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K&L Spirits Tasting Schedule:

Weds from 5 - 6:30 PM

9/24 - San Francisco: Monkey 47 w/Christoph Keller!

9/24 - Redwood City: Germain Robin K&L Exclusive Brandy!

2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #344 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #345 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

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

1997 Bunnahabhain Heavily Peated 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Chieftain's Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

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 25 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

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 IN STOCK NOW!

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 SOLD OUT!!

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!

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!

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!


Sovereign Impressions

I've been a little anxious as of late.  More so than I usually am.  I've found myself tossing and turning at night, worrying in my free time, my thoughts scattering from here to there.  Part of the anxiety was due to the increasing activity we're seeing with distilled spirits here at K&L - more orders, more requests, more work, more responsibility.  Most of it, however, was stemming from the drama surrounding the Sovereign single malts.  It had been almost a year since David OG and I met with the Laing brothers in their Glasgow office, tasting barrel samples and discussing ideas for a new American independent label.  Now, with only a few days until their long-awaited arrival, I was beginning to fear the whiskies might taste different than we remembered them.  So many people had reserved the Caol Ila 30 in advance, hopes high for a great deal on an ancient Islay expression, but I could barely remember tasting it myself!  Not to mention the fact that we were bringing in two single grain whiskies (as if the public would even be interested in one!) that were so wacky all we did was giggle every time we sipped them.

Now facing a real life business situation, with customer expectations riding the trust they bestowed upon us, I was beginning to dread my eventual encounter with the Sovereign malts.  I always go through a bit of second guessing when a cask arrives - "What if it isn't as good as I remember?" - but these whiskies were risky from the beginning.  We were riding a wave of confidence when we selected these barrels, believing that the whisky geek crowd would revel in the bold character these whiskies exuded.  Nonetheless, the decision to purchase all four was dangerous because all of them are less inclusive than any project we've previously engaged in.  Now, almost a year later, facing the consequences of choices made long ago, my developing business maturity was causing me serious dread. 

What were the four whiskies that left me panic-stricken upon their immediate arrival? 1965 Caledonian - a single grain whisky from a large and legendary facility closed forever in 1988 by Diageo.  1990 Girvan - another whisky made from unmalted cereal grains.  2000 Bowmore - an oddball sherry cask with so much character that it may be too over the top for some.  1980 Caol Ila - a thirty year old beauty from the Islay giant with expectations through the roof.  Would they be too weird?  Too underwelming?  Too wacky?  About an hour ago, I drove to the store on my day off to meet the delivery truck and pop four corks on bottles we had been expecting months ago.  Now, sitting in my living room post-tasting, typing this article, I am breathing easier.  In fact, I'm quite giddy.  The malts are dynamite.  Here's the quick review from our second meeting:

1990 Girvan 21 Year Old Single Grain Whisky - Tingly, sweet vanilla right on the entry - really taking the front palate to task with caramel and oak.  Big richness that teases you because it's still grain.  The mid-palate thins out a bit and the back end is more dry and herbal.  This is classic grain whisky - it's like taking the backbone out of Johnnie Walker Blue and offering it as a separate entity.  This will make a fantastic intro to grain whisky for those looking to discover the true foundations of Scotch.  Easy, accessible, and tasty.  Very enjoyable.

1965 Caledonian 45 Year Old Single Grain Whisky - My notes held up well over time - the nose is still a load of sticky Sauternes, apricot, and honey.  The palate will completely throw everyone for a loop, however,  The richness vanishes and is replaced by an earthy peat-like flavor - even though these grains were never peated, you could easily convince someone they were.  The texture is absolutely fascinating and the menagerie of flavors is as complex of any whisky I've ever tasted.  I could pick this apart for hours, if not days.  Serious whisky geeks, rejoice.  Herbs, grains, smoke, earth, honey, caramel, nuts - wow.  Take into account the rarity of Caledonian whisky and this whisky is an even better deal.

2000 Bowmore 11 Year Old Single Malt Whisky - Bowmore is by far my favorite Islay distillery because it can be all over the place - the highs can be high, and the lows low.  I relate to that.  This is one of the most Bowmore-like Bowmores I've ever had.  It's like Spinal Tap turned up the Bowmore knob to 11 - the peat is super dirty and oily (in a good way).  The richness from the sherry butt isn't sweet, so much as it is tangy.  In my old notes I had written "tennis ball can," but now it's more like iced tea.  Iced tea and a pile of wet Autumn leaves next to a bonfire.  Water only opens the whisky up more and then you're just getting slapped in the face with Bowmore's true essence - I can see people absolutely hating this.  I can also see people going absolutely bonkers over it. 

