Exclusive Malts Tasting Tonight

We're knee-deep in pre-arrivals right now, but we'll have them ready by the PM. Don't forget to make your way over to Redwood City tonight. We've got David Stirk, one of our newest bottlers, in town to pour our three new K&L exclusives: Aberlour 21, Longmorn 20, and Bunnahabhain 22. It's totally free!

5:00 PM to 6:30. Redwood City.

See you there.

-David Driscoll


Bourbon Awesomeness

While David is knee deep in pre-arrivals (the biggest perk of being in SoCal is that our brothers and sisters to the north get stuck with all the pre-arrival duties) I thought I'd bust this out to make everyone a bit jealous. Sometimes it may seem that we have a dream job, hobnobbing around the world and tasting booze all day, but it's not all fun and games for David & I. There are, of course, some wonderful incentives, but the long hours and a hectic pace take an extreme amount of energy. We also deal with our fair share of nut jobs and wackos. I can't count the number of people who are personally offended when I tell them there's about a 1 in 1000 chance that they actually get a bottle of Pappy from us.  "But, I'm a great customer. I shop here all the time." Sir, you seem like a great person, but I have a record of your order history, so who are we fooling here?" Not that that would affect your chances whatsoever (at least this time), but I think you underestimate the commitment of the people I'd consider my "great" customers. "Sir, why don't you carry Leopold Gourmel Cognac? It is the absolute best cognac made anywhere in the world and if this store were legitimate it would certainly be stocked." Well, dear friend, it has been closed out fifteen times in the last 5 years, so I'm probably not going to waste my shelf space on something that will be available at a big box store in a few months for a fraction of the price. 

But, we LOVE what we do. It’s exciting and we’re passionate about it. Occasionally, because of what I do professionally, I benefit personally. Here is one of those moments captured in low light at the LA Whisky Society bar. We’ve been planning this meeting for a long time. While the LAWS crew is really good at finding great whisk(e)y, sourcing this type of stuff is hard for even the most experienced dusty hunter. We're pretty Single Malt focused, so it was a nice change to taste some special bourbons. It takes an insane amount of commitment to come up with finds like these. I was proud I was able to contribute something to the line up as well. Enjoy!

One thing about these old bourbons, if you're lucky enough to partake, is that first impressions tend to be way off the mark. Something about spending 50 years in the bottle leaves theses all tied up and I regularly hear anecdotes about some crazy old bottle tasting terrible on day one, but phenomenal a few weeks later. Anyway, in general I found that every one of these improved significantly as the night wore on.  Just a heads up if happen to open something like this and don’t find it quite up to snuff on first nosing.

Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond 1945-1949

This legendary brand was created by R. B. Hayden, whose grandfather was the eponymous Basil Hayden. This brand, also named for that man is still going strong as Jim Beam’s high rye bourbon.  Back in 1945 when this was distilled, it was owned by National Distillers and produced at DSP-KY-14, which currently a bottling line for Jim Beam.  This was bottled in bond in 1949 at 100 proof.

Man oh man; do you get that cinnamon spice on the nose?  As it opens up, you start to see more of this sweet tart, crushed candy aroma. This kind of OBE type aroma, a bit tinny in the background, it isn’t unappealing.  As it breathes I get more of that gorgeous oak, really old growth and exotic. On the palate, less spice comes through, but still some cinnamon. Now onto the pepper and a touch of heat. It’s pretty nice stuff, but it’s not a monster by any means. It’s medium weight on palate and the length is good, but not extremely persistent.  I found it quite drying and savory on the end. Fun stuff!

A. Smith Bowman Fairfax County Bourbon 1950-55

One of my absolute favorite labels of the night, why don’t they bottle bourbon so regally any longer?  A. Smith Bowman is part of the Sazerac portfolio today and they continue to make some interesting whiskey. Located in Fairfax County Virginia, close to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello Estate. This is my first Virginia whisky and what a whisky! This was quite acrylic at first, exotic chemicals and corrugated steel. Clear OBE in my opinion. As you can see the label reads “Heavy Bodied Bourbon”. Indeed!  As it aerates the chemistry set turns more into exotic herbs and oolong tea. Fabulously awkward. Pine resin and underbrush, perhaps some baking spice. This is a weird one, but definitely unique in a good way.  Kind of love it.

