Orphan Barrels—Round Three

Diageo's third release in its Orphan Barrel series is the Rhetoric, which comes in another fantastic-looking bottle. It almost looks like the old art-deco covers of the Ayn Rand novels put out during the 1960s—the Rhetoric is like The Fountainhead of whiskey labels.

How does it stack up? It's the best of the three so far, in my opinion.

Rhetoric 20 Year Old Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey 750ml (ships as 1.5L) $99.99 - Another 20 year old release from Diageo's Orphan Barrel series that showcases ultra-mature Bourbon from Bernheim Distillery. Whereas the Barterhouse 20 year began with a soft and rounded profile, showcasing the extra oak from two decades of aging, the Rhetoric is far more balanced with less initial sweetness and more peppery spice. The tobacco and herbaceous notes carry through to the finish, which is decidedly longer and more intense than what the Barterhouse offers. Considering both stocks originate from the same distillery, it's interesting to taste how Diageo has chosen to blend together the remaining barrels. Fans of the richer, more supple style of Bourbon might lean towards the Barterhouse, but those in search of what's ultimately underneath the sweetness will prefer the Rhetoric without question. The baking spices on the nose are more alluring, and the complexity of flavor far more interesting.(NOTE: Due to the width of the Rhetoric bottle all shipping orders will be charged as 1.5L bottles)

-David Driscoll


Summer Is Here

The weather on the SF Peninsula is hot. We've got the back door open and the front door as well to bring in the cross breeze. There's take-out pizza on the coffee table, reality TV on the tube, and a huge glass of Blason Box-o-white in my hand. It's gotten to the point where I feel summer can't begin until our annual Blason shipment arrives—the Italian producer that has become one of our most popular K&L exclusives over the past few years. Along with the various selections we import, we actually commission a pinot grigio/pinot bianco blend in a 3L box that never goes bad and stays fresh as a daisy in a collapsible bag. When I say "commission," I mean we make it for ourselves, not for customers—I usually drink about 10 boxes each summer. We can't drink it all ourselves, however, so we have to sell a bit of it to get through all of the inventory; but we drink 70% of the shipment within K&L.

If you want to join in on the summer party, you can snag yours by clicking here; plus you can read the review I wrote six years ago (have I worked at K&L that long?).

I'm loving Monday Night Raw right now. Summer can begin. I'll leave you with my hometown of Modesto's finest export: Grandaddy performing their classic "Summer Here Kids." Memories...

-David Driscoll


Sky Lounging

We were flying back from Los Cabos last weekend; my wife and I having attended a wedding for her cousin. Our flight had been delayed by a half hour, our legs were tired after a long night of dancing, and we were ready to board the plane and take our seats. As we reached 22 F we noticed a little girl and her father taking up two of the three chairs in our row.

"Hi, we're coming in here," I said softly with a smile.

"You're sitting here?" the girl said with anxiety in her voice. "But I'm sitting here with my dad."

"I think I'm sitting there with my wife," I answered with a laugh, as her father began explaining to her that he had to leave now because his seat was at the front of the plane. The little girl immediately buried her face in her hands and began to cry.

"Nevermind!" I quickly stated, realizing what was going on here. "I can switch seats with your dad." The man asked me if I was sure, and I said it wasn't a problem. I could go take his spot at the front of the plane and they could sit with my wife.

"Thank you so much," he said to me as I waded my way back through the incoming line of passengers. I took my new seat towards the cockpit and settled in next to a pair of old school boozers who were already busy ordering their first round of drinks.

"Why not?" I asked myself, as I punched in a Cazadores with a side of ice on the flat screen in front of me. Straight tequila on the rocks is an under-estimated beverage. By the time we took off and my cocktail was being delivered, the stewardess handed me three minis instead of one.

"That was very nice what you did back there," she whispered, and slipped me the extra contraband without once looking my way. I took my first sip and a warm, fuzzy feeling overtook my entire body. Tequila really does have an entirely different buzz than other spirits; it's more buoyant or lifting in a way.

When the flight attendants had finally cleared the aisle, I went back to check on my wife. The man had now switched seats with his other daughter and the three ladies seemed to be hitting it off. I asked the two sisters how they were doing and they asked if I could help set up their video games for them. After we got the software working, my wife mouthed something silently and pointed in the direction of the father.

"What?" I mimed, not understanding. She made a motion like she was shoveling dirt, which only added to my confusion. After a few minutes, I figured out what she was trying to convey.

"My daddy plays hockey," the younger daughter finally said.

I eventually made my way back to the front, offered a mini bottle of tequila to the couple next to me (they accepted immediately), and enjoyed the rest of my short high. When we landed, I exited the plane far ahead of my wife and went forward to save a spot in the customs line. My wife walked out a few minutes later hand-in-hand with the two girls. When she lifted up one of the ropes to move underneath it and take her place with me, one of the daughters ran out to give her a hug. The dad came over to shake my hand and thank me again for switching seats.

It was the same man who did this back in the late 1990s. I remember that game well.

