Updated Signatory Tasting Notes

It's one thing to read our previews based on our straight-from-the-cask experience, but it's another to see how the whiskies actually taste when they arrive in the bottle (because ultimately that's how all of you are going to taste them). Here are some updated descriptions on our latest arrivals:

1997 Benrinnes 17 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $79.99 – UPDATED NOTES: This is just glorious—like what whisky used to taste like back when we carried Chieftain’s and Signatory full time. The nose is a complex layer of stonefruit and vanilla, and a drop of water unlocks an entirely new world of flavor. Sweet tea, brandied fruit, sweet barley—it’s all awaiting you here. So far the best feedback from the staff and customers has been a tie between the Benrinnes and the Bowmore.

2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Refill Sherry Hogshead Single Malt Whisky $79.99 – UPDATED NOTES: W-O-W. This is sooooo much better than we remember it tasting. I’m going to post my colleague Jeff Garneau’s tasting notes so you can all see how the staff reacted to this one:

You stumble at the foot of the stairs, eyes struggling to adjust in the dim interior of the nightclub. Somewhere a piano plays an old jazz standard. You are certain you have heard it before but you can’t recall where or when. Soft voices murmur in the darkness, the words themselves indistinct. Suddenly a cigarette flares nearby, illuminating a face of porcelain etched in shadow. Smoke winds upward, disappearing into the gloom. Silk whispers against soft flesh as she raises a hand, gesturing to the chair opposite. You move to sit. The night is full of mystery and possibility. Who knows what might happen? Each year as I taste through the latest single malt offerings from Scotland painstakingly selected by our K&L Spirits team, one bottle in particular will inevitably speak to me. I never really know which one it will be. This year I was shocked to discover it was the 2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Refill Sherry Hogshead Single Malt Whisky. Although I enjoy peated whiskies, I am usually more of a Speyside fan. Yet this Bowmore had that extra something – something indefinable, ineffable – something that makes you take a step back, set down your notebook, and just – stop – for a moment. Incredibly soft and silky with a weight you want to savor forever on the tongue. And smoke. Not the raw choking smoke of mistakenly sitting downwind of the campfire. Something deliciously subtle. A memory of old peat fires, permeating the roof beams of a favorite pub. A stolen kiss, the flavor of tobacco on soft lips. A suggestion, a hint, a grace note. Remarkable. Transcendent.

1997 Glenlivet 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Sherry Butt Single Malt Whisky $79.99 – UPDATED NOTES: This is everything you want it to be: chewy, rich, raisined, round, bursting with fresh sherry, but without the big spice or gigantic proof. It’s an elegant profile. When we email this whisky next week it’s going to FLY outta here (that will happen next week). There are about 500 guys who missed out on this whisky last year who still want a bottle, so it’s now or never on this one.

1995 Glen Elgin 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $89.99 – UPDATED NOTES: This is Kyle’s favorite and it’s easy to see why certain folks love this whisky: there’s a beautiful floral note followed by round, soft Highland fruit. This is poetic stuff that should please fans of the style. A sleeper hit.

1998 Laphroaig 15 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $169.99 – UPDATED NOTES: $169 seems steep when you're talking about 15 year old single malt, but trust me when I tell you that old casks of iconic distilleries like Laphroaig are not going to be available much longer -- at least for a retailer like K&L to purchase. This is a huge, in-your-face version of Laphroaig; no water added, not diluted in any way. Big peat, big smoke, big Islay in a bottle. The fact that this was aged in refill sherry is icing on the cake. Again, we went for quality over price on this one.

1992 Bruichladdich 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $149.99 – UPDATED NOTES: Just a beautiful, ghostly, haunting whisky that seems rather linear at first, but with water transforms into a specter of salt, the sea, and the maritime air. A lost breed of Island malt.

1983 Caol Ila 30 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $279.99 – UPDATED NOTES: Man…just nosing this thing makes my mouth water. It’s all that sweet apple fruit that you get from Caol Ila, but then the salty, peat, smoky notes that just get concentrated supremely after three decades in wood. I just tasted it before typing this. It’s divine. Not bright peat like Port Ellen, or big peat like Laphroaig, but a heavier peat that gets oilier due to the weight of the whisky.

1981 Glenlivet 32 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $299.99 – UPDATED NOTES: The label says “hogshead” but this wasn’t just any old “hogshead.” It was a re-coopered sherry butt from Gonzales Byass – one of the best sherry producers in Spain. The rich, dark, savory sherry notes are on full display in this Glenlivet, but the influence never overwhelms the fruit, which is still more than present on the initial mid-palate note. It’s stellar and it’s not going to last very long in this climate for old Macallan and Glenlivet (hint: we sell them fast these days).

