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Saturday
Dec102016

We're Just Getting Started

There's a giant smoking crater in our San Carlos warehouse where the pile of Glenallachie and Dailuaine used to be yesterday. I'm glad we got your attention with that deal! I've had to pull everything left for the two NorCal retail stores today as we head into another busy December retail weekend. NOTE: if you've ever wondered why things pop in and out of stock sometimes, it's likely because they're being transferred between the stores. For example, we'll probably run out of the Hepburn's Choice Glenallachie within the next forty-five minutes, but you'll see a few more bottles pop up later today when the remaining inventory gets received into San Francisco and Redwood City. The same thing happened with our Four Roses OESK yesterday. A few people sent me emails wondering why the last thirty bottles had disappeared so quickly. "We are transferring the last few cases into our retail locations," I wrote back, "but it's also December: the other 200 bottles of OESK sold in less than eighteen hours. Things can vanish quickly around the holidays." I had a lady come in on Wednesday and buy forty-five bottles of our Kavalan single cask right off the shelf. POOF!

Speaking of the Glenallachie, thank you to whomever sent me their blind taste test against Aberlour A'Bunadh on the K&L Instagram last night. That was reassuring. Now I know there are at least two of us who think this is pretty good stuff. While that particular sherry bomb and the much more balanced sherry-matured Dailuaine are my two favorite barrels we've purchased this year, that doesn't mean I saved the best for last. "Best deal" is a lot like "best whisky": people can have different opinions about what constitutes value for their own personal tastes. For me, getting the chance to sell dark, sherry-aged whisky at cask strength for $49.99 was exciting, namely because I know how much people like that style of whisky. I knew people were going to be pretty happy, so that in turn made me happy. But that's not to say that one of our forthcoming casks from Hepburn's Choice might not make you happier! You might think getting 24 year old cask strength Strathisla for $89.99 is more exciting because you  personally prefer 20+ year old, classic Highland single malt whisky to fiery sherry bombs. Or, like another customer wrote to me last night, you might be more impressed with our young Caol Ila casks (there's another one coming next week) because you like the bold and brash Islay flavors of smoke, salt, and peat. That's why I try to buy as many different things as possible when I head over to Scotland. No one is more aware than me of how many different tastes there are in the whisky world. We're catering to as many corporate business guys who just want something smooth and round as we are super whisky nerds who critically analyze and breakdown every single component of the whisky. I have to have plenty for both groups and every one else in between during December. I'm often not sure customers understand how many people shop here. It's a lot.

Someone told me in the store yesterday: "I didn't think the Golden Devil Jamaican rums were as funky or weird as you described them; I thought they were really good and easy to like." That's fantastic! Says the experienced spirits drinker, however. Fortunately he wasn't there one hour earlier when the guy who clearly didn't read the description berated me for five minutes about how rum shouldn't taste like that and how we should be ashamed for selling such a product. You have to laugh. It's the only way you won't go crazy between the yin and yang of curating a booze department. For every one guy who loves what we're doing, there are ten who hate it, and vice versa. When a guy writes to me to tell me how terrible my taste is (which happened on Wednesday), I try to take comfort in the other emails I received that were complementary and appreciative. I had another person write to me this week, asking for my opinion on a particular whiskey we didn't even carry. "Should I buy this or not?" he asked. I told him I had never tasted the whiskey, but from what I knew about the producer I thought there were more interesting options on the market, which I then kindly laid out for him. He responded by angrily condemning my taste and telling me he would never shop at K&L again. I had to read it four or five times just to make sure I wasn't missing something. See what you get for having an opinion? Even when you're personally solicited for one via email!

