Search This Blog

Return to

Spirits Journal Podcast Archive

Spirits Journal Twitter Feed

K&L Uncorked Blog

K&L Spirits Tasting Schedule:

Weds from 5 - 6:30 PM

7/9 - San Francisco: No Tasting

7/9 - Redwood City: Ron Zacapa Rum

2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

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

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 26 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER

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 PRE-ORDER

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 IN STOCK NOW!

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!

Bladnoch 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive Lightly Peated Single Barrel #303 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

2005 Glenrothes 8 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Sherry Barrel 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!

1989 Cragganmore 23 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 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!

1983 Miltonduff 30 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750m IN STOCK NOW!


Sherry Baby

We grew up watching our mothers cook with it.  We drink single malts flavored with it.  So why is it that no one actually drinks the Sherry itself - just plain, in a glass, on its own?  I feel like every now and again we'll make an obligatory push for better appreciation of fortified spirits at K&L, but eventually that train loses steam.  Then we go back to wine and booze for a few months until we suddenly "discover" Sherry all over again.  The combination of both wine and spirits should be the perfect medium for fans of both genres, yet something never seems to click.  Sherry is delicious, it drinks like wine and keeps like whisky, it offers a variety of styles, a myriad of flavors, and wonderfully affordable price points.  What more does Sherry need to do to get our attention?

I got seriously housed on the above-pictured bottle of La Ina Fino Sherry $14.99 last night.  Briny, salty, nutty, and fresh, this 15% alcohol delight is almost impossible to put down.  Fino sherries are the Islay malts of the fortified world sans the smoke.  They pair amazingly well with olives, cheese, sardines, and other salty snacks, but I had no problem putting away this whole bottle by itself while watching Nova's The Fabric of Space.  When I woke up on the couch at five this morning with a mouth drier than the Mojave desert, I realized that Sherry can creep on you as well.  However, I can definitely handle far more glasses of Sherry than I can single malt whisky.

While most single malts are aged in Oloroso Sherry casks (a style of sherry much sweeter than fino), there are the occasional fino-aged malts.  Why they don't do it more often is beyond me (maybe a lack of available barrels).  The brine, saline, and oxidized wine notes blend beautifully with whisky and provide the perfect highlight for the oily character of Springbank in this cask strength barrel they released last year.  I also remember running through the Bruichladdich warehouse on Islay and finding a 1990 Macallan resting in a fino cask.  We did get to taste it and it was fantastic. It was unfortunately already spoken for, however (otherwise you'd all have a bottle by now). Why Laphroaig and Ardbeg haven't experimented with fino cask enhancement is a curious question.  Seems like a match made in heaven.

Besides the amazing flavors of dry fino Sherry, we've got a fantastic selection of amontillado and palo cortado offerings as well - most of which are completely dry as well.  The complexity of these wines is simply beyond the capability of many $50 single malts, yet the Sherries sell for as low as $19.99 in some cases.  Again, they'll keep for months after you open them and the variety they offer is vast enough to justify having a few open bottles in your collection.  I'm definitely going to replenish my supply with this Herederos de Argueso later today and I may spring for this 1979 Gonzalez Bypass later in the month (easily one of the best things I have ever tasted while working at K&L).  For the super geeks out there, you could read all day about yeast, flor, soleras, and the entire Sherry-making process which is much more complicated than distillation.

Sherry has so much to offer.  If you're getting to the point where you need a new adventure in drinking, this might be the road worth taking.

-David Driscoll


Spirits Tastings Today

Another day of free booze tastings is upon us.

Redwood City will showcase the Bourbons of Oregon's Big Bottom Whiskey.  You may have just noticed their appearance on John Hansell's Whiskey Advocate Blog the other day.  Come taste their stuff and see what you think!

San Francisco will be featuring smoky Scotch with Val from JVS pouring the new Kilchoman 100% Islay, an 18 year old Laphroaig from Hart Brothers, and the new Isle of Skye 12 year blend.  Yummy stuff.

Tastings start at 5 PM and go until 6:30.  See you there!

-David Driscoll


New Product Round-Up

I've been loving the developments over the past week on the blog.  Driscoll has been really delving deep into some real existential issues about how and why we do what we do.  Of course, our great motivator is the love we have for the products we sell and with that in mind I'd like to introduce a whole onslaught of new and future products.  Some we will be stocking, others will be available special order, but all are worthy of a mention here.  First, from the inventive and intrepid Tempus Fugit Spirits a new line of incredible liqueurs that will definitely be as talked about as the last ones.  Known for their Absinthe, Tempus Fugit has made waves over last year releasing the exceptional (albeit controversial) Gran Classico and the lovely Tempus Fugit Liqueur de Violette.  Production for these new products is not in full swing yet, but I was so excited I just couldn't wait to share.

