I Give This Whisky 666 Points

One of my favorite new releases from this ever-growing, ever-expanding holiday whisky season is this satanic little number from one of Scotland's most conservative distilleries. Bowmore seems to always be the Islay distillery with the most boring limited edition whiskies. Ardbeg is always hyping up some Supernova explosion, Diageo usually delivers with Lagavulin and Caol Ila exclusives, and Laphroaig has been one of the steadiest suppliers with their wonderful Cairdeas series. Bowmore, perhaps tied with Springbank and Kilchoman for David D's personal favorite distillery, never seems to bring anything fun to the limited edition party. Until now....

The new "Devil's Casks" series is to Bowmore what the A'Bunadh is to Aberlour: big, young, bold, first-fill sherry casks at full proof, non chill-filtered. I popped a bottle yesterday to see what was going on. There's a lot going. A lot.

There's no heat in the "Devil's Cask" 10 year old like there is in the A'Bunadh. It doesn't bowl you over with power. What is there, however, is a thick, meaty, dark, fudgy, chewy mouthful of Bowmore goodness. The smoke and oil don't come in until the backend of this thing. Only after you swallow do you get the phenolic explosion of peat, smoke, and that sooty Bowmore magic. It almost goes minty after that.

In any case, I can't promise you that the Bowmore is for you, like I know it is for me. I'm a big fan of heavily-sherried Bowmore whisky, so others who feel the same will probably dig this tremendously. People looking for Lagavulin DE will probably fair better with that whisky for about the same price. That's the sugar-coated Islay whisky. This is old school one.

Bowmore Devil's Casks Islay Single Malt Whisky $99.99

-David Driscoll


Whisky Label of the Year

While I've decided to get out of the "Whisky of the Year" judging business (because, believe me, it is a business no matter how "independent" the critic), I have no problem with quirky designations like this one. This should be a unanimous decision among all whisky drinkers: what bottle has a better label than this year's Compass Box Peat Monster 10th Anniversary? Not only is the bottle amazing (the label was designed by a Texan artist for John Glaser), the whisky inside of it is pretty stellar as well. Made from a large percentage of older Laphroaig and Ardmore casks, with a bit of Clynelish and Spice Tree married in for good measure, this was a big hit with the K&L staff. Our Spanish buyer Joe Manekin still comes in every Monday morning talking about how he hit the Peat Monster bottle again over the weekend.

This was one of my personal favorites this year as well. What a cool job John Glaser has. And boy is he good at it. I like that he takes the time to make a beautiful bottle as well because anyone who thinks aesthetics don't matter with whisky should come work the sales floor with me for a day.

We just got another batch of this in stock at a bit of a better price than last time if you're interested.

Compass Box The Peat Monster Tenth Anniversary Blended Malt Scotch Whisky $99.99

-David Driscoll


It's Back, But Not For Long

I'm not even going to say anything. I'm just going to post Greg St. Clair's review because he says it all. Greg is our Italian wine buyer, known for having one of the best palates in the business. He does not drink spirits. He certainly doesn't drink tequila. Yet, this is what he had to say about our new Fuenteseca, as posted in his staff review on the product page:

This is something new, something that you may not be ready for, I wasn't. I've tasted a lot of high end Tequila and I've always liked Jimmy Buffet and Sammy Hagar as singers or Justin Timberlake as an actor, but I've never been enchanted with the smell of new oak unless it is in a piece of furniture and I've heard people use the word smooth so many times that I think they must have been raised on Jello or have no teeth. Tequila for me has always lacked that one extra…je ne sais quoi… that great Cognac, Armagnac and Single Malt whisky seem to have in their back pockets, but after tasting this Tequila it is obvious what they’ve been missing.... age. This unbelievably delicious spirit has taken Tequila to a new level, this is creating a new category of spirits that hasn’t existed before…..and it is worth the price.

We had enough to make an extra 240 bottles. They're here now (or in route to one of our retail outlets)

They won't be here after this time next week.

Fuenteseca K&L Exclusive Extra Anejo Tequila $189.99

-David Driscoll


Adventures on El Camino: The Van's

My birthday was on Monday, a day both my wife and I have off together, so we decided to go somewhere special for lunch––a place that we had both been dying to try, but never seemed to find the time to actually visit. After such a great experience at Joe's of Westlake a few weeks back, and then the shock of learning it was about to close next month, the two of us went scrambling to see if we could find a similar hangout with that same old-school style. We loved the nostalgia, and the historic Peninsula feel of Joe's, but we knew that magic wouldn't be with us much longer. Where else could we go to capture that steakhouse atmosphere, a place where old timers would be lining the bar at all hours, drinking Bloody Maries and vodka martinis? We thought we might know of such a place, but we needed to check it out. The Van's on the Hill in Belmont was the spot.

There's a storied history to the building set back off El Camino, high upon the perch. It was an old speakeasy during prohibition, a place for gamblers and back-door dealers. Built in 1915 as part of the Japanese Exhibition in San Francisco to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal, it's one of the few buildings left standing from that exposition (along with the Palace of Fine Arts and the Japanese Tea Garden). Operating through the 1930s as an illicit den for no-good, the saloon was finally turned into an Italian restaurant in 1945. It became known as Van's in 1973, and it's been packed with Peninsula loyalists ever since. We went for lunch at 11:30 on a Monday thinking we would be the only people there. Ha! The bar was full of old men right at opening, already getting their drink on.

