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K&L Spirits Tasting Schedule:

Weds from 5 - 6:30 PM

8/20 - San Francisco: No Tasting

8/20 - Redwood City: K&L Signatory Single Malts

2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #344 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #345 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1990 Glenfarclas K&L Exclusive Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER

Glenfarclas "The Faultline Casks" K&L Exclusive First Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER

1998 Laphroaig 15 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1983 Caol Ila 30 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Refill Sherry Hogshead Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW

1992 Bruichladdich 21 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1988 Balmenach 26 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER

1997 Benrinnes 17 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1997 Dailuaine 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER

1995 Glen Elgin 18 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1997 Glenlivet 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Butt Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT!!

1981 Glenlivet 32 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1996 Bowmore 16 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Bladnoch "Young" K&L Exclusive Heavily Peated Single Barrel #57 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1997 Glengoyne 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #172 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #74 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

2013 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky Still Available

2005 Island Distillery 7 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

2001 Royal Lochnagar 10 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

1995 Glendronach 18 Year Old Single PX Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

1994 Benriach 19 Year Old Single Bourbon Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!

1992 Longmorn 21 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!

1987 Mortlach 25 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Tuesday Tasting Notes

As I’ve said countless times on this blog, the appointments that you always expect to underwhelm you always end up blowing your mind.  Take today’s meeting with Orietta Maria Varnelli for example.  Despite my extreme interest in Italian bitters (amari) and liqueurs, I wasn’t expecting too much from these products.  By the end of the tasting, I was taking as many pictures as possible, writing copious amounts of notes, and our Italian wine buyer Greg St. Clair was screaming out various praises in Italian – we were completely caught off guard and wowed by what we tasted. 

Distilleria Varnelli has been producing spirits in the Marche region of Italy since 1868.  They’re located in the slopes of the Sibillini Mountains and have been family-owned for more than 140 years.  Like most great products in Italy, their spirits are comprised of the roots, herbs, and spices found in the nearby region: things like star anise, cloves, and the incredibly bitter gentian – both its flowers and its root.  The amari are unlike any other amari I have ever tasted – likely because they are flavored with honey instead of sugar and are grounded in grain alcohol rather than brandy.

 The Amaro Sibilla (should retail for around $50) is soft and gentle on the entry, but thick on the palate, moving into herbal notes before hinting at dark chocolate.  The finish is incredibly powerful, loads of bitter herb flood your tongue and you almost can’t believe how bitter it is.  The Amaro Dell’Erborista is the real gem – it’s pricy at around $65, but for a liter bottle – and it’s completely unfiltered and unfined, giving the spirit a cloudy color.  The flavors are again founded in the gretian root, but this time on the lighter side as the orange peel and anise are allowed to shine a bit more.  The finish is once again extremely bitter!  The CaffeMoka is ungodly good.  It's the only thing I've tasted that gives Dave Smith's Firelit series true competition.  They infuse the grain alcohol with espresso and some honey.  So freaking good you'll want to cry!  The punch is like egg nog without the eggs!  That's the only way I can describe it.  The dry anisette is a purer form of Pernod or Ricard, ripe with anise flavor, but without the sweetness - almost like a better version of Ouzo (which I'm happy to have finally found).

By the end of the tasting the room was a panic.  I was running to get my camera, Greg was blabbering stuff in Italian, Kyle was trying to ask more questions, and Orietta was trying to focus on all three of us.  These should be available in a few weeks and I couldn't be more excited.  With the Italian staff on board, this should be an easy sell!

-David Driscoll


Tuesday Tasting Tonight!


Black Maple Hill 16 Year Old.  $130 a bottle.  Many have debated over its origins.  Is it from Heaven Hill?  Why is it so expensive?  Is it really that good?  Could it be from Stitzel Weller like the original BMH bottles were?  Now is the time for you to find out.  For about $5 you can come and get a glass of this amazing bourbon.  We start at 6 PM at Martin's West in Redwood City.  We go until the bottle is empty!  Come and join us!

-David Driscoll



Last Barrel Announcement!!