This is the fabulous Kina l'Avion d'Or.  Watch out Lillet and Cocchi Americano, this is a traditional Kina Aperitif recipe coming from a hundred year old recipe from a distillery in Switzerland.  Richer than expected, it doesn't have the light heartedness of the Americano, but it certainly makes up for it in term of depth.  This label is not approved yet, but hopefully something like it will be.  The nose is deeply perfumed and wild!  The palate has the perfect interplay between bitter and sweet.  This is sure to be a classic.

Here is another stunner from Tempus Fugit.  One problem we've had in mixology is the lack of proper Creme de Menthe.  Our prayers are answered by this fabulous offering.  Even the great liqueur producers from France cannot match this stuff.  Incredibly fleshy and fresh, the flavor is strong Spearmint rather than the typical pepperminty thing we're used to.  Should change the way most people feel about The Stinger.

Few things have bothered me more than the Creme de Cacao I've tasted in the past.  This is a whole new world.  The stuff is SOOO rich.  Basically the texture of maple syrup.  The nose is pure cacao beans and vanilla.  More complexity than any chocolate flavored liqueur I've ever tasted, they've managed to capture the true depth of the Cacao bean in a way that is both satisfyingly familiar and totally unprecedented.  Think of mixing these two with some cream for the best Grasshopper that anybody has had in a hundred years.

The history of Fernet is a controversial one.  Fernet Branca is unquestionably the King of Amaro, but its history is one that's shrouded in secrecy.  The official line is that it's creator Bernardino Branca, initially created the recipe with the help of a "Doctor Fernet" to lay credence to his claims that the drink had medicinal purposes.  Future generations of Fernet-Branca marketing departments have spent a lot of energy dismissing this story as fiction, claiming instead that no other person besides Bernardino was responsible for the recipe.  According to the records of the small Matter distillery they purchased this original Fernet recipe from a widow of Luigi Branca in the 1930s for an astounding sum of money.  Supposedly, this original recipe came from Friar Angelico and was bequithed to the widow Branca after Luigi's death.  The image and name Angelico Fernet appears on the original documents from the sale of the recipe.  While Fernet-Branca claims to have not changed their recipe since its release in 1845, this alternate history seems to contradict those claims.  I'm certainly not in a place to tell you who's history is the truth, but I will tell you that this stuff is delicious!  Totally different from what you'd expect.  Less bitter, less menthol, more herbal and much more Saffron.  Absolutely delicious.  Cremes should be here by the end of November, expect the fabulous swiss spirits early next year.  Another new product round up coming at the end of this week. 


Completely Unique

I spent some time over the last five days sampling the most recent of our new casks with friends, fellow whisky enthusiasts, and a few familiar customers.  The arrival of five new K&L whiskies (with another due tomorrow) has been very exciting for us, especially seeing that neither David OG nor I have tasted these whiskies since last April.  What I realized for certain after drinking these special malts again was that we truly have gathered together a collection of whiskies linked by the common thread of individuality. 

Here's what I mean: if five months from now, after most of these whiskies have probably sold out, you were to come into the store and say, "Hey David, remember that Bruichladdich Chenin Blanc cask you guys had? What else do you have that tastes like that?" I would likely stand there, stare blankly at you, turn and stare blankly at the liquor shelf, and then say, "Nothing."  There is literally nothing that tastes like this new Bruichladdich Chenin Blanc single malt.  There's nothing this salty, this savory, or even with this type of fruit.  Some of the people who tried it looked at me dumbfounded afterward.  Others immediately put in an order for multiple bottles.  Regardless of their personal opinion regarding taste or quality, everyone agreed that they had never experienced a whisky like that before.

The new Faultline Littlemill 21 year release was no different.  "What's that flavor I'm getting?" was the response from about five different test subjects.  Lowland whiskies seem to soak up Bourbon casks almost like Cognac does, so there's a little bit of that caramel thing going on, but then there's this fruity and savory note that comes out of nowhere with a hint of peat that ruins any brandy comparisons.  Same thing goes for the Littlemill as for the Bruichladdich - there's nothing else we have or have ever had that tastes similar to this whisky.  The closest I could come would be the 37 year Ladyburn cask we imported earlier this year, but that wouldn't be really the same.

Even the Glendronach 16 year PX cask we just received is truly without peers.  An atavistic malt that definitely harkens back to the old school of Speyside, but never really fits in with the crowd.  There's too much earth and rancio flavor happening on the palate to compare with the likes of Macallan or even Glenfarclas.  There's too much power to compare it with something even as strong as A'Bunadh from Aberlour.  Again the question - if you were to ask me what else tastes like this cask I would probably say: "Imagine Glendronach 12, but older, more leathery, with tons of pop and way more going on."  There are too many "buts" in that sentence to make a solid link to another malt.

