Haig Club is Exactly What Whisky Needs Right Now

If you're someone who drinks casually, likes to have fun, and appreciates the aesthetic of flash, then you're going to love the new Haig Club Grain Whisky from David Beckham. If you're someone who hates fancy brand names, thinks all marketing is just a cheap ploy to convince you to buy leftover crap, and would never even think about drinking a Scotch whisky tauted by a major celebrity, then you're also going to love the new Haig Club. Those who have been waiting for a modern and updated take on Scotch—one that actually looks like fun, rather than a stale room filled with old men—are going to love Guy Ritchie's new trailer for Haig Club embedded above. It's almost Skyfall-esque; a Bondian scene of Highland glory, fancy cars, and good-looking actors all headed north to the great home of all things Scotch. Those who poo-poo gimmickry and would rather just get down to brass tacks, you're going to be pleased as well—none of your coveted single malt whisky was harmed in the making of this video.

In searching for the above media, I happened to find a few articles not too in favor of Beckham's latest venture. "This is exactly what Scotch whisky doesn't need," one exclaimed. I beg to differ, though. Most of the complaints I hear from serious whisky drinkers stem from the idea that big corporate marketing is attracting deeper pockets from less-experienced drinkers, thereby raising the competition and the prices for the whiskies they like to drink. Many Macallan whiskies, for example, have doubled (or even tripled) in price over the last year due to its respected brand name and global consumer recognition; much to the chagrin of long-time Macallan fans. The new-found popularity of once-insider Bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle and George T. Stagg has also aggravated aficionados in the American whiskey community. But Haig Club is a fancy take on Cameronbridge grain whisky. Who's drinking that right now? No one. Grain whisky is a genre that serious whisky drinkers could care less about, and that many casual drinkers don't really even understand. The fact that Beckham is taking up the reins for a much-maligned category (one that probably deserves more respect than it gets) is fantastic.

An unexpectedly successful Haig Club isn't going to make your favorite single malt more expensive. It's not going to convince soccer fans around the globe to start paying exorbitant sums for collector bottles of Girvan and Port Dundas. It's not going to ruin the market for North British or Inverleven expressions, or convince Nikka to up the price for their wonderful Coffey Still whisky. Diageo isn't taking the last stocks of Port Ellen, dumping them into a crystal decanter, and then charging you $50,000 instead of $1,000. Haig Club is not going to do anything that could be perceived as negative to the general whisky market whatsoever, unless you're offended by modern packaging. If you don't want to like Haig Club with all of its posh (parden the pun) potential, then you don't have to buy it. As John Goodman's Walter Sobchak says in The Big Lebowski when Jeff Bridges objects to him bringing his dog to the bowling alley, "I'm not renting it shoes. He's not taking your fucking turn, dude."

I'm always up for a good time. Personally, I appreciate anything that can get me out of the same old rut. What I like about the Haig Club is this: it's simple, light, easy drinking whisky with marketing that focuses more on the drinking aspect of Scotch than the collectability. It's the type of whisky I could pour for my wife and even she could like (she generally hates whisky). It's a cool-looking bottle that I could bring to a party where my friends and I would pound it out over rocks in a matter of hours. Beckham's team isn't out there, rummaging through independent warehouses, asking: "What's the best whisky we can find and charge a fortune for?" They're taking grain whisky—something easy and fun—and they're marketing it as something easy and fun. Their approach is a welcome change from what I usually see behind the scenes; an over-infested mess of limited releases, once-in-a-lifetime chances, and expectations that are completely out of whack. What does the Haig Club taste like? It tastes like semi-young grain whisky. It's biscuity, grainy, basically-pleasing whisky with a hint of vanilla and a dash of that earthy, herbaceousness that you often find in single grain Scottish whiskies. I'd happily drink it if someone poured me a glass. I'll bet it's even better with ice (as grain whiskies usually are).

