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Tuesday
Jul032018

Crack the Code

There's nothing worse than pointless marketing hooey designed just to confuse or obfuscate a product's quality or provenance. With that in mind, I was ultra skeptical when I first heard about this project from Glenlivet. But having gone through the process, tasting the excellent whisky that they've put in this surprisingly cool looking bottle, I'm totally sold. So grab your bottle and login to use your senses to break the code. We only got a few bottles and the speculators are already driving the price up, so crack the cipher before it's too late.

Glenlivet "Code" Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky (750ml) $109.99

-David Othenin-Girard

 

Wednesday
Jun272018

End of Quarter Housekeeping

It’s been more than a month since our esteemed former colleague David Driscoll quietly bowed out from this space. He'd spent the last 10 years chronicling the growth of both the Spirits Department and his personal journey through the complex world of this industry. You may have noticed a lot of changes here including a few new voices. We’ve asked our dear friend SKU to help out with some interesting and informative pieces. Our new NorCal Spirits Buyer Andrew Whiteley has already been making waves, launching the new wonderful Woodinville whiskies (NorCal Exclusive), as well as securing loads of the elusive Hakushu 12 year for our customers. He’s been Driscoll’s right hand man in Redwood City for years, so he knows what’s up.
And while a lot has and will continue to change around here, some things will stay the same.

I partnered with Driscoll nearly 10 years ago to build the Spirits Department together. We had a vision of doing something better. The dream was to bring our customers something no one else could offer. We knew by going the extra mile we could offer new exciting products at exceptional prices as well as provide our customers with the best possible prices on brands they already know and love. We dreamed to do all of this while offering a level of expertise and attention that our competitors simply couldn’t match. Nothing about that mission will ever change, but it’s undeniable that David’s absence will be felt, especially for people who check the Spirits Journal regularly. I’ve spent the last decade happy to be behind the scenes, developing our game plan, working the SoCal market, connecting with new suppliers around the world and manning the logistics of our single cask program. Now I’m compelled to become a more public part of this special section of the K&L’s excellent website. It's a big change for me and I'm easing into it.

With that in mind I’m going to steal something from Driscoll that I always thought seemed really helpful for our customers. It’s time to BUDGET!

We have an incredible array of exceptional products racing toward us from every edge of the globe. Today I’m going to run down the long list of insane things we have coming:

ARMAGNAC

ENCANTADA – after tasting as many barrels as I could get my hand on we’ve selected 5 of the most incredible brandies you’ll ever have. These are full tilt, no additives, zero reduction, and pure Gascogne magic.

Midsummer/early fall

POUCHEGU – The wonderful Domaine in Castalnau d’Auzan was one of our best finds over the years. Pierre Laporte sadly passed and with him we thought we’d lost his incredible old brandies as well. But thanks to some serious sleuthing by our friend Charles Neal, we’ve located the stocks and purchased AS MUCH AS they’d sell us.

Fall

CARDINAT – The fun little estate is run by a young couple who doesn’t really have the expertise of the previous generation, but are learning and building around a great history. We’ve bottled a few vintages which will come through at the always reasonable price.

Fall

Chateau Vacquie– This new producer outside of Lectoure is not in the most renowned region for brandy production, but their little estate is so perfectly situated and the tiny calcareous outcropping is producing some extremely exciting Armagnac.

Midsummer

Cognac

Dudognon – The spectacular higher proof Napoleon which includes the ultra rare Montils grape in the blend remains the only Cognac producer I can guarantee has never used a single additive in any of their products. It’s just the purest Grand Champagne eau-de-vie, 15 years in the highest quality barrels, and a slow subtle reduction. Easily one of the most soulful, complex and valuable in the Cognac in our portfolio.

Next week

Bouju – We’ve secured a line on more of the classic Fine Saveur as well as the outrageous Royal and Tres Vieux Brut de Fut. The pricing should stay very close to previous offers, which makes no sense, but I’m not complaining.

Fall

Bourbon & Rye

1792 – No doubt this stuff will be gone in the blink of an eye, but after years of pushing our supplier, they’ve finally agreed to send us casks at FULL PROOF. Easily one of the best values in Bardstown, this insane cask strength 9 year old bourbon should retail for less than $50. Considering the recent disaster at the site, we’re not sure we’ll get another crack at these any time soon. Expect this in the next couple of weeks.

