Remember Me?

Remember Stranahan’s? The Colorado whiskey company making single malt much in the vein of Cut Spike, albeit long before our friends in Nebraska ever got established. At the end of 2010, when this whole craft whiskey thing was really blowing up, the spirits brand Proximo (who also purchased Hangar One vodka) bought out Stranahan’s and promptly removed the brand from the California market. This was likely in an effort to preserve aged stocks until the brand could be properly relaunched years later.

“Years later” is finally here. It’s 2015 and Stranahan’s is finally back in California on an unallocated level. I just managed to buy a decent supply, so feast while the feasting is good. It’s a two year old whiskey—a la Cut Spike—but it has a much mellower flavor. It’s like Cut Spike meets George Dickel. I’m a big fan. It’s so mellow and round and easy to drink. I think Stranahan’s can add itself to the upper-echelon of new American whiskey distillers, along with Cut Spike, Westland, etc, if they keep pumping out juice this good.

And now there are no bottle limits! Allocations removed! I just bought two for myself. One to party with this weekend, and one to save for later. Welcome back.

Stranahan's Colorado Small Batch Whiskey $52.99 - If high-quality, unique whiskies are your bag, don't put off getting your hands on a bottle of Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey; Colorado's first small batch, hand-crafted whiskey that uses top-notch ingredients. The barley for Stranahan's is grown in the Northern Rockies and the water comes from the State's pure mountain streams. The distillery contracts with neighboring Flying Dog Brewery for its four-barley fermented mash, which then goes through a unique filtration program. Twice distilled in a custom Vendome Copper Co. pot still, aged in charred American white oak whiskey barrels for a minimum of two years. The resulting dram is sweet, with fruit and spice notes and is very smooth. Delish! 

-David Driscoll


Hot Islay Deals

I’ll never forget this night. It’s the night that David OG and I first arrived on Islay and met Bowmore ambassador Jamie MacKenzie for what would become the greatest night of our whisky tasting lives. I’m pretty sure I can speak for David on this front—we were drinking 1960s Bowmore from a flask on the shores of Islay at 2 AM, after a night of oysters, locally-raised lamb, and a full-scale tour through the distillery at midnight. God, do I love Bowmore whisky. It’s probably my favorite distillery on Islay for sentimental reasons surrounding this particular evening, but I’m not alone in that summation. Ask any master distiller in Scotland what their favorite whisky is (besides their own) and they’ll probably say Bowmore. It doesn’t necessarily wow you right away, but over time it becomes clear that there’s a level of complexity to the whisky that simply amazes once you work your way up the Scotch learning curve.

Sadly, Bowmore doesn’t enjoy the same reputation here in the states that it does abroad. American whisky drinkers are far more passionate for Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig, than they are for Bowmore. Bowmore gets lumped down their with Bunnahabhain for maybe the least favorite Islay distillery for some reason. Nevertheless, David and I keep buying casks of Bowmore because we love it, and every time we go to Scotland we share that sentiment with the people we meet. Especially the boys at Signatory. They LOVE Bowmore. But, alas, you can’t force anyone to love anything. So we’re going to have to start moving out one of our Signatory casks of Bowmore to make room for the impending arrivals.

Today you get a whisky for almost half price! BUY A FREAKING CASE!!!!!!

Bowmore 12 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (WAS $109.99) NOW $58.99 - We absolutely killed it with the '02 Hogshead at 46% this year, but we're not done with Bowmore. This distillery is cranking out the most magnificent malt and Signatory gets these amazing high quality butts. This is more consistent with the house style than the last cask, bringing the nutty sherry slightly more to the foreground. It's a stark reminder that Bowmore should be considered one of Scotland's greatest distilleries. Treat this with the reverence it deserves and this whisky will make you feel like you're the special one instead of the other way around.

Since we’re discounting some serious Islay whisky, let’s not stop now. Let’s keep the momentum going:

I remember this day well, as well. We hung out all afternoon with Laphroaig master distiller John Campbell and shoveled peat into the kiln. I left Laphroaig that day with a respect for the single malt distillery that was unparalleled. Laphroaig is truly the original Islay single malt. It’s the icon, the tried and tested stalwart that never needs reinventing. When we purchased this refill sherry butt of Laphroaig, we new it was expensive. But then the sister cask won Islay Whisky of the Year from the Whisky Advocate and we were vindicated.

Unfortunately we then had another 300+ bottles to sell after that. Laphroaig casks are NOT cheap. But that’s our burden to deal with, not yours. Take advantage.