Is it normally easy to compare one malt to another?  Yes and no.  When I'm talking about comparisons, I'm speaking from a sales point of view - my job is to help someone who likes one particular malt find another that he or she likes.  For example, when a guy came in last week and said he loved the Springbank 9 year Sauternes cask we had a while back, I recommended the new Springbank 14 year Madeira cask we have and the Glenmorangie Nectar d' Or.  Both were solid choices and he wrote me an email to let me know how much he was enjoying them.  If someone likes Macallan 12, I'll give them Glendronach 12.  If someone likes Lagavulin 16, I'll give them Ardbeg Corryvreckan.  None of those recommendations are identical, but they're along the same lines.

However, if someone comes back and says, "David, what do you have that tastes like the Ben Nevis Octave cask you imported earlier this year?" then I'm stuck.  The whole reason we selected these casks in the first place is because they stand out from the rest of the whisky shelf.  They're synonymous with nothing.  They're completely unique. 

-David Driscoll


The Story of Pliny the Elder and K&L (an Analogy)

The third and final installment on the Pappy Van Winkle issue we're currently facing:

For those of you who don't drink beer, let me enlighten you a bit into the brief history of Russian River Brewery, its wonderfully delicious Pliny the Elder beer, and the policy changes it has created here at K&L.  One day, a few friends in Santa Rosa decided to get together and start a brewery.  They focused on IPAs, sour beers, and eventually some interesting barrel-aged specimen as well.  Once the word got out on the Beer Advocate website about how amazing their Pliny the Elder IPA tasted, people all over the country began searching for it.  Because these beers are only available in California, almost exclusively in the San Francisco area, beer enthusiasts began swarming the area in search of this mega-hyped elixer. 

Because Russian River Brewery is a small production facility, there wasn't much of this Pliny the Elder to be found.  While the insatiable demand definitely opened the doors for a possible expansion, money wasn't driving the motives at this little brewery.  These friends enjoyed making beer together and increasing production would require all kinds of new staff, new equipment, and new infrastructure, turning this quaint beer-making process into a large-scale operation - exactly the opposite of what these guys originally wanted to do.  Despite the now frenzied demand for Pliny the Elder that beer drinkers were exhibiting, the Russian River guys decided to continue as planned and let the beer drinkers fight it out at their local beer retailer.  It was completely out of their hands at this point.  However, the harder it became to find it, the more people absolutely had to have it.

Enter K&L - from what I understand, recipients of perhaps the largest weekly allocation of Pliny the Elder.  Every Wednesday (or sometimes Thursday), K&L receives 300 bottles of the hottest beer in the U.S. and within one hour all of that beer sells out completely.  Because K&L sells its products online, customers can add something called the "waitlist feature" to their account.  By adding an item to their waitlist, the K&L system automatically sends the customer an email when the item they're seeking comes back into stock.  By clicking on a link directly in that email, the customer can reserve up to six bottles for pick up by purchasing them and selecting "Will Call" for in store pick-up.  With almost every customer choosing the maximum six bottle allocation, that allowed about fifty people per week to get their hands on Pliny the Elder - many times the same fifty from the previous week.  Some people had their roommate, mother, or girlfriend buy an additional six to find away around the bottle limit.  The Pliny sweepstakes had become too big to miss.

Once the word got out that K&L carried Pliny the Elder beer, people began coming into the store on a daily basis, scouring the beer section before finally coming to the counter and asking, "Don't you guys sell Pliny the Elder?"  The answer was yes, but unfortunately not at the moment.  "Can I reserve some right now from the next shipment?" No, but we can add you to the waitlist so that the next time it comes in, you'll receive an email that will allow you to do so.  Eventually more than 1000+ were added to that waitlist and the competition for Pliny became fierce - so intense that many customers became entirely frustrated with the process and swore to never drink the beer again.  Those who couldn't check their email frequently enough were upset that they were always late to the party.  Those who didn't use computers were outraged that they couldn't simply walk in and buy it.  "Do I have to always completely put my work aside in the middle of the day, wait by the computer, and hope that I'm fast enough just to get a bottle of stupid beer?!" No one was happy about the lack of supply.  Everyone was upset.  All over little Pliny the Elder.

In the end, however, no one received special treatment at K&L.  There were no insider beer customers getting bottles held back for them.  There were no secret ways to find access to Pliny the Elder.  Getting a bottle came down to the adoption of modern technology.  The demand for this beer had grown beyond the human customer service limit that K&L was able to offer.  Those who were used to asking for help from trusted staff members had to be turned away to the waitlist option.  The wonderful experience of coming into K&L and getting great booze and great service had become akin to shopping for Rolling Stones tickets on the release date at  First come, first served - no preference for any particular customer.  The fastest fingers win.

Today, we still sell Pliny the Elder in the same way.  Most have become used to the system in place.  Some still have nothing but contempt for it because it isn't convenient for them.  Now, imagine that same level of demand, that same situation, and even more of a frenzied desire for only six total bottles of whiskey that land twice a year, rather than once a week.  What is the best way to handle that situation?  Put them on the website and let them fly?  What happens when frequent customers who are used to excellent customer service and personal attention get turned over to an automated system that puts their fate in their own hands?

-David Driscoll