More on the Midwest Corn Shortage

I don't know why I didn't tackle this subject sooner because it appears the current drought in the midwest could put a serious dent in Kentucky's Bourbon production.  The more I talk to people at the major distilleries, the more I'm beginning to break out in a cold sweat.  Yesterday afternoon I communicated with Jim Rutledge, the master distiller for Four Roses, and he had the following to say:

 I don’t think I’m telling you anything you haven’t already heard, but my three main concerns are: 1) will we, the Bourbon industry, have a sufficient supply of corn, 2) will the drought have a negative impact on the quality of corn and 3) the cost. I’m pretty sure we’ll see prices per bushel that we’ve never seen before, but the cost is a minimal concern relative to the supply and quality of corn. Relative to quality – it’s not worth producing and barreling a proof gallon if the quality is not excellent. My philosophy has always been: quality is always premier to quantity, and do it right the first time when filling up a barrel. My focus has always been on the distillates, the white dog, versus what comes out of the barrel. If you do it right from the get-go there aren’t many worries with matured barrels of Bourbon.

When Mark Brown told me the other day that each distillery would be affected based on "how they account for the corn used," this is what he meant.  Jim at Four Roses is very selective about his base product because he believes the distillate is the most important part of the process (others may stress cooperage over distillation).  If he's forced to use corn that doesn't meet his standards, that also happens to be more expensive (and that he may be lucky to even get anyway), he would end up making limited amounts of Four Roses Bourbon that he didn't like and having to charge us more to drink it!  That would be awful.  Knowing Jim, I think he'd rather make less whiskey than make Bourbon that didn't meet his personal approval.  So far, Four Roses has been one of the few Bourbon distilleries to avoid any serious supply shortages of aged stock, but that may change if they have to limit production due to a lack of corn.

Another interesting dilemma resulting from the corn shortage is the use of GMO (genetically modified) corn in distillation and if distilleries like Four Roses and Wild Turkey, who normally choose not to purchase it, will be be forced into changing their policies.  Again, I'll be posting more on this story as I find more information.

-David Driscoll


Some Fun New Items

A few new things showed up today that I'm pretty jazzed about.  Number one would be the limited edition Ardbeg 10 gift backs that come with a free mini of the Uigeadail.  The price is the same, but we cannot ship them, so these are for in-store customers only.  At the current moment, we only have them in Redwood City, but if you want to pick one up in San Francisco or Hollywood then send me an email and I can put one on order for you.

I am very excited about this little guy. I've been trying to track down a few extra bottles of Biancosarti, the white Campari of Italy, but getting them from the motherland hasn't been possible.  No need, however, because the French have begun exporting their answer to it: the Aveze Amere Sauvage Liqueur.  It comes in a liter bottle, it's $26.99, and it's waaaaaaaaaaaaaay closer to Campari than things like Gran Classico (which I like very much, but I'm tired of everyone telling me it's a Campari substitute - it isn't).  There's less sweetness to the Aveze than the GC and it tastes very much like gentian, which is the main flavor component.  The bitter is more pronounced, but the weight and sweetness level are about the same as Campari.  Can't wait to try it in a Negroni later this evening.

Then there's this little sleeper made by Combier, the Loire Valley producer behind the famous orange liqueur.  Their new lineup of fruit liqueurs is impressive, but the Pamplemousse is going to be a permanent mainstay here at K&L (NOTE: the above photo is a 200ml bottle, but we have the 750ml).  It's f-ing deeeeeeeelicious.  Juicy grapefruit goodness with a touch of sweetness to balance it out.  At 16% alcohol, it's great right out of the bottle, but it will work well with a splash of soda or wonderfully in gin and tequila cocktails.  I can't wait to play around with it.  There aren't enough grapefruit products out there.

-David Driscoll


How Will the Midwest Drought Affect Bourbon?

If you haven't been following the current disaster going on in the midwestern United States, then perhaps you should take a look at what we can expect when prices on grain start going through the roof.  Corn, in general, is taking a serious beating right now with analysists wondering how the shortage is going to affect food prices.  I was listening to NPR on the way to work the other day and the speaker was talking about how we should divert corn from projects like ethanol energy production, putting those supplies back into actual consumption to help stabilize the market.  What I didn't hear anyone talk about, however, was the American whiskey market and what we can expect when there's not enough corn for distillation.

We're in a very interesting dilemma right now.  Currently, we're experiencing a shortage of aged Bourbon stocks, so you would expect distilleries to up their production as a result.  However, how can they increase production to supply demand if there isn't any corn available?  If prices on corn start skyrocketing should we expect the price of whiskey to follow?  I've been corresponding with Buffalo Trace Distillery to see if I could get their take on it and Mark Brown, CEO and President, had this to say:

"High corn and grain prices in general, depending on how individual distillers account for the corn used in the making of their respective whiskeys will inevitably push prices higher, not by an exorbitant amount but consumers should definitely expect to see some price increases coming through."

