I Will Single Handedly Fight This

I've been emailing with customers all day about the current state of the whisky market. I mentioned on this morning's email newsletter that the 1988 Glenrothes took a big price increase today, so I decided not to reorder it rather than raise my price by $20 per bottle.  Laphroaig 10 also took a hit, but I did adjust it because it was less drastic (now $42).  Because Laphroaig 10 is a whisky that we sell in high volume and that I really love personally, it's not something I'm going to quit on.  That whisky was probably priced below market value to begin with. The 1988 Glenrothes, however, won't really affect our sales whether we choose to carry it or not.  I can find plenty of other whiskies to take its place.

The perceived market value of a whisky is important to the equity of each particular brand.  When a brand wants to be seen as higher-end or more luxurious, they'll raise the price to reflect that desire. What would happen, however, if I started buying up all the big boy whisky in California and just lowering their prices?  Not on the bottles that pay my salary, like Lagavulin 16 or Ardbeg, but on the other whiskies that are not particularly key players at K&L.  What are the whiskies that people love, but are a bit too expensive to purchase on a whim?  Oban's a great example!  Everyone loves Oban 18, but it's usually about $100 or more at most places. $100 is a good price for that whisky because it is quite elegant. That being said, what if I called up the distributor for Diageo, bought up every last bottle of Oban 18, and then just sold it for less?  Would other stores follow suit?  Would that then pressure a large whisky company to lower its price?  What would happen? I don't really need to sell Oban 18, but it's nice to have.  Therefore, if I just blow it out on volume it should all even out for K&L.  Now I'm curious!

Let's just get on the phone here.......yes, this is David at K&L, how much Oban 18 is in stock?  36 cases?  OK, I'll take all of them.  Delivery tomorrow.  Redwood City please.  Thank you!  There.  It's done.  A huge truck of Oban 18 is coming to Redwood City tomorrow and I am just going to sell it for less. True, it's going to ruin the market price for Oban 18, which is usually a $100 bottle of whisky, but what else can we do? For every whisky company that raises its price, I will counter them by taking one of their whiskies and lowering its price.  Tit for tat.  Let's see how this works.  I refuse to let you all get priced out of drinking great whisky.

Oban 18 Year.  Was $100.  Now $77.99.  That makes for the lowest price I can find online. Who's next?

UPDATE:  I said "tit for tat," so let's add Glenrothes to this list.  Diageo raised the price of Ron Zacapa, so I've lowered the price of Oban 18.  Glenrothes raised the price of the 1988, so I'm now lowering the price of the 1995.  1995 Glenrothes: was $65.99. Now $51.99.  This is really fun!  I hope you're all enjoying it as much as I am!

-David Driscoll


New K&L Single Barrel Four Roses

Four Roses K&L Exclusive OBSO Single Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon $59.99 - Usually when we purchase a fantastic single barrel of Four Roses Bourbon, it comes in around ten and a half years of age or younger. When we tasted samples for this one, we noticed right away the darker complexion and the extra wooded flavor. Sure enough, this barrel was older - 11 years and 7 months to be exact. This being our second batch of OBSO (a 60% corn mashbill with a healthy dollup of rye and yeast strain "O"), we were hoping to recreate our previous whiskey, which we lovingly called "the iron fist in a velvet glove." What we got, however, was something far more powerful and out of control than we ever could have imagined.  I would refer to this whiskey as "the iron fist that just punched you in the mouth" because this Bourbon is a beast!  At 63.3%, our new barrel brings the heat, the spice, and the wood at an intensity most drinkers aren't ready to handle. With water, the fruit comes out, the wood briefly dials back, but each drop has the same futile effect as a bullet fired at the liquid metal Terminator in Part 2 - it punches a hole, but that hole just gets quickly filled with more unstoppable Bourbon flavor. This whiskey is perfect for rocks drinkers.  In fact, it will probably destroy most ice cubes in a matter of seconds. I'm a little afraid of it, to tell you the truth.  There were only 132 bottles available out of this cask because the whiskey just kept sucking up wood and evaporating like crazy.  It has only one goal - total Bourbon domination.

-David Driscoll


The Best Four Roses Ever?

Don't you just love open-ended questions like that, which maybe hint at quality, but don't have the guts to make the assertion themselves?  I used to live by a diner in San Francisco that had a sign in the window reading, "Is our diner the best breakfast in town?" I don't know, is it? I live by a sushi place in San Mateo that does the same thing: "Is our lunch special the best value in town?" You tell me!!!! Regarding my question concerning whether the new Limited Edition Small Batch is the best incarnation of the whiskey yet, I would answer: that's what master distiller Jim Rutledge told me, at least.  Those were his exact words.  "I think this might be the best small batch we've ever made."  He also said that the 17 year old Four Roses casks that went into it "might be some of the best Bourbon he's ever tasted." Having now tasted the Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch for myself, I can see what he's talking about. 

