Tuesday Tasting Tonight!

Join us at Martin's West in Redwood City tonight at 6 PM sharp to try the amazing Laphroaig 18 Year Old Hart Brothers Single Malt Whisky $139.99 for about $5 a glass! These never last long, especially now that the MW customers are hip to the game as well so try and be there on time.  This is a very tasty old Laphroaig that I expect people to really enjoy.  See you there!

-David Driscoll


Great King Street Expectations

I went over to a friend's house tonight to finally pop this bottle of John Glaser's new Compass Box spin off - the Great King Street blended whisky, a labo(u)r of love from one of grain whisky's biggest fans.  I snuck this bottle back in my suitcase as a gift for a buddy and he was nice enough to open it while I was there.  John has really out done himself with this expression because I can't imagine anyone not loving this.  It's fruit-forward, soft and supple, expressive, and easy to drink - everything a blended dram is supposed to be.  When this whisky hits the states this Fall I'm expecting big things.  The Great King Street destroys whiskies like Johnnie Walker, J&B, or Chivas.  It honestly makes them look terrible in comparison. This was much better than I remembered it tasting in London, so I'm excited to finally get my own bottle!

-David Driscoll


No Comment

I've received a few emails from some readers who are wondering why I have turned off the comments field.  They have all been good natured and I'm flattered that anyone even took the time to write such complementary things about our Spirits Journal.  While I agree with all views on how comments work as attributes to good writing (bringing up new talking points, presenting different points of view, rounding out a discussion, etc.) I will list the reasons why I personally want to remove commenting from the blog.  I hope they don't anger or upset anyone because I'm speaking purely from my perspective and don't want to start any controversy.

1) Comments Bring Out The Ego - Have you ever noticed how most comment fields have been adapted to allow users to rate the popularity of the remark?  Thumbs up or thumbs down?  I hate that.  I hate it because people then sit around and think about something clever to say, then check back in all day to see if people liked what they said or not.  If someone went so far as to reply to their comment and disagree with what they said, it can anger the original commenter who now feels defensive and a need to retaliate.  This goes on all day on ESPN, the SF Chronicle, CNN, and other websites where I get my news from.  It sickens me, literally.  While the SJ is not nearly on the same wavelength as these major sites, I too have an ego and when people comment or don't comment it makes me nervous.  Not nervous as in "I'm scared and don't want to look," but nervous as in "I hope people comment and say nice things because that's the sign of a good blog these days."  Then I check back in over and over throughout the day to see if anyone as posted anything.  I can't live that way and I would rather just write something and be happy if people read it.  I'm always available via email if anyone feels the need to respond.

2) Comments Affect How Bloggers Write - I can't tell you how many sites use their articles to pander to the comment field.  Too many would be the best answer.  Sometimes it works well as a way to start a dialogue, but most of the time it just seems like the authors use the opinions of their readership to make the website interesting.  That's fine if someone wants to do that, but that's not my philosophy.  I want the SJ to be interesting because of the hard work that I put into it, not because I have a strong following that comes up with interesting comments.  This should be a site where people come to find out about what's new in the spirits world, not to debate the merit of any one topic.  There are plenty of other sites that offer that service and I don't want to become another one.

3) Comments Signify Worth (but not to me)- In today's Facebook-driven society, you're not cool unless you've got a million "friends" on the social network, thousands of followers on Twitter, and dozens of people commenting on everything you say, write, think, or post.  People look at websites and determine how good they are by how many people are following them.  Most of the time our articles on the SJ average around 2-3 comments, which makes us look like a tiny and unsubstantial resource.  However, based on our hit counter and the amount of people who read the SJ and then go the KL Wines website to shop, I can tell you that our readership is a great deal larger than the comments reveal.  I don't want people stopping in and evaluating our blog based on the amount of people commenting.  Turning them off is a way to prevent that.

4) Comments Need to be Answered - Comment fields are a way for the readers to communicate with the author and when people leave a comment they expect it to be answered.  I barely have time to answer my emails and voicemails, so the comments here might go unnoticed for a while if I'm busy.  I don't want to anger anyone awaiting a reply, so it's easier if they're just turned off.  I'm pretty good about answering my email, so I don't feel like I'm inaccessible or anything.

5) Comments Detract From the Original Message - There are so many instances where I've began reading an article, only to get caught up in the commenting underneath.  After ten minutes of complete timewasting, reading the battles going on in the comment field, I have forgotten what the original point of the article was and I feel stupider for having read the comments.  Not that this type of scenario happens here, but to say I agree with comments in one sense, but not in another is borderline hypocritical and I hate it when people have double standards. 

