New Stuff for T-Day

Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinally, our single barrel of Bruichladdich has arrived. I had no idea when this was going to get here, but it's in stock as of now in Redwood City.  SF will get some tomorrow and LA later in about a week.

2003 Bruichladdich K&L Exclusive Peated Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $72.99 - Originally slated for Bruichladdich's short-lived 3D3 Peat expression, this malt began its life in Bourbon casks until it was dumped into a refill Sherry butt for extra maturation. That classic Bruichladdich tang is on the nose, the briny aromas that meander between rich, earthy, and tart. The peat shows itself first, bringing bright smoke and peat moss similar to Laphroaig, before the mild dose of Sherry kicks in, finishing more like Lagavulin with some nice oak and caramel. After a disasterous recall on last year's Chenin Blanc barrel, this new offering from Bruichladdich comes just in time for the holidays to fill the hole. Now that Remy Martin has acquired the once-independent distillery, we're not sure if this will mark the end of the independent cask program at Bruichladdich. Is this the last time we team up with our friends on Islay, or is this just another great chapter in an incredible relationship? We hope to continue our business with Bruichladdich, but if this peated cask is the last of its kind, it's a hell of a way to go out. Big smoke, big flavor, tons of complexity, lots of chewy richness. This is Islay through and through. It's Bruichladdich at its smoky best.

This stuff is very special. I can't wait to do another one of these if they're all going to be as good as this.

Germain Robin K&L Single Barrel Alambic Brandy $56.99 - Labeled as single barrel no. 125, batch 2012-F, this is our first collaboration with the legendary Ukiah distillery, known for its exceptional California brandy. Aged in French Limousin oak, this brandy begins with a lovely flurry of fresh fruit before settling into more classic Cognac flavors of caramel and subtle toffee.  The balance of this batch is impeccable and the brandy is decidedly better than the standard Craft Method in our opinion.  Germain Robin already makes an amazing and affordable brandy, so we weren't going to take a cask unless it was significantly better or different than the standard expressions.  In this case, it's both. Round, supple, but full of life and character. This is a bottle you won't want to miss. Only 108 bottles available.

This just in from St. George. Dave Smith and I tasted some samples of the Faultline Gin Batch 2 today. We took thin-skinned oranges, juiced them, distilled the juice, then put the peels in a rotisserie-style smoker to give them a bit of an edge before putting them in the gin to macerate.

Thin peels!

Into the smoker.

The result.

You really get the rotisserie flavor in the gin. Does it still taste like gin? We'll see what you think.  It will be here before Xmas.

-David Driscoll


Living in Denial Part III (Living with Irony)

I'm glad someone has more time to write than I do. Having more time results in more thought out, more cohesive pieces of journalism that more accurately put words to ideas I'm still trying to iron out.

This is really well done and it addresses many of the points I was hoping to make.

-David Driscoll


Having Your Cake and Eating it Too

We recently did a K&L staff Champagne dinner with the one of the bigger (yet not one of the biggest) Champagne houses in the industry. For those of you who don't drink Champagne, this would be the equivalent of doing a dinner with Johnnie Walker or Chivas. Big Champagne houses, like big Cognac houses, take wines from other small growers and marry them together to create their own brands. However, much like the single malt industry, customers are becoming more educated and are learning more about grower-producer Champagne: the guys who actually make the wine and are now selling it directly. It's very much like a single malt distillery selling directly under their name, rather than selling the whisky off to a blender. Customers are now showing a desire to taste these wines before they are blended into something massive and rather diluted. They're learning about wines like Franck Bonville, Ariston Aspasie, and Bruno Michel, rather than the ubiquitous Dom Perignon, Billecart-Salmon, and Roederer. For a single malt drinker, it's the same as switching from Walker Black to Kilchoman. One of them tells you exactly how they make it and what goes into it, while the other speaks in vagaries.

