Corsair Single Barrel Rye Is In!

I was really nervous with the arrival of this barrel.  First it was late, then the label was in question, and then all this bad-mouthing of young whiskies starts catching fire across the internet.  Plus, it had been five months since I had last tasted it.  I was expecting these bottles to show up next week, but I walked into the warehouse today and there they were.  157 bottles of K&L exclusive rye whiskey right there in front of me.  I immediately uncorked a bottle and ran to the tasting bar to make sure my reputation wasn't going to go down in flames.'s delicious.  For such a young whiskey, this is amazingly soft rye.  The rapid maturation that Corsair was able to accomplish is fantastic - soft vanilla, cherries, and a smoky finish, yet still the more austere textures of true rye.  The mouthfeel isn't creamy or sweetened like a bourbon would be, but this is so different that any other rye on the market.  In any case, you all will have to find out on your own.  We sold around twenty bottles today and there's a mass email coming soon, so it isn't going to last forever.  The Corsair K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Kentucky Rye is from a 100% rye mashbill and makes a fantastic new addition to our growing selection. I'm really confident that many of you are going to love it.  Although, I'm bracing myself for those of you who do not! :)

-David Driscoll


Viñas De Oro - Truly Golden

As one of my fellow buyers here at K&L always likes to remind us, one has to keep an open mind when tasting or else you might miss out on something great.  It always seems to go something like this: I'm on my way out the door for lunch, just as I'm stepping out the door I get paged to the sales floor, a vendor is waiting there for me to taste something, and it's never, ever whiskey.  Yesterday it was Pisco.  While I love the grape-based spirits of South America, they're not exactly flying off the shelves.  I've been very happy with both the Soldeica and the new Encanto de Campo already, so I wasn't optimistic that this Viñas de Oro would find a way into our selection.  Again, this is why one is supposed to keep an open mind.

Pisco is a spirit that one is generally not meant to sip, but I've always felt that the great examples hold up against fine Italian grappas.  They can be so perfumy, floral, fruity, and complex.  The Viñas de Oro bottlings are in the league of Encanto quality, yet they have multiple expressions that are all completely different.  The Acholado was incredibly floral and expressive.  The Quarranta was mild, but vibrant like a tequila.  The Torontel was wildly tangy, almost like it was distilled with sour lemon.  The Mosto Verde Torontel was distilled from a grape must with a healthy amount of residual sugar, giving the spirit a creamier and more elegant texture.  All four were mind-expanding.

Next week when I bring all four of these bottles into K&L, I will have to make space for more Pisco.  While we are already cluttered as is, we have a duty to carry the best.  Viñas de Oro Pisco is definitely the best.

-David Driscoll


Bourbon Seminar w/ Jim Rutledge

The Barbary Coast Conservatory in San Francisco is finally starting to host some great public events, so I want to do everything I can to help these guys get this program going.  For those of you who don't remember, last year's SF cocktail week was centered around the opening of the Boothby Center on Mission St, a facility that will allow for seminars, lectures, and cocktail training. It's like a library, but only for booze-related subjects! Now that the guys are actively bringing in guest speakers, it's time to start supporting our local treasure by attending some wonderful events.  Coming up this January 27th, Four Rose's Jim Rutledge will be doing a two hour bourbon seminar, talking history, distilling, and the nature of American whiskey.  Tastings of Four Roses Bourbon will be provided, as well as a specially designed Four Roses cocktail from the bartenders present.  Tickets are $35 and can be purchased through the link below.  This should be a fantastic event, as anyone who has ever met Jim will tell you how fascinating he is.  To spend two hours with him in a small, intimate setting is a real treat.  He might be the best distiller alive.

Tickets can be purchased online here!

All proceeds go to support the Conservatory!  That's a wonderful thing.

-David Driscoll


All The Food Groups - New Reviews

I finally got the chance to taste the new 2010 Caol Ila 12 Year Unpeated and I must say that it offers one of the most educational experiences available in the single malt world.  Unchillfiltered, and bottled at cask strength, this release from Diageo tastes exactly like what it claims to be: 12 year old Caol Ila minus the peat.  Some Islay distilleries make non-peated whiskies, but that isn't quite the same as unpeated.  The difference, you might ask?  Non-peated implies that the distillery's original idea was to make a whisky without the use of peat - a new expression.  They decided to craft a flavor that allows their distillery to offer something different than the nor, that attempts to unveil a different side of the house style.  The Caol Ila unpeated is not a new whisky that replaces the peat with more sherry, or some other flavor substitute.  It is the same old Caol Ila, just without peat. It tastes literally as if they took the usual 12 year old and did the exact same process as always, just this time without peating the barley.  The result is like eating an Aguililla Market taco without hot sauce and focusing on how good the flavor in the meat is.  When you eat food without salt or pepper, the quality inherent in the original ingredients had better shine.  This whisky gives up the goods and with plenty of kick as well.  The sality, saline character of Islay is still present, but the beer-y, hoppy flavor is now center stage much like Alameda's St George single malt.  There are whisps of golden grainy goodness, but really no richness or fruit influence.  It is simply Caol Ila, unpeated.  It's actually quite tasty and there is nothing else we carry that hits quite that flavor profile.  An education in a bottle.

