Happenings Around The Store

Yesterday was staff training day and we had Diageo come by to let us play with their entire line up.  This was a dream tasting for many K&L employees who don't get to taste as extensively as I do.  They brought the goods and everyone acted like kids in a candy store.  Auchroisk 20, Glen Spey 21, Cragganmore 21, Glenkinchie 20, and everything from the classic malts selection.

Diageo's Steve Beal took us through each expression and helped us understand what exactly makes each whisky unique.  One new thing I learned was that Diageo likes to use 3rd fill barrels when making whisky older than 20 years, so that the maturation is gradual and not overdone with wood.  I can't believe how good the Glen Spey 21 is.  I need to get some more for the store, but I think it's all sold out.  What to do!?

Angostura also dropped by in the afternoon to taste us on their rums, as it had been a while since the last time we carried them.  The 1919 is coming back to K&L this week and should make for a breakthrough bottle to those unfamiliar with rum's complexity.  This is as smooth as booze gets if that's your sort of thing.  It's sexy, sleek, brimming with caramel and butterscotch, and finishes like candy without the overpowering sweetness.  Very well made with good cooperage - all Jack Daniels barrels I believe. 

The return of the 1824 should also please some rum fans out there.  The bottle is labeled as a 12 year old, but the blend contains barrels well over 20 years in age.  A bold, spicy, bourbon-like rum that could be thrown into a blind whiskey tasting and very well win first prize.  Fantastic stuff.

The shocker of the day came in the form of these non-alcoholic mixers from Elixer.  I don't even remember scheduling this appointment and I was NOT excited to taste these.  I should have known from previous irony-filled experiences that this would turn out to be the highlight of the day.  These floral-infused mixers are INCREDIBLE.  I mean it - outstanding.  They taste amazing just in soda water!  Add them to sparkling wine and they taste like a professional cocktail.  Add them with gin and lemon juice to make super complex drinks!  The best part is that they're difficult to mess up, meaning that you can totally distort the measurements and it still doesn't matter.  They're too good to mess up a drink, even if you add too much.  I don't have pricing yet, but I will be bringing them in by Friday.  The lavender won everyone over as a tasty replacement for Creme de Violette.

-David Driscoll


National Rum Day

August 16th is national rum day and had I not been reading Wayne Curtis's And a Bottle of Rum I probably would have thought little of it.  Considering that rum is primarily made in the Caribbean and in South America, there seems to be little reason for Americans to celebrate it as nation.  I mean, why not have national sake day then?  However, the more I discover about the history of rum, the more surprised I become.  Like many others out there, I was predisposed to the idea that rye whiskey was the foundation of American distillation.  Old Potrero's 18th Century whiskey and other "frontier" style products have crafted the notion that to drink rye whiskey is to embrace our early American drinking habits.  While rye whiskey was certainly being distilled early on in the colonial era, grain was simply too valuable to waste on distillation.  These people needed rye for bread not booze!  However, the giant glut of molasses coming from the West Indies provided a cheap and effective product for the early settlers to ferment and then distill.  It was essentially a "trash product" - the remnants of sugar refining and "astoundingly cheap."  In response to the 156,000 gallons molasses that would arrive every six months just in Massachussets, settlers built distilleries as close as possible to the ports where ships from the Carrbbean would arrive.  The practice became very popular and Americans began drinking rum in gigantic amounts. According to Curtis, there were 159 rum distilleries in New England by the year 1763!  By 1770, the U.S. was importing 6.5 million gallons of molasses to feed the thirst for more rum!

Amazing.  Happy national rum day!  Drink some rum.  Celebrate our early drinking culture the right way!

-David Driscoll


Whisky Wednesdays Start This Week

Now that we have our tasting license, we will be conducting free spirits tastings every Wednesday at the RWC store!  Our San Francisco license is still pending, but we plan to begin there as well as soon as the papers are cleared.  This coming Wednesday will feature some of the interesting products from Glenglassaugh distillery, a Highland legend that was recently brought back from the dead.  Mothballed from 1986 to 2009, the new ownership has put out several curious young whiskies in the meantime, as well as some drop-dead gorgeous aged expressions. We're trying to get a bottle of something older for the tasting.  If we manage to do so, you wont want to miss it.  We will be pouring three products over all between 5 PM and 6:30.  Free of charge to anyone who wants to stop by!

-David Driscoll



LET'S DO THIS! More info to come.

