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2015 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

1992 Clynelish K&L Exclusive 21 Year Old Cadenhead Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2001 Bowmore 12 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2008 Caol Ila 5 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Craigellachie 18 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Miltonduff 19 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2007 Mortlach 7 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2004 Smoky & Peaty Tobermory (Ledaig) 8 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Laphroaig 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Macallan 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Tamdhu 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Tobermory 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1990 Girvan 24 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1978 Port Dundas 36 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1964 North British 50 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Faultline Blended Scotch Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

SMWS 36.82 Benrinnes 17 Year Old "Rare Release" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1988 Blair Athol 25 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


2001 Bowmore 12 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1990 Bruichladdich 23 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Glen Ord 17 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Hogshead Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Glenburgie 19 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Hogshead Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Glenrothes 17 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1998 Mortlach 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Sherry Butt Finish Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Imperial 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #344 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #345 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1990 Glenfarclas K&L Exclusive Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Glenfarclas "The Faultline Casks" K&L Exclusive First Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Bunnahabhain Heavily Peated 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Chieftain's Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1998 Laphroaig 15 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1983 Caol Ila 30 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Refill Sherry Hogshead Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


1992 Bruichladdich 21 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1988 Balmenach 25 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


1997 Benrinnes 17 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


1997 Dailuaine 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Glen Elgin 18 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


1997 Glenlivet 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Butt Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!!


1981 Glenlivet 32 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


Bladnoch "Young" K&L Exclusive Heavily Peated Single Barrel #57 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


1997 Glengoyne 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


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!


Thursday
Feb212013

How Important is the Barley?

Single malt whisky is made from barley, just like Calvados is made from apples and Cognac from grapes. While my journeys to France have taught me much about the importance of agriculture in distillation, Scotland's distillers have never given much glory to their golden grain. Just how important is the barley to the ultimate flavor of a whisky, you ask? It all depends on how much the distillery allows the barley to speak. Is the quality of the apples important to the flavor of a Calvados? Do different types of apples have different flavors? The answer to both questions is "yes" and the more you visit different Calvados distillers, the more you'll see proof of this affirmation. However, the longer that the brandy spends time in a barrel, the more the Calvados becomes about the wood and less about the fruit. Single malt whisky works the same way, but while I've heard single malt producers call a whisky overly-wooded, it was never because the maturation was compromising the natural flavors of the barley.

When single malt whisky is aged in fresh Sherry barrels the richness of that sweet wine usually coats the inherent flavors of the white barley spirit. When it's aged in used Bourbon casks, however, or even refill Sherry butts, we can taste more of the barley itself. That being said, almost every distillery in Scotland is buying their barley from the exact same commercial maltsters, which means that every one of them is using the same base materials (like winemakers all starting from the same grapes). As a distillery, why focus on how unique or fantastic your barley is when it's really no different from everyone else's? Are there even superior types of barley anyway? Barley that, while more expensive to farm, malt, and mill, would result in a far tastier whisky?

Have you ever actually tasted a piece of malted barley? It's sweet, grainy, and mealy, but I never really think that translates over clearly into a whisky. There are a few whiskies that really taste like malted barley, Glen Garioch being one of them. However, where as eau-de-vie producers spend a lifetime trying to capture the essence of a pear, distilling the essential flavors out of barley is a conversation I've never once heard at a distillery. I've never heard Dr. Bill Lumsden say, "You know, David, we were really just trying to pay homage to that great Scottish barley we had at Glenmorangie last year." Single malt whisky has always been about the wood - the vanilla, the sweet sherry, the oak, and the richness that it provides to mellow the alcohol. The barley provides the creamier mouthfeel and texture. Bourbon is the same way. Who's really talking about that awesome crop of corn that came in last Fall and how you can taste it in Buffalo Trace's newest release? It's more of a canvass for the toasted wood.

