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K&L Spirits Tasting Schedule:

Weds from 5 - 6:30 PM

9/24 - San Francisco: Monkey 47 w/Christoph Keller!

9/24 - Redwood City: Germain Robin K&L Exclusive Brandy!

2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

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 PRE-ORDER


Glenfarclas "The Faultline Casks" K&L Exclusive First Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER


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 IN STOCK NOW


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 IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Benrinnes 17 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


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 IN STOCK NOW!


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 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!


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

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!


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!


Sunday
Jul222012

Mark Your Calender

I just got the word this week – Glenfarclas owner George Grant, one of many in a long line of Grants who have run the distillery since the mid-1800's, is going to be in town this Tuesday.  Although that's not our usual tasting day, we can't not have George come into the store, meet the public, and pour some single malt, right?  Therefore, this coming Tuesday in Redwood City you can come and meet George from 5:30 to 6:45 and taste some of his wonderful single malts for free!  He'll have the standard line of expressions, but he did mention something about an exclusive bottle of 1994 vintage that he did for Austria.  I'm not sure if that's on the table or not, but anything's possible!

I won't be there, so Kyle will be running the show.  We'll still have our normal tastings in both stores on Wednesday as well.  Mark your calender!

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Jul222012

The Power of Ego (or Getting What You Actually Want)

As someone who grew up confident in his own abilities, I'm happy I'm finally at the point where I no longer believe my own hype. I no longer think the trophy at the end of soccer season means I'm a winner.  I no longer think that having the most activities listed in back of my high school yearbook means I was the most popular. I no longer think that I was meant for greatness just because I got A's in college.  I no longer think of compliments as reinforcement. The human ego can sometimes hyper-extend itself to protect was is, in essence, an insecure state of being.  From my experience, people who eagerly and overly profess their talents and abilities are usually doing so because of their fear of inadequacy, at least that was always the case with me.  Somehow talking loudly and openly about how great they are will somehow make it true, compensating for some inner insecurity.  Hopefully, no one will actually put them on the spot and ask them to prove it, however, because that would be a disaster!

When it comes to getting what we want in life, we're sometimes forced to choose between our actual goal and the desires of the ego.  For example, when the car on the freeway cuts in front of you there are two ways you can react.  The first is to sigh and continue driving, achieving the ultimate goal of getting to your destination safely.  The second is to give in to the ego - who does this person think they are cutting in front of you?  "I'll show them," you might think as you floor the gas pedal to retaliate somehow vehicularly.  But what are you really going to show them?  Are you going to convince them they did something wrong?  Are they going to pull over and publicly apologize for their impertinence?  Worse, what if they're armed, locked and loaded, and ready to go much further than you were planning (remember, you don't want to get put on the spot!).  The right move is to think about what it is you really want.  Not to be dead, or injured, or responsible for an unintended fender bender.  You want to get to work, or home, or to see your loved one - so you let it go. The ego will be upset, but you'll achieve what you set out to do.

Retail experiences can also force us to think long and hard about what our goal really is.  If you get a defective product from the local store, what is it you then want to do about it?  Do you want a replacement and maybe an apology, or do you want the workers in the store to know how inconvenient the experience has been?  Do you want them to feel upset that you're upset?  Do you want them to honestly understand the pain you've been subjected to?  If you want the replacement, the right move is to enter calmly and politely, explain the situation, and then react accordingly to the employee's response.  If you want to succumb to the ego, that itch in the back of your mind that says, "They won't get the best of me!" then you go in hard, fuming and steaming, argumentative and implacable, letting the establishment know that, not only do you want a replacement, but that they'll be lucky to have your business ever again.  In reality, you'll be the lucky one if you don't get spit in your burger.  You're not going to convince anyone of anything with that attitude.  You're only letting the world know that they should probably avoid your presence from now on.

That exact same scenario can be reversed.  As a retailer, if someone tells you they're dissatisfied with the level of service they've received, you should probably listen to them.  That is, if your actual goal is running a business.  If what you ultimately want is to make money by offering a service, then you need to accept the fact that you won't always handle everything correctly.  Mistakes can be made and sometimes the customer has really done their homework.  However, if you choose to indulge your ego, then by all means tell the customer they're an idiot!  Be condesending and assert your authority as a professional in your field.  That'll show them to question your expertise!  In reality, however, what it will show this customer is that your business is one to be avoided.  Not only will this person never shop at your store again, they'll probably tell everyone they know not to either, which does not help you achieve your ultimate goal of making money by offering people a service.  If that wasn't your goal, however, then don't worry about it!

