I have to admit I was once a little nervous for my friends Val and Sam over at JVS and Impex. Gordon & MacPhail had switched distribution, as had Signatory -- two major blows at around the same time. Then Chieftain's began running out of whisky to sell (we're no longer able to select casks from them). The smaller craft distilleries weren't working as long-term options and there was a period where I thought my Moldovan friends might not get their heads back above water. But no one works harder than Val and Sam. If you think you work hard, then I invite you to listen to Val talk about working as a military driver in Moscow during the day for high-ranking officials, then continuing to drive at night as an unregistered taxi around the sprawling city. You cannot outwork these guys.
That's why not long after the loss of two major independent labels, the guys at Kilchoman decided to get on board with Val and Sam. Smart move. Next came the Isle of Arran, who noticed the work these guys were doing on Kilchoman's behalf. We introduced David Stirk to the dynamic duo as well and now the Exclusive Malts are coming to the U.S. via Impex and JVS. And what has happened to Signatory and G&M stateside since they moved on to greener pastures? Nothing, at least here at K&L. Besides the casks that we go and seek out on our own behalf, we have done very little business with either bottler outside of private affairs. This wasn't by choice or out of any ill will. Business is business. However, I still feel that both labels underestimated how much of their success was coming from the hustle by my Moldovan friends. It takes dedication and hard work to push a brand very few people have heard of. I don't think either company has seen an increase in sales since moving to larger distribution either. If anything, I think their products have been buried in a sea of larger, more important brands.
But that's fine because Val and Sam worked hard to find new products they believe in and their dedication has paid off. In my opinion, no two distilleries are more exciting to watch right now than Kilchoman and Arran. Both are putting out stellar new release after stellar new release, and each sip leaves me more impressed than the previous one. I'm more excited about these two new casks of Kilchoman (pictured above and due in next Spring) than I have been about any whisky this year. They are INSANELY good. So good I almost want to cry.
And I finally got the chance to taste the newest release of Arran's Devil's Punchbowl series -- a marriage of different casks, similar to the Balvenie 1401 Tun series, but on a larger scale. They've included sherry-aged whiskies, peated whiskies, and some Bourbon casks as well and the result is splendid. It's rich and round on the entry, but brings some mild phenolic action on the finish. I've been taking pulls off the bottle in between will call orders all afternoon. We've also got a 16 year old sherry cask in from Arran right now, and the wonderful new edition of the 12 year cask strength. Plus, there's always our 14 year restructured Sherry hogshead that's still hanging around.
I love that two of the last independent distilleries in Scotland (and two of the best as well) are teaming up with two of the best importers in the country. Dedication breeds more dedication. I still think G&M and Signatory made a huge mistake by switching distribution, but that's their business. Val and Sam will find other distillers, bottlers, and producers to represent and they'll be getting the best representation possible. I'm always up to speed on the latest whiskies from Kilchoman and Arran. I'm always getting to taste the recent arrivals from David Stirk. And I always know that I'm getting a fair price.
Relationships are everything in this business. Remember who your friends are and make sure you support them. Val and Sam always have our full support because they're always here to support us. If you already felt good about supporting an independent distillery like Arran and Kilchoman, you can feel even better knowing you're supporting a great importer and distributor as well.