Is it worth $60? Not if you're a whisky collector, but you probably already knew that because there's nothing collectable about it. This is a whisky meant for the masses. There's nothing inside this square blue bottle that's going to blow your mind if you've been purchasing our single casks from Signatory, I can tell you that much. Haig Club is simply drinkable whisky that should only encourage young drinkers to branch out and explore the ever-expanding whisky universe. I'm all for that. The greater point is this: it isn't $100 and it isn't removing existing stocks of mature single malt from the market, repackaging them at higher price points, and preventing those of us who love really great mature whisky from an affordable and delicious alternative. I'm all for that as well.

Hate David Beckham's new whisky, if you so feel inclined. He's not a master distiller with hundreds of years of family tradition behind his long-standing company name. Personally, that's what I enjoy about it. Someone has to be out there encouraging people to drink this stuff, rather than simply hide it all away in their closet.  K&L is never going to be a big player for Haig Club, mainly because we cater to a clientele looking for brand alternatives, but I'm still going to carry it in solidarity with the message: Let's drink Scotch, let's drink it out of a fancy bottle, and let's make sure we don't touch the really good stuff while we're dumping glasses of it down our throats. Cheers, David.

-David Driscoll


Fresh In! Today's Catch

This time of year brings all kinds of fresh produce into our warehouse. Trucks start lining up in the parking lot, hand carts start moving up the entrance ramp; both full of booze reinforcements for the holiday shopping season! Our warehouse guys have a spring in their step, as they move quickly throughout the many avenues of hooch, stacked with boxes as high as the eye can see (or as high as state regulation allows). We just got an exciting new shipment in of K&L California exclusive products from our friend Nicolas Palazzi and our other friends in Utah at Beehive Spirits. Check out the latest!

Gourry de Chadeville 1er Cru Fine Champagne Cognac $129.99Our latest acquisition from Mr. Cognac himself, Nicolas Palazzi, is a cask strength, non-chill filtered Cognac from one of the old producing Cognac houses in existence: Gourry de Chadeville. Since 1619, when they first purchased the vineyard site, the Gourry estate has been distilling brandy, and continues to have reserves that go back near a century Made from Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard grapes, the 1er Cru release is bottled at 64.3%, which is not something we usually see in the genre. The flavors are delicate, yet the mouthfeel is huge and powerful. Meandering between sweet fruit and cocoa before morphing into an earthy, spicier finish. Palazzi knew exactly what he was doing when he bottled this limited 330 bottle allocation: he wanted to court fans of high-proof American whiskey. And, trust us, whether you like Cognac or George T. Stagg, you're going to want a bottle of this. The Gourry de Chadeville is the type of Cognac that changes perceptions and alters points of view. It's a total game changer.

You might be thinking the following two whiskies are too similar to warrant buying one of each, but they’re totally different animals. One is distilled from corn, the other from malted barley. Both are 100% Spanish grown and distilled (which was an eye-opener for me). The sherry is ultimately king, however, and Palo Cortado is a type of sherry cask we never see used. What is it, you ask? Palo Cortado is a rare variety of sherry that is initially aged under flor to become a fino or amontillado, but inexplicably loses its veil of flor and begins aging oxidatively as an oloroso. The result is a wine with some of the richness of oloroso and some of the crispness of amontillado. While I'm sure it's probably happened at some point in the history of spirits, I've never seen, nor heard of a whisky being aged in Palo Cortado casks. The flavors are so fine and oxidative that I can't imagine they permeate the whisky all that intensely. Yet, as we've seen with the Kavalan Fino Cask, warmer climates can make a difference in extracting some of these nutty, almond-like flavors. Spain's warm summers and cold winters have had a Kentucky-like effect on both of these whiskies. Both are at 53.5%.

Navazos-Palazzi Palo Cortado Single Barrel Cask Strength GRAIN Whisky $99.99The light and fruity flavors of the grain whisky marry beautifully with the Palo Cortado sherry components. I've never tasted anything like it. But I know I want more of it. I know I want more than the 60 bottles we were allocated from the 300 total bottles Palazzi made. You'll want more, too. More please! You hear me, Palazzi?

