Moving Too Quickly

Haste makes waste.

How many times did I hear that growing up? As an impulsive and quick-minded person I tend to do things on a moment's notice, especially during the frantic work day here at K&L. That's part of the reason I love doing this job and look forward to doing it each morning. However, no matter how comfortable and confident I have become while doing it, I still make mistakes that could have been caught had I taken a bit more care.

Like when I wrote up the new Mackinlay's Rare Whisky two days ago. I was under the impression that the whisky was a blend, meaning that it used both grain and single malt whisky like Johnnie Walker or Chivas. I kept comparing it to these blended whiskies, therefore, and focusing on how much better it was as a result.

Whoops. It's not a blend. I realized this when one of my customers emailed to ask me which distillery the grain component was from. I was looking at the list of distilleries used in the blend (1980 Glen Mhor, Glenfarclas, Mannachmore, Tamnavulin, Ben Nevis, Aultmore, Fettercairn, Pulteney, heavily-peated Dalmore, and Jura aged in Limousin oak casks) and somehow convinced myself that Glen Mhor had made grain whisky in the past. It hadn't, however.

Then I finally read the small print on the outer packaging: blended single malt whisky.

Wow. It was right there in front of me.

Haste makes waste.

In good news, however, most of our customers are much more interested in single malt whisky than in blended Scotch, so this should make the new Mackinlay's a bit more attractive. I was actually enjoying the fact that it was a blend while sipping it a few nights ago. It was rather creamy and malty under all that smoke, however. Now it all makes sense.

-David Driscoll


K&L Guest Post: Barrel-Aged Negronis

When David & David first started bringing in fancy barrel aged cocktails to the shelves of K&L I just shook my head and dismissed them. I could only think of one thing- those cheesy cans of “Club” screwdriver and pina-colada from the 1980’s mixed with the cheapest hooch and lowest quality ingredients available. My lovely wife Cinnamon bought one of these fancy things and brought it home, forced me to try it, and (once again) a great drink made a liar out of me. These new fangled barrel aged cocktails are the real thing! The inspiring bottle was the Fluid Dynamics Brandy Manhattan Cocktail, and I was hooked.

I started pestering Driscoll immediately about barrels, and tasting as many barrel aged cocktails as I could at the best bars in the area. When I got my own barrel it was on, and I knew what I had to make- my favorite cocktail of all… The Negroni. This was an extremely fun project for Cinnamon, my buddy Henry Hiatt and I, and it took more than one beer to get it done. The video is from our second filling of what was a brand new, American oak barrel. The first batch we bottled after just three weeks as the oak flavor was in danger of impacting the drink. The batch you see us filling in the video was kept for two months, and the next batch we might push to three. Tasting along the way is critical, and if you plan to keep a barrel for a long time, so is topping up.

To top up, simply blend a 750ml bottle with the same proportions that already went into the barrel. We found having Negroni on tap to be an incredible blessing (no mixing) and an incredible curse (no mixing- I’ll just grab another) and I think you will too. Try it out, it is super fun! A toast to you!

–Gary Westby


Fun New Things to Try

What comes in a crazy package, wrapped in straw, with all kinds of fun side materials and inserts? 

Why it's batch two of the Mackinlay series from Whyte & Mackay! And let me tell you something folks, this whisky is L-E-G-I-T!

The Mackinlay's "The Journey" Rare Old Highland Whisky $172.99 is the second attempt to recreate the legendary Shackleton whiskey found frozen in Antarctica by explorers a few years back. This year's batch is faaaaaaaaaaaaaar better than last year's - and last year's was really good. Unlike most attempts to capitalize on successful momentum,  the Scottish producer has upped both the packaging and the quality this time around. 

