Knick Knacks & New Arrivals

In between getting the new Sovereign malts ready for sale and prepping for the Vegas trip tomorrow, I've neglected to write about some of the new arrivals at K&L this week, as well as address some industry news.  Let's do that now:

- First off, yesterday's big gossip around the industry was that Springbank has ceased doing business with Preiss Imports, their U.S. importer for as long as I can remember.  This isn't too interesting or exciting to most people, but for us (David OG and myself) it's incredibly interesting - namely, because they've now chosen Pacific Edge to be their replacement.  It goes without saying that we're very close with the guys at Pac Edge (I'm sure many of you have been to our tastings with Todd Smith at the store or at the Hideout), so we're thrilled that doing more business directly with Springbank should only become easier!  I think it's amazing that some friends of ours from Sacramento will now be supplying the whole country with Springbank whisky!  Pacific Edge brings in Dolin Vermouth and all the Haus Alpenz stuff, A.D. Rattray single malts, and they distribute all the Willett Bourbon labels and micro-distillery spirits like Leopold Bros.  This relationship is a perfect fit.

- Just found out that JVS will be at the Vegas tasting tomorrow and they've secured an advance bottle from our Brora cask to pour!  Our sold-out Brora cask, that is.  We're going to have to hover around their table so that no one gets their hopes up after tasting it.

- I met briefly with Sazerac yesterday and tasted some barrel samples from their 1792 Ridgemont Bourbon cask program.  Not everyone is aware that Sazerac owns another distillery along side Buffalo Trace - the old Tom Moore distillery in Bardstown.  I believe they're in the process of renaming it 1792 Ridgemont distillery, but the point is that they're creating whiskey that isn't Buffalo Trace, but rather a high-rye mashbill that represents a different program from the Harlen Wheatley distillates.  Ken Pierce operates the stills for 1792 Ridgemont and the barrel samples I tasted were all 8 year old Bourbons of superb quality.  Better yet, we should be able to retail them around $23 per bottle.  I have to make a final selection still today, but there's no doubt we're going to begin purchasing casks from Sazerac's other half. The quality of Bourbon for the price is simply amazing.

- Speaking of Sazerac, if you're not on the whisky email newsletter, then you probably didn't hear that we snagged a good supply of Elmer T Lee and Eagle Rare for now.  They're running low on both these expressions currently and we were thinking we may not see any for the rest of the year.  Now we're stocked for the moment.  I also ordered some of their new bargain Canadian whiskey under the Royal Canadian label - it should be in stock later today.  It comes in a bottle that looks exactly like George T. Stagg, but it's all smooth, soft, easy-drinkin' Canadian and it's very well priced.  Anyone looking for something new and inexpensive will be very happy.

- Samples from Willett arrived in the mail this week and currently we're looking at two casks of 1991-distilled 20 year old Bourbon that represent what's left from Stitzel-Weller distillery.  I'm pretty sure we're in for at least one barrel, so all the Pappy 20 year old fans out there should have another crack at getting a similar product, albeit under a different label.  Pricing for Willett's 20 year old Bourbons, however, are a bit higher due to the fact that they're bottled at cask strength and unfiltered.  More on this later as the project develops.

- I'm really enjoying the feedback we're getting from staff and from customers concerning the four new casks from Sovereign.  The guys in Scotland we're importing these from are the real deal - they're one of the best sources for quality single malt in the world.  While everyone went in fast for the Caol Ila 30 (because, duh, it's Caol Ila 30), and many we're lulled in by the 45 year old age statement on the now-extinct Caledonian (both good decisions, mind you), the Girvan is going to be the cask everyone remembers a year from now.  Just like the Glendronach cask we imported last year, it was the whisky most customers were least excited about, but is now perhaps the most asked-about whisky we carry.  I get emails everyday about that Glendronach.  The Girvan will end up being the same.  The oak, butter, and honey just hypnotizes you right off the bat, while the grain flavors slowly lean out the finish.  Of the thirty or so people who have tried all four casks, more than twenty have selected the Girvan as their top choice.

- Last night was the sneak preview of our new Faultline Gin from St. George.  Customer response was extremely positive.  Dangerously positive.  It's going to be a huge hit.  Good thing we made 1,000+ bottles.

