary - These are all damn good whiskies.




Kaiyo The Peated Mizunara Oak Japanese Whiskey (750ml) $109.99
This is the fruitiest and peatiest. A very cool combination. I gather the intense fruit comes predominently from the use of Mizunara oak. NB: I don't have extensive experience with most Mizunara oak bottlings due to the outrageous price tag generally associated with the world's most expensive casks. If you love a fruity, peaty whisky then this one is for you. It's got a little bit of everything. Sea spray, tropical fruit galore, sweetness, round body, and a good finish that showcases the heavier peated notes really well without overpowering the fruit and spice. Add to all of that the fact that the Kaiyo has been finished at sea with a 3-4 month voyage, exposing it to extremes in heat and moisture, and you have yourself one incredible bottle of whisky.

Yamazaki 12 Year Old Japanese Single Malt Whiskey (750ml) $99.99
The most delicate and elegant of the three. Also the most vanilla sweetness. Fruitiness is perfectly balanced throughout. This has tremendous complexity and, while the upfront character is really clear, there are tons of layers to delve into. There is no doubt why this classic is Japan's most popular whisky and beloved around the world.

Hakushu 12 Year Old Japanese Single Malt Whiksey (750ml) $99.99
Rich and full bodied, this is a great combo of sweet and savory herbs like mint and tea to go with malt sweetness and a very gentle but persistent smokiness. This is very elegant and feels the coolest (temperature, not hip, although it is also very hip). Lots of subtle complexity here too. Earth tones drive everything on this one. Depending on my mood it could unseat the Yamazaki in my book.

While it looks like the Yamazaki sold out almost immediately, there are Hakushu and Kaiyo bottles still available at the time of this posting. If you're a fan of Japanese whiskey, now is the time to add a bottle or two of each of these to your collection. Enjoy!

 

- Andrew Whiteley

Sunday
Jun102018

The Wait Is Over.

 

It’s been a hell of a Championship weekend. The Capitals won Lord Stanley’s Cup on Thursday, Warriors steam-rolled the Cavs on Friday, Justify took the Triple Crown on Saturday, and now…Woodinville Whiskey has arrived! The American Distilling Institute crowned Woodinville Bourbon Whiskey of the Year in 2016. And just like the Warriors, they went back to back with Rye of the Year in 2017. Now in 2018, Woodinville is finally available outside of Washington State!

What makes a champion whiskey? People don’t want sourced whiskey with dubious label claims about a 200 year history. They want an authentic product, made well, and a company with the patience to turn it into great whiskey before trying to sell it. Woodinville founders Brett and Orlin heard the message loud and clear. When they opened in 2010, Woodinville worked hard and delivered.

From conception they set out to build something focused around their community in Washington and on extraordinary quality. You can’t make great whiskey without great grain. They found third generation farmers who know their land and know what it takes to pull the best grains from the earth. Then they made a commitment to that farm and joined the family. All of Woodinville’s grain is grown on the Omlin Family Farm in Quincy, Washington.

Despite a passion for whiskey and a tremendous vision, Brett and Orlin didn’t have extensive experience making whiskey, so they sought out the best teacher. From Day 1, the distillery set up and operation has been guided by David Pickerell, famous for his 14 years as master distiller at Maker’s Mark. From the incredible foundation of great farming and distilling knowledge they added the most important trait for making great whiskey: patience.

Everything they make goes into 53 gallon barrels. No short cuts here. They wisely limited their early releases to their local market while building stocks for the future. As the whiskey quietly aged, Woodinville raked-in award after award. But without a trip to the Evergreen State, you couldn’t get a bottle. Until now. It’s finally time to reap the rewards of their patience and forethought. Their two incredible flagship whiskeys were just released exclusively in Northern California.

Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Coming in between 5 and 6 years old, the bourbon is a high rye mash. It sings with sweet corn, beautiful spice, a little chocolate, and a mellow finish. It’s rich and smooth. It’s absolutely wonderful on its own or in an Old Fashioned.

Woodinville Straight 100% Rye Whiskey
Pour the rye in your glass and you can't help but be struck by the nose. It is ethereal. I was taken aback by the wonderful fruitiness to it. The baking spices make an obvious appearance and meld with the fruity tones perfectly. The palate is full of honey, bits of pepper, a touch of fresh cut grass, and cinnamon sugar. The finish is stunningly long.

Remarkably, the most incredible achievement of Brett and Orlin isn’t necessarily the whiskey itself. It’s the fact that they’ve done all of this and managed to sell both the rye and bourbon for under 40 bucks! It’s the creation of real value that makes them champions in my book.

 

- Andrew Whiteley

Friday
Jun082018

Oof...