Each bottle is wrapped in heavy straw and tagged with a label faithfully replicated from the excavated relics. Whyte & Mackay are also revealing the contents of the whiskey this time, to the extreme delight of whisky geeks everywhere: 1980 Glen Mhor (one of the rarest whiskies in the world), Glenfarclas, Mannachmore, Tamnavulin, Ben Nevis, Aultmore, Fettercairn, Pulteney, heavily-peated Dalmore, and Jura aged in Limousin oak casks. The result is wonderfully balanced blended single malt whisky without any grain component.. The smoky, peaty component plays center stage this time around, much more dominant than last year's version, but balanced by rich vanilla and a soft fruited palate. The Journey is like a far-tastier version of Johnnie Walker Blue, but made only with single malt whisky and designed specifically for Islay fans. If you're looking for a gift for the whisky lover who has everything, this is as fun, cheeky, delicious, and serious as it gets. I couldn't have been more taken aback by the stunning quality of this whisky.

The new Kilchoman release should be in stock here next week. This year's special edition, the "Loch Gorm" is fuller in body than last year's Machir Bay, but also more earthy and peat-focused. The smoke is there, but the actual peat is what's on display. Very well done, but not nearly as accessible as the Machir Bay - more for serious Islay fans.

I normally shun everything Blackadder releases because of the high price tags and the questionable quality, but this unnamed special release really got my attention. It's supposedly a single cask of unsherried Balvenie that's been teaspooned with a bit of Glenfarclas. It's light, but oily, with sweet malty grains and a classic Highland profile. For about $130 it's also quite reasonable (note: the photo is of the 200ml)

It wouldn't be a true tasting with Val if there weren't a weird, far-corner-of-the-world spirit thrown in for good measure. He's always got some crazy bottle up his sleeve. This time it was Indian rum. The Old Monk is like a breath of stale 1970s air, but it's still quite fun. Obviously colored heavily with caramel, it still brings the Old Goslings flavor. It's not going to be expensive, so I'm definitely in. Under $20 for sure.

You can also get it in the monk-shaped decanter. That's the way to go, right?

-David Driscoll


American Whiskey: A Character Guide

While it's always been common with American whiskey to name a product after the person who created it, historical labels have never been more fashionable. If there isn't an actual vintage brand name available to resurrect, whiskey companies will create a legend of their own. Stories abound as to why these men were so important and why they're now being glorified upon a bottle a whiskey, but do we really know who these people were? Right now there's a cast of characters on our liquor shelves more complex and widespread than an episode of Game of Thrones. I've been writing up some informational sheets to help educate the K&L staff about our selection, so I figured why not share that info here as well? Let's get to know some of these folks, shall we?

E.H. Taylor Jr. (Buffalo Trace label) - You've probably heard of Old Crow whiskey. It's now a label owned by Jim Beam, but back in the 1830s it was made the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery in Woodford County. The whiskey was named for Dr. James Crow, a Scotsman trained in chemistry who emigrated to Kentucky and used his scientific knowledge to improve the quality of his distillates. When Crow died in 1856 he left no heir to his brand, which was subsequently sold to man named W.A. Gaines. Gaines would form a firm that employed a young E.H. Taylor Jr., who was immediately sent to Europe on a research mission. Taylor's job was to visit every distillery he could and bring back information about modern distillation. Upon his return a new distillery was built for Old Crow using the knowledge Taylor brought home with him. He eventually purchased his own distillery in 1869, where he used pot still distillation like he had seen abroad. His attention to detail and his modern marketing methods were far ahead of their time. Taylor's branding of Old Crow brought the whiskey national attention.

George T. Stagg (Buffalo Trace label) - While the Buffalo Trace website will tell you that George T. Stagg "teamed up" with E.H. Taylor, Michael Veach's book paints a bit of a different picture. Due to difficult financial times and "an overproduction of whiskey," Taylor lost control of the OFC distillery to the firm of Gregory and Stagg from St. Louis. Taylor would go on to build another distillery and market his own Old Taylor brand, but the OFC distillery would be modernized and upgraded by Stagg, later rechristened to bear his name in 1904.

Elmer T. Lee (Buffalo Trace label) - Elmer T. Lee was the master distiller at Age International, which would eventually become part of Sazerac. Lee was pretty much the first person to market single barrel whiskey, taking a page from Colonel Albert Blanton (Buffalo Trace) (let's kill two birds with one stone here), the former manager for George T. Stagg distillery where Lee got his first job, would bottle high-quality barrels on their own and use them as gifts for important visitors. Lee introduced Blanton Single Barrel Whiskey in 1984. Buffalo Trace would eventually name their own single barrel whiskey after Lee who still continues to advise the distillery and help with cask selection when needed.

