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Wednesday
May152013

New 2013 K&L Scotland Exclusive Cask - IN STOCK!

What's darker than maple syrup, brimming with spice cake, supple as all hell, yet massively powerful at 58.1% alcohol? Our new K&L Exclusive single barrel, first-fill sherry cask of Mortlach!

This is not a pre-arrival. This baby is in stock right now!

Why did we not sell it in advance? Here's the story:

Chieftain's has a pretty cozy relationship with Diageo because Diageo needs Glen Goyne for its blends and Ian McCleod owns both the distillery and the Chieftain's independent label. For that reason, Chieftain's often has access to stuff from the big D portfolio that no other indy bottler has. We didn't have an appointment with Chieftain's this year because they are running out of casks to sell and they weren't going to offer us anything. However, this Mortlach cask was one of the last things they were willing to sell us, mainly because they knew I really, really wanted it. They were going to bottle it whether we wanted it or not because it needed to get out of the wood or risk oversaturation, so that meant we could probably get to the states by mid-May if we pushed. We did. It's here. That was fast!

I love sherry-aged Mortlach. I adore it. To me, when done properly, it has no equal in the world of single malt. I think it's better than Macallan, Glenfarclas, Glendronach, Balvenie, or any other similar whisky profile in the business. This isn't a fact, this is just my personal opinion. Finding a sherry cask of Mortlach has been kind of a white whale search for me. I don't mean finding a bottle to purchase. I mean finding an entire cask, just for K&L and whatever customers wanted to share it with us.  I ask every producer we visit if they have any. The answer is almost always "No." When they do have a barrel it's never the right one. This 22 year old butt, however, was like a ray of light coming down from the grey, overcast, Scottish sky.

Why is old, sherry-aged Mortlach a rarity? Because Diageo needs every drop for Johnnie Walker. It's not like I can't get a cask of Mortlach in general. I can buy Mortlach whenever I want because there's plenty of it on the independent market. It's just that it doesn't taste like this.

I'll put this out there right now: this single barrel of Mortlach is easily the best sherry-aged whisky we have in stock. And I'll put this out there, too: I can't remember selling a better one.

Personally, I like this more than any of the Balvenie 1401 Tun series malts. I like this more than our 1970 Glenfarclas. I like this Mortlach more than anything I've ever tasted from Glendronach. It's crazy rich, concentrated, and supple, but it's never sweet. It's powerful and spicy, but the complexity of flavor is delicate and elegant. It's the total package for sherry-aged malt in my world. With water I could drink this all day and all night.

That's just my own personal opinion. Normally when we buy whisky I'm not thinking about myself, but rather what the customer would want and what will represent quality to the greatest number of people. But this barrel purchase was entirely selfish. I bought this cask for me. It represented my own tastes and my own desires. It was another notch in my quest to bottle the greatest Diageo whiskies in the world without having to buy them from Diageo. It was everything I love about my job all rolled into one wooden barrel.

If you like big, massive, super-sherried whisky that pushes the maturation right up to the edge without going over, then I hope you'll share this whisky with me. Because there's a lot of it. Like 500 bottles.

And I can't drink it all myself.

1990 Mortlach 22 Year Old K&L Exclusive Chieftain's Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $169.99 - If you've ever taken a sip of Johnnie Walker Black then you've tasted Mortlach whisky. The Speyside distillery is one of Diageo's most-prized institutions, creating richly-textured whiskies that provide the backbone to many of its legendary blends. Yet because the whisky isn't sold as a single malt in the United States, the name Mortlach doesn't necessarily stir the emotions of the whisky-loving faithful. But there's another reason Mortlach hasn't achieved stardom abroad: most of what does make it to the States, under the guise of an independent label, is unsherried. To drink Mortlach out of an unsherried hogshead barrel is like drinking Laphroaig without peat or Macallan without richness. It's not at all representative of what the distillery does best. Nevertheless, the occasional hogshead makes its way over every now and again, devoid of the toffee, the cocoa, the spice, and the power. It's no wonder that these oddballs have done little to boost the distillery's rep. On our last visit to Scotland, however, we finally found a prize worthy of purchasing: an ancient, first-fill sherry cask of delicious, traditional, full-throttle Mortlach. Think Macallan 18 on steroids: big, opulent, dense, chewy, meaty, caramel, fudge, baking spices, herbaceous notes, and cakebread. Considering that Macallan 18 just took another price increase, this Mortlach looks like a super value. We've never found a cask of Mortlach this good, and we don't expect to again. Just make sure to add water!

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
May142013

New Rusty Blade Casks (Plural!)

