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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


1997 Bunnahabhain Heavily Peated 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Chieftain's Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


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


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 IN STOCK NOW!


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
May172011

Cask Strength 

I was talking with Suntory's Neyah White earlier today and we were discussing our favorite spirits of the moment when the subject of cask strength whiskey came up.  We vented to one another about simply popping and pouring at home, even though our jobs include understanding the intricate ingredients and procedures of the cocktail craft.  As a master bartender, Neyah would usually finish his day with a beer and I had to laugh because I'm pretty much the same way.  Usually the people you would most expect to be drinking fancy cocktails or old, cask strength whiskies at home are guys like us, but it's really not how we roll.  We geek out on crazy stuff all day at work, so the night time seems to be more about relief and relaxation.

This brings me to the subject and name of this post - cask strength.  The move towards bottling whisky at cask strength is a fantastic one by independent bottlers and companies as a whole.  The consumer gets access to unfiltered, unadulterated juice and a chance to proof the spirit to their own specific liking.  However, there are moments when I feel like the preference for high strength booze gets a bit out of hand. Not everything needs to be at cask strength in order to taste good or represent quality, but the alcohol world is a large and overwelming presence in many peoples' lives and so they often grasp on to a few rules of thumb to guide them.  These are usually opinions and suggestions picked up from friends or magazine articles, such as "ask for something dry" or "ABC - anything but chardonnay."  With unsure whisk(e)y customers, the new word on the street is "cask strength."

In order to help illustrate the problems that can occur with this scenario, let's look at the Clynelish 27 Year Old Cask we bought from A.D. Rattray last year.  This was a delicate and mild mannered whisky that came in at a whopping 60%.  To drink it out of the bottle without water was to completely miss out on what made it great.  Only at about 46-48% did it start to reveal its splendor.  The problems began when customers started complaining to me that I had sold them a lemon and that this was not good whisky at all.  I immediately became both nervous and defensive, especially after having several regular customers tell me it was one of the best whiskies they had ever had.  After thinking about the situation, I responded to the emails by asking the customers if they had watered the whisky down.  The answers were something like: "I never add water to my whisky," "I like my whisky at cask strength," "Why would I pay $100 for a whisky just to add water to it?" 

This was the first experience that revealed to me why large companies do not bottle their whiskies at cask strength, or if they do, not exclusively.  Whisky almost never tastes best right out of the cask.  Giving the customer a chance to decide which proof is best is completely lost on many of them because most consumers expect a finished product right out of the bottle, not a raw material to work with.  Not only did the Clynelish we sold need water to balance out the heat, it also was a pain in the ass getting it just right.  It took me an hour one time to find the sweet spot, and while I enjoyed the final result immensely, I didn't look forward to that battle very often.  If anything, it was a deterrent from opening the bottle more frequently.

This type of extra work leads me back to the beginning point regarding Neyah and myself.  Cask strength whiskies are in no way relaxing or relieving.  Please let me just pour something into a glass and zone out at the end of a long day!  Last night, I took home the one remaining bottle we had of Van Winkle 10 Year old 90 proof and it was f--king great.  In all honesty, I had never tasted it before so it was a curiosity of mine.  I've had every other Van Winkle expression numerous times and I have to say that if could have my choice today from all six bourbons, I would no doubt choose the 10 year 90 proof.  It's amazingly complex and interesting in a way that the others are not.  The pleasure in the 10 is the craftmanship, not the power and not the wood.  The 15, 20, and 23 are so massive that I need to prepare for their arrival and the 12 tastes like a lot of other good bourbons I have.  The 10 year 90 proof though is exactly what I want to come home to. 

I can think of other times when I prefered a 43% single malt to the cask strength option.  I found the Port Ellen 25 year from Chieftain's to be far superior to the cask strength 30 year and I always prefer Speyside malts like Glenrothes from the distillery rather than directly from the cask.  Having now had the Scotland warehouse experience, I can also attest to the fun of cask strength sampling and the intensity of unbridled malt.  However, I want to stress that each situation and each whisky is different, so by no means should cask strength expressions always be considered superior or a better option that dilluted expression. 

