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K&L Spirits Tasting Schedule:

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7/9 - San Francisco: No Tasting

7/9 - Redwood City: Ron Zacapa Rum

2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

1990 Glenfarclas K&L Exclusive Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER


Glenfarclas "The Faultline Casks" K&L Exclusive First Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER


1998 Laphroaig 15 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Refill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1983 Caol Ila 30 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Refill Sherry Hogshead Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW


1992 Bruichladdich 21 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1988 Balmenach 26 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER


1997 Benrinnes 17 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Dailuaine 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky PRE-ORDER


1995 Glen Elgin 18 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Glenlivet 16 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Butt Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1981 Glenlivet 32 Year Old Signatory K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1996 Bowmore 16 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Bladnoch "Young" K&L Exclusive Heavily Peated Single Barrel #57 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Bladnoch 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive Lightly Peated Single Barrel #303 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2005 Glenrothes 8 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Glengoyne 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #172 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #74 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2013 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky Still Available

2005 Island Distillery 7 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


2001 Royal Lochnagar 10 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Glendronach 18 Year Old Single PX Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


1994 Benriach 19 Year Old Single Bourbon Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


1989 Cragganmore 23 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1992 Longmorn 21 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1987 Mortlach 25 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1983 Miltonduff 30 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750m IN STOCK NOW!


Tuesday
Aug312010

Tasting the Last Drop!

Please join us at Martin's West in Redwood City a week from today on Tuesday September 7th for a very special event.  We will be tasting James Espey's Last Drop Whiskey, a 48 year old blend that defies what I thought was possible from whisky that old (see the post beneath this one about what exactly the Last Drop is).  Because we can only afford to purchase one bottle (they retail at $2000!) we will be limiting this to a strict 35 people only.  We will split the bottle evenly 35 ways and everyone can taste at their own speed.  The fee will be $50, which if you do the math is less than $2000 divided by 35, so you're getting a deal.  This is cheaper than if you were to buy the bottle yourself and split it with friends!  Please call Derek or Moira at Martin's West to reserve a spot - (650) 366-4366.  I know that we had 15 booked already as of 7 PM last night, so don't procrastinate!  See you there,

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Aug262010

Tastes Good To The Last Drop

Well I got completely blindsided by James Espey today as he walked into K&L this morning armed with a case of very expensive whisky.  Never having met him before,  I was unaware that Mr. Espey is a veteran's veteran, a huge figure in the history of Scotch whisky.  Try this: he was the head of what is now Diageo.  The head.  He created both Malibu Rum and Johnnie Walker Blue.  How many sales reps have created two of the most successful brands in the world? What's crazier is that he used to sit on the SWA board and, after he began working for Chivas, he was the guy who changed the law stating that a blend can only advertise the age of the youngest whisky involved (as a way to prevent his former Walker Blue from claiming the oldest possible age statement).  It was truly an honor to taste with this man, but I thought he was visiting to bring me a cognac (which he was).  However, I was far more interested in his tale of a whisky he also carried with him.  Being retired from the industry now, Espey still has a passion for whisky as a hobby, so he decided to team up with some buddies to put together something very rare and very special.  Tom Jago (who created a little brand called Baileys) and Peter Fleck have joined with Espey to create The Last Drop, a company dedicated to bottling very old and very rare spirits. 

The Last Drop Blended Whisky is maybe the most amazing whisky I have ever tasted.  It's difficult to say that for sure, but I don't remember ever being as floored as I was when I drank this in.  In the past, when I've tasted outrageously old and expensive whiskies, I remember thinking they were very interesting or very different, but rarely did I want to dive back in and immediately have more, more, more!  For more than $2000 a bottle, it had better be draw-dropping.  It is.  What's in it?

This is blend of 70 single malts and 12 grain whiskies, all distilled in 1960 and then vatted and barreled for twelve years.  All eight Islay distilleries are a part of the formula, as are just about every other major distillery, those both currently operating and mothballed.  In 1972, the whiskey was filled into fresh sherry butts and aged for another thirty-six years.  The result is ungodly.  Dark, brown colored, almost an earthy hue, this stuff puts any high-end Walker blend to shame.  Jim Murray has rated it as the best blended whisky currently available, giving it a whopping 96 points and I've seen that Hansell at the Malt Advocate is also a very big fan. 

There are very few of these precious bottles available in the U.S., but a few have been made available to me for any interested parties.  I don't have that much money to spend on a bottle of whisky, but if I ever did, this is 100% for sure the bottle I would buy.  It's really that good.

