A Few Things You May Have Missed

I don't always have time to write up every new spirit that we bring into the store. The stock is always in a state of flux with new things coming in and out, so it's easy to miss some of the less-anticpated whiskies if you're not paying attention to the website on a regular basis. With prices climbing steadily, I thought I'd focus on some of the more reasonable selections that I've been enjoying lately. These are bottles that didn't jump out at me immediately, but really grew on me over time. I'm finding that my favorite whiskies are becoming more and more of this nature.

- David Blackmore from Ardbeg/Glenmorangie was in the store yesterday and we retasted the forthcoming Ealanta. The delivery got pushed back a few weeks, but we should have plenty in stock come late February. The Ealanta is 19 year old Glenmorangie aged in virgin oak with lots of spicy vanilla. I really like this whisky. However, this doesn't really count as something you may have missed because it's yet to be released. I'm already off track and we're only on the first whisky.

- I think it's only natural for one's palate to evolve over time, usually from big, bold flavors towards more nuanced and subtle profiles. The latest Clynelish Distiller's Edition $69.99 didn't make too big of a splash, despite the fact that most of the Diageo reps I knew were hoping to buy back bottles for themselves. Finished in oloroso sherry casks, the addition of nutty richness to the waxy Clynelish profile is simply delicious. Well-balanced and quite restrained, this is sherried whisky for people who don't want that big Glendronach style. This is almost like amontillado sherry with a more alcohol in it. Rich and layered, yet still quite dry. Very tasty.

- In my mind, Aberlour is one of the most-improved distilleries of the past few years. Ironically enough, however, I'm not a fan of the A'Bunadh – the young, full-proof, high-octane sherried malt that put Aberlour back on the map. The two 12 year old expressions have been quite successful at K&L as of late, so I decided to add the 16 year to shelf as well. More delicate with less sherry influence than the 12 year, the 16 year old is quite a steal when compared to other 16-18 year old whiskies of similar quality. I'm guessing Pernod-Ricard will have to up the price at some point over the next 12 months, but we can enjoy it while it lasts. $65 is a great price.

- We're definitely planning on spending a day at Arran distillery this coming March. I've been so impressed with the island distillery over the past few months that I've added quite a few Arran selections to my personal stash. One of the Redwood City's staff favorites right now is the new Arran 12 Year Cask Strength. The sweet malty flavors really pop with the higher alcohol percentage and the wood adds extra spice on the back. There's not a lot of single malts that taste like Arran, sort of like Glen Garioch. They're simple and delicious, but there's a certain distinct malty note that allows one to easily pick them out of a lineup. 

- The new Longrow Peated Single Malt from Springbank distillery didn't turn too many heads upon its recent repackaging, especially because it didn't come with an age statement. Nevertheless, the heavily-peated Campbeltown malt is really quite extraordinary. Lots of oily flavors, supple textures, and campfire smoke. If you're looking for a new peat experience this should be at the top of your list. Again, the price for the quality is quite reasonable.

-David Driscoll


Focusing on the Grey Areas

One of the subjects I wanted to start shying away from writing about this year was the topic of industry business - or at least from sounding off against what I feel is unscrupulous behavior. I know a lot of people have loved reading the rants against annoying business practices, but as enjoyable as they might be (and as cathartic as they are to write), they're giving some people the wrong idea about alcohol.

Everything I read on the whisk(e)y blogosphere these days seems to be black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, yes or no. Everything is absolute. I remember having to respond to a message board post some months ago where someone said the K&L Spirits Journal doesn't have any credibility because it's run by a retailer trying to make money. Basically, I'm not forced to uphold any type of journalistic integrity. However, while this is entirely true, it doesn't mean that anything I write is automatically disqualified because I have a stake in the game. It's not one or the other.

This type of characterization is what I'm worried about. It makes me embarrassed to be a blogger. The truth is that the K&L spirits blog exists in a shade of grey. We report the situation as we see it and write about the topics that we're interested in for the sake of our customers. The whole point of the blog is to help people that shop at K&L make more educated decisions by offering more perspective, not report the news. However, the K&L Spirits Journal is now being read by people all over the country, most of whom cannot shop at K&L due to shipping restrictions. Therefore, even though we're writing for our own customers, we end up reaching many, many others who enjoy keeping track with the latest events.

What's disconcerting me right now is the polarization I'm witnessing from enthusiasts of all types who seem to think I told them to feel this way. I recommended a bottle of Clynelish Distiller's Edition to a customer the other day who told me, "that can't be good because it's from Diageo. They make super commercial slop." Uhhhh......well......this is really good. Not that I don't have my own gripes with Diageo, but I'll always put that aside for the sake of the customer. Clynelish is one of my favorite distilleries. It's definitely not a mass-produced single malt. It's fantastic. Another situation came when I tried to recommend a bottle of the new Peyrot 18 year old Cognac to someone in the store. "That has boise in it, though. You said to avoid those." Well.....I did say that boise is often used by producers trying to turn crap brandy into drinkable brandy, but I also said that some producers do it right. It's not necessarily absolute.