Navazos-Palazzi Palo Cortado Single Barrel Cask Strength SINGLE MALT Whisky $99.99 – The rich and malty flavors of the Spanish single malt (yes, they make some in Spain!) are the perfect canvas for the Palo Cortado's delicate brushstrokes. Creamy barley with almondy Palo Cortado at full proof? YUM!!!!!

And in the holiday spirit, we bring you a new barrel reserve version of our fantastic Beehive Gin!

Beehive Distilling Barrel Reserve Aged Utah Gin $39.99In the holday spirit, our friends at Beehive Distilling in Salt Lake City had sent us a special batch of their new Barrel Reserve gin in thanks for being their sole California outpost. Made with "wood, fire, and patience", the barrel maturation brings out the baking spices and softens the sage into a delicate and easy-to-drink flavor. We've seen this type of thing before with the Rusty Blade and Ranson Old Tom, but never has it been this inexpensive and this tasty. A real holiday treat for gin fans.

-David Driscoll


Wary of the Roads

My daily commute is nothing compared to some Bay Area residents, but in the last few days I've seen things on the road that make me wonder how certain people can exist in this modern world. I've seen some temper tantrums in my life (the child version while I was an elementary school teacher, and the adult version while working as a wine retailer), but sometimes I think the freeway is where the world's great freakouts tend to happen. It's where grown men often show you what gigantic babies they really are, capable of all the solipsistic insecurity usually only seen with infants. If things don't work out their way, they're going to scream, and cry, and whine, and do everything in their power to make you pay.

This morning was truly exceptional. I was cruising down 101 when I noticed a guy merging behind me in an attempt to move towards the exit lane. He was cutting it awfully close, shaving my back bumper by a few inches, to the point where I could see the lines on his face in my rear-view mirror. In doing this maneuver, however, he was not only dangerously assuming I had no need to brake, he was also pushing his way in front of another driver who was none too pleased. That driver expressed this frustration with a quick honk of the horn, which instantly sent the man sandwiched between us into a hysterical frenzy—"You dare honk at me?" he seemed to be screaming, suddenly taken over by convulsions and finger-flipping. He began beating his steering wheel like a doctor attempting to reinvigorate a still heart. He punched the ceiling of his BMW, his mouth moving like a Glossolalia victim speaking in tongues.

Then, out of nowhere, he simply hit the brakes. In the fast lane, in the middle of flowing 70 mph traffic, this joker decided to brake check the man who dared honk his horn. Luckily for the horn-honker, he managed to switch lanes right as this despicable, child-like behavior was taking place, and sped off down the right side of the freeway in disgust. It didn't end there, however. The man, upset that his attempt to hinder and/or hurt his foe had failed, decided to also speed up and gun it down the embankment after his perceived opponent; a 95 mph dash that should have been taped and sent to the highway patrol. Luckily, the man exited and went into traffic before the jerk could catch him (and do what?).

This is the fourth time I've seen something like this happen in the last two days. It's sooooooooo stupid. It's pure ego in its most embarrassing form. I see wine and whisky guys act like this every now and again, but never while controlling a solid ton of metal moving at murderous speeds.

But I guess this is what people say about holiday season stress. Watch your back out there! Stay safe and take a deep breath! Be wary of the roads.

-David Driscoll


Holiday Drinking Ideas

So while I'm sitting around watching cheesy holiday movies, I like to sip on Christmasy-flavored things. I like whiskies that taste like cakebread and baking spices, so if I'm drinking single malt I'm going to pick something heavily-sherried (by the way, if you like cheesy things and want to watch an entire documentary about guys not watching something cheesy in an ironic fashion, watch the film Bronies, which follows grown men who honestly and truly love the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic). Since we just got our two new Glenfarclas expressions into stock, I think I'll probably pony up (no pun intended) for one of each this Xmas season.