Very Old Fitzgerald 8 Year Old 1948-1956

Alright, here we go. This is the Stitzel-Weller that we retailed for $1000. Its rarity is notable as well as its price.   Apparently, this is very different from the Stitzel VOF from the subsequent decades, but I’ve only been lucky enough to mess with the Pappy’s and it is truly a different style from that. This was distilled while Pappy was still running the distillery, so I’d like to think that this is the way he liked his bourbon. That said it should be noted that PVW brand is relatively new and his importance beyond founding the SW distillery was not particularly notable before his progeny began to market what has become the world’s most sought-after bourbon. I get tons of candied fruit on the nose. Orange peels, licorice, cedar, varnish and cocoa. Dark cherry and hibiscus power through with some air. Very dry oak tannins run through the entire palate. It’s austere and rather pointed. On the palate I get candies (orange, cherry?) and fresh wood, some varnish, and more flower type flavors. Definitely not what I was expecting. Not sure it’s worth $1000 beyond its rarity, but it is an absolutely unique expression from a legendary distillery.

The President’s Choice For A Distinguished Gentleman

Man this is getting good.  The Presidential Choice brand became commercially available in 1968, this was bottled in 1963. "This whisky was selected by the President of Brown-Forman Distillers Corporation for its perfect balance and true Kentucky Bourbon flavor, and set aside for his private stock. This rare Bourbon was custom distilled and specially bottled at the direction of the president at the proof of 90.3 selected for barrel #989843 through barrel #989867.” Clearly, it’s very rare and for the distillery only. This is from 24 consecutive casks distilled Brown-Forman’s Louisville plant, which produces Old Forester. I believe it was quite a bit older than the rest, maybe something like 15 years old. At first I was very disappointed, but I soon changed my tune. This is some really special stuff and just needed a little air. The nose began to show deep dark wood, dusty spices and freshly cut wood.  Polished mahogany, wood cleaner and a touch of tea tree. Intense berry fruit and old growth forest on the palate moves from cherry fruit to darker flavors, coffee and savory spice.  Man I just love this stuff. If you see it, buy it.

Eagle Rare 10 Year 101 Proof

This is one of these legendary foafs that you might actually still find in some dusty corner of your local bottle shop.  The Eagle Rare brand was originally created by Seagram’s to compete with the popular Wild Turkey brand. I can only imagine the meeting that plan was hatched, “Wild Turkey is killing us! We need a bird whiskey stat.” Eagle Rare 101 proof is generally regarded as excellent and it was distilled at the Old Prentice Distillery, which is modern day Four Roses. This is much more familiar than the others. On the nose some sweet citrus fruit, pepper, it kind of reminds me of Four Roses. Go figure. On the palate, a nice caramel richness, with soft spice and some cinnamon bite. A lot of the guys really liked this whisky and maybe it was just because everything else was so different, but this fell a bit flat for me. Not that it’s not a great bourbon, because it is, but it’s just not quite as special as some of these others

I.W.Harper BIB 1944-1948

Here’s one that was a bit of a dud.  Cool old bottle a customer gave me (thanks Kamal!), but with a terrible fill. I.W. Harper is from Bernheim Distillery in Louisville and this is some special decanter version. Basically, it was fun and weird lavender and old rusty metal, but it fell apart. I pretended to like it because I brought it.  I didn’t. This is what happens when you get a vaped bottle. Beware.

1974, Kentucky Vintage 25 year Bourbon
I actually liked the last one better than this disaster.  This bottling of Kentucky Vintage created exclusively for the Japanese market is presumably made by KBD. Apparently, this style is typical for the Japan, which is a shame as I couldn't like it less. Weird sulfur and rotten flowers, hot trash and stinky wood. On the palate it tastes like lavender extract, with a hot dusty spice that makes you want to cry. It finishes Burny and mean. Reminds me a bit of mid 80s Bowmore. Some guys really dug this, but I was not one of them. This is a big fat fail for me.  

Jefferson's Ocean Aged Bourbon

Okay, here it is. Perhaps the year’s most controversial whisky, Jefferson's Ocean continues to make waves. Sorry... We received one bottle and auctioned it for charity. It went for $1000. It retails for $200 typically and I lucked out because one of our members has the hook up. Apparently, some accounts got significantly more than we did, so if you want to spend $200 on a bottle of this stuff apparently you still can. I wouldn’t. It’s kind of a fun idea, but honestly there’s not a whole lot of there there. I was hoping for some sort of salty Islay bourbon, but instead we just get a fine young bourbon. It tastes a lot like some of Jefferson's other whiskey. I would be happy to spend $30 or so, but much more is too much. At least the proceeds went to charity. The nose has a soft spice, grainy sweet corn and a light fruitiness. This subtle nuttiness is followed by vanilla and some sweet oak on the palate. The finish is predictable, but not unappealing. I really like the concept and I feel like there is a way to make something like this even more "oceany." Hopefully they will experiment more with this style, as the cost is prohibitive, more production would presumably alleviate that issue.

So there you have it. Some legends, some surpises, some mehs, and some real stinkers. All in all an incredible tasting. Thanks to all the guys who made this possible.

