Crowning the Crown

If you're reading this blog right now, I'm guessing you also read other whisky-related sites and that you've likely heard by this point that Jim Murray's official "Whisky of the Year" for 2016 is the Crown Royal Northern Harvest rye whisky—a selection that is sure to ruffle a few feathers out there in the literal universe of overly-analytical drinkers. Why would his decision to award a mass-produced Canadian whisky the title be controversial, you ask? You have to understand: there are people out there who think that the title "whisky of the year" literally means the best whisky Jim Murray drank that year. They think points and scores are factual attributes that are independent of the person giving them, objectively ranking a wine or whisky's inherent quality by statistical analysis. They believe that by totaling up those points one can conclude a clear "best" whisky winner that's based on scientific method. Besides being incredibly serious and remarkably studious, some of these whisky guys are also very careful with their perceived reputations. They've figured out what's cool to like, and what isn't cool to like—just like a teenage kid who learns to shed his C&C Music Factory records in lieu of more Pavement and Cocteau Twins albums, hoping to impress other like-minded acolytes who judge character based on a list they read off the internet. If anyone questions their credentials or points out an inconsistency, they'll throw you under the bus in two seconds if it means saving face as a true and knowledgeable whisky guy. These are the people who will likely have a meltdown when they read that Diageo giant Crown Royal has been awarded "Whisky of the Year" by Jim Murray. If I still read or cared about whisky blogs, I'd probably be reading some right now having a good laugh.

I've never met Jim Murray. I don't know anything about him. I don't know for a fact that anything I'm alluding to here is true, I'm just basing my understanding of what I see on my own conclusions and my own experiences. Here's the first thing you have to understand about this whole process: if Jim Murray's "whisky of the year" was literally the best whisky he tasted that year, then it would probably win the award over and over again as it would continue to be one the best selections annually. But that's boring! No one wants to drink the same thing over and over again, or watch the same team win the Super Bowl year after year. People want to learn about new things. They want new stories and new discoveries. They like underdogs. They like it when something can "pop from out of nowhere," knock out the champ, and win the championship belt in a gigantic upset of epic proportions. It's exciting and it makes people happy. More importantly, it gets people talking. I've been tasting Canadian whisky all year long, trying to learn more about the country's producers, doing interviews with the experts in the field, and trying to turn my customers on to some of its many charms. No luck. Canadian whisky is deader than dead at K&L. But let me tell you this: on Monday when we get more Crown Royal Northern Harvest rye back into stock, people are going to swarm on it like a Best Buy Black Friday stack of flatscreen televisions. That's the power that Jim Murray's annual award has right now. That's pretty amazing.

But what do I think of the whisky? I think the Crown Royal rye whisky is super tasty. It's been a while since I first sampled it, but I remember liking it and wishing we could do something with it (a la the Monarch when we got that in a while back). I knew that I couldn't sell it though. I knew that nothing I said would make a difference because most of our customers want single barrel, cask strength, undiluted rye, not some smooth and supple Canadian sipper. That's why I think it's great when someone out there can get people to think outside the claustrophobic confines of the current box of desirability. What will others think? Let me tell you something that's abundantly clear to me: Jim Murray does not give a fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck about what other people think. That's what's so awesome about this year's award. I let out a huge, hearty laugh when I read the news because here's the thing: whisky nerds typically hate Canadian whisky. There's no posturing or posing available to them in that genre because it can't be broken down into components, so they dismiss it outright. I already know what they're thinking: "Jim Murray obviously doesn't care about good whisky if he's willing to give the award to Crown Royal," but my friends it's entirely the opposite!! I think it's because Jim Murray cares about whisky that he gave the award to Crown Royal. Isn't that clear to anyone else?

Like many people, Jim Murray is probably sick to his stomach of people pandering for the same ten limited releases every year, focusing entirely on a handful of cult-like producers, while shitting on everything else that isn't up to snuff based on a small set of comparisons that are no longer relevant. In my opinion, Jim Murray is simply trying to use his influence to even out the playing field a little bit—to make people say, "Holy shit! You mean there's something else I should want to drink besides Pappy and Pliny?" He's no longer (if he ever was) trying to decide what's literally the best, in my opinion. He's trying to make a statement. "Whisky of the year" means in this case: this is the whisky I'm hoping people discover in 2016 and learn to appreciate. If it means a couple hundred thousand people take a new look at what's happening over the border, that's a pretty great accomplishment. It's what Murray did for Japanese whisky last year, and for American whiskey before that (see the pattern?). You could argue that guys like Murray helped to create the very demand he's now potentially working against. Maybe you're right, but the fact that he's cognizant of that potential speaks volumes to me. I've had similar revelations in my career and I changed course as a result.

