Thursday
Mar212013

Scotland 2013 - Day 1 - Frostbite

We had heard that the weather in Scotland had been quite cold as of late. We had heard about the springtime snow that seemed to appear from out of nowhere. However, while we both packed our thickest, warmest winter clothes into our now-heavy suitcases, I wasn't quite ready for the view I saw out of the airplane window while landing in Edinburgh. This wasn't a bit of springtime snow. This was a freakin' winter wonderland!

Since we didn't have any business with Chieftain's this year (we've already purchased a 22 year old Mortlach first-fill sherry that should arrive around late April), we immediately hopped in the rental car (which we upgraded to a 4WD SUV) and sped north for an hour and a half to Pitlochry. Our favorite warehouse in all of Scotland would be first up this time around. The playground of the whisky gods, the heavenly destination of sweet ancient nectar, the blessed site of so many amazing casks: Signatory's warehouses at Edradour Distillery.

Upon arrival we met with our favorite cask hunter Des McCagherty for a short sitdown chat before making our way into the dungeon. He had a list of barrels he thought we might be interested in, but first why not taste the open bottles available in the shop? Des always likes to talk shop first. How's your business? How's the whisky moving out there in CA? For those who haven't met Des, he's very much like Liam Neeson from the Taken movies. Seeing that I had just watched Taken 2 on the plane, I felt like I was merely continuing where the film had left off. Except instead of manuerving my way through the streets of Istanbul on the run from terrorists, I was meandering through the many barrels of Signatory trying to keep up with all of the samples being pulled. Signatory has some great grain whiskies on site as you can see from the bottles above. We definitely wanted to add some of those to the list.

Signatory has always had a solid amount of very mature and very rare stock. However, replaceing those barrels once they've been sold has been nearly impossible according to Des. Whisky is so hot right now that there's little motivation for cask owners to sell unless they're getting top dollar for their product. He mentioned that Signatory's business with China and Taiwan is through the roof, while Europe continues to be a big player for their barrels. Des said that if India ever lifted the import tax on single malt and blended whisky, he believes that country could drink Scotland dry on its own. For that reason there's no reason for anything at Signatory to move unless the price is right. This was a completely understandable point, but it was also a bit disconcerting. If we did find something we liked, how much was it going to cost us?

See this room? There's another room just like it behind the red door. And in that room there's another red door with another room behind that! All kinds of treasures lurk within these chambers, but we couldn't waste time on the Dallas Dhu, Ladyburn, or Glenugie casks resting quietly within them. We know what these whiskies are going to cost in today's market. We needed overachieving malts that outperformed their reputation. Des knew all the right whiskies and exactly where to find them.

We found a ton of great whiskies today at Signatory that should be within our wheelhouse. We're on the hunt for value this year and you're not going to find value with a Laphroaig cask. Nevertheless, we did taste a 1997 sample that knocked our socks off from a refill sherry butt. Other standouts included a bourbon cask of 1989 Isle of Jura with aromas of toffee and cask frosting, a 1979 Mosstowie that was light and fragrant with fruity highlights. a 1995 Miltonduff with lots of rich Bourbon cask spice, a 1995 Glenburgie that did the same thing as the Miltonduff but with more wood, and a 1995 Imperial with enough round, candied fruit to make me think of Bladnoch. A 1991 Cambus grain whisky is also in play.

There were plenty of great options on the table today.

As we came out of the distillery, fresh snow had already blanketed the grounds. David and I bid Des adieu and headed back into town for dinner. We decided to walk to our meal, but we didn't realize how cold it was actually getting. I'm back in my hotel bed now trying to thaw myself out from the stroll back home.

Tomorrow we're off to Speyside and the Highlands. I'm nodding off while I'm typing this, so that means it's probably time to hit the hay.

See you tomorrow!

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Mar202013

Travel Itinerary

I'm headed to the airport in a few minutes where I will board a British Airways jet headed towards London. I will get some dinner. Maybe watch a movie or two. Try to sleep for a few hours. Then meet David OG in the Heathrow terminal at around 11 AM Thursday morning (4 AM PST). We'll grab a quick sandwich from Pret a Manger, have a shot of espresso, then board the plane to Edinburgh. Upon landing in Scotland we'll grab our bags, get our rental car, then hit the road north towards Pitlochry. There will be no time to get our bearings in Edinburgh. We've got no business in town this year. We'll push on, without a full night's sleep giving us the energy we need, and pull into Edradour distillery in the early evening where we'll meet with Des at the Signatory warehouse. After a few hours of tasting, what I'm sure will be a nice dinner, we'll do our best to keep our eyes open, fighting the urge to sleep right there on the table, and head to our hotel where we'll finally get a chance to get some Z's. 

I think this year's trip might just break us. 

We'll cruise through the Highlands over the weekend. Head back down to Glasgow on Monday. Take the ferry out to Arran mid-week. Hit the Lowlands for a few appointments. Then get back to Edinburgh where we'll catch a flight south to Paris, changing there for Bordeaux. Charles Neal will meet us at the airport and we'll head over to Cognac straight off. After a day of appointments we'll move down to Armagnac for Easter, then back north to Normandy for some Calvados hunting. After that we're on to Paris for the day, then on a train to London where we'll meet up with John Glaser and Compass Box, along with a few other bottlers. 

Finally, after more than two weeks of sleeping in a different place every night, we'll get back on the plane to California.

Stay tuned. We'll be posting as frequently as possible.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Mar192013

K&L Spirits Journal Podcast #25 - Dr. Bill Lumsden

I received an email from Dr. Bill Lumsden yesterday that contained two important pieces of information.