-David Driscoll


Four New Four Roses Casks

It's no secret that we love Four Roses distillery and it's also not a secret that our K&L Exclusive casks from the Bourbon maker are some of the best whiskies we get each year. However, drinking great Kentucky Bourbon isn't always enough these days as consumers are always looking for something more to sink their teeth into. That's why we decided on a little theme for our most recent batch of Four Roses selections. The distillery makes two different mashbills: "E" which uses 75% corn, 20% rye and "B" which uses 60% corn and 35% rye. They also use five different types of yeast, creating the permutation potential ten different recipes. We decided to pick two yeast strains and see how they interacted with the two different mashbills, side-by-side.

Four Roses K&L Exclusive OBSF (10 Years Old, 9 Months) Single Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon $59.99In the OBSF cask, the higher percentage of rye comes through on the finish, as the peppery notes and minty flavors from the grain dominate the backend. The nose is all fruit, however, and a bit of water helps to tame that 59% cask strength proof. It's a different animal than the OESF, which we also brought in this time around as a comparison. The extra boost of rye really gives it that in-your-face spice that many Bourbon fans truly enjoy. It's a great whiskey for rocks sipping or even a bold Manhattan.

Four Roses K&L Exclusive OESF (10 Years Old, 2 Months) Single Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon $59.99OESF uses that higher corn mashbill, which gives it a mellower flavor than its OBSF brother. The minty notes are still there, but they're more subtle, allowing the wood to play the dominant role in the flavor profile. The nose is full of big vanilla oak and baking spices, but the palate is a huge burst of black pepper that carries all the way through to the finish. At 58.6%, it's a bold Bourbon, but it's nuanced and complex enough and to enjoy neatly--as long as you enjoy the spice! 

Four Roses K&L Exclusive OBSQ (10 Years Old, 5 Months) Single Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon $59.99The OBSQ has the higher rye content of the two Q whiskies and the result is a monstrous Bourbon with big richness, big spice, big floral rye notes, and big everything! It's the richest of all the four casks and it has the most power at a whopping 60.3%. It's an in-your-face Bourbon that delivers all the goods.

Four Roses K&L Exclusive OESQ (9 Years Old, 5 Months) Single Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon $59.99The OESQ is the softest of the four casks at 56.7% and it's the creamiest of the bunch (perhaps due to the higher corn content). The flavors are green banana, soft vanilla from the oak, and a wave of baking spices that coat the palate on the finish. It's a striking difference from the higher rye OBSQ whiskey that offers big power and bold flavor. In this case, the corn really played a dominant role, bringing richness and creaminess instead of pure spice.

-David Driscoll


Ready to Go!

Today is going to be a big day at K&L. The Signatory whiskies are hitting the shelves in all three stores, pre-arrivals will be ready for pick up in Los Angeles (finally!), and we'll get all the new tasting notes updated so you can peruse the new crop (remember: unless you've notified us in the past, pre-orders do not automatically get sent to the store for pick up—you have to let us know). We're still waiting on the Balmenach and the Dailuaine, but we can't let that little hold-up slow us down—we've got twenty new French brandies landing today as well!! Oh, and did I mention four new barrels of Four Roses Bourbon? And I forgot one last thing—a new cask of Germain-Robin California brandy. Shoot—and I also forgot the first batch of Bryan Davis's new Cuban-style 151 rum. One last thing—a new cask of Bunnahabhain 16 heavily peated from Chieftain's. OK—I think that's it.....for today.

So, yes, there are a few things going on today around K&L in the spirits department. If I don't answer your emails right away I hope you'll understand.

I'm super pumped about the reaction we're getting already concerning the Signatory whiskies. One of my best whisky customers told me earlier this week, "David, this entire crop is a home run. These whiskies taste like what I used to drink five years ago—the quality is there and the prices are more than fair." That was music to my ears. The Glenlivet 16 is so rich and supple. The Bowmore, so creamy and smoky. The Bruichladdich is ghostly, with hints of salt and seawater. The Benrinnes, a burst of vanilla and fruit when you add a drop of water. The Glen Elgin is floral and fruity, a fun summer time sipper. The Caol Ila, a masterpiece of three decades—oily, hypnotic, and complex with evolved peated tones. And, of course, the ancient 32 year old Glenlivet—a sherry hogshead that delivers all the goods.

If there's one thing we learned from last year's experience, it's that value can only take you so far. I thought a number of whiskies from 2013 represented a good bang for the buck. The feedback I got, however, is that a large, overwhelming majority of our single malt customers would rather have something great and pay a little more for it. That's what this crop of Signatory whiskies represents: the best whisky we could find—regardless of the price (although they're all pretty reasonable price-wise); not just what constituted value or a good bargain. I've learned from shopping with a number of fashion-conscious ladies that quality will always win out over price. Rest assured—there's nothing on the American market right now as good as any of these Signatory whiskies. If you've got $80 to spend, it will be best spent on the Glenlivet 16 or Bowmore 11 selections we've got currently. If you've got $300, then grab either the Glenlivet 32 or the Caol Ila 30—you won't regret it. All of our sales staff, from SF to LA, feel entirely confident that these Signatory casks are the best bottles we've got—and the best we've had in years.

