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Wednesday
Oct172012

The Best Four Roses Ever?

Don't you just love open-ended questions like that, which maybe hint at quality, but don't have the guts to make the assertion themselves?  I used to live by a diner in San Francisco that had a sign in the window reading, "Is our diner the best breakfast in town?" I don't know, is it? I live by a sushi place in San Mateo that does the same thing: "Is our lunch special the best value in town?" You tell me!!!! Regarding my question concerning whether the new Limited Edition Small Batch is the best incarnation of the whiskey yet, I would answer: that's what master distiller Jim Rutledge told me, at least.  Those were his exact words.  "I think this might be the best small batch we've ever made."  He also said that the 17 year old Four Roses casks that went into it "might be some of the best Bourbon he's ever tasted." Having now tasted the Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch for myself, I can see what he's talking about. 

I had a friend schlep me a bottle of the 17 year old single barrel back from the Four Roses gift shop and I think it's very good whiskey. The 2012 Small Batch, however, is more impressive to me.  Maybe I'm being unconsciously influenced by the opinion of a master distiller, but I can completely see why Jim thinks those older barrels were better used as part of this incredible marriage. Even at 55.7% cask strength, the whiskey doesn't need much water, if any. 55% is about as high as I like to go with whiskey anymore, so I'm happy they didn't pull a Stagg or Parker's on me.  Inside the Small Batch are unspecified proportions of three Four Roses recipes at four different ages: OBSV 17, OBSV 11, OBSK 12, and OESK 12 respectively. The 17 year old juice adds more richness and body than the standard Small Batch has. The extra wood thickens the mouthfeel and intensifies the fruit along with the vanilla. It's a Bourbon with few flaws, if any, and it tastes impressive on the first sip. You don't have to sit there and ponder it.  It's obviously pretty freakin' great. If you had someone new to Bourbon taste both the Small Batch and the 2012 Limited Small Batch side by side, that person would most certainly say, "Ohhhh, I can see why that one costs more," when referring to the 2012 LE.

When we got these bottles into stock yesterday morning, I bought one without tasting it. I knew that if Jim was adamant about its quality, that would be enough for me.  We seem to have similar palates in so far as what we both look for in our Bourbon, so I was almost certain I was going to like this.  Is it the best Four Roses I've ever had?  In recent memory, there's no question: yes.  It's not a single barrel, remember, it's a carefully-crafted cuvée (how's that for alliteration?). It's polished, rounded, and mouthwatering, rather than bold, spicy, and powerful like some of the K&L single barrel selections have been (which I'll actually be writing about later today). Your expectations will ultimately play a role in how much you enjoy this whiskey, but I can't imagine anyone who loves Bourbon not loving this. Whether it's the best Four Roses ever or not is a difficult question to answer, however.  I'm not qualified to make that statement.  I would ask Jim Rutledge, the guy who has been making the whiskey for decades.  Oh, that's right, he already said it was the best.

I guess it must be. I've still got sixteen left. 

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Oct172012

Binders Full of Women

UPDATE: 10:21 PM - What I thought was a very funny moment in tonight's presidential debate that perhaps only I noticed, was actually very funny to millions of people who have been tweeting, Facebooking, and blogging about this non-stop.  Now I am just another blogger trying to come up with another clever play on "binders full of women," which as a result makes me very unclever. Boo hoo. :(

"Binders full of women" = the new "Snakes on a plane"

I have now deleted the satire because I had no desire to ever make this political, rather just talk about how the sentence "binders full of women" made me laugh out loud. This now-viral catch phrase is going to get political now, however, so I'm getting out.  It was very funny, though. 

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Oct162012

My Mouth is on Fire

I was trying to figure out why I couldn't taste anything today and why my gums felt dry and sensitive all afternoon yesterday.  Then it hit me! I was a judge at the Good Food Awards blind tasting this past Sunday, where I sampled over seventy-five different high-proof spirits and had to re-taste again and again until we decided on the winners.  That might have something to do with it!