The menu at The Van's is quite spectacular, as is the view. You can see the city off in the distance, the San Mateo bridge, and much of the Peninsula from the panoramic windows. You can get Oysters Rockefeller, a wedge salad with a hard boiled egg, and any kind of steak dish you can imagine. I started with a big, spicy Bloody Mary, a plate of fried peppers and a bowl of minestrone, before heading face-first into the official Van's Scallop Burger and a side of slaw. Yum. There's something classic going on up on the hill in Belmont. A feeling that some things won't change, at least not within those walls. You can go there, to the Van's, and rest assured that everything will be as it once was. After ten minutes of sitting in an empty dining room, the place filled up and it was a lively affair. Not an empty chair in the place –– on a Monday at 11:45.

While things might never change at Van's, I was shocked to learn that Mike Tyson had been replaced by Mr. Dream after getting home to play my new Nintendo Wii U (a gift from my wife). After Tyson's troubles in the late 80s, Nintendo cut ties with the boxer and replaced him with a white, 1950's era, Rock Hudson look-a-like who I don't care for whatsoever. There was a time when I was the best Mike Tyson's Punch Out player alive. I could go through the entire game without getting hit. Then I could go through the entire game without getting hit AND beat every boxer in the first round (except Tyson). When they changed over to Mr. Dream, however, they changed some of Tyson's patterns and it has completely thrown me off. He behaves like Tyson, but then he switches a few things and I get knocked out fast. I was so pissed.

I will beat you, however, Mr. Dream and then things will go back to the way they used to be. 007-373-5963 is the code. I will enter it, go directly to you every time, and then I will knock you out without getting hit. I will celebrate this victory with a Bloody Mary at the Van's on the Hill.

-David Driscoll



I thought I was going to have time today to play catch up, but as usual a number of opportunities fell into my lap and I went scrambling off in five different directions, trying to finish a number of tasks I never even planned on starting. That's the holiday season, though, so you can't really complain about it. If you're not expecting the unexpected then you're bound to go insane. I was at the post office yesterday picking up a package and people were groaning and grumbling about the wait. I was thinking, "If you didn't think there was going to be a huge line at the post office in December, then you're the idiot."

In any case, where was I?

My wife and I have started the process of looking for a home and I can't help but reflect on how similar the whole idea of housing is to the current whiskey boom. The new era of flipping has people saying things like, "Well you probably won't be living there for long, so just look for something you can sell in a few years." I'm thinking, "No, actually I do want to live there. That's why I want to buy a house. So I can live there." It reminds me of people who buy extra bottles of Handy, Stagg, or other hard-to-find bottles when they see them, knowing full well they'll never drink them. They're for investing--for a possible sale down the line. I remember when people would buy whiskey to drink it. Do people no longer buy houses to live in?

What's new this week?

-Our 1996 Pellehaut Armagnac $59.99 came back into stock today. My friend Steve over at SKU's Recent Eats was a big fan of this, as were many drinkers who are making to switch from Bourbon over to brandy. It's the most Bourbon-like brandy we found on this year's trip. And it also sold out ridiculously fast after the word got out about how good it was. We've got another 120 bottles for the holiday rush.

-The Fuenteseca Tequila should be in stock by tomorrow afternoon. When we send the email out to the big list these will sell through in hours. Believe me. If you want one you need to buy one at some point this week. The waitlist has thousands of customers on it.

-There are a number of new selections from the Exclusive Malts that JVS just brought in that really impressed me today. A young and affordable Laphroaig, a fantastic 21 year old blend, and a super-mature Longmorn made my shortlist. Those should be here tomorrow.

-I ordered some of the new Bowmore Devil's Cask today. That should be here tomorrow, but I haven't tasted it. I added the Glen Garioch Virgin Oak to that order as well, which I did taste at WhiskeyFest this year. I remember loving it. A lot.

-I tasted three new casks of Kilchoman today, all Bourbon barrels. I bought two of them. They were sooooooooooooooooo good I couldn't pass them up. They'll probably retail for about $100 a bottle and they'll probably trickle out of here at a slow drip, but I don't care. Kilchoman is hands-down the best distillery operating in Scotland today. Quote me on that if you want. I'll write it in caps if you missed it: KILCHOMAN IS THE BEST DISTILLERY IN SCOTLAND. They just keep getting better, and better, and better. These new K&L casks should be here by next Spring and they're just stupid good. Cask #74 is bright, fresh, with that type of peat that goes between smoke and cinnamon. Then it just explodes into this sweet grain burst of malted barley and candy corn. Cask #172 is heavier, more oily, more phenolic, and more brooding, but the depth is there. The smoke is covered in fresh peat moss and there's almost a Thanksgiving stuffing (maybe that's just leftover residue in my mouth?) flavor that comes midway, before finishing with citrus and sweet vanilla. Mindblowing. What is their whisky going to taste like at ten years of age?

That's it for now. Gotta run. I'm getting buried under email. If I don't answer each one as it comes I'll never get back to them. It's just not possible to answer this much email.

-David Driscoll