-David Othenin-Girard


Identity Crisis (Living in Denial Part IV)

Every now and again I'm not really sure why I drink what I drink. I question myself.  I question everything.

Did I make myself a gin martini because I really wanted one, or because I watched Skyfall this weekend? Did I order that pint of Guinness yesterday because it was what I felt like, or did I feel the need to do so because I was in an Irish pub? Did I actually enjoy the Guinness because it tasted good to me, or did my pleasure stem from the satisfaction of recreating authenticity: the fact that in my mind I was doing what real Irish people do.

Sometimes I'm not sure why I do what I do. I'm succeptable to romance and advertising, very impulsive, and as mercurial as they come. One day I'm all about taking karate classes, the next I'm all about staying inside.

What I do know is this: I fucking love Scotch. That being said, I almost convinced myself that I was over it last week (James Bond drinking Macallan throughout the film might have helped me to remember). I've been feeling like a total fraud lately. "David Driscoll loves Scotch! He's so passionate about it!" Am I? I'm exciting people to drink single malt with a new 16-page whisky brochure, loud and boisterous in-store confessionals, and a blog that's updated almost every day with more info on the latest whiskies. Yet, when I go home I'm not drinking whisky. I'm drinking wine usually. Or Campari. Whisky does not sound good to me when I leave K&L lately. How can that be? How can a guy who encourages other people to buy his special selections have any credibility if he doesn't actually want to drink them? "David, your passion and enthusiasm got me excited about Scotch whisky. Thank you so much for introducing me to these single barrel selections."


You know what the opposite of irony is? Enthusiasm. I had never actually thought about that until reading Christy Wampole's article in the New York Times last week. It got me thinking. I'm not being ironic when I recommend a whisky to people. It's not a sarcastic quip or an insincere jesture. I'm genuinely enthusiastic when I deal with customers because I think they're going to love it and, more than anything in the whole world, I want them to love it. I tried to think of my least ironic moment in life today – therefore, perhaps my most enthusiastic and genuine experience. You know what I came up with? A Cypress Hill concert at UCSD in 2001. We were about to graduate, I was partially drunk, and it was the Sun God Festival on campus with the LA rap group as the headliner. This was not too exciting for some students. By the beginning of the 21st century, Cypress Hill was kinda played out. Listening to Black Sunday didn't really make you very cool. I didn't give a shit, however. I was in the front row, jumping up and down, sharing the mic with B-Real at some moments because I knew every fucking word to every song. All of them. I loved Cypress Hill in junior high and high school. There was no glory in acting like I didn't. I was pumped and I had a complete blast. I was back in my Modesto bedroom. Real enthusiasm, no doubt about it.

Then I tried to think of moments when I had lied to myself. Denial. There are many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many of those moments. Times when I wanted to fit in. Periods where I wanted other people to like me. Snippets of my past where I believed there was more to something than there actually was. I like the idea of taking something complicated or difficult to understand and communicating it to the masses in an easy-to-understand fashion. That's why I taught school for most of my twenties. Wine seemed like another genre to tackle. It was such an intimidating field. People really seemed to really take it seriously. I didn't know anything about it nor did anyone else I knew. Romance, intrigue, mystery. Knowledge. I was hooked.

Six years later, I still love learning about wine. However, what I love about wine is exactly what I've always loved about knowledge – I love it when someone realizes how simple it all is. It's not all that complicated. All the pedantry and high-browed bullshit isn't necessary. That's not to say you can master wine in a day, it's to say that wine isn't something to be mastered. Wine should be enjoyed, not conquered. Despite everything I've learned, I still got suckered in again recently. I won't go into a long, boring story about what happened, but I will say that I once again realized I was wasting money on something that seemed like it should be magical, but in reality was just wine with a big price tag. Why did I think there had to be something more behind them? Why did I think I must be missing something? What keeps making me think I should appreciate something that I don't?

I remember being completely blunted at Tower Records in 1998 when Master P and No Limit Records had ten different albums out with crazy-collage covers and blingy packaging. I stared at the floor stack for about ten minutes, totally transfixed. Silkk the Shocker, Soulja Slim, Mystikal, and many other urban comicbook-esque adventures seemed to await me. I tried to buy everyone of them. Thank God my credit card got declined. I came to my senses the next day. They seemed so interesting at the time, but when my dormmate actually let me listen to his No Limit CDs I realized they totally sucked. I would have been so mad at myself, the same way I've been mad at myself this week. I know what I like. I know what genuinely gets me excited about booze. Yet, I'm totally succeptable to romance and the unknown.

