I'm on a Boat

Where are the Glendronach and Benriach whiskies we've been selling on pre-order? They're on a boat. However, they're not hanging out with T-Pain, sipping Champagne in tuxedos, the wind whipping through their cardboard canisters. They're in a gigantic queue outside the Long Beach port, packed inside a pallet of plastic wrap, waiting to clear customs after a long and drawn-out dock workers strike. If you've ordered one of these bottles as a holiday gift for your favorite whisky drinker, I'll be happy to get you a refund and help you find something else. If you're waiting for your own personal bottle, please hang in there just a bit longer. We're doing everything we can, but there's not a whole lot we can do at this point. The whisky has been here for almost a month. We just can't get to it.

-David Driscoll



Whisky season really gets into full swing once the Diageo limited malts start making their way in. Lagavulin is here.

Lagavulin 12 Year Old 2012 Edition Natural Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $109.99 - A limited edition, natural cask strength single malt whisky from the essential Islay distillery, Lagavulin, on Islay's rocky south coast. Ninth of a series of special 12 year old releases from the original distiller's stocks. Vatted from refill American oak casks, each at least 12 years old. Available in limited quantities worldwide. An elegant classic; massive smoke and purity of flavour supported by complex aromas and delicious sweetness. Less rich and plummy than the 16 year old, this starts with a fresh moss nose that is well hidden in the standard bottle.

Lagavulin Distiller's Edition Single Malt Whisky $109.99 – The 2012 limited edition is here, loaded with the Pedro Ximenez sherry from the double maturation. Big, cakey, and round with tons of richness. Smoke comes soft on the finish. Always a big hit. We’ve been getting about five requests a day for this lately, so it appears the DE Lagavulin is the new hot thing! I have never been a big fan of this whisky, but I had a sample bottle to pop so I just gave it a try. I was quite taken aback. This 2012 edition is exactly what I hope Lagavulin with extra sherry will taste like, but never seems to actually do. A burst of rich raisiny sherry comes first with all the classic Lagavulin smoke and brine on the back end. I've found that previous editions have overdosed on the sherry and drowned out the peat. Not this one. It's perfectly harmoneous. It's totally balanced and right where it needs to be. I think it might be the best Lagavulin I've tasted in years. Much better than the standard 16 in my opinion. Fans of the distillery will be very pleased.

-David Driscoll


Second Wines, Third Wines

For those of you who don't drink Bordeaux, let me explain what second and third wines are. The top Chateaux have their namesake labels, their tete de cuvée, that they produce every vintage without fail. Chateau Latour makes Latour and Chateau Lafite makes Lafite. There are sometimes great vintages in Bordeaux and there are mediocre ones as well. You would think that good vintages would mean plenty of Chateau Latour and in bad vintages less, but that's not quite how it works. When you're in the luxury business you can't have too many bottles available on the market. That would lower your product's perceived value! That's what second and third labels are for - "we'll just put the extra wine into a different wine called Les Forts des Latour," something Latour has been doing since 1966.

In lean vintages, the best grapes are obviously all used up in the top cuvées. In better years, you can really get some great values in the second and third labels because of the surplus in quality fruit. The point, however, is that even when they have extra juice they make sure not to let that affect their market price. Right now we're experiencing a shortage of mature whisk(e)y and prices are therefore on the rise. While I received quite a few emails from readers last night who didn't think the Bordeaux analogy held up, I think it might be dead on. Readers disagreed that whisky stocks would forever remain low and that prices would eventually go back down. However, the quantity of stock is always fluctuating in Bordeaux, yet the prices keep going one direction - up!

Let's say that the whisky industry does eventually reach a surplus after all this extra-production kicks in. Do you really think companies are going to lower their prices as a result? Make less money? Not if people continue to pay them. Everything that happens in the booze industry, or in any industry for that matter, is based on what people will pay and what they won't. I remember when people kept complaining about how major magazines were only reviewing $300 - $500 whiskies on a regular basis. "No one actually drinks that stuff! We need reviews about whiskies we can actually afford!" However, people are buying these bottles. We're selling them at K&L just by putting them on the webpage, letting internet shoppers pick from our finest selections. There's much more money to be made from $300 bottles of booze than $30 selections. A lot more, which is why Bordeaux producers put everything into their top wines. That's where the money is, so that's where their focus is.