July

Heaven Hill – Finally, after a multi-year hiatus, Heaven Hill is back with an Elijah Craig barrel program. Still not Cask Strength, but it is absolutely delicious! We’re hoping to have this in the next couple of months and we’ll be back in KY in the fall to secure more.

Midsummer

Four Roses – Last month I did two quick nights in Louisville. We had the extreme pleasure of picking casks out with the illustrious Al Young. Tasting with all is crazy because he insists on tasting the whiskies blind. 5 of the best Four Roses we’ve seen in years are the result. Three being bottled in July and two more in August.

August & September

Maker’s Mark – Obviously we’re doing more of this. Too good to ignore. One in the classic style (that sweet spot we've developed over the last two years) and a total oddball selected and blended by our SoCal Assistant Manager and resident Kentuckian Illya Haase.

Late summer

Whistle Pig – Lots more of this delicious full strength Canadian magic coming. These casks fly because our people know that to find high proof rye at this age and quality level is impossible elsewhere. These will be arriving over the next few months and likely last as long as the last casks.

Every few months!

Russell's Reserve - We've taken a HUGE position on the incredible single cask whiskies from Wild Turkey. We have 8 new single casks coming in the next month or so. Two of those were casks bottled 2+ years ago and lost in the distributor’s warehouse. I don't know if people realize how special the current stocks in the Russell's program really are, but considering the old distillery was torn down in 2010 and these whiskies are around 9-10 years old, they represent the some of the last barrels we'll ever have access to from that special old distillery (Old Ripy). Yes the new distillery is cranking out excellent stuff, but it will never be exactly the same as the Old Ripy stuff. Sure they'll sit on plenty for Master's Keep projects etc. but they won't be that bold Russell's 10 Year Old style. The real WT. That makes these final stocks the equivalent to me of what the Jefferson/Willett/Van Winkles had from Stitzel-Weller in the early 2000s. No one seems to really appreciate how special they are, but I certainly do. Of course once they're gone everyone will want them. I can hear it now, "Do you have any Old Ripy WT?" "No, it's long gone."

July or early August.

RUM

Velier/LMDW (LM&V) – While my dream of being their exclusive retailer in California is dead, I’m nonetheless extremely excited to have the incredible spirits from this European duo in the market. Expect Clairin and Caroni in the coming weeks.

Next week

Foursquare – the elusive special releases are done for now (in particular the Dominus, which seems to have been caught up in a trademark dispute), but we’ve just secured a single cask of the wonderful Bajan distiller and will be selling it under the Faultline or Golden Devil Label.

Fall

Hampden – LM&V (That's Le Maison & Velier's international partnership) has exclusive rights to export the distillery's brands, although someone else has the Rum Fire in the US right now. Expect those exceptional products soon. Nonetheless, we’ve secured a 16 year old single cask that might be one of the most exceptional rums from Jamaica I’ve ever tasted through our suppliers in Scotland.

Early fall

Single Malt

Old Particular/Sovereign/OMC/Hepburn’s Choice – We’re loading up an astounding amount of incredible Scotch right now. Some old Glories from Teaninich, Springbank, Bunnahabhain. Tons of old grain. Some fabulous values in the sherried 20+ year range and some stupidly delicious young and middle aged whiskies at ridiculous prices. We’ll continue to offer some insane values out of Scotland as long as our government doesn’t stick some stinking’ tariff on the glorious golden nectar of the north.

Fall

Balblair – An often underappreciated little distillery near Glenmorangie, they’re finally offering a proper single cask program at not ridiculous prices. We’ve bought a gorgeous 2005 vintage cask that should clock in at 56%+ and sell for around $70. It’s an absolute dream whisky for those who love pure highland in first fill bourbon casks.

Late summer

Couvreur – We’re getting the only 60 bottles of the coveted and ultra rare single cask peater in PX Sherry. The half liter sells in Europe for €200 and we’ll have 750mls for about $275. It’s fancy stuff, but only 60 people in the entire world will ever get to own one and it was hand selected by the widow of Mr. Couvreur herself.

Mid July

That’s just a tiny slice of what’s to come, but nonetheless a little road map to help you plan the next several months of booze spending. I’m a strong advocate in the power of budgeting, but I also only spend money on booze, food, and travel so my priorities are bit lopsided. I guess some people have other hobbies, but I still don’t get why.

