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Saturday
Nov022013

You Think You're a Spirits Geek?

How into booze are you? I mean, seriously. You're into wine and whiskey, yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it. But are you into Sherry? Because if you're not into Sherry then you're really not as big of a geek as you might think you are. If there's one thing that makes you a "geek" it's the adoption of an interest usually reserved for the old men of previous generations. Whisky used to be such an interest, but now it's so popular it's completely lost that association. Sherry, on the other hand, is still an interest that is far too esoteric and confusing to ever attract mainstream support. There have been attempts to popularize it, to proselytize people over to its merit, but it never really takes off. Sherry is, and will remain, the geekiest interest of the most geeky aficionados. Like me.

Sherry should interest you if you like single malt because that's were 80% of your flavor comes from when you're drinking something like Glenfarclas or Glendronach. Sherry completely shapes the flavor of almost any spirit aged within its vast wooden butts. Sherry can be barrel-aged like whiskey. It's made of both wine and spirit, giving it the ultimate crossover potential from wine over to spirits, or from spirits over to wine. But you already know all this. However, if you thought that simply being into sherry was geeky, you've underestimated us geeks. It's no fun being a geek if everyone else is into what you're into. You've got to remain one step ahead at all times to retain any credibility (Pappy Van Winkle? Please....that's soooo 2011).

Speaking of Pappy, if there were such a thing as the "Pappy of Sherry," it would without a doubt be the ultra-geeky, ultra-delicious sherries from Equipo Navazos -- a consortium of serious Sherry buffs and insiders that selects and blends barrels from the finest soleras for their own enjoyment. Everything from EN is expensive. Everything. That being said, everything from EN is also insanely delicious. Their "La Bota" finos are the stuff of legend amongst the initiated, but the only people willing to pay $45 for fino sherry are the most dedicated of sherry geeks. If you thought merely being into Equipo Navazos made you a "geek," however, you're totally underestimating the world of spirits geekdom.

What if someone were to take the empty Sherry barrels from EN and fill them with things like Spanish brandy or rum, creating a mature spirit from the best maturation vessels possible? Unlike a tequila aged in Pappy barrels, aging something in EN butts wouldn't be a total sales gimmick (because that would assume that anyone actually cared about sherry). The wine would still be soaked into the wood if you got the barrels fresh and, if they were first-fill barrels, there would be a huge presence of the wine's influence still left to play its part. But who would be willing to invest in that type of project? Who would be willing to go all the way, spare no expense, age these spirits, import them, and then actually try to sell the final product to the 47 people in the world who would actually care? Nic Palazzi, that's who -- the bold and daring Brooklyn-based Frenchman who has practically become an unofficial K&L employee over the years.

The Navazos-Palazzi EN-aged Spanish brandies are here! They're crazy expensive. They're crazy good. They're simply crazy. And we've got em. If you're a Glenfarclas fan, or you love that chewy Glendronach character, then these are for you. AND.....they're only $70 to $80 for half bottles, which is great because we must have fifty people in here everyday asking for esoteric Spanish brandy in half bottles for $80. In all seriousness, they're quite spectacular, but they're not for everyone. Only the most die-hard, dedicated of spirits geeks will truly appreciate what it took to make these bottles happen.

Equipo Navazos-Nicolas Palazzi Single Fino Cask Spanish Brandy 375ml $69.99

Equipo Navazos-Nicolas Palazzi Single Oloroso Cask Spanish Brandy 375ml $69.99

Equipo Navazos-Nicolas Palazzi Single Montilla Cask Spanish Brandy 375ml $89.99

 

And if you're totally geeking out on rum, why not go for the $150 bottle of EN Oloroso-aged bottle? It's expensive, but again it's waaaaaay better than any other sherry-aged rum we have. It is a full bottle, at least!

Equipo Navazos-Nicolas Palazzi Oloroso-Aged Cask Strength Spanish Rum 750ml $149.99

Personally, I think this project by Nic is awesome and I love that Nic is only filling Spanish-distilled spirits in the casks, keeping a sense of place within the portfolio. Kudos to you, Palazzi.

Now we just need to call all 47 people who geek out for both Equipo Navazos and Spanish brandy to see if they want a bottle. Maybe they'll buy two!

