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Wednesday
Mar082017

Another Round of Fresh Casks

We've got two fun ones for you today: a lovely, classically-tailored Arran 20 year and a beauty from the fallen soldier Carsebridge. We're still talking two figures here! Who thought we could stay just a hair under a hundred bucks for this long?!

1996 Arran 20 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $89.99 - Arran has been one of our favorite independent producers at K&L for some time with its versatile line-up of Island malts with a bit more Highland character. While the standard Arran editions can vary from sweet sherry to subtle peat, this 20 year single barrel from our Old Particular label is classic Scotch through and through. The key components in the flavor profile are vanilla, sweet barley, soft stone fruit, and just a little bit of salt. Fans of balanced, complex, and easy to drink mature malts are going to fall on their faces for this whisky. It's round on the palate, but the 52.7% ABV adds an extra lift with hints of oak spice and a flurry of sweetness on the finish. It's another classic Scotch for a fantastic price due to our relationship abroad and the current advantage in the dollar to pound ratio.

1982 Carsebridge 33 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Grain Scotch Whisky $99.99 - While it closed only a year after the whisky in this bottle was distilled, just because the former Carsebridge distillery is gone forever doesn't mean we can't enjoy its splendor still today! Luckily for us there are still a number of delicious and mature expressions available on the independent market and this is one of them. If there's one thing we can help take credit for here at K&L, it's been helping to remove the undeserved stigma associated with grain whisky in the Scotch industry. This 33 year old edition distilled in 1982 should please both fans of blended whisky and single malt alike. It's a literal definition of the word smooth as this elixir absolute glides over the palate with a richness and concentration of oak from more than three decades in wood. While it's bottled at 45.4% cask strength, that's a very drinkable proof that offers up full concentration without the dilution. Fans of our previous grain whisky editions will want to snatch this one up fast. Not only is it old and rare, it's also a serious crowdpleaser!

-David Driscoll

Monday
Mar062017

News & Notes

There's a lot going on in the K&L spirits department this week. It's just a matter of getting everything organized and ready to go! I'm in the office right now trying to hammer out some details about this week's priorities, so I figured I'd update all of you in the process. Here are some things to watch out for over the next few days:

-The Maker's Mark 46 Private Edition email should go out later today. We've sold more than 60% of the cask with only the blog post, so expect about a 20 minute lifespan once that email hits. I'd be surprised if we still have any bottles in stock when we close today. IMPORTANT: let me add this little note as it still seems to catch people by surprise, even long-time customers. When we get down to five or less bottles in active inventory, you risk the potential of having an in-store customer buy the last few before online orders can be picked and processed, which happens quite frequently. There can be a 2-4 hour delay between you placing your order online and that bottle actually getting pulled from the shelf. That's a HUGE window for mayhem. I get emails from people all the time who wait, and wait, and wait, and wait until the last minute, then finally order and end up missing out due to the aforementioned phenomenon. My advise is always the same: don't wait. If you want something and we still have plenty of it, buy it. 

-This year's Ardbeg Committee Release—the "Kelpie"—should be available by Friday, so long as all goes well. We'll likely release it in conjunction with the new Glenmorangie "Bacalta," the Malmsey Madeira-finished edition from the heralded producer. The Kelpie should be $125 a bottle and the Bacalta $110. Keep your eyes peeled for that. The date keeps getting pushed around, so don't hold me to it. I'm at the mercy of distribution here.

-I managed to work out a deal for some old faces this week that had gone missing from K&L to due price increases or changes in the buying structure. You'll likely see a number of familiar names popping up on the website like Old Pulteney 17 and 21 year, a number of the Jameson Irish whiskies as well as Green and Yellow Spot, the entire range of Glenlivet, the standard Aberlour 12 and 16 year editions, plus other things. In almost all of the instances, I was able to get the original pricing we had been working with before the increases, so that should be a welcome relief to those of you who were in the habit of buying them from us. I'm excited to get workhorse whiskies like regular old Jameson and Glenlivet 15 back in the store. I really like both of those products and the prices are right.

-High West's new edition of Bourye just arrived. This year's edition is a marriage of Bourbon and rye whiskies from MGP between 10-14 years of age. I haven't tasted it yet, but I'm pretty confident in that whiskey. It's usually right on the money.

-St. Patrick's Day is coming up and I've got a bevy of new Irish options for you. West Cork just released a trio of limited edition 12 year olds each finished in a different cask (rum/sherry/port). Those should be on the website soon, along with some of the Jameson editions I mentioned above. I've been drinking a lot of Irish whiskey lately. Not because I'm Irish (which I am), but because it just tastes so damn good. Some of the Jameson whiskies really surprised me, like the Cooper's Croze which I don't think I had ever tasted. That's definitely going to be my Paddy's day bottle.

That's it for today!

-David Driscoll 

Friday
Mar032017

Oh, What Could Have Been!

I was talking with actor Dean Cameron the other day about the classic eighties vampire flick The Lost Boys and out of nowhere he said: "The role I didn't get."