There are no absolutes in the booze world. 

-David Driscoll

Monday
May162011

Another Fantastic New Barrel Annoucement!

Another week, another new barrel to reveal to our wonderful whisky customers with a special low price for those who pre-order!

1983 Dailuaine K&L Exclusive 27 Year Old Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $124.99 - Cask maturation is a fascinating process, namely because 20+ years in a barrel doesn't affect all whisky in quite the same way.  Three decades in fresh sherry barrel, for example, sometimes results in a single malt so rich that the original flavors may no longer be recognizable.  However, 27 years of slow aging in a refill hogshead can be like simmering a pot of stew over multiple days - the flavors congeal and are coerced into action.  That's a pretty good description of the Dailuaine 27 year cask we found at the Chieftain's warehouse on our recent trip to Scotland.  Another Diageo-owned distillery primarily used for blends, this Speyside malt is quite the little tease. The nose is full of fresh blossoms with vanilla and mulled grains which spring into further action on the palate - rather delicate and soft.  The finish, however, comes roaring in with smoked almonds and a powerful mouthfeel.  We're always on the look out for older whiskies that seem to have been forgotten and we really lucked out with this find.  This whisky reminds me of the Mannochmore barrel we did from Chieftain's last Christmas in that we're getting a delicious, ancient malt for pennies.  The difference between them is that the Dailuaine is better. 

-David Driscoll

Sunday
May152011

Open Call To Tequila Vendors

I'm really struggling with tequila right now because I can't find anything new to sell to my customers.  Everything is either the result of a large production label with no soul or so esoteric and expensive that no one will take the risk.  I'm begging tequila producers who have estate-grown agave, hands-on production, and a well-priced bottles to email me and set up an appointment to taste.  I need something new to keep this category exciting.  Please send me a description of your product and make time to come by the store!  Please.  I am begging you.  I need new tequila that has a source and a story.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
May142011

Insider Trading

I've been learning more about the financial world lately, especially following the trial of Raj Rajaratnam, and the whole idea of insider trading seems like it is completely possible in the booze world, albeit not with stocks.  Large quantity purchasing of particular products can stem from early access to insider info.  For example, I was able to get a sneak peak at Steve McCarthy's new summer release of Islay-style whiskey.  I know for a fact that I was the first person to taste it and get a chance to buy it.  I might go really deep and buy a ton of it in order to corner the market because it's easily the best whiskey he's ever made for the white label release.  Because Steve came to me with a sample before anyone else, that gives me insider info that I can use to make large purchasing in advance and therefore help K&L's sales.  Granted, I still have to do the selling, but my experience tells me that this won't be a problem.

Am I going to jail?

-David Driscoll

Thursday
May122011

San Francisco Tastings Begin Thursday 5/19

Well loyal SF customers, we've finally done it!  FINALLY, after pitching this idea to a number of local bars whom I thought would have jumped all over this opportunity, FINALLY, after telling establishments that they don't need to turn this into a money-making scheme, FINALLY, after volunteering to do all the work for them to bring people in, I have found the new K&L Spirits Tasting Bar North.  On Claude Lane, next to the Loehmann's in Union Square, sits a small alley with a little unassuming bar named Gitane.  One must go in the door and travel down the steps to find this lovely little place, but the interior is quite breathtaking.  We will run the tastings exactly the same way as in RWC at Martin's West - starts early, one bottle total, pours at wholesale cost, first come first served.  

 Gitane opens at 5:30 so I say let's start it then.  All you East Bay BART commuters can then come and catch a dram before heading under the tube, and those who work downtown and come straight from work before going home.  Gitane is small, so we need to be in and out unless we plan on staying for dinner.  I'm thinking we start with something nice, like maybe Springbank 18 for $7 a glass?  I'll update again later with a final product announcement so that we can all make plans to be there.

I can't wait to get this started and I think I can finally meet all you local SF people who never make it down to Redwood City!

See you there,

-David Driscoll