40 Years of Splendor

For the K&L whisky faithful, these are the moments you live for: those opportunities when we dig out gems from Scotland's forgotten cellars, 40 years of whisky maturation from a lost distillery at full proof for $250. Grain whisky continues to be undervalued by the market, even when it's from a closed producer like Carsebridge. If this were Port Ellen it would be over $3000. But because it's grain whisky the market is unsure of what to do with it, so the price is absolutely ridiculous by comparison. I know what to do with this whisky, however, as I'm assuming all of your do, too. Drink it, and savor every last drop of it.

1976 Carsebridge 40 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Scotch Whisky $249.99 - While most whisky fans think of Port Ellen and Brora when the DCL distillery closures of 1983 are recalled, the company that would eventually become Diageo shut down a number of other whisky facilities that fateful year, including the Lowland grain operation known as Carsebridge. Originally founded in 1798, the distillery functioned as a cooperage after it ceased distilling, but even that process was ended in 2011 when the Diageo barrel operation was moved over to Cambus. Thus, with each drop of Carsebridge that is poured each year, what little remains of the distillery's stock is slowly extinguished from Scotland's grain whisky history, making each bottle that exists just a bit more rare. This 40 year edition, distilled in 1976 and bottled for K&L in 2017, represents the holy trinity for Scotch whisky enthusiasts, the combination of price, age, and rarity that historically has sent our customers into a feeding frenzy. Rich and round on the palate with the decadence of four decades in wood, this lively and vanilla-laden Scotch almost comes across like an American Bourbon with its big oak spices and 54% cask strength proof. Laden with honey on the finish, the bold proof brings home the flavor for a minute long finish.

-David Driscoll


Global Tequila/Local Crisis

We’ve had a string of shocking news out of Jalisco over the last year. It all started with George Clooney, as so many things do. He managed to flip his new new tequila brand for nearly a billion dollars to the owners of Don Julio. No questions that a hefty chunk of that windfall is tied to Mr Clooney’s continued involvement as the face of the brand, but the simple fact that the intellectual property could be worth this much is astonishing. The largest drinks company in the world (who already owns a massively popular tequila brand) paid almost a billion dollars for a name, a face and some really goodwill, but didn’t actually buy anything tangible. Consider that Cuervo, the world’s largest producer of Tequila, recently raised about $900 million in an early 2017 IPO. This values that massive company at around $6-7 Billion, but they own multiple distilleries across many categories. The disparity is shocking, but not surprising considering the costs to produce bulk tequila. Indeed, prices on agave have been historically low for many years. Big producers have likely stock piled inventory while costs were cheap, while at the same time some large growers didn’t bother to harvest many fields since the cost of labor outweighed the financial gains.

But, something changed last year right around the time of this sale. Whether it was spurred on by the sale of Casamigos or simply a strangely timed coincidence, midway through last year murmurs began to build about an impending agave shortage.What does that mean for the average tequila distiller? Well, you have a few options. Either you harvest younger plants, which won’t have as much sugars and may require additional processing to extract a usable amount of energy to make them worth your time and money. You pay the higher price at market for agave and raise your prices to the consumer. You invest in new technology, like autoclaves, diffusers, efficiency experts and laboratory technicians to squeeze every drop out of the few plants that you can secure. Or most likely, you’ll do ALL of these things and hope for the best.

The situation isn’t so dire for the large landowning distillers. They’re bulk tequila business might not be turning the same profits as before, but they’re required to sell themselves agave at market prices, so now the farming business is looking pretty good, as long as they have agave to sell at all. Those large scale land owning distillers will dictate the price of agave for the foreseeable future and when they see someone like George Clooney making a billion dollars off their land and labor, you bet they’re going to do everything in their power to make sure they claw as much of those profits back as the category continues to grow.

The real savvy producers have likely stockpiled enough spirit over the last five years to continue expanding without raising prices significantly and will be in a great position to attack the market share of smaller third party brands that will be forced to increase prices to continue operating. There’s no doubt that Sauza and Cuervo will be just fine through the crisis, which isn’t projected to alleviate until at least 2021.

These two massive brands control a great deal of market share, but their certainly not the only players in Jalisco. Enter TEQUILA SUPREMO! Known in Jalisco by the trade name Casa Camarena, the house was founded in 1938 by Don Augustine Camarena, brother of the famed distiller Don Felipe Camarena who founded La Altena just a few miles away. The prominent agave growing Camarena family came from Spain in the 1700s and began growing agave in the 1860s. Just over a century later, Don Augustine’s daughter-in-law Dona Elena Herrera Orendain takes over the family distillery. Since then they’ve grown to be the fourth largest distillers by volume.

