Kyle! Get down off of those Signatory barrels; it's time to write our tasting notes!
Yes, my friends, that glorious time of the year is upon us: it's May 1st -- the beginning of Whisky Season 2014 here at K&L. It's the moment when the fruits of our labor begin to appear on this blog with very special pre-arrival pricing (i.e. discounts) for those of you who order in advance. We've got a serious supply of hooch coming in this year, but from fewer overall producers. There are no independent Faultline labels in the works at the moment, mainly because all of the bottlers we've worked with in the past are out of booze. For that reason, we made sure to taste extra long and extra hard at the few appointments we did have; because we knew that we needed to take everything we could while it was still there. There's still whisky to be had in Scotland; it's just that fewer and fewer people have whisky we want to purchase.
Signatory, the most reliable and successful label we've worked with in our history here at K&L, was a major partner for us on this 2014 trip. They not only opened their warehouse doors to us once again, but they also honored our pricing from the previous year (despite the increases we continue to face from other producers). With the dollar-to-pound ratio worse than it was a year ago, this was a huge blessing and we're incredibily thankful.
Overall, we'll be bringing in more than twenty casks from Signatory as we move through 2014, albeit in waves so as to space them out and not overwhelm our customers all at once. Since it's officially K&L Whisky Season, and we want to make sure everyone can be a part of it, I thought we should break out a few different styles of single malt at a few different price points: sub-$100, $100+, and ultra-luxury. If you're new to Whisky Season, here's how it works:
1) We travel to Scotland every March to track down new casks of whisky, taste and evaluate what we find, then purchase the best ones on behalf of K&L and have them bottled exclusively for our store.
2) On May 1st we begin releasing 100 bottles total from a few new casks every week, with full descriptions and detailed information.
3) Those 100 bottles are offered at a discount for those willing to trust our judgment and order in advance.
4) You pay up front and we send you a notice when the whisky arrives (these selections are currently scheduled for delivery at the end of August/early September).
5) The advance orders help us gauge how much inventory we need to ultimately source, while helping you save anywhere from $10 to $20 on a whisky you might already know you're interested in.
That's it! You're now up to speed. Without further ado....
Our First Three Pre-Arrival Selections From 2014:
1995 Glen Elgin 18 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $79.99 - This was the first cask that we cracked into on our five hour odyssey at Signatory this year. Five hours and countless casks later, the Glen Elgin was still in my head. Knowing the amount of single malt we needed to get through that day (upwards of thirty casks), getting excited about the first one seemed a bit foolish; however at the end of the day, there it was with a star next to it in my notes. This malt is absolutely delicious, with beautiful texture and a hint of cream from being in barrel for eighteen years, but there is much more than that. It's rich and fruity, beautifully fresh and lively, with exotic notes of bubble gum and lavender that are incredibly intriguing. The finish lingers with candied fruits and white flowers. Soft and supple to be sure, but lifted and bright, I am glad the Glen Elgin made the list! (Kyle Kurani, Spirits Assistant)
1988 Balmenach 26 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $139.99 - One point we've stressed over and over again to our single malt customers is the need to be open-minded when it comes to finding value. So many enthusiasts lament the end of any affordable value at the higher end of the market, when in reality it's still there -- it's just hiding under an unassuming name. In this case, that name is Balmenach: a Speyside distillery known more for the Deerstalker label than for its own eponymous selections. We all oohed and ahhed in unison while tasting this whisky from cask at the Signatory warehouse. The aromas were full of ripe stonefruit and salty caramel and it smelled as if a rich palate might be soon to follow. Indeed. The flavors were actually quite woody, but never over done, as the oak melded with the fruit and became almost toffee-ish on the finish. There's something special about that Signatory warehouse in Pitlochry; the way in which unpeated, light, and fruity whiskies have a way of transforming into a seamless nectar. We've seen it with our previous Ladyburn and Glenlochy casks, and we're witnessing it again with this hogshead of Balmenach. It's not quite as evolved as those other two, but man is it tasty. This is fun, fruity, rich, mature, and pleasantly supple single malt whisky. It's a 26 year old single cask of Speyside goodness for a very fair price. (David Driscoll, K&L Spirits Buyer)
1981 Glenlivet 32 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $299.99 - This cask stands in stark contrast to the other old Speysider that Signatory provided for us this year. While the Balmenach requires a minor leap of faith, as it's so unfamiliar to most, the Glenlivet Distillery faces the exact opposite hurdle. The name is so popular, the expectations for 'Livet are only outweighed by the typically massive prices we see. That's why we rarely buy Glenlivet even when it's available, which is not often. At Signatory, however, they seem to have a stellar connection for great sherry aged Glenlivet. While there's no question that these are blue chip stocks, they still represent a solid value for any lover of old Speyside whisky. This special whisky was matured for 32 years in a gorgeous sherry hogshead. By gorgeous, I mean the actual barrel was physically attractive, ultra high quality oak from a top producer of sherry. The result is a stark reminder of what makes single malt so incredible. This is what happens when you put great whisky into great wood and forget about it for 3 decades. It is an exercise in extreme balance. Powerfully pungent without being overpowering, richly textured without being heavy, it has that wild complexity at the confluence between the aromas of sherry and aged Speyside single malt. It may not be from some rare closed distillery, but old 'livet is a rarity in its own right. Nothing in the price range beats it right now and since this is cask strength from a hogshead, we expect fewer than 140 bottles. (David Othenin-Girard, Spirits Buyer)