Barley-specific whiskies are starting to gain notoriety in Scotland, but there have been local barley releases in the past. For the last few decades, Springbank distillery has been making limited releases of whisky using barley from local farmers. They've always been celebrated for their collectability, however, rather than their superior quality. Kilchoman has been releasing "100% Islay" single malt whiskies made from barley grown right next door to the distillery. The result has been exciting and quite different, but no one ever really told us why they tasted the way they did (and maybe we didn't really even care to know!). It was more of a novelty, about being able to say it's entirely Islay, through and through. Bruichladdich has also dabbled in the regional barley experiment with several micro-releases of localized barley expressions. They've been fun, educational, and even tasty and their organic barley whisky has been stabilized into a full-time item.

What totally blew my mind today, however, is the new "Bere" barley release from Bruichladdich - a 2006 vintage, six year old whisky aged in ex-Bourbon wood that has a creamy, full-bodied graininess unlike any other young single malt I have tasted. I sampled it along side the 2006 Islay Barley "Donlossit Farm" release (made and matured in the exact same way) and it was fascinating. Both were delicious, but the Bere barley was simply better in every way. It had an instant charm, a flavor that all whiskies should have, but making it wasn't easy from what I've heard. According to Bruichladdich, Bere barley is an ancient strain that was brought to Islay by Norse vikings back in the 9th century. It's a denser and thicker grain that flourishes in sandy, island soil, but results in crops less than half the size of what's being grown now in Scotland (hence, why no one is using it $$$$$). However, they also claim that Bere barley was used to make the early whiskies from Scotland's origin. They claim it gave their mill one hell of a beating, as well.

The Bere Barley from Bruichladdich will be coming into stock tomorrow (Friday) and we'll be getting every bottle we can get - about 150 total. It is something I think every whisky fan should consider investing in. It will be $70 and I'm going to limit it to one bottle per person so that we make them available to as many people as possible. Not only is this whisky freaking delicious (I'm serious, this is really good single malt whisky that anyone would enjoy), it's an example of what agriculture brings to our beloved booze. While I've waxed poetic about orchards and vineyards when it comes to brandy making, I've never tasted what quality barley can do to a whisky. The question is, however: is the Bere whisky so tasty because of the Bere barley, or was it simply a great batch by Jim McEwan? I want to know more. If this whisky tastes the way it does because of the grain, then I'm all for paying extra in the future to make it this way.

More Bere barley whisky please. I'll front you some cash to get it started.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Feb212013

K&L Single Cask Tasting c/o LA Scotch Club

I know everybody in SoCal has been chomping at the bit for more tastings. While we haven't got the SoCal Salon up and running yet, I am trying to find ways for all of you to taste our various offerings before having to shell out for something that is untested. I mean I want you to take my word that the 1970 Glenfarclas we bought is worth $580, but I'm not going to be upset when you tell me you'd like to taste it first. While that idea was previously an idiosyncratic pipedream of nearly all who shop at K&L, today for a limited group it will become a reality. Thanks to the LA Scotch Club and their dedicated followers, we've been lucky enough to host our second "K&L Exclusive Bottle Tasting." It's popping off next Wednesday at a private location. The tasting fee includes dinner, which is just shocking for the price you're paying, and I will personally vouch for the quality this place is going to provide. Basically, we get a restaurant to ourselves with great food, great scotch, and great people. Don't get pissed that it's sold out, just...

BUY A TICKET NOW

Here is the official line-up:

1970, Glenfarclas

1993, GlenDronach 19 Year Old

1984, Benriach 27 Year Old

Faultline 10 Year Old North Highland

2003, Bruichladdich Peated

1998, Glen Garioch 14 Year Old 

Kilchoman 100% Islay Single Sherry Finish

1994, Caperdonich 18 Year Old Sovereign

I will also have a few extras on hand from my own personal collection. You may be lucky enough to also taste our Caol Ila 15 year Sovereign, Aberlour 20 Year Exclusive Malts, Benrinnes 12 year old Signatory, and maybe if you're super lucky get a little dribble of the last little bits of my Glenlochy 31 year (that one is a secret, so seriously don't tell anyone). If you have any questions about the event please feel free to reach out to me davidgirard@klwines.com.

