Remember Me?

Hey everyone, remember me?  I'm the Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Bourbon $32.99 and I used to be one of the biggest sellers at K&L, back before young David Driscoll was even working at the store.  I was known to be soft, creamy, rich and smooth, and all of the staff members made me their number one choice for all customer recommendations.  People loved me.  I was so accessible.  Excited drinkers just getting into spirits found me easy to enjoy, while the grizzled veterans celebrated my quality at such a bargain price.  Then one day I went away.  There simply wasn't any of me left.  Hirsch had long since lost the Michter's distillery stock, so they relied on other sources to make more of me.  They couldn't find the whiskey they needed, however, so I was gone for quite a while.  Then, out of the blue, I awoke one morning to find that I once again existed.  I made sure to tell K&L right away so that they could buy more of me quickly, before the other stores found out.  Right now they've only got about 40 bottles of me, but the word is they're going to secure more soon.  Make sure you get some of me now while I'm still available!  It's so good to be back.  

-Hirsch SBR (David Driscoll)


Scotland - Day 13: Do You Have Access?

Not really a "day" in Scotland as David is already getting on a plane and I'm in the hotel lobby getting ready to leave in the next forty-five minutes.  However, we met with another bottler last night, one who has previously released fantastic expressions, to taste a few cask options and discuss some business.  The samples were unfortunately not quite up to snuff, so we ended up just having a nice dinner instead.  Our host apologized that he wasn't able to find us something exquisite, but cited that his previous successes were based on his then cozy relationship with Diageo – one that has soured over the past five years or so.  This didn't surprise us.  The independent bottle trade is all about access.  It's not a matter of there being a whisky shortage in total volume, it's a situation where the volume simply isn't for sale.

Diageo just built what is now the biggest distillery in Scotland – the monstrous Roseisle – a forty million pound whisky machine pumping out booze in the Highland region.  There's a reason for that: they didn't have enough whisky to supply demand.  Now there's word that they underestimated the market and may in fact build another gigantic plant somewhere else.  If only Pittyvaich, Banff, Port Ellen, Brora, and all the other closures were still in operation!  In the past ten years the whisky independents have been getting in in the distillery game as well.  Gordon & MacPhail purchased Benromach.  Signatory took Edradour.  Murray McDavid got Bruichladdich.  Ian Macleod bought Glengoyne, and now have just secured Tamdhu as well.  Duncan Taylor tried to buy Glendronach, as did Douglas Laing, and the word on the street is that Weymss was close to purchasing Bladnoch.  See the pattern?  Why would independent bottlers, who for decades have feasted on the excess whisky from Scotland's many distillleries, all of a sudden get into the distillation game?  Access.  They knew this day was coming and they wanted to be prepared.  The market has been hot for whisky since the turn of the millenium and all the signs pointed to a boom.

The tightening of the independent belts came as no surprise to us upon arrival, but it was rather disappointing.  Companies that had given us numerous quality options last year were quite limited this time around.  We might end up buying nothing from a few of them, concentrating the bulk of the purchasing from more recently-founded relationships.  I'm completely confident in our cask selection for 2012, even more so than last year, but there won't be a Brora or a Banff in the bunch.  Those casks have doubled, if not tripled, in value since last year and most bottlers just laugh when you even propose such an idea.  Going direct from the smaller distilleries, who are hungry for more exposure, is going to be the answer this year.  Benriach, Glen Garioch, Glenfarclas, and Kilchoman have all given us superb samples – so good that choosing will be difficult.  I hope these avenues remain open for next year because access is the key to everything right now.  Do you have it?

It's now time to pack up the computer, grab my bags, and head over to the terminal.  I'll see you all in seventeen hours.  

-David Driscoll


Scotland - Day 12: Wrapping it Up

Today was another productive day for our buying ambitions.  Islay marked the end of our distillery visits, as our arrival in Glasgow marked the beginning of serious negotiations.  We've probably secured another four to five casks today as I type this and we're hoping to grab a bite to eat with one last bottler before we're through.  Tomorrow morning, bright and early, we'll walk out of the Edinburgh hotel, fly to London, buy our wives a ton of gifts from the Heathrow Duty Free, and then head for home.  Unfortunately I can't reveal any more details at this time as to who we're meeting with because I would hate for that information to fall into the wrong hands.  If a malicious party were to uncover our plans for world whisky domination it could lead to disastrous results (or some other retailer getting the leg up on us!).  

At lunch today David and I tried to do a tally of what we think we'd acquired so far, pricing and availability not presenting an issue.  The last few days have been quite fruitful, which has made decisions difficult.  We can't come back with anything less thrilling than what we purchased last year, so all the marks need to be spot on.  That, or they need to provide incredible value, which we think many of them will.  Some casks may not make you leap from your seat in a fit of joy, but they may cause you to mutter, "Is that all I paid for that?"  

We've got the Laphroaig 18 cask strength from Chieftain's that we secured early one, alongside an '84 Benriach that we know we've just got to have.  Glenfarclas will definitely be getting some love with a few distillery direct purchases and we think Signatory is going to have a big return to K&L after a long absence - we think a young Longmorn, Benrinnes, and even a sherry cask of Glenlivet all have serious potential for under-the-radar hits, while older casks of Bunnahabhain and Glenglassaugh may prove to be quite popular.  They also have a few big guns that may surprise everyone if we can coax the boys into releasing them.  Kilchoman will be selling us a barrel, which one we're not quite sure yet, but it will be a sherry-aged whisky.  There's a peated Bruichladdich in the works, and I'd expect to see an older refill-sherry cask of Aberlour make an appearance.  It may even be possible that the much-maligned Glen Scotia manages to sneak its way into the mix as we may have located the best whisky ever to have been produced by that distillery (which is really saying something).  You know we're taking a cask of Glen Garioch directly from Rachel Barrie, and there may be some secret Faultline rumblings in the works as well.  I'd expect a few more peated barrels to pop up before all is said and done and perhaps some lighter Highland malts might make the final cut.  So much to think about!