William Larue Weller (Buffalo Trace label) - Born in 1825, W. L. Weller was one of the early figures in the Kentucky whiskey business, yet records show that his grandfather Daniel Weller had a license for a still as early as the year 1800. Weller is credited by some as the first distiller to used wheat instead of rye as the flavor grain in the mash, debuting his wheated Bourbon in 1849, but it's more likely that one of the Stitzel family did it first.. When Prohibition hit the U.S. in 1920, only six companies were allowed to keep distilling for medicinal purposes, one of those being the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery, upon whose license the company W. L. Weller & Sons functioned.

Pappy Van Winkle (Van Winkle/Buffalo Trace label) - After Prohibition, the companies of A. Ph. Stitzel and W. L. Weller & Sons merged in order to stay afloat during the difficult period. According to Michael Veach, they needed a product that tasted good in the short term to keep fresh product on the market, so they used a wheated formula that became quite popular despite its youth. Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle ran the Stitzel-Weller company along with a man named Alex T. Farnsley. After Farnsley died in 1941, Van Winkle was in sole control and his marketing ideas included cask-strength and extra-matured releases that have become the norm today. Cabin Still, Old Fitzgerald, and Weller Reserve were some of the brands Van Winkle championed under the Stitzel-Weller banner before a decline in sales forced the Van Winkles to sell the company in 1972.

Jim Beam (Jim Beam label) - Jacob Beam was one of the first settlers in the Kentucky region known to have made whiskey. He would go on to spawn many a whisky maker within his progeny. James Beauregard "Jim" Beam, his great-grandson born in 1864, would go on to be the most famous of them. According to Chuck Cowdery, "Jim and his younger brother, Park, took over the family business in 1892, along with their sister's husband, Ablert J. Hart. They operated this distillery until Prohibition closed it. As Prohibition approached, Jim also bought a controlling interest in the F. G. Walker plant where his cousin Joe was master distiller and part-owner." When Prohibition ended, the seventy-year-old Jim, along with his sons, built a new distillery with investors at Clermont, where they resurrected the Old Tub brand, but added a new label simply called "Jim Beam."

Basil Hayden Sr. (Jim Beam label) - A devout Catholic and proponent of the church, Hayden helped lead a group of families from Maryland to Nelson County, Kentucky back in 1796 and became an early settler in the territory. When he wasn't farming or working on behalf of the church, Hayden was distilling and became known for his high-rye mashbill according to Beam, but many dispute this claim. He would pass that knowledge on to his son, who in turn passed it on to his son. His grandson Raymond Hayden would eventually build his own distillery in 1882 and call his brand Old Grand-Dad in honor of Basil. Today Beam Global owns the Old Grand-Dad label. The Basil Hayden label was created in 1988 as part of a small-batch collection.

F. Noe Booker II/Booker's (Jim Beam label) - Booker Noe was the master distiller at Jim Beam for more than 40 years before his death in 2004. His namesake Bourbon was part of Jim Beam's small batch collection and, like the story of Colonel Blanton, represented Noe's penchant for bottling high-proof, unfiltered for his own use and for gifts. He was the grandson of Jim Beam.

Elijah Craig (Heaven Hill label) - Craig was a Virginian Baptist preacher and historical frontiersman that is often credited with the invention of Bourbon whiskey. Chuck Cowdery has a great in-depth look at Craig's background in his book Bourbon, Straight. While Craig was definitely one the region's earliest distillers, his distillery was never located in Bourbon County, therefore discrediting the idea that Bourbon was named after Craig's distillery locale. Records show that Craig was more known for establishing the first fulling mill, paper mill, and rope walk in Kentucky, but no mention is ever made of the first distillery.