Going back to the dinner, we were very impressed with the effort this larger producer had taken to increase the quality of their wine and were excited to taste the improved quality. Rather than buy from over one hundred different farmers in Champagne, they began focusing on a smaller number of quality growers, making sure their grapes were of the highest quality. They had also increased the percentage of reserve wine in their standard cuvee, using older stocks to add extra richness. This was obviously a reaction to the grower-producer revolution that guys like K&L buyer Gary Westby have helped to bring about. They wanted to attract this new consumer base that was learning more about where their Champagne came from, right down to the family that harvested the actual grapes. They knew they couldn't continue to survive in a world where enthusiasts are posting Facebook pictures with growers in the Cote des Blanc. They surely said to themselves, "The public is getting educated about wine. They want more specifics. We need to make sure we're a part of this new movement." In the end, this producer took the necessary measures and made a better wine by using the same standards that a smaller producer would.  They were so excited about their revamped version of the wine that they wanted to throw us a big dinner to unveil it. We were all very impressed with this new dedication to quality and an openness about the production, until one of our staff members asked, "So where are the actual vineyards? Which farmers are you buying from now?"

"We can't actually reveal that information, but the fruit is from serious growers only."

Really? After all that you're going to hold back now?

Coincidentally enough, I happened to have lunch that very same day with another one of the bigger (yet not one of the biggest) single malt whisky producers in Scotland. This was merely a friendly meeting with no real business goal or agenda, but I did glean some very interesting information from our time together. It was clear that this whisky producer was interested in this new, educated consumer as well. They were excited to tell me about their stills, their methods of production, and about their long-standing history as an industry innovator and quality producer. We had discussed doing an interview for the blog where I could ask questions about specifics and use the encounter as a way to provide my customers with more information about the brand. However, the questions that I wanted answers to were not really open for discussion, it soon appeared. What's going on with supply? When are prices going to stabilize? What justifies the price tag for these new, "higher-end" expressions we're beginning to see?

"We can't talk about those things, unfortunately."

Really? I've talked with plenty of other distilleries about those subjects and they were happy to comply.

That's when I had to get something off my chest. "You can't talk about educating the consumer, paint yourself as a producer committed to educating the consumer, but then dictate the level of education you want the consumer to have. That's like living on Animal Farm," I told the gentlemen. You don't get to say, "we want you to have all the information to make an informed decision when purchasing our product," but then hold back when you feel like it. Transparency doesn't work that way. These weren't ridiculous questions from some whisky fringe lunatic. These were legitimate concerns.  Consumers want to have more information because it helps them to justify their purchase. We're not looking to steal your secrets. We're looking to enhance our drinking experience! If a company wants to cater to the new, educated enthusiast, then they're going to have to level with them – completely – otherwise just keep on doing what you're doing and stop with the pandering. There is a new breed of whisky/wine drinker out there who is just as much excited by information as they are by the product itself. They want specs. They want data. They want answers! You either say, "We're not going to give away our secrets," and move on, or you tell them what they want to know. It's as easy as that. I'm fine with it either way!

"What do you mean by referencing Animal Farm, David?" The men were genuinely concerned and interested.

In George Orwell's classic allegory, the pigs talk the other farm animals into revolting against the farmers who exploit their labor, but then end up as evil and manipulative as the farmers themselves – a scathing criticism of fascist dictatorship and propaganda-driven government. If you're going to tell whisky consumers that, unlike other companies, we're willing to provide you with the information that other companies won't, but then hold back on the most crucial questions, then we're really not getting anything different than before. While it may sound friendlier and more sympathetic, it's really the same old thing.

To be fair, I'm not criticizing either company for their policies about disclosure. I completely understand why businesses choose to keep certain information to themselves. I honestly love both of these brands because they make outstanding products at fair prices that, in my opinion, offer both value and quality. What I do have a problem with is when a company attempts to capitalize on a growing industry trend without fully committing to the movement. It doesn't work. We can sniff you out immediately. Johnnie Walker doesn't tell anyone the cepage of its blended whiskies. They reveal a few of the distilleries, but they never tell you exactly what's in their bottles. At the same time, they're fine with the consumer base they command. There's no marketing attempt catering to guys like myself who want more details.

-David Driscoll


More Hot Deals

Now that Rittenhouse and Sazerac are creeping back into the market place, the more expensive brands are going to need to come back down to earth. First off - Templeton Rye. Normally $36.99, now $29.99. Save yourself $7 on a very delicious bottle of rye whiskey. Reading the old tasting note we had was quite funny "One bottle limit! Now available online after months of in-store only." I had forgotten about that. This used to be impossible to get!

Templeton Rye (Previously $37) Now $29.99 - The most talked about little rye is finally available to the general public. This is a spice monster! It almost feels like they've steeped it in spices after distillation. Big, rich, clove, cinnamon, very intense, very delicious. One bottle limit, now available online after months of in-store only!

