Barrel Buyin'

I've made it known to you all (and to the vendors as well) that we are in need of some barrels.  Not empty barrels, by the way.  Casks full of brown water that will be bottled exclusively for our wonderfully loyal customers, then offered at a discount for the seventy or so people in the Whisk(e)y Club.  It's not that no one answered the call, it's that no one stepped up with anything worth buying!  Until today.  Even though I was at work before 6 AM, counting bottles in the dark winter (albeit more like summer now) morning, I still met up with a few appointments.

Dennis Tobin from Sazerac came by today to taste me on some Buffalo Trace barrels (yes, Sazerac and I are getting along fine now, thank you) and he brought the goods.  David OG and I like to confer with one another before going all the way, but we have no problem defering to one another if one of us needs to go deep with a sweet opportunity.  I pulled the trigger on what was obviously a fantastic barrel of bourbon. I'm in a "less is more" phase right now, prefering elegance to power, so I went with the most gentle, beautiful, soft, and gentle selection they had.  This is such a creamy and seductive barrel of Buffalo Trace so I look forward to offering some $20 deals in the near future.  Watch out for this one, it's a real keeper.

More bourbon coming, yet still no single malt.  My brow was beading down a mean sweat as I looked over my February whisk(e)y club member options.  I've been swimming in great bourbon as of late, but the Scottish selection has been light (hence, the trip to Scotland coming this March).  Duncan Taylor, whose octave program seemed like such a fantastic thing last year, has come under new distribution and they have been dedicated to working with us on better pricing, the main reason we weren't interested previously.  Today I went through the incredible samples they sent me and I was specifically looking for deals. Far and away, the best whisky was a 1998 12 Year Old Imperial, a Highland distillery owned by Pernod that never sees the single malt scene here in the U.S.  The intense maturation in the octave has this malt brimming with vanilla bean on the entry with a kiss of sweet grains over the palate before giving way to a delicate finish.  The best part is that the cask strength is down to 48% which means you can enjoy a robust, unadulterated flavor without having to add water. This should be in stock mid-February. 

What a day! I'm on the couch now with a Hibiki and soda watching Food Network, confident in the fact that we just got two fantastic barrels everyone is going to love.

-David Driscoll


Tuesday Tasting Notes 

Finally got a chance to taste this new Glenglassaugh that is now being imported again to the U.S. and, man, is it ever tasty.  The 26 year is off the chain good, a malt built for me in every way - oily and chewy, dried fruits with vanilla and honey, herbal elements on the midpalate, and a long grainy finish.  Superlative stuff, but for $265.99 it had better blow me away!  I bought a few for the store in case anyone out there is going to throw down for something super special anytime soon.  I might have to eyeball it for myself when I run out of super high-end juice.

Also part of the group were the two new Black Adder malts from Tomatin and Caol Ila, although the latter is bottled as Peat Reek (with an awesome Celtic warrior on the label, no less!).  Both are raw cask and bottled straight out of the barrel, both are very tasty.  I continue to be massively impressed by the Black Adder line and I really get a kick out of their bizzare labeling.  It's just so completely removed from current single malt reality, but still very cool in its own way - kind of like Naploeon Dynamite or Max Fisher from Rushmore.  The Tomatin is lean and grainy, but packed with concentrated flavor and high-proof so nothing gets dilluted.  The Caol Ila is just a classic Islay malt at full throttle for a reasonable price.  Tomatin should come in at around $90, which is fantastic for an unadulterated malt of that age.  The Caol Ila should be $69.99 or so, also a nice price for such a pure whisky.

-David Driscoll


Staff Education - Blending

Every Tuesday is staff development day where one of our regional buyers opens about 20-30 wines from their selection and traverses between both SF and RWC stores to give us some education.  I lobbied to be on this list for 2011 but, alas, there are too many K&L employees who do not drink spirits to justify giving me one of those spots.  They did give me permission to hold impromptu training events whenever I felt it necessary, so I decided to take my lovely Sunday crew for a little blending action. 

After talking to John Glaser about starting with experimental vatting in his London apartment's kitchen, I was inspired to try something like that here.  There's obviously no point in vatting whiskies that have already been vatted, so I would have to find some bottles that were from single barrels, and if they could be cask strength, even better.  Here's what I went with:

The Auchentoshan 18 would make a great base.  Light, fruity, high proof at 56.9% and interesting.  I wanted some peat so we chose the Ellenstown 12, which I understand to be a single batch of Ardbeg, also coming in at cask strength 57%.  To add some oily richness we took the fantastic Glencadam 22, while at only 43%, should help to proof it down a bit as well.  You can tell I was looking for something similar to the Flaming Heart with these ingredients. 

To help prepare the staff for what the blends could possibly taste like, I had created a few on my own in advance and had given them a week to settle down and integrate.  The staff's job was to taste the three ingredients on their own, then taste my sample blends, and attempt to create their own blend into the empty glass bottles that I provided them.  We would then taste each blend after a week to see how successful they were in creating their own expression.

The blends I had created were as follows: Batch 1 - 25% Auchentoshan, 50% Ardbeg, 25% Glencadam. Batch 2 - 33% of each.  Batch 3 - 50% Ardbeg, 50% Glencadam.  The flavors of all three blends were interesting, but #2 was easily the most balanced and drinkable.  Equal amounts of each really went a long way in balancing the flavors out. 

While we didn't have enough time to taste everyone's blend yesterday, I was present to watch our Australian/NZ wine buyer Jimmy C in action.  He has had some experience with wine blending in Australia and he took his craft very seriously - really measuring things out and getting intricate with the meshing of flavor profiles.  His final batch was something like 50% Glencadam, 30% Ardbeg, 20% Auchentoshan and it smelled amazing.  I can't wait to go back and try it today.