Evan Williams (Heaven Hill label) - While Evan Williams is known as "Kentucky's first distiller," Michael Veach's research shows that this claim does not hold up. Reuben Durrett first made this assertion in 1892, claiming that William's had distilled corn whiskey as early as 1783; however, records show that Williams did not emigrate from Londron until May of 1784.

William Forrester/Old Forester (Brown-Forman label) - The firm of Brown-Forman was originally founded by two brothers, George Brown and J. T. S. Brown Jr., back in 1870 with the release of its Old Forester Bourbon. Whiskey was still considered medicinal at the time, but according to Veach: "physicians resisted prescribing it beacuse it was mostly sold by the barrel and quality could vary greatly from barrel to barrel." The Browns decided to sell their whiskey by the bottle as a result, making Old Forester the first Bourbon to be available exclusively in this format. The whiskey was appropriately named after the Louisville physician William Forrester, but the second r was dropped from the name when Forrester retired. Veach writes, "the label was designed to look like a physician's prescription and inludes a handwritten claim to quality: 'Nothing Better in the Market.'"

James E. Pepper (independent label) - According to Michael Veach, James E. Pepper was a distiller who "attempted to thwart counterfeiters by affixing strip stamps carrying his signature across the corks in his bottles of whiskey. His advertisements warned consumers to buy only bottles with intact stamps. Otherwise, they may not be buying 'Genuine Pepper' whiskey. The concept of the strip stamp over the cork would later be taken up by the government in the form of tax stamps."

Jimmy Russell/Russell's Reserve (Wild Turkey label) - James C. Russell has been the master distillert at Wild Turkey distillery for more than 50 years. He grew up near the distillery and followed his father and grandfather into the industry.

I'm leaving out Jack Daniel and George Dickel because I don't really care about those guys. Now that we know who everyone is maybe it's time to start filming our historic television show based upon all of these characters.

-David Driscoll


Two New K&L Single Malt Pre-Orders!

See that guy in the above photo? That's David Stirk. He's a friend of ours in Scotland that continues to hunt down delicious single malt barrels on our behalf. Having just secured pricing on more of the casks we were interested in, we're ready to start making more announcements about our deal with David and his Exclusive Malt label. We've got two new value-priced whiskies that we're going to start offering on a pre-order basis, beginning right now! Check out David OG's notes below:

2000 Aberlour 12 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - After the success of last years 21 year Aberlour, we weren't planning to buy a repeat from this lovely little distillery. That all changed in David Stirk's little warehouse south of Glasgow. This lovely hogshead was just singing to us. Its rich and warming style will delight any lover of Speyside whisky. On the nose we get powerful toasted grains, biscuits, honey (some exotic type, tilleuil?) and pears. The palate is super soft and rich, which more of the oak spice evident than on the nose, but the similar blend of sweet floral and grainy flavors. On the end those spices come back with heavy dose of that biscuit (I'm thinking Walkers). Maybe this is not the most exciting whisky on paper, but it will certainly be several peoples' favorite this year. (David Othenin-Girard, K&L Spirits Buyer)

2006 Island Distillery 7 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $54.99 - This little mystery malt was a favorite of ours from the moment the bung popped out of the cask. Both David and I are huge fans of young smoky whisky and this is one of the best under-10 year olds that we've found. It's vibrant, salty, supple, with all the intense that you'd want out of the best young peaters, but beautifully restrained as well. Now this whisky was distilled on one of Scotland's numerous Isles, that's about all I can tell you regarding the specifics of the distillery. I can tell you that, it is not from the Island of Islay, I can tell you that this blows the young Caol Ila that we loved out of the water and I can tell you that our price for this whisky is well below what we'd expected to pay, not to mention well below the cost of that Caol Ila. One thing that struck us about this cask was how different it was from others that we'd seen from this distillery. This whisky is powerful, but with a great deal of nuance at this age. A subtle fresh rubber quality transitions to subtle fruit (maybe light red berries). Altogether a wonderfully idiosyncratic whisky and the first of what we hope to be several young peaty mystery malts to come. (David Othenin-Girard, K&L Spirits Buyer)

These are due to arrive later this Fall!

-David Driscoll