Whisky Season 2016 – Round Six

After five rounds of Old Particular and Hepburn's Choice releases, it's time to mix things up a bit with two Signatory editions and one distillery-direct cask from Edradour. My colleague Jeff Jones and I made the trip to Pitlochry this past March, braving the cold and snowy conditions to warm our bodies with freshly-drawn single malt. We were much pickier this time around than in previous years and we really streamlined our needs and desires down to three delicious casks. The Benrinnes many of you already know. This is the sister cask to last year's selection and it's pretty much the same whisky, albeit softer at a natural 48.2%. The alcohol wasn't the only thing that evaporated either, as we only managed to get 112 bottles from the barrel. Ballechin might be a new malt for many of you; it's the heavily peated version of Edradour and since the distillery is owned by Signatory, we thought it made sense to start working directly with their whiskies as well. Buying an official distillery cask directly from the producer always comes at a bit of a premium (as you'll remember from our Glendronach, Glen Garioch, Kilchoman, and various other selections), hence the price here for the ten year old. If you're looking to really treat yourself, then you need to grab the Longmorn and grab it at some point within the next few weeks. Despite being 24 years old instead of 29, it's basically the same whisky that we sold for $300+ last Xmas from our Hunter Laing Old & Rare edition, but with more freshness and less oily resin. It's rich and malty, coated with thick vanilla and sweet grains, supple on the finish, and absolutely gorgeous in every way. I think it's the better whisky and it's about half the price. It's also 51.1% which allows you to drink it straight, but with gusto. 

1995 Benrinnes 20 Year Old “Signatory” K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - Here at K&L we love Benrinnes distillery so much that, as soon as one cask sells through, we turn right back around and buy another. Whereas we usually like to shake things up and diversify our inventory to keep things fresh, we start breaking out into sweats when the Benrinnes starts to get low. While it's not a household name, Benrinnes is part of the Johnnie Walker empire and, while it's rarely bottled as a single malt, the distillery makes one of the softest, fruitiest, most drinkable whiskies in the business. Everything about the flavor of Benrinnes is joyful, lithe, and warming. This particular cask is light on its feet with fresh stone fruit on the initial entry, followed by soft touches of oak from the hogshead cask and a lovely note of biscuit and sweet malt. What's also interesting about this cask is that it only yielded 112 bottles and proofed itself down to 48.2% naturally. The result is a high-end session whisky designed to please serious fans of old school Scotch. The bad news about this cask is that it's the last one in Signatory's warehouse, meaning we're going to have to look elsewhere for future releases. At least 112 people will go home happy!

2005 Ballechin (Peated Edradour) 10 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $89.99 - Although we've been working directly with Edradour's Signatory label for five years now, we've never bottled anything directly from the distillery until finding this monster cask of 2005 Ballechin on our last trip. Ballechin is what Edradour distillery calls its heavily peated expression, and the result is something far more beastly than anything you'll find on Islay. That's not to say the whisky is peatier, but rather it's heavier, more earthy, brooding, and dense. The peat smoke is clear right off the bat, but once it begins to collide with Edradour's intense maltiness, the peat becomes something completely different. If you can imagine the smells and flavors of fermenting malt, that combination of sour, sweet, and cooked grains, then combine those elements with scorched earth, heavy smoke, and burnt peat, then you'll begin to understand the power of this single Bourbon cask of Ballechin. Now power that profile up to 55.8% and all that intensity gets dialed up a notch. What's ironic to me about this whisky is that it comes from one of Scotland's tiniest, daintiest, most manicured and fairy tale-esque distilleries. There's nothing dainty about this malt, however.

1992 Longhorn 24 Year Old “Signatory” K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $159.99 - If pressed, I would probably put Longmorn in the top tier of Highland malt whisky producers right alongside more heralded names like Macallan, Glenmorangie, and Glenfarclas. There is something ineffably quintessential about Longmorn's richness, weight, and texture; there's a core of sweet vanilla and malted barley in just about every expression I've ever tasted from the distillery, and I always walk away from the drinking experience utterly satisfied. For that reason, I will always buy an older, reasonably-priced cask of Longmorn when I get the opportunity. This past spring, I stared down a vintage-dated 1992 barrel in the Signatory warehouse and had yet another fantastic dram. This 24 year old whisky should be the mold after which all other Highland malt whiskies are created. It's almost heavy on the palate and it moves slowly across the tongue, a creamy wave of dried apricot, vanilla bean, and sweet grains. The finish has more of the same, but throw in a hint of butterscotch for dessert. There's no sherry maturation or sweetness really from the hogshead cask. All that richness is inherent in the whisky itself. All in all, there's nothing extraordinary about this whisky because just about every edition of Longmorn we've ever bottled has been outstanding. This whisky is nothing more than another example of a superior Scotch distillery doing what it does best.

