Whisky Season 2014 Continues!

Today we’re launching a fun little horizontal tasting that David, Kyle, and I all found quite compelling – three Highland distillery whiskies, distilled in the same year, with similar styles. The only caveat here is that the Glenlivet is from a Sherry butt and not at full proof, but it’s still fun to do these side-by-side. Check out what we’ve got for you today. Those of you waiting for super value should look no further. It’s not going to get much better than this:

1997 Dailuaine 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $69.99 -- Dailuaine is a lovely little whisky. I don't love it any less now that I've been chased off the distillery grounds. In fact the whole complex is very unusual. When we were there this year it seemed as though an endless amount of construction was at a standstill. This is also where Diageo has their "Dark Grains" processing facility, which turns the spent barley into pellets for animal feed. The dark industrial dreeriness of this distillery, hidden in a hollow not far from the hill of Rinnes, totally flies in the face of the wonderfully fresh and vibrant malt that they produce. We were actually considering bottling this at 46% because we really liked how it took water, but when we saw how reasonable the cask strength price was we decided to give you the option at home. This has a very classically Dailuaine nose of fresh malt, white pepper, and green apples. It's very off the oak and on the malt. On the palate, the pomace nature continues, with a rich oily maltiness that gives it length. Slight hints of brown sugar, almond, and vanilla pop up with water. That big malty side is tamed perfectly with the addition of water and brings out more subtle aromas on the palate. Now we have some exotic barks, subtle herbal notes, and some baked apple qualities. All in all this is a really fun whisky at an absolutely unbeatable price. (David Othenin-Girard, Spirits Buyer)

Four years ago we sold a 27 year old hogshead of Dailuaine on pre-arrival for $125. The price for the 16 year is just nuts compared to how the market has gone since then. It’s like we’re still getting 2010 pricing from Signatory. Scratch that, we ARE getting 2010 pricing from Signatory.

1997 Benrinnes 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $72.99 -- Benrinnes distillery is one of the unsung heroes of the Diageo portfolio. It's not released as a single malt in the United States and it gets very little fanfare amongst enthusiasts, but it's one of the prettiest, and more consistently-delicious whiskies we taste between bottlers. We don't taste many barrels of Benrinnes that we don't like. On this year's trip we finally made it to the actual distillery, dropping by unannounced to see if we might take a peek inside. The staff couldn't have been nicer or more accommodating (something that always seems to make the whisky taste just a bit better). As we toured the site, we learned that the fermentation at Benrinnes lasts about sixty-five hours in Oregon pine washbacks, which contributes to the fruitiness of the eventual distilled spirit. When you see something with your own eyes, hear the reasoning and the science behind the process, and then taste that result 16 years later on down the line, it can be quite a rewarding experience. The 1997 hogshead we found at Signatory is brimming with soft vanilla and a round fruity palate that makes me think of Glenmorangie, but even more expressive. The finish is impressive, meandering between brandied cherries and sweet iced tea. At cask strength, the whisky is absolutely perfect -- no water needed. I think our selection of 1997 Highland whiskies is going to be very popular with our value-focused customers. The Benrinnes might be the best of the bunch. (David Driscoll, Spirits Buyer)

The crazy part is that the pricing on the Benrinnes is about the same as the Benrinnes 12 we offered two years back. That’s how good of a deal these casks are. Thank God for Signatory this year.

Above, you see the now-legendary 1997 sherry butt bottling from last year’s Signatory drop. We now present to you its sister cask.

1997 Glenlivet 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Butt Single Malt Whisky $72.99 -- Well, after kicking ourselves multiple times about not buying several casks of the fabulous heavily sherried 1997 Glenlivet last year, we arrived back at Signatory to find that, of the 25 casks that were available last year, only three were left. When we opened the first one, we honestly looked at each other in disappointment. It was hollow, lighter colored and slightly bitter. The second cask was even less appealing. Finally, we opened the third and final cask to find that dense deep 'livet that we remembered from last year. If you remember last year's cask, we bottled it at 46% because it tasted absolutely incredible at the lower strength and it gets the price down about $40 a bottle. Think classic sherry flavors here, toffee, baking spices, dried raisins, exotic wood, coffee, cocoa etc. It's rich, textured, soft and long. But, what's so impressive about this cask is that we were able keep the price down. While malts all over Scotland were 40-50% higher this year and Signatory's prices were indeed higher, we've decided to lower our margins to keep us in the same relative range as last time. We know that we could get $100 for this whisky all day long and those who tasted it last year know why, but this is only $6 more than last year's pre-arrival price and still below what we were asking on the shelf, plus the whisky is a year older! I believe this cask to be at the very least the equal of last year's offering, so you can imagine it will be just as prized by our customers. (David Othenin-Girard, Spirits Buyer)

Send any questions or comments our way!

