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4/23 - Redwood City: Ardbeg Single Malts (w/the chopper!)

2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

1988 Littlemill 25 Year Old K&L "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Lowland Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1996 Bowmore 16 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Bladnoch "Young" K&L Exclusive Heavily Peated Single Barrel #57 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Bladnoch 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive Lightly Peated Single Barrel #303 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Bladnoch 23 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #1054 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Talisker "The Speakeasy" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2005 Glenrothes 8 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Glengoyne 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #172 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #74 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2013 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky Still Available

1991 Cambus 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


2005 Island Distillery 7 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


2001 Royal Lochnagar 10 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Glendronach 18 Year Old Single PX Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


1994 Benriach 19 Year Old Single Bourbon Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


1989 Cragganmore 23 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1992 Longmorn 21 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1987 Mortlach 25 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1983 Miltonduff 30 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750m IN STOCK NOW!


Thursday
Apr052012

A Crisis of Romanticism: From Rousseau to Booze 

There are a number of crises that can behold the wine or spirits drinker, but the one we face most often at K&L involves our own personal booze philosophies.  When I say we confront them, it's usually within ourselves rather than with our customers.  There are many roles to play within the world of booze: the high-browed wine intellectual, the down-to-earth beer guy, the artsy-fartsy cocktailian, or the super-duper whisky geek.  It's no different from walking into Amoeba Records and finding the indie rocker, the punk, the emo girl, or any other genre-specific employee who wants their own personal taste in music to reflect in their appearance.  Like with music, there are periods of growth, inner-reflection, and change when it comes to our alcoholic tastes.  Much like I outgrew my love for pyschedelic drugs and Pink Floyd, I've outgrown my desire to drink ultra-ripe California wine.  We get older, we shape our own philosophies by where we stand in life, and our tastes mirror these changes.

I've just recently come out of a serious transition and am in the middle of an indentity crisis myself. For years, if not decades, I've considered myself a romantic - I've always had a proneness to emotion, and more particularly to the emotion of sympathyI've always loved the idea of wine or whisky, perhaps more so than I've enjoyed the actual liquid - the idea of drinking Bordeaux with a finely-prepared steak, the idea of sipping great whisky after dinner with a few friends, the idea of having a fancy cocktail party with amazing drinks that blow everyone's minds.  I love to imagine the greys and the stark landscape of Islay as I consider purchasing more Bowmore, the spray from the sea and the brooding image of Jura in the distance. The rustic farmer who made the Bourgogne Rouge on my dinner table also comes to mind, picking grapes in a bucolic landscape of serenity.  In the school of romanticism, the poor are more virtuous than the rich, the sage is the man who retires from the corruption of the modern city and seeks solitude in the unambitious life of the country. The images of classic romanticism are ubiquitous in everything I think I love about booze.

The truth is that I've begun to shed my romantic skin. I've become a realist, more utilitarian and practical in my outlook, and I'm thinking that maybe I've actually been a realist in denial for some time.  Valuing emotion and feeling has always been at the core of my personal philosophy.  I've always preached the idea of drinking what you like and what makes you feel good, rather than chasing points or overhyped brand names.  The boutique wine store world is definitely skewed towards the romantic school of thought, much like Fox News is skewed towards the conservative side of politics.  I've found comfort in this world because it made for an easy transition, like a liberal teenager starting his first semister at Berkeley.  If anything, my romantic nature became more extreme, emboldened by the likemindedness of those around me.  Here at K&L, much like with the romantics of Rousseau, the small farmer is always more virtuous.

Seeking council for my condition, I consulted Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy, in an attempt to understand my crisis. I still felt a kinship to romantic imagery, but my drinking as of late had been less than satisfactory. In describing the romantic movement, Russell wrote:

The romantics did not aim at peace and quiet, but at vigorous and passionate individual life.  They had no sympathy with industrialism, because it was ugly, because money-grubbing seemed to them unworthy of an immortal soul, and because the growth of modern economic organizations interfered with individual liberty.