You really understand how crazy December can make people when you drive home in traffic. As I was heading down Woodside Road to 280 last night, patiently waiting in the right hand lane's queue to merge on to the freeway two miles ahead, I watched over fifty people speed past me on the left and attempt to force their way in at the very front of the line. Sometimes they were successful via the kindness of a fellow holiday driver. Other times the rude and arrogant gesture drew an appropriate response of vicious honking and yelling. As I got closer to the on-ramp I saw that an accident had occurred due to one of these instances, and the people were screaming at one another on the side of the road as a result. That's when I thought to myself: "Is it really worth it?" I mean that from both perspectives. Is it really worth trying to teach some asshole a lesson by not letting him cut the line if it's going to result in damage to your vehicle and a miserable experience dealing with your insurance company? At the same time, is it really worth saving five minutes on your commute by trying to speed your way through a parking lot, stepping all over the other folks who are simply trying to get home the same as you? I know it will never change. I know I'll see the exact same thing on the road for the next few weeks, but I'm hoping that the warming thought of drinking a little Hepburn's Choice single malt will mellow the nerves of a few folks out there.

We've got more than just single malt coming, however. More than just Auchentoshan 19 for $79.99. More than just Royal Brackla 18 for $69.99. More than just Bunnahabhain 27 for $159.99. We've got another large batch of Cuban....I mean....Caribbean rum on the way. We've got a single barrel of cask strength agricole rhum from Clement. We've still got plenty of surprises to show you before Christmas officially hits. And we've got plenty more to show you in the New Year as well. Like I said in the title, we're just getting started.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Dec092016

More Holiday Deals

The more I acquire precious and limited bottles of single malt whisky, the more I find myself unable to decide what to drink on a Thursday night. That very debacle happened to me last night. I finished off my serving of 1999 Barde Haut along side my grilled meat sampler from Tannourine, and found myself not quite ready to quit drinking. I moseyed over to the Driscoll bar to have a look at my current open selection of Scotch. The Naked Grouse was gone. I'd dusted that off a few nights back. I had plenty of Compass Box 5th & Harrison, but I didn't want anything that expensive (or smoky). I had a limited edition bottle of Bruichladdich that the boys had given me at the distillery this past September, but I didn't want to touch that. There were a few rare Japanese selections, but I try to save those for guests. I ended up going to bed, but not before promising to address the issue the following day. 

Today, my answer to that problem arrived. The three standard editions of Glenrothes showed up with all new pricing and supreme drinkability for my increased holiday consumption requirements. I've always loved Glenrothes as it was the first bottle of single malt I ever purchased, but I hadn't bought a bottle in some time. After re-tasting the Peated Cask, Bourbon Cask, and Sherry Reserve selections, I couldn't make up my mind as to which one I wanted. They're all so creamy, supple, and easy to love. So I bought all three. For these new holiday prices, I can afford to:

Glenrothes "Peated Cask" Single Malt Whisky $34.99 (previously $49.99) - Not peated, but aged in casks that once held peated whisky, the Glenrothes Peated Cask expression is a soft and creamy Highland malt with soft and subtle overtones of campfire smoke that undulates between waves of caramel and sweet barley. Fans of Talisker and Highland Park might want to look here for a value sipper.

Glenrothes "Sherry Reserve" Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky $34.99 (previously $49.99) - Glendronach 12 and Balvenie Doublewood have a serious new competitor, even without the age statement. The Glenrothes Sherry Reserve is full of that sweet, brown sugar-laden note of fresh Oloroso sherry right on the first sip, and it rounds out beautifully through the mid-palate, all the way through to the finish. It’s clean, malty, chewy, and full of classic Glenrothes character; just without any of that old style funk. I think it's just as good as Aberlour 12 Non-Chillfiltered, softer than Glendronach 12, and just plain better than Balvenie 12 Doublewood. I might make this my new house whisky for the next few months. A reminder of the olden days, but with a steamlined and polished new finish. Well done, Glenrothes. Well done, indeed.

Glenrothes "Bourbon Cask" Single Malt Whisky $34.99 (previously $49.99) - Classic Bourbon aged single malt in the manner of Glenmorangie 10 year or Glenlivet 12, but with more richness and texture than both of those whiskies and now for a similar price!

