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K&L Spirits Tasting Schedule:

Weds from 5 - 6:30 PM

4/23 - Redwood City: Ardbeg Single Malts (w/the chopper!)

2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

1988 Littlemill 25 Year Old K&L "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Lowland 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!


Bladnoch 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive Lightly Peated Single Barrel #303 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Bladnoch 23 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #1054 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Talisker "The Speakeasy" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2005 Glenrothes 8 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Sherry Barrel 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

1991 Cambus 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


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!


1989 Cragganmore 23 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 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!


1983 Miltonduff 30 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750m IN STOCK NOW!


Friday
Oct152010

Power Rankings - 10/15/10

I haven't done these in a while, so I thought it would be fun to show the current top selling whiskies at K&L.  These rankings are based on both in store and internet sales.  I know that people are usually curious about what other people are buying, so here's your chance to find out.  As of yesterday, these are the faster movers at all of our locations combined:

1. Lagavulin 16 Year Single Malt Whisky

2. Ardbeg 1990 Airigh Nam Beist Single Malt Whisky

3. McCarthy's K&L Exclusive Single Cask Barrel Strength Oregon Single Malt Whiskey

4. Ardbeg Uigeadail Single Malt Whisky

5. Glenlivet 12 Year Single Malt Whiskey

6. Black Maple Hill Small Batch Bourbon

7. Balvenie 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky

8. Buffalo Trace Kentucky Bourbon

9. Glenfiddich 12 Year Single Malt Whisky

10. Macallan 12 Year Single Malt Whisky

Pretty standard list.  No real surprises, right?

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Oct142010

Who Gives A S--t About Awards?

Double Gold - San Francisco Spirits Competition.  Silver Medal - World Spirits Festival.  What does this mean and who really cares about these so-called prestigious awards?  It seems that every week when I open a new box of bottles, there is another product with a sticker posted on the front label that cries out, "Look at me!  I'm good!  Now you know how good I really am!"  Somebody asked me earlier today in the store about a whiskey selection and they said, "Well maybe I should get this one because it won the gold medal."  I then showed her the other fifty bottles on the shelf that had also 'won' gold medals and that seemed to put things in perspective for her.

Recently on a more prestigious whiskey blog site, there was a discussion about industry folk getting upset when their product received a low score.  John Hansell himself wrote that not every whiskey can be the best ever - there simply have to be some bad ones out there.  However, it seems that more and more products have found a way to become distinguished on the retail shelf, be it the shiny gold of a medal sticker or a necker tag that displays how points it won from Paul Pacault.  There are enough awards out there for everyone and somehow every major brand has found a way to win one of them.  It seems that in today's high-end liquor store there really are no bad products, or even mediocre ones for that matter.  It's sort of like Who's Who From America's High School Students, but the alcoholic version.  You get a letter telling you how great a young scholar you are and then you pay a fee to be posted in a "prestigious" catalog of pupils, and to top it all off, they charge you for the actual book you appear in.  In return, students get to add it to the long list of acolades on their college resume as a distinguishing mark in their favor.  A mutually beneficial relationship if their ever was one, this formula has been adapted for the liquor and wine world with astonishing efficiency.

Now before I get carried away, I am 100% behind some form of consumer advocacy in the liquor world.  Just this morning I was shopping for SLR cameras and I consulted CNET and Consumer Reports for advice.  The difference between these non-partisan services and the spirits competitions however is night and day.  One offers detailed information about a specific product, pros and cons, positives and negatives, while the other simply states (as broadly as possible): good, very good, best - that's it.  If someone does bother to add a bit more information, that description is carefully censored to cut down to the bare bones necessity - 92 points, nuff said. 

I could probably write about ten pages of examples to illustrate my point, but this is a blog and blogs are made for quick, succinct updates that can be read in a few minutes.  Let me say this and I'll leave it at that: medals are meaningless, points even more so.  For every expert out there who loves a product, I'll find you someone who hates it and vice versa.  Expert panels will always exist, but we as retailers need to stop relying on them to sell products because they're ruining this industry and our ability to educate customers.  Whiskies are not trophies.  They should not make you cool for owning one or envious for not owning one.  Whiskies are drinks and they are meant to be enjoyed with friends.  Some are better than others.  Not all whiskies are for everyone.  If it got 97 points and you hate it, don't drink it.  If it got 75 points and you love it, then who gives a shit?  Drink it and move on.  This is supposed to be fun.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Oct122010

WhiskyFest Rundown

The walk to WhiskyFestI've fully recovered from this weekend's distinguished event (read: debauchery).  After many years buying and selling spirits, I finally made to the Shangri-la of whisky.  I have to say, Mr. Hansell does it right.  Obviously, the reason we attend WhiskyFest is to taste the incredible variety of products, both old and new, but I have to say the most exciting thing for me was just experiencing the scene.  You've got producers, distributors, aficionado, restaurateurs, retailers all together in one space discussing their trade/obsession/true love.  While I was excited to try as much new stuff as possible, the real experience was being with all these amazing enthusiastic professional whisky types. 

