Lagavulin Lover's Lament

Here we have another one of these moments when I feel like I’m just gloating, but from what people tell me they enjoy reading about this sort of thing so here goes. A few months ago, I sat down with my fellow LAWS members to examine one of my favorite distilleries. K&L has always had a tumultuous relationship with the little “hollow by the mill”. We are constantly struggling to remain competitively priced on the very important Lagavulin 16 year old. Considering it’s now available at many big box retail outlets, this hasn’t been an easy goal. When David and I first visited the distillery 3 years ago, our loyalty status in hand (you may not be surprised to learn that our Diageo Loyalty Status is “Loyal”), some sort of scheduling mishap left us without an appointment. We were kindly invited on the public tour with several large Scandinavian gentlemen, but knew better than to subject the unsuspecting public to a painfully long tour with the two Davids. Needless to say, we were not happy and we turned to this very venue to express our displeasure. Diageo was more than apologetic and in retrospect I fully understand how incredibly difficult it is to keep their billion moving parts in sync. When we returned to Scotland last year, the distillery was VERY ready for us. It is truly a magical place. The short squat stills churning out that oily peaty gold. The babbling brook that feeds the perfectly whitewashed distillery. Tasting this whisky right out of the cask with one of Scotland’s great whiskymen, it was truly a dream come true. But every dream has a dark side.

Let me preface the following with a little personal information. Lagavulin has always been a sentimental favorite of mine. I cut my teeth on the 16 year old. I’ve always revered it as one of the most important malts available and still believe it to be one of the great values in whisky today. That’s why it was so important for us to truly understand this distillery. When we finally did get to sit down with the distillery manager, we realized that our romantic image of this historic place had very little to do with the distilleries current goals. Today, a Diageo distillery’s goal is efficiency. How can we get the most out of our mash, our stills, and our casks? This comes with the obvious caveat that quality is never to be compromised, but I have true concerns about how recent changes in the name of efficiency will affect the product in the long run.

One stark example of our different points of view (Diageo vs. K&L) was simply our terminology. There is some controversy over what percentage of Lagavulin is aged in sherry butts. When we walked into the warehouses, we noticed almost exclusively sherry butts being aged onsite. When we mentioned this revelation to our hosts, how we were excited to finally know the truth, they corrected us. These were not Sherry Butts so much as they were European and American Oak Casks that happened to be in the shape of a sherry butt. This distinction was made to emphasize the practice of wood reconditioning. Basically, when they reuse certain barrels at Diageo, they will strip the wood and retoast the barrels. So, in effect there is very little sherry influence left in these oak casks despite the fact they almost certainly once held sherry. These barrels throw more tannin than a standard refill sherry butt, but are significantly less vinous. European Oak tends to throw spicier flavors and a deep color, while American oak is known for its sweetness, vanilla and lighter colored tannin.

This strategic technique was a point of great pride for our hosts, not only because it saved them money, but also because it was ecologically more advantageous. The goal is to have casks that last as long as it takes an Oak tree to grow (approximately 100 years) an admirable goal, but perhaps the least romantic thing I’ve ever heard. We always talk about wanting first or second fill barrels, but these guys are figuring out how to use a barrel 8 or 10 times. IN another example, the use of industrial yeasts and maturation were points of great honor for those running the distillery, for us they just seemed unnecessary. Of course, Diageo have hired experts to evaluate the spirit during every change at the distillery and to mitigate whatever effects technical changes might have on the whisky. What many people don’t realize is that Lagavulin still plays an integral role in Diageo’s blending program and it is therefore subject to the same rigorous standards of efficiency as all Diageo’s Single Malts (with the exception Oban, which has the surprising distinction of being Diageo’s only distillery used exclusively for Single Malt production).

So, you may ask, how the hell do I reconcile my love for this special distillery with the image that they so effusively project? All you have to do is drink a bit of this stuff and the paradox seems to vanish into thin air.

Luckily, the boys at LAWS put together this outrageous tasting to really reaffirm our willingness to pull the wool over our eyes when necessary.

