Season's Greetings & Thanks

I almost thought about changing the headline of the previous post to "Jefferson's 18 Year Old ISN'T Here!" after the way it flew out of here yesterday.  Without a doubt, that is the fastest we have ever sold a whiskey of that quantity.  300 bottles of $75 Bourbon went in 19 hours.  Amazing.  It's a testament to the quality of the booze, the reputation of the distillery, and the amount of people we are now reaching with our insider emails and blog.  We used to rely on the general K&L email database when we had large numbers of great product to sell, but it appears that our ranks of insiders have grown substantially and are just as rabid as we are about drinking good product. We love tracking down a thrilling new deal - not because it's lucrative, but rather because we're excited to drink it ourselves!

What has really inspired me personally this year is the number of people who really "got into" what we were doing here.  I remember talking with ownership at the end of 2010 and telling them, "I think we should go to Scotland next year."  It wasn't as easy to make the case at that time, but after the 2011 we've had, there are definitely many Scotland trips in our future.  We thought we were getting second-rate barrel samples from vendors and believed we could get better whisky by tracking down the samples ourselves.  It turns out we were right.  The whiskies we had access to in Scotland were on an entirely different level from the ones carried by distribution sales reps. The quality showed as soon as you, our customers, had the chance to taste them and momentum has been building ever since. The lessons we learned on that trip have proved invaluable.

The amount of positive emails, phone calls, and messages we've received as a result has been simply overwhelming.  It seems that people really enjoy shopping with us for their whisky needs and that's an incredible feeling.  It's one thing to supply people with what they already want, it's an entirely different thing to provide them with something new and exciting - something different that inspires them to branch out and become more adventurous.  You would think that strong and lasting relationships would transpire between a doctor and his patients, or some other form of interaction based on trust and the ability to help someone in need - people that actually make a difference.  However, I've never experienced the kind of general goodwill, not even as a teacher, as I have from the people who shop at K&L.  I have become friends with so many of the faces I see on a weekly basis and have struck up some strong penpal relations with customers via email. People baked me cookies and brought me gifts for Christmas this year!  We're just selling booze here! :)

As you would likely expect we're going to have a record December for spirits at K&L.  The casks have been a big hit and the reviews have been kind.  I'm also quite proud that we've been able to do it the grassroots way.  We've had a ton of support from local whisky bloggers (you know who you are and we thank you deeply) who have almost always had great things to say about the whiskies.  We never paid for one piece of advertising.  We never sent samples to any reviewer.  Our casks were never written up in any major publication (surprisingly enough our Cognac was, however).  It's all from local, home-grown support and that means more to us than anything.  Even though the holidays in the retail business are absolute torture, it's still such a great gift to know that many of you are supporting us through it.  There's no fickle, points-related, media-inspired trend going on at K&L.  It's a legitimate base of awesome people who like to drink. 

So what's ahead for 2012?  There should be a pretty big announcement from us shortly after New Year's Day, as well as a huge expansion into the distilled spirits of France.  Another Scotland trip is slated for the Spring and we'll try to build on what we've already accomplished so far this year.  Right now, I'm just trying to make it through the next three days without collapsing.  Things are getting tense, emotions are running high, patience is wearing thin, and our energy supply is almost out.  However, what I want to say before we all go into holiday hibernation is - thank you.  Thanks to everyone who reads the blog.  Thanks to everyone who bought the casks.  Thanks to all of you who come every Wednesday to taste.  Thanks to all of you who talk about us to your friends. 

We really, truly, deeply, honestly appreciate all the support.

-David Driscoll


Jefferson's K&L 18 Year Old Bourbon Is Here!

Just a quick notice that the Jefferson’s 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Bourbon is here!  It’s $74.99, it is ultra delicious, and it’s not going to last long.

There will be an email going out to the big list on Thursday, but I think I might be telling the owners to cancel it.  I have a feeling that this message to you whiskey insiders will be enough.  The staff is going to buy half of it because it’s the last chance at a piece of whiskey history.  For the price, there is not a better, more accessible, more delicious, and more rare Bourbon we carry.

If you’re in the dark as to why this whiskey is so special, remember that this is 18 year old Stitzel Weller Bourbon – the same distillery that closed in 1991 and was previously run by the Van Winkle family.  This is the same whiskey that goes into Pappy Van Winkle 20 and 23 year.  It’s also the absolute last of what Jefferson’s has.  There will no longer be any Jefferson’s Presidential Bourbon – not for us, not for any other store.  It’s gone.  The only SW stocks that we still know of are either with the Willett family (see the Willett 20 year for $170) or the Van Winkle family, i.e. the Pappy Van Winkle whiskies.  Preston Van Winkle was open enough to tell me recently that he doesn’t see their stocks lasting beyond the next 3-4 years.  Basically, the point is – Stitzel Weller whiskey is quickly on its way to extinction. 

Sooooooooo……..if you want to get a bottle, our Jefferson’s represents the most price efficient option.  Grab one, grab five, grab whatever you need.  It is going to sell and it is going to sell fast.  If you missed out on the Pappy sweepstakes, this is your next best option.  I just re-tasted it and it’s as fantastic as any other batch we’ve carried in the past.

Also finally in stock – the Hooker’s House Sonoma Style Bourbon for $35.99.  This is another hot ticket item.  If you’re making Manhattans for the holidays, it’s hard to imagine a better whiskey to make them with.  The cherry fruit from the Pinot Noir barrel aging is simply lovely.  I really think it’s going to give Black Maple Hill a run for the money once people start tasting it. 

