West into the East: Asia Preview

I was supposed to go on vacation with my wife a few weeks ago (we'd had a Paris trip lined up for months), but we had to cancel last minute when she hurt her knee. I was really in need of that break; the chance to unplug and get away for ten days, but there was no getting around it: she couldn't walk and Paris is no fun when you can't walk.

Instead of getting the rest I was hoping for, I went back and hunkered down with our depleted staff, holding fast on the Redwood City sales floor while some of our co-workers went down with their injuries and flu bugs. That's when my buddy Chris from Anchor Steam reached out to me and said, "Hey man, I heard you had to cancel your vacation. We're going to Taiwan and Japan at the beginning of November. Want to come with us instead?"

Hell motherfucking yes, I do.

I managed to get my days off moved up a few weeks, got all my work done before the deadline, and got a last minute ticket to Tokyo on the same flight as Chris out of SFO. It's going to be a helluva trip.

Tomorrow Chris and I will head to Taipei, via Tokyo, where Ian Cheng from Kavalan will pick us up and take us around. We'll tour the distillery, grab some food, and check out the Taiwanese sights before heading to Sapporo on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The folks from Nikka will be waiting for us there to show us the Yoichi distillery, before sending us southward on a flight to Sendai where we'll check out the Miyagikyo sight. From there, it's a bullet train back to Tokyo and a night out on the town before we head for home.

I'll have my camera, my computer, and my storytelling skills with me, so make sure to check back in with the blog each day. I won't be available to help you with your ordering, but I will be here to share my experiences. Let's just hope I can get a few hours of rest before we leave. It's going to be one hectic schedule!

-David Driscoll


New Batch of Signatory Whiskies

Our new boat of Signatory exclusives just landed at our warehouse in San Carlos and I've got all the info you'll need to make an educated buying decision right here in this blog post. You'll notice a theme this time around: SHERRY! We really went for the big butts (ha!) this time around, which is good for all of you because sherry casks hold a lot more whisky than hogsheads or Bourbon barrels. That means we have a healthy supply of bottles, which in turn means you can pour over the notes, take your time, and choose the whiskies that ultimately interest you the most. I've included below the original notes written by David OG and myself, as well as updated reviews after tasting these whiskies again today. Take a look and see what you think:

1988 Blair Athol 25 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $154.99 - Blair Athol, known mostly for its role in Bell's Blended, is finally starting to get some recognition as a single malt. Diageo is scheduling a rare expression of the distillery for its next limited release and tourists visiting Edradour in Pitlochry are stopping by the quaint distillery on their way out of town; usually with a positive experience to report back. We're purchased a couple of younger hogshead casks in the past, but during our last visit to Signatory we dug out this ancient sherry butt of 26 year old Blair Athol that really blew our minds. The sherry influence is still quite fresh in the whisky as layers of cakebread and Christmas spices come quickly on the entry. That holiday flavor profile then moves into a round, resinous fruit flavor that coats the palate, revealing brandied cherries and oily, earthier notes. It’s the entire package. We left the Signatory warehouse pretty excited about Blair Athol, driving by the distillery on our way out of Pitlochry. We're even more excited about this heavenly 26 year old expression now that it's here. And, trust us, when the word gets about it won't be here long. This should be one of the first to go.

UPDATE 10/31/14: First off, I had to fix the age statement. We always assume we'll hit the next year in maturation; however, in this case the whisky was distilled in October, but bottled in September. So 25 years and 11 months, but not quite 26. Secondly, this is a first fill sherry butt, not a refill. It's big and dark and intense sherry. At 61.2%, this is a beast of a sherry butt, in the vein of Glendronach and Glenfarclas. It has that subtle mix of earth and cake on the nose with a bit of burnt sugar underneath. The palate is more of the same, and the finish is just big, fat sherry all night long. It's spicy sherry, though, not sweet sherry. The proof just kills any chance of sweetness. Water helps to release oils, creamy elements, and cuts out some of that heat so you can get into the malty center. Top notch whisky for slam dunk price. Can you imagine what 25 year old Macallan or Glendronach would cost at full proof? This is the star of the lineup. You buy this one first, and everything else second.