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Dec072016

The K&L Whisky Mega Deal of 2017

Purchasing single barrels of cask strength single malt whisky isn't a process that particularly lends itself to everyday value. I hear from K&L customers all over the world on a regular basis who would love to participate more often in our exclusive whisky program, if only the costs were a bit more in line with the regular brands. That's because when we talk about "value" as it pertains to our full proof Scotch selections, we're usually talking about 20+ year old whisky for a hundred bucks. The higher ABV and single barrel status of each selection both add serious dollars on to the price tag. There simply isn't much cask strength juice out there for under $75 and when we do manage to locate a sub-$60 whiskies of quality they're generally in the 5-7 year range, like with our Caol Ila and Talisker bottlings earlier this year. With the three-tier distribution system set up the way it is in the United States, there's really no way around that price point. Cask strength, mature, and high-quality single malt whisky selections are never available for fifty bucks because there are too many parties taking a cut of the profit along the way.

But that's why you shop at K&L, right? Because we know how trim down those margins, cut out those middlemen, and bring the booze directly to you for a more reasonable price!

We've performed a few magic acts over the years. We've located some rare whiskies, pulled out a few stops, and (even just yesterday) managed to drop the price on many an interesting spirit here and there, but I can't remember having ever put together a Scotch deal like this one: single barrel, cask strength, sherry-matured, dark and delicious Highland single malt whisky for less than fifty bucks.

What's wrong with it, David? Nothing!

Not only is there nothing wrong with these whiskies, they're both absolutely deeeeelicious!! They're my favorite two casks of the year by far and they're both going to go down as two of the best single malt deals we've ever put together as a company. These aren't just passable whiskies, they're downright fantastic. I've been sitting on my hands, chewing my nails, itching my scalp, and biting my tongue to keep this deal a secret until it was ready to go. What you have here are two casks, a first-fill sherry butt and a refill sherry butt, that offer all the richness you love in Balvenie, Macallan, Aberlour, and Glendronach, but at full proof and in concentrated single barrel forms. Imagine if you could get a single barrel of Glendronach 12 at cask strength for the same price as the standard edition. That's pretty much what the Dailuaine tastes like. Imagine if you could get an older, sweeter, richer, darker, fleshier version of Aberlour A'Bunadh for $20 less per bottle! That's the Glenallachie. 

I think the email is going out for this on Friday. I hope we can make these last through December because it's going to be a helluva lot of fun to hand these whiskies out in the store for holiday gifts. 

2005 Glenallachie 11 Year Old "Hepburn's Choice - K&L Exclusive" Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky $49.99 - Glenallachie is a Pernod-Ricard-owned distillery that sends most of its whisky to the blended Chivas Regal, but after our customers get a taste of this super-saturated sherry-matured delight, it's going to be a household name at K&L. This 11 year old first-fill sherry bomb is like a darker, sweeter, older, richer, better version of another Pernod-Ricard classic: the Aberlour A'Bunadh. But whereas the A'Bunadh sells for $70 a bottle, this decadent Glenallachie comes in at a cool $49.99. For the age, quality, and concentration of the sherry here, this is right there with the Dailuaine 9 year old cask as one of the best single malt whisky deals we've ever offered. The nose is brimming with burnt vanilla, toasted nuts, and cakebread. The palate is a 59.8% beast of savory sherry, sweet pudding, candied citrus, and dark chocolate. If you've been dreaming of the 22 year old Mortlach sherry bomb we offered years ago that is still the stuff of legend today, this is the baby version of that whisky. We could probably sell this for $99.99 and few people would complain. We'd recommend buying this one by the case. Only 600 total bottles available.

