Knick Knacks

What's going on around the store this week? Let's see. I had a chance to sample the upcoming Glenmorangie release for 2015 yesterday: the Túsail. I think people are going to be really pleased; mainly because it's a whisky that was planned and created more than ten years ago, rather than something thrown together for the sake of new marketing. Much like Bruichladdich's Bere Barley experiment that was released a while back, Dr. Bill Lumsden has created a ten year old ex-Bourbon cask-aged single malt using a completely different strain: Maris Otter barley. Apparently Maris Otter was all the rage with brewers and maltsters back in the 1960s, but fell out of fashion after more efficient strains were developed and utilized. Dr. Bill managed to locate a batch of the barley from a grain company and had it floor malted at the Glenmorangie distillery, rather than commercially malted per the norm. Ten years later, we've got a limited number of Túsail bottles headed to the U.S.

I was impressed. If you liked the Bere Barley from Bruichladdich, you'll enjoy this as well. It's more textural, there are inherent flavors of ginger and spice that are not normally present in most single malts, and it almost turns beery on the finish (kind of like some of the American craft whiskies distilled from drinkable beer). I think it should clock in around $99 when it arrives, but I can't confirm that. That was an off-hand estimate from one of the guys from LVMH.

It's nice when we get something new and interesting that was actually from a seed planted (no pun intended) more than a decade ago, rather than something whipped up for the sake of it. I asked Kyle if he liked it when we were through, and he said to me, "When was the last time we didn't like something from Glenmorangie?"

Well said.

-David Driscoll


The Wine Algorithm?

No need to make a diagram of that one. It's all right here in the latest issue of the Wine Spectator. Check your local newsstand or fine wine retailer for a copy. The answers to life's greatest mysteries including: how to have fun, how to decide what to do, and what to do when you're not doing anything, are also inside.

-David Driscoll


The Whiskey Algorithm

If you don't watch The Big Bang Theory sitcom on CBS, then you're really missing out on some of the most brilliant writing on television (and one of Edradour manager Des McCagherty's favorite shows). I won't get into the entire gist of the premise, but the central character is usually Dr. Sheldon Cooper: a brilliant scientist with borderline Aspberger's and a giant-sized ego to go along with it (played by the equally brilliant Jim Parsons, who has won four Emmy awards for the role). While Dr. Cooper is a genius in the lab at Caltech, he's lost when it comes to relations with friends and family. He doesn't understand nuance, personal boundaries, or anything unspoken concerning interpersonal contact. His only true friend (and the only person who can stand him) is his roommate; another scientist named Leonard who spends each episode continually frustrated with Sheldon's inability (and lack of desire) to integrate into "normal" human relationships.

Because Sheldon is incapable of understanding anything without clear rules or definitions, he is forced to translate any attempt at comprehension into a table, chart, or formula that he can study and hope to emulate. One of the most hilarious (and, again, brilliant) instances of this behavior comes when Sheldon tries to understand why he can't make friends. When Leonard attempts to explain to him how friendship works, Sheldon composes the above chart as a way of diagramming the procedure: The Friendship Algorithm. The joke behind the entire concept, however, is that Sheldon doesn't actually care about the niceties of creating friendships and what it ultimately takes to maintain them; yet he forces himself to comply to the ritual out of loneliness. He knows what he has to do, but he doesn't understand why he has to do it (which is the whole issue with him). Sheldon is incapable of reading the room, feeling people out, or interpreting body language; hence why he's in this predicament. Friendship (as most of us already know) isn't something that can be narrowed down to a simple science.

I'd put the enjoyment of whiskey in that same category. So many hungry aficionados out there are on the ultimate quest to taste the best, but sometimes I come into contact with folks who don't seem to know what they're looking for. Or maybe they do know what they're looking for, but it seems like they're following a formula rather than their heart (a la Dr. Cooper). Their whole approach feels rather cold and contrived. I don't know if I've got it down exactly, but using Sheldon's chart for The Friendship Algorithm I've managed to come up with how I believe a number of folks shop for whiskey.

I don't know that following The Whiskey Algorithm is necessarily a bad idea, but I don't personally believe that sticking to such a precise and narrow drinking docrtine will ultimately lead to the desired conclusion: "ENJOY WHISKEY". There are other ways to find exciting new whiskies that don't involve the above formula. It might not be a perfect algorithm (as I only spent about ten minutes sketching it all out), but ultimately the point I'm trying to make is that life and its many pleasures aren't exact sciences. Like making friends, trying too hard to force the issue can often backfire, or lead to frustrating consequences. It's only when you let your guard down and attempt to see things from outside your own perspective that people can really get to know you, and you them. I'd say my own philosophy concerning the enjoyment of whiskey involves something along those lines. But, hey, that's just me.