Lagavulin 16 Year Old “White Horse” circa 1990 43%

Here is one of these much sought after “White Horse” bottlings. Perhaps it’s the 20+ years in bottle, but this is exactly what I like when I taste Lagavulin. On the nose, we have a very subtle struck match (the good kind of sulfur or is that phosphorous, eh?), a spicy ginger note, a very clean earthy peat, and an all encompassing sweet saltwater taffy backbone, which makes me feel like I’m standing outside some large scale candy factory. Palate: This is spicier than I remember modern Lags to be. It alternates between the peppery spice, ginger, roasted pine nuts, resin, and green apples. The richness is impeccable with only the most subtle hints of peat smoke stretching into the long finish.  Oily, spice, fruity, rich. To bad this one is quite rare, 'cause I could drink it every day.

Lagavulin 16 Year Old circa 2005 43%

This is a bottling that I’m very familiar with as 04-05 was my Lagavulin lovin’ heyday.  Here, despite Diageo’s best efforts to remain consistent we see some clear stylistic change. More peat up front than the White Horse (perhaps attributable to bottles age). Powerful black pepper and none of the spicy ginger that I loved in the last one. All around more phenolic and dryer, although it’s not one of these acrid peats. It’s earthier and nuttier than say the medicinal style from the distillery right down the road. Still a great whisky.

Lagavulin 16 Year Old circa 2012 43%

Well, this is the big rich powerful 16 year that I was expecting. A few significant notches up on the peat scale than the last two (perhaps there is some OBE here after all). It’s got more of the acrid smoke and less sweet earth. Salted nuts, burning coal, much more oceany stuff, more clear cut than the others. One might say one dimensional, but I think it’s just louder in general.  Still a great whisky, but it’s definitely a departure from the white horse style from 20 years ago.

On to the 12 Y.O. Special Releases. I’ve always been a huge fan of these yearly limited releases.  These are bottled at cask strength and usually aged in American oak barrels (not ex-bourbon, ex-sherry American Oak. Or is it? You see?)I’m a huge fan of these cask strength limited releases. I like Lagavulin in the buff! I’m happy to constantly repeat the reason why the 12 yo is more expensive than the 16, because it’s just so darned delicious. Let’s take a look at a couple of relatively recent releases.

2008, Lagavulin 12 Year Old “Special Release” 56.4%

This is exactly what I like about the 12 year. It’s the prettiest sucker punch you’ve ever seen. Power and finesse. Nose: wafting peat smoke, fresh pomace fruit, ocean air, crushed rocks and a sort of nougat/vanilla sweetness on the backend.  Palate: Power, mouth puckering intensity, vibrant smoke and oily texture, ultra fine unadultered spirit. With water it gains sweetness, but stays clean as a whistle. No dirty smoky here just pure peat and clean fruit. A really serious whisky.

2010, Lagavulin 12 Year Old “Special Release” 56.5%

I was expecting this to follow the trend of younger bottlings showing more peat up front, but this goes the other way. Less on the fresh smoke, more on the embers, coal, and earth, but at the same time sweeter and more voluptuous. Not as ultra clean as the last one, but maybe more complexity? The phenolic intensity hides some of the fruit we saw on the ’08, but I still get that almond, marzipan sweetness. Altogether harder and more serious.  With water it just expands. It’s a pretty hefty boy this guy.

2012, Lagavulin 12 Year Old “Special Release” 56.1%

Somehow these three do remind me slightly of the progression of the 16 yos, although in reverse. Now we’re moving somewhere much more herbal, more sweetness, more “bourbony” altogether. Much more dark smoke, soot and powerful tarry stuff, but it stays fresh with a generous briny side. Plenty of sweetness on the palate to balance these darker flavors as well as acidity (I wrote “sour/tart”, but in a good way)! This works well with the building sweetness. These 12 year old’s are totally worth $100.

Onto the big boys

Lagavulin 25 Year Old Distilled 1977 Bottled 2002 57.2%

An old glory that’s become very expensive. Dense Umami meaty flavors, struck match, roasted herbs and warehouse floor. Great complexity but rather dirty on the palate, wet peat, moss, shellfish, sherry funk, fruit cookies (Pepperidge Farm Veronas?), all of which I love. I find it to be incredibly well balanced. The finish is sweat highland herbs, heather, chocolate, and texturally very rich. If you’ve got bankroll you should probably start looking for this before it’s gone for good.

