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Friday
Jun172016

A Wolf Out For New Blood

There was a time—circa 2011—when the neo-Scotch renaissance was in full swing and it was super cool to trace old forgotten distilleries back to their original grounds. David OG and I spent at least a few days back then driving around various parts of Scotland with a list of ancient distillery names, playing detective, hoping to catch a glimpse of something foundational. All that marketing fluff you see today about tradition, heritage, and hand-crafted quality, this heady era of whisky enthusiasm is where it originally came from: a once genuine passion on behalf of real whisky fans to understand the past and create a more authentic future based on that history. Back then you could still find independent bottlings of long-dormant distilleries on a regular basis. Now it's almost impossible to conceive of the fact that, at one point, K&L was purchasing entire casks of Port Ellen, Brora, Banff, Glenlochy, and Ladyburn, and sharing what we had learned about these closed and collectable bottlings in the hope of inspiring that same passion in others. It was a chance to taste Scotland's past, connect and commune with it in some way, and somehow reach deeper into the intoxicating world of single malt whisky. We weren't alone, however, and there were a few other folks out there who were far more ambitious than us.

I've yet to meet Shane Fraser and the rest of the gang behind Wolfburn Distillery, but already I completely understand their mission and their motivations. They clearly felt that same fire, that thirst for fresh blood. It was around that same time—circa 2011—that a group of investors went looking for the former site of Wolfburn, an old distillery established in 1821 that likely stopped operating at some point around 1872. It was built near the town of Thurso, a remote sea port along Scotland's northern coast that's known for quite a nice wave amongst surfers, and the name Wolfburn (like many Scottish distilleries) came from the water source nearby; a small stream with cold, clear water (the Wolf Burn) that flows all the way to the sea. When the group finally located the verdant grounds they found little more than a pile of stones, but the stream was still there; and where life still flows, whisky will follow. By 2012, a small parcel of land along the Wolf Burn was purchased and plans to rebuild the distillery began. Many of us had been monitoring the moves of Kilchoman to see if the idea of a small, independently-owned single malt distillery was actually sustainable. After the tiny Islay producer was met with a huge fanfare, it seemed this whole Scotch renaissance had legs. By January of 2013, Wolfburn distillery was open and the stills were running once again.

As many of you already know, a minimum of three years maturation is what's required before single malt Scotch whisky can be called such, and this past January the newly-founded Wolfburn distillery hit its third birthday. A press release was subsequently sent out in March announcing that the facility's first single malt would be released: a soft, fruity, and ever-so-slightly peaty expression that would give whisky fanboys like myself our first look at Wolfburn's work. It would be another few months before the American release hit the states, but I had heard good things from friends across the pond. I was excited to get my hands on a bottle. The logo and the packaging were absolutely top notch. The depiction of the wolf looks like a cross between the Stark family crest and an old, hand-illustrated edition of Little Red Riding Hood—somewhat cartoonish, yet simultaneously sinister. They've done a great job with their website as well. It's easy to navigate, informative, and compelling on all levels. This week the first shipment of Wolfburn finally made it to California and we got our first look at the rebirth.

So how's the whisky? I have to say I'm quite smitten, both because I'm a born romantic when it comes to booze and the fact that the whisky itself is utterly delicious. The nose is just delightful: fruity and malty in equal parts with a surprising level of vanilla considering the young age. What the whisky lacks in complexity on the palate, it makes up for completely in charm and balance. There's a wave of fresh wash—the exact flavor of the fruity, malty wort before it goes into the still—but then you taste subtle notes of peat, earth, and brine on the finish. Despite the youthful flavors, the whisky itself doesn't feel young in its mouthfeel. It's never hot, or untempered. After a few minutes, I was surprised that the whisky wasn't more phenolic considering the heavy traces of peat left on my palate. I've got a bottle sitting on my table at home right just begging to be drunk. Considering the light and easy style of the whisky, it's the perfect dram for the warm summer months ahead. I'm excited to drink Wolfburn; both by the opportunity to try something new and the story behind the whisky itself. As I said earlier, I know first hand what it's like to get wrapped up in Scotland's rich whisky heritage and how intoxicating that journey can be. Thank goodness for those of us who like to drink there are people out there willing to go all the way with that passion, and not be satisfied to simply write about it.

Wolfburn's first American release is in stock now at K&L.