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Nov022013

Scheduling Your Dollars

Since the new releases, sales promotions, and crazy deals are flying fast and furiously (more so than Vin Diesel himself) right now, I thought it was a good time to help everyone plan their purchases. Most of us are on some sort of fixed income, so it's nice to know what's ahead. Obviously the big boy Bourbons are dropping soon, but those will not be available online -- only through our insider raffle. What else is coming down the pipe?

- Diageo's Talisker Storm should be hitting retailers next week with a circa-$80 price tag.

- Our Glendronach 18 and Benriach 18 year old casks should be in stock by Thanksgiving.

- Our Glen Garioch 14 year old whisky (not available on pre-order) should be here by early December.

- Our last drop of direct French spirits featuring our new Calvados and Pouchegu Armagnac should be here before the month is over.

- We've got a second batch of Faultline Bourbon coming (first one is about gone) and the second batch of Fuenteseca Tequila should be here soon as well.

- David OG's Four Roses barrel selections should be here before December.

- David D's Henry McKenna selections should follow suit.

What isn't going to be here before the holidays are over? Most likely all of our Faultline single malt pre-orders. The government shutdown pretty much destroyed us because we still needed label approval on our four biggest casks. Those casks would fill the container we needed to get on the ship that would get the whisky to Oakland by December. Without label approval and no government to approve our labels, we missed the deadline. If you needed one of the Faultline whiskies as a gift, or if you just don't want to wait until January, you can contact me for a refund. We apologize about the mess.

What's still here that's almost gone? A few things. I don't know if we'll do year-end awards this year or not, but if I had to choose a whisky of the year I think that the Glenmorangie Ealanta would be on my shortlist. That's based purely on my own personal taste. The rich, soft, decadent style of that new oak-aged single malt really hit my palate in all the right places. As David and I continue to infiltrate the world of single barrel booze, I'm becoming much more partial to marriages. I don't think any one single barrel of Four Roses is as good as the LE Small Batch, much like I don't think any single Glenmorangie cask I've tasted is as good as the Ealanta (for those clammering that we should have bottled one single 21 year old Fuenteseca tequila, I can promise you that not one of those barrels tasted as good as the resulting marriage). The one great thing about single cask whisky is that it teaches you about limitations. One can only go so far with a single barrel, and only achieve so much. The blending of casks is the only way to go further, in my opinion, and the Ealanta was maybe my favorite I've tasted this year in the single malt realm. We've still got a bit of that left, but it's about done.

By the same token, I think the best brandy I had this year was the Darroze 20 year old Assemblage -- a marriage of various Armagnacs by Marc Darroze -- and that's almost gone as well. While I'm much more interested in the terroir of a single estate, there's no denying that the best tasting Armagnac on our shelf is not the result of one estate. But, of course, flavor isn't always everything. That's why blind tastings are fun, but ultimately pointless for me. Even if I choose the Charles Shaw "Two Buck Chuck" as the best in the lineup, I'm still not going to buy it. There are other factors that help me determine what I want to drink (like who made it and how). I think that's what ultimately hurts the Darroze 20 in its quest for larger fanfare, as good as it is. In trying to understand more about Armagnac one is ultimately limited by not knowing what's in it and who made it. The same thing goes for blended or vatted whiskies. I think if more people knew that KBD was dumping 20 year old Heaven Hill into their Noah's Mill there would be a bigger audience for those whiskies.

But they don't say that on the label.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Nov012013

K&L + Ardbeg = Hot Uigeadail Price

Can you believe that it's been ten whole years since the first release of Ardbeg's Uigeadail whisky? The 2009 Whisky of the Year from Jim Murray's Whisky Bible, the multi-awarded, always-delicious, masterfully-married, high-proof Islay whisky is still going strong a decade later and I'm stunned by the role K&L has been able to play in that journey. Did you know that K&L sells more Ardbeg than any other independently-owned store in the U.S.? More than those big chains with multiple outlets and more than those wholesalers who sell it for less than they pay for it. I don't think that says much about our sales skills, but rather it speaks to the great taste of our customers. People who shop at K&L already know their whisky, which is why we sell a ton of Ardbeg single malt.

