Tastings Tonight

For San Francisco, a real treat - Val from JVS will be there pouring the newly-returned Kilchoman Machir Bay along side the brand new Glenglassaugh Revivial single malt with the ancient 26 year old.  Redwood City will host Wild Geese and Irish Soldiers Whisky, a very well-crafted independent label of Cooley casks.  Both tastings start at 5 PM and run until 6:30.  Free of charge!

-David Driscoll


K&L's "Insider" Spirits Email

Yes.....we definitely post most new arrivals on the blog.  It's a great way to keep up with the store and what's happening in our spirits department.  However, it's really the second tier of information.  The first and fastest way to get information about the spirits department is to subscribe to the email newsletter.  There's no way to sign up for it via the website.  It's always been a word of mouth thing.  For the longest time you had to know someone on it to even find out about it.  Now, however, the secret is out so I'll mention it on the blog once again.  If you want all the info, fast and quick to your email (which sometimes is essential to locking down a bottle for yourself), then send us an email at and ask to subscribe to our newsletter.  Here's an example of what we sent out today:

Hello everyone!

We hope you had a wonderful weekend and that you’re well rested for the week ahead!  Since David OG talked about the insider whisk(e)y list in his newsletter article this month, we’ve had a serious rush for new additions.  Welcome to all of you who are new to the newsletter.  There are at least 100 more of you than there were last month, which is fantastic.

Read carefully today because you might miss some important news if you try and go too fast.  There’s a lot to talk about.

1)  New Jefferson Ocean Bourbon and Laphroaig Releases – In classic liquor world fashion, the companies behind these two whiskies have gone to the press and public before talking to their dealers.  We still have no word on pricing, availability, expected quantity, or date of arrival concerning these two whiskies.  The Jefferson Ocean aged will likely be a tiny allocation, so expect a raffle for those bottles.  We usually get a big drop of the Laphroaig releases, so I don’t anticipate any issues with the new Cairdeas.  We will let you know more when the time comes.  For now, please do not email us about reserving either bottle because we don’t have any further information.  We will happily email another newsletter out when we’re ready for you to send us your requests. 

2)  New K&L Cognacs Finally Arrive! – The last batch from the January trip is here – As you all remember, we went to France last January and tasted many different brandies which eventually made their way back to K&L.  They all have sold through by now, but unlike the single malt casks we purchase, we can reorder more of these Armagnac and Cognac expressions.  One of the producers we were most impressed with was a man named Jacques Esteve, who was one of the few producers that had single casks of quality.  If you read the blog posts around this time, you might recall that our strategy of single cask purchasing wasn’t working too well in Cognac, mainly because single casks of Cognac aren’t really all that great on their own.  It was a real learning experience and it revealed how important the marriage process is when it comes to fine brandy.  However, there was a barrel buried under his house that defied the odds and went against everything we had experienced.  Again, there’s a great picture of it on that blog link above. 

Jacques Esteve K&L Exclusive Tres Vieille Reserve de la Famille Cognac $139.99  - Perhaps our biggest folly from this year's visit to Cognac was the idea that we could treat brandy like Scotch.  Single barrel Cognac is not the rage in the France, but we figured that there must be some potential given the success we've had with whisky and Bourbon.  Cognac, however, is simply not a spirit that stands on its own.  It's the result of various processes, the most important of which is the marriage or blending of different casks.  This was the case at every producer we visited - except for one.  Enter Jacques Esteve - a small farmer with some fantastic estate fruit and even more fantastic small production Cognac (see our Coup de Coeur selection). We had spent most of the time in his tasting bar focusing on the selections he currently sells in France, but we did go spelunking under his house into his barrel selection.  Deep in the dark, flashlight in hand, he found a cask of 1979 cognac.  This was purely for scientific exploration to see if anyone had one cask that could stand alone.  We loved it instantly - Esteve was the exception to the rule.  Big spice, big richness, lots of fruit and loads of power even at a mere 44%.  "You want this?" he asked in total shock. We're so unconventional!  Perhaps our favorite Cognac of the trip, we had finally found something we felt would crossover into the Scotch world.  Unfortunately, we can't legally bottle it as 1979 single cask, so we brought it in under his Reserve de la Famille label.  Only 120 bottles available.