Wolfburn Highland Single Malt Whisky $55.99

 -David Driscoll

Thursday
Jun162016

Update From Above Water

Excuse the five day absence here; it's so very unlike me to be away for that long, but we've been smack in the middle of Bordeaux season here this past week and I've been scrambling to get my photos and notes updated from our trip to the On the Trail blog. Some very big Bordeaux guns came out recently including Haut Brion, Margaux, Angelus, and Ducru-Beaucaillou. Keeping my head above water this week has been my main goal, especially after the Japanese whisky onslaught yesterday. I managed to secure some rather sizable allocations of incredibly desirable Yamazaki and Hibiki expressions and the whole system went nuts under the volume of orders coming in. I know some customers think that the internet and automated website do all the hard work for us, but unfortunately that isn't quite the case. When we release high-demand, highly-allocated whiskies in somewhat sizable amounts I have to sit there and babysit the queue for hours, making sure the orders get split off as we run out in certain stores while cancelling the orders of customers who go back in to try and skirt the bottle limits. It's a full time job once those bottles go live on klwines.com.

There does seem to be some confusion from time to time about what the term "one bottle limit" means when it comes to limited whisky supplies. Literally it means you can only buy one bottle per order with us (and we limit those orders to one per week), but there's nothing other than one's honor and goodwill preventing further purchasing. You could of course log back into the site after checking out, place a second order and test your luck, but unfortunately the big eye in the sky (me) is watching more vigilantly than ever these days. We have so many people asking, requesting, literally begging us for these rare bottles that my goal when releasing them is to put as many bottles in to as many different hands as possible. To spread them out as widely as we can. To help those who are constantly missing out to secondary marker scalpers and hoarders around the world locate a bottle they can actually consume. I'm very sensitive to people who try and circumvent those restrictions by creating new accounts, or having their wife, cousin, and sister also buy a bottle with the same credit card. That's why I'm constantly asking folks to please respect the limits and each other! It's hard enough to find enough whisky for everyone as it is! It shouldn't be that hard to sell it fairly and equitably.

In terms of new things coming into stock, keep your eyes peeled to the website and the blog. We've got two new casks of Four Roses coming in soon (both over 10 years of age!) and two single casks of Kavalan that should be hitting live inventory any time now. And, if you can believe this, I finally located a single cask of Glen Garioch that we selected at the distillery with Rachel Barrie more than two and a half years ago! It got lost in a warehouse, and then further buried when Beam and Suntory merged and switched importation over from Campari. That should be arriving soon as well: and for the original price we were quoted back then!

There's a lot to be excited about! Now pardon me as I go back and monitor the sales queue again.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Jun112016

D2D @ OTL

In case you're a spirits blog-only reader, I've got a few new interviews about drinking lined up for 2016 beginning with Gerald Casale from Devo. If your familiarity with the band Devo extends only as far as the hit single “Whip It,” then you owe yourself a good weekend of listening to their back catalogue (and watching the scene from Casino where Scorsese spins their cover of "Satisfaction"). Albums like Are We Not Men? We Are Devo and Freedom of Choice have long established the band as more than just new wave wonders. Devo is firmly in the realm of the intellectual and brilliantly wacky when it comes to rock and roll. Not only is Devo considered one of the most important and revolutionary rock groups of all time, their music and extreme creativity still holds up today. Founded by a pair of brothers from Ohio in the early 1970s (the Casales and the Mothersbaughs), David Bowie once called them “the band of the future.” He wasn’t too far off. Forty years later, their songs and ideas sound just as fresh, and the band’s comic warning of societal de-evolution perhaps even more dire. Neither the Mothersbaughs nor the Casales ever accepted the mainstream restraints of the modern rock band, however. Their artistic reach led them further into the realms of conceptual and visual art, and—in the case of Gerald Casale—to wine. 

I was introduced to Gerald via a mutual friend earlier this year and he invited me to try some of the wines from his label 50 by 50: a Sonoma Coast pinot noir and a rosé from the same origin, both of which are in stock now at K&L. Not only were the wines delicious and interesting, in true Devo style there was much more to the project than simply fermented grape juice. The 50 by 50 (you can learn more by visiting the website) is also an architectural quest; an agricultural vision; an attempt to fuse core elements of calculated modern design with the uncontrollable forces of nature. Something like that, I think. Maybe I should let Gerald tell you. 

Read the interview here. Then come by the Hollywood store on July 14th and meet Gerald in person, shake his hand, and ask him: "Are we not men?" Previous interviews are archived here.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jun102016

A Category Redefined

Part of the reason I'm rather obsessed with the film No Country For Old Men has to do with the rugged beauty of the landscape. The way the Coen brothers capture the atmosphere of the Texas/Mexican border reminds me of memories both from dreams and real experiences. I never get tired of watching that movie because I never get tired of looking at that terrain. There's a feeling that gets into your blood when something truly speaks to you. You know you truly love something when you choose to spend your free time researching and learning more about it. That's Mexico for me—all of it. The people, the places, the language, the food, and the drinking culture. I love being there, soaking it all in, speaking Spanish and learning new slang. The valley of Atotonlico in Jalisco reminds me quite a bit of the scene in the aforementioned film where Josh Brolin looks down on a group of abandoned trucks and ultimately finds trouble. I found trouble myself in Atotonlico. I found myself looking at a treasure trove of the oldest Tequilas ever made wondering how I could do them justice.