There have been quite a few questions regarding these new microdistillery offerings from the East Coast.  The best kept secret in Massachusetts is now out of the bag.  The Berkshire Mountain bottlings have made their way to California and they are acutally quite good.  I use the word "actually" because the dominant mindset has become dismissive towards small, young distillations and it is up to me to convince some of you that these are not merely new lambs for the editorial slaughter.  The gins are quite nice with the Greylock Gin representing the traditional, juniper-dominated London style and the Ethereal bringing the orange-peel citrus.  They have a corn whiskey, on which I decided to pass because Leopolds does it much better, but the Berkshire Bourbon is actually quite integrated and full of baking spices with sweet vanilla.  I think most bourbon drinkers would give it a pass should they find it in their glass.  All three of these bottlings are quite encouraging.  As you know, I wouldn't bother to bring them in if they weren't worth drinking.

Since I'm stuck on olives with cheese and crackers lately, I've really been pounding the sherry.  Tonight's bottle is a fantastic manzanilla from Hidalgo Pastrana that is all single vineyard!  That's quite odd for a sherry that is done solera style.  The average age of this briny monster is ten years, which is nearly twice what most other manzanillas are offering.  Nutty richness subtly creeps in on the entry and the palate is wonderfully clean and fresh with plenty of salty undertones.  The world of fino sherry is a world that all you light snackers and tapas lovers need to enter ASAP.  It is so refreshing and you can keep the bottle open for 4-5 days in the fridge without losing the flavor.  This is how I plan to start every meal of 2011.

After dipping into the Jerez kitty, I decided to pour me a glass of Alpine Beer Company's Alpine Ale, which we have to keep a two bottle limit on.  Located in Alpine, outside of San Diego on Highway 8, this little distillery has made quite an impression on our customers by offering beers with clean, pure flavors and creamy textures.  The Alpine Ale isn't going to pound your mouth with bitter hoppiness or dark, coating sweetness.  It rather refreshes and cleanses while preparing one for the next bite of a delicious meal.  The craft beer movement is overwelming me with so many delicious choices as of late.  It's hard not to drink a little bit of everything on nights like this.  Fortunately, I did tackle all the major food groups today - brown booze, white booze, wine, and beer. 

-David Driscoll


A Shift In Sales Philosophy

Since taking over at the end of 2009, David OG and I have been very cautious with our buying (as any new buyer should be) and we've been even more careful with our volume.  Like other stores in the midwest and the east coast, we probably could have purchased multiple Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, or Elmer T Lee casks simultaneously, so that we always had at least two going at all times, but instead we only did one at a time.  This happened for two reasons - 1) we only bought a barrel if we REALLY liked it.  2) we wanted to bring in the barrel, announce it, and move it out before committing to another large purchase.  We weren't sure how large the demand was for our exclusive casks, but when the barrel of A.D. Rattray Clynelish 27 sold out on pre-order, we realized that we had created a larger market for our whiskies. 

Thanks to all of the local whiskey enthusiasts, we're able to make riskier and more exciting purchases because we know that there is a demand here in the Bay Area.  However, I'm seeing more orders leave the state and that means people from all over the U.S. are taking note and I want to be able to supply that demand.  It's become the case that when we bring in a barrel our customers only have about 2 or 3 weeks to decide if they want to buy it and then it's gone forever.  This puts pressure on the customer to decide quickly, and the scarcity could definitely be seen as a marketing tool where no one wants to miss out on something, so they buy because they would rather have it than not get a chance later.  While that's a model that has been very successful for us, I don't think it's ultimately how I want to run the whiskey department.  My philosophy has always been focused on education, creativity, and inclusivity, however, it's the exclusivity that has driven our sales. 

In my opinion, there is only one way to remedy this situation and I think everyone is going to like it: buy more casks.  If we always had a strong rotation of numerous K&L whiskies then each one wouldn't seem like such a "gotta buy it right now" bottle.  You might think I'm crazy for wanting to slow down the sales of each purchase, but I'm getting my heart broken by emails/phone calls from customers who want to purchase of bottle of the Mannochmore 28 or the St. George 11 and are devistated to hear they missed out.  While the demand we have created for our casks is amazing, the frustration generated by the small window available to buy them is palpable and real.  How can we reach out to new customers when our best products are constantly sold out? Having more casks to choose from at any given time would mean less attention would be given to any particular one, slowing down the rate of purchasing and giving our customers more time to try and then purchase more should they want to.

Here's the problem, however.  I've literally been begging distributors to find me more barrels.  Get me samples, let me give you tens of thousands of dollars right now!  The process is mindbogglingly slow.  They must get me a list of barrels available from which I must choose only a few to sample.  That selection then has to be relayed back to Scotland, where the samples are drawn from the barrel.  The warehouse must then file the proper paperwork and prepare the bottles for shipment to the distributor.  A month later, I might get these samples, which represent only a fraction of the overall selection.  I then taste and decide.  This usually creates one more big problem: what if I don't like any of them?  The process then starts all over.  Considering it takes at least another two months after selection to get the barrel bottled and shipped to the U.S., it could be months before we see it at K&L. 

But what if I were to go to them?  On Monday I plan on sitting down with our owners and laying out the case for my first Scotland trip.  David OG and I need five days of massive tasting to help secure more booze for K&L customers and we're going to do it or die trying.  We have insanely high standards (to the frustration of many distributors) and we will not buy for the sake of buying - even if we know it will sell.  That's just not how we roll.  The West Coast needs more independent casks of high quality single malt whisky.  There's only one way to make that happen at the speed we need it done.  Go to Scotland and take care of business.

-David Driscoll