2007 Dailuaine 9 Year Old "Hepburn's Choice - K&L Exclusive" Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky $49.99 - Dailuaine is one of Diageo's classic Speyside distilleries that produces a classically rich, nutty, and creamy Highland malt whisky. We thought this particular nine year old sherry butt-aged expression was so fruity and delicious that we practically jumped across the negotiating table to get our hands on it. Matured in a second fill cask, the toffee and shortbread notes of the Oloroso cask are more restrained and integrated, but they're still front and center. They meld beautifully with the inherent maltiness of the whisky and build to a finish that pops at 58.3% with spice, rhubarb, and toasted almond notes. Fans of Glendronach, Macallan, and Balvenie should go ga-ga for this. The chewiness of the sherry is just apparent enough to add body and texture, but it never takes away from the pure malt flavor. Utterly drinkable and of profound quality for the price. Without a doubt, it's one of the best deals we've ever offered for any cask of sherry-aged malt whisky in our store's history.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Dec062016

Pass the Dunder (to the left hand side)

What makes Jamaican rum so special in the rum geek circle, you ask? Why it's that funky, overripe banana, fruity, petrol-laden nose and flavor profile that can range from bitter mango to fruit tea with menthol and gasoline in character. Jamaican rum, when presented to you in an unblended, pure pot distilled, unmanipulated form is one of the wackiest, craziest, most unique spirits that exists. I've never been to Jamaica and pretty much everything I know about rum distillation I learned from two people, but from what I've soaked up over the years much of Jamaican rum's character has to do with high ester counts and a mysterious substance called dunder. Matt Pietrik's Cocktail Wonk blog has some of the best, most detailed first-hand accounts about Jamaican rum production I've ever read, so you can get the long version there. The short version, however, is this: a large smelly pit of decaying matter is propagated in order to create acids that will react with the molasses wash in the copper pot still and turn into fragrant esters, which are then condensed into the rum (I think that's right). Think of esters in rum like you would peat in whisky and you'll get an idea of how fanatical people can be about their rums. If Octomore is the peatiest of all single malts, then pure pot still Jamaican rum is the equivalent in terms of esters. This is some funky shit.  

When I was visiting with the Laing brothers in Scotland this past September, they mentioned to me the idea of helping them launch a new rum label called "Golden Devil," a series of single cask rums bottled at 100 proof that would help introduce some new barrels into the U.S. market. I was all for it, especially since I could have first pick of the litter. I decided that the American market is already full of both value-priced and high-end rums. We have plenty of white mixing rums. There's more than enough sweet sippers. We have a fair share of agricole rhums as well. What we don't have enough of, however, are funky, high-ester, pure pot still Jamaican rums that are priced according to what they're worth. You have to understand: single casks of rum are expensive. Who wants to mix Tiki drinks with a $90 bottle of 10 year old rum? Better yet: how many people are interested in a wacky $200 bottle of 24 year old Hampden? I'm adventurous, but I'm not stupid. I was going to have to get clever with the math if I was going to make this work.

And so I did. 

For my enjoyment, your enjoyment, and the enjoyment of our super nerdy Tiki fans who can legally purchase spirits from us, I bring you three new Jamaican rum selections that are interesting, distinct, and more than fairly priced. Dis generation rules the nation! Now pass me that Monymusk; to the left hand side, please.

2007 Monymusk 9 Year Old "Golden Devil" Single Barrel Jamaican Rum $49.99 - Monymusk is the name of the Jamaican sugar factory near Clarendon distillery where a rum of the same name is produced. While there is such a brand as Monymusk Plantation rum, we don't ever see that label in the U.S. Almost all of Clarendon distillery's rum is sold off to one main contract: Diageo, which uses the Jamaican rum for its European release of Captain Morgan and for part of its Myer's rum formula. That means we almost never get to taste pure, unadulterated, pot-distilled Monymusk in America, despite the growing desire for more aromatic, flavorful and interesting Jamaican rums in our expansive Tiki cocktail culture. Every now and again you'll find an independently bottled cask, but they're often quite pricy and the quality can be unpredictable. This pale straw colored rum is the lightest and most mixable of the three Jamaican casks, but it has a lovely sweetness on the finish that might taste good over rocks with a splash of soda or Coke. The dunder aromas and flavors are dialed up here with earthy notes, bitter fruit, menthol, and savory herbs dominating the profile. It's a homerun for just about any classic Tiki drink, but the potency of the pot still flavor can likely cut through whatever you throw its way.

