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K&L Spirits Tasting Schedule:

Weds from 5 - 6:30 PM

9/24 - San Francisco: Monkey 47 w/Christoph Keller!

9/24 - Redwood City: Germain Robin K&L Exclusive Brandy!

2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #344 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #345 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1990 Glenfarclas K&L Exclusive Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER

Glenfarclas "The Faultline Casks" K&L Exclusive First Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER

1997 Bunnahabhain Heavily Peated 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Chieftain's Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1998 Laphroaig 15 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1983 Caol Ila 30 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Refill Sherry Hogshead Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW

1992 Bruichladdich 21 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1988 Balmenach 25 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1997 Benrinnes 17 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1997 Dailuaine 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1995 Glen Elgin 18 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1997 Glenlivet 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Butt Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!!

1981 Glenlivet 32 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1996 Bowmore 16 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Bladnoch "Young" K&L Exclusive Heavily Peated Single Barrel #57 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1997 Glengoyne 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #172 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #74 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

2013 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky Still Available

2005 Island Distillery 7 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

2001 Royal Lochnagar 10 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

1995 Glendronach 18 Year Old Single PX Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

1994 Benriach 19 Year Old Single Bourbon Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

1992 Longmorn 21 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1987 Mortlach 25 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Post-Scotland Musings

As I lay dozing in bed this morning, thoughts of Scotland fluttering around in my brain, a few questions came to mind about single malt and this crazy obsession we all share.  When you go to Scotland and tour the distilleries, watch the process, taste the booze, meet the people behind the curtain, and dine with various industry folk, you are continuously pelted with information that needs to be stored and processed –searched for patterns and for themes.  My internal computer is only now finalizing some of this deciphering and is beginning to ping me with its conclusions.  Here are some of the issues I've been pondering.

- We are not all the same and we are not all motivated by the same concerns.  What motivates me about single malt (and booze in general) is the understanding.  For me, it's simply a fact that whisky tastes better when you know something about it.  That being said, information and education are not what necessarily drive other people towards single malt.  Prestige, conformity, fun, tradition, money, and disease all play a role as well from time to time. 

- If whisky tastes better when you understand it, how often are we actually, truly getting it?  I've read all the books, met with all the brand ambassadors, watched all the videos, even began a series of podcasts, but I don't think I really "got" anything until last week.  Go through Michael Jackson's fantastic Whisky book and there are various chapters about how water, barley, yeast, malting, peat, fermentation, distillation, aging, warehouse conditions and countless other minutiae leave their mark on the whisky's final flavor.  I'm not sure, however, that all of these processes are equally important for each distillery.

For example, we learned on Islay that during the brief closure at Caol Ila last June (in which they installed new equipment) they couldn't afford to actually stop production.  Therefore, they kept distilling down the road at Bunnahabhain, using their own recipe, water, and employees to do the job elsewhere.  Granted, they can't call it Caol Ila, but it's all going into Johnnie Walker anyway, so it's no matter.  In my opinion, the beauty of Caol Ila is in the aging and the blending, not the actual distillation.  When they send tankers full of that juice over to the mainland for filling and warehousing, the team at Diageo works wonders with it.  It's the marriage of casks and the art form of flavor enhancing that make Caol Ila what it is.

With Lagavulin, I'd say their cooperage is the most important component of flavor.  That toffee/butterscotch note on the back of the 16 year makes that whisky what it is.  It's not vanilla from new oak and it's not burnt sugar or cakebread from sherry residue.  It's the result of Diageo's cooperage program that strips the barrels of any wine remnants, then re-chars the inside of it, bringing out the flavors in the wood itself.  To me, the essence of Lagavulin also comes from the mainland, rather than from Islay.  It begins in Diageo's Cambus cooperage plant and it leaves a major mark on the whisky.

Kilchoman's new make is so special, you'd be crazy to think that the distillation process isn't the most important aspect of that whisky.  Oban's slow, 90-hour fermentation gives it so much mellow fruit that everything else becomes rather insignificant at that point.  Springbank's inconsistency comes from its inconsistent malting process, and the funky, earthy notes in the sherry cask malts are derived from that funky, moldy warehouse they're stored in.  Glendronach's tap water tastes like Glendronach, so I'd say that water plays a major component there.  In each distillery that we visited, specific parts of the overall process seemed to carry more weight than at other places.  If someone were ever going to write a new book about whisky distilleries, this would make a fascinating theme (No, I'm not doing it).