-David Driscoll


Kulsveen (aka Willett) Whiskey Finally Here

For years we've been waiting for the Willett distillery to start making whiskey again. Today, we finally get our first taste.

Willett Distillery 2 Year Old Rye Whiskey $43.99 - It's been a long time in the making, but the first batch of 100% Willett distilled rye is finally here--and it's glorious. For years, Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, run by the Kulsveen family, has been bottling fantastic whiskey under their numerous labels; Willett being just one of the expressions (along with Noah's Mill, Rowan's Creek, Johnny Drum, etc.). Willett Distillery was actually founded in the 1930s by former Bernheim superintendent Thompson Willett, but subsequent generations of the family would become disinterested in Bourbon until the distillery finally closed. Evan Kulsveen, who married Willett's daughter, purchased the abandoned site in 1984 with plans to reopen his father in law's once-great operation. Almost thirty years later, his son Drew and son-in-law Hunter have the site refurbished and back on track. This batch of two year old rye marks the first time the whiskey in a Willett rye bottle has been the product of the Willett distillery and not a purchased barrel from LDI distillery in Indiana. It's shockingly good considering the young age. Imagine the pure rye flavors of Anchor's Old Potrero with the cinnamon and baking spices of the Templeton. Bottled at 54.7% ABV, the power and intensity of the whiskey is also on display, but it's balanced beautifully by the richness. It's a giant leap forward for the Willett distillery and it's an exciting day for those of us who have been waiting for this moment for some time.

-David Driscoll


Time Machine

Sometimes our will call room and shipment center function like a modified DeLorean from 1985, or in layman's terms, a time machine. People order booze from K&L, intending to pick it up or have it shipped, but time continues to pass and the bottles are forgotten. I've been cleaning out some back stock over the past few weeks, emailing customers to see what they want to do, and offering refunds to people who have changed their minds since ordering. The result? The return of bottles from K&L's past.

I'm not even going to bother emailing these out as there aren't very many in stock, but those of you keeping up with the blog you might want to snag some of these former legends.

1997 Springbank K&L Exclusive 14 Year Single Madeira Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $129.99 - On our 2011 visit to Springbank, we knew we wanted to purchase a single bourbon cask, but we were open to other options were we to find another very special barrel.  Of course, that's exactly what happened.  One of the most beloved whiskies in K&L customer history was a 2000 Springbank that was finished in Chateau d'Yquem barrels, giving a sweet highlight to the chewy textures of the malt. This 1998 Madeira barrel-finished whisky is bottled at cask strength, and is the more muscular, more mature cousin of that lovely 2000.  Golden fruits, a rich, oily mouthfeel, and a long, supple finish all merge together and make this one of the easiest drams we've tasted in sometime.  We can't imagine anyone not loving this, so we decided to go deep and buy the whole thing.  Like the 2000, we expect people to talk about this whisky for some time to come.

1999 Blair Athol K&L Exclusive 11 Year Old Provenance Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $79.99 - One of the most exciting parts of our recent trip to Scotland was the visit we had with the Laing brothers, a pair of independent bottlers who don't dabble too much in the U.S. market.  We were pretty sure that these guys were sitting on a veritable treasure trove of barrels, however, and our tasting with them did not disappoint.  One of the best deals our journey uncovered was an explosive little cask of Blair Athol, a Diageo-owned distillery in the Eastern Highland town of Pittlochry.  Located just a few miles from Edradour, this quaint little operation is one of the oldest in Scotland (founded in 1798), but is more widely regarded for its role in Bell's Blended than for its single malt potential.  This 11 year old barrel will open some eyes, however - big, rich, enticing aromas of dried fruits, a supple mouthfeel with roasted almond skin flavors, and, while we don't think it was peated, there are definitely traces of smoke on the finish.  David OG and I both double-starred this entry on our tasting notes as a sure-fire winner.  For the price, it may be the best overall deal we found in Scotland.

1998 Glen Garioch 14 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $109.99 - On our 2011 trip to Scotland David and I stopped by Glendronach distillery on a whim, fell in love with their whisky, and now it's one of the top whiskies we sell at K&L. This year's version of that was Glen Garioch distillery in Oldmeldrum. An old-fashioned, picturesque distillery located in the center of the quaint village, it's part of the Morrison-Bowmore portfolio. Glen Garioch's whisky is in the hands of former Ardbeg super star Rachel Barrie, who jumped ship to Bowmore last year. When we told Rachel how much we enjoyed our visit to Oldmeldrum, Rachel was so overjoyed we had that she ran to the back to grab a cask sample she had picked out for Bowmore recently, a 1998 single cask aged in a hogshead that had previously held peated whisky. The distillery had dabbled in the peated Highland style before 1994, but the whisky produced today is completely without smoke. This very special cask has all the beautiful sweet grains we love about the malt with just a whisper of peat in the background. The palate is elegant and lean, but the fruit and vanilla is concentrated in its core. The whisky tastes like the town of Oldmeldrum--old world, country, rustic and down-home. That's terroir in whisky.

These won't be the last things I put back into the system, so keep your eyes peeled! I'm going dusty hunting in our own store!

-David Driscoll