Jacques Esteve K&L Exclusive Selection Coup de Coeur Cognac $89.99 - Jacques Esteve was one of the most exciting producers we visited from Cognac this January. His fruit is all estate and the brandies are distilled on site in a small room just next to his garage.  Pulling into the driveway, you wonder where the distillery is, but its all carefully integrated into his country property.  His barrels sit underneath his house and age gracefully amidst the cobwebs. Esteve's grapes and Cognac are in big demand right now with some of the large production houses and it's clear as to why.  The Cognacs bring richness and weight while retaining their finesse.  The Coup de Coeur is a blend of 1979 and 1981 vintages that begins with soft citrus on the nose before blossoming into a warming and supple palate.  Barrel spice and nutty flavors balance out the sweetness and the flavors are perfectly in balance on the finish.  If there's a better deal in Cognac for less than $100, we've yet to find one.  For those looking for more intense flavor and character, rather than the lighter more delicate style, this Cognac is for you.  Available only at K&L in the United States.

BACK IN STOCK - Raymond Ragnaud K&L Exclusive Reserve Rare Cognac $115.99 - This Grand Champagne Cognac from Ragnaud represents our dedicated efforts to find excellent Cognac without the use of additional sweetners or traditional boise. Distiller Jean-Marie has spent the last thirty years perfecting his pot-still brandies into delicate expressions of the fantastic terroir in the area. He is a firm believer in the idea that the limestone-rich soils of Grande Champagne produce wines that, when distilled, create brandies capable of aging in barrel for eternity. While we originally came in search of single barrel Cognac, we tasted a few out of the cask and soon realized that Grand Champagne Cognac doesn't taste all that great in its youth--and by "youth" I mean anytime in the first 20 years of its life--nor does it taste too great out of the barrel. Usually the blends have more complexity because the expressive "young" brandy is balanced with the richness from older vintages. The Reserve Rare was our favorite of the expressions, exhibiting beautiful concentration and the elegance we've come to expect from world-class Cognac producers. Gentle richness on the entry leads into flavors of toasted nuts, stone fruit and vanilla, before finishing with a soft dash of baking spices. A masterful Cognac that managed to seduce us with subtlety and style, rather than with sweetness and weight.

3) Another Wonderful New Cognac From Nicolas Palazzi – The only person who might be finding Cognac better than ours is our friend Nic Palazzi, who considers this producer the crown jewel of his collection.  I think it’s absolutely spellbinding.  One of the best I’ve tasted.

Jacky Navarre Veille Reserve Cognac $199.99 - One of the best Cognacs ever to hit K&L, the Navarre Veille Reserve is the pride and joy of importer and K&L friend Nicolas Palazzi, the man behind the K&L Faultline Cognac and Guillon Painturaud expressions.  Nicolas has told me time and time again that of all the brandies in his stellar lineup of grower-producer spirits, the Navarre fills him with the most pride.  That's probably because it tastes so damn good.  Jacky Navarre is one of the last purists among the artisan cognac distillers. The 4th generation of cognac makers in his family, located in Gondeville since 1811, he takes care of his small Grande Champagne estate with a very basic rule, "Let nature do most of the work."  With the exception of an ultra-rare, impossible-to-get aged release, Navarre only makes one Cognac expression - the Veille Reserve.  Made with 100% ugni blanc, Jacky distills the brandy on the lees. The brandy sees no sugar, caramel or boise, and no water is added at the end. The natural 45% cask strength is achieved through evaporation!  There are few other Cognac producers who take such care with their product and the attention to detail shows through in the flavor. The flavors of the grape are not overpowered by caramel or nougat, but are allowed to shine alongside supple vanilla  The finish is incredbily rich and wonderful, loaded with barrel spice and toasted nuts, but delicate and almost haunting in its litheness.  Amazing in every way.

4) New Single Malt Arrivals

Auchentoshan 21 Year Old A.D. Rattray Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $73.99 - One of the better deals on single malt whisky I've seen in months (not including our fantastic casks, of course!).  Every now and again I feel like my friend Stan Morrison at A.D. Rattray doesn't know what he's got in the bottle. I feel like I'm abusing our friendship by purchasing whisky this good for so little! This 21 year old Auchentoshan is absolutely delicious.  Bottled from a refill sherry butt, the entry is very woody, but not really tannic or bitter, just rich with wood! It's different than the standard vanilla note you get from some casks, it's more like a combination of sweet wood with whisps of hay or straw. It sounds crazy, but it's utterly spellbinding! The finish brings the vanilla and all the standard malt flavor you expect from a whisky this mature. For $74 it's a no-brainer. Jump on it.  The Morrison’s used to own Auchentoshan, so it only makes sense that they’d have some pretty good stock.