It's been a rough week for both the hospitality and the fashion worlds. Two pioneers in their respective industries lost, leaving the nation mourning and shocked. Anthony Bourdain was one of the first voices to get me interested in food and booze. I read Kitchen Confidential after senior year in high school and it probably changed the trajectory of my life more than any single source. I still believe strongly in values of "Système D" as described in The Nasty Bits. Not that I necessarily envied the grueling, greasy world behind those swinging shiny kitchen doors, but because it gave me the confidence to consider with world of food, wine, and whisky an actual career.

This man and legendary drinker is one the most integral influences in the dramatic opening of American culture to the wide wide world of food over the last two decades. Always fighting for the underdog and attacking many of the most powerful elements in his industry and others, one thing he proved was that speaking truth to power could be meaningful. His biting style -intelligent, irreverent, sardonic, yet undeniably just- will remain a timeless source of power for the underdog in this industry. The revelation that life can be about sensual experience, hedonism over egoism, without diminishing one's commitment to what's right and good in the world will be the legacy that I cling to always.  

Even with that commitment to pleasure, experience, and love - life is still filled with pain. And today we are all hurting, but we can't let pain win. If you're feeling like it's all too much -please talk. Tell your friends or your parents. Likewise, if you think a friend or family member seems distant or different, don't shrug it off. Stop them, talk to them, be annoying has hell if you have to. Tell them you love them, tell them they matter, tell them that you value them. Tell them that their existence is the source of your joy. Even if they don't want to hear it, repeat it. Nothing breeds belief like repetition. Love wins, love wins, love wins...

-David Othenin-Girard

Friday
Jun082018

The K&L Brandies

Since the beginning of their brandy program back in 2012, K&L has brought in a lot of French brandy, much of which is hard to find anywhere else in the U.S. David Othenin-Gerard just got back from France, so hopefully there will be more to come.  I thought it might be handy to list out some of the domaines I've really enjoyed from the K&L brandy program
 
Type: Armagnac 
Region: Tenareze 
Grapes: Folle Blanche 
Vintages: 1973, 1978, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2001 
 
K&L seems to get a steady stream from this Tenareze house including multiple ages from some of these vintages.  These are some of my favorite brandies and they tend to be very consistent with a characteristic balance of fruit and spice. I especially like the 1990s bottles. 
 
Domaine de Baraillon 
Type: Armagnac 
Region: Bas Armagnac 
Grapes: Baco/Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche 
Vintages: 10 yo, 1893, 1933, 1974, 1976, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1995, 2003 
 
More than any other spirit, Baraillon made me a brandy drinker. They are a bit more inconsistent than Pellehaut and sometimes they need a lot of air, but at their best, they are unrivaled and full of spicy/earthy goodness. I particularly like the '70s and '80s vintages and tend to prefer the Baco/Ugni blends to the Folle Blanche.  
 
Type: Armagnac 
Region: Tenareze 
Grapes: Ugni Blanc 
Vintages: 1964, 1993, 1994, 2000, 2001, 2005 
 
Grangerie was most popular for the very affordable 50 year old from 1964, but my favorites have been the stuff from the 2000s. This is one of the few brandies I prefer young. 
 
Cardinat 
Type: Armagnac 
Region: Bas Armagnac 
Grapes: Folle Blanche, Colombard, Baco, Ugni Blanc 
Vintages: 1981, 1987, 1992 
 
There were only three of these, but man were they good...and different, from the oak monster 1981 to the spicy/earthy 1992.  I hope there will be more one day (hint, hint).  
 
Domaine de Pouchegu 
Type: Armagnac 
Region: Tenareze 
Grapes: Baco  
Expressions: 1986 
 
There was only one bottle from this domaine which is no longer in production, but it was fantastic -  spicy/fruity/oaky and very complex.  A real bourbon lover's brandy.  I was excited to hear that there will be a few more coming in soon.  
 
Domaine de Jean Bon 
Type: Armagnac 
Region: Bas Armagnac 
Grapes: Baco 
Vintages: 1974, 1979, 1987, 1990, 1995, 1999 
 
These were nice and fruity.  
 
Type: Armagnac 
Region: Bas Armagnac 
Grapes: Baco 
Vintages: XO, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1995 
 
Brandies from this small domaine tend to be dry and spicy with ginger, menthol, clove and lemon.  
 
Type: Calvados 
Region: Domfrontais 
Fruit: Pears and apples. 
Expressions: Reserve, 15 yo, 2010 
 
Pacory is one of the few Calvados producers from which K&L has been able to bring in multiple expressions. I really love these pear heavy brandies.

-Sku