That’s it for now.  Gotta run back to the sales floor.  Happy Holidays to all of you!  Stay sane out there on the road and in the stores.

-David Driscoll


2011 K&L Awards - Producer/Distillery of the Year

David Driscoll picks: Berry Bros & Rudd - Really the model of what I want K&L to be for the U.S., BBR took their operation to a whole new level this year with hand-selected spirits.  They had the Nolet family distill them some gin and called it No. 3 (after the address of their London shop).  Too bad the Nolets didn't keep some for themselves, or at least make a Ketel One Gin, because it's simply the best gin around right now.  BBR also bought some extra Glenrothes to make the fantastic King's Ginger, as well as bottled six amazing rums by geographical region.  A big success in the boutique spirits world this year.

David Othenin-Girard picks: Springbank Distillery - The Springbank 10 tasted better than ever this year.  The single casks we purchased at the distillery are two of my favorite whiskies we've ever carried.  The 12 year cask strength and the three 14 year sherry casks released on a smaller scale were also fantastic.  Bottomline is this - Springbank consistantly pumps out fantastic single malts.  2011 was just another example of them doing what they do best, and doing it better than anyone else.

-David Driscoll & David Othenin-Girard


2011 K&L Awards - Whisk(e)y of the Year

True, we haven't yet posted the Single Malt of the Year award, however both of us picked single malts for our overall Whisk(e)y of the Year award.  By that logic, our single malt choices should also have been the below whiskies:

David Othenin-Girard picks: 1994 Glendronach 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Malt Whisky - I very much wanted to pick the 1998 Springbank Bourbon cask we imported as well, but the Glendronach was just too appealing.  Not just to me, but to everyone else too.  It's crazy to think we almost didn't visit the distillery.  We were trying to stick to producers we knew we wanted to buy from.  Neither of us imagined we'd ever be buying a gigantic sherry butt from Glendronach.  Now it's my favorite single malt of 2011.

David Driscoll picks: Glendronach 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky - The story is this: David OG and I needed to find somewhere to stay after a long drive to the Highlands.  Glendronach offered us their guesthouse.  We accepted, but said to ourselves, "Does that mean we have to stick around and taste all their whisky?"  We had important things to be doing and Glendronach was not high on our priority list.  When we arrived we found a bottle of the 12 year sitting in our room so we cracked it.  After our first glass we said, "Wow, that's actually pretty good."  After our second we said, "Jeez.  I really, really like that."  After our third we were really excited, "Maybe we can find an older cask like that?"  That's how we ended up with the 16 year above.  Meanwhile, we've been selling the 12 year to everyone who comes in looking for a great whisky.  For the price, can you really tell me there's anything higher in quality?

-David Driscoll


2011 K&L Awards - Best Rye?

David OG and I picked the Sazerac 18 year as our favorite rye of the year, so I'll start by saying that.  However, the Sazerac 18 is almost always the best rye every year, so I didn't feel like it needed a big picture and an explanation.  I have a bit of problem with this category right now.  Rye is in such a transitory state at the moment that it's really difficult to choose seriously when analyzing the best specimen of the year.  All of the great ryes that I tasted were super limited, relatively expensive, and almost impossible to find.  They were released at the end of the year or not even released at all.  I'm talking about bottles like Sazerac 18, Pappy Van Winkle 13, Anchor Hotalings 16, etc.  While these whiskies were far and above the best of the bunch, they don't really paint a picture about the year in rye.  They didn't carry the load, nor did they represent what most people were drinking. 

2011 was about LDI rye.  Templeton, Redemption, High West, Willett, Bulleit, etc.  It was also somewhat about sourcing some Canadian rye - Whistlepig, Masterson's, Jefferson's.  Sazerac and Rittenhouse did make brief appearances, but there was nothing stable or dependable in 2011 besides what I call filler product.  Everyone drank Bulleit because Rittenhouse wasn't there.  Should Bulleit be the rye of the year?  To me, that would be similar to having a lockout in the NBA, playing the season anyway with non-union scrubs, and still awarding a trophy to the best D-League team at the end of the year.  Sure, it's still basketball, but we all know who the best players really are.  With Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill, and Buffalo Trace all out of stock for most of the year, it was really about finding someone to take their place.

However, before I go too far in naming 2011's rye candidates second-rate, there were some new prospects that showed serious potential.  Davorin Kuchan's Old World Spirits released a beautiful 1 year old 100% rye that didn't go over board with small barrique aging and still had fantastic flavor.  It was a fantastic debut and we all look forward to watching him master the process.  Same goes for 1512 Spirits and their newly released 100% rye, rapidly matured for extra richness.  While these ryes definitely made an impact, they're of an entirely different breed than the standard bottles we know so well.  Rye as we've come to know so far is much like bourbon - namely because there's still a fair amount of corn in the mashbill to add sweetness.  Rye in the modern age has been completely devoid of corn.  The LDI ryes are all 95% rye with 5% barley.  The micro-distillers like Anchor have been working with 100% rye mashbill.  The flavors are spicier, more peppery, and the palate far less rich.

Tasting something like Sazerac 18 next to Davorin's Gold Run Rye is much like drinking Buffalo Trace next to Leopold's American Whiskey.  Sure, they're both whiskies, but they're not really going for the same flavor profile.  It's tough to pick a winner when that's the case.  It's kind of like combining the Golden Globes Comedy and Drama awards into one category and then picking the best actors.  Oh wait, that's the Academy Awards.  No wonder they're meaningless now.

-David Driscoll