- There's a lot of insecurity in the whisky world.  There's a lot of false confidence.  There's also a huge divide between the last generation and the new one.  The old school guys, like Iain McArthur at Lagavulin, are who keep the true spirit alive.  They're humble, hard-working, kind, and they'd never say a bad word about any other distillery.  The new generation is cocky, forward-thinking, and bold, but without experience.  They wouldn't hesitate to take a swipe at a competitor in front of other business folks.  I definitely came of age with all of the negative attributes from the new generation - arrogant and sure of myself.  I'm hoping, however, to become more like Iain, like John MacLellan at Kilchoman, like Des McCagherty at Edradour – guys who quietly do their jobs well and know that's enough.  Young people tend to think the world won't notice you if you don't point yourself out constantly.  People do notice, however, and not always for the better.  I've certainly noticed the difference.

-David Driscoll


News & Notes

Well, I'm at my desk, eating a package of Whole Foods sushi (which is actually pretty good), and I'm getting ready to go back down to the store where we've got former Giant J.T. Snow pouring wine in the tasting bar.  I'm likely going to blush like a little girl because J.T. is my all time favorite Giant, I think.  Love the way that guy played first base.  In any case, I thought a few little notes would be nice before the long weekend.  Here's the scoop.

- More K&L exclusive Armagnac hitting the store on Tuesday.  We'll have two crazy deals from Chateau Pellehaut: a 1974 vintage for about $130 and a 1987 vintage for around $80.  Both are crazy good and represent tremendous value.  A 38 year old brandy of this quality for $130!  It's nuts.  We'll also be bringing in the value bottle from Domaine d'Ognoas.  All three of these bottles are must-haves for me.  I'll retaste them before posting the final descriptions, but my notes from the trip are super enthusiastic (but really, when are they not?). 

- Ardbeg's "Day" Committee Release will be coming out next weekend.  I'll send an email to the list and post a link on the blog.  We'll have a good amount.  Price should be around $90 or so.  This is a special release that has been matured an extra six months in sherry, so there's a bit more richness on the back end.  Please.......please, don't send me an email when they're all sold out telling me that you're in the actual committee and that these bottles were supposed to be for committee members only. 

- We'll be focusing on a few new rums over the next week.  I met with the head of Ron Abuelo from Panama the other day and was really impressed with the operation.  They do everything themselves from their own sugar cane, and the value is there - especially the 7 year, which I plan to bring back into stock immediately.  For $26, it's going to "wow" a lot of people.

- David OG's bitter obsession is finally making its way North.  I just got the go-ahead today to take over an entire shelf back by the glassware in Redwood City, so I'm going to move all the mixers, bitters, tonic, cherries, etc, over to that area.  That means I can really expand our selection and you won't have to reach to the tippy-top of the normal shelf now. Maybe we'll add some bar tools as well.  I don't see why we shouldn't be the one-stop shop for everything available cocktail-wise.

- I've had a good amount of new shoppers in the RWC store lately who have found us due to this blog.  Hooray!  People actually read this thing!  Welcome to K&L.  Please visit us more often. If you need any help my email is so please feel free to ask questions.

- David Driscoll


Remember Me?

Hey everyone, remember me?  I'm the Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Bourbon $32.99 and I used to be one of the biggest sellers at K&L, back before young David Driscoll was even working at the store.  I was known to be soft, creamy, rich and smooth, and all of the staff members made me their number one choice for all customer recommendations.  People loved me.  I was so accessible.  Excited drinkers just getting into spirits found me easy to enjoy, while the grizzled veterans celebrated my quality at such a bargain price.  Then one day I went away.  There simply wasn't any of me left.  Hirsch had long since lost the Michter's distillery stock, so they relied on other sources to make more of me.  They couldn't find the whiskey they needed, however, so I was gone for quite a while.  Then, out of the blue, I awoke one morning to find that I once again existed.  I made sure to tell K&L right away so that they could buy more of me quickly, before the other stores found out.  Right now they've only got about 40 bottles of me, but the word is they're going to secure more soon.  Make sure you get some of me now while I'm still available!  It's so good to be back.  

-Hirsch SBR (David Driscoll)


Scotland - Day 13: Do You Have Access?

Not really a "day" in Scotland as David is already getting on a plane and I'm in the hotel lobby getting ready to leave in the next forty-five minutes.  However, we met with another bottler last night, one who has previously released fantastic expressions, to taste a few cask options and discuss some business.  The samples were unfortunately not quite up to snuff, so we ended up just having a nice dinner instead.  Our host apologized that he wasn't able to find us something exquisite, but cited that his previous successes were based on his then cozy relationship with Diageo – one that has soured over the past five years or so.  This didn't surprise us.  The independent bottle trade is all about access.  It's not a matter of there being a whisky shortage in total volume, it's a situation where the volume simply isn't for sale.

