Mailbox: Whisky Advocate Winners

Rather than the standard, rubber-stamp answer I usually have to give people when the year-end whisky awards come around—"I'm sorry, we sold out of that months ago"—I've been pleasantly surprised by the amount of Whisky Advocate award winners we still had quantity of when the victors were announced; or at the very least something similar. When the Last Drop won "Best Blended" we still had a few bottles floating around for people to purchase. When Arran's Devil's Punchbowl took home best Highland/Island single malt, we still had (and maybe still have) six or so bottles on hand. When Craigellachie 17 was awarded the best Speyside malt, we at least had the 13 and 23 year on hand to steer people towards (which I wasn't even aware of until David OG told me he had just ordered them for the LA store). My favorite emails so far, however, have been in regards to the Islay whisky of the year: the 1998 Laphroaig 15 year refill sherry butt cask from Signatory.

"David, can you get this?" some emails said.

"David, have you ever seen anything like this at K&L?" some readers asked.

Have I? Do you mean to ask if would I have access to something like this?

Yes, in fact I do. We bought the sister cask to that very same Whisky of the Year winner. Distilled the same day (22/09/1998), aged in the same type of sherry butt, matured in the same warehouse, from the exact same stock as the one you're asking about (our cask was probably right next to this one). This particular cask just happens to be entirely for us (the award winner was for a shop in the UK). And, of course, we bottled it in the standard white label 750ml to make shipping orders easier (those fat bottles are a pain) and to knock a few bucks off the retail sticker. So, yes, I do have something just like that whisky in stock.

Sherry butts are big (like Kardashian big), so there's still plenty of this to go around. I'm really enjoying the Whisky Advocate awards so far! Here's to more awards for whiskies we can still get!

-David Driscoll


Back to Basics: The Irish Workhorse

Seeing that it's the holiday movie-watching season, when the weather is cold and rainy and nothing feels better than the comfort of my warm couch, I've been getting my Daniel Day-Lewis on. With a last name like Driscoll (O'Driscoll, really), it's a given that I'm going to get all sappy for flicks like My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father. When I watch this amazing actor portray characters like Christy Brown and Gerry Conlon—two guys who liked starting some shit—I realize how Irish I really am. I am a total shit-starter; especially at work. Sometimes I'll drop prices on items or buy things just to fuck with other retailers that I know monitor our site like hawks. I can't help it. There's just something innate inside of me that enjoys whipping other people into a frenzy.

As I was watching the cerebral palsy-stricken Brown drink Irish whisky through a straw, it made me want to hit the bottle myself. I dug deep into the bar and pulled out an old bottle of Bushmills 10 and got to work. Nothing is more fun than pairing cinema with booze, in my book. The more I drank, the more sentimental I became, and the more I wanted to promote the Irish boys who make this stuff. We don't really have all that much inexpensive Irish whiskey at K&L these days, which is a shame because it's such a blue collar product. It seems ridiculous to price everything in the $40-$70 range when you're talking about such basic, working-man's whiskey. Bushmill's 10 is a delicious, drinkable, quality single malt, but I can't be drinking bottles of it like water when it costs $40, for goodness sake!

I've got that itch in my belly. Let's start some shit.

Bushmills 10 Year Old Irish Single Malt Whisky (Elsewhere $40) NEW PRICE $26.99 - Go and get your Daniel Day-Lewis on this weekend. Watch There Will Be Blood and have a glass of Bushmills. I just drank a bunch of retailer milkshakes with this hot price. Aged in Bourbon and finished in Oloroso sherry. What's not to love, especially for 26 bucks?

And since I'm at it, why not just go all the way?

Bushmills 21 Year Old Irish Single Malt Whisky (Elsewhere $120) NEW PRICE $79.99 - This is just plain stupid. There is a fine line between having fun and just being a fucking idiot. I've never been very good about straddling that line, however.

If you need me I'll be sitting here on my ass, drinking Bushmills, screening Gangs of New York, and watching the drama unfold in my inbox.

