The Industry Response Continues

I told you about my lovely conversation with Diageo yesterday. Today I had another wonderful meeting with the folks at Campari who represent the Morrison-Bowmore portfolio here in the U.S.  They were also quite interested in working out better pricing to make single malt whisky more affordable. They want to help us get back to basics. If you walked into K&L today and asked me for a great single malt for less than $30, our options would be very limited. Glenfiddich 12, Glenlivet 12, and........and..........Buehler.......anyone? That's all I've got!  Wow, that's not very many.  Single malts are no longer everyday items for many people.

Morrison-Bowmore, however, would like to help change that.  They want to help make drinking fun again.  They want to add more selections to that under $30 price bracket, so look for some fun party deals within the next week.  It won't be more the Bowmore 18 or the 1994 Glen Garioch.  But if the Bowmore Legend and Auchentoshan were the same price as a bottle of Glenfiddich 12, wouldn't that be a no-brainer? 

I would love to throw a party with endless amounts of affordable Bowmore.  That sounds like fun.  However, being loose and free with one's alcohol appreciation requires reasonable prices that don't make us afraid of emptying those precious drops from our pricey bottles.  I'll be excited to announce some tasty new deals next week.

See how this is paying off?  This is amazing.

-David Driscoll


Whisky Season 2012 Update: The Holy Grail

I've read many times that the reason so many whisky enthusiasts get so romantic about Port Ellen is because it was the first distillery they saw when approaching Islay from the ferry.  Since the port of Port Ellen is no longer open and all visitors must now approach from Port Askaig (thereby making Caol Ila the first distillery they're now likely to see), maybe some of the enthusiasm will die down.  Or maybe not.  There is something magical about Port Ellen.  Part of it is its majestic location on the shore of the isle. Part of it is the peat.  Sure there are some peated Broras, but most of the lost legends are entirely unsmoky.  Dallas Dhu, Banff, Pittyvaich, Ladyburn and the rest of the fallen distilleries made unpeated whiskies of a light, lean character.  Port Ellen is like the champagne of Islay - peated, but elegant.  Our fascination with Islay also fuels our fascination with Port Ellen.  The buildings are still there to look at, the warehouses empty and the stills ripped out, but the malting still continues next door.  What if Port Ellen had remained open?  Would we still love it so much?  What if Diageo had chosen to shut the door on Caol Ila instead?  Would all of our JW Black be swimming with Port Ellen while we hoarded Caol Ila like squirrels?  We'll never know.  All we can say for sure is that Port Ellen is gone.  It's not going to be reopened.  What's left is getting drunk and every time that happens we get closer to the end. 

Diageo's 11th Edition Port Ellen sold for about $600.  This year's 12th Edition should come in at well over $1000 - and you'll be lucky to even find one.  We've got 100 bottles of a single cask Port Ellen available for pre-order right now.  Is this the last time we see it for less than a grand?  Like the what-ifs that we ask when pondering what could have been for this storied distillery, no one can say for sure.  I do understand math, however, as well as supply and demand.  I would take a guess and say: "yes." 

We were incredibly lucky to land this cask.  Incredibly.

1982 Port Ellen 30 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Sovereign Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $599.99 PRE-ORDER - Whoever said that persistence pays off was so freakin’ right. The only reason we ever got a hold of this baby was that we’ve built some great relationships in Scotland. So when we asked at Sovereign, again, eyebrows raised, "Do you have anything you could offer us?" They offered. We tasted. We loved. They bottled. And it’s a true glory. The nose shows soft, earthy peat and struck match igniting pipe tobacco. The palate is all weathered leather tempered by sweet, mellowing dark wood. This long and powerful malt turns the phenols back up to 11 for a spicy, peaty finish. We’re not sure we’ll see another one of these. Diageo has been buying the few remaining casks back from bottlers well above market price for their 12th annual Port Ellen release, which retails for over $1,000. They bottled nearly 3,000 of those; there will only be 150 of ours.

-David Driscoll


The Actual Dialogue

I just got off the phone with Diageo. What a fantastic conversation! It wasn't at all like the sarcastic screenplay I laid out a few days back.  It was actually the most constructive, positive, reassuring, and enlightening whisky business encounter I've had in some time. We talked about pricing, about Costco, about how some stores got one deal while another store got a different one, and about how the various pricing worked to undercut or inflate the equity value of important Diageo products. It was an honest, equitable, and revealing dialogue - completely unlike the frustrated, heated, and antagonistic one I presented earlier.