Well, we've finally come to the end of our exclusive K&L barrel pre-order list and we've saved one of the best whiskies for last.  All of the casks are now on the website and available for purchase in advance with special discounted pricing for those who do so.  The complete list is posted on the right margin of this webpage if you scroll down a bit.  There are currently no further plans to release anything further unless something drastic happens with Kilchoman and that sherry barrel we liked so much gets a bit more affordable.  So for now here's the dramatic finish to our first ever K&L Scotland pre-arrival campaign:

1990 Littlemill K&L Exclusive 21 Year Old Faultline Spirits Single Bourbon Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky PRE-ARRIVAL $114.99 (retail to be $129.99) - When it was dismantled in 1996, Littlemill was not only one of the oldest working distilleries, but also one of the rarest. Finding great Littlemill is EXTREMELY difficult. We were very lucky to find this exceptional cask of ultra rare Littlemill and even luckier to get it for a reasonable price.  From a secret special source, this warehouse contained several off limits ultra rare casks. Somehow we weaseled this one cask out for the inaugural release of our own independent label dubbed Faultline Spirits.  Faultline draws a line in the sand.  It connects our three stores and expresses the monumental nature of what we plan to do. Only the finest, most rare products will be bottled under the Faultline name; this Littlemill exemplifies our goal perfectly. Littlemill is rarely mentioned these days.  Straddling the line between lowland and highland, just north of Glasgow, it's traditionally classified as a lowland whisky due to the histrical use of triple distillation. Geographically, it's more closesly linked to the highlands. In the 1930s, the distillery moved to double distillation.  This bourbon cask was perfectly aged in a cool ocean climate and shows a great deal of depth. Nose: Strong caramel, green apple peel, rich grain, and citrus blossom. Palate: Tootsie Roll, pineapple, more citrus and bit of white pepper. Complex, vibrant, truly special. -David Girard, K&L Spirits Buyer

-David Driscoll


Inside the Mind of a Vodka Drinker 

From the research journal of D. Driscoll:

Any serious reseacher should attempt to understand his subject through examination, experimentation, and, if possible, real-life participation.  Like the psychologist who enrolls himself in an asylum or the journalist who embeds himself in the battlefield, I have decided to put both my mental stability (which is already questionable) and physical well-being in harm's way in an attempt to understand what makes the vodka drinker tick.  I am doing this neither for personal glory, nor for any petty pageantry, but rather as a serious scientific study. 

My intial research began sometime ago while tasting with a reputable vodka producer.  This vodka, which will remain unnamed to protect the integrity of this report, uses several species of potatoes to create its spirit and each group of potatoes is fermented and distilled separately, then blended together at the final stage.  On this occasion the producer had sourced isolated samples of vodka from each species of vodka to create a tasting that would highlight the flavors of each one.  Never had I witnessed such an attempt to create a singular flavor with vodka, a spirit that is generally heralded for its absense of flavor, and I was utterly fascinated, to say the least.  However, after tasting each one individually and struggling to take notes, I came to the conclusion that I could not tell a single one of these potato vodkas apart from the next.  I was discouraged, but at the same time energized, knowing that I had some serious work to do if I was going to understand this mysterious spirit.

A few weeks after completing the potato vodka experiment, I threw myself into countless samples of vodka from numerous producers and foundations.  Wheat vodkas, rye vodkas, brandy-based vodkas, sugar cane vodkas, and anything else I could get my hands on.  Some were distilled twice, while others were distilled as many as seven times - each process rendering the spirit more neutral.  After more than a month of serious examination, I had determined only that some vodkas were better than others, but had yet to ascertain just what made them so.  It was neither the flavor nor the lack of flavor and it rarely had anything to do with texture.  Certain vodkas did standout due to their clean profile and pure finish, with no trace of alcohol or burn despite being half-composed of ethenol.  I assumed that this was the goal of a fine vodka, but it wasn't until I tasted the Potocki vodka from Poland that everything clicked in (for more information on that examination please view footnotes 14.1 or consult the scientifically-minded KLS Journal 6.9.11)

The Potocki tasting would forever change the way that I understood vodka and would propel me into a series of personal experimentation from which I wasn't sure if I would wholly emerge.  Nevertheless, this past evening, I decided that for the sake of research and for the understanding of future generations, I would attend a private function where alcohol would be served and imbibe nothing but glasses of vodka with some ice for hours at a time.  My intent in putting myself under such strained circumstances would serve my study in proving two possible hypotheses: 1) over-indulgence should help in understanding the difference between intoxicated states based on traditional methods (i.e. beer, whiskey, wine) and that based on flavorless hyperdistillation 2) perhaps the side effects of such an onslaught (i.e. headache, vomiting, nausea) could also effect personal preference for vodka over traditional methods.

Upon arrival at the testing grounds, I made sure to appear unassuming and perused all of the options available for the evening.  Although I knew exactly what I would be drinking, I wanted to make the experimental conditions as relaxed and authentic as possible.  Throughout the course of the night I consumed nearly seven glasses of straight vodka with some ice.  The flavors were minute, but with each sip I seemed to enjoy it more.  I found myself no longer thinking or focusing on flavor, but rather simply enjoyed myself and my evening.  By midnight I should have been thoroughly intoxicated, but my mind and body were still going strong - what could have been causing this strange phenomenon?  By previous measures of traditional methods, I should have been either passed out or babbling in the corner, but I was able to walk out of the confines completely in sound mind.  Could it be that the vodka drinker is attracted to his subject based not necessarily on flavor, but on the consequent state of intoxication and its allowance for increased enjoyment of stimuli?  Hypothesis number one achieved.

