Ah.....Islay. That magical place where peated whiskies are born and where whisky lovers hope to die. As the shortage of mature malt continues to remove age statements from the bottle, we've been piecing together a deal that we think will get you excited about the olden days of Islay malts. Like 2007, eons ago, when you could buy things like 21 year old Lagavulin off the shelf -- on a whim.
We’ve been patiently waiting for the right pieces to come into place and for all the stars to align on this deal, and we think we’re finally there. We’re ready. We’re ready to unleash this monster.
Are you all ready?
As many of you know, we've teased the idea of three ultra-mature Islay casks since this past March, but we were never able to give any specifics. "Three ancient casks, reminiscent of what we used to see all the time back in the day, from the same warehouse as our fantastic Port Ellen cask a few years back." People were curious, we received a lot of email questions about the statistics, and we hoped the pricing would come down a bit so that we could actually make these affordable (although that's a relative term these days). That’s finally happened. Then there was the question of what we would have to do to get them released to us. If you ever hear anyone say, "There's no more old whisky in Scotland," they're not completely off-base. At this point, it's no longer about who will pay the most or who's got the most coin--it's only about access. Do you have the connections, the relationships, and do people actually want to do business with you? Luckily for us the past few years of hard work, loyalty, respect, and friendship have opened more doors for us.
Three doors, actually. Three very special doors that we weren’t sure would ever open up again on the island of Islay.
And what's behind door number one?
(drum roll please….oh, and please note that these are all pre-orders due in late March) (oh, and please also note that there are only 100 bottles of each available for pre-order)
DOOR NUMBER ONE
1992 Ardbeg 21 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $299.99 (PRE-ARRIVAL PRICE) -- An ultra-rare, highly-coveted cask of rockstar Islay whisky: a 21 year old Ardbeg with all the smoke, salt, peat, and spice the distillery is renowned for. More than two decades in wood however have tempered this beast down to a very reasonable 49.6 percent, allowing one to sip easily without the addition of water. The wood has mellowed the intensity a bit, but it has also concentrated it. There are only 150 bottles available from this ancient cask and they won't last long. Independent Ardbeg bottles have become unicorns here in the spirits world. Luckily we're able to bag one every now and again to keep the magic alive. While they last....
Wow! That’s a pretty exciting door to start off with! Can door number two get any better?
DOOR NUMBER TWO
1993 Laphroaig 20 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $159.99 (PRE-ARRIVAL PRICE) -- A magical cask of 20 year old Laphroaig at 44.5% cask strength. This is quite a fun whisky, mainly because of the balance between the more-mellow mouthfeel and the concentration of peat and smoke. We've become big fans of older Laphroaig here at K&L simply because the slowly-matured wood influence works so well with the bright, fresh, and lively peat flavors inherent in the malt. This cask ranks alongside the best we've found from other bottlers and the price is quite reasonable as well. Only 139 bottles were available from this reduced barrel. They will reward those who manage to get one.
Geez! I’m not sure my heart can take another door. The Ardbeg was exciting, but the price on the Laprhoaig looks great. Can door number three even come close to these first two?
DOOR NUMBER THREE
1980 Caol Ila 32 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $239.99 (PRE-ARRIVAL PRICE) -- The sister cask to our former K&L exclusive, a 1980 Caol Ila now two years older than when we last visited her. While our former cask was rather light on its feet, its older sister comes in at a whopping 57.1% and brings all the earthy peat you can handle. It's also classically Caol Ila with a rounder, fruiter palate from those famous, fat-necked pot stills. The price is in line as well with that offering. Our 30 year old cask sold for $199.99, so considering inflation, the increasingly-insane demand for whisky, and the extra few years, we think $239.99 is pretty reasonable. If 150 people agree with us we'll be sold out.
I was going to leave this Islay trilogy alone, letting the magnitude of these announcements sink in without any other distraction, but I figured, “This is an Islay blog post, so we might as well pile it all on.” I teased these on the blog earlier this week and, now that we have pricing confirmed and delivery dates scheduled, we can start offering pre-orders.
If there is one battle we're not willing to fight in the spirits world, it's the idea that "craft" whisky is better whisky. We don’t think being small makes your whisky better and we definitely don’t think it’s worth charging more. We don't think using quarter casks to mature whisky faster makes for better whisky. We don't think using organic grains or designer barrels make for better whisky either. What makes whisky better? Time. If you're not willing to let your whisky come around naturally, then you're not going to convince guys like David and me to support your stuff. Kilchoman, in my mind, is the one "craft" distillery that does it right. Their whisky is still young, but it's already light years beyond what we're seeing from standard Islay releases these days. There are reasons for this. They operate their still at a slow drip --that takes TIME. They only use standard size Bourbon and Sherry casks, which take TIME to mature. And they hired John MacLellan, the former distiller for Bunnahabhain, who has decades of experience from putting in his TIME! And they keep getting better. TIME is on their side and I am willing to pay more for a “craft” whisky if it tastes better. These whiskies are better than anything I’ve tasted from Islay this year, so that’s why we bought them!
When Val brought us these single barrel samples a few weeks back I didn’t plan on buying anything. After I tasted them, however, I was scrambling for him to find me more. These are the most exciting Islay whiskies of 2013. They’re not new or different, but they hearken back to a time when Islay whiskies were explosive, flavorful, and lit your mouth up like a pinball machine. I don’t mean with alcohol or brute force, either. I mean with flavor. With unbridled, pure, clean, undeniably-Islay flavor. You’ll find that happening in both of these casks:
Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #172 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 (PRE-ARRIVAL PRICE) -- This Bourbon cask #172 is so delicate in mouthfeel, yet bursting with white pepper, smoke, and fresh peat that it almost seems unreal. At 60% it tastes like 45% because it's in complete harmony with a small dose of butterscotch on the finish and then a lingering floral note. At only five years of age it's more flavorful, satisfying, and exciting than anything I've tasted from any Islay distillery over the past year. It is AWESOME!
Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #74 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 (PRE-ARRIVAL PRICE) -- This Bourbon cask #74 is zippy, lively, peppery, and bright with cinnamon red hots and bursts of sweet wood. It's like a mezcal made on Islay, but with more vanilla and sweetness. What's more amazing is the sheer drinkability at 59%. It's never hot, overpowering, or out of whack. This DESTROYS Ardbeg Uigeadail. It makes Lagavulin 16 look like a sick joke. It makes Laphroaig 10 irrelevant. It makes any standard Islay release look boring and out of date. Kilchoman is the future, my friends. Everyone else is living in the past.