The above passage still strikes a chord with me.  I still believe that industrialism is ugly and that it takes the fun out of drinking.  While I won't completely discount a whisky if it's a mass-produced, profit-driven product, I do find it entirely less interesting.  There had to be more though because something was entirely wrong with my romantic nature.  Reading deeper into Russell's account, I found this passage:

The romantic movement, in its essence, aimed at liberating human personality from the fetters of social convention and social morality...By encouraging a new lawless Ego it made social cooperation impossible, and left its disciples faced with the alternative of anarchy or despotism.  Egoism, at first, made men expect from others a parental tenderness; but when they discovered, with indignation, that others had their own Ego, the disappointed desire for tenderness turned to hatred and violence.

Yes!  Wow, what a summary!  Perhaps the problem doesn't lie in the romantic notions themselves, but rather in where a firm belief in romanticism leads.  Let's break down the above statement and translate it into booze terminology we can understand.

In attempting to liberate human personality from the fetters of social convention, I've spent countless hours talking to customers about the romantic ideals behind Springbank, Bruichladdich, Glendronach, and other rustic single malt producers that exist outside the scope of the mass-marketed brand options.  This part makes total sense.  However, my firm belief that small, hand-crafted spirits are inherently superior has given me a bit of an ego when I hawk my wares.  I feel strongly that the small, country producer is more virtuous and therefore desire that my customers do so as well.  Yet, how can I build a social community with people of all opinions if I expect everyone to simply listen and agree with me?  In a sense, I'm on the verge of becoming a whisky despot, a dictator who demands that all customers recognize the virtue in craft distillation and grower/producer wines.  However, when confronted with someone who feels differently than me, I immediately turn indignant because they're not giving me the confirmation, or in Russell's words parental tenderness, that I need to feel secure in my beliefs.

So it's not the psychology that's at fault, but rather the standard of values, according to Russell.  He writes that

(Romantics) admire strong passions, of no matter what kind, and whatever may be their social consequences...but most of the strongest passions are destructive...Hence the type of man ecouraged by romanticism is violent and anti-social, an anarchic rebel or a conquering tyrant.

Here is my underlying problem with romantic, emotional passion for booze over realism - it leads to this exact type of anti-social behavior: bickering on blogs, arguing on message boards, quarreling with customers, and an overall sense of resentment.  The more we stress the ideal of whisky, the virtue of the lost distillery, and the merit of the majestic family legacy, the more we lose touch with what booze is for: SOCIALIZING! 

I've found that perhaps my intellectual studies in alcohol have only isolated me, keeping me further away from true pleasure and happiness.  I know you all can relate!  Everyone reading this blog has bought that special bottle of whisky or wine, sat down with your friends and family, and attempted to convey to them the importance of the elixer, to which they all repied "That's nice," before continuing on with their previous dialogue.  How many times I've heard from customers, who lamented, "David, I opened a bottle of Port Ellen with my friends and nobody cared! Never again!"  This is our fault, fellow romantics.  We've become too entwined in our emotional connection to booze and have lost our ability to socialize normally.  We can no longer sit down with our fellow man, drink table wine or Jameson, and talk like regular people.

Ultimately, this is what Rousseau and the romantics had in mind.  They wanted mankind to retreat back into the forest, become again like the noble savage, and find the virtue in nature and solitude, wandering the countryside alone like Young Werther.  Unfortunately, this has not made me any happier!  It's only made me more lonely, sitting alone in my house, drinking the Pappy Van Winkle that only I understand and appreciate, while my wife and her friends have a blast with the box-o-white wine.  Russell understood this, which is why he wrote:

Man is not a solitary animal, and so as long as social life survives, (the romantic ideal) of self-realization cannot be the supreme principle of ethics.

Instead, whisky geeks like myself are more like Frankenstein's monster, a classic tortured figure of romantic literature.  In Frankenstein, the monster contends:

My heart yearned to be known and loved by these amiable creatures; to see their sweet looks directed towards me with affection was the utmost limit of my ambition.  I dared not think that they would turn from me with disdain and horror.

Nevertheless, this is what happens when you have a dinner party and expect people to listen to you about why your 1988 Chateau Margaux is so freaking amazing.  All you want is for people to say, "Wow, I can't wait to try this!  All that information was so stimulating, David!"  Alas, this is never what happens.  Which is why, ultimately, I find myself no longer a romantic.  I no longer imagine the perfect Bordeaux dinner with a finely-prepared steak, where everyone enjoys and appreciates the wine, because that image is a fantasy.  It doesn't exist for me!  It's simply a romantic notion.

