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Monday
Aug192013

New K&L Spirits Newsletter Going Out Now to 600K

With an ever-expanding database of more than 600,000 people, K&L is really starting to reach a lot of passionate drinkers out there. Most of our customers, however, are here for the wine, but today they're going to get a special treat in their email inbox. Our new K&L Exclusive Spirits Newsletter is going out in just a few minutes to the entire K&L database.

Hopefully there's still some booze left after they're done going through all of our new selections!

Download your copy here via PDF.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Aug182013

More Letters from the Mailbox

David - Why aren't there any older Bourbons available at K&L? What happened to things like Rittenhouse Rye 25, Vintage 17, and Jefferson's 18? How long until we're likely to see these again?

Great question(s). Let me start by saying that most extra-mature Bourbon that you've purchased over the years (let's say anything older than 15 years) wasn't really part of any particular business model or forward-thinking plan on behalf of American whiskey companies. It was simply because they had extra booze, sitting there in their warehouses, getting older because no one was buying it. If you've ever gone to a backroads liquor store and seen bottles on the shelf, covered in dust, that look like they've been sitting there since the 1980s, imagine the same situation for America's whiskey producers. These liquor stores never planned on having those bottles for two decades, they planned on someone purchasing those bottles. In the case of American whiskey distillers, they produced Bourbon and rye anticipating a certain number of sales as well. A good amount of it didn't sell, however. The difference between the liquor in a dusty bottle and the liquor in the barrel, however, is that the latter will continue to age. If you talk to someone from Heaven Hill they'll tell you exactly what they've told me - there were never any plans to make Rittenhouse 25. The only reason they even had 25 year old rye is because they made more than they could sell and it just sat there getting old. (According to Chuck Cowdery, they were storing it for a customer who had bought more than he could sell. When it got to be so old, Heaven Hill informed the customer that it was probably getting too old and offered to buy it back, because they realized there was now a market for it. That was a situation peculiar to the Rittenhouse)

Before this whole whiskey renaissance happened, many producers were happy just to clear this old stock out of their warehouses. That's how David Perkins from High West got his hands on older rye whiskies from LDI. Seagrams had made all that rye for their own Seagrams whiskey label, not for some single barrel cask strength limited expression. That rye only sat there in Indiana, maturing year after year, because Edgar Bronfman Jr. orchestrated one of the worst investment strategies in history, putting Seagrams money into the film industry, before finally losing his family's drink business to Pernod-Ricard in the year 2000. All of the Seagrams assets were sold off (Coca-Cola took the sodas and mixers) and PR planned to shut down LDI as well, until it was sold to CL Financial in 2007 – the exact same year David Perkins founded High West in Utah and began readying his old Seagrams whiskey expressions.

As far as I understand it (and there may be some things here I don't understand as well), any older stocks that Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, and Heaven Hill have on hand are so limited that we're likely to only see a handful of extra-mature Bourbon releases per year, in quantities so limited that getting a bottle of Elijah Craig 20 or Four Roses Limited Edition will be no different from finding a bottle of Van Winkle – at least at K&L (I can't speak for the allocations of other regions or retailers). If they are easier to find, expect a price tag north of $100 as the reason behind it. Heaven Hill plans on releasing an Elijah Craig 21 at around $140 over the next few years, as they continue to slowly leak out what extra-mature whiskey is left. The situation has gone from getting rid of glut-era whiskey, to recouping its full market value. I don't imagine that stocks are going to improve for some time either. If production only started increasing within the last five years that means we're at least a decade away from any healthy supply of 15 year old whiskey. From my conversations with Sazerac, Heaven Hill, and Four Roses this is the situation I've come to understand. I don't know much about Beam's older stocks, nor the situation at Brown-Forman or Wild Turkey, but maybe we'll learn more when we visit later this year.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Aug172013

Back-up Plans

I got home last night after a long day, put my phone and wallet down, made myself a French 75 cocktail, quickly assembled the IKEA mobile kitchen counter that was waiting on my doorstep, paid the delivery guy for the food that he delivered while I was doing so, then finally sat down to dinner with a bottle of Bordeaux I had been waiting all day to try. I was so excited to relax, watch the next episode of Orange is the New Black on Netflix, and swirl that wine in my glass while nosing the aroma. As I popped the cork, however, I could already smell what was emanating from within the bottle: a big, fat whiff of moldy, musty, wet dog, old closet coming right at my nostrils from the neck of the glass. TCA. Cork taint.

Son of a bitch!

Luckily, I had a second bottle in my bag. That one tasted just fine. I came back in to work today and swapped the old bottle with a new one. That's what you should do, by the way, if you find yourself with a bad bottle of wine. Put the cork back in, take it back to where you got it, and ask for a replacement. Don't ask for a different bottle because then you look like you just didn't like it and want your money back. Get the same bottle and try again. TCA has nothing to do with any one producer, or a set of bad corks. It's totally sporadic and it can happen to the most expensive of bottles.