Sometimes two barrels of gin are simply better than one, especially when two barrels of gin, made the same way and aged in the same warehouse, taste this differently from one another. I simply couldn't decide between the two, so I bought them both. The only way to tell them apart is with the batch number (one says KL413A and the other KL413B), so we're referring to them as Cask A and Cask B. These finally showed up today and are in stock as we speak. Check out the notes below!

Rusty Blade K&L Exclusive "Cask A" Single Barrel Cask Strength Barrel-Aged Gin $67.99 - Our local distillery on the Peninsula, Old World Spirits, has once again brought the goods with these two single barrels of Rusty Blade. Cask A is much more along the line of what we've featured before: Christmas spices, cloves, and nutmeg, all mingling along with the juniper. For fans of our previous batches, this one is for you.

Rusty Blade K&L Exclusive "Cask B" Single Barrel Cask Strength Barrel-Aged Gin $67.99 - Cask B was obviously aged in more of a late-harvest zinfandel cask because the richness of the wine really takes hold, much like sherry does in a single malt whisky. The flavors are more Port-like and the finish is chewy with gumsmacking notes of plum and baking spices. Delicious, and a bit of a change from the normal Rusty Blade flavor profile.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
May112013

Mortlach

I took the above picture of Mortlach distillery on our trip to Scotland in 2012. David and I were driving around Dufftown and I wanted to see the actual site before leaving. I'm a big fan of the whisky, when I can get the type of Mortlach that I'm looking for, so I wanted to get a look at the distillery in person. I love Mortlach when it's matured in first-fill sherry casks, massively rich, and bursting with baking spices. Finding that specific style in the U.S., however, isn't always easy.

Alfred Barnard wrote about his visit to Mortlach more than one hundred years before I got around to it. In his day the proprietor was a man named George Cowie. He writes:

Dufftown is a quaint village, almost aspiring to be a town, and stands close to Mortlach Church... The village is screened by Benrinnes, and there are two beautiful glens in the vicinity, Glenfiddich and Dullan... Mortlach Church and churchyard are famous as having been the scene, in the year 1010, of the great battle between Malcolm II and the Danes, resulting in the defeat of the latter... The Mortlach Distillery was built in the year 1823 and consists of an irregular pile of buildings on the right and left of the principal gateway. The barley lofts are 360 feet and the maltings 300 feet long, with a kiln floored with metal plates, and where peat only is used in drying the malt... The whisky is Highland malt and the annual output is 85,000 gallons.

Fast forward more than a century and we've got an entirely new Mortlach. The facility is now owned by Diageo and pumps out about 3.8 million liters of whisky a year. It's one of the key components of Johnnie Walker Black, providing the robust and flavorful backbone of the world's most recognizable blended Scotch. Millions of people all over the world love the flavor of Mortlach, they just don't know it.

The 2013 edition of the Malt Whisky Yearbook writes:

The...single malt from Mortlach distillery has many fans. This became apparent when it was virtually impossible to get hold of a few years back, when it was needed for the evermore popular Johnnie Walker Black Label. It's popularity is nothing new though. Already in the 1860s when the distillery was owned by John Gordon, Mortlach was sold in Leith and Glasgow under "the Real John Gordon."

I know a lot of UK whisky drinkers love Mortlach. John Glaser loves using it in his Compass Box blends and vattings. Like the above paragraph states, Mortlach's popularity is nothing new....for the UK, where one can find the 16 year old distillery bottling under Diageo's Flora & Fauna label. However, most whisky drinkers in the states have no idea what Mortlach tastes like - not because they can't find any, but because most of what's available is wildly inconsistent. What we've sold at K&L over the last few years has been bottled by A.D. Rattray, Duncan Taylor, Murray McDavid, Gordon & MacPhail, and numerous other labels, but an overwhelming majority of these selections have been a far cry from what UK drinkers expect from Mortlach.

Just recently a customer in our Redwood City store, who had purchased a 1995 Macallan Duncan Taylor bottling, came back to the shop and asked for his money back. Why? Because to him this whisky didn't taste like Macallan. I gave the customer his refund because he was totally right. It didn't. This particular 1995 Macallan was from a refill hoggy and had absolutely zero sherry influence whatsoever. Macallan without Oloroso sherry or new oak tastes like fruity, light, grassy Highland malt. It could have been Linkwood or even Auchentoshan for that matter. The point is: this customer expected to taste Macallan flavor when he purchased a bottle that said Macallan on it, not knowing about the vast world of independently bottled casks that offers many unique and out-of-the-ordinary versions of familiar brands.