1980 Caol Ila 30 Year Old Single Malt Whisky - The most terrifying of the four because we weren't sure we were actually getting the barrel we tasted.  There had been some confusion after it was bottled and I wasn't able to confirm the quality until today.  Jesus, is this good whisky.  Anyone who ordered this in advance is going to be thrilled.  $175 was an incredible price for this malt.  It's so elegant, so restrained, so in check - more so than any other peated Islay we carry right now.  This is like Talisker 25, but maybe better.  Sweet grains, lovely richness, brine with smoke, salted caramel with incredible length on the finish.  Once people taste this it's going to vanish quickly.  Easily one of the best older Islay malts I've ever tasted.

The part that makes me most proud is the fact that there are no whiskies anywhere (that I've sampled) that taste anything remotely similar to these bottles - they are unique, interesting, and they test the comfort zone of even the seasoned whisky drinker.  I want K&L to be taking risks, pushing the envelope, causing a stir, yet delivering the goods every time we do it.  When we bring in a cask, it should not only be because of the whisky's quality, but also because the whisky allows us to offer something outside the everyday norm.  These four whiskies represent David OG and I at our most confident - knowing that we don't have to please everyone to secure good whisky and understanding that there is an audience for something as esoteric as antiquated grain whisky or hyper-Islay Bowmore. 

As confident as we were when we purchased these casks last year, I've spent the last nine months second-guessing myself, watching the whisky industry attempt to streamline the palate of the boutique single malt niche.  These whiskies kick the mainstream in the mouth, and after tasting them today, my confidence is back and my anxiety is gone.  I cannot wait to give people these single malts. 

-David Driscoll


Alcohol Is Like ________

Alcohol is very much like music - and by music, I mean the music industry and its fan culture.  There are so many parallels between the music world and the booze world that they may as well be the same thing sometimes.  For a long time I thought I was going to be a professional musician and producer, working with my own band and the music of others.  Many of the same trendy, superficial attitudes I encountered towards pop music plague the whisky industry as well - people are too cool for certain types of music/whisky, people latch on to up-and-coming bands/whiskies, people rate music albums/whiskies on a scale of 1 to 10, as if a freaking number could summarize the merit behind creative creation.  There's no real point in elaborating on this theme because practically everything you can think of applies both ways.  The idea of discovering a band in a small local night club and following them down the road to success, only to bitch and moan when they become too mainstream is now the burden of the whisky/beer/wine fan.  Micro-distilleries like Stranahan's or micro-brews like Fat Tire were once the toast of the serious insider until they "sold out" to the pocketbook of corporate America.  "Now I only drink whisky from distilleries that produce ten cases a year or less." 

There's so much pretense, so much judgemental behavior concerning booze, and there are freaking genres of booze fan now, just like with music!  There's the rocker whisky drinker, the nerdy whisky drinker, the yuppie whisky drinker, and many more personas that relate perfectly to any Motorhead, Devo, or Tears for Fears fan.  What really spoke to me before writing this was a quote I read recently from pop singer Santigold, where she said:

I'm so disappointed with the state of music right now - fanfare is valued over actual substance. 

In the brave new world of internet booze, this couldn't be more true concerning alcohol as well.  How many comments did your recent blog post about whisky get?  How many "likes" does Remy Martin's Facebook page have?  How many people showed up for the last designer vodka tasting? 

Sure, your product is small-batch, hand-crafted, and all that.  But is it actually good?

"Good" has become secondary.  Fanfare is substance.

-David Driscoll


Sovereign Whiskies Have Landed

The long and arduous journey from Scotland to Oakland, via many rejections from the United States TTB, is finally over.  Our distributor has picked up the Sovereign single malts from the dock and we're expecting delivery on Monday.  From there we'll send them over to our operations department for pre-arrival sortment and get your advance orders ready for shipment or pick-up as soon as possbile.  We've waited so long for these bottles to make it here that I almost can't believe it's happened.  Bowmore, Caol Ila, Girvan, and Caledonian whiskies will be in the store soon! More news as we get it.

-David Driscoll


The Return of Osocalis

I don't know what it was exactly that happened, but when Dan Farber came by yesterday to taste us once again on his locally-produced, Santa Cruz Mountain brandies something simply clicked.  Maybe it was the fact that I had just been to Cognac and was more seasoned in my brandy experience.  Maybe it was the fact that the brandies have simply improved now that Dan has quit his job at Lawrence Livermore Lab and devoted his full time to distillation.  Whatever the reason, these brandies tasted better than ever.  The standard alambic brandy was more streamlined and focused, lacking the ruggedness I once attributed to it.  The XO and Hermitage blends (coming in later this week) were absolutely outstanding, the closest I've ever tasted to Cognac from a domestic producer. 

