Kilchoman in Stock, Time to Circle the Wagons

My early pick for Best Whisky of 2012 is here and ready to rock:

Kilchoman Machir Bay Islay Single Malt Whisky $53.99 - See my post below for tasting notes

Normally I don't read whisky reviews online, mainly because I don't need to (I get to taste the stuff myself so why do I need to know what other people think?).  However, I did do a quick search for Machir Bay scores because I want to see how the industry reacts to this malt. So far I haven't seen too much press. I'm curious about the reviews because this whisky disproves everything that the Scotch Whisky world holds sacred - it goes completely against the theory that great whisky needs ten years or more in the barrel.  Personally, I too have always been of this mindset.  I've tasted the craft distiller attempts to accelerate aging with small barriques and other clever tricks, but it's never worked as well as extended time in good ol' Bourbon or Sherry casks. 

So what makes Kilchoman different?  What is so special about their whisky?  Think about it this way.  For a guy, I'm a pretty good printer - as in calligraphy.  If you asked me to print your name on a piece of paper five times in a minute, I could probably do it perfectly and cleanly, no problem.  However, if you asked me to write your name thirty times in a minute, the quality of my printing is going to suffer as a result.  Going back to the Kilchoman's whisky, their new-make, fresh from the still, is one of the most amazing white whiskies I have ever tasted.  They don't sell it, but if they did I think people would drink it over most quality mezcal selections.  It's simply amazing.  Kilchoman only has one still and they're not capable of pumping out large quantities of whisky like other distilleries.  They can only write their name on the paper five times per minute.  Even if they wanted to go for thirty printings in a minute, they wouldn't be able to.  Quality comes with precision.  They know they can't play the bulk game, so they don't even try.

I relate to that philosophy.  K&L is not the bulk whisky store.  We're not Costco doling out rock-bottom prices for 100,000 case buys of big-brand hooch.  We couldn't be Costco even if we wanted to be, so we don't try.  Instead we focus on quality and hope it's enough because that's our only choice.  Somehow little old K&L, the family run liquor store, is now competing with some of the bigger stores in the country.  At the same time, little old Kilchoman is making whisky at five years of age that competes with the ten to sixteen year malts from its larger competitors. 

My question is: will the industry allow that to happen?  Is anyone going to give this whisky its due?  Are the major publications going to say, "A nice first effort, but it needs more time."  Because if the industry does try to shrug this whisky off with a simple "It's alright, but it's still too young," I'll call bullshit.  We all know that Kilchoman is only going to get better with time, but this whisky is great right now.  I'm so curious to see how the world reacts.  Will the Scotch industry circle the wagons and protect the sacrosanctity of long-term maturation, or are they going to admit that in some cases, when a distillery takes the time to do everything right, young whisky can actually compete with older expressions? 

I'm dying to find out.

-David Driscoll


Tasting Schedule (plus, David freaks out like a little girl)

Tomorrow's tastings will feature Val in San Francisco pouring the debut of Kilchoman's Machir Bay which we will have in stock at that time for $53.99.  He might be a few minutes late, so stop by at 5:15 or so.  Redwood City will feature Christine Cooney pouring her selections of Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados.  Both are free of charge!

So here's the deal with the Kilchoman: if you had asked me yesterday what my favorite single malt of 2012 has been so far, I would have said it's a toss-up between the Glenmorangie Artein and the Bruichladdich 10.  Now, however, there's no doubt in my mind about what the best malt of 2012 is so far:  it's the Kilchoman Machir Bay.  Having just re-tasted it with Val a few minutes ago, I can pretty much say that I screamed like a little girl meeting Justin Bieber after tasting it.  It's that good.  I don't make any guarantees that you'll think it's that good, but something about Kilchoman really hits me on that upper level.  This is supreme whisky.  

It's no secret that we're big fans of Kilchoman here at K&L. Our recent visit to the distillery on Islay really opened our eyes to the incredible job this small farm is doing. Kilchoman is truly a tiny operation, producing on one spirit still and malting whatever they can inside their humble barn. Because of their small-scale operation, the cost of production is higher so prices for Kilchoman so far have not been inexpensive. Getting to taste the new-make whisky right off the still, I can firmly say that, in my opinion, there is no higher quality of peated whisky being produced anywhere else. The attention to detail and the hands-on distillation Kilchoman is able to give its single malts is making a world of difference. Every release has been better than the last, albeit extremely limited in supply. Finally, however, the time has come when this small farm is ready to introduce a full-time, affordable, house recipe, rather than another pricey single barrel release. The Machir Bay is not only incredibly delicious, it's a huge victory for a distillery that had to overcome huge obstacles. At $54, this is what Kilchoman fans have been waiting for - incredibly delicate, finely-tuned flavors of soft smoke, sea salt, creamy vanilla, and butterscotch. It's a more subdued version of their high-toned barrel expressions, but it's still very much Kilchoman. Think Bruichladdich meets Lagavulin. 

