Scotland 2013 - Day 2- Morning Musings

I slept through the night for the first time ever after arriving abroad on one of our many voyages. I can't tell you what a relief that is. There have been trips where I've neither slept, nor gone to the bathroom for days before settling in. Those were rough trips. This one is beginning quite wonderfully!

I thought about going for a run but I can actually hear the cold, let alone feel it. That wind sounds deadly. Nevertheless, I'm going to need my strength. We've got a full day today. Gotta rush over to Glenfarclas and see George Grant. Hopefully we can find something younger to compliment our 1970 and 1979 barrels respectively. From there we need to hit Benriach and tour the facility. We've never been there before, so we decided to meet the boys there rather than our usual stop at Glendronach. They'll have samples pulled from both distilleries to taste when we arrive. After that we're headed to Gordon & MacPhail to see if a once prosperous relationship can be revived. I've noticed a big step up in quality with their expressions over the last six months, so there might be something fun in those warehouses. Once we're done in Elgin we're headed even further north to Glenmorangie where we'll be having dinner with some of the upper brass.

A few things to think about:

The days of affordable casks from the names you know are over. You're gonna have to start thinking outside the box when it comes to value. It's not like we didn't know this already (we've been saying it for over a year), but our run through the Signatory warehouse confirmed it after we saw what some of these things would cost (Des said he had to trade four casks of Longmorn to acquire one cask of Laphroaig. I said I'd take the four Longmorn anyday). Chieftain's told us not to even bother coming because there's nothing they're willing to part with. That's a huge 180 considering how much business we've done with them over the last few years. Think of it like a house. You'd rather keep that house in Burlingame than sell it for $600,000 because you could probably get a million, easily. "But a million dollars is ridiculous for that house!" Tough shit. Go find somewhere else to live then.

The problem with being a retailer in this situation is that we're basically acting as brokers on behalf of our customers, who trust us with not jacking up the price further. Yet, we're working with sellers that are catering to the world market. Why sell to us if a guy in India will pay twice as much? The problem is that we're dealing with a Bay Area real estate market here. While other markets may have noticed a lull in real estate sales, that's not what's going on around us. You're gonna have to shell out if you want to live in San Francisco (i.e. drink single cask Macallan, Laphroaig, or Highland Park). Meanwhile, you can get a nice condo in the outer East Bay for much less (i.e. Miltonduff, Glenburgie, Jura), but still live quite lavishly. We're going to buy property in a number of locations, obviously, but I think there's going to be some sticker shock (for both for us and you). Hopefully, we can find something off the beaten path.

Bottling at 46% is another option. We can reduce the price of any given bottle by lowering the proof, obviously. In some cases this can be the way to go. We proofed down the 10 year old Longmorn and the 10 year old Faultine selections from last year in order to keep them under $60 a bottle. They both taste better with water anyway, so what's the point of charging more? I think the amount of people who actually enjoy cask strength or higher proof whisky is grossly overestimated as is, mainly because most people I talk to don't add water to their whisky when they drink it (they think that's a bad idea). If you ask that question to an internet message board, you'll get an overwhelming majority in favor of full proof. However, those guys represent 2% of our market. Again, we need options for a variety of different drinkers, so a few selections at 46% might be the way to go. There was an outstanding 15 year old sherry butt of Glenlivet at the Signatory warehouse that might do very well at 46%. Des told us: "Either you take it or it's going to Taiwan."

Apparently the Taiwanese market just loves their sherry.

-David Driscoll


Scotland 2013 - Day 1 - Frostbite

We had heard that the weather in Scotland had been quite cold as of late. We had heard about the springtime snow that seemed to appear from out of nowhere. However, while we both packed our thickest, warmest winter clothes into our now-heavy suitcases, I wasn't quite ready for the view I saw out of the airplane window while landing in Edinburgh. This wasn't a bit of springtime snow. This was a freakin' winter wonderland!

Since we didn't have any business with Chieftain's this year (we've already purchased a 22 year old Mortlach first-fill sherry that should arrive around late April), we immediately hopped in the rental car (which we upgraded to a 4WD SUV) and sped north for an hour and a half to Pitlochry. Our favorite warehouse in all of Scotland would be first up this time around. The playground of the whisky gods, the heavenly destination of sweet ancient nectar, the blessed site of so many amazing casks: Signatory's warehouses at Edradour Distillery.

Upon arrival we met with our favorite cask hunter Des McCagherty for a short sitdown chat before making our way into the dungeon. He had a list of barrels he thought we might be interested in, but first why not taste the open bottles available in the shop? Des always likes to talk shop first. How's your business? How's the whisky moving out there in CA? For those who haven't met Des, he's very much like Liam Neeson from the Taken movies. Seeing that I had just watched Taken 2 on the plane, I felt like I was merely continuing where the film had left off. Except instead of manuerving my way through the streets of Istanbul on the run from terrorists, I was meandering through the many barrels of Signatory trying to keep up with all of the samples being pulled. Signatory has some great grain whiskies on site as you can see from the bottles above. We definitely wanted to add some of those to the list.

Signatory has always had a solid amount of very mature and very rare stock. However, replaceing those barrels once they've been sold has been nearly impossible according to Des. Whisky is so hot right now that there's little motivation for cask owners to sell unless they're getting top dollar for their product. He mentioned that Signatory's business with China and Taiwan is through the roof, while Europe continues to be a big player for their barrels. Des said that if India ever lifted the import tax on single malt and blended whisky, he believes that country could drink Scotland dry on its own. For that reason there's no reason for anything at Signatory to move unless the price is right. This was a completely understandable point, but it was also a bit disconcerting. If we did find something we liked, how much was it going to cost us?