These are not single cask expressions, but rather marriages of casks that we picked out at the distillery some time ago. The 1990 vintage is a soft and supple whisky bottled at 100 proof that really captures the rich, cakey, textural elements of Oloroso sherry. It's not a complicated whisky, by any means. It's straightforward, easy-to-like, and delicious. When you're thinking about 24 year old, sherry-aged single malt it's exactly what you hope it will be. Not big, not powerful, not overly-sweet, not sulphured or bitter from too much time in wood, and not all that spicy. Just flat-out awesome in the most basic of ways. The Faultline Casks expression is deceptive in that the 57% alcohol overpowers the sherry at first, to the point that you get mostly malt and grain. With water, the magical flavors are immediately unlocked and all the Christmas cake and fudge begin oozing out of their hiding place. Super fun stuff and very holiday-oriented.

1990 Glenfarclas K&L Exclusive Single Malt Whisky $169.99 -We've always loved Glenfarclas. As you may or may not know, this distillery is one of the last independently owned in all of Scotland. It's owned by the Grant family. It also happens to be on most knowledgeable people's list of top distilleries and has consistently provided us with excellent sherried Speyside offerings at incredible prices. We've had success finding single casks in their vast warehouse system, but found that current market conditions have made purchasing a single cask from the Grants rather cost-prohibitive. Negotiating the price down on those casks is also out of the question as wholesalers worldwide are privy to the price structure and the Grants are very loyal and fair. With that option off the table we decided to get creative. Those single casks have a set price list, but picking multiple casks for one bottling afforded us some flexibility. We knew we were onto the next crazy value, but we never imagined how versatile a multi-cask bottling could be. So, into the warehouse we went. George bragged about the quality of the 1990 vintage, but we had no idea how special they were until we were standing in front of the barrels. These casks are from a sequential lot of first fill Oloroso sherry butts at 24 years old. Without a doubt, 'Farclas fans will be pleased, but this bottling is approachable enough for even the most novice whisky lover to appreciate.

Glenfarclas "The Faultline Casks" K&L Exclusive First Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks Single Malt Whisky $109.99 -When George Grant offered us the opportunity to take multiple casks for a special exclusive bottling, we were over the moon. The creative juices began flowing. We talked about doing an ultra-aged expression, but we didn't feel we could match the outrageous cask from the 1970 vintage, which we'd acquired a couple of years back. Instead, we decided to focus on a NAS (no age statement) mixture of casks from earlier vintages. The goal was to create a high proof, heavily sherried 'Farclas that we could sell for around $100. After tasting multiple vintages from 8 to 15 years of age, we settled on three of our favorite casks in the 9-10 year range. At no other distillery is vintage so important and the importance of their vessel was clear when tasting these younger expressions. We've ended up with a mixture of young casks that surpass even our own high expectations. This is full fledged and powerful, yet tempered by the strong influence of that special wine of Andalucía. If you love sherry, if you love high proof single malt, if you love powerful flavors and massively textural whisky, then this bottling is for you.

Seeing that I just got another healthy drop of Willett 8 Year Old Rye into the Redwood City warehouse, I figured it was something I could actually talk about on the blog (as in something you can actually get!). This new batch is so Christmasy in flavor that I immediately threw down my C-note and just bit the bullet. It's an explosion of baking spices and rich vanilla with just a tad (just a smidge) of that dill note on the finish. Love, love, love this. I'll be sipping this while watching Bad Santa, or perhaps mixing it with our next item.

Willett 8 Year Single Barrel Cask Strength Rye 750ml (1 bottle limit) $99.99

The Bittermilk cocktail mixers have been an absolute delight in my house lately; especially considering the fact that I don't generally enjoy whiskey cocktails. I've never been a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned guy. I'll drink them, of course (because I will drink anything and everything), but they're never my first choice. The Bittermilk products have totally changed my view on Bourbon and rye cocktails, however. There's a delicious Barrel Aged Old Fashioned sweetener that uses chinchona bark. You just add a little dollup into your whiskey, stir it with ice, and strain it into a glass (or leave the ice in). The New Orleans Style makes a Sazerac-esque cocktail in that it uses wormwood like an absinthe, but then adds in gentian root along with lemon peel. Again, you don't need much: about a half ounce for every two ounces of rye. These two Bittermilk products are so good I hardly mix with anything else at this point.