After returning home I purposely put myself to bed on the couch as a safeguard against any possible drunken behavior that could seriously anger my female counterpart.  However, there seemed to be no need as I settled down and proceeded to fall asleep within seconds.  Only at one point in the night did I wake up and at that time I was quite dehydrated, but more than able to fetch some water to quell the thirst.  At 8:30 AM I finally awoke from a slumber with a minor headache, but no apparent nausea or other common side effects of traditional methods.  Some aspirin and some water quickly soothed the trouble and I was able to ingest some toast and engage in morning conversation with my female counterpart before heading to work.  Currently, I am standing in the lab and typing this report with little notice of any ill effects from the previous evening other than general apathy. Hypothesis two seems to be proven and should become more clear after studying the results of further research and self-experimentation.

Could it be that the cleaner the spirit (i.e. the more it is distilled) the more focused and clear the intoxicated state?  Could a cleaner spirit also therefore result in more mild side effects from intoxication?  Could this mean that the mind of a vodka drinker is a mind more engaged on enjoying itself and the other pleasures of life, rather than focusing obsessively on flavor and authenticity?  The only way to answer these questions is through further testing.  After cleansing my body today with constant dosages of water, I plan to continue my experimentation later in the week.  I hope to ingest an entire bottle of vodka in a controlled environment to test whether the positive results of these hypotheses were the result of flawed research or impacted by outside events.  Either way, the mind of a vodka drinker is clearer in my mind and closer to understanding than perhaps ever before.

-David Driscoll - June 12th, 2011


Potocki Vodka

As most out there would assume, when a vendor wants to come by and taste vodka with me I don’t exactly jump into the air and yell, “Sure thing!”  If there’s anything we really don’t need anymore of at K&L right now, it’s vodka.  If there’s anything that my spirits customers could care less about, it’s vodka.  If there’s anything more difficult to sell based on quality and authenticity (two things that are requisite of any new product to hit our shelf), I don’t know what it is.  Vodka is image, vodka is brand loyalty, vodka is R. Kelly in the club.

Enter Jan-Roman Potocki.

I’m always willing to meet with the founder or producer of any product because I appreciate the willingness to discuss to specifics. When Jan came in to the San Francisco store he didn’t talk about gold medals, or where his vodka was being poured in New York – he got right down to the details.  Potocki Vodka is made from 100% Polish rye, it’s distilled twice (because once is not enough, and three times is too much), and his family has been making it since 1816.  I swirled the spirit in my glass while I listened.  I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest, but at least this guy was the real deal.  We get people in periodically looking for authentic Polish vodka, so maybe we would bring in a few bottles just for them.

Then we tasted it.

Just for the record, no product in my opinion is more difficult to decipher quality in than vodka.  It’s taken me years just to tell the difference between decent stuff and the really good ones, but sometimes I’m still unclear as to why some are as expensive as they are.  With Potocki, there’s no question in my mind whatsoever – this stuff is amazing.  What’s so good about it?  I’ll make a list and that way it will be easier to explain:

1) My Eastern European friends tell me that good vodka should be sipped like fine single malt scotch.  This stuff goes down without so much as a hint of burn, but it’s not a textural thing (if that makes sense).  I’ve had plenty of clean, smooth, non-threatening vodka that didn’t do anything for me.  The Potocki vodka still tastes faintly of rye, so there is some kick from the grain.  A hint of vanilla comes through somehow and the stuff is clean as mountain spring water.  I went back four times to re-taste and each time I thought it got better.

2) The guy who has his name on the bottle actually makes it.  That’s a big plus.

3) With ice and a splash of vermouth, this stuff would make a vodka cocktail actually worth drinking over a gin martini every now and then.  I can’t believe I just wrote that.

4) It’s authentic Polish high-end stuff.  From what I’ve read, this is the best Polish vodka around and Poland is where vodka comes from, so by that logic it’s the best authentic vodka there is.  Having tasted numerous Polish vodkas, I concur.  I love having authentic examples of regional specialty spirits in my store, so this helps us out with that niche.

I can’t promise you that you’ll have the same experience that I had because I think that tasting a ton of other vodkas is necessary before recognizing the quality, but this is about as excited as I’ve ever been about vodka.  I am ordering this immediately for delivery next week and it should retail for a little over $34, which makes it competitive with the other high-end brands.  I’ll be recommending this one however because it might be the best vodka I’ve ever had.

-David Driscoll