When I say that I've become a realist, I definitely do not mean that I no longer appreciate great booze, nor that the merit or virtue of the small farmer has become devoid of value.  It's just to say that the romantic ideal of these products is no longer the end-all, be-all of what we should be drinking.  We should be drinking what we like, and if we're drinking with friends we should ease up.  Be practical and pragmatic - choose a simple, fun wine for a simple, fun evening.  This is the opposite approach of the romantic.  The romantics found everyday themes (and perhaps everyday wines) too pedestrian, finding inspiration only in what was grand, remote, and terrifying.  That sounds exciting and fun, but rarely are those qualities within actual reach, and if they are, you're usually the only one enjoying them.

While the romantic chooses to blame the common man for failing to understand such qualities, it's more or less the case that the common man doesn't care - he's happy with a bottle of Buffalo Trace and the company of his fellow man.  When I say that I've become a realist, it's to say that I am choosing to embrace the merits of social interaction and shun the philosophy of isolation.  It doesn't mean that I will no longer enjoy sipping my bottle of Brora in peace, it's just to say that this type of drinking won't dominate my way of life.  There's much fun to be had while we're alive and our time is too short to spend it wandering the country in seach of the grandiose (or, in whisky terms, wandering from store to store in search of only Stitzel-Weller Bourbon).

While the romantics preached the virtue of the countryside, I now defer to Samuel Johnson's belief that the man who is tired of London must be tired of life.  I'm not tired of life, nor am I tired of drinking - in fact, I'm more energized than ever.  I am tired, however, of the romantic notions that have guided me thus far and the disappointment that has followed in their wake.  Drink up, my friends, and enjoy the company of your friends.  Have a good bottle on hand when you do, but let that bottle speak for itself.  We all know how good that bottle of wine you had in Italy last summer was, but it wasn't the bottle - it was being in Italy.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Apr042012

Six from the Vault

Being part and party to the nation's most exciting spirits programs has its benefits.  One of the finest has been a gracious invitation for membership to the prestigious and exclusive Los Angeles Whisk(e)y Society.  Truly one of the great resources for Whisk(e)y lovers of all sorts on the web, LAWS has provided me with a forum to taste some of the world's rarest whisky with some of the country's most knowledgeable drinkers.  While it might seem quite earnest and maybe a bit arcane, you really don't know the half of it!  The only downside to being a LAWS member from the professional whisky world is their unrelenting scruples.  I as a professional I am prohibited from posting reviews on their venerated website!  And hey I don't blame them, it certainly would not be fair for me to anonymously give all our Faultline products A+ ratings, but then again I do relish the opportunity to participate.  Lucky for us, I have this wonderful forum to express my opinions.  Last week, we tasted Six from the Vault (LAWS Members personal collections) and we are oh so GRATEFUL for it. So, I will proceed:

'75, Dallas Dhu Signatory 33 Year Old Cask Strength 46.7%

For me this is CLASSIC Dallas Dhu.  One of those old closed distilleries that comes at a collectors price, but honestly hasn't had the intense following that Brora/Port Ellen see.  I sat through a presentation at the UWE regarding investment grade whisky and Dallas Dhu was rated as one of the worst performing single malts on the market.  I guess I understand why as the distillery is all about subtlety and finesse, not power and punch.  Here we have just that.  The nose is a soft malty floral thing with fresh vanilla bean.  Whiffs of pomace fruit transform into the slightest grassiness.  As it opens, a touch of salted toffee comes out.  The palate goes fresh grain and some more wood, but brings out some citrus/cream and spice.  As it leaves the spice increases finishing somewhat austere, even peppery.  Could be longer and more complex, but all in all a pleasant glass. Good example of how Dallas Dhu should taste.

