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1988 Blair Athol 26 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


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1997 Glen Ord 17 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Hogshead Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Glenburgie 19 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Hogshead Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


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1990 Glenfarclas K&L Exclusive Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER


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1983 Caol Ila 30 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


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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 SOLD OUT!


1997 Benrinnes 17 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!


1997 Dailuaine 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


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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 SOLD OUT!


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!


Thursday
Jan262012

France Day 9: Final Tastes & Thoughts

As you can tell from David OG's post below, we're now home safe and sound with much on our minds.  The trip was a huge success on many fronts - it boosted our own knowledge of France's great spirits, we met directly with small producers who will be bottling exclusive brandies for us, and we got to show our customers why we take the time to do business the way we do.  Our final morning in France, before making the drive to Paris, was spent with Mr. Giard, a cider producer that Charles imports and a distiller of fine Calvados as well.  After Camut, it was going to be tough for anyone to impress us, but we were quite taken with the Giard spirits.  His orchards are beautiful and he has a quiet, humble manner that I quite appreciate from producers.

When I wrote earlier this week that Calvados producers are using gigantic barrels, I wasn't kidding.  Giard uses the biggest barrels in Normandie as you can see from the above photo.  His orchards are all haute-tige and he makes certain that his fruit is ripe before making the cider.  His bottled ciders were impeccible, so we would only assume that his spirits would be as well.  Because he's so concerned about minimal wood contact, Giard is using the largest casks he can find.

While he has since updated to a more modern still, all of the Calvados we were able to taste from Giard came from this tiny alambic still in his barn.  His spirits have a very fine, delicate flavor that he attributes to it.

Sitting down to taste was a real treat.  Giard had lined up numerous single vintage selections to taste and we plowed through them with glee.  Despite his usage of large barrels, we found some of the older Calvados to be quite woody and dry.  His 15-20 year selections were fantastic, however, and we really went bananas for a 1984 vintage that smelled of tart apples and nutty almonds, with a lean, almost single malt-like sweetness on the palate. 

So what should you expect to see in a few months time?  We haven't made our final selections yet, but here's what I have on my shortlist at the moment:

1973 Pellehaut Tenereze Armagnac - Bourbon-esque aromas of vanilla and new wood, loads of fruit and caramel on the palate with prunes, toasted almonds, and barrel spice.  Earthy finish with big time length.  A real winner.

1987 Pellehaut Tenereze Armagnac - Rich and supple fruit right off the bat, subtle sweetness, glides across the palate with perfect balance of fruit and an almond skin flavor, very accessible and sure to be a big hit.

1985 Baraillon Bas-Armagnac - Wow! Amazing aromatics - stewed fruits, sandlewood, port-like richness with toffee and nuts on the palate, a long, warming wave right over the tongue with an exotic, lengthy finish.  One of the best Armagnacs we've tasted.  Think Glenrothes from the same vintage.

1900 Baraillon Bas-Armagnac - This won't be cheap (think $1000 a bottle) but man is it good.  Loads of rich, spicy wood, tons of fruit and spice, and absolutely delicious.  Anyone who wants to shell out will not be disappointed.  This is just an old demijohn from 112 years ago sitting in some rural farmer's barn!

1989 Domaine de Lassaubatju Bas-Armagnac - Very whiskey-like, with a warming richness of wood and fruit and a concentrated blast of almonds on the back.  The finish is lean and spicy with pencil wood and a Bourbon like finish.  Hints of Buffalo Trace Single Oak stuff. 

1988 Domaine de Lassaubatju Bas-Armagnac - Dried apricot aromas with vanilla and new oak, more rounded in its flavor profile, beautiful nutty finish.  A no brainer.

2000 Domaine d'Ognoas Bas-Armagnac - nose is pencil wood, graphite, and marzipan with cocoa on the palate and long, dry, spicy finish.  What a deal!  This should come in at less than $60.

Raymond Ragnaud Reserve Rare Grand Champagne Cognac - gentle richness on the entry, but concentrated flavors of toasted nuts, stonefruit and bits of caramel.  Wonderfully elegant, yet potent.  Something fun and new for our Cognac selection.

1988 Raymond Ragnaud Vintage Grand Champagne Cognac - maple syrup on the nose with a soft, but warming palate that moves slowly with deep concentrated richness.  A long and beautiful finish.

Esteve XO Petit Champagne Cognac (1979 single barrel cask strength) - the nose has pencil wood and baking spices, with an unreal palate of dark chocolate, almonds, and damp earth.  The finish is big, explosive, and woody with hints of candied citrus peel.  WOW!  Wow.  Give us the whole barrel!

