Kulsveen (aka Willett) Whiskey Finally Here

For years we've been waiting for the Willett distillery to start making whiskey again. Today, we finally get our first taste.

Willett Distillery 2 Year Old Rye Whiskey $43.99 - It's been a long time in the making, but the first batch of 100% Willett distilled rye is finally here--and it's glorious. For years, Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, run by the Kulsveen family, has been bottling fantastic whiskey under their numerous labels; Willett being just one of the expressions (along with Noah's Mill, Rowan's Creek, Johnny Drum, etc.). Willett Distillery was actually founded in the 1930s by former Bernheim superintendent Thompson Willett, but subsequent generations of the family would become disinterested in Bourbon until the distillery finally closed. Evan Kulsveen, who married Willett's daughter, purchased the abandoned site in 1984 with plans to reopen his father in law's once-great operation. Almost thirty years later, his son Drew and son-in-law Hunter have the site refurbished and back on track. This batch of two year old rye marks the first time the whiskey in a Willett rye bottle has been the product of the Willett distillery and not a purchased barrel from LDI distillery in Indiana. It's shockingly good considering the young age. Imagine the pure rye flavors of Anchor's Old Potrero with the cinnamon and baking spices of the Templeton. Bottled at 54.7% ABV, the power and intensity of the whiskey is also on display, but it's balanced beautifully by the richness. It's a giant leap forward for the Willett distillery and it's an exciting day for those of us who have been waiting for this moment for some time.

-David Driscoll


Time Machine

Sometimes our will call room and shipment center function like a modified DeLorean from 1985, or in layman's terms, a time machine. People order booze from K&L, intending to pick it up or have it shipped, but time continues to pass and the bottles are forgotten. I've been cleaning out some back stock over the past few weeks, emailing customers to see what they want to do, and offering refunds to people who have changed their minds since ordering. The result? The return of bottles from K&L's past.

I'm not even going to bother emailing these out as there aren't very many in stock, but those of you keeping up with the blog you might want to snag some of these former legends.

1997 Springbank K&L Exclusive 14 Year Single Madeira Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $129.99 - On our 2011 visit to Springbank, we knew we wanted to purchase a single bourbon cask, but we were open to other options were we to find another very special barrel.  Of course, that's exactly what happened.  One of the most beloved whiskies in K&L customer history was a 2000 Springbank that was finished in Chateau d'Yquem barrels, giving a sweet highlight to the chewy textures of the malt. This 1998 Madeira barrel-finished whisky is bottled at cask strength, and is the more muscular, more mature cousin of that lovely 2000.  Golden fruits, a rich, oily mouthfeel, and a long, supple finish all merge together and make this one of the easiest drams we've tasted in sometime.  We can't imagine anyone not loving this, so we decided to go deep and buy the whole thing.  Like the 2000, we expect people to talk about this whisky for some time to come.

1999 Blair Athol K&L Exclusive 11 Year Old Provenance Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $79.99 - One of the most exciting parts of our recent trip to Scotland was the visit we had with the Laing brothers, a pair of independent bottlers who don't dabble too much in the U.S. market.  We were pretty sure that these guys were sitting on a veritable treasure trove of barrels, however, and our tasting with them did not disappoint.  One of the best deals our journey uncovered was an explosive little cask of Blair Athol, a Diageo-owned distillery in the Eastern Highland town of Pittlochry.  Located just a few miles from Edradour, this quaint little operation is one of the oldest in Scotland (founded in 1798), but is more widely regarded for its role in Bell's Blended than for its single malt potential.  This 11 year old barrel will open some eyes, however - big, rich, enticing aromas of dried fruits, a supple mouthfeel with roasted almond skin flavors, and, while we don't think it was peated, there are definitely traces of smoke on the finish.  David OG and I both double-starred this entry on our tasting notes as a sure-fire winner.  For the price, it may be the best overall deal we found in Scotland.