For these reasons I think the SJ will be a better website without the comments.  I'll be more inclined to write better articles because I won't be worrying about the opinions of the readership.  Granted, I can always turn them back on if there's an important topic like "Should we buy a cask of ____" or something where feedback is a valued commodity.  However, for my own peace of mind and my sense of duty to good reporting, I think we're a better website without the comments field.

-David Driscoll



Is There a Whisk(e)y Bubble Forming?

I'm definitely not complaining about the big boom in whisk(e)y sales, whisk(e)y drinking, and whisk(e)y production.  As we've expanded our selection and broadened our horizons over the last two years, David OG and I have been met with nothing but open arms.  Demand has gone through the roof.  We sent out an promo email for our Oban 18 stock yesterday and the RWC store sold more than 100 bottles of a $100 whisky in a matter of hours.  Our pre-arrival campaign continues to flourish with little advertising other than word of mouth and this blog, and the money we're taken in advance helps balance the books so that we can go and get even more casks than the thirteen we've already secured.  Our most expensive cask, a 1974 Ladyburn, was the first cask to sell out even with a $300 per bottle price tag.  That's simply amazing.  Our stocks are moving faster than ever and I'm under more pressure every day to fill the holes on the shelf that continue to form throughout the business hours. 

The whisk(e)y companies are not blind to what is happening either.  They've been steadily raising prices every month for the last few years because they can (you may not notice it as much because David and I would rather eat the cost than have to constantly raise our prices too).  With the value of whisk(e)y reaching extreme heights (ten year old ryes are selling for $70+!) and new distilleries popping up every where, when is the bubble going to burst?  Maybe there is no bubble and we're just living through the enlightenment where the world woke up and decided it wasn't going to settle for cheap booze anymore.  Perhaps my point of view is skewed and other retailers are not doing as well as we are, therefore prompting me to ask some of my competitors about their sales.  That's what I did in London last week.

Doug MacIvor, head of spirits management for Berry Brothers & Rudd, had only the same experiences to share with me when we literally talked shop.  BBR has seen extensive growth over the last few years and the demand for their products is higher than ever.  They've been able to enter the U.S. market with their No.3 London Gin (easily the best gin available right now) and their fantastic King's Ginger, but their Hong Kong office is seeing unparalleled demand.  We too have seen high demand coming from China, both with wine and single malts, as their economy continues to grow and their citizens look to celebrate the success with the world's great alcoholic beverages.  However, while China's economy continues to stimulate growth in the world whisk(e)y market, it doesn't explain the surge in demand from the deflated U.S. economy.

Even during the downtrodden, recession year of 2009 our whisk(e)y sales increased.  Excitement concerning whisk(e)y is at the point where collectors and enthusiasts must fight it out for the most sought-after expressions, outbidding each other at auctions and joining insider email lists like our own to get the on-sale information in advance.  The positive data that results from this feeding frenzy only encourages the producers to make more and more, much like the companies who continued to build more houses across the U.S.  We all know how that saga ended, but it remains to be seen whether the whisk(e)y industry is creating a similar bubble.  We still can't get Rittenhouse Rye and when we do it sells at light speed.  We've also seen Ardbeg and Laphroaig release special limited bottles that created an unmatched hysteria this past month at K&L. 

At this point, I can't see it slowing down. 

=David Driscoll


The State of the Union

Taking a long vacation is a great way to clear one's mind and get back some much needed perspective.  Before I left for England I was a bit burned out.  I wasn't drinking whisk(e)y at all and I could have cared less about wine.  It was pretty much just beer and Campari for me.  Now that I've had some time to get away from it all, I've returned with a new appetite for booze and I've been really enjoying my daily drams this week. 

Every now and then it's good to just stop and take the pulse of the store(s) just to keep people up to date with what's happening.  I sometimes assume that everyone is following our insider emails and I can get a bit too presumptuous with the blog.  However, for those of you who only check in from time to time, here's a brief summary of what has been, is, and will be happening at the K&L Spirits Department this summer:

- Oban 18 year old landed last week.  It's a study in restraint and minimalism.  It's also very rare (we got just about every bottle available in CA) and we don't see it too often.  That's been a pretty big deal lately.

- We've seen the Ardbeg Alligator and Laphroaig Cairdeas come and go already.  We were lucky to get large allocations of each and I'm happy that we were able to offer them to you all.  While both are very good, don't feel bad if you missed out - neither are "must haves."  They're just tasty Islay whiskies and God knows there's no shortage of those right now.