But the #1 independent account in the entire United States? Wow. After ten years of Uigedail who would have thought it. Considering we can't ship to the majority of states and we're not nearly as big as other retailers, we must really have a large number of Ardbeg fans choosing to shop with us.

But what could we do to help celebrate both the birthday of our top-selling single malt whisky and the fact that we're the favorite Ardbeg retailer account in the country? A tasting? No. A fancy gift box? No.

What would customers enjoy? Oh....I know. How about lower pricing?

Ardbeg Uigeadail Traditional Strength Islay Single Malt Whisky $52.99 (WAS $59)

The most awesome Ardbeg account in the country should have the lowest price in the country, right? I don't know how long I can afford to do this, but I had to do something.

Let's celebrate! This is about as good as it gets for fifty bucks.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Nov012013

New Machir Bay Arrives

I held off on bringing in the new 2013 edition of Machir Bay (a slightly older marriage) earlier this Fall because I didn't want to have it confused with the boatload of 2012 Machir Bay I had in the warehouse. The Machir Bay is one of my favorite single malt whiskies period and I knew that having two identical looking bottles would be problematic. Now that we're finally out of the 2012, I was excited to bring in the new batch and (if you live locally) you can get it now with two extra Glencairn glasses for no extra charge. (NOTE: WE CANNOT SHIP THESE SO THEY ARE FOR IN-STORE PURCHASES ONLY) If you're a fan of the 2012 edition you won't be disappointed with the new vintage. More smoke, perhaps a bit less richness, but it's pretty much the same deal. I'm excited to have this beautiful looking gift package on the shelf for the holidays. It's a great present for any whisky lover and it looks very stylish and classy, unlike other cheesy packaging with that terrible glossy plastic and cheap cardboard. Well done Kilchoman.

And since Val from JVS (Kilchoman's importer) was here to taste us on the new vintage, he finally brought his famous Russian-made, pleated pants that he actually tailored himself – by hand! Back in the 1980s Val worked a lot of different jobs in the former Soviet Union and sewing was one of them. I didn't believe him, but he finally brought me hard evidence.

He's got another 3,500 pairs still sitting in a warehouse near Moldova if any one's interested.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Oct302013

A Few Things

As many of you who read the Kentucky blog posts already know, we left Wild Turkey distillery on a complete high. We are absolutely pumped up about the kickin’ chicken right now. It’s not that the whiskey wasn’t good before, it’s that we had an entirely different connotation with the brand. While WT is one of the larger distilleries (pumping out 600 barrels a day in comparison to sub-300 numbers by Buffalo Trace and Four Roses), they don’t operate during the summer! Insanity, considering others are running 24/7 to keep up with demand. They close down because Jimmy Russell doesn’t think fermentation times in the heat of July make for good Bourbon. They’re totally old school about their production process and they’re not willing to sacrifice anything to capitalize on the current boom. They still cultivate their own yeast (unlike many producers who just use commercial powdered yeast) and they’re one of the few producers left (along with Four Roses) who still refuses to buy Monsanto GMO corn. Plus, their single barrel selections are absolutely fabulous. The single barrel Russell's Reserve is the result of Jimmy’s son, Eddie Russell, pushing for more “modern” releases. Jimmy isn’t a fan of the single barrel idea, but Eddie convinced him that they’re not changing anything about the whiskey, just the way that they’re choosing to bottle it. WT fills their barrels at a lower proof than other distilleries so the whiskey in barrel tends to be more mellow in flavor. I’m beginning to tire of the super high alcohol, bold and explosive style of whiskey, so that might be why Wild Turkey struck a chord with me. In any case, we’re extremely embarrassed that we were so out of the loop concerning WT and their whiskies, so we’re trying to get some of our credibility back now.

First thing’s first -- we’ve managed to secure more of what was a very-limited release earlier this year. Let’s just say that things went well while we were there, so there’s more where this came from. We only got about 12 bottles of this last time around, so grab while the grabbin’s good. I'm hoping these will be more readily available now.