- I'm on the hunt for new Irish whiskies at the moment and, while we're hoping for some good mid-range options, I stumbled on this new Cooley-distilled Concannon Irish Whisky that was finished in Concannon Petite Syrah barrels from California.  At $16.99 it represents the least expensive whiskey we carry of any kind!  I wouldn't have bought it if it wasn't good, but it's not for the Redbreast fan hoping to save a few bucks.  It's for the drinkin' fan looking to drink and then drink some more - on the cheap.  That means it's mostly for the K&L staff.

- In the ever-expanding world of American independent whiskey bottlings, we've now introduced Temperance Trader Bourbon into the store - a Buffalo Trace-sourced whiskey bottled by Bull Run Distillery in Portland, Oregon.  It's a nice, spicy, more-herbal, less-sweet Bourbon for those tiring of the smoother, softer style.  Another fine addition to our growing selection.

That's the news for today.  We'll be live blogging from Vegas this weekend! 

-David Driscoll


Temporary Halt on Sovereign Sales

We're going to hold off on selling more of the Sovereign Caol Ila and Bowmore malts until we can fix the labels.  There has been a small misprint on the front and we'll be getting corrected versions in the mail shortly.  Thanks for your patience.  The Caledonian and Girvan whiskies are still available and ready to go.  Thanks for your patience!

-David Driscoll


Tastings Tonight!

WHOOPS!  I put next week's tastings on the blog instead of tonight's tastings!  My mistake.  Tonight....

San Francisco hosts Templeton Rye.

Redwood City hosts Dave Smith and his Firelit spirits.  PLUS......Dave will have a sneak peak at the new Faultline Gin!!

Next week will be Glenfarclas and Laphroaig.

Tastings start at 5 PM and go until 6:30 PM.

Free of charge!

-David Driscoll


Sovereign Testimonials

If you haven't met Kyle Kurani, he's the other spirits guy at the Redwood City store.  He's the person on the floor talking about booze while I'm on the phone talking to vendors.  Kyle knows a ton about whisky and he's got a lot to say concerning it.  If you've ever wondered about what other K&L staff members think about our exclusive casks, here's a quick look into their point of view regarding the four new Sovereign whiskies that just arrived.  Jeff Garneau, our resident Bordeaux expert in Redwood City, also chimes in from the wine drinker's perspective.

-David Driscoll


Sovereign Impressions

I've been a little anxious as of late.  More so than I usually am.  I've found myself tossing and turning at night, worrying in my free time, my thoughts scattering from here to there.  Part of the anxiety was due to the increasing activity we're seeing with distilled spirits here at K&L - more orders, more requests, more work, more responsibility.  Most of it, however, was stemming from the drama surrounding the Sovereign single malts.  It had been almost a year since David OG and I met with the Laing brothers in their Glasgow office, tasting barrel samples and discussing ideas for a new American independent label.  Now, with only a few days until their long-awaited arrival, I was beginning to fear the whiskies might taste different than we remembered them.  So many people had reserved the Caol Ila 30 in advance, hopes high for a great deal on an ancient Islay expression, but I could barely remember tasting it myself!  Not to mention the fact that we were bringing in two single grain whiskies (as if the public would even be interested in one!) that were so wacky all we did was giggle every time we sipped them.

Now facing a real life business situation, with customer expectations riding the trust they bestowed upon us, I was beginning to dread my eventual encounter with the Sovereign malts.  I always go through a bit of second guessing when a cask arrives - "What if it isn't as good as I remember?" - but these whiskies were risky from the beginning.  We were riding a wave of confidence when we selected these barrels, believing that the whisky geek crowd would revel in the bold character these whiskies exuded.  Nonetheless, the decision to purchase all four was dangerous because all of them are less inclusive than any project we've previously engaged in.  Now, almost a year later, facing the consequences of choices made long ago, my developing business maturity was causing me serious dread. 

