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Wednesday
May292013

Ardbog - GET SOME!

How long will it last? I don't know. But we're off to the races. We've got a healthy supply, but there's no bottle limit, so people have been buying by the case so far. As Snoop Dogg would say, "You've gotta get yours, before I gotta get mine."

FEAST.

Ardbeg "Ardbog" Islay Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - Ardbeg distillery manager Mickey Heads called the new "Ardbog" the best special edition of Ardbeg he'd ever tasted. We think it's pretty good, as well. Manzanilla sherry casks featured heavily in the year's limited release, creating a smoky, peaty, boggy creme brulee flavor that starts with vigor, but finishes with dessert-like richness. It's quite a spectacular whisky and one we don't plan on having for long.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
May282013

More New 2013 K&L Exclusive Cask Scotland Pre-Arrivals

It's time to start working through our new whiskies from David Stirk and the Exclusive Malts. We've got some real stunners in this lineup. Remember, ordering ahead saves you money down the road, so if any of these whiskies look like winners, you'll save some moolah by paying upfront. Again, value continues to be the focus, as you'll see with what evolves over the next week or two. Check out these babies!

Due to arrive later this Fall...

2002 Bowmore 10 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $69.99 PRE-ORDER - We love us some Bowmore here at K&L. When Bowmore is on, it's unstoppable, mainly because no other Islay distillery has the same richness of fruit and oily texture in conjunction with all the peaty campfire smoke. This young barrel of Bowmore we found outside of Glasgow represents everything we love about the distillery's special style: light in color, smoked plums on the nose, fresh fruit and vanilla on the palate, swimming with the perfect amount of saline seawater and peat. The first thing David and I said to each other was: "this tastes like a younger version of the 17 year old!" Alas, the wonderful, magical, ethereal 17 year old is no longer in production at the distillery and we'd both finished our last bottles. The chance to perhaps replicate that gentle flavor profile at full proof was just too good to pass up. For the price, this is a no-brainer. There's not one Islay fan out there who wouldn't go ga-ga for this whisky. Supple, fruity, smoky, salty, luscious, nutty, complex, and tasty. Now we just have to hope there's enough to go around for everyone. (David Driscoll, K&L Spirits Buyer) 56.8%

1995 Fettercairn 17 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $84.99 PRE-ORDER - Fettercairn distillery has been around since 1824, when it was established by Sir Alexander Ramsay, and has enjoyed a tumultuous sales history since that time. It was sold in 1830 to Sir John Gladstone, turned over to his son John Roberts in 1890, who then bought out the other investors in 1912. The distillery was closed in 1926, but reopened in 1939 by new owners Associated Scottish Distillers. In 1971 it was purchased by the Tomintoul Distillery Co, which was subsequently bought out by Whyte & Mackay in 1973, which experienced nothing but mergers and buy outs over the next three decades. Today Fettercairn is owned by United Spirits, which is partially owned by Diageo, again leaving the distillery in a netherworld of confusion. Fettercairn is pretty much absent in the states because most of the whisky is used in bulk production for private UK businesses like Tesco and Asda, leaving the distillery little chance to showcase its potential as a single malt. This 1995 vintage barrel we found outside of Glasgow is simply charming with aromas of ripe fruit and flowers on the nose. The palate exudes a classic malty core of flavor with wood spices and rich vanilla on the finish. It's almost too easy to sip. This is a fantastic deal for mature, full-proof, well-made Highland single malt whisky. It's also a chance to learn more about a historic distillery completely lost in the shuffle of industry business and financial uncertainty. We jumped all over this. (David Driscoll, K&L Spirits Buyer) 56.1%

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
May282013

Whisk(e)y Tidbit of the Day

Count me among the legions of people out there who call all American whiskies "whiskey" and all Scottish whiskies "whisky." I've been told by countless "experts" that this was a universal thing. It's not, however. Check out the bottle of Old Forester Bourbon above from our friends at Brown-Foreman. Huh?

I've been dipping into Michael Veach's new book Kentucky Bourbon: An American Heritage and there are all kinds of little fun facts scattered throughout its pages. Page 13, for example:

The traditional distinction is that whiskey is used for spirits from rebellious former British colonies and whisky for spirits from loyal former British colonies. Thus, Scotch and Canadian products are considered whisky, and Irish and American products are considered whiskey. The fact of the matter, however, is that spelling depends on brand. George Dickel uses whisky, while Jack Daniel's uses whiskey. Even within the same company there can be variation. Brown-Foreman uses whisky for Old Forester and whiskey for Early Times.

