A Preview from Ardbeg

I did manage to stop by Ardbeg this afternoon and taste the brand new release of the 21 year old limited edition. The place was absolutely packed with excited malt fans and tourists making the journey for the big event. The whisky is quite delicate and light on its feet for what Ardbeg has been become known for over the last decade, so fans of the more restrained and ethereal style of whisky will be pleased. These things were selling like hotcakes all day long!

I've got a big story to tell you about tomorrow, but I have to wait until then. It's all typed up, the pictures are ready, and the quotes are in. Now, however, it's time for cold beer and Indian food. We are celebrating some big news with the Laings.

Look for the Ardbeg later this Fall (hopefully by late October).

-David Driscoll


From Glasgow to Islay

Islay is such a popular destination for business and tourism these days that you can catch a twenty-five minute flight from Glasgow just about any day of the week. But with space on the tiny plane at a premium, the prices aren't cheap and the schedule is never a sure thing due to the unpredictable weather patterns. Seeing that the drive from Glasgow to the ferry at Kennacraig is absolutely stunning, I would never even think about flying—even if I was strapped for time. Today was the fifth time I'd made the drive to the Kintyre and it was no less thrilling that any of the previous occasions. Andrew's SUV with its large sun roof and expansive windows made for perfect viewing.

Traveling by plane, you would dearly miss the majestic beauty of Loch Fyne and the adjacent town of Inveraray, home to the Duke of Argyll. 

You would also miss stopping for lunch in Tarbert and gazing out onto the many boats in the harbor.

Plus, you'd miss out on the ferry ride. Catching the boat from Kennacraig to Port Askaig is practically a right of passage for serious whisky drinkers! 

Oh, the excitement you feel as Jura approaches and the brooding mountains begin to stir something within your soul.

Then you hit the ground running and you can't wait to make your first distillery appointment! We got a lot done today, but we've still got a lot to do tomorrow. There's a lot of new stuff happening on Islay and today I got my first look at it. You'll have to wait another day unfortunately before I can type it all up.

-David Driscoll


Back At It Again

Life has been rather surreal as of late. One minute I'm in Kentucky, the next in Denver. I was in Las Vegas last weekend, yet Monday afternoon I found myself walking the steps once again to the offices of Hunter Laing in Glasgow. Remind me of how I got here, will you? I've always enjoyed traveling so I don't mind the wear and tear of the jetset lifestyle, but I will admit I've been confused a few times while waking up in the middle of the night, wondering where I am. The trip to the UK has become old hat at this point, however: ten hours overnight to London, just enough of a layover at Heathrow to grab a sandwich from Pret a Manger, then up to Scotland for an early afternoon arrival before settling down to an evening full of business. So far everything is going incredibly well. I had a great seat on the plane, I sat next to a very interesting Lebanese woman and chatted with her for hours, I got to my hotel right on schedule, met up with my buddy DJ as planned, then headed over to meet Andrew, Scott, and their dad Stewart and tasted through dozens and dozens of casks. We found more old grains, more Islay stuff, more values, more rum, more of everything! Why can't life always go this smoothly?

I'm up early, which is normal for my jetlag sensitivities; but I did manage to grab six sold hours of shuteye, so I'm pretty thrilled. We scoped out around twenty potential casks, then celebrated the success with a shot of 1982 sherry-aged Port Ellen before walking over to a lovely Bavarian place called West on the Corner for beers and schnitzel. We ended up ordering more beer along side glasses of Brora 35 at the Bon Accord before calling it a night, but I was in bed by ten and up at four, per the norm. We're scheduled for early activities today anyway, so it's no biggie. Andrew and Scott are picking us up at 8:30 AM for the lovely drive to Islay. You may have heard they're planning to build a new distillery there called Ardnahoe, so we're gonna go check it out. We've got an midday ferry booked. I've got a camera and a computer. They've got a trunk full of Scotch. What more do we need?

I'm gonna go for a run, I think. The cool Glasgow morning is calling my name.

-David Driscoll


Whisky Season 2016 – Round Five

Now that we're into September and there's the slightest semblance of Fall in the air, I think we can start thinking about peat; specifically Islay whisky. After spending the last month and a half getting you acquainted with some of our lighter, easy-drinking, and substantially well-priced Highland offerings, our palates are now craving something different. As the leaves start to change color and the evenings begin just a bit earlier, that heartier, smokier, unique Islay character becomes all the more desirable. It entices our imaginations: a roaring fire, the cold night outside, a glass of Scotch in hand to sip as we spend more time in doors. Now that we're transitioning into that mindset, it's time to show you our first two peated Islay selections from Whisky Season 2016, still very much value-driven as has been the case with all our offerings thus far. A young Caol Ila, this time from a sherry hogshead, that offers punch as well as precision. A dark and heady Bowmore that reminds us of how rich and quintessential the iconic distillery's character truly is. 