-David Othenin-Girard

Thursday
Feb212013

Coming Back Around 

I have never understood the draw of the Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey. For $130, I always thought one could do better. It's mild, easy, mellow, and soft, just like blended whiskey is supposed to be, but aren't there fifty other whiskies that I could say that about for fifty dollars less? Nevertheless, I wanted to include the revered bottle in our upcoming Salon St. Paddy's Day party (which will be on March 17th - tickets coming soon!). It's still considered the standard for high-end Irish whiskey and, regardless of my own feelings, I knew people would be excited to try it. Since Tuesday was staff education day I decided to open a bottle for the K&L employees and get their opinion as well. I myself didn't have time to taste it then, but I did take a bit of the bottle home to try later – simply as a reminder and as part of my exercise to revisit certain products.

The Midleton Very Rare is made by Irish Distillers in Cork County, the same people behind Jameson, Paddy, and Redbreast, which has been part of the Pernod-Ricard portfolio since 1988. It's one of three distilleries in Ireland (four if you count Kilbeggan) along with Bushmills and Cooley. Bushmills was actually part of Irish Distillers back in the day. The group was founded in 1966 as a merger between Power, Jameson, and the Cork Distillery company. When Bushmills joined in 1972 it gave Irish Distillers complete control of the country's whiskey production. Cooley distillery became Ireland's third major distillery in 1987, bringing an independent party into the mix, and Diageo eventually purchased Bushmills in 2005, which officially ended the monopoly and divided up Ireland's whiskey producers among three separate companies. With Beam's purchase of Cooley at the end of 2011, all of Ireland's whiskey distilleries are now the property of foreign hands.

Midleton's Very Rare Irish Whiskey became an annual release in 1984 to celebrate the name of the town where the distillery is located. There is no age statement on the bottle and each release is somewhat different than the previous one. It's comprised of a special selection of casks ranging from twelve to twenty-five years of age – both Bourbon and Sherry barrels. Each release is labeled with the year it was bottled. That's a bit of history for you.

Last night I went out for sushi in the city with a friend. I got home at a quarter past ten and I was itching for a shot of something. I needed a hit. We had drunk a few beers at dinner, but I still needed a nightcap. I remembered the Midleton sample I had brought home and poured myself a wee taste. I know that I'm someone who is supposed to analyze whiskey critically, professionally, and in depth, but I'm going to divert from all of that for the sake of this review. At the late hour, with a stomach full of raw fish and rice, that glass of Midleton Irish was like velvet. It was a gentle elixir being poured down my esophagus on a bed made of butter. Context. It means everything when you're drinking. The right moment. The right time. The right frame of mind. The right expectations. I had that moment last night with this glass of Midleton. Then I had it with a second glass. We always talk about pairing alcohol with food, but what about pairing it to your state of mind?

I remember doing a private tasting in someone's home a few years back where we did a geographical tour of single malt whisky - a bunch of guys in a man cave getting drunk and I was their paid bartender. One guy planted himself at the bar and talked my ear off all night long. He kept saying, "Have you had the Midleton Very Rare? Now that is smooth!" Every whisky I poured wasn't as good as the Midleton, according to him. I remember being really annoyed and not wanting to like the Midleton simply because this man liked it so much. However, he was totally right. The first thing I noticed last night was neither the flavor profile, nor the weight of the whisky, but rather the way the whisky finished. It was really smooth. This whiskey is smooth in a way that few other whiskies are. What does smooth even mean? Smooth has to be the number one descriptor of liquor in the world, used by at least ten people every day on the K&L sales floor, but there is no official consensus on what it actually implies (hence why professional whisky writers avoid it).

I think most people substitute smooth for sweet, in that sweetness helps to mask the burn of alcohol. People call Macallan smooth because of the sherry influence. They think of Laphroaig as being not smooth because it's full of peat and doesn't finish with much richness. Texturally I think every whiskey is equally as smooth as the next, so it's more about masking the burn of alcohol than about the actual composition of the liquid. People think quality spirits shouldn't taste like gasoline and they're right! The question is: is it smooth because of added sweetness, from barrel maturation or added sugar, or is it smooth because of quality distillation?

