The Fear of Liking Something

I was in charge of my two young nephews this weekend while my sister-in-law took a much needed mini-vacation; just three guys hitting the town in search of some fun. There's no restaurant as fun for a four and six year old as Benihana, simply because of all the action taking place in front of you. I can get some sushi and grab a drink, while the chef throws knives, catches shrimp in his hat, and makes a Mickey Mouse shape from his mound of fried rice, keeping the two boys completely transfixed and entertained, so that's where we went for lunch. We had a great time together and they ate all their chicken, but one thing I did notice was their reluctance to try things like zucchini or mushrooms.

"I don't like those," they each said.

Classic child response. We've all been there. Saying that we don't like something as a kid is really code for "I don't feel like trying that because it might be gross." Of course, there's the chance that it might be really good, too, but as small children we're not willing to take that risk. All kids can think about is the discomfort brought on by the situation. It's easier to simply protect themselves from anything bad by expressing the negative opinion. For my nephews, saying that they didn't like zucchini was a sure-fire way to avoid an uncomfortable experience. I completely understood, although I was hoping they would at least try one bite. Taking the chance and enjoying the zucchini might embolden them to try other foods and be a bit more adventurous.

When I finally got some alone time last night I flipped through the channels and found one of my favorite Corey and Corey movies: Dream a Little Dream. While the film carries what is undoubtedly one of the worst plot lines in the history of 80s cinema, its portrayal of 1980s fashion and teen angst is remarkable. Insecure teens are seen picking on one another for their eclectic tastes and personal styles, hoping that their negative opinions of one another will further elevate their own self-esteem. In the case of these particular high schoolers, not liking a particular song, shirt, person, or idea protects them from possible criticism of who they are and what they're about. Everything "sucks" or it's "lame" and "uncool." It's not until Corey Feldman's character becomes possessed by the soul of Jason Robards (don't ask, you have to see the movie to get it - kind of a Freaky Friday-type scenario), an older and more secure person at his age, that he summons the courage to be who he wants to be and stand behind his opinions. That's the value of experience and wisdom.

When it comes to wine and whisky appreciation, the same basic analogies apply to serious critique and evalution. It's easier to say we don't like something than to try and tackle a new, unfamiliar experience. For many people, talking honestly about why something is good is usually more difficult than simply saying they don't like it. In most instances where disagreement occurs, people are criticized for having bad taste, but not for their negative review. For example, if you come out and say your favorite whisky is Tobermory there's a fear someone will respond with "Tobermory sucks" and challenge your opinion, rather than "I also like Tobermory. You seem to know your whisky." Dave Smith, from St. George distillery, and I had this conversation a few weeks back. He said, "If you talk about how you like a whisky you're more likely to be put on the spot for an explanation. 'Why do you like this whisky?' someone might ask. If you say you don't like it people just assume you must have your reasons, so a negative response almost masquarades as knowledge, when in reality it's much more difficult to say why you like something."

It seems "I don't like it," can be a defensive maneuver long into adulthood.

-David Driscoll


Whisky Season 2013 Continues

We're really kicking it into high gear now. And here's the scary part: we've still got another FIFTEEN casks to announce after these two! For today, however, let's focus on two extraordinary casks from one of our most dependable producers: the Benriach Company.

First off, a 19 year old Bourbon cask of peated Benriach. If you loved the heavy-sherry and smoky goodness from last year's 27 year old, think of this as its younger, leaner brother. This is as close a whisky to the heavenly, distillery edition Caol Ila 18 as I've ever tasted. Many of you know that whisky was discontinued, much to my disappointment. I'm a bit less upset now, however, because I can drink this instead:

1994 Benriach 19 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $139.99 PRE-ORDER - Our 27 year old peated sherry butt for Benriach was one of the smash hits from our 2012 campaign. We were definitely on the hunt for more peated malt this time around, but hopefully something new and exciting at the same time. It only took a few minutes before David and I pounced upon this gem of a barrel. This 19 year old Bourbon barrel had all the smoke we were looking for, but with a different richness from the Bourbon wood. Gone was the rich, decadent, sherry-flavored profile of the 27 year. Instead we were treated to soft vanilla, sweet barley, and soft stonefruit, all mingling in harmony. We were transfixed. Perhaps most exciting was how closely this whisky resembled the Caol Ila 18 year - another pure Bourbon-aged whisky that was no longer being exported to the U.S. albeit with much less smoke. The Benriach was like a single barrel, cask strength version of that whisky - bigger, stronger, and more vibrant. There's no doubt about it. This new cask of Benriach is going to steal the show again this year. The level of peat is minor, but strong enough for serious fans of the style, but balanced enough not to overwhelm those who like Talisker or Springbank. The weight and supple character of the malt are simply enchanting and the price is definitely right. What's not to love?

"Another year, another near-20 year old K&L Glendronach cask," some of you might be thinking. It's perfectly alright, we were thinking the exact same thing going into our appointment. Did we really want to do another barrel of the same whisky for the third straight season? "Depends on how they taste," I said to David. Then we sat down, went through the samples, and found this stunning 18 year old aged in PX sherry. It's f-ing decadent.

1995 Glendronach 18  Year Old K&L Exclusive Single PX Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $134.99 PRE-ORDER - Good grief, Glendronach keeps bringing the hits. We've been obsessed with Glendronach since our first visit to the distillery in 2011. They've revamped this distillery, investing in the highest quality wood, using meticulous warehouse management to get the very most out of old stock and continuing to pump out some of the finest juice in Scotland. This year's offering was aged in Pedro Ximenez casks and shows a totally different type of sherry influence from last year's powerfully masculine dry oloroso cask. What we have here is the perfect sweet sherry nose, filled with dense dried plums, spiced pears, subtle flintiness, and a rich creamy core. On the palate, the baking spices really explode fresh clove, nutmeg, and freshly dried stone fruits. This balance between spices, dark exotic oak tones, and powerfully rich fruit is the hallmark of Glendronach. I think this cask will be the best received Glendronach yet. (David Othenin-Girard)

These will be here around the end of November/early December. They will likely be the casks we recommend the most highly as holiday gifts because neither of us can imagine a whisky drinker who wouldn't like either of them.

-David Driscoll


News From the Lowlands

Just got off the horn with Bladnoch distillery, with our friend Hazel to be specific, and it looks like our 750ml bottles have finally arrived in Wigtownshire. That means our three casks will be bottled and labeled soon, which makes us one step closer to our goal. The proofs haven't been guaged yet, so don't read too much into these labels. We still have to tweak a few things, but these are the ones we plan on using. I thought it would be fun to give you a sneak peak.

What do you think?

The young Bladnoch is a peated formula that the Armstrongs were working on just a few years back, so it's still quite expressive. Like we said before, the theme of this year's trip seemed to be young, peated whisky. We found many sub-seven year old malts that tickled our fancy. Then there was a nice fruity 12 year old.

And finally one of the Diageo-distillates, a classic 21 year old. We're still figuring out the pricing, but we expect these to be very, very reasonable. 

More news as we get it!

-David Driscoll


"Das ist ein Unicum!"

This is Emperor Joseph II of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the late 1700s. Actually, this is the actor Jeffrey Jones (also known as Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller) portraying Emperor Joseph II in the Oscar-winning film Amadeus. Dr. Jozsef Zwack was the personal physician of Joseph's Hapsburg Court and in 1790 he created an eponymous tonic as a liquid remedy for the Emperor. It is written in the Zwack history that, using more than forty different herbs and spices from all over the world, Dr. Zwack concocted the bitter liqueur and presented it to Joseph II, who took one sip and exclaimed, "Das ist ein Unicum!" (This is unique). Zwack Unicum was born and would eventually become the official drink of Hungary, drinking much like an Italian amaro – something in between Nonino Quintessentia and Fernet Branca.