Why mention that? Because most of what we've carried from Mortlach has also been completely unsherried, it's just that for most customers there's no expectation for what Mortlach should taste like.

If you look up tasting notes for the official Mortlach 16, a whisky I know and love (and bring back with me when I fly back from the UK), you'll read descriptors like: rich, raisins, Christmas cake, spicy, and powerful. When you see notes like that you know you're dealing with sherry; likely first-fill juice. Yet, let's look at the last ten or so Mortlachs we've had here at the store (NOTE: most of these are long sold out):

Mortlach 15 year, Gordon & MacPhail Single Malt Whisky $69.99 - This is pretty close to what I expect from Mortlach, but it's not quite as heavy. That's because it's a marriage of first-fill sherry casks dilluted by the addition of refill casks.

Mortlach 22 Year Old A.D. Rattray Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (half-bottle) $67.99 - This whisky is from a refill sherry butt, so it has flashes of the robust Mortlach spice, but not at the level that I'm looking for personally.

Mortlach 17 Year Old The Exclusive Malts Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $129.99 - More refill action. Some richness, but nothing like what I'm on the hunt for.

Mortlach 17 year Malt Trust Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $125.99 - Single Bourbon cask. No sherry.

Mortlach 17 year Duncan Taylor Dimensions Single Malt Whisky $134.99 - Hogshead. Light and lean.

Mortlach 13 Year Old Murray McDavid Yquem Cask Single Malt Whisky $54.99 - Hogshead Mortlach, sweetened up with the dessert wine cask.

Mortlach 17 year old Cask Strength, Murray McDavid Mission Gold Olorosso Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky  $125.99 - YES! This one was fantastic. Just what I'm looking for. Too bad we sold our last bottle on February 7th, 2010.

Mortlach 18 Year Old Hart Brothers Sherry Aged Single Malt Whisky $124.99 - This one was almost there. It had the sherry, but it wasn't a single cask and ended up a bit too lean and soft. The cakebread and Christmas spices were absent.

1990 Mortlach 19 Year Old, A.D. Rattray, Cask Strength Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $109.99 - This was a hogshead so the flavors were light and grainy. No richness.

Mortlach 12 year old, Murray McDavid Bourbon/Guigal Cotes Rotie Syrah Cask Single Malt Whisky $54.99 - This was the first "K&L Exclusive" I ever bought for the store back in 2009. Delicious, but not because it tasted like Mortlach.

So, out of all the Mortlachs I remember selling here at K&L over the past few years, only one of them ever really came close to what I think of when I think of great Mortlach - the Murray McDavid Gold because it had the intense sherry action at a high proof.

And that's just what I've sold at K&L. Then there's all of the casks I've been offered in the last few years. Second fill hogsheads galore! Tons of mild, mediocre, drinkable whiskies that were overpriced because they had the Mortlach name stamped on the bottle (similar to that Macallan bottle I mentioned before). If this selection accurately assesses what the American public has been subjected to when it comes to Mortlach, then it's no wonder that the distillery isn't nearly as revered here in the U.S. as it is by some of my Scottish industry friends.

If I could just find some first-fill, full-throttle Mortlach I think we could really show some of our California customers what this Diageo distillery is capable of.

If I could just find the right whisky, the kind that reminds me of what Mortlach does best, I think we'd really have a winner.

If......

-David Driscoll

Saturday
May112013

SoCal Legend Needs Your Help

Since David OG is in Italy, I'm taking care of Los Angeles area news today. This just came in from my friend Chris at JVS and I said I would pass it along:

Martin O. Kari needs our help!  And you’ll have to drink for it!
 
Some of you know Marty.  Most of you don’t.  To put him in perspective, imagine my whisky knowledge and experience… his left pinky toe has more.  He has been lately dubbed the godfather of whisky, and given the gifts of drams he has bestowed upon many of us, that moniker is appropriate.  Marty knows whisky.  The whisky industry knows Marty.  When Wikipedia doesn’t have the answer for a whisky question, it says “for further reference, see Martin Kari.”  He’s even nicer than I am.  The only whisky category I excel over him in is pumping blood while drinking. 
 