What's even funnier to me is that for the last few years I've heard people say: "Why don't whiskies that I can afford and actually find ever win best whisky of the year?" just happened. So are you going to buy one?

"Oh, well I didn't mean that whisky."


Rock on, Jim Murray. You just made my whole week. This is a conversation I've been dying to have with people in the store.

-David Driscoll


Talkin' Shit

There's something very satisfying about jealous haters gettin' embarrassed on national television. I went to fourteen Warriors games last season, watched one of the most amazing basketball teams ever play night after night, cheered them all the way through the playoffs, and finally let out a huge sigh of relief when their hard work and dedication netted them the championship ring they so richly deserved. They were so much fun to watch all year long and they earned every bit of that NBA title. Then came all the bullshit. They were lucky. They didn't play any good teams. Blah bloo blee, blah bloo blah. So what have the Warriors done in response? They've come out and put down all thirteen opponents in their path, including a comeback last night that is both one of the most incredible performances I've ever watched, and one of the most humiliating defeats for the Clippers who talked trash during the off-season, then blew a 23 point lead at home on TNT. 

Nothing motivates people to work harder more than shit talking. You say I can't do something, I'm going to work harder to prove otherwise. Because, while sometimes fun and full of drama, the angry banter is really irrelevant. What matters are the results. When you're good at what you do the work speaks for itself. There's no need to comment beyond that. Last night's win was all they needed to say.

-David Driscoll


A Pair of Old Invergordons

Our beloved grain whisky label is back for another run this holiday season with new labels and an entirely new package that is—in my opinion—a HUGE upgrade over the previous version. In the past we've used the Sovereign brand to bottle all kinds of interesting things like old Ardbeg, Caol Ila, and Laphroaig, but we've decided to start focusing on grains so as not to confuse folks with our other Hepburn's Choice and Old Particular casks. Fresh off our most recent delivery are two new single barrels of Invergordon, a Whyte & Mackay Highland grain distillery that sits along the waters of the Cromarty Firth north of Inverness. For those of you who still can't wrap your heads around grain whisky, just imagine Bourbon distilled to a higher proof and aged like single malt in various types of refill barrels. It's basically high proof, column still whisky made from corn, wheat, or unmalted barley that's pumped out in mass quantities to mix into blended Scotch. Because of that rather dubious reputation for quality, prices for grain whisky remain low. But because of our extensive tasting and sampling in the genre, we've learned that very old grain whiskies can be like liquid gold—smooth, round, and complex whiskies that are wood-dominated and creamy on the palate.

Just in time for your holiday needs we've got a 27 year refill hogshead of Invergordon, along side a 50 year old fresh Bourbon cask. It's an incredible side-by-side comparison and a true introspective for anyone looking to understand more about an oft-misunderstood style of whisky.

1989 Invergordon 27 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky $129.99 - This is textbook grain whisky, nothing more and nothing less. It's fruity and round on the entry with a soft mouthfeel and a lovely note of vanilla on the finish. It's no frills, no fuss whisky. It's just flat out delicious.

1964 Invergordon 50 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky $299.99 - This is unlike anything we've had in the grain department before, something in between the Port Dundas and Cambus bottlings we've done in the past. Five decades (yes, fifty freakin' years!) in a Bourbon cask have brought out incredible richness here. It's so rich it's bordering on the nutty rancio flavors one typically finds in sherry-aged Scotch with dark toffee and complex layers of oak. Then there's the incredible price: $299. Try walking into your local liquor store and finding a fifty year old single malt for less than $600. Better yet, try finding a fifty year old whisky at all.

-David Driscoll


Copper & Kings Arrives!

We've been telling you about the delicious brandies from Copper & Kings for weeks, but now you can try them for yourself! Finally available in all three retail outlets and available online! Available exclusively at K&L in California, Copper & Kings is going be the next big thing in American micro-distillation. Think of them as the St. George or the Anchor Steam of Kentucky. Started in 2014 by Joe and Lesley Heron, the Louisville-based brandy upstart uses three gigantic Vendome copper pot stills to craft a number of different brandy expressions, both from grapes and apples. Those spirits are then blended into an aged solera system of older expressions, created from mature stocks purchased across the country from other pot-distilling brandy producers. The results are absolutely incredible and we couldn't be more excited to offer them here to our savvy consumers. We've got a variety of different spirits in stock from the Louisville company, but let's focus on the big three for today:

Copper & Kings American Small Batch Brandy 34.99 - The American Small Batch brandy is made from stocks aged 90% in ex-Bourbon casks and 10% in new American oak, for a softer, more vanilla-laden flavor profile. The brandy glides over the tongue with a silky texture, but without ever losing that punch of oak flavor or the concentration of the fruit. It's perfect at 90 proof and mixes like a dream into a number of classic American whiskey cocktails like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. Try it instead of Bourbon next time you're mixing and you'll see what the fuss is all about. Copper & Kings is ready to put American brandy on the map. Not as a secondary Cognac, but rather as a bold and expressive genre all its own. 90 proof.