-David Driscoll


California is Stiff Competition

I just finished having lunch with my local LVMH rep and one of the main topics of discussion was about how the California market is cutthroat when it comes to small batches of booze. California is the biggest state in the nation and, from everything I've been told by brand managers and sales people, we drink a lot of hard stuff out west. There are many, many key accounts - as in stores who get the good stuff for being solid supporters. When Sazerac has to divvy up their Pappy Van Winkle they have to divide the booty between us, Beltramo's, D&M, BevMo, HiTimes, Wally's, Cask, Ledger's, SFWTC, and a ton of other retailers that are just as serious about selling their hooch as K&L. Then you've got to include all the trendy bars and cocktail lounges. On top of that, the Bay Area is one of the geekiest places in the world about wine and food, if not the geekiest, so there's an educated and passionate base of spirits fans who keep up with all the latest news and release dates.  People live to drink hard-to-find, special, in-the-know liquor around here. You've got a large number of top liquor stores all competing with each other to get the booze and then an even larger number of customers competing with each other to buy it.

I read a lot of whisky blogs. I peruse the message boards and the comment fields. Take the Whisky Advocate Blog from yesterday, for example, or even SKU's post about the Four Rose's Small Batch 2012.  You've got people chiming in from all over the country, mentioning availability about this bottle in their neck of the woods. I get emails from customers who don't even shop with K&L, but read the blog and are looking for guidance regarding their own local selection. According to them, there seems to be a good amount of the Four Roses left in other parts of the country. I can tell you right now that this is not the case in California. Our local distributor, Wine Warehouse, got their supply of Four Roses about three weeks ago and we blew through our allocation in less than two days - and we never even put it on the shelf! That was merely through a mention on this blog and our insider email list - it all sold online in a flurry. When we sold out, I checked the stocks at other local stores and directed customers to various other locations that still had a bottle or two. Now it's gone forever and still there are plenty of people who want one, but couldn't get one (although I think Wally's still has a bottle left for $100 if you want to pay a little extra).

I can't even imagine putting something like Pappy or Stagg on the shelf. It would be absolute mayhem if that happened. There are literally fifteen to twenty people who call here every day to ask about these bottles, and another five to ten who send emails. Yet, I'm hearing from customers on the East Coast or in the South who can apparently just walk in to their local store and get these bottles off the shelf. Some stores even have last year's special editions as well! Even if I never mentioned the Pappy to our insider customers, or took it off the website for in-store-only sales, we would still sell through it in a day or two simply because of the amount of calls we get from people simply inquiring. They would be texting their friends if we said "yes," telling them to call the store immediately and we would be buried under a sea of requests (like when our website got overloaded during last year's Pappy sale).

I don't know if there are simply too many retailers, bars, and restaurants that are eating up our allocations or if it's just a greater public demand, but I can tell you right now that the demand in California for Bourbon seems to be crazier than any other region I know of. I don't know this for a fact, but it's what I've surmised by reading the accounts of other websites.  When it comes to the BTAC or Pappy releases, as well as the Parker's Heritage stuff, our demand is so great  that we have to raffle off the right to buy one.  That's right - you have to actually be granted permission to give us your money. It's nuts! However, I heard from a customer last week who can get a bottle of Jefferson's Ocean at his local shop in Virginia whenever he wants. It's just sitting there he told me. As we all know, that bottle sold for $1000 on our auction site because no one had any in California.

If you live in California, you definitely have access to some of the greatest booze in the world, especially with so many quality retailers working hard on your behalf. It appears, however, that you need to be a bit more diligent to actually get it. There's some stiff competition out here. The demand has been so hairy with the Four Roses 2012 that I'm actually relieved it's over.  When customers ask me if I can get get them a bottle of Pappy 15, the answer isn't technically "no." It's just that the odds are very, very low. As long as there's a chance, I'm willing to offer it to every loyal customer and they're more than happy to take it. Sometimes, however, it's simply easier to just say, "we're sold out," than to manage a wait list that will inevitably leave some customers out of the picture.

Now that John Hansell has given the Four Roses his personal seal of approval (ranked higher than anything in the BTAC), I'm sure there will be even more demand for the whiskey all over the U.S. It won't do anything to affect our sales out here, however, because we're already sold out for the year.  We may have a reputation for being laid back in California, but we're anything but relaxed when it comes to Bourbon. We're rabid. We're insatiable. We're very competitive and we're always on the hunt for more.

-David Driscoll