-David Driscoll


Best Picture Analogies

Do you know which film won for Best Picture at the Oscars in 2004? The Return of the King, part three of the Lord of the Rings trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. Not a serious drama, nor a life-changing, eye-opening take on the human condition, but rather a fun, adventurous story about trolls, wizards, and warriors. Do you know which film won in 1996? Braveheart, an action movie with Mel Gibson about freedom-loving Scots wearing kilts and swinging clubs. In 1998, they gave the top prize to Titanic. In 1995, it was Forrest Gump. These aren't exactly films that stretch our understanding of cinema to new realms or push the boundaries of art to new limits. Not every Academy Award winning film is a complex, deep, thought-provoking experience that challenges the mind and impacts the soul. Sometimes the Academy rewards movies that are just plain watchable and entertaining; flicks that are fun and well-made simultaneously. Accolades aren't always just for the avant-garde.

I strongly believe that Midnight Run is one of the best movies ever made. Not in an ironic sense, but literally. Yes, a buddy action-comedy with Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin is, in my mind, one of the most intelligent and witty triumphs in modern film-making. You can have fun while maintaining a sense of quality and style (don't tell that to whisky geeks though). Life is not a choice between entertainment or integrity. One of the best products we sell at K&L is the Blason Box of Bianco: a three liter bag of Italian white wine with a built-in tap that costs twenty bucks. It's a custom-made cuvee that gives the K&L employees exactly what they want: high quality hooch in an easy-to-consume party format. We now have pinot noir in a can, too. It looks like beer, but it's really a silver bullet filled with delicious Oregon red wine, ready for your tail-gate needs. It's where functionality and freshness collide.

Yesterday there were people asking me about the Crown Royal post, looking for a bit more insight. Some readers were shocked that the Whisky Advocate would bestow such a high score to such a simple, drinkable whisky. "Crown Royal? Really?" But why is it so hard to believe that something that tastes so good—blended or not—could garner critical acclaim to boot? Are we going to act like Terminator 2: Judgement Day isn't a good movie because Arnold is in it? Or Avatar because it launched in 3D? Or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade because James Bond plays a whimsical wimp? The world of great spirits isn't just a theater full of serious dramas and authentically-acted bio-pics. It's not a multiplex that shows only Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey on repeat. It's not just a never-ending hall of Goddard and Kurosawa (and Karuizawa). We can celebrate accessibility without relinquishing our street cred.

There is room in the best picture race for a well-made action movie. There is room in the Michelin guide for the world's best pizza parlors. There is room in the Rock and Roll hall of fame for the Ramones. And there is room on the list of the year's best whiskies for Crown Royal.

To act like this is a shocking revelation is perhaps ridiculous, not the other way around.

-David Driscoll


Motley Crown

Of course, no sooner do I post a story about me drinking Crown Royal with my buddy at the Motley Crue concert, when a picture of me drinking Crown Royal at the Motley Crue concert shows up in my inbox. Apparently, getting me to admit that Crown was delicious was an important enough event to save on this person's phone for months and months, if only to remind me later about that very moment.

I'm willing to concede, but only a little bit. I made an ugly face to show my sarcasm that I'm not quite willing to post. But I must let this man have his due, so I'll post an edited version. K&L is back in the Crown Royal business.

-David Driscoll


Crowning the King

I have a friend who works in the industry and is just nuts about Crown Royal. He's on the distribution side and has access to all the samples he wants—Ardbeg, Lagavulin, even Port Ellen—but all he ever truly wants is Crown Royal. He's always on my ass to bring it into K&L. We were at the Motley Crue farewell concert this past summer together and he offered to buy me a drink. He came back with two plastic cups filled with Crown Royal. "Jesus, really?" I asked, expecting a nice cold beer instead. But I did my due diligence and drank my cup of Crown. "This actually isn't all that bad," I yelled over to him, trying to cut through the scorching guitar riff of "Dr. Feelgood."