Copper & Kings "Butchertown" Reserve Casks Brandy $59.99- At 124 proof, the Butchertown brandy is a beast of a spirit, packing an explosion of flavor normally found in bottles of Booker's or Four Roses, rather than Cognac or Armagnac. Using older reserve stocks from the solera base, 75% of which were aged in ex-Bourbon casks, the other 25% in new American oak, the brandy is brimming with Bourbon-esque flavors: charred oak, vanilla bean, and caramel, accented with the roundness of the fruit. Try this in a Manhattan, or even a Highball with ice and soda water. We think it will become a mainstay of your bar from that point forward.

Copper & Kings American Apple Brandy $39.99 - The American Apple Brandy is made from stocks aged 90% in ex-Bourbon casks and 10% in ex-sherry, which adds a textural richness to the finish that cannot be understated. The fruit is still front and center, pure apple skin and cider-like flavors, but with a weight and supple texture that coat the palate and add richness to the backend. At 100 proof, it mixes like a middleweight--something less robust than applejack, but less delicate than Calvados. It's tailor made for a Jack Rose and for the price it's something you can sip or mix with reckless abandon. 100 proof.

I can't tell you how excited I am to have these available. I've been mixing cocktails all weekend with all three spirits, using Jen Colliau's Small Hand Foods mixers and following all the brandy recipes on her website. Brandy Milk Punches, Pan American Clippers, Bittered Slings, and more. I brought them over to a co-worker's house this past Sunday and made drinks for her and her friends. They were all begging me for the instructions by the end of the evening. You're going to be buying these bottles over and over and over again. These are not going to be brandies you try once and then move on from. They're going to be things you run out of and say, "Shit, I'm out of Copper & Kings again!"

-David Driscoll



Have you ever shared a drink with someone you know (someone who even shares the same taste as you) and disagreed completely over the quality of what you were drinking? It can be quite flabbergasting. I opened a bottle of wine with someone the other night (a white wine that I find to be quite delicious) and my friend took a sip, wrinkled her nose, and said, "I don't like that at all." I took a sip to make sure the wine wasn't corked or off. There was nothing wrong with it.

"Are you serious?" I asked, completely confused. It tasted wonderful to me.

"It has a terrible finish," she said, her mouth now a crooked line of complete disgust. I took another sip. The wine was perfect. Fresh, crisp, clean white wine—everything as it should be.

"I'm not quite sure what you're tasting," I said, trying to be polite. "I think it's great."

"It tastes like there's something wrong with it," she said. "It has a terrible, bitter finish. I can't drink it." She put down her glass.

I sat there for a minute unsure of what to do. I was in total disarray. Finally I got up, opened another bottle, and poured her a glass of a different wine. She thought it was much better, but I didn't find much of a difference between the two. That was the end of it though. There was no point in arguing or discussing it any further. She felt the way she felt. I felt the way I felt. What more was there to say?

My point? People can taste different things in different beverages and you may never know why. It doesn't matter how experienced you are. Despite the fact that both my friend and I work professionally in the trade, we could not come to any sort of middle ground concerning a very ordinary (and delicious, in my opinion) white wine—and it's not just experienced folks who don't always see eye to eye. I interact with customers all the time who don't like some of the wines they've purchased from K&L. That doesn't surprise me because you can't like everything. What does surprise me, however, is when people assume that because they don't like a wine it automatically means the wine is flawed or not good. I have to laugh when people email me in anger because I liked something they found to be unsatisfactory, but I guess when you hate a wine or a whisky and think it tastes absolutely terrible, it's hard to imagine why the person sitting across from you, sharing that same liquid, wouldn't hate it too. And the opposite is true, as well. When you love something it can be hard to imagine another person not liking it.

But that's the way things work. For every person who likes peaty Lagavulin there are fifty others who hate it. For every person who hates earthy Bordeaux there are fifty others who love it. You can fight about it if you want to, but you're not going to convince anyone you're right.

-David Driscoll