1998 Glen Garioch 14 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $109.99 - On our 2011 trip to Scotland David and I stopped by Glendronach distillery on a whim, fell in love with their whisky, and now it's one of the top whiskies we sell at K&L. This year's version of that was Glen Garioch distillery in Oldmeldrum. An old-fashioned, picturesque distillery located in the center of the quaint village, it's part of the Morrison-Bowmore portfolio. Glen Garioch's whisky is in the hands of former Ardbeg super star Rachel Barrie, who jumped ship to Bowmore last year. When we told Rachel how much we enjoyed our visit to Oldmeldrum, Rachel was so overjoyed we had that she ran to the back to grab a cask sample she had picked out for Bowmore recently, a 1998 single cask aged in a hogshead that had previously held peated whisky. The distillery had dabbled in the peated Highland style before 1994, but the whisky produced today is completely without smoke. This very special cask has all the beautiful sweet grains we love about the malt with just a whisper of peat in the background. The palate is elegant and lean, but the fruit and vanilla is concentrated in its core. The whisky tastes like the town of Oldmeldrum--old world, country, rustic and down-home. That's terroir in whisky.

These won't be the last things I put back into the system, so keep your eyes peeled! I'm going dusty hunting in our own store!

-David Driscoll


Gettin' Dirty

Yes—given my penchant for dive bars, street food, movies like Roadhouse and Ski School, and the wonderful world of professional wresting—I do love to sample the ridiculous flavors of booze out there that might fall into the "so-bad-it's-good" group, or the ironic consumption category of "I'm only drinking it because it's so terrible."

I have bottles like the one above scattered all over my desk, and every sales rep in the Bay Area knows that I'm always interested in tasting things like peanut butter and jelly liqueur, or bubble gum flavored schnapps. But this new flavor from Pinnacle takes the cake—literally; it takes the cake and liquefies it into vodka. My favorite part about the new Cinnabon-flavored vodka from Pinnacle is the fact that it's not called "cinnamon roll flavored vodka," but rather "imitation cinnamon roll flavored vodka." It's not saying that the vodka is an imitation of a cinnamon roll. It's literally saying that Cinnabon's products themselves are so chemically-enhanced that they aren't really cinnamon rolls, but rather imitations of a cinnamon roll!! Hence, the vodka is flavored to taste like an imitation of a cinnamon roll, rather than, say, an actual cinnamon roll. Amazing!

I love being the spirits buyer. It's days like this that make all the hard work worthwhile.

-David Driscoll


Cognac Preview #1 — Claude Thorin

We are going to sell so much Claude Thorin Cognac at K&L this year that I expect it to be a household name with our customer base by 2015. Brandy drinkers searching for Grand Champagne quality at reasonable prices are going to be thrilled—there's nothing this good for this cheap on the American market and we're bringing in a whole lotta Thorin for that very reason.

All of the new-make from Claude Thorin goes into new Limousin oak for the first twelve months before being transferred into used russet barrels. From what I tasted, there is very little coloring or boise being added to the final blends as the clean, fruit-driven flavor of Grand Champagne is front and center. There's nothing transcendent going on with each sip, just good, honest brandy from a French farmer. It's when you see the price tags that your eyes jump out of your head.

We were very interested in just about everything that Mr. Thorin poured us that afternoon at his chateau, but we narrowed our scope down to four basic expressions: the core range of VS, VSOP, and Napoleon, along with a 2002 Vintage that was so clean it reminded us of the Bruichladdich Bere Barley whisky from a while back. We're expecting the VS (a five year old marriage) to clock in around $29.99, the VSOP (made from eight year old brandies) at $39.99, and the Napoleon (a fifteen year old expression) for around $59.99. The 2002 Vintage should be about $59.99 as well. These will be the work-horse brandies of our collection and we're pretty sure that—after trying out a bottle or two—you'll be back for seconds.

-David Driscoll


Armagnac Preview #5 — Domaine d'Ognoas

The seigneury of Ognoas dates back to the 11th century. For more than seven hundred years it was occupied by various lords and viscountesses until 1847, when the last remaining heir donated the property to the church. In 1905, the Domaine was passed over to the regional government and today the 565 hectare estate is run by the Conseul General des Landes and is operated as an agricultural school.

The distillery at Ognoas is considered the oldest in Gascony and has been in operation since 1780. The estate has baco, ugni blanc, and folle blanche planted on site and—perhaps the coolest part of the operation—Ognoas uses its own trees (from the 300 hectares of forest on the property) to make their own oak casks for maturation. A local cooper does all the work at the Domaine and selects the trees himself.

In the past we've bottled single vintage expressions from Ognoas that have always offered soft-fruited texture and a round, creamy profile—unlike some of the woodier, spicier selections we see from other producers. This year we opted for an XO marriage of vintages that brought heaps of rich flavor at a very affordable price point. We think we can possibly get the XO on the shelf for around $50, which will—at that price—be the best deal we carry in brown booze, period.

-David Driscoll