I had a friend schlep me a bottle of the 17 year old single barrel back from the Four Roses gift shop and I think it's very good whiskey. The 2012 Small Batch, however, is more impressive to me.  Maybe I'm being unconsciously influenced by the opinion of a master distiller, but I can completely see why Jim thinks those older barrels were better used as part of this incredible marriage. Even at 55.7% cask strength, the whiskey doesn't need much water, if any. 55% is about as high as I like to go with whiskey anymore, so I'm happy they didn't pull a Stagg or Parker's on me.  Inside the Small Batch are unspecified proportions of three Four Roses recipes at four different ages: OBSV 17, OBSV 11, OBSK 12, and OESK 12 respectively. The 17 year old juice adds more richness and body than the standard Small Batch has. The extra wood thickens the mouthfeel and intensifies the fruit along with the vanilla. It's a Bourbon with few flaws, if any, and it tastes impressive on the first sip. You don't have to sit there and ponder it.  It's obviously pretty freakin' great. If you had someone new to Bourbon taste both the Small Batch and the 2012 Limited Small Batch side by side, that person would most certainly say, "Ohhhh, I can see why that one costs more," when referring to the 2012 LE.

When we got these bottles into stock yesterday morning, I bought one without tasting it. I knew that if Jim was adamant about its quality, that would be enough for me.  We seem to have similar palates in so far as what we both look for in our Bourbon, so I was almost certain I was going to like this.  Is it the best Four Roses I've ever had?  In recent memory, there's no question: yes.  It's not a single barrel, remember, it's a carefully-crafted cuvée (how's that for alliteration?). It's polished, rounded, and mouthwatering, rather than bold, spicy, and powerful like some of the K&L single barrel selections have been (which I'll actually be writing about later today). Your expectations will ultimately play a role in how much you enjoy this whiskey, but I can't imagine anyone who loves Bourbon not loving this. Whether it's the best Four Roses ever or not is a difficult question to answer, however.  I'm not qualified to make that statement.  I would ask Jim Rutledge, the guy who has been making the whiskey for decades.  Oh, that's right, he already said it was the best.

I guess it must be. I've still got sixteen left. 

-David Driscoll


Binders Full of Women

UPDATE: 10:21 PM - What I thought was a very funny moment in tonight's presidential debate that perhaps only I noticed, was actually very funny to millions of people who have been tweeting, Facebooking, and blogging about this non-stop.  Now I am just another blogger trying to come up with another clever play on "binders full of women," which as a result makes me very unclever. Boo hoo. :(

"Binders full of women" = the new "Snakes on a plane"

I have now deleted the satire because I had no desire to ever make this political, rather just talk about how the sentence "binders full of women" made me laugh out loud. This now-viral catch phrase is going to get political now, however, so I'm getting out.  It was very funny, though. 

-David Driscoll


My Mouth is on Fire

I was trying to figure out why I couldn't taste anything today and why my gums felt dry and sensitive all afternoon yesterday.  Then it hit me! I was a judge at the Good Food Awards blind tasting this past Sunday, where I sampled over seventy-five different high-proof spirits and had to re-taste again and again until we decided on the winners.  That might have something to do with it!

Thank goodness I had the entire morning to recooperate because my good friend Val was here this afternoon, bringing a gauntlet of new whiskies to taste and discuss. I'm still placing my order right now for what we'll eventually be purchasing, but here's a rundown of what we liked:

New Chieftain's selections! Almost every one of these whiskies had merit and I think I'll probably be bringing in almost every expression.  There was a rich, first-fill Bunnahabhain 10 year that was dark and textural.  An earthy, yet creamy Ben Nevis 13 year was a nice surprise. The 17 year old Glen Keith brought the fruit and a hint of flowers, with richness that should please those looking for more whisky from "closed distilleries." Kyle really enjoyed the 13 year old Glenrothes aged in Barolo casks with its chewy, red-fruited mouthfeel. Both of us were very impressed with a 12 year old Isle of Jura finished in a rum cask - spicy, cane sugar and vanilla with salt and caramel.  Delicious!! These should all be in by tomorrow and will be in the $70-$85 price range.

I continue to be impressed with what's happening on the Isle of Arran. These guys really have their shit together.  The 14 year old addition was very good and these two new single barrel whiskies are fabulous. They really represent the two sides of barrel maturation well. If I were looking to teach a class on what a Bourbon barrel's inflection tasted like versus a sherry barrel, these are the two whiskies I would choose.  The 15 year old Bourbon cask is spicy, woody, rich without being sweet, and loaded with flavor.  The 15 year old sherry cask is super rich, almost dirty, with loads of earth and tons of texture.  This tastes more like what I expected the Balvenie 17 year Doublewood to be.  Both should be around $115 and are bottled at 51.1 and 52%.  These are very exciting to me.

If there was one thing I learned this weekend, it's that blind tasting is very important to make sure one's prejudice doesn't influence the way one ascertains quality in a whiskey.  It's also important to taste a whiskey before you see the label because the Colorado Gold label isn't a winner.  The whiskey, however, is delicious. Their corn, wheat, and barley whiskey (not labeled as wheated Bourbon) is quite precocious.  It actually tastes like real Bourbon and it's all distilled on their Holstein still in Cedaredge, Colorado. This is a great Stranahan's replacement for the California market.  At around $50, it's about the same price. 

Look for these items this week or email me if you have any questions.

-David Driscoll