-David Othenin-Girard

Monday
Jun252018

Whiskey Disasters

A collective shudder spread through the bourbon community on Friday as a story about a warehouse collapse at the Barton 1792 Distillery went viral. Photos showed thousands of bourbon casks lying in a heap of rubble.  Luckily, no one was injured in this collapse, the cause of which is still unknown.   

Distillery disasters are nothing new, fires being the biggest threat given all of that flammable alcohol and fumes. In recent years, the expansion in craft distilling has increased the number of explosions at small distilling outfits. Here are just a few of the major disasters that have befallen American distilleries through the years.   

June 11, 1904: An explosion destroys a warehouse at the Corning Distillery in Peoria, Illinois and spreads rapidly to nearby structures including a stockyard with cattle. Ten die and six suffer serious injuries. At the time of the explosion, the structure is the world's second largest distillery warehouse.  

Nov. 24, 1905: A fire destroys an Old Overholt warehouse in Broad Ford, Pennsylvania burning 800,000 gallons of whiskey valued at over $4 million.  

Jan. 15, 1919: A two million gallon molasses tank at the Purity Distilling Company in Boston explodes causing a huge wave of hot molasses which kills 21 and injures 150. The incident comes to be known as the Great Molasses Flood.  

Sept. 1, 1935: A huge fire at the Hiram Walker Distillery in Peoria, Illinois destroys a warehouse containing 81,000 barrels and damages several nearby structures.  One worker is killed and several firefighters are injured.  

Aug. 4-5, 1954: A massive, two day fire at an American Distilling Company distillery in Pekin, Illinois kills six and injures 33.  

May 4, 1963: Faulty wiring causes a fire at an American Distilling Company distillery in Sausalito, California which destroys several buildings. The distillery is shut down seven years later.  

Nov. 7, 1996:  A massive fire engulfs the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky destroying the distillery and seven warehouses.  Heaven Hill outsources distilling for the next ten years and eventually acquires the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville to replace the Bardstown Distillery.  

May 9, 2000: A fire destroys a warehouse at the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Two firefighters are injured fighting the blaze. 

Aug. 5, 2003: Lightning strikes a Jim Beam warehouse releasing flaming bourbon into a nearby lake which then creates a fiery waterspout. 

July 13, 2012: A large explosion occurs at the Alchemical Solutions distillery in Ashland, Oregon, blowing a door off the warehouse.  

April 24, 2015: An explosion due to an over-pressurized still at the Silver Trail Distillery in Hardin, Kentucky causes one distiller's death and seriously injures another.  

May 30, 2017: An explosion occurs at the distillery in the basement of the Winery at Wolf Creek in Copley Township, Ohio.  

Nov. 6, 2017: Three are injured at an explosion at the BJ Hooker's vodka distillery near Houston, Texas when vodka fumes ignite.  

Dec. 23, 2017: A distillery tank explodes at Island Beach Distillery in New Jersey injuring the owner.  

Jan. 4, 2018: An explosion at Wigle Whiskey in Pennsylvania causes minor injuries to one worker.  

As you can see, distilling can be a dangerous business.  Stay safe out there everyone!  

-Sku

Wednesday
Jun202018

Single Cask Super Store!

Over the years we’ve worked closely with nearly every Scottish Independent bottler. Often times we are the first retailor in the US to feature a particular brand, but it’s not often that we’re able to secure truly exclusive sale. We’re not an importer and have no particular rights or claims to any brand. Instead, we build relationships through positive interaction and responsible stewardship. We’ve brought many brands to the US that our importers would otherwise not have the opportunity to sell and likewise we’ve secured exclusive rights with certain international brands in California.

The John Milroy line of Single Malts is precisely one of those relationships. We’re not going over there to select casks. In fact, we rely on the honorable Doug McIvor to make his astute  selections for the brand. He is the Director of Spirits for the formidable Berry Bros & Rudd Co. in London. This wonderful company is a hybrid of high-end retailer, negociant, independent bottler, and brand incubator. He started his illustrious career running the Milroy of Soho whisky shop – the baby (literally the shop is tiny) of brothers John and Wallace Milroy. When Jack Milroy sold his diminutive Soho shop, he turned to Doug to help continue his legacy of bottling exceptional Single Malts.

