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K&L Spirits Tasting Schedule:

Weds from 5 - 6:30 PM

8/20 - San Francisco: No Tasting

8/20 - Redwood City: K&L Signatory Single Malts

2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #344 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Kilchoman K&L Exclusive 100% Islay Single Bourbon Barrel #345 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


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


1997 Bunnahabhain Heavily Peated 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Chieftain's Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


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


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 IN STOCK NOW!


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 SOLD OUT!!


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!


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!


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!


Tuesday
Oct192010

Best Whisk(e)y For $50ish - What Do You Choose?

When you work in a retail store you spend most of your time stocking and helping customers.  Doing both often gives you a better understanding of whisky than tasting it because you have to be able to select the right product for the right occasion.  Knowing your options is important and with the amount of stocking I do, I'm familiar with every single one of them.  A majority of customers are looking for something accessible, maybe for a gift, and they usually want to keep it around $50ish.  Is there a one-size-fits-all whisky at that price?  For $100 I almost always recommend the 1985 Glenrothes because it's such an awesome malt, but what is really astounding for half the price?

When we opened a bottle of Springbank 10 yesterday I was reminded of how much a love this whisky.  You really get everything - subtle hints of peat, rich malty goodness, dried fruits, oily textures, and a long salty finish.  It's only after you've spent a few weeks tasting average, run-of-the-mill single malts that you truly appreciate what Springbank is offering with their ten year.  I used to think that the Ardbeg 10 was the best deal for around that price, but now I'm not so sure.  While the Islay giant is probably more pleasing to hardcore fans of the style, I think that Springbank is a safer choice, plus the level of complexity in the 10 year is really unparalleled by many older expressions from other distilleries. 

I think maybe Springbank gets overlooked by those shopping by age (which is honestly not a smart thing to do if you're browsing, by the way) rather than by distillery.  I'd rather taste 10 glorious years from Springbank than I would 18 from Macallan, and I like Macallan. 

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Oct172010

K&L Whisk(e)y Club Goes To Old World Spirits

Davorin's aged peach brandy and his newest framboise

Just when I thought that we had peaked on our first ever K&L whiskey club field trip to St. George, along came Davorin Kuchan and his Belmont microdistillery's many miracles, which wowed us even more.  I like to make Old World Spirits a regular hangout, trying to get over and catch up with Davorin about once a month if possible.  However, no matter how many times I think I've tasted everything he's got going, the Croatian master distiller pulls out something new that I never saw coming.  He loves having that rabbit to pull out of his hat, you can tell by the twinkle in his eye and his little smirk after I start raving about how awesome his newest creation tastes.  I knew that if I brought some of my most passionate customers over to meet him that they too would fall under his spirited spell.  Davorin did not disappoint as he unveiled his freshly distilled unaged rye as soon as we walked in. 

Getting the full 170 proof right into my glass was a real treat.  The rye is legit and has everything you'd expect aroma-wise, but there's a twist.  Davorin is distilling it two times and using eau de vie yeasts in the fermenting process, resulting in a lighter and fruitier whiskey without losing any of the concentrated rye flavor.  I can't wait to see how this ends up tasting after some time in charred new oak.  Davorin said his wood is on the way, so it won't be long until he beings the maturation process.

As we gathered around the table and began to discuss the distillation process, we needed to only look a few feet to our left for a functional example of every explanation Davorin provided us.  We were lucky enough to have caught him on a work day, so the steady stream of peach eau de vie splashing gently into a bucket was music to our ears the entire time we were there. "Go on over and put your glass in so you can taste it," he told us and no one had to be told more than once.

Free run peach spirit

Getting to taste the peach spirit at such a high proof on its first run through the still was amazing.  The aromas at the point of the process are so much different than those eminating from the final product.  The Kuchan peach eau de vie is brimming with floral and crisp peach aromas, while the first run spirit is ripe with peach pie and cobbler.  We all took a step back and were completely taken with the experience.  Truly a geek-out moment for all us spirit nerds in attendance.  Not only did we get to taste the peach spirit off the still, but we also got to watch Davorin unbarrel a fresh batch of fermenting peaches and load them into the boiler to begin making a new batch - all the while sipping on whatever happened to find its way into our tasting glasses.