Laphroaig 15 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (WAS $160) NOW $126.99 - Des McCagherty is a man of few words, but when he said to us, "You might want to load up on Laphroaig this year," we listened. Apparently, this is one of the most difficult and costly distillates to purchase on the independent market and stocks are depleting faster than ever from Signatory's Pitlochry warehouse. A yearly barrel of two of Laphroaig at K&L has become commonplace since we started our barrel program and we don't want that to change -- at least not while we can help it. That's why we snagged this 15 year old sherry butt of peaty goodness, full of big smoke, cinnamon, tar, and brine, but rounded out by a rich, sherry-laden note that fans of Laphroaig's PX edition will recognize. That combination of sweet and peat is one of the most popular flavor profiles on the market right now, which always adds a few dollars to the cost. In this case, it's fully worth it. The sherry adds the perfect raisiny balance to the bold, ashy flavors of the 61% spirit. If you've already loaded your cabinet with numerous, collectable bottles from Islay's iconic distillery, then I won't say that this bottle will offer anything new to your selection. However, if you've been taking mature, full proof, relatively-affordable, single barrel expressions of Laphroaig for granted, you might want to start thinking about snagging a few of these. That's what we did, at least.

-David Driscoll


Trés Mezcales Nuevos

We have limited supplies of three dynamite new mezcales—two from Germain-Robin’s Mezcalero series and one new release from Anchor’s Mezcal Amaras. I bought one of each for myself—that’s how much I liked all of them.

Mezcalero Release #13 Tobala y Tepeztate Mezcal $69.99 - From the village of San Luis Del Rio in Tlacolula, this exception mezcal is limited production like all the mezcalero bottlings. Only 642 bottles were produced by Distiller Don Luis Cruz at his small palenque in the famous mezcal producing town. This exceptionally high quality single batch is a blend of rare wild agaves Tobala & Tepeztate. Expect powerful fruit and spice flavors with a smoldering mesquite smoke bringing up the rear. Ultra smooth and textural thanks to nearly a year of resting in ceramic tanks.

Mezcal Amaras Cupreata $54.99 - Made from Cupreata agave sourced outside of Oaxaca in the Mexican states of Mazatlan and Guerrero, the newest release from Amaras is absolutely stunning. Potent roasted flavors intermingle with spicy notes of pepper before settling into a pure and clean finish with subtle smoke and clove. A stunning mezcal that truly shows there's a long future for the spirit outside of the traditional Oaxacan zone.

Mezcalero Special Release #1 Mezcal $129.99 - The Special Release from Mezcalero represents the best of the best from Ansley Cole's extensive travels in Oaxaca. It will never be reproduced and likely never matched. Distilled in September 2013 by Alberto Ortiz (Don Beto) from semi-wild madrecuishe (agave karwinskii) harvested from a south-facing hillside of rocky calciferous soil at 5400 feet elevation, wood-roasted in a stone palenque, mallet-crushed, fermented with wild yeasts, double distilled using artisan methods in a 200-liter copper pot still.  Exceptional flavor and complexity thanks to the southern exposure, wild yeasts and hand-milled agave. Madrecuishe’s long stems allows for ambient heat absorbtion rather than reflected heat from sun-baked soil, resulting in a slower maturation and an even more complex flavor profile than Cuixe from other growing sites. These qualities and the magical hands of a master distiller are what make this one of the most special mezcal you'll ever come across.

-David Driscoll


Arran Returns to Remind Us 

Quietly flying under the radar, continuing to produce more impressive malts with each release, is the island distillery of Arran; one of Scotland's more modern distilleries, built in 1993 before the boom. There are precious few producers left who will let K&L purchase directly from their live inventory, and even fewer who will quote us a more moderate price for such treasures. To get a fifteen year old, cask strength, sherry hogshead in this market is like asking for the moon. To get it distillery-direct for $129.99 is a no-brainer. This whisky, to me, represents the perfect marriage of malted barley and sweet sherry. Both elements are in complete balance, yin and yang, constituting an equal 50/50 of the flavor profile. There's a huge note of sweet malted vanilla, but it gives way at the back to fruitier notes of Oloroso goodness. At 56.8% ABV, the heat is dialed up, adding an extra blast to all that intensity.

As long as Arran keeps letting us in the door, we'll keep knocking. This is textbook Scotch.