'63, Strathisla Gordon & Macphail "Book of Kells" for Limburg Festival 51.8%

I love love love this label.  Unfortunately, we don't really see this out here.  It was bottled for the famous Limburg Festival in Germany so good luck finding this one.  Anyway, it's from Strathisla, which I consider a rather enigmatic distillery, which don't see often of stateside.  Gordon & Macphail seems to own tons of this stuff and sells some old Strathisla for very reasonable prices.  Regardless, this one’s a cracker!  It opens up with pungent Seville peel, freshly tanned hide, dark roast coffee.  Then moves toward exotic wood, ultra complex and ever changing, I wrote dried flowers, baking spice, cacao, LOTS of fruit.  This is not a sherry bomb, it's like a laser guided missile.  ON the palate, what seems to be almost too much on the nose turns out to be pretty darn balanced.  Perfect blend of rich sweet sherry and lifted structure.  Dark malty grain, more exotic wood (sandalwood & birch bark), fancy expensive seeming spice notes (saffron? really?).  It's all just really well integrated.  This one is too old for water so just leave it out.  VERY GRATEFUL for this one!

'70, Glenrothes Whisky Agency 39 Year Old 48.1%

Whisky Agency bottles some great stuff, none of which is available domestically.  The labels are always so pretty; it has to be good right?  Well, I have to say this was the major underdog in the room.  To be perfectly honest Glenrothes is not a LAWS doll and this glass started with some rather disparaging comments about the little distillery.  Regardless, 'Rothes doesn't score terribly on the LAWS website although only 10 have been officially rated.  This probably won't help the average.  On the nose I got insect repellant, sour fruit, vanilla extract, and dirty oak.  The palate is apple cidery and astringent on the way to vinegar.  With water this calms down and straightens out.  I would go one to one and just get it out of the way. 

'78, Highland Park The Bottlers 21 Year Old 56.2%

I think it was the bad feeling I had from the Glenrothes, but when I first nosed this guy I really didn't dig it.  Rushing through my first tasting, I went back for a second go after my neighbor expressed interest.  On second pass I found something I'd missed the first time.  The nose was ALL sweet sherbet, orange liqueur, strong fresh sherry notes, a smidge of smoke.  On the palate fresh pepper and more of the HP smokiness.  Adding a bit of water helps coax some of the more intriguing qualities of this whisky out.  A very fine malt.

'72 Glendronach Oloroso Sherry Butt 39 Year Old 49.8%

Well if that Strathisla was a Laser Guided Missile, this would be the neutron bomb.  Just a huge monster sherry attack on the nose.  Ultra dark color in the glass, it smells just like it looks.  Strong Oloroso character - classic dried plums, dark red fruit, spice.  I think SKU and I both agreed that there was a clear sulfur (struck match not rotten egg-perhaps phosphorus not sulfur) note, which would have been off putting in a wine, but here builds complexity.  The palate continues with the spiced fruit, intense and dry, maybe some leather.  Some sort of mossy or nutty earthiness pokes through in the middle there.  All in all way dryer than expected and herbal.  On the end, the darker flavors (dark wood, leather) dominate.  Totally unavailable in the US as this is a special bottlings for Calgary's Kensington Market, but if you're north of the boarder it is a MUST buy for any sherry-head. 

'77, Port Ellen Old Malt Cask 23 Year Old 50%

This was a treat from SKU's cupboard and I thank him profusely for it.  I'm a sucker for Port Ellen and I don't often get to try younger Port Ellen (I know 23 year isn't that young).  But, this was bottled in 2001 and so it's been in bottle for over 10 years.  Anyway, this was very typical Port Ellen. Briny, peat, camphor, burning wax and paste.  The nose hints towards an underlying sweetness, maybe marshmallows, but it's really hard to pick out behind the smoke and salt on the nose.  The palate brings more peat which builds around a salty fresh grass and chalk element.  Rich, but not heavy.  Powerfully smoky and rustic, but it has that great sweetness that I love in Port Ellen.  The candied fruit work to balance out the waves of smoke.  The perfect contrast to itself.  A lovely little whisky. 

-David Othenin-Girard

Wednesday
Apr042012

Tastings Tonight!

Tonight in Redwood City we'll be pouring Osocalis Santa Cruz Mountain Brandies - don't miss this if you're in the area!  We'll have the distiller in the house and he's a wealth of information.