We’ve tried many times to work directly with BBR and had only limited success. Our industry is a complicated web of relationships, trade agreements, and back channel dealings. Most brands can't simply turn around and sell products to us directly. We’re just not a big enough fish to fry some of the national relationships BBR has developed over the years. When the Milroy line came up as an independent brand free from the complexities of Berry Bros other dealings, I jumped on the opportunity to work with them. While these aren’t true direct buys and we only take a fraction of the total amount imported, we are negotiating incredibly advantageous pricing and selling these exclusively in California. That means if you live in CA you're going to spend 30-50% less for a bottle of Milroy's than if you lived anywhere else in the world.

After our initial purchase a year ago, we've had to wait a long time before the right casks popped up. Since we're not fully in control and even the Milroy's offering exceptional quality across the board, we simply can't offer products that don't provide our customers with the extreme level of value that they expect. We’re lucky to have found these three special casks that represent the ethos brand and its highly distinctive style perfectly; an odd, yet wonderful Island whisky, a shockingly affordable and bizarrely drinkable young peater and a classic zesty summer Speysider. We’re still a few months out from the next big container of Whisky (the Season is coming don't worry) but these three gorgeous casks will help you bridge the gap.

Glen Keith 21 Year Old "John Milroy - K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky (750ml) $110

This wonderful cask of Glen Keith was selected by our friend Doug McIvor for its exceptional balance and character. The distillery in Keith has been rare in modern times due to its closure from 2000 until 2013. While it served as a partner to neighboring Strathisla as one of the component malts in the Chivas Blend, it was also the site of much experimentation and some unusual production techniques. There they developed unique yeast strains and alternative was of peating whisky -namely the use of extremely peaty water to ferment the mash. Keith has long remained out of sight and out of mind of the modern whisky consumer, but now we're starting to see wonderful casks pop up from the period right before the closure. The gorgeous aromas and purity of malt are astounding. Extremely round ripe orchard fruit and subtle highland grasses. The seamless body and silky texture are what set this whisky apart and create the perfect frame for the creamy malt and subtle savory nuttiness to balance the zippy citrus and apple fruit. A subtle whisky that might seem a little shy at first, but blossoms into something absolutely lovely. An easy go to for the summer Scotch drinker.

Tobermory 8 Year Old "John Milroy - K&L Exclusive" Single Refill Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky (750ml) $55

This crazy little Tobermory is exactly what I love about the strange little distillery on the Isle of Mull. It was filled into a used sherry butt in 2008. This distillery sometimes gets a bad rap, in particular because the independently bottled stuff is usually filled into 4th and 5th fill cask. The slightly feinty style of the malt really needs some higher quality oak to be softened enough to release its complexity, but once it does it can be an absolute treat. There's no question that Tobermory has the potential to provide incredible depth and enjoyment, but it's often a challenging whisky not necessarily designed for the novice. This particular cask represents that dichotomy perfectly. Second fill sherry butts are perhaps the perfect vessel for this funky spirit, adding and taking from the whisky in perfect balance. As expected this whisky is as fun and funky, but it also represents one of the starkest examples of the benefits a few drops of fine spring water to a quality single malt like this one. It's nearly mandatory with something this youthful to at least try it with a few drops of water and thank god we did because this thing absolutely transforms. What was once hard edged and idiosyncratic is now opulent and enlightening. There is complete turnaround in the glass and one of the most unique and exciting drinking experiences we can ever offer at any price point. An odd yet beautiful whisky that will appeal to the real malt geek.

Staoisha (Peated Bunnahabhain) 3 Year Old "John Milroy - K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel Cask Strength Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (750ml) $35

An astonishing whisky in so many ways. We've tasted young peaty whisky many times and while it can sometimes be delicious (I'm thinking Kilchoman here), it's typically much more neutered and spirity than you'd expect. The peatiness can take many years to really poke through especially when you've got high proof and powerful malt to hide behind. This goofy whisky, however, is exactly the opposite. It's a true peat bomb even at this young age. But that's not all, the dense ashy smoke is tamed by robust sweet malt and some hints of salty fruit. This is an impressive whisky by any account and while it will by no means be in anyone's top 5, I'll challenge anyone to name a more interesting and drinkable cask strength peater under $35 that's even half as good. I'm not sure what they're doing over there at the bay north of Port Askaig, but there's definitely something amazing happening there. We can only pray that we'll continue to see such affordable and delicious whiskies coming out of Scotland in the future.