So who am I? Am I the K&L spirits buyer who writes about whiskey, but really likes wine? Am I a whisky drinker who wants to act like he doesn't really like it? Am I just a guy who lets pop culture dictate what he does and doesn't like? Do I smoke when I watch Friday, drink when I read Bukowski? Or do I do what I want to do when I want to do it? It's tough to know sometimes. Enthusiasm, however, will always tell you what's true. I love Cypress Hill and I know that because I genuinely get excited when I listen to it (like right now, as I'm bobbing my head while typing this). And today, when all those whisky casks showed up, I drove down to K&L on my day off and worked with Kyle to get everything squared away. We opened sample bottles and I was absolutely giddy. No faking. No show. I was pumped to taste those whiskies. I was so excited they had finally arrived. They all tasted delicious.

I love single malt. I don't have to drink it everyday to prove it, either. I can enjoy it when I feel like it, at moments that seem appropriate. If I need to take a break and taste some wine now and again, that's fine too. Don't let me forget that. For some reason, I feel like I need to be jumping up and down about it at all times. That would be fake enthusiasm, however. Or denial.

Genuine enthusaism is a great thing.

-David Driscoll


Pre-Arrivals Due In Monday

Big news! We'll be getting another nine casks this Monday, which will immediately head over to processing for pre-arrival fulfillment.  We'll be doing the Exclusive Malt selections first so that they're ready for David Stirk and his customer tasting on Tuesday in Redwood City. Please be patient as we work to get these ready. It's the busiest time of the year when you're not trying to process thousands of pre-orders, let alone with a mountain of extra work. Jason and I will be coming in early, working extra hours to get it done quickly.

We're excited! You should be excited too! Quality booze coming your way soon.

-David Driscoll


Spirits and the Modern Meal

I'll never forget some of the meals that David and I had in France last year while looking for brandy imports. Not so much because of their quality (many were indeed amazing), however, but rather because of the awkwardness with which some of them began.

"Cognac and soda?"


"Would you like a Calvados and tonic?"

Excuse me?

"Here you go!"

Thanks. A warm Cognac and soda with no ice. Wow. What a nice way to start a meal.

This is weird. "Oh, did I say that out loud? I meant this is delicious!"

I live in the Bay Area - a place where people wear exercise clothing to the movies and where steakhouses have vegan menus, therefore my experiences and commentaries may perhaps be a bit out of touch with the rest of the world. That being said, the French countryside seems to be experiencing a little of the California health movement itself. Recent heart disease levels have people rethinking their five hour, butter and cheese-soaked dinners and the French government has lowered the blood alcohol percentage limit for legal driving in order to crack down on excessive drinking. This has resulted in a new generation of the traditional French meal - a meal that isn't quite as caloric, goes without dessert, and does not finish with a glass of Cognac.

Cognac sales are down in France. Armagnac sales are down. Calvados sales are down. People are no longer beginning with Champagne, switching to Bordeaux, transitioning to Port, and finishing with brandy. They're becoming more conscientious about what they put into their bodies. This is putting the fear into spirits producers throughout France. They need to find a way to adapt, to make themselves relevant before the meal even begins. They need to find a cocktail or an aperitif they can exploit. They must find a way to survive. Therefore, Calvados and tonic, anyone?

At our Thanksgiving dinner last night we had Champagne to start, white with the salad, and red with the main course. We had dessert, but at that point people were switching over to coffee. Parents needed to drive their children back home. Young professionals like myself had to work in the morning. There was no more room for any more booze. There was an open bottle of Balvenie 1401 Tun on the counter (the same one that was leaking at K&L Redwood City last week and therefore had to be opened and tasted by the staff - hee hee) and a few of us took a nip with our pumpkin pie. However, it was merely a curiosity for most of my family members. They were more concerned with both their health and their potential hangovers than indulging in one of the most exciting single malts of the year. The final course is simply too much for many modern drinkers to handle. It's the difference between "I'm good" and "What happened?" Responsibility has taken its place and some particular spirits are taking the hit as a result.

American whiskey seems to be in no present danger. The renaissance of the cocktail scene with a strong preference for Manhattans and Old Fashioneds has more than made up for the dessert course. Single malt drinking societies and the passionate collectors have given a boost to the Scottish whisky industry. French spirits, however, much like French wines, have always been tied to the meal. Bordeaux is a food wine, not a sit-around-and-talk-to-your-friends-on-the-patio wine. It goes with hearty, rustic meals full of beef and organ meat. Burgundy is served along side fowl and rich cheeses. No one is giving up those traditions just yet because, really, who wants to only eat salad everyday? Instead of eating the whole goose, however, they may just have a drumstick. Instead of finishing the bottle of pinot noir, they may just have a glass. Dessert isn't necessary. Spirits aren't even considered.

Cognac and soda, anyone? It's a great way to whet your appetite!

-David Driscoll