1989 Bowmore 23 Year Old A.D. Rattray Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $129.99 - This is one of the interesting, late-'80s casks of Bowmore that has a bizarre lavender note to the flavor. I've tasted it before and it's quite striking. Some people consider it a flaw in the whisky, but I quite enjoy it. You just have to know what you're in for with this one. It's not the standard, rich and smoky flavor of old Bowmore, but rather a rush of violet petals that people sometimes mistake for soap. The savory notes come in on the finish and the smoke lingers at the back.  Not for everyone, but for collectors who want to understand these odd expressions, this is a classic example.  I really like it, but I can see where it would be controversial.

1992 Caol Ila 20 Year Old A.D. Rattray Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $129.99 Oily smoke, soft textures with round fruit, depth and power on the palate, campfire notes on the finish with a flurry of candied fruit.  It's everything we love about old Caol Ila and about the distillate itself from one of Islay's legendary stalwarts.  The booze is good and the price is right.  It's a hot deal while it lasts.

1995 Cooley 16 Year Old A.D. Rattray Single Barrel Cask Strength Irish Whiskey $125.99 – Now that Cooley distillery has been sold to Jim Beam, we’re likely to see fewer independent labels on the market for Irish whiskey.  Think of this cask strength release as the old Slieve Foy on steroids – lots of fat fruit and banana on the nose, rich vanilla and supple textures on the palate, with a lovely soft finish.  However, the 56.7% cask strength throws the balance completely out of whack, so you need to temper the storm with a bit of water.  Once you get everything in check, it’s dynamite!

Kilkerran "Work In Progress" Single Malt Whisky $62.99 - When the doors opened at the Mitchell's Gelngyle Distillery in March of 2004, it became the first new distillery to open in Campbeltown in more than 125 years.  Campbeltown, once the center of whisky production for Scotland, had been hit hard over the last century and had dwindled down to two distilleries - Springbank and Glen Scotia.  When the SWA threatened to take away the Campeltown appellation, Springbank was told a region needed at least three distilleries to consider itself a specific locale.  The decision was then made to reopen the long-dormant Glengyle distillery located immediately next door to Springbank. While the first release of 10 year is set for 2014, whisky buffs have the opportunity to sample the spirit currently in barrel (6 casks, Bourbon, Oloroso Sherry, Fino Sherry, Port, Rum and Madeira) as part of their "Work in Progress" lineup, which will allow you to track the whisky as it matures. The current release is a standard oak hogshead-aged malt with light vanilla and whisps of phenolic peat.  Very delicate and easy to drink!

Hazelburn 12 year old Triple Distilled Campbeltown Single Malt Whisky $86.99 - The famous triple-distilled malt of Springbank distillery is back in stock with a new 12 year old release.  Light and creamy on the entry, with stonefruit and that classic chewy, dense mouthfeel, the Hazelburn continues to showcase the results of in-house floor-malted barley and self-sustained distillation.  The finish gives just a hint of peat to add an accent on what is wonderfully delicious, round and supple single malt whisky.

BACK IN STOCK - Longrow 18 year old, Campbeltown Single Malt Whisky $199.99 – The legendary peated expression from Springbank is back, albeit very limited.  93 points Malt Advocate: "Straw/honey color. Light to medium weight, with a slightly oily texture. Shy on the nose, but makes up for it on the finish. Fresh brine, toasted coconut, bright citrus fruit, and subtle mint on a bed of vanilla cream and honeyed malt. The peat smoke is restrained on the nose, but is more assertive on the palate, and it really kicks in on the finish, which is briny, smoky, appetizing, and long. The best Longrow since the 1974 vintage. If it would only just open up a little more on the nose it would challenge the best from ‘73 and ‘74

Auchentoshan Valinch Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - Appropriately named for the piece of pipe that is used ubiquitously throughout Scotland to extract barrel samples, this cask strength version of the "Classic" is perhaps my favorite expression of Auchentoshan that I've had to date (save for the ultra-aged stuff).  It has none of the cask influence that you see in the "Threewood," this is clean creamy lowland malt at its best. Fresh vanilla bean, tangy tangerine and some unusual baking spices come together to create and altogether refreshing little malt. Definitely swims nicely, so don't be shy with the water.