Lagavulin 30 Year Old Bottled 2006 52.6%

This is one I’ve always wanted to try. Heard good things, very excited. Wow, that ginger note from the White Horse is back. I’m totally in love with that flavor. Cake frosting, tangy peat smoke, Christmas cake.  All this on the nose, implying richness and great complexity to come! On the palate, the texture is much lighter than expected. The peat is hidden somewhere behind some spiny oak staves, but a bit of water brings it out. Unfortunately, that’s all it brings out. The finish was shorter than expected, but with a soft pleasurable peatiness. Don’t get me wrong it’s really delicious stuff, just not AS delicious as I was expecting. Maybe it was my high hopes, but I would not be happy spending the money on this, although others did like it more.

Lagavulin 21 Year Old Distilled 1991 Bottled 2012 52%

Everybody was clamoring for this one. We got 3 bottles or something. Here is one of them. Nose: Well here is that sherry that everyone was wondering about. Not just “European Oak,” but nutty sweet sherry. It must be sweet oloroso or PX. Strong earthy peat, with almost no briny saltiness on the nose at all. On the palate dense dried fruit, baking spice, orange liqueur and butterscotch. It all finishes drier than expected which I think helps to hold it together. It’s not a knock you down dead classic, but it’s pretty serious stuff despite the high price tag.

Lagavulin 21 Year Old Distilled 1985 Bottled 2007 56.5

I’m not sticking my neck out by announcing that this is one of my all time favorites. Let’s do some formal notes so you know how I really feel. This was aged in European Oak with Sherry! YAY! Specifics are so important. N: The depth of flavor is not matched by any of these other malts tasted today. While I was expecting the 30 yo to come closest only the 25 truly holds its own against this magnificent beast. Deep funky sherry, some of that wonderful fino flor mushroom flavor, which combined with peat usually reminds me of cured meats. We’re moments after a large fireworks display, breath deep. On the palate it’s as rich as remembered. Herbal, sweet and savory. Powerfully viscous and chewy, a bouquet of herbs – all varieties available! Builds into a crescendo of briny fruit, and spicy smoke. I’m sweating and crying softly to myself.

There were some others, but this is the important stuff. Keep an eye out this Friday we’re going to hammer through the important PLOWED Society bottlings. These famous bottles include the sought after Ardbeggeddon, Broraggeddon, as well as some choice casks from Laphroaig, Springbank, BenRiach, and Port Ellen. Considering we finished the Broraggeddon last time we opened it, I think I’ll be taking a cab home.

 -David Othenin-Girard


Blending Exercise Part II - Blending Whiskies

How foolish of me! To get everyone all excited about blending their own whiskies at home, but then not list any selections or recommendations for use during this exercise.

I got many an email last night from readers who are interested in trying this out. The only thing we need to consider here is that your standard distillery edition single malt has already been "blended" for you. I don't mean it has grain whisky in it, but rather that it's a marriage of different casks that has been artfully crafted into the expression you have in the bottle. To really get an idea of what blending your own whisky would be like it's best to use your single barrel, cask strength edition whiskies for this exercise.

In order to encourage more people to do this, as well as stand by my word as someone trying to bring value back into the single malt market, I'm going to heavily discount some of our single barrel selections for a limited time only. We at K&L want to help subsidize the costs for anyone looking to enhance their own single malt education, therefore:

1996 Caol Ila 15 Year Old K&L Exclusive Sovereign Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (was $120) NOW $99.99

1994 Caperdonich 18 Year Old K&L Sovereign Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (was $125) NOW $99.99

1991 Linkwood 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive Sovereign Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (was $135) NOW $105.99

I know these whiskies are still a bit pricey, but they're the best whiskies we have in stock at the moment for blending and they're the only ones we're in any position to offer serious discounts on. With the Linkwood you've got your classic "Glenlivet" or Speyside malt. The Caperdonich gives you the "North Country" flavor and the Caol Ila is the perfect Islay blender. Now, if you've still got a bottle of the Springbank Bourbon cask we did a while back, one of the Auchentoshan barrels we bought from A.D. Rattray, and the Girvan we had from Sovereign, you're in the perfect position to recreate Barnard's blended recipe! We'll also have half bottles of A.D. Rattray single casks coming next week if you want to wait for those. If you recently purchased the new K&L Clynelish 16 year, that's another good choice.

Best of luck with your exercise.