-David Driscoll


Introducing Yuu Baal

There isn't a day that goes by where I don't receive twenty different emails from readers, potential customers, vendors, or general enthusiasts about a product we just have to carry at K&L. With so many different products hitting the spirits market right now, it's almost impossible to keep up, especially when so many random people are constantly writing to me about their experiences:

"David! I had this rum on vacation in Bali. You simply have to do the six months worth of price negotiations, product research, government formula approval, label design and approval, importation logistics, and then take all the investment responsibilities of an importer just so I can get one bottle for my wife who forgot to buy one while we were there! I might even buy two bottles if you can make it happen!"

Unfortunately, K&L has never been the store that carries everything, nor will we ever be (see my viral article about saturation here for clarification). Now more than ever we have to be extremely picky! I've never been the asshole gatekeeper who said no to everything under the sun and made people nervous with a serious, straightforward demeanor. I've always been the easy-going guy who said yes to any and every appointment and did my best to give every decent label a chance to succeed. Unfortunately for the little guys coming to market today with superfluous booze, those days are over. There's too much competition today. There are too many people vying for the limited spots we have on the shelf and extremely tough decisions are going to be part of the modern reality. When it comes to Tequila and mezcal, I've put a total freeze on any expansion because we're as full as full can be. However, when I tasted the new expressions from Yuu Baal, my mouth dropped, my eyes widened, and I bought everything they had.

Yuu Baal is one of the best new mezcal labels we've seen from Oaxaca in the last few years, originating from the town of San Juan del Rio—one of the region's most well-regarded distillation centers. The brand (which translates to "earth" and "fire" in Zapotec) is a collaboration between a local cooperative of distillers and my friends at Pacific Edge here in California, incorporating spriits from San Luis del Rio, Santa Ana del Rio, and Santo Domingo Albarradas. It has immediately become one of the most diverse and high-quality mezcal line ups we carry with flavors that are clean and focused all the way through. The entry level espadin expression is made from estate grown agave baked and crushed by stone using traditional methods, and the pure, unadulterated character of the aromatics is evidence of the artisinal production. It's also very well priced for the quality. Del Maguey's Vida was always the go-to value mezcal, but with the competition on the market right now it's going to be tough for them to keep that crown; especially with something as good as this:

Yuu Baal Espadín Mezcal $34.99 - Roasted aromas of earth and spice emanate from the nose, and the palate brims with subtle smoke and a concentrated blast of tangy fruit and savory spice. The Yuu Baal espadin is hands down one of the best sub-$40 mezcales we've ever tasted. There may be a new king of Oaxacan spirits.

Yuu Baal has three high-end wild agave expressions as well, made from the holy trinity of tobalá, madrecuixe, and tepeztate. For those of you who are new to mezcal, these wild agave expressions are expensive because of the rarity and difficulty in the foraging of them. Unlike the espadín varietal, which can be cultivated in fields such as in the photo above, think of wild agave like you would truffles. They cannot be farmed, but rather they must be found. Not only do you have to find them, you have to find enough of them to ferment into enough liquid to justify cooking a batch for distillation. The flavors of the wild agave expressions, however, are not instantly better than the standard espadín expressions to the novice palate. I would compare the nuance of their profiles to something like cigars for the newcomer: at first it's just smoke and earth, but over time you come to appreciate the complexity. In the case of the three Yuu Baal releases, they're three of the most precise, textbook distillates of tobalá, madrecuixe, and tepeztate I've ever tasted. They're definitely worth the extra dough if wild agave is your bag.

Yuu Baal Tobalá Mezcal $109.99 - Tobala is usually the ultimate test of a Oaxacan distiller's craft and in this case the Yuu Baal passes with flying colors. There are textbook tobala notes of earth and sweet plant-like flavors that morph into a rather peppery note on the finish. It's an elegant expression of the famed wild agave on all levels. 

I would never write this in the actual notes for the website because I think it would scare off the budding consumer, but for you guys here I'll say this: to me, tobalá always has what I describe as a paper towel flavor. When I was a kid, someone told me that drinking water filtered through a paper towel would get rid of the hiccups. I tried it once and the flavor has never left my memory. That plant/paper flavor is a big part of the classic tobalá profile, in my opinion.

When the agave piñas are roasted before fermentation, they're left to smolder under a mountain of earth. Hence, many of the Yuu Baal expressions have clear and vibrant flavors of—you guessed it—scorched earth. Pretty straightforward, right? You really get that earthy flavor coming through in the madrecuixe.

Yuu Baal Madrecuixe Mezcal $109.99 - Madrecuixe is one of the most coveted and complex of the mezcal wild agaves and the immediate aromas from the Yuu Baal expression showcase exactly why. Nosing the spirit, there are distinct and potent earthy elements at play, intermingled with an ethereal smoky note that smells like a fire pit after it's been doused with water. The balance between those elements on the palate is a spectacle to behold, as the flavors meander from vegetal, to sweet agave fruit, to subtle spice, and then back to plant matter and earth. This is truly a mezcal expression for those who seek out the most potent of agave flavors.