The whisky industry is all about relationships. It's who you know, how long you've known them, and what you've been able to accomplish together that actually gets anything done. It's a lot like what I imagine the U.S. Congress to be.  You've got two sides that fight constantly, but the people actually getting anything done are the ones who try and work together, find common ground, and move forward. If we're going to get something done about pricing, it's going to require both sides to do their share. Everything we've accomplished with Ardbeg and LVMH has been born from a wonderful working relationship. I'd love to get that same dynamic working with Diageo because the customers will eventually win when that happens.

Diageo is listening. They're reading this blog. They actually picked up a phone. Who else is willing to work with me on this?

I expressed my frustrations, but then extended my hand and that hand was met with another hand. You can't just bitch about how things don't work. You have to actually try and fix them.

Changes are coming. Let's work together to so that everyone can win. That's my goal.

Oban 18 is still $77.99 though :) That price is good until it's gone!

-David Driscoll



Before we release our final pre-arrival of Whisky Season 2012 later today, I thought I would share this classic post with you.  Back in 2010, when I was a wide-eyed young lad (and we still had a comments section on the blog), we thought these prices were expensive. The Chieftain's Port Ellen 25 was $265! Pricey, but delicious. The 1968 Springbank was a whopping $375 (today it's $1000). I remember writing that after having lunch at Martin's West in Redwood City. At that point, I had yet to really purchase anything expensive on behalf of K&L. I didn't know anything about expensive whisky! I had very little tasting experience with malts of this nature, so how in the heck could I actually sell them to someone while exuding any sense of credibility? It was scary and I can sense my anxiety in those words (and you can also tell from my tasting notes that I'm trying to sound like other whisky writers - any confidence I am projecting is bravado). Two and a half years later, however, those prices are downright cheap! Even the worst whisky salesman in the world would have no problem moving those units!

If we were to put a 25 year old Port Ellen back on the shelf for less than $300, it would be gone in seconds. In micro-seconds! An instant. Poof.  Yet, back in 2010, I remember those bottles sitting there for months (along side the Van Winkles and the Vintage 23 rye). We're not talking about our days as teenagers here, or the rambunctious college years of yore. This was two and a half years ago. We were only a few months away from the third edition of Flaming Heart at that point and I still have plenty of that whisky left on my bar. It's incredible how much has changed since then. The hunger for rare, collectable, hard-to-find, must-have whiskies is at an all time high and the prices have risen along with it.

After getting back from Scotland this past May, I wrote this little blurb about our experience. It's even more true a few months down the road. If you can even get Port Ellen today, you can sell it.  Price is no longer the issue - access is the key. Diageo doesn't even have enough Port Ellen for their official release. We received our cask (whoops, did I just let the cat out of the bag?) only after years of putting in work with one of our associates, proving that we were worthy of the honor and the responsibility involved in selling something so precious. Much like we do with our raffle vetting, they wanted to make sure we weren't just two kids looking to grab a quick barrel of PE, never to return for more business later.  There were other competitors for this cask. Diageo was one of them and they're not the only company looking to buy back their own whisky. Springbank is putting in offers to cask owners as is Bruichladdich, who sold barrels early on to private consumers as part of an investment strategy. The independent whisky trade used to provide single malts that were off the beaten path.  That path, however, is now thoroughly paved and the larger companies are sending their tankers down it. Whisky is hot right now and companies need every single drop they can find.

The last time we saw Diageo's official Port Ellen release was last November and we got one whole bottle. I had heard only five even made it to California. It was around $600 or so, if I remember correctly. The 12th edition of Port Ellen will be released this November with 2,964 bottles being filled with 32 year old juice. I've heard it will retail for more than $1000. If you get roughly 200 bottles from a 30+ year old hogshead, depending on evaporation, that means roughly fifteen barrels were married together to create this most recent batch (assuming none were Bourbon or Sherry casks). That means that the largest, most-powerful whisky company on the planet with the largest, deepest stocks known to man, was only able to scrounge together fifteen barrels of the most-revered whisky on the planet. Fifteen casks to feed the world's appetite for Islay's most-famous fallen soldier.

If you're a collector, this is the type of information that makes you salivate. You didn't want any Port Ellen earlier today, but now all of a sudden you do - you just don't want to think about paying $1000 for a bottle of whisky - if you're even lucky enough to find it!!

Later today, however, we're going to give you a chance to own your own bottle of Port Ellen whisky. Straight from a hogshead cask. Thirty years old. So rare, that Diageo wanted it for its own collection.

It won't be cheap. But it won't be anywhere near $1000.

-David Driscoll


One More K&L Exclusive Cask to Go

Can you name the distillery? You'll find out tomorrow when we release it!

-David Driscoll