Davorin makes some fantastic eau de vie and we have long carried his peach, pear, and walnut brandies, but soon to hit the line up will be a fantastic new framboise made of 100% raspberry distilled eau de vie with a bit of fresh raspberry juice added in at the end.  Not only does the brandy taste like the pure essence of raspberry fruit, it also brings along the earthiness of the seeds and the tannin of the skins.  The flavors are remarkable and I think it will end up being the most successful of all his fruit based products. 

 

Davorin takes a sample of the barrel-aged Blade ginNot everything at the distillery is fruit based however, as Davorin is becoming best known for his delicious Blade gin.  Made with more of a citrus focus, Blade is becoming the absolute go-to gin for all citrus-based cocktails, so I made sure to whip us up a round of Corpse Revivers while we were there topped off with Davorin's Le Sorciere Absinthe Bleu.  He makes the traditional green absinthe as well and we made sure to taste both complete with water dripper and a flashlight to catch all the cloudiness of the luge.  Davorin has a small barrel room that houses his zinfandel brandy as well as a few other experiments.  One of those trials that seems to have gone unbelievably well is his barrel-aged Blade gin that was undoubtedly the highlight of the afternoon.  When he drops this later this year, the current barrel-aged options like Ransom and Citadelle Reserve won't know what hit them.  This is the real deal - rich, wood-enhanced herbal goodness bursting with spice and citrus.  You could use it in a cocktail, but it tastes so good straight sipping that you probably would never make it into the kitchen to grab the ice and the shaker.  It might rule our holiday season at K&L if Davorin can release it in time.

We ended the tour with a round of brandy barrel samples and a taste of Davorin's now sold-out walnut liqueur.  He hopes to get a new batch of walnuts later this month to begin distillation on a new batch of brandy.  The small group that made their way over to join me was completely won over by the end of the afternoon.  Davorin held our attention for over two hours of lecturing, tasting, sampling, and distilling.  With his convenient location and endless barrage of tasty products, Davorin has been winning over other Peninsula enthusiasts for the last year with his Friday night flights held on the last Friday of every month.  If you get the opporunity, head on over and pay him a visit because it's as much fun as it is educational.  You won't get the Whisk(e)y Club VIP tour, but you'll still get fantastic time out and a whole new appreciation for fruit-based spirits.

Don, Dennis, and Ryan inspect the must-David Driscoll

 

 

 

Friday
Oct152010

Power Rankings - 10/15/10

I haven't done these in a while, so I thought it would be fun to show the current top selling whiskies at K&L.  These rankings are based on both in store and internet sales.  I know that people are usually curious about what other people are buying, so here's your chance to find out.  As of yesterday, these are the faster movers at all of our locations combined:

1. Lagavulin 16 Year Single Malt Whisky

2. Ardbeg 1990 Airigh Nam Beist Single Malt Whisky

3. McCarthy's K&L Exclusive Single Cask Barrel Strength Oregon Single Malt Whiskey

4. Ardbeg Uigeadail Single Malt Whisky

5. Glenlivet 12 Year Single Malt Whiskey

6. Black Maple Hill Small Batch Bourbon

7. Balvenie 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky

8. Buffalo Trace Kentucky Bourbon

9. Glenfiddich 12 Year Single Malt Whisky

10. Macallan 12 Year Single Malt Whisky

Pretty standard list.  No real surprises, right?

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Oct142010

Who Gives A S--t About Awards?

Double Gold - San Francisco Spirits Competition.  Silver Medal - World Spirits Festival.  What does this mean and who really cares about these so-called prestigious awards?  It seems that every week when I open a new box of bottles, there is another product with a sticker posted on the front label that cries out, "Look at me!  I'm good!  Now you know how good I really am!"  Somebody asked me earlier today in the store about a whiskey selection and they said, "Well maybe I should get this one because it won the gold medal."  I then showed her the other fifty bottles on the shelf that had also 'won' gold medals and that seemed to put things in perspective for her.

Recently on a more prestigious whiskey blog site, there was a discussion about industry folk getting upset when their product received a low score.  John Hansell himself wrote that not every whiskey can be the best ever - there simply have to be some bad ones out there.  However, it seems that more and more products have found a way to become distinguished on the retail shelf, be it the shiny gold of a medal sticker or a necker tag that displays how points it won from Paul Pacault.  There are enough awards out there for everyone and somehow every major brand has found a way to win one of them.  It seems that in today's high-end liquor store there really are no bad products, or even mediocre ones for that matter.  It's sort of like Who's Who From America's High School Students, but the alcoholic version.  You get a letter telling you how great a young scholar you are and then you pay a fee to be posted in a "prestigious" catalog of pupils, and to top it all off, they charge you for the actual book you appear in.  In return, students get to add it to the long list of acolades on their college resume as a distinguishing mark in their favor.  A mutually beneficial relationship if their ever was one, this formula has been adapted for the liquor and wine world with astonishing efficiency.