When you talk in depth with Dan, you're immediately struck by how informed he is about the distillation process.  He talks quickly and with confidence, continuously blowing your mind by how precisely he can describe to you why the brandy tastes like it does.  He can speak at length about the weight of solubles as they pass through his Cognac still or the fact that, while he doesn't personally use boise, he finds the practice completely fascinating when done responsibly.  He sources Colombard, Pinot Noir, and other California varietals from the central coast and makes his own distilling wine at the nearby Santa Cruz Mountain Winery.  He had just finished a batch of riesling before dropping by.  There's too much information that I want to share to fit inside a tidy little blog post now, so look for a new podcast episode soon featuring Dan where we can expound a bit on these topics.  We've also booked a tasting date in March where you can all come and meet him, while sampling his wares. 

-David Driscoll


Tequila Breakthrough

Congratulations to K&L utilityman Jorge Valencia.  Today he became the first person in the world (besides the distiller himself) to taste a 21 year old Tequila.  Where did we get such a crazy, mind-blowing sample of something so old and so rare?  From Jacob Lustig, of course - the man behind the fantastic ArteNOM tequilas.  Enrique Fonseca, known as El Arquitecto in Mexico, is one of the largest growers of agave in Jalisco.  He's also the producer behind ArteNOM's añejo selection (ArteNOM sources each of their selections from a different distillery).  He's been eager to do something special with his tequilas for decades, but the right opportunity has never come along.  Jose Cuervo offered to buy all of it, but he declined to sell.  It was an all-or-nothing proposition and Enrique wasn't ready to give up on his dream yet.  He makes plenty of money from selling agave, so there's never been a need to bottle any of these super old expressions.  They've remained locked away in his warehouse, some for more than two decades.

Now, after keeping these tequilas to himself for so long, Enrique has decided that Jacob along side Haas Brothers from San Francisco are the right people for the mission.  That doesn't surprise me - Jacob knows more about tequila than anyone I've ever met and he's as puritanical as we are about quality.  He wants tequila with no additives - just agave, yeast, water, a still, and maybe some oak barrels.  Knowing how head-over-heels the staff went for the ArteNOM products, I begged Jacob to find me more amazing samples from Mexico that we could feature at K&L.  He came back from Jalisco with unopened samples of such a superlative quality that I was quite speechless. We gave the first sip to Jorge.

According to Jacob, the oldest tequila he'd previously ever heard of was an 11 year old speciman, also from Enrique Fonseca's collection.  No one else has tequila of this age sitting in barrel that we're aware of.  Today, we went through 3, 5, 6, 8, 14, 16, 18, and 21 year old tequila samples - some from first-fill Bourbon barrels, the older ones from second-fill Tequila casks.  They were incredible.  The 3 year was dynamic and complex in the best of ways - green apple, spicy pepper, balanced richness.  The 8 year old was the unanimous winner - candied orange, loads of clove and cinnamon, ungodly length on the finish.  The 21 year was everything you hoped it would be - ethereal and graceful, flavors of such integration that only present themselves after two decades in wood.  The best part - this will be an exclusive deal between Enrique, Jacob, Haas Brothers, and K&L. 

Want to know the crazy part?  These weren't rich, supple, creamy, oaky, smooth tequilas.  They were all pure, clean, focused, and fresh, but none possessed the silky texture we've come to expect from extra añejo Tequila.  How is it that a 21 year old tequila from Enrique Fonseca could be less rich than a two year old Tequila from a larger brand?  The same way that the 60 year old Cognac from Dudognon was less rich and supple than the six year old Cognac we tasted from a big house producer - there are no additives in these tequilas.  You've all tasted Bourbon before - even if you char the crap out of the barrel, you can oak a spirit to death, but you can't make it sweet and supple.  Something extra has to go into the extra añejo to make it taste like that.  The oldest tequilas available, the very ones we tasted today from El Arquitecto, are mature beyond anything the world has ever tasted, but they're not creamy or rich.  They're vibrant, exuberant, and alive with fruit and spice, balanced beautifully by the slow addition of mild oak aging.

What will they cost and when can you get them?  We're not sure yet.  The goal is late Summer/early Fall, but we still have a lot of work to do.  They won't be crazy expensive - we want them to be accessible.  These won't be luxury brand tequilas, they will be historical documents that attest to the potential duration of the agave spirit.  We think they'll be a very big deal.  Hopefully the tequila community is ready for what's coming.

-David Driscoll