San Francisco will host Highland Park single malt whiskies.

5 PM to 6:30 PM.  Free of charge, as always!

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Apr032012

My New Favorite Bourbon

Sometimes I simply miss the boat on certain products - either from skipping a tasting appointment, or taking a day off from time to time.  While I knew of the existence of Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Bourbon, I had never tasted it, nor was I really motivated to track it down.  There's a ton of whiskey out there and we can't carry everything, so no big whoop.  David OG, on the other hand, did not miss the boat on this whiskey, so he's been carrying it in our Hollywood store for some time now.  Seeing that both of us recently opened a number of bottles for staff education day, we decided to send each other our open samples and the Rock Hill was among those that came up North.  Besides the awesome, old-school decanter with the 70's-style horse drawing, the Bourbon is simply fantastic - in fact, it's my new house bottle.

Guess who makes it?  Surprise!  It's Buffalo Trace, who are on pace to out-match Bruichladdich for which distillery can have the largest portfolio of diverse, yet tasty spirits.  The Rock Hill Farms is a high-rye Bourbon, meaning there's a higher percentage of rye in the mashbill than one would normally expect in a Bourbon.  The flavors are both rich and spicy - the whiskey really pops on the entry with lovely vanilla and dried fruits, before finishing with a chocolate and herbal flurry.  I'm absolutely hooked right now, especially for $40.  

Is there no end to the BT dominance?

-David Driscoll

Monday
Apr022012

How To Craft an Independent Whisk(e)y Label

Wow, I've been sitting here all day in a post-Wrestlemania hangover, bloated from the remnant carbs of over a dozen beers, sedated by the mild headache that has ranged from dull to acute over the last few hours.  In my brief time away from the computer, it appears there has been a macro-Pappy scandal on the micro-blogosphere - something about Buffalo Trace distiller Harlan Wheatley mentioning the source of the older expressions.

Here's my take on this situation:

If I were an independent bottler like the Van Winkles (i.e. a company that does not actually MAKE any whiskey, but instead buys it from others) I would run my business in the following manner:

- I would have a great label with something traditional on the front (i.e. Pappy smoking a cigar).

- I would only bottle fantastic whiskies, no low end stuff or bargain bottles for lower price points.

- I would definitely make myself as rare as possible (sell as little as I could to still make a profit) to keep demand high.

- I would have no advertising and make sure that all our press came from word-of-mouth (that way people will exaggerate the hell out of every detail, further adding to the legend of our brand).

- Finally, I would NEVER, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never come clean about where we got the whiskey from. 

The last point is what drives whisk(e)y geeks absolutely livid, but guess what?  All this talking about Pappy Van Winkle - where it's from, who made it, is it still SW juice, etc - only helps the Van Winkles sell more Van Winkle whiskey!  It's absolutely genius. 

If you look at all of my personal requirements for a hot, independent whiskey brand, you'll notice that the Van Winkles nail every single one of them.  Do you think Black Maple Hill would still sell as well as it did if it said "4 year old Heaven Hill" on the label?  HELL NO! (That's not saying that it is, either).

In the end, catering to the internet is the absolute worst thing a brand could ever do.  I love the whisky blogs, the message boards, and all the chit-chat, but in the end we're less than 1% of the people actually buying these whiskies.  The other 99% percent don't care in the slightest.  If you want to make money as an independent bottler, you'll cater to the 99% and hope to placate the savvy internet fans. 

Did any one else watch WCW wrestling at the end of its existence?  If you thought the whisk(e)y geek online experience was rabid, you have no idea what the online professional wrestling, super-geek cabal is capable of.  They single-handedly tricked a multi-million dollar company into thinking they represented the majority of the paying fan base and the company responded by attempting to please a handful of bloggers.  WCW went down the tubes just as soon as that happened because no one else watching had any idea what the hell was going on.

Personally, I don't give a hoot who made a whiskey, where it was made, or if the label directly states the correct stats.  If it tastes good and it seems fairly priced, I'm in.  The Van Winkle whiskies satisfy both my requirements for delicious whiskey at a reasonable price, and my requirements for running a solid independent label, were I actually in charge.

Keep up the good work, boys.

-David Driscoll