"You were a candidate for The Lost Boys?!" I asked crazily.

"Yeah, I read for one of the members of Kiefer's gang," he replied.

WHAT??!!

Can you imagine if Bill & Ted star Alex Winter's role of Marco (pictured far right) had been played by Summer School star Dean Cameron instead? Ohhhhh man! I can't even imagine it! The only way I can picture Dean Cameron as a vampire is the way in which he would portray one years later:

As Count Rockula!!!

In the meantime, that led me to think about some other things that could have been at K&L. For example, I remember calling the then-LDI distillery in Indiana around 2010 to ask them how much it would cost to contract some whiskey. I can't recall exactly the conversation, but I want to say the guy I spoke with quoted me a price of $500 per barrel with a minimum of 400 casks in the order—the same for both Bourbon and rye. Can you imagine what those barrels would be worth now, just ready to turn seven years old? It never went anywhere because I wasn't sure at the time whether it would have been a good investment for K&L, but knowing what I know now I should have just paid the $20,000 myself. 

Oh, what could have been!

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Mar022017

Big, Sweet, Wheated, High Proof Bourbon

As a whiskey drinking society, I don't think we've ever been more concerned as to what our whiskey says about us as cultivated aficionados. In fact, sometimes I think we're more worried about how unique and different our latest bottle is than about how it actually tastes. I don't have any tangible proof of this, however. As Bill Maher often jokes: "I don't know it for a fact, I just know it's true." The only evidence I can possibly provide is the existence of Maker's Mark Cask Strength on our shelf at K&L, sitting their in plain view twenty four hours a day, seven days a week; a big, sweet, wheated, high proof Bourbon that in my opinion outperforms any competitor in its class. If you asked me if I'd rather drink Van Winkle Lot B or Maker's Cask Strength, I wouldn't even bat an eyelid: "the latter, please." We're living in a period when high proof wheated whiskies are an absolute rarity, yet people don't seem that excited about Maker's Mark. However, were I to put a bottle of Lot B on the sales floor, even for ten times the normal retail price, it probably wouldn't last the hour. So what gives? Why don't more people opt for the cask strength edition?

Because it's Maker's Mark. You can get that anywhere. 

I'm not going to walk into a party with Maker's Mark!! Are you kidding? I need something rare and interesting. Something that proves I have friends in high places. Something that no one else in the world could possibly get. Something that will make people oooh and ahhh when I place it onto the table. Something that I can put on my Instagram later that night and act like it's no big deal. Oh....and I don't want to pay more than a hundred bucks. 

You may think that last paragraph was sarcasm, but I kid you not: I get people who literally say things like that to me every single day. It's like the entire world lately has somehow overlooked the connection between rarity and availability. If there were something that incredible, coveted, and valued on the shelf at K&L, what could possibly make someone think it would be just sitting there waiting for them to buy it, at a bargain price no less? This is the reality I'm dealing with, however, so when I went out to Maker's Mark distillery this last November I decided I was going to try and do something about it. I didn't play around with any of the fancy French oak staves they had as part of their custom Maker's 46 program. I chose straightforward American oak planks, put them into the barrel, and let those babies soak for a few months in the hope that they would create exactly what I needed: a limited, affordable, big, sweet, wheated, high proof Bourbon that you couldn't just get anywhere and would only be available for a short period of time. Last night was the perfect evening to unveil that specimen. We had the private room at Hard Water and the weather in the city was perfect. The Embarcadero was singing. There was magic in the air.

I packed the house with fifty guests, while Erik and Michael jumped behind the bar and began mixing up Maker's Mark cocktails. The Beam-Suntory guys were in the house. We had food. I gave a little speech, explained the process, and then we drank. "This is really good," someone said to me. 

"I'm glad you like it!" I responded with a smile.

"No, I mean this is really, really good!" he answered back. That seemed to be the consensus. Not earth-shattering. Not life-changing. Not going to go down as the best whiskey of all time. But really, really good. Tasty. Big, Sweet. Rich. Decadent. Yep. That's what I wanted. That's what we got. 

There's the recipe on the back in case any other retailer wants the same thing. If you want to create a wheated Bourbon delight in a barrel, use six Maker's Mark custom staves with ten baked American oak planks and you'll get there. It took me all of fifteen minutes in the lab to figure that out. Back in November, the guys at Maker's Mark were looking at me like: "You're seriously all done?"

Yep. I knew what I wanted going in. Actually, I knew what I needed going in. I needed an answer to an impossible question: What do you have that tastes like Pappy that isn't Pappy? 

Maker's Mark Cask Strength.

I can get that anywhere. What do you have besides that? Something rarer and harder to find.