There's a reason that 80% of this year's crop came from Signatory. They're sitting on the best stock of mature single malt in the world, as far as we're concerned. And we're only interested in the very best.

-David Driscoll


Malacca Part II

You've gotta give it up to Diageo's new label designer—whoever is creating these retro-tastic bottles for the spirits giant is hitting it out of the park. Even if the new Tanqueray Old Tom—the follow-up to last year's mega-successful Malacca rebirth—tasted like total garbage, I still might buy it just for the cool-looking package. How does the new Old Tom taste, though? Like Tanqueray with a little bit of sweetness. Nothing crazy; just another solid release that should please fans of the genre (as long as you like sweet gin).

Tanqueray Old Tom Gin 1L $31.99 - Diageo is back with a new Tanqueray meant to replace the limited edition Malacca re-release from a year ago. This new Old Tom expression adds just a bit of residual sugar to the mix, creating a rounder, more supple palate; but without losing any of the herbaceous character Tanqueray is known for. With its old school packaging and liter-sized format, we expect the Old Tom to be just as big of a hit with cocktail fans. Try it in a Gimlet, Tom Collins, Martinez, or a Gin Fizz, and add it to a Negroni for extra weight. Bonus points for the liter-sized bottle, as well.

-David Driscoll


Post-Modern Boutique Retail

"Do you have these in a size 40?" I asked the lady at the ________ store in the Westfield Mall. 

"No, they're not available in that size, unfortunately," she said with a sympathetic frown.

"These just came out though, right?" I asked to be sure. I had been waiting for the new season of Fall flats to arrive.

"Yes, just last week."

"And is it that you didn't get any of these in a size 40, or was it just that all your size 40 options sold out quickly?" I inquired.

"To be honest," the lady told me, "Sometimes they don't even bother sending out all the sizes to the retail chains anymore. Everything sells immediately online, and they only make a few in each size, so they don't always see the point in distributing to brick and mortar these days."

"Ain't that the truth!" I thought to myself.

I've become a highly-competent shopper in the women's fashion world over the past few years. I've learned what my wife likes and what sizes she wears so that I can surprise her every now and again with a nice gift. But the more I start to understand the way the fashion world works, the more I see the parallels in the booze business. You'd think buying a simple pair of shoes would be easy, especially from a designer with numerous boutiques across the country. The reality, however, is that the internet has changed the way fashion retail works, much like it has with distilled spirits. You might expect to walk into K&L and find that rare Bourbon you've been searching for among our stock, but the fact is that most of our collectable stuff gets poached online long before we can even put it out on the shelf. Retailers like us have become so accustomed to a large pool of online consumers that often we don't need to make space in the store—we simply load it into inventory and the internet takes care of the rest.

And it's not just the instant availability aspect that's upping the ante for competitive shoppers; the internet is also increasing the amount of interested buyers by spreading the marketing information more freely. I can't even imagine what it must be like for high-schoolers to throw parties these days. I remember wanting to invite about twenty people over when my parents went out of town during my sophomore year, and going out of my way to only tell a few friends the details. If you weren't careful you'd have the whole school show up on your front doorstep with cold twelve-packs and a street full of honking cars. With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and dozens of other social media services, there are no more secrets. You can't quietly mention anything to anyone these days without the entire world knowing about it seconds later. The same thing goes for booze, and apparently for women's shoes.

You think no one knows about that local distillery down the road from your house? Think again. There are probably people in Hong Kong trying to get a bottle of their limited Spring release. You think that tiny little microbrew behind the local Safeway is just marketing its beer to the neighborhood? HA! There are probably twenty guys in Des Moines trying to order the remaining inventory via the brewery's website. Want those new ballet flats in size 40? So do hundreds of other women reading fashion blogs, Pinterest sites, and Instagram accounts about the hottest new shoes. It's a Catch 22 for enthusiasts these days. We like to Yelp about our favorite restaurants, but then we're mad when we can't get a table. We like to take photos of our newest outfits, but then we get annoyed when everyone's wearing the same thing. We like to brag about our latest whiskey acquisition, posting photos of the bottle on Facebook, but then we bitch about how good whiskey is getting harder to find. But you can't have it both ways.

If you like to post online information about whiskey, then you can't complain about whiskey's sudden popularity—because ultimately you're part of the problem! The more information we put online, the more people are going to discover our passion and our interests. The more that retailers put their inventory online for e-commerce, the less they'll need to rely on brick and mortar outlets. The less we rely on actual physical retail outlets, the harder it will be to get what you want because no one has to actually go to the store to buy what they're looking for; everything is just a few clicks away. 

You used to be able to get front row tickets for any concert if you got up earlier than your neighbor and waited in line at the local Ticketmaster outlet (sometimes people would even camp out overnight). Not anymore. Today the fastest internet connection wins that battle. Today's savvy shoppers are the ones who sit in front of a computer screen all day, not actually make the rounds to the local mall. All the really good stuff isn't there, anyway.

-David Driscoll