Some New Bottles of Note

I have been so busy lately that a few new arrivals have fallen by the wayside due to the popularity of other items like Kilchoman and Hirsch.  A few weeks back marked the beginning of Comandon Single Barrel Cognac here at K&L, with three different barrels available that we picked out in France last January.  In order to offer enthusiasts a taste of each particular region we chose one cask from Borderies, one from Petit Champagne, and one from Grand Champagne – each highlighting the particular characteristics of these three appellations.  All three are much more traditional than the more rustic and country-style brandies we selected with Charles Neal, showcasing grace and soft elegance rather than power or eccentricity.  I like the Borderies best personally, but all three have merit.

Comandon XO Borderies 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #524 Cask Strength Cognac $119.99 - Comandon's Cask Strength Borderies is bottled at a perfect 18 years old. It is definitely the most unique and unusual of the three casks from the exceptional Comandon line of Single Barrel Full Strength Cognac. Borderies is one of my favorite regions, though it is usually the least familiar for many amateurs and professionals alike. Often touted for its distinct floral characters (usually violets and iris), these characteristics are not universal. While this brandy does exhibit a distinct floral component, I did not get any violet soapy notes, but instead powerful blooming honeysuckle, plus a fabulous nutty-savory character and a soft, smooth finish. Borderies is best between 15-20 years old, and I don't think this brandy could get any better. This is definitely the one to taste for the adventurous, but will ring out perfectly for a true Borderies lover. Its overt appeal also probably makes this the easiest drinking of the three Comandon casks we bought. At this price, I can only assume that we'll all be very sad when there's nothing left. (David Girard, K&L Spirits buyer)

Comandon XO Petite Champagne 30 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #256 Cask Strength Cognac $139.99 - Each of Cognac's regions has an equal potential for quality, a distinction most producers would like you to ignore. Cognac regionality does not come from the quality of the distillate, but in its potential to age. While Grande Champagne is always touted as the finest Cognac has to offer, boasting the region's chalkiest soils, those eau-de-vie are best only after 35+ years of aging, so we often see subpar Grande Champagne Cognac sold before it's ready to drink. The resulting eau-de-vie must be adulterated with oak extract, sugar and caramel to make it palatable. In Petit Champagne, where the chalk is somewhat less prevalent, the eau-de-vie tends to reach maturity between 20-30 years. Because the marketing experts have nearly forgotten about the other regions of France's most prestigious brandy appellation, you could be one of the lucky few to experience the exquisite complexity of the finest fully matured Petite Champagne Cognac. Dense and richly fruity, even with nearly 30 years in cask, this brandy has incredible freshness and lift. At this price, the Petite Champagne will definitely be in short supply. (David Girard, K&L Spirits buyer)

Comandon XO Grande Champagne 40 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel # 176 Cask Strength Cognac 750ml $169.99 - This phenomenal cask was selected from deep within the sacred paradis at the Tessendier family cellars and represents one of the most exciting finds during our trip to Cognac. While it comes from one of Cognac's negociants, as opposed to the grower/producers we generally focus on, this series of single barrel bottlings will be a compelling statement about the direction of Cognac in the coming years. In Cognac, four brands are responsible for 90% of all sales, leaving very little room for independents brands to operate and squeezing potential grower/producers to near extinction. Sometimes to find the very best products available, we need to maneuver within this framework. While the business is structured differently than our other exclusive selections, the quality is second to none. Comandon's resurrection over the last few years has been meteoric. Named "Best Cognac" at the 2010 SF World Spirits Competition, this single barrel selection from the small Comandon stocks is bottled at strength without reduction. Its beautiful art nouveau label is totally unique. Elegance and refinement remain paramount, while the intensity at full strength adds unparalleled depth. At 40-years-old, this brandy truly epitomizes the potential of Grande Champagne Cognac, allowing to taste why Grande Champagne is so coveted. (David Girard, K&L Spirits buyer)

Bruichladdich asked us to help them move some of their older, no-longer-available, limited-edition bottles that they had stuck in distribution limbo.  We've got great pricing so grab 'em while they're hot!

1984 Bruichladdich Golder Still Islay Single Malt Whisky 750ml (Elsewhere $275) $215.99 - An amazing vintage Bruichladdich, brimming with golden fruits, creamy, rich vanilla, and soft, oily textures, all at cask strength proof. Classic in everyway. We've already sold most of this just via the Whisky Insider email list.

