Brora & Clynelish Casks On The Water

Happy New Year!

What an incredible year we’ve had together!  Truly a whirlwind year here at K&L (the biggest ever for K&L’s Spirits Department) and we have all of you to thank for our making it so special.  While we count 2011 as a major success, we’re committed to making 2012 even better.  To get the year started right, David and I have been working non-stop to bring you something totally unique and incredibly special.  We’ve been talking about our BIG announcement for quite a while and so here it is.  Our good nature and irresistible charm have leant us an opportunity that would have, perhaps, never arose had we not been to Scotland in the Spring of 2011.  This opportunity has now become your good fortune as you’ll be the first (and perhaps only) people to acquire our single barrel version of one of the world’s rarest and most sought-after single malts.  From 1969 until 1983, the Old Clynelish Distillery (briefly called Clynelish "B" before the name was changed to Brora) produced some of the finest peated whisky to ever come out of Scotland.  In 1967, Distillers Company Limited (the entity that would eventually be called Diageo) decided to build a second and much more modern distillery on the site of the Old Clynelish distillery to capitalize on the good name of one of its most popular Single Malts. 

During the summer of ’68 in the far flung town of Brora, one legendary distillery closed and a modern more efficient distillery opened with little consequence or fanfare.  Luckily for us, an unprecedented drought on Islay forced DCL to consider producing a heavily peated malt on the mainland to keep up with the incredible demand for Johnnie Walker.  The newly mothballed Clynelish distillery was reopened and over the next 15 years produced whisky of incredible quality and varying peat levels.  We are now the beneficiaries of this unseasonable dryness.  That’s right, 30 year old Brora, from a single Sherry Butt, bottled at Cask Strength.  I’ve seen the Diageo bottling running upwards of $400, so right now this is a total steal.  For good measure we’ve also purchased a fabulous and mature Clynelish bottled again at Strength from a Sherry Butt as well.  Clynelish is located just below the Brora distillery and also has a track record of producing extremely high quality Single Malt.  The stills were meticulously replicated from the original Clynelish distillery and while production is in full swing, only one official version is available in the US. This is a zero peat version of the “Classic Malt” distillery that complements its older brother perfectly.  No specific ETA on these, but they should be landing in mid March.

Brora 30 Year Old Chieftain's K&L Selection Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($249.99) Pre-Order

Your eyes do not deceive you!  Brora stocks have dwindled down to near extinction.  Considered one of the best overall single malts by almost every reputable expert in the business, the waxy, oily, sometimes peaty character of the whisky has become the most difficult style to reproduce effectively.  The newer Clynelish malts have come close, but nothing has the ethereal complexity of Brora.  Our 30 year old selection was aged in sherry barrel for a softer, richer palate that brims with saline flavors, resin, supple viscosity, and an earthy sweetness, with a finish that lingers for minutes.  Even more exciting is the rumor that Diageo will not release another Brora until 2020, when their stocks hit 40 years old.  This may be the last chance to get any Brora for a reasonable price, let alone a fantastic cask like this one.  These will sell out on pre-order so make sure you secure one quickly!

Clynelish 21 Year Old Chieftain's K&L Selection Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($114.99) Pre-Order

While many single malts are blends of different types of barrels, some are known to be more sherried than others. Macallan for example is widely enjoyed for its Oloroso sherry character, while something like Ardbeg is decidedly less rich. That being said, it's not that Ardbeg doesn't use sherry-aged whisky in its single malt, it's just that there are far fewer barrels in their recipe. Clynelish, perhaps the most respected single malt in the world by whisky insiders, is a whisky renowned for its light, fruity, Highland character. However, what would happen if one of the few sherry-aged Clynelish barrels were isolated from the recipe and bottled as a single cask selection? The answer is here at K&L. An absolutely stellar, 21 year old sherry cask of Clynelish was sitting right next to our Brora cask at the Chieftain's warehouse so we pulled the trigger. The heather now mingles with raisined fruit, the citrus fruit now turns candied, the wax turns into dripping oil. The complexity of this whisky is simply astounding and collectors everywhere should rejoice at the price. Clynelish is easily on my top five distillery short list and this is one of the best and most unique I've tasted. A single cask of this quality from Clynelish at full proof should easily retail for $150 or more. Grab this one while it lasts.