-David Driscoll


Blending Exercise

There's a great book about single malt whisky called The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom published in 1887 by a man named Alfred Barnard. I turn to this book every now and again when I'm looking for information or inspiration about my drinking habits. The tome is a giant travelogue that documents Barnard's visits to active distilleries in England, Scotland, and Ireland towards the end of the 19th century and there are even blending tips and advertisements in today's reprinted editions. One chapter I had never paid much attention to was the section called "The Art of Blending Scotch Whisky." I probably wouldn't have ever paid it much attention had John Glaser not pointed it out as a source of inspiration when we visited him recently.

Having read through the section today, during the commercials between Mad Men, I managed to pull out a few interesting passages that I thought I would share with you here on the blog.

It is a fact well known that the old-established Scotch houses, above all others, are enabled to give a higher class of whisky, by reason of their careful study of the science of blending, which they have now reduced to a fine art....The idea is, to produce a blend so perfect that it strikes the consumer as being one liquid, not many – i.e., having absolute unity, tasting as one whole.

To anyone who's recently found an affinity for single malt whisky (me included), it's important to remember that the idea of drinking the whisky of one single distillery is a relatively modern phenomenon – as in within the last few decades. It's not that single malts didn't exist before then (Laphroaig was one of the first to pioneer the idea back in the early 1900s) it's just that blends were considered superior. Barnard's view is among the majority of opinion during his time. Creating truly top-level whisky required a knowledge of blending.

It should be remembered that a high-class blend cannot be made out of inferior whiskies, and that the first brands of Highland whisky are not procurable at a low price, or at least the same price as second and third-class brands, while experience will teach that it will be cheaper in the long run to use only the finest product of the finest pot stills.

As you can see from the above passage, there was no prevailing mindset among Barnard's group that the finest whiskies should be enjoyed on their own – unadulterated, from a single barrel, at cask strength. In his mind, the finest whiskies should be married together to create the highest-quality of blends – the highest echelon of whisky available.

Age is the first essential in Scotch whisky: common experience has always shown that new spirit is less wholesome and more intoxicating than old....For an ideal blend the age should range from seven to ten years, and for a high-class whisky for ordinary private trade the age should run from five to seven years, while for a public-house trade it should never be less than two and up to four years old.

Isn't that funny? Seven to ten years old for the ideal blend! My how times have changed. What's interesting is how surpluses and shortages affect the "ideal" age for Scotch whisky. I'm not going to deny that thirty year old Port Ellen tastes like pure heaven, but there is a good deal to be said for marketing. There was a glut of Scotch whisky in the early 1980s. Since that time we've been told that the older a whisky is, the better. Maybe that's because companies were sitting on vast supplies of old booze (Stewart Laing told us how they once blended old Brora into their basic label expression because they didn't know what else to do with it). Now we're in the middle of a global shortage. All of a sudden we're being told that age isn't important. In fact, many whiskies no longer carry an age statement. We're back to flavor again. The ultimate marriage is more important than the age of maturity. It could be said that the importance of age to a whisky depends entirely on what the industry needs to sell. I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that you could say that. :)

Speaking of flavor...

Flavour is the next essential in a good blend. All Highland whisky must have flavor, and it is the quality and degree of this flavour that denotes the value of the various Highland stills, just as it is in wine....A first-class blend must contain a careful selection of the choicest products of the Highland stills mellowed by age, and judiciously amalgamated by a practised hand; not like a mixture we heard of lately in the Midland Counties, in which a merchant had put together a second-rate Campbeltown, a cheap Lowland malt, and a deal of low-class grain spirit, and then called it a Highland malt.

How awesome is that paragraph?! Barnard is the outspoken whisky blogger before there was such a thing. Look at him, exposing companies that attempt to market their whisky as something it isn't. Fuck that shit!

Mountain air, peat moss of the richest quality, pure water from the hills, and the best Scotch malt, are absolute requirements for the manufacture of Highland whisky, in order to ensure the pronounced characteristics so highly valued by the experienced blender; and it is the development of these by age, which gives bouquet and relish to a fine blend. In order to appreciate good whisky we must fully realise the distinction that exists in the composition and properties of the blend....For the purposes of our argument we shall divide the distilleries of Scotland into six classes: Islay, Glenlivet, North Country, Campbeltown, Lowland Malt, and Grain.

Glenlivet is what we know today as Speyside (confusion between the actual distillery and the region). North Country we now refer to as Highland. Barnard goes on to describe the properties of each style and its particular use for blending together the perfect whisky. He even gives a recipe for one of the most popular blends he knows of, which you can see in the photo at the top.