5) Coming Soon – Again, this is the part of the email where you decide if you want to hold out for future releases, or jump on some of the afore-mentioned bottles. Remember, we can’t place orders for any of the items listed below. This is just a chance for you to see what’s on the horizon and plan ahead. 

K&L Whisky Season 2012 continues – We’ll be adding three new casks on pre-order from Sovereign, our new whisky bottler we began importing last year.  Looks for new whiskies from the now-extinct Caperdonich distillery, plus some new Caol Ila and Linkwood barrels.

Smooth Ambler Very Old Scout 14 Year Old Kentucky Bourbon $75-85-ish – I’m still trying to lock this down, but if all goes well we should be getting a West Coast exclusive on this whiskey.  I don’t want to even mention what I think it tastes like because everyone will think I’m purposely trying to stoke the fire. I’ll let you all decide if you like it or not.  All I’ll say is that it’s freakin’ delicious and it’s not only 14 year old juice.  There are four mature LDI Bourbons in this bottle – 40% 14 year, 40% 15 year, 15% 17 year, and 5% 19 year.  It’s bottled at 50% alcohol and it’s full of power, spice, richness and classic Bourbon flavor.  It also comes at a time where older expressions are few and far between.  I expect this to be a HUGE deal.  I am trying to lock down close to 600 bottles so that should tell you how highly I think of it.  Still waiting for David OG to taste the sample I sent him before we pull the trigger.  We might do pre-orders on this to let you all reserve it in advance.

High West American Prairie Reserve Bourbon $TBA – A blend of 6 year old LDI with 10 year old Four Roses.  Haven’t tasted it yet, but part of the proceeds go to Prairie conservation, hence the name.

Ardbeg Galileo Single Malt Whisky $95-ish – Haven’t tasted this either, but it’s a 12 year old malt aged in Marsala casks bottled at 49% alcohol.  Should be here in a few weeks.  We’ll get plenty.  180 bottles expected.  Sept 1st is the expected release date.

Lost Distillery Single Malt Whiskies – Seascape $44.99 and Leviathan $54.99 – I’ll explain more about these in an email later this week.  They’re peated single malts being distilled outside Monterey in CA.  Bryan Davis used to be the distiller for Obsello Absinthe and Port of Barcelona gin in Spain.  He’s now built his own custom steampowered still that runs outside his house near Salinas.  The whiskies are young, but very, very, very promising.  These are also the prices for full-bottles, not some half-bottle sneak peak stuff.  I’ve only had the Seascape and it’s quite intriguing.  Definitely not for everyone, but the super geeks will go nuts for this stuff.  Very beery with lots of interesting phenolic action.

Arran Devil’s Punchbowl Single Malt Whisky $129.99 – Haven’t tasted this yet, but it’s a small batch blend of older casks.  The bottle looks like a Tenacious D album cover mixed with Dio and Black Sabbath.

6) Tastings Tomorrow! – Redwood City will be hosting Wild Geese Irish Soldiers and Heroes Irish Whisky while San Francisco has a big one planned.  Val will be there pouring the Kilchoman Machir Bay, the Glenglassaugh 26 year old, and the new Glenglassaugh Revival. That’s one killer single malt lineup.  Both tastings begin at 5 PM and run until 6:30.  They are free!

That’s it for today!  Let us know if you have any questions!

-David Driscoll


Calling All Spirits - Good Food Awards 2012

Last year's Good Food Awards, the Bay Area-originated competition for responsibly-produced cheeses, preserves, beer, and other delicious edibles, marked the first time the event had included a spirits category. Jennifer Colliau, from the Slanted Door and Small Hand Foods fame, gathered up a group of local industry professionals (myself included) and we took entries from distilleries all over the country.  There were whiskies, liqueurs, vodkas, gins, and eau de vies from American producers who were committed to the finest base ingredients, sourced from sustainable agriculture.  We tasted spirits from entrants nationwide.  We chose what we felt were the best of the bunch.  We had an absolute blast. 