The Machir Bay is a vatting of 60% 3 year, 35% of 4 year and 5% of 5 year old single malt, matured in fresh bourbon barrels from Buffalo Trace. The 4 year old portion was finished in Oloroso Sherry butts for 2 months. I can't stress enough how fantastic this whisky is. It's not for the super-esoteric whisky geeks, this is as accessible as peated whisky gets - soft and gentle, yet loaded with smoke, with a high-toned cinnamon finish, and a mouthful of butterscotch when it's all said and done. It's absolutely stunning and there's no amount I wouldn't buy of it. If we could buy 2,000 cases, I would.

I don't usually throw my weight behind something this strongly.  I'm always passionate about booze, but I can clearly say that this really caught me off guard.  I had to keep tasting it again and again to make sure I wasn't simply over-reacting.  If you don't believe me, I don't blame you.  However, tomorrow night at K&L San Francisco, you'll have a chance to decide for yourself.  Kilchoman has now proven to me that producing high-quality whisky for five solid years can result in whisky more impressive than what other distilleries achieve in ten to sixteen.  Even if you don't think it's as good as I do, I think you'll still be shocked at what they've been able to accomplish.  

-David Driscoll


Humble Beginnings

There have been a few interactions in the store lately that have caused me two dwell upon some early experiences in my booze education.  We had a customer in yesterday carrying Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible, scavenging through the aisles in search of the varietals she needed for her studies.  Seeing that book instantly brought me back to Millbrae, summer of 2007, when I lived with my wife (then girlfriend), our one small room in the basement of our landlord’s house, skimming that book under dim light through the characteristics of each grape, running back and forth to Safeway, purchasing bottles that hopefully fit the description. I was still going to grad school, working part-time, so spending $16 on a bottle of Bonny Doon Cardinal Zin was absolutely crazy, but I so badly wanted to know what it tasted like.  That’s how my wine education began.  Not at a dinner table, or in a beautiful wine cellar, or in a fancy restaurant, but rather on an old double mattress, in a dank, underground bedroom, with whatever I could find at the supermarket.

While stocking the liquor shelves in the afternoon, I overheard someone discussing wine glasses and how they needed to get a set for their home.  It was clear this person was new to the wine game, but he was adamant about only drinking “high-end” stuff.  Therefore, he was only interested in glassware that could support wines of quality, not low quality glass for drinking the rinky-dink, everyday slop.  Besides the misguided belief that fine wine cannot be enjoyed from an eight-dollar wine glass, the unnerving part of that conversation relates to society’s obsession with only drinking the “best,” while skipping over the unimportant parts.

Crime author Jo Nesbo has a character in his book Nemesis who only buys greatest hits compellations on CD because he doesn’t have time for anything but the best.  I laughed out loud reading that.  There’s no way to understand context if you haven’t experienced everything, but sometimes people are more concerned about appearance than actual understandingYou can’t understand Steinbeck just by reading the Grapes of Wrath.  You’ve got to read Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, and East of Eden too, even though they’re not as famous.  Buying a fancy camera with expensive lenses won’t make you a professional photographer.  You still need to understand how to use a standard manual SLR before you’re ever going to take better pictures. 

When I look back at drinking inexpensive wine from mis-matched glasses on the floor of my overcrowded bedroom, I don’t think of those times with any sense of embarrassment.  Realizing how my experience has led me to different tastes only makes those beginning stages more important.  I could never realize the beauty of the Ridge Geyserville had I never tasted the Cardinal Zin.  I would never appreciate Tavel rose were it not for the jugs of white zinfandel I chugged during college.  Don’t feel the need to pretend you’re not from humble origins if you are.  Those roots are requisite for any serious appreciation of booze.  Any embarrassment or regret should stem from never having had those experiences, not the other way around.

-David Driscoll


Ardbeg Day - You've Got A Few Minutes....

Feast upon the glory of Ardbeg……..