Anyhow, Marty made the mistake of having a heart attack between insurance, and thanks to an economy that’s not ready to bring his AV business back to life, the bills aren’t very welcoming.  To top it off this happened at his favorite drinking event in Vegas (not Nth) and had he not been clairvoyant enough (RIP Admiral Motti) to have befriended a whisky drinking doctor, we may not have had a Marty left at all.
Enough of this!  We are going to have a benefit.  With Scotch, dammit.  May 12th downtown, and May 13th in Santa Monica.  Two different events with different donated bottles .  ALL PROFITS go to Marty.  This is a joint project with SCWS, LASC, LAWS and many donor persons and whisky shops without cool acronyms, but Chris Uhde of SCWS is the coordinator and handler of RSVPs. Email him at whiskyredhead@gmail.com to reserve a spot.  Although we are only doing cash at the door, please understand that reserving and then no-showing without a prior cancellation hurts the cause because each event is LIMITED TO 40 persons.  Attending will make you a Whisky Mensch!
 
BTW, this isn’t a complete sacrifice, because these are great whiskies and you will get a solid pour of each.  Here are the details:
 
Marty’s Heart-y Party 1
7pm Sunday May 12th
Far Bar - 347 E 1st St  Los Angeles, CA 90012
$75
 
Sunday at Far bar we will be trying some older hard to get expressions of single malt scotch whisky.  A burger or veggie burger will be included with the event
 
1. Miltonduff 1989 22yr Cheiftain’s 55.1% abv
2. Glenfarclas  1996 15yr  Traverso’s Bottling 46% abv
3. Highland Park Bicentenary 1977 American Release 43%
4. Highland Park 25yr 50.7% abv early 2000’s
5. Bowmore 28yr 1984 D&M Aficionados Club 50%
6. Bowmore 1989 16yr 51.8%
7. Laphroaig 1995 16yr Signatory 59.5% abv
 
Marty’s Heart-y Party 2
7pm Monday May 13th
Daily Pint Santa Monica
2310 Pico Blvd  Santa Monica, CA 90405
$65
 
We will meet at the Daily Pint in Santa Monica to try some expressions that have been lost to history.  Now is your chance to cross some distilleries off of your bucket list that have kicked the bucket.
 
1. Dallas Dhu 12yr Gordon Macphail 40% (Distillery Closed in 1983)
2. Rosebank 10yr 1992 Murray McDavid 46% (Distillery Closed in 1993)
3. Glenlochy 1980 24yr Duncan Taylor 61.2% abv (Distillery closed in 1983)
4. Glen Mhor 1978 botled in 2004 56% abv Scotts Selection (closed in 1983, Demolished in 1986)
5. Imperial 17yr 1995 Duncan Taylor 53.2% (closed in 1998, Demolished 2013)
6. Compass Box Spice Tree first edition (the use of additional wood in the barrel was made illegal for scotch because of this release)
7. The Classic Cask 35yr 1964 bottled in 1999 blend – This blend is no longer available and that is close enough for me
 
Please email  whiskyredhead@gmail.com to reserve a seat!
-David Driscoll
Friday
May102013

New K&L Exclusive Single Malt Pre-Order Release

   

Today we've got another new release from our most recent trip to Signatory, the whisky deal that just keeps on giving!

While this one may not shock the insider crowd, it’s going to absolutely kill with the general public. It’s just too good. Tooooo good. Everything you want from sherry-aged booze, in the style of Glenfarclas and Glendronach. We decided to proof this one down for the masses, however.

1997 Glenlivet 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Sherry Barrel Single Malt Whisky $66.99 - Although we didn't advertise it at the time, we actually selected this first-fill sherry barrel of Glenlivet from Signatory as part of our 2012 trip. We thought the whisky was simply outstanding, a shining example of what the classic Speyside distillery can accomplish when one fantastic barrel is isolated from the rest of the batch. What we wanted to do was wait until this cask hit its 16th birthday, then bottle it immediately. You could tell it was right on the cusp of greatness, but it just needed an extra year. While the standard Glenlivet expressions are soft and supple on the palate, they rarely exhibit the amount of fresh sherry influence that this 16 year old barrel exudes. The result is a whisky that's more like Macallan or Glendronach than what we think of as Glenlivet. Toffee, raisined fruit, baking spices, and cocoa came blasting out of the glass when we first pulled the sample straight from the barrel. This whisky was a beast! Since we knew that a cask of Glenlivet would encompass a larger tent of customers than some of our more esoteric selections, we thought that proofing the whisky down to 46% might be a good idea in this case. After tasting it we knew this was the right move. The spice and heat turn into creamy, unctuous sherry, melting over the palate at a slow crawl. While the whisky isn't at full proof, it is still unchillfiltered and from one single barrel. For the price, it's hard to find a single fault with this single malt.

This should be here by September with the rest of the Signatory releases. Also, we’re down to 22 bottles of Jura left for pre-order if you’re still on the fence. The Glenlivet will go out on a BIG email next week with the Miltonduff and Imperial.

-David Driscoll