A Guide to the New Exclusive Malts

I know that we've had notes in the system for the last few months as the pre-sales have been active, but it's nice to revisit these whiskies on arrival to see how they've changed in the meantime. If you weren't aware, most casks don't get bottled the moment we make our selection. The juice sometimes stays in the cask for another four to five months, meaning that extra maturing often takes place before bottling. That can skew things just a bit, so I like to offer revised tasting notes on the blog as soon as they arrive.

One thing that I mentioned the other day is that the Bowmore definitely needed air before it opened up. I don't know if this is due to travel sickness (something that often happens with wine where the jostling and bumping shakes the liquid up and throws off the flavor) or just that the oxidation helped bring out the peat, but this whisky was totally closed and wound up on day one. By the second day it was showing just fine. This may happen to you if you open a bottle at home, or it may be that the resting period these bottles have had sitting in our warehouse for a week will help settle them down.

On to the notes! (all five of these whiskies will be in stock very, very soon)

2000 Aberlour 13 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $64.99 - Those who enjoyed last year's Faultline 10 year North Highland malt should like this Aberlour 13 as well. It's a similar oak cask flavor (sans that bit of refill sherry) with a fresh fruit character on the nose. Water really helps this whisky open up and release more fruit and vanilla. Consider this whisky the un-sherried version of A'bunadh.

2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $75.99 - Again, I'll stress aeration with this whisky. When I first opened this bottle I couldn't smell any smoke, let alone taste it. After a day, however, the whisky was right where it should be. The nose is classic Bowmore, oily peat and oak, and the whisky drinks like a pepped-up version of the Bowmore 12 distillery bottle. It's richer than both of the other Bowmore whiskies we're bringing in, despite its younger age. David Stirk's casks always have a good amount of oak and this whisky is no different.

1995 Fettercairn 17 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $89.99 - This is the sleeper hit. All ten K&L Redwood City staff members who tasted through these whiskies came away liking the Fettercairn best. It's just a classic unsherried whisky. Imagine an older, richer, woodier version of the Faultline 10 year North Highland but at a higher proof. It's nothing out of the ordinary or super special, it's just damn good. With water it really opens up.

2005 Island Distillery 7 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - Bright peat, oily fruit, and a light kiss of vanilla on the back end. To me, the closest comparison would be Laphroaig 10 cask strength, but it's not nearly as medicinal. Imagine blending your Laphroaig cask strength with a bit of Glenmorangie and this is what you'd yet. Delicious stuff and another big hit with the staff.

1979 Faultline 32 Year Old Single Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky $109.99 - This cask is of unknown origin, but we know it's a blend and we know all the whiskies were distilled in 1979. It's nothing out of the ordinary, but it's just good blended whisky. The grain component isn't all that pronounced either, so it could pass for a lighter single malt whisky if you didn't know it was a blend. Nice richness rounds out the finish and the fruit comes out. It's more of a fun surprise than anything super amazing. It's ridiculously priced as well.

I'll be processing pre-orders all morning then we'll try nad get these babies into stock. Maybe by the end of the day.

-David Driscoll


Phase 1 Completed

Pre-arrivals are being processed for our five Exclusive Malt casks as we speak. Orders are in the system. Bottles will be headed to San Francisco, Redwood City, and Hollywood as early as tomorrow morning -- both for pick-up and for in-store sales. These are going to be hot!

I'll be headed over to the warehouse tomorrow to start processing the K&L Exclusive Fuenteseca Tequila pre-orders. Almost everything we have is already spoken for, but the good news is that I talked to Enrique Fonseca and Jake Lustig this week and we've got enough tequila to make a second batch. Hot damn!

Signatory is delivering their six casks on Tuesday and we'll do the same thing with those malts next week. That will be phase two.

Get ready!

-David Driscoll


Increased Quality?

One of the things you'll often read concerning wine regions around the world is how the increased awareness surrounding wine appreciation has led to an increase in wine quality. Vineyard management knowledge is at an all time high, sanitation has never been stricter, and there is enough demand worldwide to justify spending more money on better equipment. The combination of better viticulture, better science, and better production has resulted in better wine almost across the board. Over the last twenty years there is hardly a place left in the world that isn't making better wine than it was two decades earlier (unless you count some of the modern practices in places like Napa). Many cabernets are more approachable in their youth. Many pinot noirs are fleshy and sweet rather than tart and tannic. Chablis wines are round and crisp instead of astringent and green. Winemaking is pretty much in a better place now that it has ever been before.

The increased quality of wine, coupled with the increased interest in drinking it, has led to higher prices. People are simply willing to pay more for something that tastes the way they want it to taste. As many of the world's finest wines --wines that were often undrinkable in their youth and needed decades in the cellar-- are being made in a more drinkable style, prices have only gone up as a result. In my mind, a wine was always more valuable because it would age and continue to improve, rather than show well right off the bat. That's what made a great wine great. Now, however, it's a different story. People are increasingly opening Silver Oak, Caymus, Pontet-Canet, and Opus One wines less than two years after the vintage date. The rich, supple, fruit-concentrated flavors are what modern drinkers are after, rather than the savory, delicate, integrated character of an older, more mature wine. With a more approachable style comes a more saleable product --one that can be enjoyed quickly and then repurchased quickly.