Bruichladdich Legacy Collection Series VI 34 Year Old Single Malt Whisky 750ml (Elsewhere $500) $399.99 - 94 Points from the Malt Advocate - "The sixth and last bottling from the Legacy series. Legacy 6 is a marriage of six casks from 1965, 1970, and 1972. Soft and mellow on the nose and palate, with unbelievably restrained oak for such a mature whisky. Delicious notes of coconut, soothing vanilla, caramel custard, and banana cream, peppered with spice notes of cinnamon, mint, and teaberry that emerge on a soft finish that fades out gently. (Vol. 17, #1).  Only 1704 bottles of this classic 34 year old elixer were produced. A true standout among the classy and elegant whiskies we have ever carried, this all-bourbon-cask-aged malt has the complexity on the nose that only older and distinguished drams can offer: soft honey, spices, oil and wax, grains, cereal, and more - all swirling in and out of your senses. The palate shows all of these profiles and more with touches of citrus and white fruits. Delicate, dainty, and refined, this bottle belongs on the shelf of the most serious of serious collectors. A true masterpiece.

...and then there's my new favorite whisky!  The Bank Note from A.D. Rattray!

Bank Note Blended Scotch Whisky 1L $19.99 - My friends the Morrisons over at A.D. Rattray have really outdone themselves with this, their fantastic Bank Note Blended Scotch for $19.99 a liter!!!!! Now, granted, some of the high-browed single malt drinkers out there might not even flinch about something like this, but trust me, anyone interested in pouring a whisky on the rocks is going to have a new house bottle - forever. At this price and for whisky this drinkable, I can't see anyone coming close to touching the Bank Note. The sherry influence is there, soft vanilla and all that, and the grain comes clean on the finish like any other blend. However, with 40% actual single malt inside each bottle, the supple richness is much more lengthy than say Walker Black or any other comparable blend. I'm buying loads of this. If the public won't touch it, believe me, K&L staff members will be happy to have it all for themselves. 

-David Driscoll


2012 K&L Single Malt Pre-Arrivals Coming Soon

That list of K&L exclusive whiskies that's been sitting on the right-hand margin of this blog for almost a year is coming to an end.  The original title was "K&L whiskies available for pre-order" until they actually came into stock and became just plain available.  Every week we had people logging in and checking to see if we had added anything new to the selection, thrilled to see which casks would be released next, how much they would cost, and what our notes had to say.  I'm happy to say that we're almost ready to begin that exciting time once again.

After the Camut 15 Year Old Calvados hits next week it will pretty much mark the end of our French import campaign (just the 1979 Esteve Cognac remaining thereafter) and we'll begin the annual march toward Fall arrivals. With the exception of the Faultline Littlemill 21 year and the Springbank 14 year, our whiskies from 2011 are nearly gone.  In Redwood City we're already clear of the Glendronach, Cragganmore. and Girvan with dwindling stocks of Bowmore, Springbank 13, and Caol Ila 30.  Pretty soon we'll be completely sold through, which means we bought exactly the right amount - just enough to last until next year's supply comes in.

Why do we sell the whiskies on pre-order and why should you consider buying them untasted and unseen?  We've put a lot of thought into this process and we knew that we wanted to offer blog readers, email insiders, and the general internet whisky enthusiast the opportunity to get a discount without having to join a club.  We did have an actual club briefly, but it was too much of a pain to manage properly and it excluded people who didn't drink fast enough for their monthly quota.  We decided that anyone who supported our direct import whisky program should have the opportunity for more attractive pricing, so we concluded that offering discounts for pre-orders was the way to go.  Therefore, ordering in advance not only secures you a bottle (remember, 2010's Clynelish 27 alongside last year's Ladyburn and Brora sold out completely on pre-order), it offers anywhere from $10 to $30 off in the process.  Granted, you have to put your faith in our judgement, but really you have to do that whether the bottles are physically here or not anyway.

I'd start looking for the first few selections by the end of next week.  I'll be clearing out the margin within the next few days and replacing the title with "2012 K&L Single Malt Pre-Arrivals" very soon.  All in all we should have over twenty casks to choose from before we're finished and the first ones should start arriving in late September.  I have absolutely no doubt that this year's selection is going to smoke our previous one in terms of value, quality, and overall excitement.  Both David and I have been very keen on avoiding unnecessary purchases and sticking to our guns concerning pricing.  I expect complete customer satisfaction and I can't wait to get this thing going! Yeehaw!

-David Driscoll


Spirits Tastings Tomorrow!

Sorry for the absence over the past few days.  If you didn't notice, our system and website crashed over the weekend and I happened to be playing manager on Sunday and Monday (normally my two days off).  It was not fun trying to write receipts with pen and paper, run all over the store to get pricing on each bottle, and total it up with a calculator. 

Then today was staff education day and I was on the books, so I had to do four hours of spirits training for both locations up north. 

I've been swamped.

