We're Back At It

This week I was back at St. George distillery in Alameda, siphoning strange and magical elixers out of beakers with the mad scientist himself, Dave Smith.  Faultline Gin Batch #2 is in the works.  Same label, different recipe!  Think smoke.  Think citrus.

-David Driscoll


Catching On Later

Sometimes a musician won't be appreciated until long after their career is over.  Often, a film or television show won't catch on until it's been released on DVD (or Netflix instant like Arrested Development).  In the case of whisky, one of our completely overlooked casks from last year has recently caught on with some of our single malt customers and it's making me very happy.  Dave Smith from St. George Distillery texted me earlier this week, "Holy S%&! that bottle of Dailuaine is amazing!"  Of course it is!  Then, just a day later, another customer emailed and told me how that bottle made his entire weekend.  We ended up selling seven bottles in a week to people who were only now getting around to drinking this whisky, and the reviews kept piling up.  I mentioned this to a customer in the store, he bought one, emailed me that night, and was head over heels for the 27 year old malt.  Why now, I wondered?

Maybe it was because with all the hype and great reviews surrounding the Ladyburn, Brora, Bladnoch, and Glendronach, no really wanted to throw down an extra $130 for an unknown Diageo blending component. Maybe it's just that we're almost out of everything else, so by process of elimination it finally got its chance.  I'm hoping that happens with the 1998 Springbank Madeira cask as well, which to me was perhaps my favorite whisky from last year's stash.  I don't think it was the best malt we bought, but to me it's a unique snapshot as to what makes that distillery so special.  Lately, the smoke seems to be taking a larger role in the profile, adding another great peated option for people who don't want the intensity of Islay.  There's been a lack of sherry-aged, peated whisky as of late, so this might scratch that itch for some people.  In any case, I feel good right now because I've learned that not every barrel we purchase needs to take off right upon arrival.  It might take six months, or it may take over a year, but eventually the word will get out. 

It's always fun when you discover something wonderful when you didn't expect to.  I'm glad we're able to do that with booze from time to time.

-David Driscoll


Whisky Season 2012 Update: Rachel Barrie's Selection

There's a reason why I'm showing you a small ramekin of fried oatmeal mixed with onions to start this article.  Known as "mealy" in the town of Oldmeldrum, the home of Glen Garioch distillery, it's on the menu at the local diner just down the street from the whisky legend.  It's important to understand how important grains are to this part of Scotland.  They're a big part of the diet, both solid and liquid, and the aromas of barley and sweet grain hang in the air as you walk through town.  It's terroir, so to speak.

Glen Garioch was the big shocker for us on this year's trip to Scotland.  We didn't realize how beautiful the distillery was, how nice the people were, how important the legacy was, and how good the whisky tasted.  GG is the Morrison-Bowmore distillery you forget about.  You forget that it's one of the oldest in Scotland.  You forget that there's a lot of pride in its history.  A quick trip through the distillery, however, changes that.  We left as Glen Garioch superfans.  You can read more about that here.

By the time we made it to Glasgow over a week later, we had nothing but great things to tell the people at Morrison-Bowmore headquarters.  No person was more happy to hear about our experience than Rachel Barrie, who apparently grew up nearby.  She was so pumped that she went to the back and brought out a cask sample she had hand picked for Bowmore earlier in the week.  She wanted us to have it.  We took it.  It's coming.  Read on below!

1998 Glen Garioch 14 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $87.99 (Pre-Order) - On last year's trip to Scotland, David and I stopped by Glendronach distillery on a whim, fell in love, and now it's one of the top whiskies we sell at K&L.  This year's version of that was Glen Garioch distillery in Oldmeldrum.  An old-fashioned, picturesque distillery located in the center of the quaint village, generating romanticism like you wouldn't believe.  Part of the Morrison-Bowmore portfolio, Glen Garioch's whisky creation has been put into the hands of former Ardbeg superstar Rachel Barrie, who jumped ship to Bowmore last year.  We weren't planning on selecting a cask of Glen Garioch, but after stopping by early on in our trip, we told Rachel how much we enjoyed our visit while meeting with her a week later. Being originally from the area, Rachel was so overjoyed we had connected so deeply with her own sense of youthful nostalgia, that she ran to the back to grab a cask sample she had picked out for Bowmore recently - a 1998 single cask aged in a hogshead that had previously held peated whisky.  GG had dabbled in the peated Highland style before 1994, but the whisky produced today is completely without smoke.  This very special cask, chosen by Rachel, has all the beautiful sweet grains we love about the malt with just a whisper of peat in the background.  The palate is elegant and lean, but the fruit and vanilla are concentrated in its core. The whisky tastes like the town of Oldmeldrum - old world, country, rustic, and down-home.  That's terroir in whisky.