I still find that TCA or "corked" wine puzzles many shoppers. Some people think they can hold a bottle up to the light and see if there's cork in the bottle, but that's not what "corked" means. Some people mistake the earthy, herbaceous flavor of old wine or a skunky cabernet franc as TCA, but it can sometimes just be the flavor of the wine. Some people dump the wine down the drain and return an empty bottle, but how will we know it's corked if the wine isn't there to analyze? Some people think a crumbly cork means the wine itself is bad, but that doesn't have anything to do with it either. TCA is a compound that comes from contaminated equipment and finds its way into the cork.  As a buyer, there's nothing you can do to prevent it and there's nothing you can do once it's happened.

Can you imagine buying a bottle of wine, saving it for ten years, waiting to drink it for that entire decade, only to open it and find that it's corked? That's why people buy wine by the case! Because you need a back up plan. It totally sucks, but that's part of the risk when you buy a bottle of wine (or whisky too, but it's much, much rarer). If you've ever thought about laying down a bottle for an anniversary, birthday, or the future date of your child turning twenty-one, you might want to buy two. Or three. Or six.

TCA happens. Usually when you really don't want it to.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Aug162013

Karuizawas Arrive at Distribution

I just got word from our importer that our Karuizawa casks have passed customs inspection and have been delivered to the warehouse. There are a few things that need to be cleared up still, but we're expecting to take possession of the bottles next week. HOWEVER, there are more than 600 single bottle orders that need to be processed and organized, so don't expect the bottles to hit our retail stores for pick-up until at least another week after that. At this point in time I don't know if we'll have any bottles left over for general retail sale, as most of our available selection sold out on pre-order within hours. If there are leftovers we will of course make them available here.

We're almost there!

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Aug152013

Big Brand Potential

One thing I mentioned yesterday on the blog was that big brands have both the potential for overpriced, profit-oriented crap and high-quality, superbly-crafted products that could only exist in a large volume matrix. That might mean a delicious blend composed of selections from a vast library of stock. It might also mean the capability to produce inexpensive, value-priced booze on a gigantic scale, further bringing down the cost of production and therefore the cost of the bottle for customers. One of the problems that "craft" producers have is their ultimate sticker price. Sure, you made your own whiskey by hand, macerating the grains by chewing them yourself, spitting them into a hand-crafted clay pot, using only your own saliva and the free-roaming yeast in the air to begin fermentation, before distilling it on an antique still thought to have been used by the early Mayans. But it's $100 a bottle! Do all those detailed production methods justify the final cost?

This is where big brands have the edge. While I know that many consumers have become used to rising prices on the Bourbon shelf, there are still values. And then there are the super values - whiskies so inexpensive that customers just assume they can't be any good. We carry two such whiskies at K&L: the George Dickel #8 Tennessee Whiskey made by Diageo and the Old Crow Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon made by Jim Beam. Diageo and Beam are two of the biggest corporations in the liquor game. They are gigantic, global operations with a finger in almost every booze pie available. It's because of their immense size that they can afford to sell George Dickel #8 for $14.99 a bottle and Old Crow Reserve (in liters!) for $13.99. Sure, they're dirt cheap. But that's because they're not good whiskies, right? Wrong.

Again, "good" whiskey depends not only on your taste, but your expectation (mostly the latter, in my opinion). If you're expecting the Old Crow to taste like 18 year old Stitzel-Weller, it doesn't. However, if you expect that it tastes like Draino mixed with rat poison and an old man's armpit, it doesn't taste like that either. Old Crow Reserve smells like Bourbon, with that classic Beam woody aroma. It tastes like Bourbon with a rich woody burst of sweetness right off the bat (it does finish a little thinly, however). And it mixes like Bourbon (try making a Manhattan with Old Crow and Carpano Antica. You'll be kicking yourself for wasting that High West Rendezvous you could have been sipping this whole time).

Dickel #8 is its own animal entirely and has a pretty devout following all over the country. There's a sweet and mellow corn aroma on the nose, a light oak flavor on the entry, and a long, soft kiss of vanilla on the back end. In my opinion, Dickel was made to drink on the rocks or with soda water. Even in today's age of boutique whiskey, it's still a ridiculous deal - especially when compared to some of craft whiskey options on the market. It's this type of product that can never be created on a smaller scale. It's this type of product that makes a player like Diageo a vital part of our whiskey community. While we may pull our hair out over their management of smaller single malt distilleries, we can't complain when they give us George Dickel #8 at $14.99 a bottle. That's the trade off.

While I know I don't need to convince anyone about Dickel (because I'm only preaching to the choir with many readers), I do think there will be some skepticism with the Old Crow. That's why I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is. I'll eat Crow so you can drink it (at least for the first 20 people to click on the link).

Give it a try. I think you'll be quite impressed for what you paid.

Old Crow Reserve Bourbon 1L $0.99 (SOLD OUT NOW) - Four year old Jim Beam in a liter bottle. You can't lose. For those who like the grainy component in the forefront, this is the value-priced mixer you've been dreaming of.

-David Driscoll