The point of this article?  Blending is a fun exercise in understanding how single malts are structured.  When the master blenders are putting together a new batch of Talisker 10, how many different batches of Talisker are they using from different ages and different flavors, I wonder?  You can play blender in your own kitchen by doing the same experiment.  Get some friends to pitch in some cash, buy some single barrel cask strength expressions, and get creative. 

-David Driscoll


The Pheonix has landed...

So, as Driscoll pointed out in Whisk(e)y News 1.18.11, the much anticipated Glenfiddich Now Phoenix has just hit Hollywood.  This limited bottling is a little expensive, but it's sure to fly out of stock considering the limited availability, complete uniquesness and overall ultra hype.  While, I haven't had a chance to taste the I have been pining over the bottle all weekend and thought I'd share my obsession with you guys.


Clearly, the Snow Phoenix motif comes from more than just this whisky's rise from the ashes.  The religious symbolism is overwhelming, but no doubt intruiging.  Very excited to taste this unusual whisky!

Just to go over exactly what we're dealing with here, on January 7th a far flung part of Glenfiddich's warehouse collapse under the stress from one of Scotland's snowiest winters on record.  This part of the warehouse was exposed to the incredible cold of the Scottish winter nigh around -20 C.  Upon surveying the wreckage, the malt master realized the oppurtunity they had to flip this crisis on its head.  The whisky is NAS, but contains whisky from 13 to 30 years old.  We will taste this soon and let you all know if its awesome or overhyped.  Eitherway, if you are interested act quickly...

Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix Single Malt Whisky 750ml - $85.99

-David Girard



Maintaining A Balanced Diet - A Guide To Drinking

The domineering force of alcohol can manifest itself in the form of crippling addiction, but it can also overpower our enthusiasm as hobbyists.  I'm sure I speak for many out there when I say that my need to keep drinking is driven by my desire to taste as much as possible. The problem with curiousity however is that it killed that cat, or in this case, pickled his liver and left him a mess. There are real dangers out there for those of us who like to spend our free time traversing this deliciously intoxicating world and, when you work in an adult candy store like K&L, any dehydration or morning nausea from the previous night's antics is immediately a faint memory when the visual of our sales floor hits the retina upon arrival.  All those bottles to choose from, and so little time to drink them all.  Needless to say, I've picked up a few lessons from three years on the frontline and I'm here today to share them with you.  If you've ever felt like you need to take break from the booze, you are not alone, but moderation can keep you from this either/or precipice.  Here are my tips to stay happy, healthy, and satisfied as a professional drinker.

1) Choose The Proper Drink - If you choose to only drink spirits, you're not only withholding serious pleasure from your taste buds, you're also bombarding your kidneys, liver, and stomach lining with high-proof poison.  Selecting healthy amounts from all the major food groups can help ease some of the strain that your body undergoes in trying to purge itself of alcohol.  Part of drinking responsibly means choosing the proper beverage for the proper time.  If I'm out for an early lunch on a Saturday, I'm not going to order a glass of whiskey - I'd be knocked out before the afternoon activities even started.  Beer is definitely the correct choice, or a glass of white wine if the carbonation is too much.  Understanding which food groups are appropriate for each drinking scenario can go a long way to keeping you in check.  Plus, my affinities seem to work in phases, so it's great to have options when I've exhausted my tolerance for brown water. Drinking should not be an all-the-way or nothing exercise, so lighter options are sometimes a necessity.

2) Keep excerise the one constant - I once made the mistake of trying to work exercise into my drinking schedule and I paid the price with dizzy spells, fainting, and general fatigue.  Your exercise schedule needs to take priority and the booze fits in around it.  For example, if I go running every morning then I cannot begin drinking heavily before bedtime - it leaves no time for my body to filter out the alcohol before exercise.  I don't get home until after 7 PM and I usually am asleep by 11 so that doesn't leave much time.  Does that mean I should swallow as much elixer as possible between 7:30 and 8:15 as possible, then hit the water heavily so that I pee five times before bedtime?  No, unfortunately it doesn't work (as I've tried that).  The rule is I can have either a beer or a small glass of single malt and that's it.  End of story.  Running comes first, then booze.  I usually don't run on Saturday or Sunday, so that gives me Friday and Saturday to indulge a bit. 

3) Maintain A Balanced Booze Diet - I've found that my desire to drink just about everything can in most cases keep me from overdoing it.  I had a fantastic dinner on Thursday night that ended with complete satisfaction and more-or-less sobriety.  I started with a Campari and soda, dined with a glass of red Italian wine, and ended with some Amaro.  After that I even let myself have a small glass of Springbank. The diversity of the flavors, and the anticipation of each beverage helped to keep each serving to a minimum.  Having four small drinks was more pleasing than drowning myself in two big ones because of the variety.  When I overindulge it's usually because I'm trying to finish a quantity of booze that was too large to begin with. Which leads me to my next point....

4) Don't Feel Like You Have to Finish the Bottle!! - This is perhaps the most important of the four points.  Perhaps the coolest part about buying a nice bottle of Scotch is the fact that you don't have to finish it once it's been opened.  Beer and wine unfortunately do not keep for long after oxidation so they must be drained in a matter of hours or days.  If you're all alone, a bottle of wine is simply too much.  Even a half bottle of wine to yourself results in nothing but TV for the rest of the night.  Putting the cork back in the bottle is something you should get in the habit of doing.  Wine will keep just fine for 2-3 days and most of the time will only improve over that period.  Have a glass on Tuesday, a glass on Wednesday, and a glass on Thursday rather than a bottle all at once. 

-David Driscoll