-David Driscoll 


Buffalo Trace Single Oak Tasting Notes

While we are not able to offer these bottles to customers due to their extremely limited quantity, I was able to secure one set of the first twelve releases from Buffalo Trace’s highly anticipated single oak project.  I definitely admire what BT is doing because as a whisk(e)y geek it’s absolutely fascinating – different bourbons being aged in barrels made from different parts of the tree, along with several other variables that all affect the flavor differently.  They even have a website you can visit after you’ve tasted your bottle where you can leave your own personal feedback in exchange for the DNA info of each whiskey.  It’s an ingenious way to get people involved in an education discussion of the product as well as obtaining valuable feedback from interested consumers.  There’s just one gigantic problem – they didn’t make enough.  

Even though the whiskies have been diluted to 45% and packaged in 375ml half bottles, there are still precious few of these whiskies available (when I finally logged into the BT website to leave my reviews there were only about ten to fifteen others – that’s nothing!) Each barrel is unique so imagine trying to supply the world’s demand out of one single cask! Tasting any one bottle on its own is meaningless because the goal is to understand them in conjunction with one another, so selling these single bottles as individual pieces was pointless. However, giving them all to one customer would be unfair as well as superfluous – these need to be analyzed in a group! I decided the only thing to do was buy the one set myself, call up seventeen friends, colleagues, and customers to split the cost, and divide the bottles up evenly.  That way we allow the maximum amount of people to taste each bottle side-by-side as intended.

I recently finished my tasting session of all twelve and have rather mixed emotions concerning these bourbons.  While I find each of them fascinating for what they are, I wouldn’t call any of them great or even worthwhile as a purchase.  I loved tasting them and I will definitely buy the next set to do the same activity, but had I purchased these to drink and enjoy over time, I would have been gravely disappointed. Anyone thinking that they’ve missed out on the world’s greatest bourbon, fear not – these are far from a finished product, in my opinion.  Others seem to agree because the average rating for most of these whiskies on the actual Single Oak website is around 70% which is a C- if I'm interpreting the scoring system correctly.  Below are my tasting notes if anyone cares to read.  All the whiskies in this group are eight years of age and the barrels were all toasted at #4 char.

Barrel #3 (top tree cut, rye mash) – all-spice, pencil shavings on the nose with vanilla, very peppery, resinous, and bright on the palate, finish is more pencil shavings and wood, very assertive

Barrel #35 (top tree cut, wheat mash) – brandied fruits on the nose with toasted wood and vanilla, an herbal, drying palate with toasted nuts, ashy finish

Barrel #68 (bottom tree cut, rye mash) – rich honey aromas blend into graphite with salted caramel.  Slightly sweet on the palate with balanced richness, vanilla, and sandlewood.  Saw dust on the finish,

Barrel #164 (bottom tree cut, wheat mash) – furniture store varnish with pencil lead aromas, green flavors, little richness if any, hints of grain, lean and lacking.

Barrel #99 (top tree cut, wheat mash) – unripe bananas on the nose with vanilla and Cognac, fatter textures and more developed flavors, spice and pepper on the finish

Barrel #4 (bottom tree cut, rye mash) – richer, more vanilla with sawdust underneath on the nose, supple palate with bolder wood flavors, green, vegetal, bitter on the finish.

Barrel #131 (top tree cut, rye mash) – green bananas with pencil shavings, paint thinner and Seagrams 7 on the palate, then all spice with a sandy, dusty finish.

Barrel #67 (tope tree cut, rye mash) graphite, pencil lead aromas with faint vanilla, good baking spices with supple richness on the palate, herbal and resinous finish.

Barrel #100 (bottom tree cut, wheat mash) ­– candy peanut aromas with oak, rich more balanced palate with salted notes, balanced and lengthy finish.

Barrel #36 (bottom tree cut, wheat) – Payday candy bar aromas, nougat, sweet spices, nice vanilla notes on the palate, glowing with honey on the finish

Barrel #132 (bottom tree cut, rye) – brown sugar and molasses aromas, totally different than of the others on the nose, nutty, sherry flavors on the palate, tobacco finish.

Barrel #163 (top tree cut, wheat) – Baby Ruth aromas, black pepper and earthy must on the palate, faint richness but roars to a bold, spicy finish.

I tasted all twelve at the store with my assistant Kyle and we both felt that there was an overwhelming woodiness to all of these, but not new oak or vanilla.  Most had a sawdust, pencil shavings, graphite, sandlewood element to them so I wonder where that’s coming from.  Overall a great experience and I look forward to the next batch!

-David Driscoll