Listen to Us!

I did an interview with Bay Area radio host Larry Olson this past week. It's going to air on AM 960 this Sunday at 5 PM, but you can listen to the interview here before hand right now. He's also got Todd Carmichael from the Travel Channel who does what we do, but with coffee. I had a fun time.

Also, my good friends Lance and Dave from St. George did a session with the Commonwealth Club last week for their distillery's 30th anniversary. It's a great interview and you can listen to that here. The player is in the top right-hand corner.

-David Driscoll


K&L Awards 2012: Best All Around - Compass Box


I have a feeling that the 2012 K&L Spirits Awards are going to end up like the back of your old high school yearbook before we're all said and done. Most Talented. Best Dressed. Who's going to be "Most Popular?" Actually, that one's pretty easy now that I think about it. That Mr. Van Winkle could probably take the crown easily.

In any case, let's focus on what I thought was the best all-around booze label in the business this year: John Glaser's Compass Box Whisky Company.

Asyla. Oak Cross. Two lighter-styled whiskies that most people seem to take for granted (I say that because we don't sell through them very fast). Yet, these are two whiskies that I always have on hand because they're exactly what I like about Scotch. They're delicate, interesting, subtle, and easily drinkable (meaning I don't have to really think too much about why I like them). The Asyla is a blended whisky, the Oak Cross a blended single malt. The Oak Cross, along with the Spice Tree, shows Glaser's dedication to great cooperage. For the Oak Cross he was able to source French Oak from one of France's finest small wood mills. The Spice Tree saw the addition of toasted staves into the actual barrel during maturation. In both cases, the results were delicious and the quality has only improved over the last year, in my opinion (I think the Whisky Advocate also recently noted how the new Oak Cross was better than before).

Then you've got the fantastic addition of Great King Steet to the portfolio, the value-focused blended whisky that only got more interesting with the addition of a special New York edition (which we cannot get, but is available on the East Coast). I have both of these whiskies open at my house and drink them regularly. They're outstanding.

Perhaps the most popular of the standard Compass Box expressions is the Peat Monster, a wildly smoky, yet enticingly rich blended single malt that doesn't get anywhere near its due. I'd take the Peat Monster over Lagavulin 16, Caol Ila 12, and Ardbeg 10 any day of the week. The balance that John achieves between peat and sweet is right in my wheelhouse. The polar opposite of the Peat Monster is the Hedonism - a 100% grain whisky made from older expressions of Carsebridge, Cambus, and Cameronbridge between 14 and 29 years of age. The delicacy of flavor is astounding. It's as elegant as the Peat Monster is expressive.

All of this goodness and we haven't even talked about the crown jewel of John's collection - the Flaming Heart, a whisky that is easily one of the best I've tasted all year. Peated, yet supple and round, the Flaming Heart is what showcases Glaser's ability as a blender. The combination of Caol Ila, Tobermory, and Clynelish is magical and captivating. I treasure every release of this whisky.

Why not throw on the Orangerie for good measure? The whisky that might finally get my wife into drinking single malt with its additional flavor from maceration of citrus and spice. Not at all sweet like a liqueur, it's an acknowledgement of whisky's potential as a serious base ingredient.

Is there any other whisky company with a portfolio as strong, serious, affordable, interesting, and delicious? I don't think so. I don't think it's even close. The range of expressions runs the complete Scotch whisky gambit and throws in a few new ideas for good measure. Maybe Buffalo Trace could compete for this award? That being said, there are a few clunkers in the BT lineup. John Glaser hasn't released anything even mediocre that I've tasted.

And he's a nice guy, to boot. Easy winner.

-David Driscoll 


K&L Awards 2012: Best Person Ever - Jim Rutledge

Welcome to the K&L year end awards. A place where there will be no best Bourbon or best single malt. No best gin. No top tequila. There will be praise, but only praise that you can use and put to work. No talk about the best whiskies you can't get. No retrospective about the Pappy 15 Boilermaker with a Westvleteren base we enjoyed at our recent K&L party (by the way, we had 5,000 calls for this beer today - made Pappy look like a walk in the park). No photo montage of me pouring Weller Larue down Kyle's pants while he dumps Sazerac 18 into David OG's mouth. That would be sick and twisted.

Would that really be very helpful? To rub our excessive behavior in your face? To talk proudly and loudly about bottles you can no longer get? To make you wish you would have acted faster? No, that's not what we're looking to do.

Nevertheless, we still want to celebrate the year that was 2012. We want to leave a statement that helps to summarize the last 365 days of booze business.

Want to know who the best, most passionate, friendliest, most talented, amazing, inspiring person in the booze business is for 2012? Jim Rutledge.

This guy did a detailed and informative K&L podcast. He talked candidly about the midwest drought. He told us how good the 2012 Small Batch would be and it actually exceeded his hype. He hosted a group of K&L customers at the drop of a hat, coming in on his day off to personally offer a tour of the distillery for people he had never met. He continues to email K&L customers who have Bourbon questions, not only about his whiskies, but also about other distilleries. He is patient. Helpful. Passionate. Humble. Determined. Skillful. Amazing.

If you've never given the Four Roses Bourbons a chance, you might want to do so. The Yellow Label, Small Batch, and Single Barrel are among the finest American whiskies available and Jim continues to openly discuss the specifics of each one. There are no tricks with Jim Rutledge. No condescension. No pedantry. Only openness and humility.

I don't know anyone who is this committed. I like to think that I'm pretty accessible, but I'm just a retail spirits buyer, not a famous whiskey distiller. Jim Rutledge is the coolest, most experienced, friendliest, and down-to-earth person I have ever met in this industry. You want to know where your money is going when you purchase a Four Roses whiskey? It's going to this man and his amazing empire that is starting unfold before us - one based on respect for the craft and for the customer.

