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Thursday
Oct102013

You Thought We Were Just Doing Gin & Rum?

There's a lot of pressure on your shoulders when you decide to throw your hat into the independent Bourbon realm. With 800 different LDI labels on the market already, why be just another guy with his own LDI Bourbon and a clever name? I was very scared about this project. I've been dreading the arrival of the Faultline Bourbon since we finalized it. "It's not going to be good enough," I said to myself. "The bloggers will roast us," I feared. Even though I was confident in our final blending process, I still needed to taste the whiskey from the bottle before feeling good about our decision.

That day finally came today.

One of the obstacles that kept us from making a Faultline Bourbon earlier was availability: the current demand has made the extra barrel a thing of the past. One of the only distilleries that would sell us a cask for a private label was the old LDI distillery in Indiana, but with the already overcrowded LDI market (Bulleit Rye, Templeton Rye, High West, etc) we didn't think our product would be different enough, or of the quality we desired, for the Faultline name. That's when John Little from Smooth Ambler stepped in and said he'd be happy to help us do something special. If we were going to work with LDI casks, then we needed the capability to blend something special to taste - the specs alone wouldn't sell this baby.

John had some incredible 10 year old low rye formula that we used in conjunction with some 7 year high rye. We kept tasting and tasting until we found the sweet spot at 100 proof. It's FAR better than I ever thought it would be. I hoped we could provide something fun and different, but the final whiskey is phenomenal. It's rich, with sweet fruit right on the entry, a full-bodied mid-palate, and a long, rich, spicy finish. It tastes like it came from Four Roses or somewhere fancy and at 50% it pops in all the right places. I hope we can make another batch like this because this Bourbon is the new king of K&L. Taste it if you don't believe me.

It's incredible for what it is. This is LDI done right. I promise you you're going to love this. Forget everything you've tasted from LDI and give this one a run for the money.

Faultline Bourbon Whiskey $39.99

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Oct092013

St. Lucia's Finest!!!

 

One sip makes you larger, and one sip makes you small. And the ones that mother gives you don't do anything at all. Go ask David, when he's ten feet tall (or three sheets to the wind).

Man, do I love this label. And, boy, do I love St. Lucian rum. Here's the scoop: a few years ago I had the pleasure of tasting rum from St. Lucia as part of the Berry Bros & Rudd privately-bottled collection. I was instantly smitten. It was like nothing I had ever tasted before: fruit tea, menthol, root beer, molasses, and earthy pot still goodness all brimming from the bottle in waves. I brought it to a tasting group with friends and they all freaked out as well. There was only one problem with that bottle: it was $110. I went on a mission to find a younger, less-expensive version of that rum to share with K&L customers, but, alas, I always came up empty. I emailed the distillery to see if they would sell us a barrel directly, but I never got a response from this mysterious producer. It wasn't until earlier this year that an importer randomly approached me about the possibility of selecting a single barrel of St. Lucian rum for K&L. I about fell over! YES! OF COURSE!

We went through samples, found a barrel that worked, and got our amazing label designer into the studio. Now, for all you tiki lovers out there, we've got that rum I've been longing to give you at a price you can afford: big sarsaparilla and root beer aromas, spiced tea, brandied fruit, and an earthy molasses note on the finish. It's a true representation of fresh molasses, not the syrup we put on our pancakes. This is easily sippable, but so Mai Tai friendly that you'll have a tough time making anything else. Ginger beer, rum Manhattans, anything. It's mindblowing rum and it's finally ours!

My precious...

Faultline St. Lucia Rum $39.99

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Oct092013

Things That Can Affect Appearance

Yesterday's post about packaging got some interesting conversations going. My friend Steve Ury from SKU's Recent Eats had no idea it was such a big deal. He was totally flabbergasted by the response. I told him, "Steve, it is a huge deal for our customers, which is why we created an entirely new software add-on that allowed them to select 'include gift box' when checking out online." It took me a year to lobby ownership for that feature. I pleaded, begged, and nagged repeatedly to allow some type of function that would allow consumers to get their box, tin, or container with their shipment. "We are in the customer service business," I said. "Our job is to provide the service our customers ask for." If people wanted the box, we should find a way to get it to them.

However, there are simply some tasks that are out of our hands. Like when a customer asks for a flawless wine label when purchasing a bottle as a gift. Of course, if we have one we'll give it to them. But if a gift box or bottle is scratched, dented, or imperfect and the product itself is limited, there's nothing we can do about it other than offer the customer a refund or the choice of a different bottle. Wine bottles often arrive to us with imperfect labels because they're not transported on featherbeds. Bordeaux is perhaps the best example of this phenomenon because the rising prices have highly increased the desire for perfect labels. If you look at the photo above, you'll see the famous wooden crate that many of our top Bordeaux wines arrive in. 

This photo above allows you to see the way in which the wines are layed down inside the box. Both the neck and body (including the lower half of the label) are held in place by thin pieces of wood with holes cut that fit to form. If you imagine these boxes being packed in Bordeaux, sent in trucks down to the docks, carried at sea across the Atlantic, rising and falling with the crest of the waves, then unloaded and shipped to our store here in California, you can see the potential for some contact between the label and the wood. A smear, perhaps. A bit of wear. Maybe a bit of the printing has been rubbed off. 

Now imagine that each of these bottles will cost $500 a piece and all sixty from your available allocation have sold out on pre-order. Which customers get the smudged, nicked-up labels and which ones get the flawless ones? Yikes! I don't know!

With spirits we have more problems with packaging than with labels. Take the Carpano Antica vermouth containers for example. We frequently see requests from customers to include the tin with their purchase. Yet, only three of the six bottles are packaged with the tin (I cut a fresh box open, which you can see in the above photo). The same thing happens with Diplomatico Rum. Sometimes the bottles come in tins, sometimes they don't. With some products we don't always get the packaging that the customers are looking for.