"Why would you think it was bad?" he screamed back. "It's Crown Royal, dude!"

Why did I think it was going to be bad? Because I was one of these guys that Davin de Kergommeaux was talking about in the interview the other day—I thought Crown was just sweetened grain neutral with a bit of young rye dashed in. By the time I had finished my glass, however, I was curious to know a bit more about Canada's most famous blended whisky. Unfortunately for me and my education, that curiosity would get sidetracked a few months. When I heard that Crown Royal's new Monarch was set to hit California, however, I knew I needed to get back on track with my Canadian whisky studies. I had read Davin's Whisky Advocate review from August (the one where he gave it 96 points and the magazine ranked it just ahead of the Four Rose's 2014 Single Barrel for that issue), but I wasn't sure when the whisky would arrive in the U.S.; and even when it did, I wasn't sure I'd have the proper context to understand what made it great. Would my basic whisky understanding be enough to help comprehend the flavors? Would I be able to see where the Monarch stood in comparison to other Canadian whiskies?

In addition to my own studies, I wanted to see what other people were thinking, so I asked around to both my customers and friends at K&L. I was surprised by how many people had tracked down a bottle of the Monarch after reading that same review. Everyone seemed to really like it. I also looked at another reviewer whose opinion I've come to respect over the last year: Geoff Kleinman, a Whisky Advocate contributor who started his own site called Drink Spirits. I discovered Geoff's reviews when they started showing up in my inbox each week (I'm assuming Geoff volunteered my email for his RSS feed, as many other booze-related companies do). At first I just deleted them as I do other unwanted spam; banishing them to the trash box. After a while, however, I noticed that he was reviewing products I was interested in, so I began taking a look at his writing just out of curiosity. A few summaries later, I realized that Geoff's taste was very much in line with my own, and I appreciated the fact that he wasn't giving out scores or grades; rather using a few underlined sentences at the end of each review to drive home his overall impression of the product. He also had tasted the Monarch this past summer and greatly enjoyed it (his review is here).

After hearing Davin gush about the Monarch in our recent conversation, I realized I was going to have to track down a bottle myself and give it a go. Yesterday, I finally got my hands on one. And what was my impression? Delicious—in the same way that the regular Crown Royal is just an easy-drinking, tasty whisky. Yet, there was more underneath. I could taste the rye spice, smell the grains, and really isolate each component as the mellow wave of vanilla and toffee notes rolled over my tongue. If you're unaware of the story surrounding the Monarch, it's a celebration of the whisky Sam Bronfman first made when King George and Queen Elizabeth visited Canada seventy-five years ago. It's a limited release that—at least at this point—isn't going to be a permanent fixture in the Crown portfolio. It's this year's Tanqueray Malacca for Diageo, and like the Malacca it's both gimmicky and awesome. It's not going to convert anyone over to Canadian whisky, so if you're an interested Bourbon or Scotch drinker don't think this is the bottle that will change your mind (because it definitely is not that bottle), but it will put a smile on your face if you like good hooch.

But David, you might ask, what good is your opinion if—like you've said—you don't know anything about Canadian whisky? Great question! You're absolutely right. My opinion isn't all that valuable here, other than the fact that I think the whisky tastes delicious. That's why I wanted to set the primer with Davin—the world's leading authority—before going any further. Believe it or not, I don't get paid to write this blog. I get paid to make deals happen. So how will I contribute to this conversation? By doing my part: I'll make sure you can try the Crown Royal Monarch for the best price possible:

Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary Edition Canadian Whisky (Elsewhere $75) $49.99

Fifty bucks. That's $25 below the normal asking price, and a good deal cheaper than any of my competitors. I can't promise you you'll have the positive experience I had with the Monarch, or that Crown Royal's new release will inspire you to drink more Canadian whisky in the future, but I can make sure that your experimentation comes at as low of a price as possible. I'll eat the profit so that we can all try this thing together.

Now that's something to get excited aboot, eh?

-David Driscoll