My Head is Pounding

My head is going to explode.  I need a break.  I've had four glasses of Ricard in honor of Bastille Day and I'm ready to hit the floor.  See you all next week.

-David Driscoll


The Story of Black Maple Hill

It seems that people generally covet what they know they can't get. Rittenhouse Rye, for example – a standard grade mixer that people now hoard like winter food rations. The great whiskey shortage we're currently experiencing has devastated brands and customers alike.  Unable to secure their favorite bottle of brown water, people are no longer buying single bottles when they see their brand on the shelf – they buy cases! When people buy cases, the whiskey sells faster.  When the whiskey sells faster, other people think they're missing out on something.  When people who think they're missing out suddenly find themselves getting in, they tend to tell other people about it and cult consumerism explodes.  That's what happened with Pappy Van Winkle and look where that got us. Now we've got raffle systems and insane Ebay prices to deal with.

While not nearly as romantic as the Van Winkle legend, Black Maple Hill is slowly becoming the next "must have" Bourbon, mostly for the reasons I mentioned above.  I'll get customers in the store asking about it, I'll tell them they should grab what they need now, other customers overhear the conversation (mostly because I have a loud voice), and all of a sudden I'm selling Black Maple Hill to people who didn't intend on buying any.  It's exciting to feel like you're getting in on something special, but there's nothing really special about Black Maple Hill. It's a quality, everyday Bourbon that currently has trouble sourcing enough supply.  What it does have, however, is the makings of a cult whiskey, and that's exactly what's happening.  Here's the magic formula:

1) It has a wonderfully romantic label, much like the Van Winkle's with Pappy smoking the cigar.  The sketch of the Kentucky forest, the script writing, the rustic look, etc.

2) It has a fantastic name. Most people think Black Maple Hill is a place or a distillery. What a magical place that must be!  It makes you want to go there and drink Bourbon, surrounded by the eponymous maple trees.

3) It's contents are unknown. No one but the blenders know how old it is or what it's made from. All we know is that it tastes good.

4) It's now becoming difficult to get due to supply shortages and that makes people want it even more!

The truth is that Black Maple Hill is neither a distillery nor a place of origin. It's an independent label owned by my friend Paul Joseph in San Carlos, down the road from our store.  He's got a garage full of other booze too (Murray McDavid, Alchemist, etc.) and every month or so I'll stop by to see what's new.  Paul pays Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (Willett, Vintage 17, Pure Kentucky, Noah's Mill, Rowan's Creek, etc.) to make this blend for him and then he slaps the label on it.  So, in reality, Black Maple Hill is a Bourbon that's blended in Kentucky, but owned by a nice man on the San Francisco peninsula.

There have been some other BMH bottles besides the standard Bourbon formula.  Older ryes and older Bourbons were once available, but lately it's been tough just getting the regular expression – which is all that exists at the moment.  Because Paul gets his Bourbon from KBD, he has no control over his own supply.  Worse yet, KBD doesn't control their own supply either because they don't make any whiskey (although they did just recently begin production).  The reason the Black Maple Hill is in short supply right now is because Bourbon is in short supply, and when you're third on the totem pole, you just have to wait your turn.  It's an independent label purchased from another independent label.

Despite that fact that I'm ruining the mystique of BMH by telling you all this, I still really love the Bourbon. Paul is a super nice guy and I'm happy doing business with him.  What I'm finding, however, is that people are dying for more information about where this Bourbon comes from and how they can get more.  So here it is – the story of Black Maple Hill.  A Bourbon made somewhere in Kentucky, sold to KBD, blended at their facility, sold to Paul Joseph, slapped with a romantic label, and distributed down the street from K&L in Redwood City.

We're currently out of stock, but we usually get about five cases every month or so.  Make sure you load up when it's here because it never lasts long.  Doesn't that just make you want it more?

-David Driscoll


Whisky Season 2012 Update: Two New Signatory Casks

Signatory's warehouse at the Edradour distillery is one of our favorite playgrounds in Scotland.  Last year we snagged what was perhaps the best whisky we've ever imported: the 1974 Ladyburn that left both us and our customers speechless.  While we did discover some mind-blowing casks this time as well, the inflation of the whisky market prevented us from going deeper than we had hoped. Prices on big names were incredibly high, which sent David and me into bargain-hunting mode - scouring the corners, dusting off old names, and opening casks from distilleries we might normally pass over.  In the end, we emerged victorious with two tasty whiskies at even tastier prices.  While they won't send malt geeks into a frenzy like some of our future releases are bound to, they will eventually represent the core of what we consider our mission to be: find great whisky, buy it, bring it home, drink it.  If the malt is good and the price is right, we're all going to be very happy.  Mission accomplished.