2006 Worthy Park 10 Year Old "Golden Devil" Single Barrel Jamaican Rum $49.99 - Worthy Park is a centuries-old Jamaican rum distillery that ceased operations in 1960 before a new generation rebuilt the facility in 2005 and resumed distillation. Almost all of the rum made at Worthy Park is sold and consumed on the island, but a small amount trickles out from independent bottlers in the UK and Europe, which is where we tracked down our 10-year-old cask. This Worthy Park 10 year old rum is a beautifully balanced, fully sippable expression of classic Jamaican rum flavor, steeped with tropical fruit and richness from the oak cask, but balanced by classic pot still flavors of over-ripe banana and wood polish. This is the most mellow of the three Golden Devil Jamaican casks we purchased, but it's still not El Dorado or Diplomatico. This is for high-end Daiquiris and Mai Tais, or whatever else your Tiki desires call for.

1992 Hampden 24 Year Old  "Golden Devil" Single Barrel Jamaican Rum $99.99 - Hampden is one of Jamaica's oldest sugar estates, dating back to the 1750s, and its rum is one of our favorites here at K&L. We purchased a 14 year old cask of Hampden a few years back that has since become a cult classic, and we're also huge fans of the Smith & Cross pot still rum, which is contracted from the facility. Hampden isn't just known for being one of Jamaica's best rums, it's also known for being one of the funkiest and most flavorful; the result of a long, rustic fermentation process that is renowned for being as old school as it gets. This ancient 24 year old single cask is going to test the ester limits of even the most faithful Jamaican rum drinkers. Imagine a pineapple and mango Hi-Chew candy dipped in petrol followed by an intense and lasting note of vanilla, fruit tea, menthol, and gasoline. If that sounds too weird, this isn't the rum for you. This isn't Ron Zacapa. This is serious, glorious, and spell-binding Jamaican rum, only for the most dedicated of Tiki fans.

If you want a full scale tour of these distilleries, I'll link Matt's blog posts to Monymusk, Worthy Park, and Hampden here. As I'm often tasting in warehouses or conference rooms, I'm thankful someone was there to provide me with some of the first-hand details. These posts are a great read and I highly recommend checking them out whether you end up buying a bottle of these rums or not! If you do buy a bottle, however; you've been warned. These are not smooth and mellow rums full of sugar and spice. They are FUNKY! But they're also incredible. I hope you take the plunge.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Dec052016

Know Who You Are

Last night I was sipping on one of the best bottles I've brought back from Scotland in years: the Naked Grouse, a sherry-aged version of the Famous Grouse bottled at 40% ABV that would absolutely be considered nothing special by most American whisky nerds were it available here. I bought it after talking to one of the girls at the Whisky Experience in Edinburgh who said it was her favorite whisky at the moment. "I like Scotch that tastes like Scotch," she told me. "Call me crazy," she added with a smirk. That girl knew who she was, what she liked, and what constituted a real glass of Scotch whisky. She didn't need validation from the internet, bloggers, or a professional critic to understand her palate. I loved talking to her and I thought about our conversation last night as I sipped that Naked Grouse in front of the TV. What a great memory.

I sense that same confidence and self-awareness when I talk to the Bai sisters, the twins behind Vale Jewelry in New York who have designed pieces for the who's-who list of Manhattan. Kelly Ripa, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lena Dunham, you name her! That Live necklace that Kelly wears each morning on "Live With Kelly" came from Vale, as did a number of pieces in my wife's personal collection. These girls know exactly who they are and what they're about and it's inspiring to people like me who search for that very quality in people today. They also know what they like to drink and why. That's what made talking to them recently so interesting. The D2D series is evolving. Check out my latest On the Trail interview with Eva and Ava Bai here.

-David Driscoll