Anyway, tomorrow's tastings are Fidencio Mezcal in San Francisco with Todd Smith (amazing spirits!) and a  sampling of 916 Tequila and 1792 Ridgemont Bourbon in Redwood City with SWS.  Both tastings start at 5PM and last until 6:30.  See you there!

-David Driscoll


Blowing Up the Bubble

I've had some interesting conversations with various whisky industry folk over the past week.  None more interesting than those concerning the price of whisky.  I need to do some more analysis and serious thinking before extrapolating further on this topic, but I thought it would be interesting to leave you all with this thought in the meantime:

We all know how scarce and how sought after Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon is.  Nevertheless, we all know how much they cost (we've generally sold the 15 year for around $70).  At K&L, we know we could put these bottles on our auction site, or charge double that price and make a lot more profit than we currently do.  We choose not to because, as a company, we're more concerned with helping our customers than selling to the highest bidder.  We believe that the goodwill we sustain by selling products for an honest price results in more business down the line.

Now apply this analogy to the whisky producers in Scotland, except this time K&L is the customer.  The American whisky market is an afterthought compared to the other thriving booze regions of the world.  It takes more work to sell us whisky (bottles have to be changed to 750ml from 700ml) and we might not pay as much as businesses in China or Taiwan.  I'm having trouble understanding why producers would sell us a cask when someone else might pay double what we're offering, plus provide an easier path to that actual sale.  My question is: is there any advantage to maintaining business relationships with the American retailers when double or even triple the profit can be made elsewhere?

So far this scenario hasn't been too big of a problem, but it has impacted a few of our deals.  I want to also state clearly that I'm not implying anything about the ethics of any producer either, I'm just pondering out loud here.  If I had a car to sell for $5000 and someone offered me $10,000 for it, I'd probably take the $10,000.  It's not really a question of ethics, as maybe it is with the Van Winkle analogy, but rather a question of actual worth.  Is that three bedroom house in Modesto actually worth $600,000?  I'm hoping that, as a planet, we don't start overpricing our whisky because it could take a long time for the industry to pay off that mortgage.

-David Driscoll


Things Are Simple, Except When They're Not

I was having dinner with my parents Wednesday night and we were talking about wine (big surprise), when my dad said, "There are only two things you need to know about wine – you either like it or you don't."  He was quoting someone else he had heard on the radio, not necessarily expounding on his own belief, but generally if you're neither working in the wine industry nor a serious student of the game that simple philosophy holds true.  The reason we're supposed to be drinking is because the thing we're actually imbibing tastes good or makes us happy.  There are times when I'll go off on a tangent about how we're all over-analyzing this whole booze craze and we need to get back to just drinking the damn stuff (actually, I think every booze writer at some point has written that exact same article).  However, there are other moments when I'll preach education and analysis to further our enjoyment of alcohol, believing that knowing something about whisky actually makes it taste better.  So which is it?  You can't have it both ways, can you?  The truth is it's both.  Like everything good in life, drinking requires balance.  You shouldn't drink too much, but you shouldn't not drink either (at least in my opinion!).  You shouldn't eat too much, but you have to eat something.  You shouldn't work too much, but you can't be a lazy sack of shit either.

If I pour someone a glass of peated whisky and they say, "Whoa....I'm not sure if I like that," is that really the end of the conversation?  What if I were to continue on with a brief explanation of why the distillers on Islay used peat, about how there are no trees on the island therefore no wood to burn the malting fires, and that this distinct flavor is a tradition that originated out of necessity – would that make things more interesting?  Usually it helps to know about why something tastes the way it does.  I wouldn't pick up a grasshopper off the ground and eat it, but I would be open to eating a chapulin taco in Oaxaca because it's a regional speciality of Mexico.  I might not like it, but I would enjoy the experience if it were put into proper context.

I think people forget that an experience can still be enjoyable even if it's something we don't want to repeat.  For me personally, life is about exploration and appreciation.  I never buy the same bottle of wine or whisky twice because my satisfaction in drinking comes from new and exciting adventures.  I'm more than happy to drink a bottle of wine I don't like if it at least helps me understand something about wine overall.  For some people, however, getting a bottle of wine or whisky they don't like is the worst thing possible and I understand that.  For some people, drinking is just something you do after work for fun (or maybe during work – who am I to judge?).  In my opinion, however, we should have some drinking experiences where we let loose and throw caution to the wind.  To balance those out we should sometimes pay attention to different styles of wine and whisky to help us further appreciate what it is we like or don't like about those particular selections. 

Balance. Yin and Yang. Sometimes fun, sometimes educational. In my opinion, those are the only two things you need to know about wine.

-David Driscoll