Diageo just built what is now the biggest distillery in Scotland – the monstrous Roseisle – a forty million pound whisky machine pumping out booze in the Highland region.  There's a reason for that: they didn't have enough whisky to supply demand.  Now there's word that they underestimated the market and may in fact build another gigantic plant somewhere else.  If only Pittyvaich, Banff, Port Ellen, Brora, and all the other closures were still in operation!  In the past ten years the whisky independents have been getting in in the distillery game as well.  Gordon & MacPhail purchased Benromach.  Signatory took Edradour.  Murray McDavid got Bruichladdich.  Ian Macleod bought Glengoyne, and now have just secured Tamdhu as well.  Duncan Taylor tried to buy Glendronach, as did Douglas Laing, and the word on the street is that Weymss was close to purchasing Bladnoch.  See the pattern?  Why would independent bottlers, who for decades have feasted on the excess whisky from Scotland's many distillleries, all of a sudden get into the distillation game?  Access.  They knew this day was coming and they wanted to be prepared.  The market has been hot for whisky since the turn of the millenium and all the signs pointed to a boom.

The tightening of the independent belts came as no surprise to us upon arrival, but it was rather disappointing.  Companies that had given us numerous quality options last year were quite limited this time around.  We might end up buying nothing from a few of them, concentrating the bulk of the purchasing from more recently-founded relationships.  I'm completely confident in our cask selection for 2012, even more so than last year, but there won't be a Brora or a Banff in the bunch.  Those casks have doubled, if not tripled, in value since last year and most bottlers just laugh when you even propose such an idea.  Going direct from the smaller distilleries, who are hungry for more exposure, is going to be the answer this year.  Benriach, Glen Garioch, Glenfarclas, and Kilchoman have all given us superb samples – so good that choosing will be difficult.  I hope these avenues remain open for next year because access is the key to everything right now.  Do you have it?

It's now time to pack up the computer, grab my bags, and head over to the terminal.  I'll see you all in seventeen hours.  

-David Driscoll


Scotland - Day 12: Wrapping it Up

Today was another productive day for our buying ambitions.  Islay marked the end of our distillery visits, as our arrival in Glasgow marked the beginning of serious negotiations.  We've probably secured another four to five casks today as I type this and we're hoping to grab a bite to eat with one last bottler before we're through.  Tomorrow morning, bright and early, we'll walk out of the Edinburgh hotel, fly to London, buy our wives a ton of gifts from the Heathrow Duty Free, and then head for home.  Unfortunately I can't reveal any more details at this time as to who we're meeting with because I would hate for that information to fall into the wrong hands.  If a malicious party were to uncover our plans for world whisky domination it could lead to disastrous results (or some other retailer getting the leg up on us!).  

At lunch today David and I tried to do a tally of what we think we'd acquired so far, pricing and availability not presenting an issue.  The last few days have been quite fruitful, which has made decisions difficult.  We can't come back with anything less thrilling than what we purchased last year, so all the marks need to be spot on.  That, or they need to provide incredible value, which we think many of them will.  Some casks may not make you leap from your seat in a fit of joy, but they may cause you to mutter, "Is that all I paid for that?"  

We've got the Laphroaig 18 cask strength from Chieftain's that we secured early one, alongside an '84 Benriach that we know we've just got to have.  Glenfarclas will definitely be getting some love with a few distillery direct purchases and we think Signatory is going to have a big return to K&L after a long absence - we think a young Longmorn, Benrinnes, and even a sherry cask of Glenlivet all have serious potential for under-the-radar hits, while older casks of Bunnahabhain and Glenglassaugh may prove to be quite popular.  They also have a few big guns that may surprise everyone if we can coax the boys into releasing them.  Kilchoman will be selling us a barrel, which one we're not quite sure yet, but it will be a sherry-aged whisky.  There's a peated Bruichladdich in the works, and I'd expect to see an older refill-sherry cask of Aberlour make an appearance.  It may even be possible that the much-maligned Glen Scotia manages to sneak its way into the mix as we may have located the best whisky ever to have been produced by that distillery (which is really saying something).  You know we're taking a cask of Glen Garioch directly from Rachel Barrie, and there may be some secret Faultline rumblings in the works as well.  I'd expect a few more peated barrels to pop up before all is said and done and perhaps some lighter Highland malts might make the final cut.  So much to think about!

So this is the final update from Scotland.  I hope you've had fun reading along with our adventures and I hope we can keep you all interested as we begin our pre-arrival campaign to help get you whisky fans better advance pricing for reserving ahead of time.  More on this as the weeks go by.  

See you all back in the states tomorrow!

-David Driscoll