I've found that, over the past ten years of my life, there have been numerous situations where I've chosen my ego over my actual desire.  Sometimes, it's too tempting to stroke that little part of yourself that knows you're right (even when you're wrong).  However, what I've found to be true, perhaps more than anything else I've ever learned, is that those egotistical reactions have never actually helped my situation.  I've never really convinced anyone I was smarter, more talented, infallable, more logical, more informed, or more clever.  People don't respond well to ego, it's a complete and total turnoff, yet for some reason the ego believes otherwise.  Even if I am actually in the right, the other person is never, ever, ever, convinced.  Just like the driver who cut you off and needs to be taught a lesson.  He's not going to be taught anything.  If anyone is going to be taught a lesson, it will be you after your road rage results in mayhem and you wind up in jail.  The lesson is: let go of your ego's desire and get what it is that you actually want.  They're usually two different things.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jul202012

Wow, That's Good.

When our newest cask of Buffalo Trace showed up this morning, I immediately called David OG in Hollywood and said, "Man, you picked a winner."  To which, he repied, "I thought you did that one?"  Now while we don't which one of us was the mastermind behind this stunning bottle, we can at least say that David did a fantastic job.  Harlen and the boys made a freakin' wonder of a cask - a single barrel Buffalo Trace that almost bursts with sweet baking spices, cloves, and tons of maple richness.  It's the most epic whiskey we've ever chosen from the Sazerac company and it's a hot deal.  Grab it!

Buffalo Trace K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #74 Kentucky Bourbon $24.99 - This new single-barrel from Buffalo Trace produced a very small yield of 20 cases for our new K&L exclusive bottling. Think of this as the classic flagship Buffalo Trace product, but with all of its best components highlighted and enhanced: stronger spice, sweet candied fruit, a medium body, aromatic vanilla, vibrant oak and just a touch sweeter. When we pick a single barrel from these guys it's only because it truly outshines the already stellar standard bottling. Needless to say, we don't find many barrels that out-class their exceptional distillery bottlings, but when you see the potential of this fabulous whiskey as a single cask, you'll definitely come back for more! (David Girard)

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jul202012

Booker's vs. Noah's Mill: A Taste-off

While talking to Drew from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers on the phone yesterday, he mentioned the fact that his Noah's Mill expression really isn't that much more expensive than other high-proof Bourbons of similar quality direct from the distillery.  Jim Beam's Booker's Bourbon, for example.  Kyle and I saw that as an opportunity to compare the two side by side.  It had been a while since either of us had cracked these bottles, so we went into the tasting bar to see what we could decipher.  Is all the talk about overpriced NDP Bourbon really valid, or would Noah's Mill outshine the Booker's for the same price point?

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Jul192012

The NDP Dilemma

NDP = Non-Distiller Producer: whiskey that's bottled by someone who didn't actually distill the whiskey.  While non-descript barrels, vattings, and blends have dominated the Scotch whisky market for years, the idea of NDP Bourbon really rubs some people the wrong way here in the states. As my buddy Chuck Cowdery said to me the other day, "Personally, I don't want to play the guessing game of who made the whiskey." It's a perfectly understandable point of view. Many Bourbon enthusiasts want to know what they're paying for and, unless you know what's in it, it's quite difficult to make that assessment.  Maker's Mark we know is made by Maker's Mark.  Buffalo Trace is made by Buffalo Trace.  Four Roses is made by Four Roses.  But which distillery made the Bourbon in the Hirsch Selection Small Batch Reserve? Which whiskies comprise the St. George Breaking & Entering? The fact is we don't know and, for some drinkers, not knowing can be a complete turnoff.

The biggest assumption made by consumers about NDP Bourbon is that they're overpaying for whiskey that could just be purchased straight from the source.  Why pay another company more money to essentially take whiskey from another distillery and put it inside a different bottle?  Because there's no disclosure, no age statement, and no information regarding the contents on each label, consumers are forced to speculate as to why this might be.  Maybe they don't want us to know.  Maybe if we knew, we wouldn't buy it!  Capitalism has taught us not to trust anyone, but sometimes the answer is out there if you ask.  I spent some time on the phone today with a few key figures in the NDP Bourbon world to ask why consumers might want to give their products the benefit of the doubt.

First on the list was Drew Kulsveen from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers.  Perhaps the biggest of the NDP Bourbon companies, KBD has been working with other distilleries for years to secure barrels for their own private labels.  Willett, Pure Kentucky, Vintage, Noah's Mill, Rowan's Creek, Johnny Drum, Black Maple Hill, are all KBD expressions and the list keeps going.  More than any other company, KBD seems to draw the wrath of certain customers who assume that, because of their close proximity to Heaven Hill, their whiskies are likely just more expensive versions of Elijah Craig or Evan Williams.  "The truth is we buy from every distillery in Kentucky except for Maker's Mark," Drew said when presented with this assumption.  "We've had relationships with these companies for quite a long time and many of our whiskies are made from three or four different distillates."