I had an amazing chat with Ross from BB&R, which if you didn't know is about the classiest place to buy booze in all of Europe. Berry Brothers & Rudd is Britain's oldest wine & spirits merchant.  They've been supplying the royal family since the 1700s.  Contrasting our own stifling regulatory structure, British wine merchants like BB&R can Ross of BB&Rboth sell spirits, as well as own and export spirits brands.  They own Glenrothes, a number of other spirits brands, a superb independent bottling operation, as well as one of Britain's most succesful en primeur services.  Ross, and his lovely coworker Natalie, kindly poured a few of the nights finest whiskies including the austere and unforgettable 1975 Vintage and the extremely limited John Ramsay bottling.

Of course for David and I, the St George table was the truly special one.  Not only was the whiskey they've made totally outrageous, but it also has our names on it! It's still a working label, so let's all pray the TTB loves the label as much as we did.  The whiskey itself was familiar, though totally unique.  In some ways it reminded me of the Charbay Whiskey which we also had chance to try.  It is not like the Double & Twisted, which has this spicy grain and barnyard gnarliness, but much more like the Charbay Whiskey Release II with its forward American oak nose and opulent cocoa finish.  St George's 12 Year Old Single Malt is rich and intense.  The cocoa finish struck me as distinctly similar to Charbay's super premium Whiskey.  All of this for an affordable price at cask strength?  This single barrel can't last long.  For some reason, I sense a California Single Malt style emerging here.  Hopefully, we'll continue to see some older American barley based whiskies coming from the independent distilleries.

I think the overall theme of WhiskyFest was innovation.  I don't just mean regarding production methods, but in terms of what's being accepted by the public.  The Yamazaki table St George's 12 year Single Malt bottled exclusively for K&Lhad to be one of the most popular stations throughout evening.  Even after they'd finished pouring the 1984 during the VIP hour, they had a constant line stretching across the room.  Maybe this is a NorCal thing, but there certainly isn't the same enthusiasm for these whiskies down south.  My only personal problem wih the Japanese whisky is how little they bother to export.  As we've seen recently on www.whatdoesjohnknow.com, the Japanese make some incredible whisky that we never see stateside.  While the distilleries in Japan struggle to convince a younger generation of Japanese to drink whisky, we sit hear watering at the mouth.  I've sent a number of emails to the various Japanese producers of whisky (Nikka, Kirin, Suntory) letting them know that we are very interested in selling their whisky.  I've never heard back, I assume that's due to the language barrier rather than rudeness, as I've never known the Japanese to give up an opportunity to talk about their whisky.  Anyway, could someone please get on this? 

Along, with the some of more successful independent distilleries, WhiskyFest brings out all the big guns from every whisky region.  While the top single malts are always a draw, we don't expect to see a whole lot of new stuff unveiled at this sort of venue.  That's why it's refreshing to have the independent bottlers also represented.  In particular, I really enjoyed the Duncan Taylor malts, as well as the interesting selections from A.D. Rattray who have brought some exceptional barrels over for us. 

Of course our dear friends from Kentucky didn't disappoint.  Buffalo Trace brought out the big guns, offering the entire 2010 Antique Collection, which was a treat as always.  I think the Williams Larue Weller is tasting better than ever and the Stagg is as in your face as ever although I found it a touch shut down before The Van Winklesa solid 15 minutes in the glass.  Tasting the Van Winkle line up was incredible as expected.  A good reminder for why these bourbons are so freakin' loved by everyone!  Four Rose's brought some lovely bourbon including the Limited Edition, which did not last long.  Unfortunately, they did not have our K&L Cask Strength OBSO exclusive, which as Mr. Driscoll has pointed out, is top notch. 

One of my favorite moments of the entire evening was meeting the legendary Parker Beam.  Mr. Beam is not only a legend in the industry, he is a legendary gentleman.  I'm not sure they make 'em like this anymore, but I've never met such a stand up guy.  I told him about my own family history in Kentucky, as my great grandmother was from Louisville and my grandfather and his father were part owners in a distillery in Bardstown.  While I have very little information about exactly which distillery they had invested in, Mr. Beam was kind enough to listen to my family history and struggle to put a distillery to the one brand that I could recall my grandfather producing.  Apparently, the "Old Fiddle" bourbon was memorable enough -probably due to its distinctive bottle shape- because Parker recalled that the Willett Distillery might have produced this whiskey.  In addition, he noted that their big brand back in the day was "Old Ms. Andie Browkaw & Mr. Parker BeamBardstown," which is how my grandfather used to refer to the distillery.  Now Heaven Hill owns this brand.  It was an incredible interaction with one of my personal heroes.  I have to thank Mr. Hansell giving me the opportunity to finally meet Parker Beam, not to mention getting to try his wonderful whiskies again. 