1) He was very sorry that he would not be around for our visit to Glenmorangie this weekend.

2) He had finally opened that bottle of 2001 Lanessan I sold him last year and it was delicious.

I said that, since we won't see one another, we should talk on the phone instead. He said that sounded fine. I said we should record it, too. He said sure. I said we should do it right now. He said how about tomorrow? I said OK.

Listen as the man behind Glenmorangie and Ardbeg talks shop on the new Ealanta, upcoming releases for both distilleries, and the pressure of constantly trying to outdo last year's whisky.

You can download this episode of the podcast here, or by visiting our page on iTunes. You can also listen via our embedded player above. All previous episodes are archived on iTunes as well as the link on the right-hand margin of this page.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Mar192013

Karuizawa Sold Out

I wasn't at work yesterday, so I didn't watch the numbers tick by as more and more customers responded to our big email, but I knew the Karuizawa bottles must have sold out around 5 PM because that's when the "waitlist" questions began pounding my inbox.

When an item sells out at K&L, the "add to cart" option is replaced with "add to waitlist." The waitlist is actually a very useful thing because it will notify you via email when the product you're looking for comes back into stock. It does not, however, reserve or guarantee you a bottle. In the case of the Karuizawa, these won't be coming back into stock because we only had limited amounts to sell, so the waitlist isn't going to be of much help. I had to break that news to a number of customers who thought by adding to the waitlist they had reserved their bottle, but that was not what had happened.

If you didn't get a bottle of Karuizawa there is still a chance. We don't put every bottle of booze on sale via pre-arrival just in case something happens – a bottle breaks, something is mis-sold, or a mistake is made. We need back-ups in case this happens. However, I won't know if there are any extra bottles until we're all done processing pre-orders which may be late August. If you still want one then please check back with us at that time.

What a crazy day yesterday was! I'm sorry I was at home missing it!

-David Driscoll

UPDATE: I just checked and saw that there are a number of CC declines in the queue, so the waitlist may inform you of a few bottles that go back into stock as a result. Stay vigilant!

Monday
Mar182013

Deciding What to Drink

This sounds like a completely stupid title - the type of problem that only hoity-toity aristocrats might ponder. Nevertheless, it's the scenario that pays my salary. The question that we get asked forty to fifty times a day on the K&L sales floor is:

"What should I drink?"

There are all kinds of ubiquitous answers to this query.

- "Drink what you like!" Straight-forward and charming, but not really helpful.

- "Drink what tastes good!" How do I know if something tastes good when I've never had it before?

- "Drink $7 to $10 wines during the week and something special on the weekends!" What if you don't drink during the week? (I know that sounds crazy, but some people do save themselves for Friday night)

Those are the in-store variations of this dilemma when dealing with customers and I've got all the answers to any possible combination of them. However, what if your problem isn't related to a lack of ideas or information? What if it's simply a matter of time? That's the issue I'm facing. I've got the opposite problem from most of my customers. I know what to drink, but I want to drink too many things! I have a list of selections that, like our universe, is in a constant state of expansion. I need help finding the time to actually sit down and enjoy it. As someone who thinks about booze all day long I've got about twenty things I want to open by the time I get home from work each day. Eric just brought in a bunch of new Loire and Alsatian whites. Joe just tasted me on a new inexpensive garnacha from Spain. We've got some great Bordeaux deals right now on older vintages. Plus, I've been stockpiling Champagne in my refrigerator - can't forget about those bottles!

And that's just the wine! We haven't even talked about the 100+ open bottles of booze sitting in my living room cabinet.

As someone who tries to drink responsibly I don't want to overdo it on any one night. That means roughly a half bottle of wine with dinner if I'm going to keep it under control. If we're doing cocktails, that means roughly two drinks. Friday or Saturday night might mean a beer, a cocktail, and a half-bottle of wine with the possibility of brown water after the meal (if I don't pass out while watching Kickboxer for the 875th time). Even with that extensive menu of libationary (I thought I had just made that word up, but it does appear in the Urban dictionary) delights, that still limits me to one beer, one cocktail, one wine, and maybe one brown spirit. I can only handle volume like that maybe once a week, so at that pace I will never, ever, ever, ever get even close to drinking all the hooch I have planned out in my head.

I've heard some people say, "Since I don't drink as much as I used to, I'll drink something nice if I'm going to do it." I thought about that for a while – I could eliminate the less-expensive selections from my life, scale down my drinking, and just sip the fancy stuff for the rest of my days. That doesn't work for me, however. I love drinking Bank Note. I love drinking $10 bottles of German riesling. I love drinking large glasses of Campari with soda. I love dumping huge quantities of Four Roses Yellow into a large glass of ice. I rejoice in the post-work bottle of Jever Pils. There's simply too much pleasure to be obtained from the working class heroes of hooch. I'm the same way with food. Have fun with your bone marrow, I'm getting tacos from the truck parked out front.

If I'm not willing to trade quantity for quality, then how am I ever going to make it through those cases of Bordeaux sitting in my locker? What about the vintages of red and white Burgundy I have dating back to 2005? When am I going to drink this stuff?!!

I've recently realized that this problem I currently face isn't a matter of tolerance. It's not a matter of health or of capability either. It's a matter of friendship! I simply need more friends to drink with. When you drink with people there are more mouths to handle more booze. The more mouths you are feeding, the more booze you can open, therefore enjoying multiple glasses of various wines and spirits rather than working solidly through one open container. Having a dinner party results in three to four bottles of open wine as well as a smattering of whiskies once the meal is over. I simply need to be more social.

Now I just need to find the time to hang out with people! It's still a matter of scheduling, isn't it?

-David Driscoll