Esteve Coup de Coeur Petit Champagne Cognac - a blend of 79 and 81.  Soft citrus on the nose, good complex character of wood and fruit, with more than just richness.  Fine and elegant finish with nutty flavors.  A real bargain.

Adrien Camut 15 year Pays d'Auge Calvados (K&L exclusive) - there is no 15 year release from Camut so this would be a first.  Smooth, juicy apple flavors, an ungodly balance of wood to add richness, and a haunting finish.  There's no amount of this I can't sell. 

1984 Domaine de Giard Pays d'Auge Calvados - lovely tart apple fruit with nutty almonds and fantastic length.  Almost single malt like at times with a somewhat grainy sweetness.  Very good.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Jan252012

La Vie De Bon Humeur

Hopefully, you've been following our incredible journey over the last week.  We've just returned and I'm reflecting deeply on what the last week.  Most importantly, what will all this mean for you?  For one, I feel lucky to have been welcomed into the lives and homes of some of France's finest brandy producers.  We met with a culturally diverse group from the rural agricultural producer who rarely leaves the farm to the wealthy negociante who travels worldwide selling their stocks.  We have a tendency to pigeonhole the French based on our preconceived notions of their national identity (something they are indeed guilty of as well). 

The French, however, are regionally divided to a significant degree.  Each little commune (read: county) has its own cultural history, food traditions, forms of expression, and most importantly preferred beverages.  During the trip, while discussing our travels with the producers we met, a number of them expressed how astonished they continued to be by the diversity of the French Nation.  Often, while describing the richness of French food culture, they would comment on how they themselves were constantly discovering new things, even from the village over.  These products had always been there, but where totally new to them. Perhaps in more international and cosmopolitan regions like Cognac or Champagne, there is more of tendency to habituate outside influence, but in general each little place has its way of doing things.  While the French have a strong national pride, it is difficult to pin down exactly what that means to them. Some of this may stem from a sort of isolationism between the regions France, but it can't be denied that it, also speaks to this countries incredible diversity.  

The one factor that unites the French nation is a deep passion of the living of life.  The commitment to living well, albeit perhaps amplified in our presence, is second to none in this world.  It connects these disparate peoples who otherwise would have nothing more in common than their language.  Within each region there is at least one person who has given up everything to pursue their passion for creation.  We are lucky to have a nation on this earth so devoted to the epicurean arts.  Below are a few reminders of why:

-David Othenin-Girard

An Illicit Still & Gacogne's most exciting winemaker

Unknown Vintage ArmagnacThe Famous Armagnac Chai of Mme Lafitte

Wednesday
Jan252012

France Day 8: Camut

Just like with wine, the decisions made in the orchard by the Norman apple farmers will have a large impact on the eventual flavor of the cider and the Calvados distilled from it.  Just like with wine, there are shortcuts.  We talk about the flavors of whisky, the quality of the wood, the skill of the distiller, but we never talk about the barley, the beer, the yeast, or the vintage because there's really nothing else to talk about.  With Calvados, much like Armagnac, you've got to be a farmer first, a cider maker second, a distiller third, and a cellar master fourth.  It's a lot of work and, like any job, some people choose to do the minimum amount required just to get by.  Others, however, take their profession seriously and dedicate their lives to it - they believe in it and they get a sense of pride from doing it.  We were talking in the car on the way to Camut, comparing spirits producers and athletes.  There are some athletes with raw natural ability and others who succeed through sheer hard work and determination.  When you combine both of those elements you get Michael Jordan - or, in the world of fine spirits, you get Camut Calvados.

As I wrote earlier, Calvados producers are farmers first.  The great part about growing apples, as opposed to grapes, is that you don't have to sacrifice livestock space.  In fact, apple trees and cows thrive together because the cows eat the grass around the trees and maintain the soil with their manure.  The Camut brothers, Jean-Gabriel and Emmanuel, have a few different orchards and some have horses instead of cows.  All of their trees are haute tirages as opposed to basse tirages, which means that the trunks are longer and the fruit higher off the ground.  Basse tirages means the trees are grafted and grown closer to the ground.  The advantage of this is a faster and more plentiful production soon after planting the orchard, however, there can be no animals on the sight because they will disturb the branches and eat the fruit.  Haute tirages is the more difficult method - it takes longer for the trees to produce and you get less fruit.  However, the animals and trees can co-exist and the fruit is more flavorful and concentrated.  The Camut orchards are 100% haute tirages because everything they do is about quality and flavor, rather than money and ease.