Then there's the case of how whisky boxes are delivered. Many are packaged in thin cardboard without dividers or any kind of protection. Often the gift box itself is what protects the bottle, so it might wind up with a scuff or a tear. Sometimes the box is delivered with an open gash, sometimes the box has creased corners, sometimes the delivery guys have damaged the boxes in transit and taken them completely out of their gift boxes, repackaging them in a non-descript wine box with plastic wrap over the top. 99 times out of 100, when a bottle of wine has a scratch on the label, that scratch happened during transit. 99 times out of 100, when a whisky box or tin has a tear, scratch, or dent, that damage happened during transit.

The guys who pack Bordeaux wines in their wooden crates never foresaw a market that would desire flawless labels. If they did, they never would have chosen a mode of transit that would endanger the aesthetic of these labels. The same goes for our Karuizawa bottler. Those bottles came in flimsy, thin, easily-damagable cardboard and with plain khaki color with absolutely zero dazzle. They never expected people would care so much about their condition, so they didn't do anything special to adorn these bottles or protect them during shipping. That's why they were creased, wrinkled, and imperfect upon arrival. Why would it matter how they looked? If a label was off-centered? If a crease cut across the front of the sticker?

But it does.

I can always guarantee our customers my 100% maximum effort in helping them find the bottle they need. I cannot, however, guarantee that bottle will arrive in packaging that is 100% flawless and perfect in every way. I wish I could.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Oct082013

New Batch of McCarthy's Arrives

What is always one of the hottest whiskies of the year has finally arrived: the Fall 2013 batch of Steve McCarthy's Oregon single malt whiskey -- a lovely spirit made from peated Scottish barley that is fermented at a nearby Portland brewery and distilled at Clear Creek distillery. It's aged three years in Oregon oak and always tastes much more precocious than the statement suggests. The only time this whiskey has ever caught me off guard was with the last batch. For some reason the peat never really showed up and the oak was unbelievably dominant. It tasted like rapidly-matured quarter-cask craft whiskey, rather than the bold, smoky malt I've known for years. Thank goodness the McCarthy's is back in form with this more recent release. This version of McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey $53.99 has a heavy dollop of new oak vanilla and spice, but it's totally balanced by the smoke and phenolic elements. It's everything you want it to be, and it's a reminder of how good American single malt can be when we're dedicated to doing it the right way (which is the longer, more time-consuming, less-lucrative way). This batch proves that Steve McCarthy isn't just one of the best whiskey distillers in the country, but he's simply one of the best distillers in the business. This, plus his unreal framboise eau-de-vie we featured last week, should little doubt of that.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Oct082013

Whisky Box Blues

I had an email exchange recently with a friend about the new age of whisky consumerism, the one that prizes ratings over flavor and packaging over consumption. Unless you're a retailer, I don't think it's possible to understand how troubling this trend is. To give you an example: if a bottle of wine is worth $10, we don't hear too many complaints about the quality of the label attached to it. However, when we sell a bottle of wine for $300 there are a number of expectations from the consumer that extend far beyond the juice inside of it. Is the label centered? Are there any scratches or stains? Is the corner of the label peeling off? Any little fault can make or break a sale with discerning customers because they're buying an object to be displayed or gifted rather than a substance to be consumed.

All of this is taken to a new level, however, when it comes to whisky. Because many whisky bottles are packaged in tins or boxes, the collectable-minded customer is very, very interested in possessing these extra additions. When we're shipping bottles in tight, form-fitting, Styrofoam containers, there's little room for a canister or bulky box, which can seriously complicate things. To many buyers in the new age of whisky consumerism, the box is just as important as the bottle. Like an action figure collector who leaves the plastic model in the plastic, many collectors of whisky are not interested in a bottle without its packaging.

Now we know this trend with whisky is nothing new, but I can't even begin to stress how much more complicated it's becoming. If you were to look at my email inbox right now there are at least forty emails from customers related to a problem with whisky packaging. Where's the box? My box is wrinkled. I didn't get my container. The packaging was damaged in transit. And the fallout from the Karuizawa deal is absolutely insane. I'm getting emails from all over the world, asking if we have extra cardboard boxes or extra labels due to shoddy packaging jobs from third-party shippers. Because we are limited in the number states we can legally ship to, a number of collectors purchased bottles from us and had their friends take care of the shipping surreptitiously. When the packages arrived with smeared labels, leakage stains, or damaged cardboard, these guys immediately looked up my email and reached out about securing an extra display box or adhesive label. Not an extra bottle, mind you -- because the whisky arrived in fine condition -- but extra packaging, stemming from a problem that had nothing to do with K&L whatsoever.

I'm happy to provide any customer with any extras that should arrive with a bottle of whisky, be it a metal tin, a cardboard display box, or a wooden case. The expectation, however, that these extras should be automatically included, or shipped at no cost (but at a cost to K&L, of course) is a bit aggravating. Then, when we do include the packaging (some of the cheapest, flimsiest materials around, mind you), many consumers are often not satisfied with the condition in which it arrives because it can't have a ding, dent, or scratch on it. I'm at the point where I'm asking vendors to simply stop packaging their whisky in any type of container whatsoever. It's a huge headache for us and it's only getting worse.

This is why we're no longer including packaging for most of our K&L Exclusive single malts. Like our new Signatory whiskies, for example, which normally come in metal tins. We told them simply this year: "We're no longer interested in the packaging." Only bottles for us from now on, if we can help it. No tins with this year's crop, just the straight glass.

That way there's nothing to get upset about.

-David Driscoll