I'm invading the LA store today and I'm bringing the NorCal mojo with me. Hopefully the Giants will take game five while I'm landing at Burbank. That will give me the sufficient energy I need to beat this goddamn flu and sell some booze today! Come by and say hello! I should be there from 12:30 on.

-David Driscoll


2012 Flaming Heart is Here

Always one of the most anticpated bottles of the year, the Flaming Heart is now in stock!  The Fourth Edition is no slouch, comparing very favorably to the Third (which I just sipped on last night to do a comparison). Anyone who likes Talisker 18, peated Brora, or any combination of oily, fruity, waxy flavors combined with peat and brine should jump in - fast! It's got all the sweetness, texture, and smoke in perfect balance.  Glaser always delivers with this whisky and this edition is another notch in his belt.  We've got a healthy supply between our NorCal and SoCal allocations, but this whisky will never make it to the big K&L email.  We sold a bunch yesterday via the insider's email list and I expect this blog post to put it over the edge.  I'm in for one - at least!

Compass Box Flaming Heart Fourth Edition Malt Scotch Whisky $89.99 - Here we go! The wildly popular Flaming Heart Series is back with one of the years most anticipated new blends. Coming from  four of the official Scotch Malt regions, we all know that our dear friend Mr. Glaser tends to knock this out of the park. Serge Valentine writes, "Colour: dark straw. Nose: impeccable start, on a rather more refined peat than elsewhere (I mean in youngish single malts) and touches of agave and cane juice on top of an elegant Laphroaigness. Beeswax and seawater, antiseptic and overripe apples, bandages and damp clay, Japanese green tea and linseed oil. Then fresh mint, lime, oysters and just touches of diesel oil. Lovely lovely lovely. Mouth: the first thing I like here is the strength. Sounds odd, I know, but these 48.9% work extremely well, it’s nervous and big but approachable and, well, drinkable. Other than that, it’s a superb combination of pink grapefruits, shellfish, olive brine, marzipan, lemon, touches of fresh coriander, lemon balm, some kind of waxy citrons and plain green olives. Passion fruits, cough syrup, liquorice... It’s very smoky too. Finish: great as well because it remains elegant, zesty, even kind of ethereal despite all the oomph. Leaves your mouth a fresh as a baby’s! Comments: no, really, this is truly excellent. The bottle’s lovely too, it’ll be hard to throw it away once it’s empty (which will happen fast). Potential lamp stands? Nah, too narrow" 91 points

-David Driscoll


When Hyperbole Goes Too Far

I've seen this on TV about ten times now and every time I cringe. Yesterday's interview with Rachel Barrie, however, got me thinking about how we describe whisky. Rachel's descriptions are like dreams or memories, a bit too much for some perhaps, but they come from a real place. I experienced it first-hand while visiting Glen Garioch distillery.  With the exception of her "grandmother's kitchen," I can vouch for the sights, sounds, and smells she describes. Personally, I try to tell an entertaining story when it comes to whisky, rather than sell you just tasting notes. While it's fun to wax poetic about booze, I sometimes find the enthusiasm expressed in our descriptions just a bit too over-the-top. I'm a pretty enthusiastic guy, so one might be surprised by my annoyance for this phenomenon (that's hypocritical, some might say!).

Enter Taco Bell – a restaurant I grew up on and have nothing against.  There's nothing like a double-decker taco at 1 AM.  Now they have this new "Cantina Bowl" menu, however, and they're trying to talk about their food like it's art. I don't know who Chef Lorena Garcia is, but this made me laugh, as did the above commercial. You'll see what I mean.

I hope I don't talk like this when you come ask me about whisky.  I'd be really embarrassed if I did.  Two fast-food ingredients are described as "beautiful" and the canned black beans are "amazing." This is where we're headed.  Everything is "amazing." It's partially my fault.  I'm a part of this growing trend and I feel terrible about it.