-David Driscoll

 

Wednesday
Aug252010

The Future Of American Whisky Retail

If you've read any of my previous posts about distribution in the liquor world, then you probably have a good idea about how competition and selection works among retailers.  For a quick refresher, I'll give you brief example.  Beltramos, BevMo, and K&L all the get the exact same pricing from the exact same set of distributors, so the only way we can differentiate ourselves is by price, selection and customer service.  There is nothing available to me that would be unavailable to them, period, and vice versa.  I might have a few connections that they are not privvy to, but I don't know one distributor that would sell to us exclusively.  The point is that retailers are looking for an edge and a way to build their customer base.  My passion for helping people and building relationships (hence why I used to be a teacher) fuels my desire for our customers to have perks that other stores cannot offer them.  Since a liquor importer cannot hold a retail license, we cannot import our own exclusive goods, so that's not an option.  The best way to get individualized products is through independent barrel purchasing, but at this point, not everyone in the industry is happy about jumping on board.

From my perspective there are no drawbacks for anyone in buying an entire cask.  The customers get an exclusive product unavailable elsewhere, the retailers don't have to worry about competitive pricing, and the distributor gets a huge chunk of cash all at once.  Everyone wins, right?  With all the independent bottlers reaping the rewards of private bottling, you would think that the major distilleries would want a piece of this action.  In the United States, this has been the case.  We've already done a Four Rose's cask and two barrels of Buffalo Trace with customers gushing continuous positive feedback.  The fact that these are limited products makes them even more exciting, so the buzz really gets around town.  Knob Creek, Evan Williams, and Elmer T. Lee have also jumped into the game and I've been successful in convincing smaller producers like Steve McCarthy, St. George, and Corsair into getting involved (as we should have private bottlings from all three with the next six months).  However, with the exception of Bruichladdich, the Scottish distilleries have been resistant.  To find out more about this, I met with David Blackmore, brand ambassador for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, to find out more about their point of view. 

Most distilleries have master distillers and blenders who fine-tune each of their expressions to achieve optimal balance and create the house style.  In the single malt world, no figure looms larger than Ardbeg/Glenmorangie's Dr. Bill Lumsden.  The mind behind the Corryvreckan and wine barrel finishing has brought us some of the tastiest whiskies of the last few years and is always dreaming up new ways to make single malts better.  Because his whiskies are never the result of single barrels, but rather a multitude of different barrels all consisting of different ages, it is easy to see why Glenmorangie would be uninterested in a cask program - namely, their whisky is not meant to be drunk as such, so what would be the point?  That's just stating the obvious, but after talking with David I found out more about the headaches involved.  Everytime a whisky is bottled, there must be a label approved by the federal government, which takes both time and money.  If Ardbeg releases a new whisky for the entire world, then that's one label that needs to be approved.  If they do a single barrel bottling for us, then they would be obliged to do one for every other interested retail store, which would require a new license and label everytime.  This would bury them in paper work and licensing fees, taking time away from what they do best - make whisky.  The demand for single casks of Ardbeg would also be so high that it would likely drain heavy supplies of whiskies they planned on using for future blends, crippling their plans for exciting new products. The list goes on from there.

Independent bottlers like A.D. Rattray and Signatory can execute their cask programs so efficiently because that is there sole function - they buy the barrels, apply for the paperwork, bottle the whisky, and done.  They have that routine down.  American distilleries selling to American retailers have hired specific people to handle this process as well, creating whole new divisions in their companies, however, I'm pretty sure this is a domestic program only.  The fact that single barrel cask strength bourbon seems to highlight what we like most about the big flavor of American whiskey only makes the process easier.  Bourbon and rye are not rooted in the blend like Scotch whisky is.  Four Roses, Elmer T. Lee and many other bourbons offered single barrel cask strength expressions long before the cask purchasing program began.  Single malts are rarely offered as such because many barrels are not meant to stand on their own.  They are components in a formula, each whisky offering its own character to the overall flavor.  Let's face it, Glenlivet 12 isn't a single twelve year old whisky, but a blend of forty different whiskies of which the youngest is twelve years.  Even though it is the top selling single malt in the world, it's possible that any one of those whiskies bottled on its own might be very underwelming.

If you add on the fact that Scottish distilleries would have to hire more staff to travel the American countryside and meet every interested retailer, the odds against private cask purchasing become even smaller.  At the same time, I can't envision that Diageo is sitting too well with the fact that we've just sold a privately purchased 27 year old Clynelish that trumps any of their own expressions, or the fact that we've got a 28 year old Mannochmore coming this winter.  We're making money off of their brands and leaving them out of the equation.  Sure they sold the barrel originally, but I guarantee you they would have made much more (and charged much more) had they sold it directly to us.  If the future of American whisky retail is going to be sold directly from the barrel, then it would seem wise for the Scottish distilleries to find a way in.  However, like all industries, change comes slowly to the liquor world.  In this case, though, it's more of a regression.  The very first American whisky retailers bought a barrel and put it right in the middle of the store for easy access.  Wouldn't that be nice?