What's my point? I'm starting to get sidetracked here. The point is that I never thought much of this whiskey. I thought it was overpriced and that it didn't offer much nuance in the way that single malt whisky does. It's a blended whiskey and blends are meant to be easy drinkers. However, something clicked with the Midleton last night. Something about the character of this whisky made me think of "smooth," in a way that I've never really considered. It's almost seamless, flowing, but I can't quite describe it actually and this quality intrigues me greatly. It's not sweet, so it's not simply the sugar speaking. It is triple distilled, but so is Auchentoshan and it doesn't taste this good. This is why you have to revisit whiskies. They can change on you. You can change on them. You also have to think about the moment. If I were to taste this whiskey at 3 PM in our tasting bar, in a flight of twenty other whiskies, I might not think too much of it. But last night the two of us shared a moment. I don't know if it was the influence of my Irish blood or the clan of O'Driscolls back in Cork County speaking to me through a bottle of hooch, but I'm in a new place with Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey.

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Feb202013

Cartron to Pour Tonight in SF!

Last minute change! Cartron will be in the SF store tonight to pour their Orange, Ginger, and Grapefruit liqueurs. If you're in the area and feel like sampling some serious stuff, then drop on by between 5 PM and 6:30.

Still no tasting in Redwood City tonight. We need a break down here!

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Feb202013

Our Tequila Selection

I wrote yesterday that I was very frustrated in my attempts to find new tequila. What I did not mean to imply is that we didn't already have some fantastic selections. I just haven't been able to add anything to them. We know that some of us enjoy the adventure of continuing the search for something new. When that adventure reaches a limit, it can be quite a disappointment. Here's a rundown of some of the wonderful products we carry in the order I most enjoy them, just in case you've never had them.

Seleccion ArteNOM 1079 - Jesus-Maria, Jalisco (Mountain Agave 6,200 ft. Alt.) $39.99 - Rancho El Olvido (ATP&C) is tequila's highest altitude distillery.  The agave grown at this level hits a higher BRIX sugar level owing to a porous soil and a climate that stresses the agave more.  The nose is packed with lime, pepper, and other citrus fruits, but it isn't overly zesty.  It's there, but it's subdued and concentrated.  Amazingly flavorful considering it's so mild!  A delicate dance of black pepper and baking spices.  Part of the elegance is due to the fact that these guys do not add agave nectar to re-ferment the mash (a practice that is currently legal and results in big, smooth, candied tequilas).  Because agave nectar is 100% agave, the bottle can still claim to be 100% agave even though it's the same as chapitalizing a wine.  This tequila offers purity, authenticity, and quality for a very affordable price. Highly recommended.

Seleccion ArteNOM 1414 - Arandas, Jalisco (Mountain Agave 5,400 ft. Alt.) $44.99 -
Destileria El Ranchito has been owned by Feliciano Vivanco since the post-revolutionary period of 1919-1929.  They hold 2,000 acres of estate grown agave and distill everything on traditional pot stills.  Their fermentation process is what makes them very unique - something about the yeast and their climate creates a bready, yeasty, banana nut aroma and flavor.  This is an incredibly understated reposado that absolutely blew me away with its uniqueness and mild-mannered profile.  Nutty, bready, with cinnamon bursts and spicy cloves on the palate.  Very unique and very, very good.

Seleccion ArteNOM 1146 - Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco (Mountain Agave 4,620 ft. Alt.) $49.99 - Casa Tequileña is owned and operated by Enrique Fonesca, known as El Arquitecto.  A fifth-generation grower and master distiller who holds one of the largest plots of agave in the industry, this añejo is made to showcase the oak without overshadowing the agave.  The nose is amazing!  Again, subdued and needing to be coaxed, but incredible when it finally arrives.  Nutty aromas with toasted vanilla, but neither rich nor oaky.  Warm baking spices on the palate, which is incredibly lean for an añejo!  Black pepper and fruit on the finish with more roasted nuts.  Divine!