Yuu Baal Tepeztate Mezcal $119.99 - Yuu Baal's wild tepeztate expressions is perhaps one of the most polished top shelf mezcals we've ever tasted, perfectly balancing the line between classic agave spirit flavor and more exotic notes of earth, spice, and savory. There's a seamless note of black pepper, roasted agave, scorched earth, and sweet agave perfume all the way from front to back. Those searching for elegance, look no further.

Like I said, there's no room for new mezcal at K&L right now unless it's some of the best mezcal we've ever tasted. In the case of Yuu Baal, it is. These are definitely here to stay.

-David Driscoll



My wife and I joined a relatively high-end gym down the street from our house recently in an attempt to bring much-needed exercise back into our lives. I was a runner for many years, but had stopped almost completely until last month when I realized the loss of those meditative minutes had altered my ability to manage stress levels. While, of course, we always want to look our best and fit into our clothes, I'd say we were both using psychic balance more than drastic weight loss or peak conditioning as our motivation. The spiritual and mood-lifting benefits of exercise are well known to me, especially after having experienced life without their aid. What I did not realize, however, was how spiritual—maybe even religious or cultish—the exercise world has become over the last five years. You'd be amazed by how argumentative and aggressive some people are about their particular brand of physical fitness, to say nothing of their feelings for a particular brand of yoga pants. Running on the treadmill this week I overheard a heated conversation between a trainer and a customer concerning the merits of Crossfit as compared to other schools of fitness.

"There's really no reason to do anything else at this point," the trainer said. "It's been proven that Crossfit builds muscle and lowers body fat more effectively than any other program; forget yoga, or standard cardio, or that bar method bullshit."

While continuing to eavesdrop, I spotted the root of the argument almost immediately because it's eerily similar to conversations I hear at K&L about booze, or on television by religious zealots. It has to do with viewing an experience or an action solely as a means to an end, rather than a rewarding or enjoyable process. For example, some devout believers push religion as a way to add meaning to life, as simply a guide to help one happily navigate the many perils of our time here on Earth. Others, however, believe religion to be a simple matter of right and wrong, as in there is one true god and all others are false idols. They feel it's their job to point you towards the correct answer, to save you from hellfire. To those folks, it doesn't matter whether the tenants or philosophies of a different religion connect with your own personal beliefs, or that the practices of a particular creed might appeal to your way of living. In their eyes, there's only one right answer because religion isn't about enjoyment for them; it's about getting the desired result. In the case of the trainer I was listening to, this person couldn't comprehend that anyone committed to serious exercise would do anything other than the most effective form of training. Because why would you waste your time doing anything else? 

As a former teacher, I can tell you from experience that there are quick and effective ways of educating children that are practiced and proven, but they don't work for every single kid. Do you think you can kill and drill the multiplication tables with every single boy or girl out there, regardless of their disposition? There's a reason different schools of training exist. Some people prefer yoga to cardio kickboxing, or pilates to heavy weights, so the gym therefore offers a variety of different classes. Some people prefer pinot noir to cabernet. Some people prefer Scotch to Bourbon. Some people prefer peace and love to eternal damnation. But to a large number of people out there, our world is black and white. Efficacy is evolution. Life is about filtering out the static, stripping away the excess, and getting down to the root of everything. Life is time optimization. Life is value. Life is meta.

"David—why would you drink the Springbank 18 for $170, when you could get the Glenmorangie 18 for $100?They're both eighteen years old and one's way cheaper!"

Why? Because I like the Springbank 18 more, that's why. Sometimes I make decisions based on my own personal preferences, and not merely on the most effective use of my resources. My tastes are also different than your tastes. I like to drink whisky that tastes good to me, not necessarily whisky that makes you feel more secure about your beliefs. Does that make sense?

So I'm going to go to the gym, I'm going to run four miles on the treadmill, and I'm going to pick the precision running model that has the drone-filmed international video courses because it makes me happy. I particularly like the one where I can run through Bad Reichenhall outside of Munich. Something about that Bavarian town calms my soul. Then I'm going to eat some pretzels and drink some beer. I know—those are carbs. It's true, I won't ever get down to under 5% body fat, but—believe it or not—that's not why I joined this gym.

-David Driscoll


The Return of Tom's Foolery (w/Rye & Applejack!)