Now before I get carried away, I am 100% behind some form of consumer advocacy in the liquor world.  Just this morning I was shopping for SLR cameras and I consulted CNET and Consumer Reports for advice.  The difference between these non-partisan services and the spirits competitions however is night and day.  One offers detailed information about a specific product, pros and cons, positives and negatives, while the other simply states (as broadly as possible): good, very good, best - that's it.  If someone does bother to add a bit more information, that description is carefully censored to cut down to the bare bones necessity - 92 points, nuff said. 

I could probably write about ten pages of examples to illustrate my point, but this is a blog and blogs are made for quick, succinct updates that can be read in a few minutes.  Let me say this and I'll leave it at that: medals are meaningless, points even more so.  For every expert out there who loves a product, I'll find you someone who hates it and vice versa.  Expert panels will always exist, but we as retailers need to stop relying on them to sell products because they're ruining this industry and our ability to educate customers.  Whiskies are not trophies.  They should not make you cool for owning one or envious for not owning one.  Whiskies are drinks and they are meant to be enjoyed with friends.  Some are better than others.  Not all whiskies are for everyone.  If it got 97 points and you hate it, don't drink it.  If it got 75 points and you love it, then who gives a shit?  Drink it and move on.  This is supposed to be fun.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Oct122010

WhiskyFest Rundown

The walk to WhiskyFestI've fully recovered from this weekend's distinguished event (read: debauchery).  After many years buying and selling spirits, I finally made to the Shangri-la of whisky.  I have to say, Mr. Hansell does it right.  Obviously, the reason we attend WhiskyFest is to taste the incredible variety of products, both old and new, but I have to say the most exciting thing for me was just experiencing the scene.  You've got producers, distributors, aficionado, restaurateurs, retailers all together in one space discussing their trade/obsession/true love.  While I was excited to try as much new stuff as possible, the real experience was being with all these amazing enthusiastic professional whisky types. 

I had an amazing chat with Ross from BB&R, which if you didn't know is about the classiest place to buy booze in all of Europe. Berry Brothers & Rudd is Britain's oldest wine & spirits merchant.  They've been supplying the royal family since the 1700s.  Contrasting our own stifling regulatory structure, British wine merchants like BB&R can Ross of BB&Rboth sell spirits, as well as own and export spirits brands.  They own Glenrothes, a number of other spirits brands, a superb independent bottling operation, as well as one of Britain's most succesful en primeur services.  Ross, and his lovely coworker Natalie, kindly poured a few of the nights finest whiskies including the austere and unforgettable 1975 Vintage and the extremely limited John Ramsay bottling.

Of course for David and I, the St George table was the truly special one.  Not only was the whiskey they've made totally outrageous, but it also has our names on it! It's still a working label, so let's all pray the TTB loves the label as much as we did.  The whiskey itself was familiar, though totally unique.  In some ways it reminded me of the Charbay Whiskey which we also had chance to try.  It is not like the Double & Twisted, which has this spicy grain and barnyard gnarliness, but much more like the Charbay Whiskey Release II with its forward American oak nose and opulent cocoa finish.  St George's 12 Year Old Single Malt is rich and intense.  The cocoa finish struck me as distinctly similar to Charbay's super premium Whiskey.  All of this for an affordable price at cask strength?  This single barrel can't last long.  For some reason, I sense a California Single Malt style emerging here.  Hopefully, we'll continue to see some older American barley based whiskies coming from the independent distilleries.