- Steve McCarthy's new batch of Oregon single malt just landed if you're looking for a super delicious peated whiskey.  It's the best version of the white label I've ever tasted.  Gone are the green notes on the finish.  Everything is supple, in check, and balanced.  A masterpiece that will go under the radar of just about everyone who assumes it just can't be that good.

- After reading John Hansell's rave review of the new Hart Brother's 18 Year Old Laphroaig, we worked hard to get our guys at JVS to bring it into CA for distribution so we could carry it.  It's a very tasty old Laphroaig and I was really impressed upon the first sip - it's delicate and retrained with just a tease of the medicinal and peat smoke, elegant almost which is amazing for Laphroaig.  I also really enjoyed the Hart Brothers 18 Year Old Mortlach because when you find a good Mortlach, you grab it.  It's the quintessential Speyside malt and we don't see enough good examples in the U.S. 

- Davorin Kuchan stopped by the store yesterday and he has revamped his absinthe tremendously.  The new batch is night and day better than his older stuff.  This is more vibrant, more potent, and more tasty than it's ever been.  I'm looking forward to getting it on the shelf because I think that it will be perfect for cocktail enthusiasts who want a 375ml half bottle of something great for mixing, rather than opting for a whole 750ml bottle that lasts forever.

- I've met a slew of people lately who have recently tried a Pimm's Cup for the first time and can't believe how good it is.  You just pour this herbal stuff over ice, add lemon soda or ginger ale, and a whole bunch of fruit.  That's it.  So easy, yet so refreshing and delicious.  I told someone in London last week that no one in the U.S. knows what Pimm's is and they were shocked.  It's everywhere in England, but has yet to catch on over here.  If you need a photo, check out my old post from London here.  Everyone should be drinking pitchers of this over the summer.

- David OG and I are super excited about all the casks we've ordered from Scotland (which are available and listed over on the right side of the margin), but we're not done yet.  We've just hooked up with another bottler and worked out a new deal to bring in more unique single barrels, including some amazing grain whisky barrels. 

Grain whisky.  Much maligned and currently not on the radar of any single malt drinker as the blends have been banished to the back burner and the malts have become the hot ticket.  Guys like John Glaser however have inspired us to take another look at the quality of grain whisky.  The herbal and sometimes spicy flavors of grain whisky are not for everyone, but when done properly they can exhibit some amazing flavors.  When mixed with ice and soda, they excel above most single malts as well.  Jim McEwan has put out some amazing samples of superb grains in his Celtic Heartland collection and the Compass Box Double Single was another inspirational dram.  However, it’s still an uphill battle when trying to convince people to try grain whiskies and what store would be crazy enough to buy two whole barrels of it?  Well…….we would.

David and I tried these whiskies, loved these whiskies, really wanted to buy these whiskies, but knew it would take a stupid low price to be able to justify it.  These are curiosities, not sure-fire winners.  These are for the ultra whisky geeks, not the everyday fan.  These are for the adventurous and brave, people who would rather buy whisky than food.  These are as esoteric as it gets.

They are…….

1965 Caledonian 45 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Grain Whisky – Closed forever in 1988, Caledonian was a Lowland grain distillery that was once famed for having Europe’s biggest patent still.  This whisky is all caramel and Sauternes on the nose, rich and enticing aromas of sweet goodness.  The palate however is grain all the way – lean and herbal, odd and exciting, crazy cool and super fun.  A difficult malt to truly explain.  What do you think this is going to cost?

1990 Girvan 20 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Grain Whisky – The home of the old Ladyburn distillery, this is the perfect sister bottle to our “Rare Ayrshire” cask that is now sold out.  Girvan contained the now defunct ladyburn, but was more known for its role in creating the Black Barrel brand available in Scandinavia and Latin America.  This is another whopper of a whisky that is difficult to describe.  Dry, herbal, grainy on the nose, but the palate is expressive and clean, finishing with apples and pears in a fruity flurry of flavor.  So much fun, but so weird!  How much do you think this will be?

Pricing is not finished yet, but let me tell you that these will not cost anything near what you think they will.  Given the price, the scarcity, the age, and the quality, the prices are unreal.  More on those however when they’re finalized (yes, I’m leaving you hanging).

- I've decided that I no longer want to have comments for any of the blog posts.  This isn't because people who read here aren't responsible or interesting (because I love reading the comments from people here), but rather because I just don't like the direction that the internet is heading.  I think that comments have ruined websites like SFgate.com because they now write articles that cater to getting more comments.  I don't want to end up like that, so I'm canceling them as of now.  Just send me an email if you want to comment on anything.

That's where we're at.  Until next time!

- David Driscoll