Thank goodness I had the entire morning to recooperate because my good friend Val was here this afternoon, bringing a gauntlet of new whiskies to taste and discuss. I'm still placing my order right now for what we'll eventually be purchasing, but here's a rundown of what we liked:

New Chieftain's selections! Almost every one of these whiskies had merit and I think I'll probably be bringing in almost every expression.  There was a rich, first-fill Bunnahabhain 10 year that was dark and textural.  An earthy, yet creamy Ben Nevis 13 year was a nice surprise. The 17 year old Glen Keith brought the fruit and a hint of flowers, with richness that should please those looking for more whisky from "closed distilleries." Kyle really enjoyed the 13 year old Glenrothes aged in Barolo casks with its chewy, red-fruited mouthfeel. Both of us were very impressed with a 12 year old Isle of Jura finished in a rum cask - spicy, cane sugar and vanilla with salt and caramel.  Delicious!! These should all be in by tomorrow and will be in the $70-$85 price range.

I continue to be impressed with what's happening on the Isle of Arran. These guys really have their shit together.  The 14 year old addition was very good and these two new single barrel whiskies are fabulous. They really represent the two sides of barrel maturation well. If I were looking to teach a class on what a Bourbon barrel's inflection tasted like versus a sherry barrel, these are the two whiskies I would choose.  The 15 year old Bourbon cask is spicy, woody, rich without being sweet, and loaded with flavor.  The 15 year old sherry cask is super rich, almost dirty, with loads of earth and tons of texture.  This tastes more like what I expected the Balvenie 17 year Doublewood to be.  Both should be around $115 and are bottled at 51.1 and 52%.  These are very exciting to me.

If there was one thing I learned this weekend, it's that blind tasting is very important to make sure one's prejudice doesn't influence the way one ascertains quality in a whiskey.  It's also important to taste a whiskey before you see the label because the Colorado Gold label isn't a winner.  The whiskey, however, is delicious. Their corn, wheat, and barley whiskey (not labeled as wheated Bourbon) is quite precocious.  It actually tastes like real Bourbon and it's all distilled on their Holstein still in Cedaredge, Colorado. This is a great Stranahan's replacement for the California market.  At around $50, it's about the same price. 

Look for these items this week or email me if you have any questions.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Oct152012

What's Your Problem?

I've been a little cranky lately. I simply bit off more than I could chew this month and it finally came back to bite me in the behind. I'm simply pooped. Even after fifteen straight days of events, tastings, traveling, and writing, I was supposed to take the red eye to Mexico tonight for more spirits-related business.  When a few last-minute emergencies, extenuating circumstances, and general health problems piled on top of my no-room-for-error calendar, I had to make a difficult decision: stay home and rest.

I've been doing a lot of work, but I haven't been doing any of it well. My emails are piling up and I take answering them very seriously, yet I've only been able to fire off short, one sentence replies to people I'd like to have more dialogue with. It's frustrating. There are so many new people who need help with booze! While I'd like to believe that my amazing customer service is responsible for the increased response, most of the reason I've been getting so many emails is because liquor companies have started their own email lists, sending out notices to consumers when new products are being released.  It's a great idea! Keep people informed and excited. The only problem with this is that they're sending these emails out, sometimes months before the product is available at K&L, telling customers to give us a call long before telling us what to expect. It leads to the following scenario:

Awesome K&L Customer: David - do you know if you'll be getting the new _______ anytime soon?

Me: I haven't heard anything about that. Have you seen it available anywhere else?

Awesome K&L Customer: I got an email about it and they said K&L will be carrying it.

Me: Hmmm.....well I have no idea unfortunately. I wish I knew more and could help you.

Awesome K&L Customer: Can you call me when it comes in?

Me: I wish I could do that for every customer, but unfortunately I get so many requests it's not possible. What I can do is add you to our email list and notify you that way.

Awesome K&L Customer: I'm usually travelling and I don't always have time to check my email, can you just put in an order for me now? I'll pay you in advance.

Me: Unfortunately, no, because I don't know how many we're getting, if we're even getting it at all, nor do I know the price.

Awesome K&L Customer: So there's nothing I can do right now?

Me: I'm sorry, but that's correct.

Awesome K&L Customer: Bummer. Do you think another store will have it?

This situation happens at least five times a day, even on my days off when I'm answering emails from home. Now, it's important to note here that I am not annoyed with the customer!  I love interacting with consumers and anyone who takes the time to shop with us. Why would I be upset with someone who is interested in buying whisky, a product I love to drink, write about, and sell? What I am annoyed with is the situation that I've been put into. Regarding the above scenario, there's no way I can succeed in giving the customer what he or she is looking for, which is getting them a product that I likely will be getting, but currently know nothing about and have no control over (i.e. the Jefferson's Ocean and the subsequent deluge of requests from customers all over the U.S.). Couple that with the fact that I look like a novice for knowing less about the schedule of new releases than my customers and it turns into a situation that aggravates me immensely, especially when I have to relive it every half hour.