This year they've handed the reins of the Spirits category over to me and, while I'm still a bit overwhelmed by the task Alice Waters and the gang have given me, I've joined up with my co-chair Brittany Smail and, this time around, we've decided to bring in spirits specialists from all over the U.S.A.  Of course, the first thing I did was call David OG in Hollywood.  Then I rang New York - "Palazzi, are you in?"  We got master cocktailian Dale DeGroff on board.  People were excited.  In order for the Good Food Awards to truly be a national celebration of artisan distillation, there would need to be nationwide representation!  We would unite the clans!  The list would continue to grow.

Now, finally, August 5th has come upon us.  The entry period for this year's Awards has begun.  If you're a distiller of spirits committed to using the finest ingredients from responsibily-produced agriculture, then we're interested in hearing from you.  To win a Good Food Award shows consumers that you're interested in more than just bulk production.  Winning a Good Food Award means you understand what good booze is about and that you're willing to take responsible, eco-friendly steps in order to produce it.  It also means that some of the most-experienced, most-respected names in the business (and me) have tasted your product blindly and decided that they think it's pretty good.  As far as booze awards go, this is the only competition I'm willing to be a part of. 

If you feel your spirit would make a great entry for this year's Good Food Awards, you've got all month to submit your form.  Follow this link to the GFA website entry form and become a part of the movement. I've already heard from so many of last year's hesitant entrants, like Clear Creek's Steve McCarthy, who told me it was the best thing they did all year.  I'm expecting 2012 to be bigger and badder. 

See you at the finish line!

-David Driscoll


My Baby is Back

The boat from Scotland just landed and I was there to greet it.  We nabbed it all again.  What can I say, I freakin' love this whisky!  I want to kiss the bottle and just lay down next to it.  I might even sleep with it under my pillow tonight.

Kilchoman Machir Bay Islay Single Malt Whisky $53.99 - It's no secret that we're big fans of Kilchoman distillery here at K&L. Our recent visit to the distillery on Islay really opened our eyes to the incredible job they're doing. Kilchoman is a tiny operation, producing on one still and malting whatever they can inside their humble barn. Because of their small scale, their cost of production is higher and prices for their whisky have not been inexpensive. But having tasted the new-make spirit right off the still, I can firmly say that, in my opinion, there is no higher quality peated whisky being produced anywhere else. Kilchoman's hands-on style and attention to detail make a world of difference. Every release has been better than the last, albeit extremely limited in supply. All that said, this small farm is finally introducing a full-time, affordable, house recipe, rather than another pricey single barrel release. The Machir Bay is not only incredibly delicious, it's a huge victory for a distillery that had to overcome huge obstacles. At $54, this is what Kilchoman fans have been waiting for: incredibly delicate, finely-tuned flavors of soft smoke, sea salt, creamy vanilla and butterscotch. It's a more subdued version of their high-toned barrel expressions, but it's still very much Kilchoman. Think Bruichladdich meets Lagavulin. Think possible best whisky of 2012.

-David Driscoll


Whisky Season 2012 Update: Another Great Deal

1990 Aberlour 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (Pre-Order) $89.99 - For all the esoteric, exotic, and outside-the-ordinary casks of single malt we plan on bringing back from Scotland this year, we feel the need to balance them out with some sure-fire, no-nonsense whiskies that offer old-fashioned quality for a fantastic price.  The Exclusive Malt warehouse outside of Glasgow offered us so many fantastic expressions at great pricing that we couldn't help but take everyone of them.  Perhaps the most impressive of the bunch was a 21 year old cask of Aberlour, one of the most popular Speyside distilleries around.  With the recent upsurge in sales for their 12 year old and A'Bunadh single malts, we knew the time was right for an older expression that built upon the foundation of flavor our customers love so much: sweet barley, rich vanilla, hints of creme brulee and burnt sugar, with a rich and opulent finish.  At 51.1%, the whisky is easily drinkable at the bottled cask strength, but a drop of water really opens up the palate to more complexity.  The less-than-10 year old cask strength A'Bunadh sells for $60 on the shelf, but for an extra $30 we're offering more than a decade of extra barrel aging and far less-sherry dominated character . This is the bottle you buy for someone who likes Scotch whisky of any kind.  It's very, very tasty and just about everyone can get behind its classically-styled flavor. A ripe deal from a fantastic new bottler.

-David Driscoll