2002 Longmorn 10 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky (Pre-Order) $49.99 - The Signatory warehouse in Pitlochry is bursting with hidden treasures, many of them at a tremendous price point.  While the big names draw even bigger prices, we found ourselves more inspired by some of the lesser-known distilleries - the ones with reputations for great booze without the designer label.  Pernod-Ricard's Longmorn distillery, ensconced deep within the Speyside region, produces one of the most respected single malts in the business, known for its balance and elegant richness. Stateside, we only get the lovely 16 year old, but at a price most people aren't willing to pay. That makes independent bottles of Longmorn quite the coveted item amongst American collectors who want serious whisky at a bargain price.  Our ten year old barrel, from a Bourbon hogshead fitted with new toasted ends, is wonderfully fruity and expressive.  The palate is light, fresh, and full of supple vanilla across the backend.  The finish is malty with sweet grains dancing long after the whisky has vanished.  We strongly felt that whisky tasted better at 46%, which is why we decided not to bottle at full proof.  That brought the price down even lower, making this whisky one of the best values from our entire trip - period!

1999 Benrinnes 12 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (Pre-Order) $69.99 - One of our favorite experiences when visiting Scotland is the chance to taste whisky from distilleries that don't bottle their whisky as a single malt. Diageo owns the whisky from more than forty distilleries, many of which are used only for the company's blended Scotch labels like Johnnie Walker.  Benrinnes is one such distillery.  Named after the famous Speyside mountain, it is known for its lively character and fruity essence, providing the backbone of expression to many successful blends.  Our cask is very much reminiscent of this reputation, beginning with plenty of fresh fruit with barrel spice and a playful palate that reminded us of our Bladnoch selection from last year.  With a few drops of water the oils come out, bringing more texture, soft flavors of oak, and plenty of vanilla to balance out all the fruit. The result is a wonderful bottle of Scotch, offering depth, variety, and drinkability.  Benrinnes isn't as widely-known as many of other distilleries whose whisky we'll be importing and it is precisely for that reason we're excited to bring it to our customers.  In the great hunt for value in single malt whisky, we must continue to search outside the box. In this case, we've found a real winner from a distillery we'd like to see more of.

-David Driscoll


Tastings Tonight!

Appleton Rum will once again visit the Redwood City store, while 1792 Ridgemont makes its way up to SF to pour our exclusive K&L barrel!  Tastings begin at 5 PM and run until 6:30.  Free of charge as always!

-David Driscoll


Bruichladdich In Negotiations with Remy-Cointreau

For those of you who don't make the whisky rounds on the internet, this is the big news right now. Anyone confused about yesterday's "parable" will now understand the difficulty that comes when your beloved independent distillery decides to cash in its chips. The most fiercely independent of the brave new whiskymakers is finally turning corporate and we are all a bit sad at the moment. I'm sure Bruichladdich will continue to make outstanding whisky and I'm sure we'll still be able to get lots of it. The relationship, however, will likely change and that's difficult to handle right now. With all of the commenting I've read (and participated in) on the blogosphere right now, I thought David OG's statement on the Whisky Advocate summed it up nicely:

The real sadness of losing Bruichladdich’s independence is not the potential for a decline in quality, but the inevitable focus on efficiency that we see with nearly all other conglomerated distilleries. One of Bruichladdich’s most endearing and respectable qualities has been its commitment to the local community. While I’m not implying that Remy-C won’t have the same commitment, I am certain that running your business this way is incredibly expensive. Little Bruichladdich employs more people than any other distillery on Islay and more than most on the mainland. If you run it like the rest, you automate and eliminate until you’ve got three guys manning the mash and the stills and a couple running the front of the house. This will be a huge blow to the local economy and would cause an incredible backlash toward the brand from retailers like myself that fell in love with the whisky not only for its quality, but also its commitment to the community and environment it inhabits. Indeed, I hope the Remy Cointreau factor in the incredible loss in cache their takeover represents for a carefully crafted anti-corporate image, exemplified by their famous tagline, “proudly independent.” Will Bruichladdich’s new catch phrase just be, “proud?” It doesn’t sound like an easy task the R-C marketing department. I personally hold no ill will for my dear friends at Bruichladdich, being mislead is sometimes part of this business and I do not fault them for keeping their cards close to chest. I’m excited to see what happens next. With any luck, Remy will not screw things up, nor seek out redundancy at the cobbled together masterpiece that has become Bruichladdich. Maybe a little extra capital won’t hurt the place, as the floors always need a new coat of paint, but if extreme care is not taken with preserving the legacy, there’s going to be hell to pay. There’s no question that there will be some serious love lost for the diehard progressives. - David OG

From everything I've heard so far, this offer came in strong and fast - a serious amount of money that no one thought would ever be on the table.  Bruichladdich was never planning on selling, but when RC brings the briefcase full of cash, there are investors that want to see their investment returned and there's nothing to consider beyond that.

-David Driscoll