Looking at Barnard's recipe for inspiration I took to my whisky cabinet and began mixing. Are you like me? Do you have fifty open bottles that have been quietly sitting there in your living room, taking up space and needing an excuse to finally empty their content? Maybe it's time we all tried our hand at blending. I want to see who can make the best vatted malt from their home collection. I know a few customers who already do this regularly, but I think learning how flavors work together is part of a sound whisky education.

While the term "blend" today has become synonymous with lower quality with newer whisky drinkers looking for "pure" authenticity, mixing up what's available is a great way to find value in an exploitative market. We're doing some mixing of our own right now with casks that have potential, but don't quite sing that solo the way we wish they could. Barnard's book is a great source of information for anyone interested in learning more about the process. I've already had a bit of fun with this recipe.

-David Driscoll


The Burnout Antidote (Part IV)

Why spend a whole week talking about whisk(e)y burnout?

First off, because I can sense it in the air. There's a glitch in the Matrix. A disturbance in the force. We're selling more whisk(e)y than ever, so it's got nothing to do with sales. People aren't buying less whisky, but I do feel like they're enjoying it less. I also get the feeling that many devout drinkers are getting less overall satisfaction from what it is they're spending. I had lunch with my friend Brian the other day who is in real estate and he confirmed the same pattern in the Bay Area housing market. Everyone thought the bubble was going to burst, but it bounced right back and now there's no inventory. You can still buy a house. As long as you've got a million dollars. Oh, and you'll need to pay in cash. Up front.

Let's say you've got a million in cash, up front. Is that what you want to spend it on? My friend Brian is reporting the same type of burnout with some of his clients. They're tired of waking up every morning, going to open houses, getting their hopes up with an offer, only to find out they've been outbid by someone else. Another friend of mine is in the same situation. He's been trying to buy a place for the last year and he's finally given up. All of the promotion about low interest rates, loans coming easier, and a strong market got him all excited. Then, when he went out to actually get a place, he found there weren't any places to get. There were plenty of places he wanted to buy, but the prices kept going up, up, up. When you finally close on a deal you might find you've overspent and that doesn't make for a satisfied consumer.

When we walked into some of our favorite Scottish warehouses last month, we could feel that something was wrong. Again, there was just that feeling in the air. It was confirmed when we looked at the price sheets after tasting through samples. $140 a bottle for 14 year old Laphroaig? $60 a bottle for a 6 year old Caol Ila? We purposely tasted through less-mature whisky, thinking some of these younger malts might offer value, much like someone going after a condo instead of a house. But then you're hit with the HOA fees and other hidden costs that take away from any possible savings, so you really didn't save much in the end. That's part of the reason that last year's casks were mostly in the $100+ range. It was simply worth spending the extra money to get something better.

What did we do differently this year as a result? We really put in the research. We found guys who sell casks, but don't bottle. We found ex-distillery employees who kept a few casks after retirement, but now want to part with them. We dug up every barrel we could find, no matter what the name, provenance, or age and we tasted them. All of them. Close to 250 casks in all. Many of these brokers are not as connected as brands like Signatory or Gordon & MacPhail. They don't have the customer base or the reputation for quality, so they're not charging the same premium. We found young peated whiskies. We found fifteen year old casks from places like Fettercairn or Blair Athol. We tasted blended whiskies as well. If we could find value we could possibly help relieve our market from sticker shock and further whisky burnout.

I can't imagine buying a house with a mortgage that took up every dollar I earned each month. Not being able to go out, living off of tuna fish, just so I could own my own place. It's not worth it to me and I know I would burnout fast with that type of lifestyle. Similarly, I don't want K&L customers to look at quality whisky as something they have to scrimp and save for. Maybe for a bottle of Port Ellen, but certainly not for a bottle of Laphroaig 14. There are plenty of value-priced whiskies on the market still, but die-hard whisky customers want new things. What's next? What's new? "I want something that I can't just get anywhere else," is the number one request in the K&L liquor department. I get asked for something new and unique fifty times a day. These guys have had Clynelish 14, Aberlour 12, and Highland Park a jillion times. They're beyond those bottles now. After nurturing a passion for single casks over the last couple of years, it seems like such a shame to call $100 the new $50 for this type of product.