We're having a heatwave in California this week, so it's time to sit outside, crack open a bottle of whiskey, and enjoy the last real month of warm weather while it lasts. If you're having a good old fashioned American BBQ this week to celebrate summer's last hurrah, then maybe you'll want to enjoy some good old fashioned, bottled-in-bond American hooch. After blowing through our initial batch of Tom's Foolery Bonded Bourbon, we're back with a new batch and two additional expressions: a bonded rye and applejack, to boot! David OG has been working his Ohio connections to bring you this little deal, and I've been anxiously awaiting their arrival. I was a huge fan of the first Bourbon batch, so I can't wait to sink my teeth into these puppies! David's notes are below:

Tom's Foolery Bottled In Bond Batch #3 Ohio Straight Bourbon Whiskey $49.99 - Tom Herbruck is an unassuming gentleman with a solid career and a  beautiful family. He's also a man with a secret. In the shed behind his house sit hundreds of barrels of whiskey. In 2011, he purchased the historic Michter's Jug House Pot Stills and began producing what many consider to some of the finest craft whiskey on the market. In early 2016, K&L was lucky enough to connect with Tom & Lianne Herbruck to secure the first batch of his newly minted Bottled in Bond Bourbon. Truly a culmination in the Craft Whiskey revolution, Tom's new BIB is easily the best craft bourbon we've ever tasted at any price point. The big bold pot still bourbon is unlike anything else on the market even from the finest Kentucky distillers. Powerful notes of fresh oak, stone fruits, and dense grain open to a playful palate of caramelized fruit and pointed evergreen. The finish is long and full with cocoa and dark smoked woods. Oily, rich and long. It doesn't have the sweetness of the Kentucky bourbons, but definitely matches the complexity. It feels like a whiskey from a time long forgotten and so it is. Only a tiny amount of this small batch made it way out west and we're the exclusive supplier for CA. Tom's third batch of Bonded Bourbon is a blend of two casks over 4 years old. One is a high corn (75% Yellow Dent, 13% Winter Rye, 12% 6 Row Barley) and the other a very unusual high rye bourbon (51% Yellow Dent, 32% Winter Rye, 8% Malted Winter Rye, and 8% Wheat).

Tom's Foolery Bottled in Bond Batch #1 Ohio Straight Applejack $54.99 - Tom Herbruck is a pretty laid back guy. But one thing he takes very seriously is Applejack. Produced from locally sourced cider in small batches just like it would have by the pioneers 200 years ago, this Applejack is truly a handmade specialty of the region. To the small amounts of locally pressed fresh cider that Tom can source he adds a certain amount of hand-pressed crabapple cider. This was the tradition in Ohio and so it continues. The sweet cider is left to ferment naturally and takes at least three weeks before the natural sugars are completely converted to alcohol. This hard cider is then double distilled in copper pot stills before being aged in a variety of different barrels. The first batch of Tom's Bottled in Bond Applejack was aged entirely in a single ex-cognac with a #3 char. 75.5 gallons of brandy entered the barrel at 118 proof and aged for four years and three months resulting in less than 370 bottles for the batch. The flavors are distinct and vibrant with tons of apple and spice on the nose. The palate is rich and viscous with plenty of fruitiness to balance the french oak component. One of the finest American apple brandies we've ever tasted. Only 30 cases were made available for California.

Tom's Foolery Bottled In Bond Single Barrel #90 Ohio Straight Rye Whiskey $49.99 - Our first single barrel with the exceptional Ohio craft distillery also happens to be their second ever batch of Bottled in Bond Rye. This special little cask of rye was distilled on Monday May 21st, 2012 from a mash bill of 64% Rye, 11% Malted Rye, 22% Yellow Dent, and 3% Malted 2 Row Barley. Fermented without the addition of any enzymes on the grains in their old Cypress fermenter, it was distilled to 108.9 proof before barreling. During those four long years of aging nearly 20% of the barrel evaporated and the proof rose to 112. We decided that it tasted best at 100 proof and so Tom slowly lowered the proof for their bottled in bond label. Fabulously complex and driven by that spicy rye and earthy malt. Expect a robust mint nose with bready grain and toasty oak. The palate is unctuous and relatively oily with those big dry rye spices upfront and some sweet fruit coming through on the finish. Of course, this little guy won't last long, so have at it while you can.

-David Driscoll


Benromach @ MiniBar Hollywood TONIGHT


Join us in Welcoming BenRomach at the Minibar in Hollywood's historic Best Western. Enjoy light bites and the splendid Joseph McCluskey walking you through a flight of the wonderful BenRomach Distillery's latest offerings. The BenRomach Distillery is quickly becoming one of the most well-regarded Speysiders and is doing so on its own terms. 

Purchased by Gordon & Macphail in the 1990s, the distillery is committed to releasing "real" Speyside whisky. They've recreated a style that was readily available in the region 50 years ago, but today is almost impossible to find. Expect to see the 10 year, 15 year, Peat Smoke and Sassacaia Finish in this one-of-a-kind experience. Seating is limited. Festivities start at 6:30pm and should last until 8:30pm. 


-David Othenin-Girard

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