-David Othenin-Girard


California Craft Spirits on NPR

This morning on NPR's The California Report with Rachel Myrow there was a short little segment about California produced spirits and the possibility of drinking only locally produced booze.  I get a little clip in there as does my buddy Thad Vogler over at Bar Agricole.  Rachel and I talked for about twenty minutes and I had fun playing both sides of the argument - the pro-craft movement side and the price-comes-first point of view.  Apparently, they wanted to capitalize on that Devil's advocate POV because I sound a little aprehensive!  In any case, she did a little blog post about it as well.  See what you think.

-David Driscoll


Spirits Tasting in 2012

Our fantastic and, most importantly, free spirits tastings will continue on into 2012 with the following schedule.  We'll take another week off after the new year begins, but we'll zoom back up to full throttle beginning on the 11th.  Here's a quick peak at what we have on tap in our Northern California locations:

January 11th

SF – ArteNOM Tequila with Jake Lustig

RWC – TBA (likely to be El Dorado Rums with Lou Bock) 

January 18th

SF – Glendronach Single Malts with David Nava

RWC – ArteNOM tequila with Jake Lustig

January 25th

SF – TBA (likely to be Tempus Fugit Liqueurs)

RWC – Glendronach Single Malts with David Nava

February 1st

SF – Four Roses Bourbon with Kurt Charles

RWC – Lagavulin Single Malts with Steve Beal

February 8th

SF – Lagavulin Single Malts with Steve Beal

RWC – Four Roses Bourbon with Kurt Charles

-David Driscoll


Bruichladdich K&L Cask Update

In case some of you have super-powerful spam filters which can block out my personal K&L notices, we had to put a halt on sales for our exclusive Bruichladdich Chenin Blanc cask.  This whisky has changed inside the bottle into a malt that no longer resembles anything close to what we originally tasted.  We're not sure what has happened, but we're pooling all of our resources together to find out.  The originally sweet and supple Chenin Blanc influence has now become a tart, bitter, and astringent handicap, turning a malt that was once interesting and complex into an undrinkable throwaway.  Needless to say, we don't want anyone associating that flavor with us, K&L, or Bruichladdich. 

We're all on board to fix the situation.  Any of you who bought one of these are welcome to return it or call us up to receive a credit.  The problem seems to have turned on in November and really began to affect the malt around the beginning of December.  It is entirely possible that you've opened and finished the bottle before the deterioration began.  I've never seen a whisky fall apart like this in my life, and Jim McEwan is more than curious to figure out what went wrong.  Was it the wine?  The cask?  Some form of oxidation?  Bacteriological?  We're not sure.  All we know is that the bottle tastes terrible now and it didn't before.  There are a number of problems that can cause a wine to spoil, but many believe the higher percentage of alcohol in a spirit protects it from these issues.  I'm beginning to wonder if that's really true.

Make sure you reach out to us and our customer service department if you've been affected by this issue.  We appreciate everyone's understanding and support.  You all know there's no way we would buy a whisky that tasted this terrible.  I'm hoping to turn this around very quickly however and make some sort of "Snow Phoenix" out of this.  McEwan said he had the exact same idea.  Maybe this will all turn out for the best down the road. 

-David Driscoll


The Two Sides of Wine & Whisk(e)y, The Future

I was reading a book this morning entitled The 50 Funniest American Writers by Andy Borowitz, in which he writes,

Whenever you come out with a 'best of' list, you're bound to irritate people....They start bad-mouthing it, which forces people like me (me, and my many internet aliases) to defend it.  If you're lucky, the controversy goes viral and lots of people start arguing about who deserves to be on this list and who doesn't.  And all that talk 'moves a shitload of units,' to borrow a phrase from Edith Wharton.