So this is the final update from Scotland.  I hope you've had fun reading along with our adventures and I hope we can keep you all interested as we begin our pre-arrival campaign to help get you whisky fans better advance pricing for reserving ahead of time.  More on this as the weeks go by.  

See you all back in the states tomorrow!

-David Driscoll


Scotland - Day 12: A Serious Moment

Remember people - parking on "zig zags" is both dangerous and selfish.  Let's all remember not to park in the no parking zone.  A message from Islay high school.

-David Driscoll


Scotland - Day 11: Back to Buying


While we've visited many distilleries in Scotland, rarely is the distillery the place where the whisky actually comes together.  As we learned at Lagavulin and Caol Ila, those spirits are sent off the island in a tanker where they're actually matured and blended elsewhere.  While Morrison-Bowmore does age many of their casks directly at Bowmore, Auchentoshan, and Glen Garioch, all of the blending and whisky-making is done at their head office in Glasgow.  We were in town today to see our old friend Jamie MacKenzie and meet with master blender Rachel Barrie.  The last time I had seen Rachel was in San Francisco two years ago when we co-promoted an Ardbeg tasting.  She has since jumped ship, however, taking over the reigns at MB, hoping to steer them back to dominance.  Can the lady who created the Corryvreckan get the old Bowmore going again?


Rachel's laboratory is brimming with amazing samples.  Since we had expressed interest in doing a distillery-direct cask of Glen Garioch, she had chosen four different expressions that MB could make available for such a wonderful store like K&L.  All were hand-picked by Rachel herself for their distinct personality and character.  We tasted through two 1998 barrels, a very fruity 97, and a floral, lavender-full 1986 that really impressed.  In the end, one barrel stood out among the rest - a lightly-peated 14 year cask that had everything we were looking for: a nose of big, rich vanilla with whisps of dried leaves and fresh tobacco, and a stunning flavor profile of autumnal goodness mixed with campfire smoke and soft fruit.  This should be a huge hit.  With the wonderful time we spent at Glen Garioch distillery and the surprising re-introduction we had to their current malts, I have a feeling that 2012 could be the year of Glen Garioch here at K&L.  This barrel will do for this distillery what last year's 16 year old cask did for Glendronach.


What's very interesting is the fact that Rachel Barrie is actually from Oldmeldrum, the area where Glen Garioch is located, so blending with MB is almost like a homecoming for her.  She absolutely loves working with the creaminess and the texture that comes with their spirits, saying that the higher proof (48%) of the GG expressions and the fact that they're unchillfiltered are very important.  She noted that Glenmorangie was such a fine whisky to begin with that filtering the spirit didn't actually remove much from it, whereas GG is absolutely packed with fatty oils in comparison.  She claims that the actual wash at GG is quite rich and that it tastes quite like the character of the Garioch itself - wholesome, rustic, mealy, organic, and like homecooking.  At one point she found it quite spooky because the flavors of the whiskies kept reminding her of her grandmother's kitchen, located not far from the distillery.  You can't always explain everything in whisky, or how each flavor finds its way into the malt - sometimes it's simply terroir.

After selecting an exclusive cask for K&L, we tasted through a slew of other MB samples, including some incredible Bowmore casks.  Rachel had just finished putting the final touches on what used to be called the Bowmore Tempest, but will now have a new name in the U.S.  It's easily the most exciting release from this distillery in ages.  This will be the first whisky to hit the U.S. that has Rachel's fingerprints on it.  The nose was all smoke and eucalyptus with hints of menthol, then blossoming into pistachio before finishing in a flurry of citrus and savory grapefruit.  It's amazing how detailed your tasting notes are when you taste with a master blender!  I can honestly say that I tasted each of those flavors, but having Rachel next to me, working out the flavors with me really helped.  There's no doubt in my mind that Bowmore has the best stocks of whisky on Islay, it's just a matter of doing something great with them.  Rachel believes that whisky, much like wine, can be unlocked with age.  That's not to simply say that it gets better, but rather that certain spirits have the potential for magic locked away inside them, and like wine, maturation helps to coax these flavors out of hiding.  In her mind, no spirit has more potential for greatness than Bowmore and I can't help but to agree.  The variety and quality in some of these malts is like no other distillery, but they do need someone to craft them into something fresh and exciting.  I think she's the one to do it and I will be buying as much of this new Tempest as I can once it hits the U.S. later this Fall.

After leaving Morrison-Bowmore, we hit the road to meet with a new whisky party we had never done business with before.  I am blurring out the names on these two casks because I'm not willing to give away: 1) the surprise, and 2) the person we're working with - just yet.  I'll say this: we absolutely scored.  Slam dunk.


There were names in this warehouse that we never see with our other whisky sources.  We plan on buying each and every one of them!  Deals, deals, deals!  For those of you fearing the end of great value-priced whisky at K&L (myself included), today was for you.  Get ready for mega-quality and amazing price points!

That's it for today. Two more appointments tomorrow and then we're back home Wednesday!  Have you been missing us so far?

-David Driscoll