-David Driscoll


This Monkey's Gone to Heaven

This is a $45 HALF bottle of gin from the Black Forest region of Germany. It is a 375ml, not a full size. That makes this a $90 bottle of gin if you go by 750ml standards. That makes this one expensive bottle of gin. But, there are times in life when flavor trumps all, and amazing things do happen in the booze itself (not in the story), forcing you to recognize – universally – that you’re in the midst of something special. This is one of those moments.

Every year when we go to Scotland we usually fill our suitcases with all kinds of booty – whiskies you can’t find in the U.S., Cuban rum, and other novelties. This year all three of us filled our suitcases with Monkey 47 gin. It is without a doubt one of the most amazing spirits I’ve ever tasted and quite clearly the best gin I’ve ever had. Hell, even old Robert Parker agreed with us this time around. He went on record recently, tweeting that Monkey 47 is "the greatest gin I have ever tasted." At the time we were packing our bags with Monkey 47 gin, we had no idea the brand was planning to launch in the U.S. a little more than a month later. In the UK, they sell this in 500ml size bottles, so the guys at Black Forest distillers had to decide whether to go up to 750ml, or down to 375ml for the American market. I think they made the wise move in going down a size. I think more people are apt to experiment with this high-end elixir if they know they don’t have to go all in right away.

So what’s the story with the gin? Here’s the romantic part: in 1951, a British man named Montgomery Collins moved to Germany's Black Forest and opened a guesthouse named "Zum wilden Affen" -- the wild monkey. A renowned gin drinker, Collins' taste for the spirit was not particularly important until renovation work at the country guesthouse led to the discovery of a weighty old wooden box containing a bottle and a letter. The dusty bottle had been labeled and decorated by hand, showing a sketch of a monkey and the words "Max the Monkey - Schwarzwald Dry Gin" in black lettering. The accompanying letter contained not only personal notes and photographs but also a detailed description of the plant ingredients Montgomery had used in his recipe, from which the Monkey 47 gin was reproduced.

You can read more about this here on their webpage.

The important story of the spirit is this: Monkey 47 gin is AMAZING. It's like an elixir sent from heaven. A good third of the ingredients for this special gin came from the Black Forest (including local juniper, important for making Black Forest Ham). In total, 47 handpicked botanicals, prepared in extremely soft spring water from a local Black Forest source give Monkey 47 an unrivaled complexity and quality. The use of local cranberries adds a distinct fruity note to the incredibly floral and complex whirlwind of flavors.

Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Gin 375ml $44.99

-David Driscoll


Out in L.A.

I was in Los Angeles this past weekend to work with David OG on another super secret project. We're always slaving away on crazy projects behind the scenes; but this one required us to physically be together, so I jumped on a plane and headed down. Despite all of the time I've spent in Southern California, I've never flown into LAX proper (always Burbank, John Wayne, or San Diego). In my opinion, the descent into West LA's main hub is one of the most spectacular sights one can see -- an urban sprawl that goes on for miles, and miles, and miles. I think often people do not realize how big Los Angeles truly is.

After a hard day's work, we headed out for a little get together where Keith Mabry was frying up wings, thighs, and breasts to perfection. When I say "perfection," I mean the best fried chicken I've ever had. That man is a wizard. I couldn't stop telling him how good he was at it. No one was pretending to be French at this wine party, and there were no weird organ meat plates that we were all supposed to pretend reminded us of our country childhoods. Mari was hosting and she whipped up some American classics like corn casserole, mac and cheese, and never-ending baskets of fluffy biscuits. They put on a show last night that put us NorCal folks to shame -- these people know how to have fun.

What good is fried chicken without an endless amount of K&L grower/producer Champagne on ice? Our own Adam Parry was there at the table, guarding the buckets, making sure I didn't drink too much of it. We still had a long night ahead of us.

I was shacked up at the Redbury on Vine Street -- a swank, glam-focused, romantic take on old Hollywood with a modern twist. The bar downstairs got it right, too -- none of this small bite, olive plate BS with your gigantic cocktail of pure liquor, but rather some serious starch action. I got a Mediterranean Margarita -- tequila, fig simple syrup, and lime -- and a bowl of spicy carrot dip with a huge chunk of piping hot flatbread that came straight from the wood-burning oven. After fortifying my stomach against the onslaught ahead, David OG and I were ready to hit the streets.

The best bar we hit last night (and the best bar I've been to in ages, period) is Good Times at Davey Wayne's -- a non-descript house on a dark, unremarkable Hollywood block, that looks like a garage installation, but in reality is a secret bar with a wild party going on inside of it. You walk up the driveway to what looks like a kooky yard sale being run by two guys (who in reality are bouncers). You can hear something happening, but you can't tell where it's coming from. You suddenly realize that people are going in and out of that old-looking refrigerator in the back, which is not actually full of Miller High Life; it's the surreptitious entrance to what is a giant house party.