Winemakers aren't the only ones, however, praising the increased quality of their craft. Ask any distiller in Scotland about his whisky and he'll tell you that it's never been better, and for the same reasons: increased knowledge, better equipment, better wood for maturation, and more money invested in the process. Not only is the whisky tasting better, but, much like with wine, it's tasting better at a younger age. When you ask these guys about the current shortage of whisky, they're not all that concerned. Dropping the age statement and replacing the product with a younger version isn't the end of the world because, in their minds, the whisky is better than it's ever been. I've literally been told by several major distillers the exact same line: "Yes, the whisky is younger, but it's also better than the whisky we were making twenty years ago." With wine, there's no question most products are better today than ever. But is the increased quality in whisky as palpable?

I think single malts need to be judged on a case-by-case basis. Some whiskies are just not as impressive as they once were, simply because there's less stock to make them with. Older whiskies were once married into 12 and 15 year expressions to add richness, whereas today there's barely enough 12 year malt to keep the age on the label. Some distilleries, however, are indeed making better whiskies at a younger age. Glen Garioch comes to mind immediately, as does Arran, but peatier whiskies have a distinct advantage in my mind. David and I have been very, very impressed by the quality of young peated whiskies we've tasted over the last year. Our new 7 year old "Island" distillery malt is going to shock the pants off of you. As will two three year old malts we plan on bringing in very soon from Bladnoch and another big, big name.

In some cases, the quality of young single malt whisky is indeed better than it's ever been. I'd never dreamed we'd be able to make people happy selling three year old single malt whiskies in the past, but today it's a reality. One wonders if it's more out of necessity, however.

-David Driscoll


Dealing With a Person

We, the K&L staff, often discuss the impact the internet has had on our jobs here at K&L. With so much information online about alcohol --tasting notes, background information, ratings, etc-- we're all afraid we might someday be irrelevant as actual people on the sales floor. All we'll need is a cashier and someone to fetch will-call orders. Yet, getting to speak to an actual person, someone who knows the products and has experience with them, is an added benefit of shopping at K&L and it's an element whose importance cannot be overstressed. There's simply something special about getting to talk to Joe about Spanish wine because he's been to Rioja and met with the producers. There's no substitute for talking to Gary about Champagne, whose knowledge on the chalky soils and vineyards of each producer can make or break your final decision about a wine. Dealing with an actual person at K&L is simply more helpful, more meaningful, and more comforting when spending your money on something expensive or rare.

The same thing goes for our relationships with producers. Going to Armagnac and getting to meet with the owners of each Chateau is an incredible benefit of working with spirits from that region. You get to actually talk to the people making the product day-in and day-out. Contrast that with Scotland where a distillery visit will generally be conducted by a paid tour guide or brand representative, rather than the distiller himself or the owner of the distillery. Part of the reason you'll never meet the owner of a Scottish distillery is because nearly every distillery in Scotland is under corporate rule. Therefore, the relationships we at K&L have with single malt producers are usually tied to the brand ambassadors and corporate salesmen, rather than the guys in charge or in the distillery. Today, however, rather than a sales rep or travelling spokesperson, we were visited by George Grant himself: the owner of Glenfarclas distillery. When we deal with Glenfarclas, we deal with the actual family that has been in charge since the mid-1800s.

I can't tell you how refreshing it is to deal with an actual distillery owner. You can pitch an idea and get a simple "yea" or "nay" answer without needing approval from a gigantic corporate entity. Like when I asked George about putting together a new project between K&L and Glenfarclas that went outside of the standard "Family Cask" label. George thought it over and simply said, "Yes." No running it up the food chain or dealing with the marketing department, just a business owner meeting with another business and making a decision that's beneficial to both sides. It's awesome.

I'm very thankful to have close relationships with my larger producers, but we both know there's not a whole lot we can do outside of the box. We can put together a deal on existing products, but there's no room for creativity or exploration because larger companies cannot offer tailored design. There are too many people in the picture to do something specific, like a single cask or special marriage of whiskies. With independently-owned distilleries, however, like Glenfarclas, we can always think outside the scope of the every day. We're free to brainstorm and come up with something new. Plus, there's the added benefit of getting the scoop straight from the horse's mouth. Getting to meet directly with George is really fantastic and it helps to solidify our relationship each time we do it.

There's no substitute for direct access in the booze world. People are important at K&L and they are the foundation of what makes spirits appreciation so satisfying.

-David Driscoll


Finish It

Last night my wife and I said "goodbye" to an old friend. As did millions of other viewers who tuned in for the Breaking Bad finale. My wife was literally balling, as the Kleenex piled up on the coffee table. I, on the other hand, as a whisky drinker am used to saying "goodbye" on a regular basis. Many of the bottles I drink cannot be replaced. They were one-offs, originals, or special rarities that were finite. Once that last sip is gone the experience is over.

Walter White's journey was like the best whisky adventure one can hope for: exciting, complex, unpredictable, and satisfying all the way to the finish. What an amazing finish, by the way. I'll be thinking about this finish for the rest of my life.

Good things are meant to end. They can't last forever. Have no fear. Enjoy it while it lasts. Put your phone down, stop Tweeting or texting, and savor it. And then let it go.

-David Driscoll