2001 Bowmore 12 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - We absolutely killed it with the '02 Hogshead at 46% this year, but we're not done with Bowmore. This distillery is cranking out the most magnificent malt and Signatory gets these amazing high quality butts. This is more consistent with the house style than the last cask, bringing the nutty sherry slightly more to the foreground. It's a stark reminder that Bowmore should be considered one of Scotland's greatest distilleries. Treat this with the reverence it deserves and this whisky will make you feel like you're the special one instead of the other way around.

UPDATE 10/31/14: For some reason we had this listed at 14 years of age, but it's a 12 year old. This one we did at full proof rather than 46% like the last barrel. The 59.1% is key to bringing out the best in this Bowmore. It's so powerful that the peat almost turns into that medicinal note, which is surprising given the level of richness from the refill sherry. It's nothing at all like the other Bowmore we brought in a few months back though. That was all campfire smoke and lazy vanilla, perfect for sipping on a cold winter evening. This is all high-tone phenolic notes with just a bit of sweet sherry that quickly explodes into something beyond all of those elements. It finishes entirely differently from where it begins. Bowmore collectors will be stoked.

1990 Bruichladdich 23 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $159.99 - Clearly, we went a little Refill Sherry crazy this year, but how could we resist. We been tasting this special cask every year since we first set foot in Signatory's wonderful warehouses and we finally felt that it had reached it's true peak. Bruichladdich is probably pretty soar that they don't own this cask because it's the perfect example of the unpeated Islay Malt. This hits every note without skipping a beat (while skipping the peat). The perfect amount of ripe round malty spice mixed with zesty citrus fruit. An ever so subtle oceany brine. The subtle nutty oxidative quality of the second fill sherry maturation. It's a gem and will likely go down as one of our most re-purchased casks (those Bruichladdich fans are loyal after all).

UPDATE 10/31/14: This one also needed a quick fix from 24 to 23 years and 10 months. Not quite 24, but close. Rather than fresh sherry, we have a refill which is really what Bruichladdich needs: just a bit of sweetness to help accent the salty goodness. In this case, it works like utter magic. There's a kiss of rich caramel on the initial sip, but the back end goes more towards the fruit and sea salt. It's absolutely charming and, if I were to do a blind tasting of all these whiskies, I think I would have chosen this first. There's something just perfect about the flavor profile. It's everything I want from single malt. This is right there with the Blair Athol. 54.8% ABV.

1997 Glen Ord 17 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Hogshead Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $79.99 - We went crazy for a few casks from 1997 this year and this Glen Ord is top of the top. Classic oily Ord, with tons of wonderful unusual malt flavors. It's a goofy little whisky that shows all kinds of wild flavors. Tart white fruit on the nose, white cherries (do those exist?), linseed, wild flowers, waxed apples -not wax apples- the finest plum eau-de-vie. That aromatic fruit continues on the palate but is pointed by a spice that's not altogether oaky. This one is for the real "malt nuts." You know who you are.

UPDATE 10/31/14: We wanted this as comparison to the other 1997 barrels we bought so folks could do a horizontal. Glen Ord is a distillery that we don't see much of and we usually like it (partially because of the exotic nature of drinking Glen Ord). This is more subtle and less-pronounced than the other casks on this list. There's a lot of straight-forward sweetness and soft fruit, but it will take a discerning drinker to appreciate the nuance. It's worth having if you've never had Glen Ord, but it will probably get lost in the shuffle. That's fine, though, because there are easily 272 guys who will really enjoy this bottle. 58.3% makes this a great rocks whisky.