The Camut estate has been around since the late 1700’s and the tradition of making Calvados has changed little since Adrian Camut, grandfather to Emmanuel and Jean-Gabriel, brought his family’s technique to high esteem.  Besides a belief in the importance of traditional apple farming, the Camuts take a very old school approach to distillation as well.  While even the smaller producers are using industrial grade wood-chipper-like machines to shred their apples before pressing, the Camuts are using a tiny grinder that looks like it could pass maybe a dozen apples at a time.  Emmanuel believes it’s important to do as much by hand as possible in order to control quality and flavor.

Their old alambic still is also their pride and joy.  Not only was it built by their grandfather, it was designed by him as well and works differently than a traditional Calvados still.  Much like an Armagnac still, the alambic at Camut introduces the cider from the top of the still, down into the chamber so that the vapors from the boiling cider below must pass through additional cider as they make their way to the top.  The Camuts believe that the distillate is more apple-like this way.  If there’s one thing that Camut has going over every other Calvados producer I have tasted, it’s that their Calvados tastes more like fresh apples than anyone else’s.

When it comes to barrel aging, the Camut brothers are believers in minimizing the amount of new oak to touch their spirits.  In Normandie, the brandy producers are typically using incredibly large barrels to age their spirit because of the importance of the apple to the flavor.  The warehouse at Camut is simply jaw dropping because they have stocks dating back to the 1920’s.  After a long night of booze and brotherhood, we made our way into the chai for some barrel tasting.  In one of the larger barrels was a fifteen year old blend that tasted like magic.  I have a feeling that we might be on the verge of a K&L exclusive with this one, something the Camut estate has never offered to any retailer before.  The shocker of the night was when Emmanuel climbed to the top of the warehouse and pulled a sample from the 1945 vintage – still in barrel!  It was the color of coffee, but it was somehow still alive, brimming with fruit and zest even after 67 years.  It was mind-blowing and ranks among the top spirits I have ever tasted, purely because of my disbelief in its durability.

I could go on forever about the technicalities of the Camut Calvados, but there’s only so much the reader can take!  What you need to know is this: the Camut brothers do everything the hard way because it tastes better.  It’s more expensive to make, it takes longer, and it requires a true commitment to quality, but it’s worth it.  I would rank their older expressions among the greatest spirits in the world.  Think old Port Ellen or Brora for a single malt comparison, or Michters for a Bourbon analogy.  Think DRC or Lafite for wine.  Think the very, very best.  That’s what these brandies are.  They are the best – hands down, bar none.  They're also incredible people with a passion for keeping their grandfather's legacy alive.  The stop at Camut was perhaps my favorite visit to a producer ever and we will be working hard to bring you all an exclusive bottling.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jan242012

France Day 7: Normandie Rules

Normandie.  Even now we think of the D-Day invasion immediately upon hearing its name.  Soldiers storming the beach along the English Channel, innumerable soldiers dying in the cold, grey mist, as the tides of World War II shifted over to the Allies.  The people of Normandie haven't forgotten the war or the role of the American soldiers in their liberation.  It's ingrained into their pysche and the subject arose numerous times during our visit.  While Normandie may conjure images of battle to many, I think first of apples, cider, and Calvados.  I absolutely love single malt whisky, and I have a side affair going on with Bourbon, but Calvados is slowly making it's way into my heart, challenging me with its character and winning my affection with its beauty.  The production of Calvados is perhaps the most rustic and traditional - it's literally the business of farmers.  While Armagnac producers may have a more down-to-earth reputation than Cognac makers, neither are as humble or modest as Calvados producers.  The Normans who make apple brandy in the north of France are out everyday milking cows, feeding hens, and harvesting crops.  Calvados production just happens to be another task on the list of daily chores.

Didier and Martine Lemorton have a wonderful farm.  About one hundred cows fill their barn and orchards of pear and apple trees surround it.  You can tell a lot about their lifestyle by shaking their hands.  Their palms are hard and calloused from the hard manual labor they perform on a daily basis.  They've never been on an airplane and they've never had a day off.  They don't have a still (most producers use a traveling still and hire someone to bring it), but they have tons of fruit and that produce needs to be preserved.  Distilling it into brandy and then aging it in oak barrels is the best way to do so.  Their fruit also happens to be quite excellent, which translates into excellent Calvados. 