Gran Dovejo Añejo Tequila $54.99 - This stuff is actually made at Vivancos, just like the ArteNOM Reposado, but they bring in their own distiller. Frank Mendez called me one day and told me he'd like to come present his new family project: Gran Dovejo tequila. While Frank and his cousin don't come from a tequila-making background, they consider themselves afficionados and feel the same exasperation I do toward the current state of things. They said to themselves: if we're going to do this, we're going to do it right - no cutting costs, no hiring a giant factory to mass-produce flavorless swill, no catering to Costco, no parties with celebrities, just good tequila. In order to do so, they tracked down Leopoldo Solis Tinoco (one of the great master distillers in Mexico) to help bring Gran Dovejo to life. Leopoldo was so satisfied with the final result that he offered to put his name on the bottle as a sign of approval. I've never tasted a tequila more suited for bourbon drinkers than the Gran Dovejo añejo. It has all the texture, the new wood, the spice, and the mouthfeel. I love that they didn't let this thing get all supple, soft, and smooth because there's enough of that in the market. Imagine a bourbon, but one where all the spice came from the spirit rather than from the wood! This tequila spent 18 months in a barrel but it tastes like an 8 year old bourbon because the spirit itself is so expressive!

Tequila Ocho Plata Tequila $44.99 - Tequila Ocho's tequilas are made by Felipe Camarena, a third generation Tequilero, and each vintage--yes, these are vintage designated tequilas--comes from a single estate with its own microclimate, making these the most terroir-driven tequilas on the market. The 2011 vintage Plato comes from El Puertecito. The Plata is spicy, clean, vibrant and delicious.

Los Osuna Blanco $39.99 - Why don't you see the word tequila anywhere in the description?  Because Los Osuna is made in Sinaloa, not Jalisco, and therefore cannot legally call itself tequila, even though it is made from 100% blue agave.  The Osuna family has been distilling the agave plant for almost 130 years so, believe us, they know what they're doing.  Anyone who doubts that the best tequilas can be made elsewhere need only to taste the outstanding blanco, the best "tequila" we offer.  It's nose sings of agave spice and citrus, while on the palate it glides over the tongue with a hints of pepper, lime, and flowers.

Los Osuna Reposado $49.99 - Soft cinnamon notes and lovely wooded spice. YUM. A great midway agave spirit that had both the spice and the richness for people who crave them both.

Charbay Blanco Tequila $49.99 - The Charbay is not the watered-down, overly-sweetened designer tequila being sold these days, but traditional, spicy spirit! Charbay distilled this in Mexico and it’s stunning. They were the first American Distillery to personally distill tequila in Mexico, from 100% Blue Agave Tequila, hand-distilled by Miles and Marko, combining traditional Tequila distilling methods with Charbay proprietary techniques of double-distillation. Miles said "Tequila is by far one of the most challenging" of distilled spirits. Personally double-distilled in Arandas, Mexico, by Miles and Marko, in small (90-250 gallon) Copper Alambiques Tequilano Pot Stills, the Blue Agave is hand selected by Jimadoras, baked for four days to transform the fresh Agave into fermented "Mosto," which is then crushed and pressed and ready for fermentation in small wood fermenters. Once the Mosto ferments into a dry Mosto Muerte, it is ready to be distilled.

Tequila Fortaleza Reposado $54.99 - Guillermo Erickson Sauza is a fifth generation tequila maker who hand-crafts beautiful, artisanal tequila at his century-old estate. His tartabuelo (great-great-grandfather) Don Cenobio was the first person to export tequila to the US, way back in the 1860s, starting his own brand in the 1870s. That tequila (Sauza) was passed down the generations before being sold my Guillermo's grandfather in 1976. Tequila Fortaleza is a return to his roots, and to the traditional methods, including the use of a stone mill called a Tahona to crush the agave, a small, copper pot stills to destill the fermented agave mosto. The resposado is aged in barrel for up to nine months and no less than six, and is authentic tequila, the kind that would make Sauza's ancestors proud.

-David Driscoll