Ardbeg "Ardbeg Day" Single Malt Whisky 750ml (1 bottle limit) $89.99 - This super-limited release from Ardbeg comes just in time for the annual festival on Islay and the planned June 1st Ardbeg Day celebration world-wide.  Eponymously titled the "Ardbeg Day" whisky, this marriage of casks sees an extra six months maturation in sherry casks for a richer, more full-bodied Ardbeg experience.  Ginger and wood spice on the nose leads into a spicy, yet creamy palate of burnt sugar and big time peat.  The finish shows faint traces of stewed fruit and more fresh, bright peaty notes.  Another fantastic malt from the rock star of the whisky industry.  One bottle limit per person.  These will be gone in a flash.  Grab it while you can. This will likely be the most talked about release of 2012. 

ONE BOTTLE ONLY.  Anyone who tries to buy more than one on various orders will have ALL orders cancelled.  Don’t risk it.  We’re watching you!

These are only the bottles for the North, so there should be one more drop.  LA should be getting another 30 or so if you miss out today.  Have at it. UPDATE: LA now has their bottles so all inventory is live. 

-David Driscoll


Still Stocking - Now Working On Bruichladdich

While Kyle is busy stocking all the new booze from today's earlier post below, I'm frantically adding all the tasting notes in the system for the new Bruichladdich releases.  Then I've got to get it all on the shelf!  Here's what just arrived:

Octomore 4.2 Comus Heavily Peated Islay Whisky $189.99 - Peated at 167 ppm and run at a slow drip through the still, the Octomore from Bruichladdich is the peatiest whisky in the world. At a whopping 61%, this new 4.2 Comus release has been finished in Chateau d'Yquem casks, adding richness to the bright, almost cinnamon-like peat of the Octomore whisky. Rich golden raisins with a peaty punch in the face. Tropical fruits smoked and caramelized to high Heaven. This is not for the faint of heart, yet it's something everyone should try at least once (and perhaps several times for the truly hedonistic).

Octomore 4.1 Heavily Peated Islay Whisky $189.99 - For a whisky peated at 167 ppm, the peat almost blurs, much like light does on a starship entering warp speed. Big smoke, big spice, earth and bog, heather and flowers, all passing through the palate like a rocket. It's everything Bruichladdich promises it to be and more. It's also 62.5% so watch out.

Bruichladdich Black Art 2nd Edition 21 Year Old Islay Single Malt Whisky $169.99 - Always one of Bruichladdich's more esoteric offerings, yet by no means less brilliant, the Black Art series alludes to Jim McEwan's almost devilish ability to conjure up flavors never-before seen in single malt whisky. Using a combination of various wine casks, this 21 year old whisky undergoes a transformation that takes the rich, oily textures of old Bruichladdich and combines it with cherries, blackberries, currants, and a melee of other red-fruited delights. The vanilla and oak come smoothly on the finish. It's a decadent whisky and it's always quick to sell out. Grab it while it's here.

PC8 - Port Charlotte Ar Duthchas Islay Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - Bruichladdich's Port Charlotte project only continues to progress and evolve into some of the best peated whisky in the business. This eighth release is full of salty sea spray with doses of citrus and bright peat tones on the nose, combining with the oily, textural mouthfeel that defines this distillery. Soft oak on the finish smooths everything out. Another great achievement.

Port Charlotte An Turas Mor Islay Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - Finally! We've got a full-time peated expression from Bruichladdich, not a one-off, limited release we all have to rush out and secure. Not that you shouldn't get one of the An Turas Mor immediately because it might be the best deal in peated Islay at the moment. For $60 you get more sweetness than Ardbeg, less oil than Bowmore, less sherry than Lagavulin, and more richness than Laphroaig. Creamy, yet peaty at the same time. This is the missing link for peated Islay we've been desperately waiting for.

Bruichladdich Organic Islay Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - While the Bruichladdich 10 is getting all the accolades, as it should, the new permanent Organic release is quietly winning over distillery visitors with its gentle grain and vanilla character. Made from the barley of organic Scottish mainland farms, the clean and malty nature of the whisky shines in a way that other straightforward Scotches seem to miss. That's to say that a flavor profile some find boring or bland in basic single malts seems to work fantastically well with the Organic. No longer simply a limited vintage release, the multi-vintage vatting smoothes out some of the harshness from the previous 2003 release and reigns in the power. The citrus is delicate, the vanilla elegant, and the notes of honey and blossom wither in and out on the palate. A wonderfully easy-going whisky made by good people and very special barley.

-David Driscoll