I think the overall theme of WhiskyFest was innovation.  I don't just mean regarding production methods, but in terms of what's being accepted by the public.  The Yamazaki table St George's 12 year Single Malt bottled exclusively for K&Lhad to be one of the most popular stations throughout evening.  Even after they'd finished pouring the 1984 during the VIP hour, they had a constant line stretching across the room.  Maybe this is a NorCal thing, but there certainly isn't the same enthusiasm for these whiskies down south.  My only personal problem wih the Japanese whisky is how little they bother to export.  As we've seen recently on www.whatdoesjohnknow.com, the Japanese make some incredible whisky that we never see stateside.  While the distilleries in Japan struggle to convince a younger generation of Japanese to drink whisky, we sit hear watering at the mouth.  I've sent a number of emails to the various Japanese producers of whisky (Nikka, Kirin, Suntory) letting them know that we are very interested in selling their whisky.  I've never heard back, I assume that's due to the language barrier rather than rudeness, as I've never known the Japanese to give up an opportunity to talk about their whisky.  Anyway, could someone please get on this? 

Along, with the some of more successful independent distilleries, WhiskyFest brings out all the big guns from every whisky region.  While the top single malts are always a draw, we don't expect to see a whole lot of new stuff unveiled at this sort of venue.  That's why it's refreshing to have the independent bottlers also represented.  In particular, I really enjoyed the Duncan Taylor malts, as well as the interesting selections from A.D. Rattray who have brought some exceptional barrels over for us. 

Of course our dear friends from Kentucky didn't disappoint.  Buffalo Trace brought out the big guns, offering the entire 2010 Antique Collection, which was a treat as always.  I think the Williams Larue Weller is tasting better than ever and the Stagg is as in your face as ever although I found it a touch shut down before The Van Winklesa solid 15 minutes in the glass.  Tasting the Van Winkle line up was incredible as expected.  A good reminder for why these bourbons are so freakin' loved by everyone!  Four Rose's brought some lovely bourbon including the Limited Edition, which did not last long.  Unfortunately, they did not have our K&L Cask Strength OBSO exclusive, which as Mr. Driscoll has pointed out, is top notch. 

One of my favorite moments of the entire evening was meeting the legendary Parker Beam.  Mr. Beam is not only a legend in the industry, he is a legendary gentleman.  I'm not sure they make 'em like this anymore, but I've never met such a stand up guy.  I told him about my own family history in Kentucky, as my great grandmother was from Louisville and my grandfather and his father were part owners in a distillery in Bardstown.  While I have very little information about exactly which distillery they had invested in, Mr. Beam was kind enough to listen to my family history and struggle to put a distillery to the one brand that I could recall my grandfather producing.  Apparently, the "Old Fiddle" bourbon was memorable enough -probably due to its distinctive bottle shape- because Parker recalled that the Willett Distillery might have produced this whiskey.  In addition, he noted that their big brand back in the day was "Old Ms. Andie Browkaw & Mr. Parker BeamBardstown," which is how my grandfather used to refer to the distillery.  Now Heaven Hill owns this brand.  It was an incredible interaction with one of my personal heroes.  I have to thank Mr. Hansell giving me the opportunity to finally meet Parker Beam, not to mention getting to try his wonderful whiskies again. 

There were many other interesting products featured -Compass Box's Flaming Heart, Mackillops Choice, Whistle Pig, Michter's 25 year, etc. - but honestly I'm just scratching the surface.  As WhiskyFest wrapped up, I retired with Driscoll to watch a disappointing final few innings of the Giants game.  Cheer up, what could be more disappointing than the Dodgers?  A few cocktails with friends at Annabell's to wrap up the evening and a short walk home to my hotel would have been the perfect evening.

Unfortunately, the walk back to my hotel took me by another place.  Who do I see in the window, but the illustrious Maurice Chevalier from Preiss Imports.  He was sampling the Old Raj Gin with an incredibly beautiful bartender and our dear friends from Springbank and Duncan Taylor.  Needless to say, only the creme de la creme is still standing at this point in the evening.  I spent quality time learning some Campbell town history, as well as watching my new Duncan Taylor rep make lots of new friends thanks to his kilt.  We ended up closing out the bar.  Had a couple of top notch cocktails from a bartender who showed only mild distain for my existence.  All in all it was amazing time.  Standing on the curb outside the RICKHOUSE, I realized that these are the moments that really count.  While I want to say it's all about the whisky, in the end it's all about the people.  I'm not implying that I'm somehow against enjoying whisky by myself, but whisky is not an automaton.  Being with the people who actually create the products that we love brings the complexity of whisky into great focus.  Whisky is an expression of a collective intent, sometimes by just a few people in a warehouse somewhere and sometimes by a multinational corporation.  This collective force allows for the incredible diversity that we see in the category.  For that, I thank the people, personalities, and professionals that made this weekend and make my life so amazing.

-David Girard