-David Driscoll


Liqueurs You Need

In late 2011, Tempus Fugit introduced their new Creme de Menthe and Creme de Cacao liqueurs to the world of cocktail geeks.  The hype behind them was immense.  People knew they were coming and we were getting emails everyday as to when they might hit the shelf.  Bars across the Bay Area were gearing up to buy in big, knowing that they might not get a chance to reorder later.  They eventually came into stock, people went nuts, and the products lived up to the hype.  The concentration of flavor was unparalleled.  Soft cocoa flavors in the cacao and fresh spearmint shining through with the menthe.  Not too sweet, totally balanced. 

Then something terrible happened.  There was a dispute with the master distiller.  There was a supply issue with the Venezuelan cocoa.  Distributors needed to be switched.  The products disappeared from the market as fast as they had from our shelves.  It would be eight months until they would make their triumphant return.  I just talked to John Troia and he told me the supply chain looks solid for now.  That's why we're happy to announce that Petaluma's own Tempus Fugit liqueurs are back at K&L, adding another fantastic Bay Area-distilled product to the ever-expanding selection of outstanding liqueurs.

Tempus Fugit Creme de Menthe $29.99 - Another exemplary effort from Tempus Fugit.  Nothing on the market comes close to the amazing and authentic flavors exhibited here.  Even the high end French producers settle for using mint extracts rather than fresh mint and Tempus refuses to compromise.  This has fresh spearmint and peppermint as well as a host of botanicals to provide depth.  Distilled from winter wheat to a 193 proof, then macerated with the herbs for supreme concentration.

Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao $29.99 - Known for their Absinthe, Tempus Fugit has made waves over last year releasing the exceptional (albeit controversial) Gran Classico and the lovely Tempus Fugit Liqueur de Violette. Their new Creme de Cacao is out of this world. Few things have bothered me more than the subpar Creme de Cacaos I've tasted in the past, but this stuff is awesome. Based on a 19th century recipe, the Tempus Fugit folks have gone so far as to replicate the original cacao and vanilla sources from Venezuela and Mexico respectively in order to get it just right. It is SOOO rich, basically the texture of maple syrup. The nose is pure cacao beans and vanilla.  More complexity than any chocolate flavored liqueur I've ever tasted, they've managed to capture the true depth of the Cacao bean in a way that is both satisfyingly familiar and totally unprecedented. Think of mixing these two with some cream for the best Grasshopper that anybody has had in a hundred years. Leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Try a Stinger, it might change your life.

Combier Doppelt Kummel Liqueur $36.99 - If you like cumin, then you're going to go crazy for this new liqueur from Loire Valley distiller Combier.  You really need to like cumin, however, because it's exactly what the Kummel tastes like.  Bold, intense, in-your-face cumin with a kiss of sweetness.  I can only imagine what's possible for cocktail mixing, especially with fruit drinks.

-David Driscoll


The Pressure to Deliver

While many might find tasting whisky for a living quite the perfect career, let me tell you, there are many responsibilities that go along with the position - especially when you're in the business of selling the products you're reviewing.  Every day there will be at least one customer in the store who believes we're completely full of shit.  We simply must be trying to put the most expensive bottle possible in their hand, preying on their vulnerabilities, looking to squeeze every cent possible out of the transaction.  While this scenario undoubtedly plays out in sales situations every day all over the world, it doesn't happen at K&L - at least not with David and me.  I'm hyper-sensitive to to the value of every whisky we import as a special K&L selection.  As David brilliantly summarized in yesterday's Glenlochy post, we painstakingly analyze every barrel we bring into the store - especially the expensive ones. I lose sleep over them on a regular basis, tossing and turning, hoping that other people find them as wonderful as I do.  There are phone calls, emails, and requests from all over the country coming into K&L right now, asking to speak to one of the spirits buyers, wanting to know if one of our selections is truly worth the money.  People want reassurance.  They want a guarantee that their money is being well spent.  I don't blame them!  These bottles are not cheap!  It's a lot of pressure.  If one person, just one of these customers who spends hundreds of dollars on a bottle that only we have tasted isn't satisfied with their purchase, then David and I are responsible.  When you're talking big bucks, there's no room for " a difference in taste."  "I'm sorry, sir, but it looks like we just don't agree." No way.  The whisky needs to deliver and it needs to live up to every expectation from every type of palate, and every type of customer.  I get the feeling sometimes that people think my statements are hyperbolic and designed to evoke a quick sale, as if I wouldn't be here tomorrow morning to face the wrath of our clientele were I to sell them a lemon.  Believe me, we are well aware of the faith our customers have in us.  It's a weight on our shoulders.  It's what keeps me going, but it's also what pains me with anxiety.  I want people to love these whiskies because we think they're wonderful.  There's no worse feeling than when someone winds up disappointed in a whisky I recommended to them, but it obviously happens.  That's part of the game and it's not an easy thing to deal with.  Nevertheless, it's worth it.  It's a great job and we take it very seriously.

We're here to bring you the best we can find.  All we can tell you is that, based on our experience with tasting on a day-to-day basis, we like these whiskies very much.  I can't promise anyone anything.  I can only hope you agree! I'll be up until at least 2 AM for the next five months, worrying myself sick, hoping that you all do!

-David Driscoll