In the warehouses behind Enrique Fonseca's private estate are stacks of barrels as far as the eye can see, full of aging tequila from Enrique's distillery in the town of Tequila, about three hours to the west. Enrique is more than just a distiller, however. He's a fifth-generation grower and landowner whose family was once one of the most prominent in the region. As many of you probably know, aged Tequilas like reposados are generally six months old, while the añejos clock in at the one year mark. Recently a category was created for Tequilas aged three years or longer in wood called extra añejo—a description for really old Tequilas. So what term should we use to describe Enrique's collection of eight to ten year old Tequilas? What about his fifteen to twenty year old Tequilas? Or maybe his twenty-five-plus year old barrels? Extra, extra, extra, extra? I'm not sure. 

Much like French brandy producers, Enrique moves his Tequilas into different sizes of barrel over the course of their maturation to prevent the oak from completely taking over. Part of the reason Tequila isn't often aged longer than a year in barrel is because the oak can become too pronounced, diminishing the essential flavor of the agave and transforming the spirit into something more like Bourbon. Enrique's Tequilas are more like a fine Armagnac—spicy and rich, but with clear and vibrant flavors from the inherent material. The distillate often begins its life in a huge wooden foudre before being transferred into ex-Bourbon casks later on down the line.

But again, Enrique can afford to sit on his Tequilas, watching them mature slowly and steadily over time, because Tequila isn't his main source of income. It's one of many projects in Jalisco that he oversees. There's no rush here. He's not in a hurry to recoup his expenses. It's simply a labor of love; one that he believes will establish a new precedence for mature Tequila and ultimately redefine the category. We've put together two different mature blends of Enrique's ultra-aged expressions over the years, none more popular than the 2014 Edition of Fuenteseca: a marriage of four, seven, and eight year old Tequilas that is deceptively rich and dynamically spicy on the palate. We've been sold out for the last few months, but our final reinforcements have arrived. When you compare this Tequila to comparably-priced alternatives, there's really no competition. There's no caramel coloring in this Tequila. There are no sweeteners like glycerol to add texture or weight. The complexity is unrivaled. The level of maturation is......well.....beyond.

Fuenteseca Ensamble "2014 Edition" K&L Exclusive Extra Añejo $99.99

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jun102016

Craft Extravaganza – Part III

It's David OG again—back for part three of the craft extravaganza. Finally, a single malt from Alsace! Last year I spent a good 4 days weaving my way around Switzerland and eastern France in search of the next great single malt. After three terribly depressing days in Switzerland -a country filled with great whisky priced tenfold above the market, I made one last ditch effort through Alsace. I left early from Basel and made my way through the beautiful region to the tiny Hamlet of Uberach.

Meaning "just beyond the river bend," Uberach is in the heart of the Alsatian orchards. Perfectly situated to capture the highest quality fruit in the France, many distilleries exist in the area. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of people drinking fruit eau-de-vie these days even in Alsace. When the proprietor of the famous Bertrand Distillery caught the whiskey bug in the early 2000s, he made an historic moved to distill exclusively malt whisky. They’d been distilling some of France’s best fruit brandy since 1874, but Jean Metzger saw a future called “single malt” and never looked back. He uses locally sourced organic barley, about 25% of which is peated to 5 ppm. He’s partnered with the organic brewery down the way who ferment the wash before it’s distilled on his antique copper alembic stills. It’s then filled into five casks types: new, used and reused French oak, Banyuls, Rivesalte, Rasteau, and Vin Jaune.

Our blend, which will likely be followed by cask strength single barrel offerings in the near future is an “assemblage” of two cask types at different fills; meaning we have both first and second-fill French oak in the mix as well as second and third-fill Banyuls casks. All the whisky in the bottle is around six years old and is absolutely wild. Not surprisingly it has a lot in common with some of the best eau-di-vie on the market. Big powerful nose of pears, cotton candy, big yellow flowers and subtle malt. The palate is very much on the floral side, but not perfumed or acrid, just very fresh and seamless. This truly is carving a new malt category out from the wide world of world whisky. While it hits some of the notes of a fresher styled highlander, it’s truly unique and unlike any other product in the store. I hope you enjoy.

Uberach "Assemblage" Alsace Single Malt Whisky $59.99

-David Othenin-Girard