1995 Glenburgie 19 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Hogshead Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $89.99 - Signatory has an incredible selection of barrels from the mid-to-late 1990s; a number of 16-20 year old whiskies from less-appreciated distilleries that simply shine. We've already released a number of them to the pubic (Benrinnes, Glen Ord, Dailuaine), but this marks the first time we've ever purchased a cask from Glenburgie distillery; the Speyside distillery owned by Pernod-Ricard that has been periodically shutdown when not needed (most recently from 2000-2004). Few whisky drinkers, if any, expect greatness from Glenburgie, but we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't taste every cask! In this 19 year old hogshead we found heady aromas of toasted oak and candied citrus, supple vanilla on the palate, and a spicy, fruit-forward finish that made us instantly crave a second sip. We don't usually argue about drinkable, delicious, 19 year old, cask strength whiskies for less than $100, but in this case the three of us couldn't agree: did we like it more or less than the Glenlivet 16? David D: yes! Kyle: no. David OG: unsure. In the end, we still bought it because it was too damn good to pass up. Especially for the money.

UPDATE 10/31/14: Again, this baby is as advertised. WOW....does it deliver on the finish. It starts out subtle enough with standard single malt flavor, but then BAM the richness just comes rolling through on the finish, bringing vanilla, oak spices, and rich malty flavor like "a dump truck driving through a nitroglycerin plant", to quote Christmas Vacation. There's nothing out of the ordinary going on here, just really, really good Scotch. And, my God, is it really good Scotch. 54.9%

1997 Glenrothes 17 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $79.99 - Sherry-matured single malt is big right now and if you can get it at full proof, even better. Glenrothes has always been a fan-favorite at K&L for its chewy, meaty, full-bodied character and rich, supple profile, but lately more folks have been heading for the Aberlour A'Bunadh due to the higher ABV. We thought: why not combine the best of both worlds? Why not buy a sherry cask of Glenrothes at nearly 60% alcohol and give the people what they want? Even better: let's double the age! Let's do a monster 17 year old refill sherry cask and bring all that chewy, cakey goodness for all those sherry-heads out there. And the price! Let's make sure it's no more than $79.99. Can we do that? Well, we just did. Classic sherry-aged Glenrothes at full proof for about eighty bucks. Sound OK?

UPDATE 10/31/14: This is everything we advertised in the notes. 55.4% big funky sherry action. There's that little bit of sulphur that will need to blow off (and it does), but I actually enjoy that personally. The fruit comes out when you go back, but this is simply a powerhouse sherry butt that does everything you want it to do. If you like Glenrothes, this is definitely your bag.

1998 Mortlach 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Sherry Butt Finish Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - Can we keep the Mortlach momentum rolling? It seems that ever since we released that amazing sherry butt of Mortlach from Chieftain's all those years ago, we've been riding a wave of Mortlach enthusiasm for the sherry-aged Speyside beast. Diageo even released their own single malt version (maybe we had something to do with that, eh?) We're always on the lookout for more Mortlach, especially sherry-aged barrels, and it turns out that Signatory had a sherry-finished butt sitting in their Pitlochry location just there for the taking. The first sip is all you need to get excited: lots of gingerbread, cinnamon, holiday cookie goodness just explodes on the palate, with cakey, sherry flavor rounding out the back end. At full proof, it's as much of a beast as ever. But the fact that this cask was simply finished in sherry, rather than aged in the sweet wine from day one, is a big benefit. The maltiness of the whisky is still there at the core and the finish still sings of whisky. It's going to be a big hit; especially for $99.99.

UPDATE 10/31/14: So this guy started as a couple of hogsheads and was then finished in a sherry butt. You can tell because there's a lot of oak action on the nose, almost Bourbon-like with pencil lead, but then morphing into stonefruit. The sherry turns on however in the mid-palate, but as we saw with the Bruichladdich it only highlights the fruit. Holy shit, this is tasty. Lots of sweet apricot and pear notes, but like they were dipped in a bit of cocoa. I'm going back in again and there's another wave of sweet baking spices that washes over the finish. Wow, this is good. 667 bottles, so don't worry about it selling out too fast. 55.8%.