Inside Davey Wayne's there were people dancing, cozying up on couches, and ordering fun, experimental new cocktails like Smoke on the Water -- an aromatic mix of Monkey Shoulder Scotch, Laphroaig 10, vermouth, and various bitters. I must have sat there with a smile on my face for ten straight minutes, totally content to just people watch and take in the scene.

There are those who say that LA's food and drink scene is a few years behind the Bay Area's, and they might be right about that. But being the first to do something doesn't mean you're always doing it best. The Los Angeles cocktail scene has put the fun back into drinking and the honesty back into food. They're bringing style with substance. I'm totally jealous.

-David Driscoll


One More Time

Yes, you are correct -- we absolutely do not ever make a batch of Faultline Gin more than once. So why are there suddenly more bottles of Batch 3 in stock at K&L? Because apparently St. George ran out of labels while bottling it last year and left the remainder of the gin sitting in a tank. A little over a month ago, Dave Smith called me and said, "Hey, so do you guys want the rest of that gin, or what?"

"The rest of what gin?" I asked, puzzled.

"The rest of Batch 3."

"There's more?"

"Yeah. You didn't know we ran out of labels and had to stop bottling?"

You can imagine where the conversation went from there. So there's about 300+ more bottles of delicious Faultline Gin Batch 3 in stock as of now -- just in time for this lovely warm weather.

Faultline Gin Batch #3 $34.99 -- How does one follow up two of the most popular batches of gin ever sold in the history of K&L? It's been tough coming up with that act. Even my own mother was trying to exert her parental influence, hoping to convince Dave Smith and me to do a second batch of Batch #2 -- our lovely smoked citrus peel delight. We held fast, however, determined to make each batch of Faultline a one-time-only edition in the name of soldiering forward towards new flavors and new ideas. We originally began the blueprint of Batch #3 with melon in mind. We wanted to make a softer, rounder, fruitier style of gin, but two things happened that prevented this approach: our melon distillates left a lot to be desired and Tanqueray resurrected their similarly-styled Malacca gin. Dave and I went back to the drawing board. Both of us have been trying to create a grapefruit aperitif for the past year so we had a well of grapefruit spirit to take from. Dave had also finished a batch of clove-macerated spirit that might pair quite well with the citrus. A few gin-soaked nights later we had the right balance - lot's of grapefruit, highlighted with the bright, herbaceous note of fresh clove and accented with pepper and juniper. It's still gin and tonic season in the Bay Area, so this should take us through October. Try mixing a Greyhound or Corpse Reviver #2 as well. You'll be pleased.

-David Driscoll


Speech Debate Team

I went to Beyer High School in Modesto, Calfornia -- the house that speech and debate coach Ron Underwood built. Ron (now retired) is the most successful and awarded NFL (National Forensics League) instructor in history, he's the Mike Krzyzewski of his era, and I ran with his pack from 1994-1997. We travelled the length of California, up and down, wheeling and dealing, styling and profiling, from Crescent City to Long Beach, taking on all-comers in a series of various events -- of which we were almost always victorious. Ron knew just how to take talkative, self-assured, argumentative kids and focus them into competitive machines -- the speech and debate events were just what we needed to hone our skills and focus on breaking apart the arguments of others into little pieces. We knew exactly what we needed to do to win.

Towards the end of my speech days I dropped out of the actual debate part and focused on a number of oratorical events that didn't involve arguing. Some of my friends, however, would become even more entrenched in the debate scene -- to the point that it started spilling out of the Underwood room, and into the hallways. We would be sitting in English class and the teacher would make a statement, only to hear one of her students, a proud debate team member, challenging her authority. By the time our senior year rolled around, it became practically normal for some of my friends to pick a logistical fight over just about anything with most of our instructors. We became ballsy, we questioned everything, and it didn't end after we graduated. Almost twenty years later, I recognize those same tendencies in some of my old classmates I still keep up with; more importantly, I see that same argumentative vengence happening online -- on message boards, comment fields, and especially with whisky.

I took many great lessons from my tenure on the Beyer High team -- I still know how to command a room, maintain the attention of an audience, and maximize the potential of my incredibly loud voice. It was due to Ron's tutelage that I can do many of the things my job now requires me to do, and for that I am forever grateful. But, perhaps the most important lesson I learned came from analyzing my own motivation for speaking, and watching the behavior of my former teammates -- many of whom still look at life as something to be won, rather than enjoyed. You have to wonder sometimes: are people listening to what you say, or reading what you write? Or are they just looking for weakness, a hole they can expose, or a flaw in your logic that they can twist and turn into an advantage? I can always tell a former speech and debate member by their obsession with winning an argument and scoring points, rather than sharing ideas, being liked, or making friends.

But you can't really blame them. For years we earned accolades and awards for doing exactly that. It can be a shock when you realize life isn't a speech and debate competition. No one's handing out ribbons anymore for our abilities. Today many people just call it: being a prick.

-David Driscoll