2000 Arran 15 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky $129.99- We've grown awfully fond of the little-distillery-that-could on Scotland's Isle of Arran. Every time we make a visit and search for a new cask, we seem to find just the right barrel to bring back home. We're batting 1.000 with their sherry-matured inventory, and this new hogshead cask is quite possibly the grand slam of finds. It's not a sherry bomb by any means, as it beautifully meanders from stonefruit and creamy malt into elements of cakebread and spice, but then back to the soft vanilla of the malt again. At 56.8%, it's a powerful dram, but one that can handle water like an Olympic swimmer. In the whisky boom era, finding distilleries that can directly sell us casks of the highest quality (that aren't obvious leftovers from the recent batch), from their very best stocks is not easy. Most distilleries that still offer cask programs have increased their pricing by 25-40% over the last year. But Arran keeps on chugging away, fully showing us that they're a distillery and a relationship worth investing in. This latest 15 year old sherry cask is all the proof you need.

-David Driscoll


The Box Game

If you want to know how 40% of my week is spent, I can tell you: it's usually spent dealing with the many perils of whiskey packaging. Yes, whisky packaging—as in those flimsy little cardboard boxes and tins that sometimes come with a bottle of booze. They're responsible for a huge chunk of my work load during the average shift. Why? Because of the many invariables that revolve around their very existence. The uncontrollable (or sometimes very controllable) forces of fate that decide which customer gets which box, and if or if not that box even makes it to the customer at all. In this new age of whiskey collecting, the original packaging is very important, and can often determine resale value. Therefore, it's very important to certain consumers that both the bottle of whiskey and the packaging it came in be delivered in perfect condition. I'm not at all making light of that, or of the various value systems that separate our motivations. I get it, and most of all, I want all of our customers to get the packaging in the condition they want it. I'm not here to opine as to whether one should or should not care about the box (I have in the past, but I've since changed my tune). I'm just here to share a few fun facts with you. 

Here are some things you should know about whiskey boxes and the perils of booze distribution:

- The price of the box is NOT included in the price of the whiskey—at least on invoice to K&L. I know that some customers think if they buy a bottle of whisky, the price of the gift box was included and is therefore theirs by right. However, this is not fully accurate. Just about every single day I get a booze delivery, there are at least a few whisky bottles delivered without packaging. Regardless of their condition, the price on invoice is exactly the same—with the box or without it. If the distribution company delivers me 24 bottles of Lagavulin, the price is the same no matter the condition of the bottles. Now, I have the right to refuse delivery if I don't like what I see, but some whiskies are allocated and rare; meaning if I refuse delivery, I'm refusing the only bottles available. If my allocation of Yamazaki 18 is one bottle a month and my one bottle comes without a box, I can either take it or leave it—same price, either way.

- But David, why would some bottles come without boxes? For a number of reasons. Maybe a bottle broke at the distribution warehouse and leaked whiskey all over the eleven other cardboard boxes in the case. Maybe the case was jostled during transport and all the gift boxes were damaged and unpresentable, so the distributor decided just to toss them before delivery (that happens all the time). Maybe they forgot to add lids at the distillery (I've opened up at least twenty cases of Glenfiddich that had tubes, but no lids). Maybe another retailer complained about not getting a gift box in his delivery, and forced the distributor to take a box from my delivery to compensate. Yes, that happens! It happens at K&L, too, when a customer writes to request packaging after the fact. Where else am I going to get a single whisky box from? Which then only means that some customer down the line will be without the gift box, and the process will repeat itself. It's like musical chairs. There are about five hundred ways that a cheap, flimsy piece of cardboard or tin can be mishandled between the distillery and you, the consumer. Oh, and when those bottles show up smashed, dented, torn, crushed, dismantled, or rattling around in some random unmarked case, the price on the invoice is still the same. 

-Here's the real tricky one: did you know that some whiskies come packaged half-and-half? Meaning half of the case has a gift box and the other half doesn't? I'll bet you didn't know that! For example, when I slice open a case of Compass Box Oak Cross, three of the bottles have gift boxes and three of them don't. Same goes for the Carpano Antica vermouth in those beautiful tins everyone loves to collect so much. Three have tins, three don't. Guess what—the price is the same for all six bottles, regardless of whether they have a tin or not. So when people ask me: didn't this come with a box? I have to say: that depends on which of the six bottles you're talking about. 

Now imagine all of those situations that happen in between the distillery and K&L, and then add our own clumsiness into that equation. You think I haven't broken a bottle of whiskey before, and then watched that whiskey soak into five other cardboard gift boxes, rendering what's left into a mushy pulp? If you see six bottles of Talisker on the shelf without boxes, that's likely what happened. We do our best at K&L to bring you each bottle of whiskey in supreme condition, but there's no way we can ever guarantee the integrity of every whiskey box. Especially when we're not in control of the entire process. 

Just some food for thought.

-David Driscoll