-David Othenin-Girard

Thursday
Jun142018

Three Japanese Greats

Last night I found myself in the enviable position of "needing" to taste three great whiskies all at once. You know, for a proper apples-to-apples comparison. The Kaiyo Peated Mizunara oak bottling just arrived a couple of days before some Yamazaki 12 and Hakushu 12 became available. I was volunteered as tribute to be the poor guinea pig to conduct the research and find out how the three compared. For full disclosure: The Kaiyo and Hakushu are from this week's shipment. Kaiyo is a sample, as you can tell from the bottle in the photo. The Yamazaki is a bottle I've owned for a couple of years and has been open but fairly full since the day I bought it. Here are my rather unstructured notes with a more formal summary after:


Nosing - Kaiyo Peated Mizunara vs. Yamazaki 12 vs. Hakushu 12

Kaiyo - Fruitiest by far. Tropical, salty. Second nosing: very peaty, which didn't really show up as much the first time around.

Yamazaki - Surprisingly green toned, like a sour apple Jolly Rancher, very vanilla-laden. Even more intense vanilla and riper melon notes on the second pass.

Hakushu - Shows the most cereal notes, also verdant and green. Second nosing: cool and minty, very pretty earthiness. Like fresh, moist peat and forest floor.

Palate

Kaiyo - Green apples, salted caramel, taffy, cereal, and very tropical, coconut/honey/pineapple. Sweeter still — not vanilla sweetness, but, like, brown sugar sweetness.

Yamazaki - Feels softer, but lively. Less peaty by far. Very fresh and cool. Second time around: more briny, more fruit, still lighter in body, but doesn't feel thin at all. Supremely elegant. More fruit and a little tropical coconut as well. Constantly changing — hard to pin down.

Hakushu - Very sweet - more peat than Yamazaki, less than Kaiyo. Extremely balanced. Second time around: very luscious. Spicier wood notes come through — more pepper and a touch of cinnamon. Very malty. Really rich and easy-going smoke. Just enough to liven everything up, but not overpowering smoke.

Finishes

Kaiyo - clean and medium+ length. Salt, delicate fruit, wafting campfire smoke.

Yamazaki - Most grain notes on the finish, sweet malt really comes through, also big pop of vanilla, fresh fruit, bit more coconut, complex finish.

Hakushu - Longer grain tones, like a brown sugar/maple syrup oatmeal.  Very lengthy. Subtle smoke helps persist. Earth/tea.

Summary - These are all damn good whiskies.




Kaiyo The Peated Mizunara Oak Japanese Whiskey (750ml) $109.99
This is the fruitiest and peatiest. A very cool combination. I gather the intense fruit comes predominently from the use of Mizunara oak. NB: I don't have extensive experience with most Mizunara oak bottlings due to the outrageous price tag generally associated with the world's most expensive casks. If you love a fruity, peaty whisky then this one is for you. It's got a little bit of everything. Sea spray, tropical fruit galore, sweetness, round body, and a good finish that showcases the heavier peated notes really well without overpowering the fruit and spice. Add to all of that the fact that the Kaiyo has been finished at sea with a 3-4 month voyage, exposing it to extremes in heat and moisture, and you have yourself one incredible bottle of whisky.

Yamazaki 12 Year Old Japanese Single Malt Whiskey (750ml) $99.99
The most delicate and elegant of the three. Also the most vanilla sweetness. Fruitiness is perfectly balanced throughout. This has tremendous complexity and, while the upfront character is really clear, there are tons of layers to delve into. There is no doubt why this classic is Japan's most popular whisky and beloved around the world.

Hakushu 12 Year Old Japanese Single Malt Whiksey (750ml) $99.99
Rich and full bodied, this is a great combo of sweet and savory herbs like mint and tea to go with malt sweetness and a very gentle but persistent smokiness. This is very elegant and feels the coolest (temperature, not hip, although it is also very hip). Lots of subtle complexity here too. Earth tones drive everything on this one. Depending on my mood it could unseat the Yamazaki in my book.

While it looks like the Yamazaki sold out almost immediately, there are Hakushu and Kaiyo bottles still available at the time of this posting. If you're a fan of Japanese whiskey, now is the time to add a bottle or two of each of these to your collection. Enjoy!

 

- Andrew Whiteley