Soooooo.....if you're like me, telling people that American whiskies use the "e" because they're American, then you're wrong. We're wrong. I'm wrong. Someone is wrong here. Me. While it's true that the majority of brands uses the "e," there's no absolute rule for universal spelling.

I had never noticed that on the Old Forester bottle, but there it is – right before my eyes. So many things I thought I knew for sure, but didn't. In any case, I'm looking forward to finding out what else I don't know. Great book so far.

-David Driscoll

Friday
May242013

The John's Lane Distillery

It's common today to see a producer in a particular region rename one of their whiskies after an old, regional distillery no longer in existence. Springbank, for example, makes two single malts called Longrow and Hazelburn, named after the former Campbeltown distilleries. Bruichladdich has Port Charlotte, named after what was once an old neighbor. However, I didn't realize until today that the new Powers Irish whiskey, the 12 Year Old John Lane, was named after an old Irish producer in Dublin, which was the original home of Powers beginning back in the late 1700s.

James Power, an innkeeper from Dublin, established the John's Lane distillery in 1791. Our old pal Alfred Barnard once visited John's Lane (and provided some wonderful sketches) and had this to say:

In the year 1791 this hostelry was converted into a small distillery, making about 6,000 gallons annually, its chief motive power being a horse mill. But it did not remain long at that small output. The founder was a man of energy and enterprise, and year by year, as his business increased, he continued to extend the distillery. Since 1871 the whole place has been rebuilt in a handsome and modern style, and every known appliance in the art of distilling added thereto. The establishment now covers a six-and-a-quarter acres of ground, and the offices, which abut on the busy thoroughfare of Thomas Street, form and substantial frontage to it.

Passing through the lofty and spacious public offices, we crossed a paved court and entered the noble block of buildings devoted to the storage of grain. They are five stories high, well lighted, and measure 192 feet long by 100 feet broad. The barley is carted to the distillery by the farmers, and lifted by hydraulic hoists to the receiving rooms. At the entrance to this department there is an enclosed office, with glass roof and sides, in which sits the corn-sampling clerk; a portion of each delivery is handed to him for comparison with the samples of the purchase, which hang in bags upon a frame on the wall. If the sample is not up to the mark he refuses delivery, and reports the fact through the telephone to the corn-buyers office.

The first process of the manufacture of whisky now begins, by the corn being sent from these two floors to the to kilns adjoining, whither we next bent our steps. These kilns are indeed elegant buildings, each measuring 57 feet by 30 feet, with open groined roofs, lined with wood and stained oak, like small English parish churches, in fact far superior to many we've seen. Iron doors shut off these kilns, which are heated by open furnaces, and floored with the patent perforated Worcester tiles.

What's interesting about this description is that Barnard is describing the grain component of Irish whiskey, in this case the "corn." Barnard goes on to describe the malt side of the distillation as well, since Irish whiskies are almost always blends.

A noble-looking building is the still house. It is 68 feet long, 66 feet wide, and 57 feet high, containing five pot stills, all kept as bright and clean as burnished gold; the wash flows by gravitation to two wash stills, each holding 25,000 gallons, and said to be the largest pot stills ever made.

The detail with which Barnard goes on concerning the process at John's Lane distillery is about five times as long as he spends with most other producers, leading one to believe he was quite impressed with the distillery.

Does he describe the whisky? Yes, indeed.

On completing our tour of inspection over the distillery, we accepted the hospitality of the partners and did ample justice to a substantial luncheon. We had previously sampled the firm's make of 1885, which we thought good and most useful, either as a blending or single whisky. The old make, which we drank with our luncheon, was delicious, and finer than anything we had hitherto tasted. It was perfect in flavour, and as pronounced in the ancient aroma of Irish whisky so dear to the hearts fo connoisseurs, as once could possibly desire, and we found a small flask of it very useful afterwards on our travels.