There's a pretty incredible history behind Zwack that you can look up on their website. I'll give you the short version. The Zwack family eventually founded their recipe into an official business in 1840 and became Hungary's official beverage of choice (considered possibly the oldest "shot" in the world). The business thrived into the early 20th century until the Red Army began marching westward. When the communists came to Hungary, the Zwacks fled to the United States, taking their recipe with them and leaving a fake one behind for the new regime that wanted to nationalize the company. It's been said that the recipe itself is what got János and Péter Zwack off of Ellis Island and into New York. Peter would work in America until 1988 when, just before the fall of communism, he returned to Hungary and bought back his family's company from the state. His children Izabella and Sandor Zwack run the business today.

With 220 years under their belt, the Zwack family has quite the success story for booze business. There is one flaw in their fascinating history, however. When Zwack was first introduced into the U.S. market, they assumed (likely correctly) that the American palate wouldn't be ready for the intense bitterness of Zwack Unicum. Much like Kina-Lillet became Lillet (a quinine-free version of the aperitif), Zwack Unicum became simply Zwack – a sweeter, more-tolerable version of the famous elixir. The standard Zwack is delicious and mixes well in a number of cocktails. I enjoy it. The Unicum, however, is the more potent recipe that perked up the senses of Joseph II. Up until now, Americans who were interested in the real Unicum had to stuff their suitcases on a European vacation and haul it back themselves. Luckily for us, however, those days are now over. The real Unicum is finally available stateside. And it's wonderful.

I've been spending a lot of time with the Unicum since it's arrival here at K&L. Perhaps a bit too much time. We've been eating lunch together.

We've been hitting the streets in search of action.

I bring it to work in the morning, and I take it with me when I leave the office at night. Some people think it's a bit strange, but I can't help it. I'm totally obsessed with it. It's a full liter of herbaceous splendor.

To make matters worse, there's a Plum Unicum that's been released as well, which is the standard Unicum recipe aged for six months in oak casks on a bed of dried plums. As far as I know, it's the first barrel-aged herbal liqueur (not vermouth) on the market (I might be wrong about that) and it's totally decadent. I've had a tough time deciding which one to drink at night.

Maybe I should just drink both of them.

-David Driscoll


New Malts from A.D. Rattray

Here's the new bumper crop of casks from our friends the Morrisons:

Aberfeldy 18 Year Old A.D. Rattray Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $105.99 – Quite floral and perfumy on the nose with hints of lavender, but nothing like the late 80s stuff from Bowmore. This is rather malty in the middle and it finishes with a nice kiss of vanilla on the back. A fun expression from an often overlooked distillery.

Benriach 23 Year Old A.D. Rattray Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $115.99Much leaner than the more textural distillery releases, this is similar to our 21 year old Linkwood cask with that soft fruit and those light Speyside grain notes. Kyle really liked this one.

Bunnahabhain 23 Year Old A.D. Rattray Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $139.99I really love older Bunnahabhain, when the earthy fruit mingles seamlessly with the more subtle peat flavors. This is textbook. Lots of delicate subtle flavor from a cask that’s down to 45% naturally.

Glencadam 22 Year Old A.D. Rattray Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $105.99Glencadam is part of the odd Angus Dundee portfolio along with Tomintoul – distilleries that don’t have too much presence here in the U.S. Of the few Glencadams I’ve tasted, this is right line with what I’ve previously experienced: rather chewy and oily on the initial sip with some plump fruit and vanilla on the back end.

Tamdhu 24 Year Old A.D. Rattray Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $119.99I really enjoy the opportunity to try old Tamdhu casks from time to time because there are some great old malts to be had. This is one of them – soft fruits, rustic Scotch flavor, vanilla, sweet grains, and bit of honey. Lovely.

-David Driscoll