When companies send out notices about the immenent release of a whisky without notifying retailers, it makes everyone's life difficult - mine, my customer service staff who ends up forwarding all these questions to my voicemail, and the customers who are just looking to get some more information. Everyone ends up bothered because they can't settle anything at the moment - it's like trying to cross something off your chore list, but realizing you'll have to leave it open-ended. I'll have to keep checking with the distributor (who usually knows nothing as well), the customer will have to keep calling other stores to see if one person out there knows anything, and our staff will have to keep fielding these questions about which they know nothing.

Then, there's the issue I have with the new "Top Whiskies in the World" from the 2013 Whisky Bible.  In all honesty, I have no issue with Jim Murray. I don't know him and I've never met him, so it's not a personal attack on him.  What I have a problem with is the lack of explanation about how rare some of the "world's best whiskies" are. Many people who find out about Jim's top whiskies have no idea about what goes on in the booze world. Why should they? If I read a list about the "Top Movies of 2012," why would I think twice about whether I'll be able to see them or not? Of course I'll be able to watch them. I'll just go down to the movie theater, buy my ticket, and that's that. Unfortunately, that's what the ten people who emailed me yesterday about the Handy Sazerac also thought about purchasing that bottle of whiskey.

When you promote, promote, and promote, but you leave out the little details (like the fact that the Handy and Weller whiskies are extremely difficult to find and, until recently, were being sold on Ebay for more than twice their retail price), it makes everyone else's life difficult. I've lived through the following scenario once already this morning, ten times yesterday, and twenty-seven times total since Jim's list was released:

Awesome, totally not-at-fault, K&L Customer: Hi there - I'm looking for a bottle of whiskey called the Thomas Handy Sazerac. Do you have any and how much are they?

Incredibly-talented K&L Customer Service Person: I'm not showing any in stock, unfortunately.

Awesome, totally not-at-fault, K&L Customer: Do you know when you'll be getting any? I'd like to reserve two if possible.

Incredibly-talented K&L Customer Service Person: Let me get you over to our spirits buyer. Hold on while I transfer you....

Hi this is David Driscoll, spirits buyer for K&L Wine Merchants, I'm not here right now, but the best to reach me is always by my email at daviddriscoll@klwines.com...........

Awesome, totally not-at-fault, K&L Customer: Hi David - I got your email from your voicemail. The person I spoke to on the phone said I should talk to you about getting some of the Thomas Handy rye.  My husband really loves whiskey and I think this would be the perfect gift for him.  He's been talking about how it just won some big award, so I want to surprise him.  If possible, could I reserve two bottles from K&L?  I'd also like to get two bottles of the William Weller Larue.  I guess that whiskey also won an award.  Please let me know what I need to do to make this happen.  Thanks for your time!

Me: Hello ______, thanks so much for your inquiry. Unfortunately, the Handy and Weller whiskies are very limited and are only released in the Fall in very small allocations.  I usually get around 3 to 6 bottles of each and I have thousands of customers already on a waitlist for these bottles.  What we usually do is a raffle, so considering the amount of interest, there is a very slim chance of getting one of these via K&L.  I'd be happy to add you to our insider's email list and keep you informed that way as to when we'll be holding the raffle.  Please let me know if you'd like me to do so.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news! These whiskies are very, very popular and finding them is extremely difficult.  Thanks again.

Awesome, totally not-at-fault, K&L Customer: Hi David, thanks for the quick reply! I had no idea this was such a big deal. Please add my name to the raffle.  At least there's a chance!  Thanks again.

Me: Hi again! While I can't add your name to the raffle right now, what I can do is add your email to our insider list and, when the time comes, you'll receive the information about how to enter the raffle.  We send out many emails about other whiskies and ultimately one of them will contain the raffle information when we actually get our allocation. Thanks!

Awesome, totally not-at-fault, K&L Customer: Hi David, I'm not really interested in getting more spam in my inbox.  I get so many consumer-based emails as is.  Could you please just add me to a waitlist and notify me when the raffle is to happen?  Thanks for your understanding.

Me: Hi ________, while I wish I could notify you personally, you are already the 30th person to ask me the same thing this week.  I wish I could keep everyone straight, but the only way I can keep everyone informed is via the email newsletter.  Please let me know if you would like me to add your name to the list. Sorry about the inconvenience!