It's definitely a subject of concern in Kentucky right now.  I'll be checking in with Four Roses and a few other producers very soon to get their take on it as well. 

-David Driscoll


Tastings Tonight

Just a reminder:

Charles Neal will be invading the San Francisco store this evening to pour some Chateau Pellehaut brandies, including two K&L exclusive vintages!  Don't miss your chance to taste some of the best Armagnac we've ever carried - for FREE. 

Redwood City will be hosting Boyd & Blair vodka for another session on macerating your own herbs and spices into a collection of homemade bitters.

Tastings start at 5 PM and run until 6:30.  See you there!

-David Driscoll


Whisky Season 2012 Update: Two Must-Have Casks

I know many of you have been waiting for the big guns - the "must-have" casks (that don't cost $500) that represent the finest from our trip.  Now, while I have a certain affinity for everything we bring back, there are two whiskies that I think represent the best value for the flavors most customers are searching for: sweet and peat.  For those who love Macallan, Balvenie, and the rich, sweetly supple flavors of sherry-aged whisky, Glendronach is our answer.  Last year's visit really showed us how special this distillery is.  Their standard 12 year blows the Mac 12 or Doublewood out of the water.  I've never touched either of those whiskies again after tasting it.  Our cask of 16 year old Glendronach was a huge customer favorite - perhaps the most successful whisky of last year's expedition.  Benriach, not normally known for it's peated whisky, did in fact dabble in the smoky alchemy back in 1983 under the Seagram's banner.  We nabbed one of the famous PX-sherry-aged barrels from that era, perhaps giving us a replacement for the other famous peated-Highland - the legendary and now-extinct Brora.  It's really that good.  In fact, I found the Benriach more interesting and tastier than any older Brora I've ever had (granted, I've only tasted a handful, so that statement may not mean all that much). 

1993 Glendronach 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (Pre-Order) $115.99 - On the heels of our Glendronach 16 year old cask, perhaps the most generally beloved of any cask we've ever purchased for K&L, we knew we had to look for a quality successor.  Even if we couldn't match the greatness, the concentrated sherry sweetness with that unctuous, chewy, malty goodness, we had to at least try.  Our relationship with Glendronach went from non-existent to bosom-buddy in 2011 after our visit.  This year, our trip to the remote Highland institution offered us another chance to scour their wonderful selection of aged stocks.  First off, we tried some younger 10 to 12 year old casks, but really found them less interesting than the already fantastic distillery bottle. Some twenty year old casks were rich and decadent, but they were perhaps too over-the-top.  The 18 year old selection, however, smelled of Armagnac and rich caramel with roasted fruits and big sherry aromas.  The palate was soft, integrated, and very smooth, even at full proof.  The richness was powerful, but unlike the older selections, it was completely in check and balanced by the spice and alcohol in the malt.  It offered many of the same characteristics that last year's cask displayed, but in a more subdued and elegant way.  The result is a familiar, yet intriguingly new expression of Glendronach bottled entirely for K&L and it's the same price as last year's cask! I find this 18 year to be even more accessible and expect it to be even more successful.

1984 Benriach 27 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single PX Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (Pre-Order) $179.99 - While tasting through the cask samples at Glendronach, David and I noticed a few older barrels from Benriach as well, its sister distillery run by the same ownership group.  While we've really championed the former whisky, Benriach has always remained in the background at K&L.  We like the whisky, especially the fantastic new 12 year expression, but it's never lit a fire under us.  However, when David noticed that one of the casks was dated "1984," our curiosity instantly peaked.  During the early 80's, when Benriach was still owned by Seagrams, the distillery was known as an experimental laboratory, turning out all kinds of interesting malts, some of them heavily peated.  We poured ourselves a sample, noted the rich sherry color, and suddenly the whiff of peat smoke tickled our noses.  This was one of those storied whiskies - a PX sherry-aged peated whisky of 27 year old maturity with the same integration of richness and smoke that one finds in old Islay malts or the legendary peated Brora.  In fact, David and I were so floored by the quality, we thought it was better than some of the older Lagavulins and Broras we had tasted.  "No one is going to believe us if we talk that way," I said, but the truth couldn't be denied.  This whisky is phenolic, oily, briny, supple, chewy, rich, raisined, and smoky. It hangs with the great aged island malts, but prices far below them.  Easily one of the top three whiskies from the trip and destined to become a K&L classic.

-David Driscoll