What were the four whiskies that left me panic-stricken upon their immediate arrival? 1965 Caledonian - a single grain whisky from a large and legendary facility closed forever in 1988 by Diageo.  1990 Girvan - another whisky made from unmalted cereal grains.  2000 Bowmore - an oddball sherry cask with so much character that it may be too over the top for some.  1980 Caol Ila - a thirty year old beauty from the Islay giant with expectations through the roof.  Would they be too weird?  Too underwelming?  Too wacky?  About an hour ago, I drove to the store on my day off to meet the delivery truck and pop four corks on bottles we had been expecting months ago.  Now, sitting in my living room post-tasting, typing this article, I am breathing easier.  In fact, I'm quite giddy.  The malts are dynamite.  Here's the quick review from our second meeting:

1990 Girvan 21 Year Old Single Grain Whisky - Tingly, sweet vanilla right on the entry - really taking the front palate to task with caramel and oak.  Big richness that teases you because it's still grain.  The mid-palate thins out a bit and the back end is more dry and herbal.  This is classic grain whisky - it's like taking the backbone out of Johnnie Walker Blue and offering it as a separate entity.  This will make a fantastic intro to grain whisky for those looking to discover the true foundations of Scotch.  Easy, accessible, and tasty.  Very enjoyable.

1965 Caledonian 45 Year Old Single Grain Whisky - My notes held up well over time - the nose is still a load of sticky Sauternes, apricot, and honey.  The palate will completely throw everyone for a loop, however,  The richness vanishes and is replaced by an earthy peat-like flavor - even though these grains were never peated, you could easily convince someone they were.  The texture is absolutely fascinating and the menagerie of flavors is as complex of any whisky I've ever tasted.  I could pick this apart for hours, if not days.  Serious whisky geeks, rejoice.  Herbs, grains, smoke, earth, honey, caramel, nuts - wow.  Take into account the rarity of Caledonian whisky and this whisky is an even better deal.

2000 Bowmore 11 Year Old Single Malt Whisky - Bowmore is by far my favorite Islay distillery because it can be all over the place - the highs can be high, and the lows low.  I relate to that.  This is one of the most Bowmore-like Bowmores I've ever had.  It's like Spinal Tap turned up the Bowmore knob to 11 - the peat is super dirty and oily (in a good way).  The richness from the sherry butt isn't sweet, so much as it is tangy.  In my old notes I had written "tennis ball can," but now it's more like iced tea.  Iced tea and a pile of wet Autumn leaves next to a bonfire.  Water only opens the whisky up more and then you're just getting slapped in the face with Bowmore's true essence - I can see people absolutely hating this.  I can also see people going absolutely bonkers over it. 

1980 Caol Ila 30 Year Old Single Malt Whisky - The most terrifying of the four because we weren't sure we were actually getting the barrel we tasted.  There had been some confusion after it was bottled and I wasn't able to confirm the quality until today.  Jesus, is this good whisky.  Anyone who ordered this in advance is going to be thrilled.  $175 was an incredible price for this malt.  It's so elegant, so restrained, so in check - more so than any other peated Islay we carry right now.  This is like Talisker 25, but maybe better.  Sweet grains, lovely richness, brine with smoke, salted caramel with incredible length on the finish.  Once people taste this it's going to vanish quickly.  Easily one of the best older Islay malts I've ever tasted.

The part that makes me most proud is the fact that there are no whiskies anywhere (that I've sampled) that taste anything remotely similar to these bottles - they are unique, interesting, and they test the comfort zone of even the seasoned whisky drinker.  I want K&L to be taking risks, pushing the envelope, causing a stir, yet delivering the goods every time we do it.  When we bring in a cask, it should not only be because of the whisky's quality, but also because the whisky allows us to offer something outside the everyday norm.  These four whiskies represent David OG and I at our most confident - knowing that we don't have to please everyone to secure good whisky and understanding that there is an audience for something as esoteric as antiquated grain whisky or hyper-Islay Bowmore. 

As confident as we were when we purchased these casks last year, I've spent the last nine months second-guessing myself, watching the whisky industry attempt to streamline the palate of the boutique single malt niche.  These whiskies kick the mainstream in the mouth, and after tasting them today, my confidence is back and my anxiety is gone.  I cannot wait to give people these single malts. 

-David Driscoll