Since John's Lane distillery made pot still Irish whiskey, the new Power's 12 Year Old John Lane edition is also 100% pot still whiskey, unlike the standard Powers 12 Year old. It's made today at Midleton distillery, the home of Jameson, Paddy, Midleton, and Redbreast. It's unlike any other Irish out on the market currently with its leathery, tobacco notes on the finish. Quite potent stuff. It seems that Irish whiskey was once quite a populated market. Alas, there are only a handful of Irish whisky distilleries around today. Check out this list from Barnard's time, however:

Dublin

Bow Street - John Jameson & Son

John's Lane - Sir John Power & Son

Thomas Street - George Row & Co.

Marrowbone Lane - Wm. Jameson & Co.

Jones Road - The Dublin Whisky Distillery Company, Limited

Phoenix Park - The Distillers Company, Limited

That's just in Dublin! Nearly twice as many than exist today. Then there's another 22 scattered all over the rest of the country that I need to read through and research.

What a time that must have been for Irish whiskey! In any case, I'll have to sip my bottle of the Powers John Lane edition in the meantime and think about what it must have been like.

-David Driscoll

Friday
May242013

Defining Craft

I had dinner with John Glaser on Wednesday night and he said something that has stuck with me over the past few days. He said that the point of "craft" spirits was simply to make better spirits, not to give us more options. That's what the term "craft" means: using smaller production, hands-on techniques that result in higher quality products. For example, "craft fashion," if there was such a term, should refer to hand-stitched, hand-measured, and perfectly-fitted clothing. Any profession using the term "craft" should be taking an assembly-line process and scaling it down to a micro-managed operation. The idea is that one perfectly "crafted" product should be of a higher quality than a product being pumped out quickly to maximize profitability. The result should be noticable, otherwise it's probably not worth doing.

If the final product is actually higher in quality, then it should be more expensive. I think everyone is on board with that. The better the booze, the more it will cost. My question, however, is: how many craft spirits producers are actually giving us "craft" spirits?

I do think craft spirits exist, but maybe not in the way that we think they do. For example, I think craft gins are absolutely a reality, but not because of the distillation. Craft gins exist because of the time and thought put into the sourcing of botanicals. Our most recent batch of Faultline Gin, for example, was a small batch of gin macerated with freshly-smoked citrus peels. We did that by hand and in small amounts to make sure it tasted right. It wasn't something we would have been able to produce continually on a large scale, but since we were only making one batch it wasn't a problem.

I think craft fruit liqueurs and eau-de-vies exist. There are simply some fruits that are too expensive and delicate to distill on a large, profitable scale. Some liqueurs use actual fresh fruit rather than artificial flavors and coloring to create a cassis or framboise. That takes time and attention.

I think craft tequila is real. There are simply different ways of shredding the agave into a fermentable pulp. The distilleries that use machines and shred in large quantities have pulp that oxidizes faster. Those using mortar and pestal with manual or horse-drawn labor have more control over each crush, much like a winery pressing its grapes. That ultimately affects the freshness of the spirit. The same could be said for rum made from fresh sugarcane juice.

What about whisk(e)y, however? Does craft whisk(e)y exist? Has anyone proven that the type of grain used is actually important? I think Bruichladdich has, but do many people consider Bruichladdich to be a "craft" distillery?

The blending side of production is what makes John Glaser's Compass Box a "craft" whisky company. He marries whiskies on a much smaller scale, creating more finessed flavors that might not have been possible with larger amounts of barrels. However, do people consider Compass Box a "craft" whisky producer?

It's the size of the distillery that seems to decide who's "craft" and who isn't these days. But does the scale of distillation matter when it comes to whisk(e)y? I don't think so. I think what ultimately matters is which cuts and which distillates are used in the final product. If you distill pot still whisky on a large scale it's probably going to taste as good as a smaller scale operation, as long as both are using the finest heart cuts. Kilchoman comes to mind as a producer that uses a very focused percentage of their actual heart and the result is amazing. If you're talking about column still American whiskey, however, then I'm not sure if it even matters. Yet, we're hearing about new "craft" American whiskey distilleries all the time. Are they distilling micro amounts of whiskey that tastes better than Jim Beam?

The problem with making craft whiskey is that it takes time to find out the answers to these questions. Time is money, however, and most small distilleries cannot afford to use small percentages of their distillates or work slowly in the name of quality. They consider themselves "craft" because they are small, not because they're better. This is ultimately going to tarnish the "craft" whisk(e)y industry because the term will become ironic.

Have you tasted a "craft" whisk(e)y before?

Yes! It was terrible!

Shouldn't it be the opposite?

-David Driscoll