-David Driscoll


K&L Spirits Journal Podcast #23 - Rachel Barrie

Since I knew I would be heading down to Los Angeles this week, celebrating the release of our first-ever, distillery-direct import from Morrison-Bowmore distillers, I thought now would be the perfect time to sit down with their head of whisky creation, Mrs. Rachel Barrie. In November of 2011, Rachel, who had been celebrated for her role in creating the Uideadail and Corryvreckan single malts, left Ardbeg Distillery and moved over to Morrison-Bowmore. Now in charge of Bowmore's whisky creation, as well as Glen Garioch and Auchentoshan, Rachel has an entirely different palate of colors from which to paint. Listen as she discusses the memories and moments that each whisky represents to her, how whisky is inevitably linked to a place and time, and how slowing down and enjoying each of these moments eventually helps us all become better tasters.

This podcast episode can be downloaded here (right click or hold down "control" if you have a Mac) or on our Apple iTunes page.  Previous episodes can be found in our podcast archive located on the right hand margin of the page.  You can also listen via our embedded Flash player above.

-David Driscoll


(E)valuation of Booze

I just finished reading a truly fascinating article in the most recent New Yorker about a man named Bernard Berenson, once the most-respected art attributor in the world. As someone who made expert decisions about whether a painting was or was not the work of Raphael, Berenson could single-handedly determine the market value for these old masters. This was at the turn of the 20th century, before technology could give us a more scientific answer about authenticity. Berenson relied on his expertise, a sixth sense so to speak, that could not be described or put into words, but would nevertheless guide him to his decisions. Despite his more than adequate salary, Berenson's hatred of the emerging commerce for art was clear. He once wrote in a letter to a friend:

It seemed so much greater than ever, and an everlasting rebuke to people that want to submit art to newspaperology...You can say that it is beautiful of course, you can call people's attention to the transparency of color...but you can't "give away" the secret of the picture.

Berenson was tired of struggling for his income. He had hoped to become a curator or art history professor, yet his income was mostly tied to sympathetic female benefactors, for whom Berenson purchased and collected artwork privately. His eventual inability to sever his financial relationship with the dealers lead to the demise of his reputation and a world-famous court case. Berenson's opinion that a Kansas man's Leonardo was not the actual work of the Italian master cost the owner a deal with the Kansas City Art Institute. The case went to court and the idea of art expertise was on trial for the world to see. Could someone actually sue an "expert" because of an opinion that was detrimental to a financial transaction? Could a court decide which paintings were authentic and which were not?

You'll have to pick up the latest October 8th edition of the New Yorker to read more about the case (and I would advise any serious whisky collector to do so), but the parallels to the booze world and its ever-expanding collector's market are clear. On one hand, art collectors never would have made their gigantic fortunes had men like Berenson not offered up their expert opinions. On the other, as soon as they made an evalution that didn't favor the side of the market, these collectors wanted their heads! Sounds kind of like the Bordeaux market right now!

We've already seen this exact same thing happen with the Parkerization of wine. Collectors want a guarantee that something is good.  They feel better knowing an expert has given it a numerical score. They invest. When the wine sells out, it's worth even more on the secondary market, mostly because it got 98 or 100 points. These collectors selling their Bordeaux bottles for hundreds to thousands of dollars would never be getting this kind of cash were it not for critics like Parker. Yet, it's still the same catch 22. As Clive Coates writes in his book, The Wines of Burgundy:

The trade has allowed itself to be emasculated. Instead of continuing to buy and sell based on their own professional judgement, they have consigned themselves to the role of mere purveyors. They buy what the Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate score highly and then sell their wares by proclaiming the magazines' marks. It is totally crazy.

Yet, imagine if Parker rated a wine 88 points and the Chateau sued him for costing their wine its reputation for 95-100 point scores?  Now that is totally crazy! Nevertheless, much like Berenson wrote, people who don't understand wine or whisky depend on experts for an evaluation of quality and therein a valuation of their worth. You can't make people understand why a wine or whisky is special, especially when their finances are on the line. Once those opinions start costing these collectors big money, who knows what the future will hold?

-David Driscoll