Located in the Domfrontais appellation of Calvados, their cepage must be at least 30% pear, although they choose to make brandies with about 60% pear and 40% apple.  In Calvados, the fruit is not picked, but rather gathered only after it falls to the ground.  After they're collected, the apples and pears are loaded into a machine that works like a wood chipper.  Apples cannot be pressed or squeezed whole like grapes, but rather must be chopped into tiny pieces before juicing can take place.  Didier describes the process in front of his processor above.  Once the juice is collected, he ferments it inside large wooden barrels because that was the way his father did it.  He has considered updating to stainless steel, but it's a large expense and his traditional methods seem to have worked so far.  We've carried the Lemorton Reserve for years and hope to bring in some of the vintage bottles very soon.

Michel Huard is one of the newest producers than Charles has recently begun importing and we were very excited to see their operation.  Jean Francois Guilloumet is now running things on his family's farm and was happy to show us around the site.  Huard also uses both apple and pears in their cider and have a number of vintage distillations available.  We lucked out and happened to arrive right in the middle of a distillation run.

The hired distiller had towed over his traveling alambic and was in the middle of loading in some more wood when we pulled up.  Most Calvados producers use wood-burning stills as it's always been the tradition in the region seeing as there's plenty of fuel from the orchards.  Jean Francois was distilling a two year old cider, which seemed quite interesting to us because we assumed they would be distilling shortly after fermentation has ended.  He told us, however, that growing apples and pears is a tricky thing because the trees don't give fruit every year.  If one vintage happens to yield lower fruit than another, then older ciders will be needed to make up for the shortage. Tasting the distilling cider was crazy.  Like the wine from Cognac or Armagnac, it is not for drinking.  The acidity is through the roof and the yeast is dominant. High acidity is essential for a fine distilled spirit.

Tasting out of the cask, we realized again that we were perhaps naive in our assumption that single cask spirits from France would be just the same as single malt whisky.  There's a reason most producers blend their barrels.  The brandies from Huard were delicious on their own, but together in a blend they were much better.  We tinkered with building our own out of 1999 and 2002 barrels that we thought had lovely potential. 

Jean Roger Groult makes one of the more successful Calvados that we carry.  As a larger producer, Groult not only grows its own apples, but also acts as a negociant and buys fruit from other growers as well.  They have a large facility in the Pays d'Auge further north of Domfrontais.  After driving a few hours from Huard, we made our way into the Groult warehouses with Jean Francois as our guide.

While other small farmers are storing their Calvados in small chais next to their barn, Groult is a big player in the industry with large supplies being aged in their larger, more modern facility.  Calvados aging is an interesting thing because there are really no rules.  You can use new wood, old wood, large barrels, small barrels, gigantic tanks, or whatever!  As long as it tastes good you're alright.  Deciding how to mature one's Calvados is key to establishing a distinct flavor and character.

Another large producer and negotiant in the region is Dupont, about as large as Groult.  Jerome was there to give us a tour through his Calvados selections and taste us on some delicious ciders. 

While Dupont is a well-known Calvados producer, they might be even more renowned for their cider.  Part of the fun of Normandie is the omnipresence of cider instead of wine.  Jerome even went down into the cellar, where he ages his own ciders for further consumption, and re-appeared with an unbelievable 2002 vintage cider that was slightly smoky and very complex.  We killed that bottle in minutes.

After an extensive day of Calvados tasting, we drove another hour to the Camut property where a large steak from one of the local butchers was awaiting us.  Camut needs an entire post (maybe two) to itself.  They're like the DRC, first-growth, grand cru of Calvados all rolled into one.  They're so much better than any other Calvados producer that it's almost unfair.  I'll get back to this later though. Right now it's time to show you how Jean-Gabriel cooked this steak.

We sat around the fire, eating Camembert cheese, salmon tartar, and this gigantic steak that was cooked over the flames right next to us.  Both David and I had the time our lives at this dinner and we quickly learned about how genuine the Camut family is.  I already knew I loved their brandies, but now that I know how wonderful the family is, I am even more endeared to their products.

Things definitely got nuts.  Before long we were competing to see who could come the closest to burning off their face by spitting high proof apple spirit back into the fire.  More on this night later.  It was certainly epic.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Jan232012

Day 7: Tons of Calvados

This will be short and sweet because I am currently sitting in the office of the Camut brothers, borrowing their computer for a quick update.  No wifi here, so I will not be able to update with photos until late tomorrow.  We have a ton of stuff to show you about Calvados.  This is the real authentic part of French distillation.  Farms, cows, apples, and booze.  Oh....and the cheese.  The cheese stands alone, just like the old song says.  Photos, info, and good times coming tomorrow in a full report. 

-David Driscoll