With regard to KBD's lack of an age statement on most bottles, Drew replied that, "age is about expectation - namely, about what a whiskey should taste like. We use whiskies of all different ages in our recipes, so sometimes the number can be deceiving." I couldn't agree more.  As a retailer, I taste whisk(e)y every single day, sometimes for hours upon end.  More often than not, the older, more expensive whiskies under-perform while the younger releases tend to offer more value.  Basically, age is never a guarantee that a whisk(e)y is of quality.  It's not really an indicator of anything other than what you can expect to pay.  Customers do tend to assume that the oldest expression must be the best, simply because it's the oldest.  "Noah's Mill, for example," Drew continued, "is made with three different whiskies, from three different mashbills, from four to eighteen years of age."  His point being that, were Noah's Mill to include an age statement, KBD would have to write a big "4" on the label.  Because many customers do not understand that age statements signify only the age of the youngest whisk(e)y in the marriage, he would be doing a disservice to the expectations for Noah's Mill.  As someone who watches the buying patterns of most customers, I can't blame him one bit.

Consumers also assume that buying from an independent label means you're buying another distillery's leftovers. The sloppy seconds.  The dregs.  Drew was quick to correct me on that point.  "No one from these larger distilleries has time to taste every barrel.  There are simply too many.  Even still, most places will let us come and do our own tasting before we purchase, so we don't feel we're buying second-rate stuff."  I believe Drew when he says this because of my own experience with barrels from Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill, and Four Roses.  When I taste through available barrels for K&L, some of them are fantastic and some are terrible.  Either way, which ever barrel I choose will be bottled by the distillery with their logo on it.  If I were to choose one of the lesser quality selections, it would reflect poorly on me and my ability to select good booze, but it would also reflect poorly on the distillery's reputation.  If they had someone checking the quality of each barrel before they sent it out, this wouldn't happen.  But it does, so in my mind that affirms Drew's assessment.

As far as cost is concerned, the reasons behind the higher price tags on KBD bottlings are no different from any other small producer.  There's the obvious upcharge on the whiskey because they have to purchase it first.  They bottle it by hand, rather than with a high-volume bottling line.  They're working with smaller quantities, so they're not getting the bulk discount.  It's really not too different from the realities faced by Kilchoman or other small single malt producers.  When you're a little guy in a sea of big fish, you simply can't be as cost effective.  You have to make up for the high production costs with better whiskey and this is where I think blending comes into play.  In my opinion, the real value in a company like KBD is that they're blending whiskies from different distilleries together.  Buffalo Trace, mixed with Heaven Hill, with a splash of Wild Turkey.  Obviously, I don't know the various formulae, but in Drew's words, "I like to think of these whiskies like a spice rack. Having a large selection allows us to be more creative with our recipes."

Dave Smith from St. George agrees.  The man behind the recent Breaking & Entering Bourbon said, "What's valuable as a blender is that you get to take single barrels and use them to their fullest potential. Large distillery Bourbons can be mass-blended on a gigantic scale and sometimes there's not much nuance, there's no time to go barrel by barrel because you've got to get so much done each day.  You go by lots, not by cask."  Like Drew, Dave points out that smaller non-distiller producers don't face the time contraints that larger distilleries do and might catch something the bigger guys don't.  "Sometimes a barrel can be like a piece of art, perfect on its own, but sometimes they need a little help.  Blending on a small scale gives you the chance to focus on these details and make a whiskey greater than the sum of its parts, something better than you could have ever expected."

In the end, if you value your whiskey because of where it's from or how old it is, you might find better deals direct from the distillery.  However, if you're a whiskey enthusiast looking to expand your horizons, many of these NDP selections have merit.  In my weekly appointments with vendors I have tasted some pretty terrible NDP Bourbon, some that were obviously a single cask haphazardly funneled into a different bottle, much like many customers fear might be the case.  However, you can't lump all of these bottles into one category.  Like most barrels of Bourbon, you have to judge them on a case by case basis.  Ultimately, I think that's what scares many enthusiasts about these whiskies - the fact that they have to decide for themselves what the quality level is.  There's no age statement or distillery to rely on.  One can't claim, "but it's made by Buffalo Trace!" to provide them with a security blanket.  We have to taste them and decide for ourselves if they're worth the money.

To add some more personal perspective, I've witnessed first hand how the current demand for brown booze has weakened the quality of certain brands that have been forced to bottle lesser spirit or deal with financial losses.  With so much whiskey going out the door right now, there have been some serious changes to reputable whiskies as of late.  When age statements start dropping like flies, we know to expect a change of flavor.  Therefore,  just because we buy our whisk(e)y straight from the source isn't any guarantee of quality either.  The whole idea that "the best stocks are with the distillery" falls flat if the company is simply dumping whatever they have in a big tank and bottling it up ASAP.  Drew told me at the end of our conversation, "We're not going to change what we do to supply the demand.  We're always running out and there's nothing we can do about it.  We're not trying to take over the world.  We're trying to let our business grow organically."  In finishing, I of course had to ask him about Black Maple Hill and the idea that it might just be leftover Heaven Hill stock.  He replied, "It's made with whiskey from two different distilleries and the formula has never changed.  It's always been the same recipe." 

-David Driscoll