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Kentucky Bourbon $53.99Bottled at 110 proof, the Russell’s Reserve single barrel isn’t labeled as “cask strength” but seeing that most single barrels of Wild Turkey we’ve tasted clock in at around 55% naturally, it might as well be. Wild Turkey isn’t a big, dark, rich, tannic style of whiskey. It’s a softer, more cinnamon and clove spice-dominated, easier-sipping style of Bourbon and the single barrel Russell’s Reserve might be the best product available from the distillery. It’s entirely drinkable at the full proof due to its more elegant style, but takes water or ice quite splendidly. Having recently visited the distillery, we’re now big fans of the kickin’ chicken here at K&L. The Russells have refused to alter their production methods to fit in with the current economic Bourbon boom. They still make old school Bourbon in an old school way and the single barrel is perhaps the best way to ascertain the quality of what they’re doing. Candy corn, mellow caramel, baking spices, and long, spicy richness that goes on forever, with just enough pop from the higher proof to really add that extra high note. Lovely, lovely stuff.

The single barrel RR is really fantastic whiskey and anyone wondering what’s going on over at WT, or who is curious about their hooch, should definitely check it out while we can still get more. I like it more than most of the other single barrel whiskies available right now, personally.

However, in addition to the single barrel RR, we’re also bringing in some of the not-so-new WT expressions we were lacking. For some reason we weren’t stocking these as well:

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Small Batch Barrel Proof Bourbon $39.99 - Wild Turkey Rare Breed is a 108.2 proof marriage of casks that brings more power and spice than some of the other more mellow WT expressions. It's woodier with more of the charred oak influence, but it handles that oak quite well. The finish leans more towards the herbaceous, but if you hang on until the end there's a lovely toffee and caramel note that sings a late swan song. Very fun whiskey that goes down way to easily.

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey $47.99Less spicy and leaner than the new Russell’s Reserve single barrel release, this Kentucky Spirit single barrel selections plays more to the mellowness that WT is renowned for: soft richness, the kick of high-rye, and a mild finish that lazily keeps lingering on long after it’s gone.

…and the newest release:

Wild Turkey Forgiven Kentucky Whisky $49.99 - Yet another whiskey release based on an accident or fatal event that didn't go quite as planned. When Wild Turkey accidentally dumped a vat of Bourbon in with their rye whiskey formula it sent master distiller Jimmy Russell through the roof. Eventually, however, all was "forgiven" when the resulting mess was expertly blended into something quite tasty. The result is what's now in the bottle: the spicy and herbaceous rye character is immediately apparent on the first sip, to the extent that the whiskey tastes mainly like straight rye whiskey. But the caramel and toffee richness comes late on the finish to help round it out. At first taste it may seem to be a one-note song, a one-trick pony, but give it a few minutes. There are layers and layers of flavor that need to be unraveled in the Forgiven and the whiskey rewards those who are patient.

I met with Anchor in San Francisco on Tuesday and I got a sneak peak at some of their new arrivals. This rum was delicious and we're planning on stocking it shortly.

This was the real stunner, however.  We’ve all heard a lot about these vatted malts from BBR, and now we can finally get ‘em in the states. I really liked this.

Berry Bros & Rudd Blue Hanger 7th Release Blended Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - Limited to only 3,088 bottles, this new variant of Blue Hanger is comprised of the following whiskies; one hogshead of Bruichladdich 1992, one butt of Bunnahabhain 1990, four hogsheads of Miltonduff 1997, and two hogsheads of Bunnahabhain Moine (peated) 2006. The blended malt whisky is named after William "Blue" Hanger, the Third Lord Coleraine, a loyal customer of Berry Bros. at the end of the 18th century. Considered one of the best-dressed men of his day, his nickname came from his preferred clothing color. Blue Hanger was originally a blended Scotch whisky intended for the diplomatic export market in 1934, but disappeared for a period of time until 2003 when Doug McIvor, spirits manager, began his experiments in vatting malts. His objective from the beginning has been to create the best blended malt possible from existing stock. The flavors are very soft and the Bunnahabhain comes through instantly on the palate, bringing the resinous, round, and subtly smoky flavors reminiscent of the distillery's older expressions. More smoke comes through towards the back, but there's always a rich, round, and supple texture persistent through the entire experience. It's a lovely whisky for fans of the the peated stuff that aren't looking for big, explosive, mouth-tingling smoke. A more refined experience overall and really interesting just because of the peated Miltonduff involved.

Lot's more to talk about but I'm short on time today.

-David Driscoll