-David Driscoll

 

Tuesday
Aug242010

The Politics of Selection & Personal Taste

You'd be surprised how seriously people can take the selection on our spirits shelves.  Like other people use bestseller lists or box office sales to validate their own personal taste, some people take comfort or offense by merely perusing the available bottles in our Redwood City store.  If their favorite gin is represented, then I get complimented on my fine job as spirits buyer.  However, if they don't spot their beloved product among our modest offering, then it can be as if I have personally insulted them - especially if I am confronted about it.  "Why don't you carry Bombay Sapphire?  Are you really too good for Bombay Sapphire?"  You would think that answering that question would be perfectly easy, but one must be wary because it is a path full of landmines, a veritable egg shell walk. Let me explain.

Customer service is maybe the most underrated art of all time.  Everyday that I think I am providing quality customer service is a another day that I realize I really have so much more to learn.  Your emotional state must be prevented from interfering in your interaction and the feelings of your customer must be your only focus.  "Sir, we don't carry Bombay Sapphire because we don't feel it is on the same level as the other gins we are offering."  WRONG!  The customer's taste has just been insulted and they are deeply offended.  "Sir, we don't carry Bombay Sapphire because we simply don't have the space to add it to our selection."  Somewhat well played, but this still might not satisfy the customer or make them feel any better about the fact that a major liquor store is not carrying their brand of gin.  In fact, it might make them uneasy and insecure that we'd rather carry a bunch of gins they've never heard of instead.  "Sir, we don't carry Bombay Sapphire because we cannot offer a lower price than Costco and we want to be able to offer you the best price on it."  This answer usually works the best, but it isn't foolproof because sometimes they'll end up saying, "Well, I guess I better start shopping at Costco instead." 

The truth of the matter is that all three of those responses are factual.  As the spirits buyer, it is impossible for me to remove my personal taste from what we do and do not offer in our spirits selection.  In fact, my personal taste is exactly what I am getting paid for - it is the fundamental aspect of my job.  When I'm buying spirits at my desk, I'm using my own opinion of products to select what we sell at K&L and shape our department towards a certain taste.  When I'm on the sales floor helping customers, however, I have to be careful.  If a customer asks me, the gin buyer, what my favorite gin is, then I simply give them an answer.  "Try the North Shore #11, it's a fantastic gin."  No sweat.  However, it's not so easy when the question is: "Bombay Sapphire is my favorite gin.  I see you don't carry it, so does that mean you don't like it?"  The honest answer to that question is: YES!  It's not so much that I don't like it, as it is I don't think it belongs in our store.  On our shelf right now are at least ten artisan, hand-crafted gins that, in my personal opinion, blow Bombay Sapphire out of the water.  I like supporting small companies and small distilleries that make really good gin, rather than carrying the usual commercial options.  I also feel that our selection should be different from Safeway or the liquor store on the corner, or else why would you come specifically here?  Regardless of whether I feel our store philosophy is innocuous or not, this explanation is not something I can say out loud in this moment.  To eschew it at this point would be insensitive and reek of condescension, smuggery, and elitism.  It would be enough to turn someone off from ever shopping with us again.  It would be bad customer service.  Instead, I must resort to option #3: Costco sells it for less than we do.

What we offer in our selection of spirits should never be used as a commentary on anyone's personal taste other than my own, but the politics of selection and personal taste are very tricky.  Sometimes people ask you a question, but they're not really looking for a truthful answer.  It's the liquor store version of "Does this dress make me look fat?" Being a good liquor buyer means considering more than just your own opinion, however.  It can also mean making people feel comfortable with their own.   

-David Driscoll

Monday
Aug232010

Aberlour 18 Year Open In The Bar...

After putting aside the corked bottle I intially opened (see previous post), I finally got back together with a whisky I had previously met a few months ago.  Our own Aberlour 18 Year Cask Strength Single Barrel bottling has finally hit the shelves and is available for pick up and purchase.  Getting to taste this whisky without any sherry influence is a rare treat and this bottle doesn't disappoint.  The nose is a soft blend of malted barley, vanilla, and stone fruit with more on the palate.  I really like this whisky because it simply tastes like good, old fashioned Scotch.  No sweet toffee from the sherry wood, no wine cask enhancements, and no peat.  Just the barley and the used barrel aging slowly for eighteen years.  This dram needs a bit of water to tame the 53% alcohol, but once you dillute it down to the right strength, you get an old school single malt from one of Scotland's most beloved distilleries.  I hope you like it as much as I do.

-David Driscoll