1995 Imperial 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $84.99 - Ok, so it turns out we are bringing you a rare closed distillery bottling after all, it's just not from a distillery anyone has ever heard! I'm totally in love with this odd little distillery, which was dismantled and eventually demolished in 2013. Plans to build a news distillery are in the works -what a waste- but nothing will be quite like the fine old gentlemen that was the Imperial distillery. This cask was the best of several excellent ones we found in the warehouse. Bone dry, with concentrated nutty flavors, it's fully bodied and lushes to the max. It's not altogether unphenolic, with a slight earthy smoke in the background. Incredibly complex and deep, not the sort of whisky you can evaluate in a mere few moments, so be sure to let this one breath in the glass. Give it time and let it expand before you. Perhaps my favorite bottling in this batch and look at the price.

UPDATE 10/31/14: This is just an updated version of a cask we bought a few years back. This one is both older and better. It's just everything you want: oily, resinous, fat-fruited, waxy, chewy, viscous, but never sweet. There's a bit of a tropical element on the finish, but it turns into something almost phenolic instead. Layers, upon layers, upon layers. 52.7% is perfect, so you don't need water. Imperial is no longer in operation, so there's a bit of a collectability factor here as well. One hot price. This is like cask strength Glenmorangie 18 (but for less!).

-David Driscoll


Good Times

In 2010, I was in my living room. In 2012, I was at a bar in Burlingame. In 2014, I was at work counting inventory with my colleagues, watching the stream from a computer at the register. I worked from 8 AM until 11:30 PM today and it was amazing. You will always remember where you were if your team wins the World Series. I'm happy to have been with my friends Jason and Jim: two huge Giants fans as well. We hugged, opened a beer, and continued our task at hand. I was surging with energy. No one has ever counted liquor bottles with such enthusiasm.

This is turning out to be some week. 

-David Driscoll



I was going to leave all this fun stuff for the in-store shoppers tonight; HOWEVER, because Game 7 of the World Series is on at 5 PM and you'll probably want to be at home watching the Giants, I won’t force you to come to today’s tasting in order to get the jump on the goods. I’ll let you have at them right now. Man, are they good. And MAN are they cheap! They’re not single barrel, but rather vattings of several casks, and they’re all bottled at 40%. Check this out:

Alexander Murray "Bon Accord" Single Malt Whisky $31.99 – Lovely, easy drinking, stone-fruited with soft vanilla, single malt whisky. They don’t divulge the distillery, but you won’t care. It’s not expensive and it’s delicious.

Alexander Murray 30 Year Old "Monumental Blend" Scotch Whisky $129.99 – This is a hot deal. THIRTY year old blended whisky finished in sherry butts. If you need a 30 year old whisky for a gift or anniversary, but don’t want to break the bank, then this is your guy. It’s richer and more interesting than Johnnie Blue, that’s for sure. Grab one.

Longmorn 21 Year Old Alexander Murray Single Malt Whisky $85.99 – The Longmorn is the showstopper when you start breaking down value for money. 21 year old CLASSIC Longmorn for sub-$100. It has a lot of that same supple, oily goodness that made our Longmorn 20 Exclusive Malt cask a while back so beloved. I’d say it’s EASILY as good as our Faultline edition and that’s $30 more per bottle. Again, nothing that’s going to go down in history as the best bottle you’ve ever had, but considering the market it’s a no-brainer.

Tobermory 19 Year Old Alexander Murray Single Malt Whisky $84.99 – Tobermory can be great when it’s really fat and fruity, with a heavy mouthfeel and rather viscous finish. This bottling falls into that category of Tobermory and—looking at the price, it’s too good to pass up.

You can take my word for it now, or you can come taste them tonight! We’ll be here watching the game on the computer and crossing our fingers!

-David Driscoll



Round two of our 2014 Scotland barrel program arrives on October 29th. Get ready for another onslaught. It's going to be intense.

-David Driscoll