There were many other interesting products featured -Compass Box's Flaming Heart, Mackillops Choice, Whistle Pig, Michter's 25 year, etc. - but honestly I'm just scratching the surface.  As WhiskyFest wrapped up, I retired with Driscoll to watch a disappointing final few innings of the Giants game.  Cheer up, what could be more disappointing than the Dodgers?  A few cocktails with friends at Annabell's to wrap up the evening and a short walk home to my hotel would have been the perfect evening.

Unfortunately, the walk back to my hotel took me by another place.  Who do I see in the window, but the illustrious Maurice Chevalier from Preiss Imports.  He was sampling the Old Raj Gin with an incredibly beautiful bartender and our dear friends from Springbank and Duncan Taylor.  Needless to say, only the creme de la creme is still standing at this point in the evening.  I spent quality time learning some Campbell town history, as well as watching my new Duncan Taylor rep make lots of new friends thanks to his kilt.  We ended up closing out the bar.  Had a couple of top notch cocktails from a bartender who showed only mild distain for my existence.  All in all it was amazing time.  Standing on the curb outside the RICKHOUSE, I realized that these are the moments that really count.  While I want to say it's all about the whisky, in the end it's all about the people.  I'm not implying that I'm somehow against enjoying whisky by myself, but whisky is not an automaton.  Being with the people who actually create the products that we love brings the complexity of whisky into great focus.  Whisky is an expression of a collective intent, sometimes by just a few people in a warehouse somewhere and sometimes by a multinational corporation.  This collective force allows for the incredible diversity that we see in the category.  For that, I thank the people, personalities, and professionals that made this weekend and make my life so amazing.

-David Girard

 

Tuesday
Oct122010

Tasting Tomatin

The Highland distillery known as Tomatin has been around since 1897, but it's only going to start gracing the K&L shelfs at the end of this month.  Having gone sometime now without U.S. distribution, we've only ever sold the malt via independent bottlings like Duncan Taylor or the Jim McEwan Heartland Collection.  However, Tomatin is now being represented in California by Gallo Wines, of all people, and will be releasing some serious Highland-style whisky at some very affordable prices. 

I got the chance today to taste all four expressions with the sales reps and, while I wasn't blown away, I wasn't unimpressed either.  I know that every isn't necessarily searching for the world's most unique whisky everytime they come in and shop.  Most people, for that matter, are looking for something nice to sip on at a reasonable price, and that's where Tomatin is really going be an interesting alternative to Macallan or Glenlivet.  The 12 year is finished in sherry butts so there is a nice amount of richness to the whisky.  It's soft, gentle and likeable and it only costs $27.99 on special order.  The packaging is also nice so I think it's more appealing than other "bargain" malts like Tamdhu.  The 15 year I decided to order right then, although it won't be available for a few weeks.  It was the only whisky of the four that was bottled at 46% instead of 43% and had some serious balls.  There's no sherry cask finishing, so it's got plenty of stonefruit on the palate, but also that oily and spicy component that really draws me towards the Highland malts.  For $46.99 it's a serious competitor to bottles like the Clynelish 14 or Dalwhinnie.  The 18 year I also passed on and put it up for special order only, but I think there's a lot to like about it.  Like the 12, it's finished in Oloroso casks and has this smoked almond flavor that makes me think more of Bowmore than Macallan.  There's a lot of good spice to be enjoyed and for $59.99 there really aren't many other malts out there that can give you 18 years of quality maturation for that price.  I decided to also purchase the 25 year because it will pick up where the Benriach 20 year that I loved so much left off.  This is a softer and more complex version of the 15 year, also without sherry influence, so the oily flavors are back but this time with more chewy fruits and hints of nutty, savory flavors.  I'm going to price it at $119.99 which makes it far less than Macallan 18, but with 7 more years of maturity. 

I think Gallo made a smart move in picking up Tomatin and pricing it where they have.  There is always more room for affordable whisky at K&L and I think many of our customers are going to agree.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Oct122010

Clear Creek Dinner @ Alembic in SF, November 16th

To help celebrate the launch of our new K&L exclusive McCarthy Single Barrel whiskey, Steve McCarthy himself will be flying down from Portland to join us for a private tasting of his finest products.  He'll be bringing his fruit liqueurs, his eau de vies (one of them distilled from pine trees!), and of course his whiskey.  Getting to go through the Clear Creek line up is fun enough, but it should be even more fun while eating a four-course, gourmet meal from Alembic's kitchen using the liqueurs and brandies as ingredients.  If you've ever been to Alembic, then you know it is one of the premier cocktail bars in the U.S., let alone the Bay Area, and you also know that it is tiny.  We will be taking over the whole place for an intimate evening with Mr. McCarthy and some delicious cuisine.  We don't do dinners like this often, and its even rarer that we get someone like Steve down here to do this.  I'm super-pumped about this event because it's not just whiskey, it's spirits in general and, believe me, there's a reason we carry just about every Clear Creek product on the shelf - they're really really good.  ONLY 20 SPOTS AVAILABLE.  See you there.

-David Driscoll