Make no mistake. Four Roses will be the best Bourbon in America before 2013 comes to an end and Jim Rutledge will have made that happen.

He's that good. He's that amazing. He deserves high praise and all of the admiration we can give him. Best person in the industry for 2012 is good ole JR.

-David Driscoll


We Did It

Dave and James came over from St. George today and we hand-stamped all 840 bottles of Faultline Gin with a big, red "Batch 2" stamp. Redwood City is ready to go. San Francisco tomorrow. LA by next week we hope! Have at it.

Faultline Gin Batch #2 34.99 - We're back at it again with St. George distiller Dave Smith and his wacky ideas about gin-making! We were caught off guard by the extreme success of the first Faultline Gin. People really went wild for the celery salt-infused flavor that made savory cocktails a thing of beauty. That being said, we couldn't just make another batch of the same gin right after we told people it was a limited edition item. We had to come back with something new and interesting. "Something smoky?" I asked Mr. Smith. "I've been wanting to make a smoky gin ever since learning how to distill," he answered. People love peated whisky, but we didn't want peat smoke or campfire flavors. We wanted smoky citrus, but we wanted rotisserie. Dave managed to track down a bundle of thin-skinned mandarin oranges along side a giant smoker from some guy named Texas Ray who cooked huge BBQ parties for the winery next door to St. George. We threw in the skins, leaves and all, and smoked that fruit until the skins turned from orange and spongy to amber and crackly. We dumped everything into the gin base, macerated it, Dave pressed the fruit and distilled the juice, added that into mix, then dialed the juniper back up to make sure it still tasted like gin! That's it! What you've got is a citrus-focused gin that brings a bit of mesquite on the finish. Whereas Batch 1 wasn't really for gin and tonics, Batch 2 is going to make gin and tonic drinkers wet their pants. Try it in lemon juice cocktails as well

We're loading them up and putting them in the store. Come on down to Redwood City and get some!

-David Driscoll


Power Rankings

I haven't really felt the stress from the holiday rush while in the store. It's been hectic as all hell, but I've remained rather calm throughout it. What I've noticed, however, is that the tension comes out at other times when I'm not expecting it. Yesterday I found this bitchin' light-up martini glass to go over my bar, but I could not find a beam in the wall for the life of me. I kept drilling holes and hitting open plaster, relegating my screws to worthless support systems. I was so mad I couldn't believe it! The pressure had been boiling up inside me for weeks and I let it out like Ralphie after he gets hit with the snowball. Filth, filth, filth. Then calm. I needed that, I think.

In any case, it's up now and it looks great. Let's talk about booze. What are people buying right now at K&L? Our hottest sellers over the past week, in order (and remember this is just for K&L! I don't speak for liquor stores across America like some people tend to think I do):

1) Longmorn 20 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - A combination of price, the in-store tasting with David Stirk, our staff's recommendation, and word-of-mouth has this whisky flying out the door. By the time anyone gets around to reviewing it, it's going to be gone. HOT! It's really, really good if you haven't had a chance to taste this yet. 

2) Springbank 14 Year Old K&L Exclusive Madeira Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - The whisky brochure really brought this guy back from the dead. Whatever we wrote worked. We still had more than 150 bottles left when the flyer went out. Now we're down to about forty or so. One of my favorite bottles from 2011 finally coming to an end.

3) Templeton Rye $29.99 - The seven dollars off per bottle really motivated people to go wild. I was told this is sold out for another few weeks, so when we're out we're out. Not sure if we can reload before Christmas or not. We had more than 400 bottles when that email went out a few weeks back. Now we're down to 22. Yikes! That's a real mover.

4) Aberlour 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - Strong pre-sale numbers. Strong in-store numbers. Small cask with few bottles. Only 18 bottles remain. This will be the first cask to sell through from 2012.

5) Lagavulin 16 $69.99 - The ubiquitous classic continues to move. People love it. What else can you say?

6) Lagavulin 2012 Distiller's Edition $109.99 - Just in and already flying. Easily the best Lagavulin I've had in years. The thick, viscous sherry notes are in perfect harmony with the smoke. Last year's release seemed a bit disjointed. This one is money. Fudge and chocolate on the finish. Decadent stuff.

7) Compass Box Flaming Heart $89.99 - Sales have slowed just a bit, but we're almost sold through now. One of the best whiskies of the year, no doubt. Smoke, supple, smooth. Yum.

8) Kilchoman Machir Bay Single Malt Whisky $55.99 - This whisky continues to impress people and we continue to sing its praises. It's a huge staff favorite and we have a good amount of POS (point-of-sale) material in the store to add to that adoration. This might end up being the top whisky we sell for the year. More so than Lagavulin when the year is up. That's insane. 

9) Auchentoshan Classic Single Malt Whisky $23.99 - A hot deal that's coming to an end. Great call from Morrison Bowmore to get a rockin' price on this guy.

10) Bank Note Blended Whisky $19.99 - I wrote this up for the December newsletter because I wanted to make sure people still knew we carried blended whisky. Boy, did people ever listen. I can't keep this in stock at any of the stores. Currently sold out in the North with more coming on Wednesday, I believe. Any one who's had this knows what a stupid deal it is. The more people who find out about this, the worse it is for those who love it. That being said, I have to help out my friends the Morrisons, despite how much I want to keep this Bank Note to myself!

Those are the power rankings for whisk(e)y at K&L from December 3rd through December 9th. I thought that might be a fun snippet. It's always interesting to know what people are buying from us during the holiday season and it's always fun for me to watch!

-David Driscoll