Caol Ila 6 Year Old "Hepburn's Choice" Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $49.99 - On the strength of the previously popular young peated whiskies we've been importing, we went back to the well again this year. This time, however, we asked the folks from Hepburn if they had any of that same fiery Caol Ila aged in sherry cask. Luckily they did and it's that little highlight of sweetness that makes all the difference between this year's selection and older editions. The classic elements of Islay are at play, of course: smoke, peat, earth, and sea salt, but they're accented by a richness from the sherry. There's a nice little coating of cakebread and cocoa around that core of Caol Ila, rounding the edges and tempering the bold 58.9% cask strength character just the slightest bit. The best part, however, is the price. We managed to keep the cost right at $49.99, despite the extra year in barrel and the added bonus of the sherry. For the money, you'd be hard-pressed to a more potent Islay value anywhere.

2001 Bowmore 14 Year Old "Hepburn's Choice" Single Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $82.99 - While Bowmore seems to play second (or even fourth) fiddle to the Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig selections on our shelf, we've always been enamored with Islay's most historic distillery. We've never let popular whisky culture or changes in the portfolio diminish the fact that Bowmore tastes pretty damn good in a number of iterations. While tasting through single cask selections this year, we found a fourteen year old sherry butt that was so dark and so soft we couldn't pass it up. The best part about this particular expression was the texture; it mirrored the most popular Bowmore edition we sell: the 15 year old "Darkest," albeit at full proof and from one concentrated cask (and despite the fact this was supposedly a "refill" barrel). The flavors are dark and rich, brooding and slow-moving over the palate. Dark chocolate accented by a beach bonfire oozes over the tongue, buoyed by toasted almonds and earthy peat. The nice part about sherry butts is that they hold more whisky! In the case of this 14 year old Bowmore, we figured we were going to need every drop. We expect this to be one of the most popular K&L casks of the Fall season; while it lasts, of course.

Believe it or not, Whisky Season 2016 is already going so well that we're actually selling our whisky faster than we anticipated. By the time this weekend is over, most of rounds one to four should be completely sold out, leaving only these two new Islay casks in play. Contrast that with last year from which we still have a few casks left. I'm thrilled, of course, but what are we going to sell during October, November, and December? These are the prime whisky drinking months!

To resolve this little excessive sales snafu, I'm actually leaving for Scotland this afternoon to find more booze—ASAP! I'll be reporting from the road starting tomorrow. I'm back in the store Saturday if you need me.

-David Driscoll


A Few New Additions

Every now and again (maybe every six months), I taste an American craft whiskey that actually tastes like real whiskey and I get excited. Then I see the price and all that enthusiasm deflates like a popped balloon at a birthday party. This week, however, I received the rare pleasure of tasting a non-Kentucky Bourbon from a small distillery that tasted like real Bourbon and was priced fairly, to boot! The Union Horse Distilling Kansas Bourbon is labeled as a "two year minimum," but in the case of this particular batch has whiskey as old as five years in the mix. Having opened originally in 2010, the distillery is a "grain to glass' operation, meaning they source their own local Kansas grains, mill them, ferment them, and distill entirely in their 500 gallon pot still. More importantly, while I heard they originally started with small barriques, the whiskey doesn't have any of that quarter cask oak flavor. It's rich, and spicy, and tastes like standard 53 gallon, Bourbon barrel-aged Bourbon because it is! What a concept! Kudos to them. I hope to find more whiskies like this as the craft movement's origins continue their way to market. 

Union Horse Kansas City Bourbon Whiskey $44.99

While the Amalfi Coast has always been known as the home of limoncello, it's now home to a world-class gin operation that uses the region's famous Mediterranean citrus in its vibrant recipe. Located in Moncalieri, just outside Torino, the distillery actually dates back to 1906 and today is run by a husband and wife operation. In addition to the powerful lemon aromatics, the gin utilizes coriander, angelica, and cassia bark to accent its unique recipe. Try this in a gin and tonic and forget about adding a lime! Or mix a Negroni and forget the orange peel. There's enough citrus here inherently to do the job!

Malfy Italian Gin $25.99

And this is quite exciting as well! There wasn't much left, but we went back to the well and got the last of the 2001 vintage from Grangerie; now one year older, but the same great price! Chateau de la Grangerie is a property that was built in the 17th century right next to an old monastery. The church and the housing for its servants was actually built in the 11th and 12th centuries and since the Armagnac is aged inside that facility, it might be the only spirit at K&L matured on hallowed grounds. Like many Tenereze producers, Grangerie distills only ugni blanc for its brandies. However, the sandy and gravel-rich soils are much more like the terrain found in the Bas-Armagnac. They fill about ten barrels a year; two of which are used for Floc de Gascogne and one goes to Pruneau: a prune-flavored brandy made by macerating the Armagnac with the dried fruit also grown on the property. The 2001 is an absolute revelation of baking spices, soft vanilla and pureness of fruit, all perfectly balanced by a gentle layer of oak. At $50, it's instantly one of the best deals in the store with an easy drinkability that's simply off the charts. Sip it straight after a long meal, or mix it into an Old Fashioned in place of Bourbon.

2001 Chateau de la Grangerie 14 Year Old K&L Exclusive Armagnac $49.99

-David Driscoll