Bittermilk #1 Barrel Aged Old Fashioned Cocktail Mix 8.5 oz $14.99

Bittermilk #4 New Orleans Style Rouge 8.5 oz $15.99

Of course, there are a few other important ingredients to holiday cocktails besides the Bittermilk products, so I can't rely on those alone. I wanted to try making a White Russian variation that was lactose-free for my non-dairy friends, so I tried doing a combination of Orgeat and almond milk and that really did the trick. Jennifer Colliau's entire Small Hand Foods lineup is indispensable, but the orgeat is maybe the best trick in her bag. I often use it in place of simple syrup to add texture and viscosity to cocktails that wouldn't normally have it (like a Daiquiri). You might want to plop in a few cherries as well. We've got these new Italian delicacies from Amarena that are like dessert. You might end up just eating them out of the jar.

Small Hand Foods Orgeat Syrup 8.5oz $12.99

Amarena Cherries Ceramic Vase (600g) $19.99

Of course, as I was making my White Russian variation I started thinking about other flavors I could use to change the recipe. Then I remembered my bottle of Giffard Banane de Bresil; maybe the only banana-flavored liqueur I've come across of an incredbily-high quality. So then I started mixing it with the orgeat and the almond milk and suddently I had this alcoholic version of Banana Quik. You can imagine where that went. I was plopped out on the couch, eating pizza, drinking banana-flavored Xmas cocktails and watching Hallmark Channel specials until I fell asleep.

Giffard Banane Du Bresil Liqueur $32.99 - This magnificent banana liqueur makes me rethink all my preconceptions about, well, banana liqueur. It's fabulously aromatic, the perfect ripe banana, peel and pulp. On the palate, it's restrained in its sweetness and has the subtle hint of tart potassium. A lovely effort using bananas of the highest quality sourced from Brazil.

-David Driscoll


Back to Basics: Holiday Drinking

You can bet your ass I watched this little delight over the weekend. Drinking and watching holiday movies is one of my favorite things about December. I can check the guide on the Hallmark Channel, scope out the titles with the best descriptions, and let the DVR capture hours of priceless Christmas cheer. Then I go to my overstocked bar cabinet, start digging towards the back, and begin pulling out the long-forgotten bottles of Creme de Cacao, Banane du Bresil, and other sticky liqueurs that have been languishing during the warm summer months. On Sunday night I ordered a pizza, started making holiday cocktails, and turned on the TV to watch Candice Cameron-Bure (remember she married Russian hockey star Valeri Bure) do her thing.

While her former heart-throb of a brother has gone off the deep end, Candice Cameron has found her mark. Her 2013 Hallmark Channel special Let it Snow was fantastic; pairing her delightfully perky personality alongside another legendary TV dad, Alan Thicke, as the two of them plot to revamp a homey old ski resort known for its dedication to Christmas. I don't want to ruin it for you, but let's just say it doesn't take too long before the warmth of the holiday season begins to melt the ice around Candice's cold corporate heart. I didn't think any Hallmark follow-up could top Let it Snow, but they brought Candice back again this year for an even better flick called Christmas Under Wraps. This year's story is quite similar to last season's romp, but is better in just about every way. Again, I don't want to ruin it for you, but imagine the Gilmore Girls meets Northern Exposure meets Full House. Are you drooling yet?

Now that December is here and the holiday season is upon us, don't forget to enjoy the great pleasures only available to us at this time of year. Sweet cocktails with heavy cream! Whisky paired with cookies and cake! And Hallmark Channel holiday films paired with 1980s sitcom stars that warm the heart and ease the soul!

I've already watched Christmas Under Wraps twice. It will be on my DVR until at least January 1st. I'm dead serious. You can enjoy these movies ironically, too (obviously), but I'm not at all joking about my love for these overly-cheesy rom-coms. Remember, my two favorite movies of all time are Roadhouse and Ski School.

23 more days to go!

-David Driscoll