Orendain is the great great granddaughter of Don Jose Cuervo and owns more than 3 million agave planted throughout the highlands. The Camarena, Cuervo, and Orendain names ALL represented in one distillery? It must be a massive behemoth of modern gadgetry and scientific precision, right? But instead Casa Camarena is committed to producing traditional tequila the old fashioned way. For their “Premium” brand Azteca Azul, they utilize only 8+ year old highland agave. It’s roasted EXCLUSIVELY in traditional volcanic stone ovens for more than 48 hours before fermentation and double distillation on steel then copper pot stills. The result is proper highland tequila with all the fragrance and freshness that you’d expect. Now the real kicker, it’s only $17. WHAT?!?!? But why? How? An estate grown, 100% agave oven-roasted pot distilled highland blanco tequila bottled and shipped to the states for less than $17 retail a liter. It seems too good to be true, but the proof is in the pudding. As I said, this agave shortage fits precisely into someone's plan. We just need to know who!

Azteca Azul Blanco Tequila (1L) $16.99

Azteca Azul is produced by one of the finest highland distillers in the world, Tequila Supremo. Known commercially as Casa Camarena, the famous house was established by Augustin Camarena in 1938. The prominent agave growing family founded the town of Arandas and multiple distilleries in the. The woman who runs the distiller, Dona Elena Herrera Orendain, is Tequila royalty. The great great granddaughter of Don Jose Cuervo, she's built Casa Camarena into Jalisco's fourth largest distiller that you've never heard of. Despite their size their commitment to quality is unparalleled. Azteca Azul is a 100% pure blue agave matured a minimum of 8 years on of one of the Camarena's 18 agave growing estates. The agave is cooked and cooled in traditional brick ovens before being twice distilled on steel then copper stills. Tequila Supremo has also developed a process known as "Zero D," which ensures that the distillery emits no waste by composting and recycling every possible waste product throughout the process. Tequila Supremo was the first tequila producer to be 100% environmentally friendly, but their commitment to sustainability doesn't come at the expense of quality or increased cost to the consumer. Easily one of the best values in tequila and quickly becoming our staff's go to blanco for sipping, mixing, parties, gifting and life in general.

We're the only ones stocking this exceptional tequilas at this ridiculous price so take advantage!

-David Othenin-Girard


The Lifecycle of a Barrel

Working in the Spirits and Beer/Cider departments of K&L not only allows me to enjoy some of my favorite beverages in the world, but I also get to be a part of some pretty cool things. For instance, recently I was able to be part of the life cycle of a whiskey barrel here at K&L. It probably comes as no surprise that as a larger but still private company we have our fingers in many different pies. Furthermore, we have the ability, and desire, to utilize our resources and connections to partner with local businesses to create interesting and unique products for people. That is precisely what happens with the many whisky barrels we collect here as part of our single barrel whiskey program.

Due to the nature of American whiskey, barrels are only utilized once for whiskey and from there they go on to other places for other purposes. Many of them end up in Scotland because Scotch does not require new oak, others are given to breweries to satiate the growing demand for barrel aged beer. For the larger breweries, buying barrels is just part of the process and they are able to handle that without issue. However, for many of the smaller breweries, buying a barrel represents a major capital investment that they may not see a return on for months. That being the case, often these breweries just go without or try to scoop up second fill barrels that wont deliver quite as much.

Here is where we can make a difference and connect with people and businesses within our community. As many of you know we have a strong single barrel whiskey program here at K&L. We seem to constantly have various Russell's, Four Roses, Dickel, and Knob Creek exclusive bottlings on the shelf. What some may not know is that these bottlings come with the barrel. It makes sense when you think about the fact that the distilleries cannot reuse those barrels for whiskey. So when we buy the single barrel, the barrel itself comes included. Now we may not be able to reuse these barrels ourselves, but we do happen to know a few different small breweries here in our that could use a barrel to age beer in.

Recently I was able to be part of this life cycle and see first hand how we reuse, recycle, and connect with those in our community. I drove up to Sebastapol with our Beer Buyer Jim Boyce and my coworker Stephanie Vidales to pick up a barrel from Spirit Works. We had bought a single barrel of Rye from them last year and they had been holding on to it for us. After a fantastic lunch at Woodfour brewing, litterally across the parking lot, we went and spent about two hours chatting distillation with Timo and Lauren. Full disclosure: it was more me pestering them with questions and running around breathlessly. After that we strapped the barrel to the bed of Jim's truck and headed to see our friends at Henhouse Brewing. 