Awesome, totally not-at-fault, K&L Customer: Hi David, I'm really only interested in the Handy or the Weller whiskies.  Is there any way you could just email me the one about the raffle?  Thanks,

Still no resolution!  No, I can't email 3,000 customers personally about when we get three bottles of Weller Larue.  I wish I could!  I wish I could get 3,000 bottles of Weller Larue for everyone!  I can't!  These email chains keep going and going.  I must have fifty unresolved e-conversations in my Outlook folder right now that resemble the above dialogue and each one is a little bit different.  You can't rubber stamp them to give the same automated reply because each request is somewhat unique. Each customer deserves an explanation, anyway. This is to say nothing of the fifteen to twenty Pappy requests that may show up in between the Handy emails. 

In my mind, it's irresponsible for a producer to promote or hype a whisky to the general public that is not currently available.  It unfairly punishes retailers and suppliers who ultimately are the ones dealing with customers, and it infuriates consumers who call every store in the country, searching for a ghost. You don't know how happy I was when Julian Van Winkle decided not to announce the release of Pappy this year.  He's leaving that up to each retailer, which is how it should be.  Every store has their own way of dealing with special whisky releases and it's best to let them announce each one to their own consumer base. I'm not advocating that a whisky company shouldn't talk about its future releases, but rather that it shouldn't claim "available at K&L" or "now available at a retailer near you" when that obviously isn't the case. Certain personalities also should be aware that, while they think they are helping retailers by exciting the public about the "world's best whiskies," driving business to their storefronts, they are in fact hindering them by burying them knee deep in requests that they cannot resolve.  Instead of finding new whiskey, writing about new whiskey, and reaching out to customers who need my help with an order, I'll be sitting here for the next two hours explaining to someone, in the nicest way possible, that I have no way to help them at the moment.

I'm sorry, ma'am, but I can't help you right now. I wish I could!  I can't.

That's my problem.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Oct142012

A Preview of the Year End K&L Awards

While we don't normally make any lists at K&L, ranking the best spirits in the world in any particular order, we do let customers know which whiskies we personally liked most at the end of the year (rather than purely the enthusiastic salesmanship you would otherwise get for every other tasty single malt). However, I thought I'd stray from that course today and give you a sneak peak at the list I am coming up with for release this December. It's just a preview.  If you want to see the full list when it's released, you'll have to give me $20 and pay attention to me when I say.

From the Upcoming - Whisky Scripture - The Final, Final Word on What's Best as told to David Driscoll by both God and his son Jesus Christ

The World's Best Whiskies in order:

1. Anthony Rosario's Special Blend - My friend Anthony, who helps St. George do all their whiskey blending, put together a vatting of Clynelish, Teaninich, and Dailuaine that was remarkable.  There's only one bottle of it in existence and it's at Anthony's house. There are only five people who have ever tasted it and it's not for sale anywhere. Have fun answering questions about that, K&L phone staff!

2. Anthony Rosario's Special Blend #2 - This is the first time that I've ever seen the top two whiskies in the world come from one producer, but these malts are just that good.  Anthony made this batch from both Lost Distillery single malts, along with some Kilchoman Machir Bay, Arran 14, and Springbank 10.  It's very, very good.  There is only one bottle of this whisky as well.  Anthony, your voicemail is so screwed! HA!

3. Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Whisky $122.99 - I've still got a ton of this that I need to move.

For the rest of what Heaven told me, you'll have to wait until I release my final list. However, in the spirit of fun (pardon the double pun), here are some of the other awards you'll find in my upcoming revelation:

Best Single Malt in the World - Dalmore's Constellation Brand - An amazing achievement by a remarkable brand. Every drop from these whiskies is splendid and they are definitely worth twenty times what they once cost.

Best Place in the Bay Area to take a walk outside - Sawyer Camp Trail off of 280 - You're fucked now, cyclists! No more room on that path for you. Everyone is going to be walking there now!

Best Place at K&L to take a nap during lunch - The Chair in the Break Room - Good luck grabbing some Z's now, Jorge!  You're screwed!  Everyone is going to be lining up to sit in that chair now!

Best Whisky Blogger - Me! - I'm so lucky!  Everyone is going to be reading my blog now!

Can you tell I'm tired?  I'm sooooo tired.

-David Driscoll