See this room? There's another room just like it behind the red door. And in that room there's another red door with another room behind that! All kinds of treasures lurk within these chambers, but we couldn't waste time on the Dallas Dhu, Ladyburn, or Glenugie casks resting quietly within them. We know what these whiskies are going to cost in today's market. We needed overachieving malts that outperformed their reputation. Des knew all the right whiskies and exactly where to find them.

We found a ton of great whiskies today at Signatory that should be within our wheelhouse. We're on the hunt for value this year and you're not going to find value with a Laphroaig cask. Nevertheless, we did taste a 1997 sample that knocked our socks off from a refill sherry butt. Other standouts included a bourbon cask of 1989 Isle of Jura with aromas of toffee and cask frosting, a 1979 Mosstowie that was light and fragrant with fruity highlights. a 1995 Miltonduff with lots of rich Bourbon cask spice, a 1995 Glenburgie that did the same thing as the Miltonduff but with more wood, and a 1995 Imperial with enough round, candied fruit to make me think of Bladnoch. A 1991 Cambus grain whisky is also in play.

There were plenty of great options on the table today.

As we came out of the distillery, fresh snow had already blanketed the grounds. David and I bid Des adieu and headed back into town for dinner. We decided to walk to our meal, but we didn't realize how cold it was actually getting. I'm back in my hotel bed now trying to thaw myself out from the stroll back home.

Tomorrow we're off to Speyside and the Highlands. I'm nodding off while I'm typing this, so that means it's probably time to hit the hay.

See you tomorrow!

-David Driscoll


Travel Itinerary

I'm headed to the airport in a few minutes where I will board a British Airways jet headed towards London. I will get some dinner. Maybe watch a movie or two. Try to sleep for a few hours. Then meet David OG in the Heathrow terminal at around 11 AM Thursday morning (4 AM PST). We'll grab a quick sandwich from Pret a Manger, have a shot of espresso, then board the plane to Edinburgh. Upon landing in Scotland we'll grab our bags, get our rental car, then hit the road north towards Pitlochry. There will be no time to get our bearings in Edinburgh. We've got no business in town this year. We'll push on, without a full night's sleep giving us the energy we need, and pull into Edradour distillery in the early evening where we'll meet with Des at the Signatory warehouse. After a few hours of tasting, what I'm sure will be a nice dinner, we'll do our best to keep our eyes open, fighting the urge to sleep right there on the table, and head to our hotel where we'll finally get a chance to get some Z's. 

I think this year's trip might just break us. 

We'll cruise through the Highlands over the weekend. Head back down to Glasgow on Monday. Take the ferry out to Arran mid-week. Hit the Lowlands for a few appointments. Then get back to Edinburgh where we'll catch a flight south to Paris, changing there for Bordeaux. Charles Neal will meet us at the airport and we'll head over to Cognac straight off. After a day of appointments we'll move down to Armagnac for Easter, then back north to Normandy for some Calvados hunting. After that we're on to Paris for the day, then on a train to London where we'll meet up with John Glaser and Compass Box, along with a few other bottlers. 

Finally, after more than two weeks of sleeping in a different place every night, we'll get back on the plane to California.

Stay tuned. We'll be posting as frequently as possible.

-David Driscoll


K&L Spirits Journal Podcast #25 - Dr. Bill Lumsden

I received an email from Dr. Bill Lumsden yesterday that contained two important pieces of information.

1) He was very sorry that he would not be around for our visit to Glenmorangie this weekend.

2) He had finally opened that bottle of 2001 Lanessan I sold him last year and it was delicious.

I said that, since we won't see one another, we should talk on the phone instead. He said that sounded fine. I said we should record it, too. He said sure. I said we should do it right now. He said how about tomorrow? I said OK.

Listen as the man behind Glenmorangie and Ardbeg talks shop on the new Ealanta, upcoming releases for both distilleries, and the pressure of constantly trying to outdo last year's whisky.

You can download this episode of the podcast here, or by visiting our page on iTunes. You can also listen via our embedded player above. All previous episodes are archived on iTunes as well as the link on the right-hand margin of this page.

-David Driscoll


Karuizawa Sold Out

I wasn't at work yesterday, so I didn't watch the numbers tick by as more and more customers responded to our big email, but I knew the Karuizawa bottles must have sold out around 5 PM because that's when the "waitlist" questions began pounding my inbox.

When an item sells out at K&L, the "add to cart" option is replaced with "add to waitlist." The waitlist is actually a very useful thing because it will notify you via email when the product you're looking for comes back into stock. It does not, however, reserve or guarantee you a bottle. In the case of the Karuizawa, these won't be coming back into stock because we only had limited amounts to sell, so the waitlist isn't going to be of much help. I had to break that news to a number of customers who thought by adding to the waitlist they had reserved their bottle, but that was not what had happened.

If you didn't get a bottle of Karuizawa there is still a chance. We don't put every bottle of booze on sale via pre-arrival just in case something happens – a bottle breaks, something is mis-sold, or a mistake is made. We need back-ups in case this happens. However, I won't know if there are any extra bottles until we're all done processing pre-orders which may be late August. If you still want one then please check back with us at that time.

What a crazy day yesterday was! I'm sorry I was at home missing it!

-David Driscoll

UPDATE: I just checked and saw that there are a number of CC declines in the queue, so the waitlist may inform you of a few bottles that go back into stock as a result. Stay vigilant!