Once we were happily ensconced and sipping delicious brews at Henhouse, their owner, Collin, came out and we got to chatting about beer. We explained what we had been doing that day and it turned out he had a beer coming in that he had collaborated with Drake's on and was thinking about aging it further in another barrel. Jim looked at him and simply asked if he would like to use our barrel. He got so excited and asked if we were serious, so we took him to the parking lot and showed him the barrel waiting to be used. So he grabbed a dolly and we loaded it up and returned inside for a last pint. In a year or so we will likely be seeing the results of this trip with a K&L exclusive bottling.

-Andrew Stevens


Islay Flashback

Every Tuesday is staff training day at K&L, hosted by one of our buyers who must travel from store to store and host an educational seminar. I'm on the hook for today, so I decided to take an in-depth look at Islay with numerous expressions from each distillery and a brief overview of the island's distillation history. It's amazing the selection of malts you can put together just from these eight producers; nine if you can snag a bottle of Port Ellen (which I did because I'm going all the way today). 

I was checking the blog to pull a few pictures from voyages past and I came across this post from May of 2012; hard to believe this was almost six years ago! David OG and I spent the whole day researching Islay's ancient farm distilleries via the map provided in the tasting bar at Kilchoman, digging for clues on the fly, armed with little more than a point and shoot camera. 

That was a damn fine afternoon and Islay still does it for me after all these years. Lagavulin 16, Ardbeg Uigeadail, Bowmore 15 Darkest, Bunnahabhain 12, Laphroaig 10 cask strength, etc. These are the whiskies I cut my teeth on as a Scotch rookie at K&L and they're just as tasty today as they were back then. Islay is like one big greatest hits radio station, continually pumping out timeless hits despite ever changing fashion of pop culture.

-David Driscoll


The Fatal Flaw

There's a major reason why most marketing and social media for booze quickly turns into a gigantic snorefest these days: everyone is portraying themself as the hero of their own whiskey journey. Here's what I drank last night. Here's me with the bottle. Everyone take a look at my personal glory. 

The thing is: we need heroes. However, when we present our message to the world, we just need to remember who the hero is in the story we're looking to tell.

If you look at whisky from the marketer's perspective then you know that people perceive themselves as the center of their experience. The customer is always the hero. As humans with egos, we all wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and wonder what adventure awaits us. No one ever wanted to be Superman's brother as a kid. We all wanted to be Superman himself. Because we are always our own protagonist, we're not looking for competition in that role. All good salesmen know that they are not the hero of their customer's experience. They are the guide. They are Obi Wan or Yoda to Luke. When I'm in the store on the sales floor, I am Mr. Miyagi, not Daniel-san. It's not about what I can do, it's about what I know that can help the hero along his or her quest.

As I've written before, there are plenty of best-selling tomes that back up this psychological strategy.

The fatal flaw I see most often today with those looking to connect with readers/customers/followers/etc is a misguided role reversal. It's what happens when whiskey customers look to become whiskey influencers and forget they're no longer the center of the story. They continue playing the hero, conquering their way through mountains of bottles, taking names and batch numbers along the way. They still think it's about them.

It isn't though.

When you're the one being served, it's all about you. However, when you're starting your own blog/Instagram/message board/ad campaign the roles must change. Simply put, no one wants to watch someone else be the hero of their personal whiskey story. They want to know one thing: how does what you're doing help me?

I've written this spirits blog since 2009 and in the endless myriad of articles I've posted over the years you can count the times I've shown a picture of myself on two hands. I do write about my experiences and opinions, but that's because as a guide you must show some credibility. At first Luke thought Yoda was just some annoying alien with a ridiculous voice. It wasn't until he used the force that Luke was willing to listen. Thus, you have to prove a level of expertise over a subject matter before people are willing to hear your message. From that point on, however, you must continue to focus on helping the hero towards his or her goal. 

As a guide you need two important things: authority and empathy. I would argue that you need more of the latter.

In the era of points and ratings, empathy has become less of a factor in marketing, which is ultimately why it all blurs together. The messages are either about me, me, me, or they're robotic formulae that compute wine and whiskey into numeric values. Neither is very compelling as a customer hero looking for a little human guidance. 

Nevertheless, the empire is growing.

As someone who has long believed in the force of empathy when it comes to human interaction, it's disheartening. You see ego and money getting in the way of real enjoyment and passion. That's why both Obi Wan and Yoda ultimately went into isolation. 

-David Driscoll