How about this:

Maker's Mark 46 "K&L Exclusive" Private Select Kentucky Bourbon $69.99 - When Maker's Mark invited me out to do a custom K&L barrel of Maker's 46 (their enhanced Bourbon that sees additional aging with seasoned oak staves), I was practically itching to go; especially because I knew they were going to let us bottle the whiskey at full proof. If there's one thing we can't get enough of at K&L these days, it's high octane wheated Bourbon, especially since the Van Winkle craze of the past decade has gutted most of the available supply. Because wheated Bourbons substitute wheat for rye as the flavor grain in the mash bill, the result is a creamier and sweeter whiskey that really pops on the palate at cask strength. The really cool part about the Maker's 46 custom barrel program is that they allow you to choose between a number of different staves, three of which are exotic french oak flavors. While I'm sure we could have put together a rich and cocoa-driven cuvee from some of those toasted beauties, I had one goal in mind: dial up the American oak to full blast and make the biggest, sweetest, fullest, creamiest cask strength Bourbon we possibly could. All ten of the staves I selected were from the baked American and standard Maker's 46 variety, which added a serious dose of vanilla into the already oaky whiskey. Sure enough, the whiskey came out just as I had hoped: the nose is practically oozing with caramel and burnt sugar, while the palate is big at 55%, but all that sweetness from the wheated character overpowers the proof. 

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Mar022017

The Unbearable Uncertainty

I started reading a book this week that my wife recommended to me called This Close to Happy, a painfully illuminating autobiography about clinical depression and the ways it can rip you apart by author Daphne Merkin. What I found interesting was a section where she remarked that throughout her life people have given her advise about how to deal with her depression; like "get more exercise" or "maybe you should get outside more," as if her condition were that easy to fix. It also speaks to the way people think about depression, as if it's not a disease or a real ailment like alcoholism or addiction. I've found throughout the years of doing my job that there's often a serious misunderstanding in wine and whiskey drinkers about the way the human body works. There's this mindset that we're all the same and can be treated with identical solutions evenly. We all have our own unique chemistry, however, which means we all react differently to various input, such as:

Some people can eat ten doughnuts a day and never gain a pound, while others can exercise for hours, eat nothing but lettuce, and yet struggle to stay thin.

Some people can drink ten beers and be completely sober, while others get flush and overheated after one sip of alcohol.

In the case of depression, some people can find success with anti-depressants and go on to live a happy life, while others struggle with the medications and never reach that equilibrium.

Unfortunately for us humans, there's no one way to treat anything. There's also no one sure-fire way to lose weight, to eat healthy, to exercise, to meditate, to teach your kid, and—in the case of alcohol—to drink. We all have our own chemical make-up that causes us to react to and appreciate flavors differently. I know people who hate chocolate, yet it's considered the best thing in the world by millions. I know people who can't stand pizza, even though there are few things better in my mind. I think most people understand that human beings like different things. Our bodies are made differently even though we're all from the same species. Yet, when it comes to wine and whiskey, things seem to become black and white, cut and dry, right and wrong. For some reason, all of our life experience goes right out the window when we talk seriously about alcohol. We seem to forget that we're different people with different palates.

In a world filled with nothing but grey areas, there's been a clear path towards certainty in the realm of alcohol over the last decade. There's a section of the audience that wants to do away with subjectivity because it frightens and confuses them. If only someone could give them a clear answer as to whether something was good or not, as to whether it was worth their time and money; that would solve everything. I've watched grown men argue at a whisky tasting about whether one Bourbon was better than another, when it was clear they each had their favorite based on their own individual tastes. I've talked with customers in the store who felt miserable inside because they didn't like a wine that "everyone else" said was good. I've even read articles online where the writers used points, letters grades, or other rating systems based on personal taste to assign objective values of rank to both wine and spirits—as if there were only one way of looking at these things. It's like drinking with Sheldon Cooper. 

I've said a hundred times that I hate the line: the best whisky is the one that tastes best to you. I think it needs to read: the best whisky for you is the one that tastes best to you. I believe that quality is an entity that exists whether we're able to recognize it or not, but in no way do I think that it exists in a singular form. There are high quality buttery chardonnays for people who like rich white wines and there are high quality oaky cabernets for people who want big, rich reds. There are also high quality chardonnays that are lean, clean, and mineral-driven, as well as high quality cabernets that are earthy and lighter in body. No matter what you like when it comes to wine, there's probably a high quality version of what you're looking for. I think that analogy applies to most things.

Yet every day in the world I hear comments like:

I tried that diet and it doesn't work.

You mean it didn't work for you.

I tried taking that pill for my headaches and it didn't work.

You mean it didn't work for you.

I tried that whisky and it didn't taste good. 

You mean it didn't taste good to you.

There's an answer for everyone out there ultimately, but it's not necessarily going to be the same one for each of us and there's no guarantee we'll ever find it. That's part of the reason we read books. We either find comfort in the fact that someone else's experience was similar to our own, or we're intrigued by how completely different it was. It's that desire for comfort and the joy of connection that leads serious wine and whisky drinkers to share their passionate opinions with each other. It's a fear of uncertainty, however, and the possibility that perhaps there is no answer that results in absolutism. It's almost like cementing a value to these things denies the existence of doubt, a false light that seems to shine through the greyness.

But the world doesn't work like that. If there's one thing I'm certain about when it comes to humans (and whiskey), it's uncertainty.

-David Driscoll