-David Driscoll


Bourbon Stuff

Like I've said in previous posts, I'm expecting 2015 to be a big year for Jim Beam. In the middle of an American whiskey melee the Kentucky giant is sitting on huge stocks of mature Bourbon and is slowly starting to come out of hibernation. They tested the waters last year with the Maker's Mark Cask Strength Edition, which blew out of here like a Loretto tornado. They know they're on to something with higher proof expressions. I've been making sure to request samples of all their single barrel marks, as well; just to make sure we're not missing anything. You can't know if you don't taste! Thank goodness we kept ourselves in the loop because we recently snagged a lovely little number from Knob Creek: a 120 proof juggernaut that brings the punch without all the sugar. Personally, I enjoy making Old Fashioneds and Manhattans with rye whiskey rather than Bourbon. Sweet Bourbon with sweet vermouth usually results in one sweet headache for me. This Knob Single Barrel, however, is dynamite in a cocktail. The initial sip shows powerful spice and dry woody notes before a bit of vanilla helps round out the next transition. The sweetness is brief and balanced before bringing loads of baking spices and peppery goodness out the back end. Beam is beginning to put on their big boy pants. The beast is awakening.

Knob Creek K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Bourbon $39.99

And this lovely little sipper just snuck back into our warehouse. I've been told this is the last pure Kentucky batch before the production switches over to Indiana. Always a creamy, soft, and easy drinking whiskey.

Hirsch Straight Bourbon Small Batch Reserve $39.99 - This is one of the great bourbon deals that K&L has to offer.  It is a soft, creamy, rich, and semi-sweet whiskey that drinks far above its price point.  For all of those who long for Black Maple Hill, the Hirsch might be just a bit better.  Always a top-seller and a customer favorite, we just need to keep it in stock!


Still the One

Despite all the amazing producers we've met, the fantastic expressions we've imported, the interesting casks we've dug up, and all the wonderful stories we've told about their initial discovery, I still have to say that the most exciting Armagnac we carry at K&L (maybe at any price) is the Darroze 20 Year Assemblage (which is not part of our K&L Exclusive program). I just popped a bottle of Marc's latest batch and it's incredibly consistent with what I remember previous editions tasting like. When I say "most exciting", I mean this is the Armagnac that will get you to stand up, take notice, and really give this whole brandy thing another look. If you don't like the Darroze 20 Ans d'Age, then you won't like any mature Armagnac—period. This will be the only bottle you'll ever have to purchase to figure out whether or not you're going to delve deeper into a genre we're continuing to focus upon.

The Darroze 20 is not only incredibly accessible, it's still utterly traditional in style. There's more sweet oak on the nose than most Armagnacs we carry—a very Bourbon-esque bouquet of toasted wood and brown sugar—but it never materializes to that same extent on the palate. The flavors are rich, but spicy, dusty, and dry on the finish. It almost teases you into thinking it's pure Kentucky, then tricks you on the back end with a litheness that could only be Armagnac; and nothing more. If you're unfamiliar with Marc Darroze's operation, he's an independent bottler and distiller for the region, who is often the only avenue for certain chateaux. Marc offers many landowners free distillation in exchange for a percentage of their haul. In some cases, certain properties wouldn't even get harvested or distilled were Marc not the one offering to do so. Through this model he has acquired a wealth of incredible Armagnac stock—both young and old—from which he can bottle by estate, or use to blend into more harmonious expressions. The Darroze 20 constitutes the latter; an incredibly balanced Armagnac, comprised of various properties, that covers all the basics and remains polished all the way through.

If you need an analogy to help clarify further, the Darroze 20 is the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch of the Armagnac world. Not the oldest, not the flashiest, and not the most coveted of the category, but perhaps the best tasting year after year. And it still holds up today. If you didn't land a bottle of BTAC or Pappy this year, I can tell you this with a straight face: for my own personal drinking, I'd rather have one bottle of Darroze 20 than any of the rare Bourbons on today's market. It's really, really, really good Armagnac.

We've got it back in stock if you're curious:

Darroze Les Grand Assemblages "20 Year Old" Bas-Armagnac $99.99- Absolutely stunning Armagnac with incredible richness, spice, and balance. I can't say it enough, so I'll say it again: every Bourbon drinker who's out there chasing things like Pappy 20 or BMH 16 should be stocking up on things like this instead. Or maybe I shouldn't say that because the people who actually drink Armagnac regularly will get pissy. In any case, this is a slam dunk spirit. Big wood, lots of spice and vanilla, and a rustic fruit character with seamless execution. My new favorite brandy for the moment.

-David Driscoll