What happens if whisk(e)y companies start focusing their best barrels and back stock into $200 and $300, or $2000 and $3000 bottles? I think this is already happening. We might see older expressions before if the distilleries had the mature whisky to bottle, but now we're seeing concerted efforts to produce luxury-status booze whether it should be luxury or not! We're currently facing a shortage of Elijah Craig 18, but Heaven Hill still found a way to release some 20 year whiskey this year. The 18 sells (or once sold) for $50. The 20 ran for $130. That's only two years difference. "Wait! You're telling me that if we wait an extra two years we can charge people an extra $80. And they'll still pay it? Gentlemen, tell me about this 20 year old whiskey we're working on!" We might see all the whisk(e)y we used to enjoy for a reasonable price start going into pricier, more luxury-focused bottles with very limited quantities. Especially when there are no age statements.

Another facet that readers disagreed with was that prices could remain high with newer producers getting into the game. This works in just about every other industry when prices get too expensive. Some new start-up will always come along, a la Jet Blue, and begin taking business from larger companies by offering discounted rates. Is this really happening with whisk(e)y though? How many new producers (in the last three years, let's say) have you seen pop up that have been bringing value back to whisk(e)y drinkers? I can tell you how many I have seen: zero. If anything, new producers are having the opposite effect! They're facing larger upstart fees, sliding scale production costs, and a need to start selling their product before it's even ready. They're coming into the market with higher prices for younger whiskies. When people start paying $40 for one-year old or even unaged whiskies it makes the larger companies scratch their heads.

If the public is willing to pay $40 for new make, then what should our 12 year old Bourbon cost? Hmmmm.....

Everything is relative to what people will pay.

-David Driscoll


Movies For Guys Who Like Movies

I'm the kind of guy who never buys the same bottle of whisky twice. I like to always keep something new in the bar. Right now I'm sipping on the new Royal Lochnagar Distiller's Edition, a whisky I have never before purchased, but am enjoying immensely.

However, I am finding that as I get older I am less interested in new music. I am less interested in new movies. I just want to listen to and watch the things I am already familiar with. They comfort me. They help me through the cold winter weather. I am getting old. That's what old people do. They're not up to speed with pop culture.

All time greatest albums?

1) Pavement - Wowee Zowee

2) Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik

3) MF Doom - Mmm....Food

4) Deerhunter - Microcastle

5) Tears for Fears - Songs From the Big Chair

At least, those are the five albums that I could listen to on repeat and never get tired of.

Best movies of all time? In this order:

1) Ski School

2) Roadhouse

3) Kickboxer

4) Bloodsport

5) Rambo 4 (I am watching this right now, hence the motivation for this post)

I could put these movies on a 24 hour loop and I would never get bored. If they are on TV I will invariably watch until the end from whatever point I tune in at.

Whisky, however, is an entirely different animal for me. I do not want to taste the same thing over and over. I want new stuff. New products. New flavors. New producers.

I want more.

Pass me that unopened bottle, please. John Rambo is telling the missionaries that they have no business in Burma.

-David Driscoll


Never Going Back Part II

My boss has an old advertising from K&L posted to the bulletin board in his office. It's from April of 1986.

Some of the Bordeaux producers listed have become cult favorites. Others not so much. As a result of interest in the category in general, all can justify higher price tags. When people pay more for specific whiskies, it can allow for the industry to raise their prices as a whole. Take a look at what's happened in Bordeaux since the 1980's:

2010 Gloria, based on purely inflation from 1986, should cost around $20 today, according to the WestEgg Inflation Calculator. Right now, if you order on pre-arrival, it's $50, so probably more like $60 retail by the time it gets here. That's triple what inflation says it should cost and no one is really going ga-ga for Gloria. 2010 Prieure Lichine is $65 on pre-arrival, so figure about $80 retail. 2010 Brainaire-Ducru is $80 on pre-arrival, so figure $100 retail. 2010 Cos de Estournal is $330 on pre-arrival, so figure $370 or more retail. 2010 Lynch Bages is $175 on pre-arrival, so figure $200 retail. You can see where this is going.

No bubble popping yet in Bordeaux. These bottles are selling with ease.

-David Driscoll