This is the same scenario that merlot found itself in after Sideways and blended whisky after single malt became popular. Merlot is bad. Blended whisky is bad. Didn't you hear? Yes, all of it. Every single drop. There are no good ones. I always remember David OG's comment to a customer when he said, "Petrus is made from merlot. Are you saying you don't like Petrus?!"

Ultimately, I don't want to offer any more ammunition for generalized and misinformed ideas about alcohol. When you write passionately sometimes people misinterpret your enthusiasm. My goal is to be more responsible this year. We're going to be offering some pretty interesting, behind-the-scenes reports as our travel plans take us abroad. Hennessey is definitely on my visitation list for Cognac because it's such a polarizing brand. Popular culture celebrates it to no end, while Cognac enthusiasts piss all over it. You ask anyone about Hennessey and it's either the best thing ever or the most overpriced, overrated hooch on the planet. I think the truth lies somewhere in between and I'd love to get to the bottom of it.

That's what I'm focusing on this year. The grey areas. As a consumer advocate (for K&L consumers that is), I want people to think critically and without prejudice if possible. That's not to say I won't step in if they're heading in a direction that will ultimately leave them dissatisfied. It's just to say that I think I'm partly responsible for giving some customers the wrong idea about booze. It's not black or white. Some blended whiskies are slop, others are magical. Some boise-laden Cognacs are heavenly, while others are a poor excuse for the name. Some whiskies will last forever, while others will oxidize quickly. Sometimes I simply report an interesting story, other times I might want you to buy something that we found in Scotland. Sometimes I taste a whiskey and it tastes great, then I revisit it later and it's not as impressive. And vice versa.

Not everything can be quickly summarized and easily categorized. This isn't science. Booze is an experience and there's room for many different interpretations.

-David Driscoll


Guerilla Promotion

I'm putting up more posters around the office.

We've sold 30 tickets so far! I'm pumped. Can't wait to party with all of you in San Mateo. Just a reminder - there are no paper tickets. Your name goes on to the guestlist, so don't worry about picking them up at will call.

-David Driscoll


The Salon is BORN!


It's finally here. The tasting bar of my dreams is here and it's a reality. The Salon is a new society I am creating with St. George's Dave Smith to bring the fun back to booze tastings. Our first event will be:

I (heart) Whiskey! @ The Vault 164 in downtown San Mateo - Saturday, February 16th 7PM - 9:30

Tasting Tickets can be purchased in advance here for $37The Salon presents "I (heart) Whiskey!" - a Valentine's Day celebration of American whiskey. The Salon is an attempt to introduce a new kind of spirits tasting to the Bay Area. Focusing on atmosphere, fun, and conversation, our goal is to present interesting whiskies in a fashion that promotes enjoyment rather than purely education. February's event will bring together two estranged distilleries for some romantic matchmaking. We'll be forcing Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill to join hands, share the dance floor, and learn to love one another. Evan Williams Single Barrel will pair off with Elmer T. Lee. The wheated twins - Weller 12 and Larceny - will consider their common interests. Rittenhouse and E.H. Taylor rye whiskies will see if they can get past the age gap and find true love. Six whiskies in all, along with snacks and appetizers from the Vault kitchen, make this the Valentine's Day party you won't want to miss. Classic romance films will be displayed on the Vault's many TV screens along with a soundtrack containing the best of mushy sentimentality. A limited number of friend/designated tickets are also available for $10. A full bar will be available for those who don't drink whiskey, so your loved one can still have fun by your side. Come meet your future spouse, or bring your current one with you, while you chat, mingle, and taste some great whiskey.

Designated Driver/Guest Tickets can be purchased here for $10 - For those accompanying their loved ones to our romantic "I (heart) Whiskey" tasting at the Vault 164 in San Mateo. $10 covers the entrance fee where the snacks and appetizers are available. Free non-alcoholic drinks will be provided to any designated drivers and a full bar is available for anyone who doesn't like whiskey. Gin and tonics, or just the tonic. We still want to party with you!

Any questions please email me at

-David Driscoll


LVMH - No Price Increases for 2013

Straight from the horse's mouth: "LVMH is not planning to raise the price on both Ardbeg and Glenmorangie in 2013. We'll revisit the idea next year, but as of now prices will remain the same."

Something to think about. Especially when GlenMo 18 is so delicious and at a great price. How long can they keep it up? Apparently for the entirety of 2013. Perhaps we should show some love for a company dedicated to keeping its whiskies fantastic and affordable. Lambaste the traveling rocket all you want, the kitschy publicity tours, the gimmicks, the price of the Pride, etc. LVMH is still bringing the goods for the money. Personally, I think the rocket is fun. If you're too cool to hang out with the rocket, you and I probably won't enjoy drinking whisky together.

-David Driscoll