What can we do about it as retailers? Work harder. Find deals. Do your job. I think we've done it this year. Royal Lochnagar. Bowmore. Fettercairn. Aberlour. Longmorn. Blended whiskies. Blended malts. Whatever we could find that had a great taste and a great price. That's the antidote for whisky burnout. Value. Finding a new, exciting, interesting whisky that you can afford to drink and still have money left over. Many of the K&L bottles this season will be geared towards consumption. You won't have to dollup out a thimble-full here and there. If things go as planned (fingers crossed) we could have as many as fifteen single barrel, high-proof whiskies that should sell for far less than $100. Less than $70 in many cases. Maybe even less than $60. I don't know yet because we haven't done all the math.

I'm hoping that this stimulus package puts a jolt back into the industry. We can't win by purchasing Diageo whisky and selling it for cost anymore (although that was fun, wasn't it?). I'm hoping that fun, drinkable, and affordable whiskies can make drinking single malt whisky something we do every night, rather than only for special occasions.

We'll see.

-David Driscoll


Our Whisk(e)y Could Be Your Life

There's a famous book by Michael Azerrad called Our Band Could Be Your Life that documents the influence of punk rock during the 1980s. I've always loved the title of that work because I think it succinctly summarizes how seriously some people take their music. Imagine if you started a band and you had people following you from city to city, getting tattoos of your name across their chest, reciting your lyrics at every show, even arguing over what they think you mean by them. I remember going to watch Stephen Malkmus at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco about five years ago and it was nuts. The whole room was full of people who were cat-calling songs they wanted him to play. He already had a setlist he was working through, but people were really clamoring for old Pavement tracks. At one point he forgot the lyrics to a song he was playing by request, "Vanessa From Queens." We all shouted the words out to him so he could keep going. I remember thinking, "I know all the words to every Stephen Malkmus song by heart, but Stephen Malkmus doesn't?" When it comes to music I think we, as fans, have a tendency to over-inflate the importance of these songs to the artists themselves. What may mean the world to you could be just another jingle to them, one of hundreds that they're forgotten about over time. I think similar analogies could be made about whisky.

We've all been to a concert where an older artist is supporting new material. The artist wants to play the new stuff, but we want to hear the old stuff. We politely tolerate a few Bridges to Babylon tracks because we know Mick is going to pump out "Brown Sugar" and "Gimme Shelter" if we're patient enough. As it pertains to whisky, I've watched grown men practically grill brand ambassadors or master distillers over releasing more Supernova or making another batch of Parker's Heritage #1. I've sponsored customer events where people show up for free food and free booze with the whiskymaker, but sit there and argue with the guest over changing the specs to fit their particular desire. "Can't you make a peated Aberlour? Why not? I'd buy one! Isn't that reason enough?"

In all of my time playing the middleman between customers and producers, I've learned one very important lesson: the companies making the spirits usually don't care nearly as much as the customers do about their alcohol. They're trying to make money, not friends. If their particular product resonates with you, that's great. They're happy to hear it. However, when a customer starts showing up at company meetings, emailing regularly, and exhibiting groupie-esque behavior, it can start to get a little weird for the guys making the whisky. On the other side of that coin, the producers often times do not understand that creating a spirit automatically enters them into a passionate community of liquor fans. Whether they like it or not, they now have websites dedicated to their cause, message board threads documenting their every move, and an HR employee whose inbox is likely overloaded with detailed questions about production. Some spirits will achieve rock star status. Some will simply enjoy a few years of moderate fame. Some will resent success, others will embrace it.

If you asked me to list off every Ardbeg release since 2005 in chronological order, I could do it. If you asked Bill Lumsden the same question on the spot, he could probably answer it as well. However, if he forgot a few names or misplaced the order of a few, I wouldn't be surprised. Nor would I read anything into it. The guys making the whisky are busy doing that - actually making the whisky. They're not categorically managing the entirety of whisky culture in their minds at all times. A lot of whiskymakers have no idea what's going on outside of their own company. Kilchoman? What's that? Whereas someone like me thinks about booze all day and all night, it doesn't necessarily follow that the people making it do as well.

Like the time I had to help Stephen Malkmus remember the lines to one of his more obscure songs. What was more embarrassing? The fact that he had forgotten them? Or the fact that I knew them and had the nerve to shout them out?

-David Driscoll