Andy Borowitz is mocking his own book with a certain sense of self-awareness that I find refreshing.  His point is entirely true, which is why you've probably noticed that news sites have become nothing more than "Top Ten" lists and anthologies of crap.  People read that stuff, forward the link to their friends, the views add up and those hits turn into advertising money.  If reporting the news doesn't pay the bills anymore, then why not just create another quick and easy list to generate more comments in the comments field?  That's the business of reporting these days and it extends conveniently to the world of booze.  Wine Spectator's Top 100 issue is always the most read of the yearly editions, so how can they work that magic into every other issue as well?  How can we get people to read what we write?  Make more lists.  How can wine and whisk(e)y producers sell more units?  Get on those lists.

Shortly after reading the above quotation I went for a long run.  I had downloaded some NPR Talk of the Nation episodes and mid-way through my jaunt there was a piece about the science in AMC's Breaking Bad (my absolute favorite TV show ever).  It turns out that creator Vince Gilligan worked with a University of Oklahoma professor to make sure the organic chemistry of the show was accurate (if you live outside of pop culture, Breaking Bad is about a science teacher who cooks meth).  The host of NPR went on to say that accurate science was becoming quite popular in film and television this year, meaning that producers were taking the time to make sure that different processes were explained.  Other crime shows like CSI also made sure their science was sound because the audience was always ready to point out when it wasn't.  The shows that took more time to focus on those details were succeeding.  That really resonated with me.

There are at least ten customers at K&L everyday with a list printed out from say Gourmet Magazine called the "Ten Best Wines for Ceviche" or something along those lines.  They read the list, they search for the bottles.  Interestingly enough, there are also at least ten customers who know way more than I do about whisky or they'll want to know way more than I can tell them.  "How big are the washbacks at Bunnahabhain?"  "Do you know how many first-fill sherry barrels go into the Ardbeg Uigeadail?"  It's the dichotomy between those who couldn't care less about where their booze came from and those who obsess over it.  The more information that becomes available, the more people want to know.  Regardless of whether it's the current fad, there's still a real precedent being set - basically, some people aren't going to just take things at face value anymore.  You can't have a show now about something like professional bomb defusers where they just say stuff like "cut the blue wire." You're going to have to get real about details.  Wine and whisk(e)y enthusiasts are beginning to expect the same level of respect for their intelligence.

In 2011, we saw a demand for limited-edition whiskies, for hand-crafted beers, and for locally-made wines like we've never before witnessed.  Part of this phenomenon is due to education and part of it is due to Top Ten lists.  On one hand, there were likely thousands of people searching online for things like "Best Bourbon" or "Top 10 Bourbons."  What do you think they read over and over? 

1. Pappy Van Winkle

2. George T. Stagg


The hunt for Brown October began.  On the other hand, we also had people obsessing about where the latest Van Winkle Bourbons were being sourced from, how many bottles were being manufactured, and would the quality of Buffalo Trace match that of Stitzel-Weller.  I had more than 2,000 people download my podcast with Preston Van Winkle in two weeks - more than double the amount of any other episode to date.  People wanted more information and more insight into what they were purchasing.  That access to information led more customers to K&L than ever before.

As we head into 2012, I'm predicting that education will continue to play a larger role.  There's a funny Portlandia sketch where a couple leaves the resturant they're at to visit the farm where the chicken on the menu is being sourced from.  They can't decide on the dish until they know more about how that chicken was treated.  It's a funny parody because it's true!  If you could only see the amount of emails I receive, inquiring about details and specs of certain single malts.  There's more than a trend going on here.  I don't believe that whisky drinkers will ever go back to blended brands again because they already know too much.  There's something satisfying about knowing where your booze came from, just like there's something entertaining about watching Walter White talk chemistry on Breaking Bad.  It's no longer a larger than life drama.  There's reality going on.  You can't just fool people with fancy packaging anymore.

At the same time, however, Old Pulteney 21 is still impossible to find.  I guess being the "Number One Whisky in the World" has its advantages, too.

-David Driscoll