Why We Like Single Malts (I Think)

So I'm back on a wine kick again (it happens every few months when I just booze too much and the brown goods begin to singe my gastrointestinal system).  Wine is what got me started in the liquor world and I always find that understanding more about it helps me to better understand the single malt world.  If you've ever wondered why people obsess about single malts and shun the blended malt, it is usually for the same reason that wine drinkers seek out different varietals - curiousity about a specific style and taste.  I've recently been intrigued by the idea of a 100% ploussard wine from the Jura so I bought the one we had in our store made by Jaques Puffeney.  The idea of unique regional wine interests me just as much as a single cask bottling from Ardbeg would.  Both are unique, singular expressions of purity that are rarely experienced.  The untainted taste of a definitive style is the secret to better understanding the world of booze and that excites us (or atleast me).  How many of you have been tempted to buy something you've never tasted just to know what it tasted like?

I find it very interesting (and not coincidental) that the same customers who are interested in smooth textures and tastes with red wine are the same people who ask for Walker Blue.  Some folks just want something that tastes good and are less interested in artisinal production that leads to a special flavor.  They don't care that Islay malts tend to be salty or that Highland malts tend to be oily.  As long as it tastes good they'll take it and that is the point of blended whisky.  The idea of the blend is to take whiskies and mix them until they make one solution that is absolutely delicious.  I like blended whiskey just like I enjoy blended wine.  Isn't the goal of eating and drinking to enjoy the flavor?  That being said, while blends make my mouth happy, but they do not satisfy my intellectual curiousity and that quest for more knowledge is what fires my passion for booze.

One of my favorite things to do to this day is read through my wine books in search a grape I have never tasted and then try to source a bottle through K&L.  Getting to taste a new grape is exciting, even if the the wine isn't any good.  Just knowing is enough for me.  While single malts aren't made from different grains, each distillery has a specific process that makes their whisky unique - be it the shape of the still, the source of the water, the drying process, or the aging in barrel.  Getting to know these names, these whiskies, these flavors is a wonderful journey and one that simply isn't possible with Chivas Regal because the origins are no longer decipherable.  It isn't just that each single malt tastes different than the next, it's that their difference has something to do with the production and the tradition of the distillery.  It's like cheese - it all comes from milk, but there are so many different ways of making it (hence why I also love cheese).

This all may seem obvious, but I'm surprised by the amount of people out there who keep drinking Glenlivet 12 over and over and over again.  Every week they come in, buy their one bottle, and move on.  That's like only eating sharp cheddar.  That's like only eating Hershey's chocolate.  That's like only drinking Budweiser.  The fun in drinking single malts comes from experiencing the myriad of possiblities and then learning what makes them just so.  Why does Ardbeg taste like iodine?  Why does Glenrothes taste so unctuous?  Why does Clynelish taste waxy?  These are the questions that drive us into bankruptcy as we spend every last dollar trying to figure it out.

-David Driscoll



Amazing New Cognac Products From Paul-Marie Fils

Before you read the headline and think to yourself, "I'm not into Cognac, time to browse over to the Malt Advocate blog," give me a few more lines to intrigue your attention.  Today I had the chance to taste two new products being imported soon to the U.S. that truly took my breath away.  A 58 year, single barrel cask strength Cognac (like a bourbon!) and a Pineau des Charentes that blows any other liqueur out of the water.  Both are amazing; one is very expensive; the other is within a reasonable price for someone who is serious about spirits.  Either would be something very special to own.

In 1951, a 20 year old Frenchman named Jean began his military service outside of Lyon.  He made a very good friend during this time named Pierre, who was a 9th generation Cognac producer and their friendship lasted over the years.  When Jean's grandson Nicolas (who came to visit me today) became interested in distilling, Pierre decided to mentor him and teach him the art of Cognac.  While learning how to produce, Nicolas of course had to learn how to taste and he was able to sample the entire library of Pierre's family, dating back a very long time.  Most of these barrels were never released to the public and many of them have never been blended to create a marketable product - they simply age slowly in the family cellar. 

In 2008, Nicolas, who had always been a big fan of bourbon, decided to consult with Pierre about releasing one of these barrels in a single barrel, cask strength format much like the American whiskey makers have been doing.  He knew that there were collectors out there who would love to get their hands on something like that and he felt a duty to release these brandies to the world.  The first of these releases is a 58 year old barrel distilled entirely in 1951 that is one of the most awesome spirits I have tasted.  Exploding with flavor, this is big, powerful, chewy, dark caramel, chocolate, dried figs, and a monster mouth of 51%.  It is jaw-dropping, heartstopping, simply fantastic brandy and it will appeal to more than just the Cognac lovers.  This is more like Armagnac but with even bigger balls.  Nicolas has named the line after his father, Paul-Marie.  The Barrique "Devant la porte" will be available shortly and will come in around the $650 mark.  If you were ever going to shell out for a Cognac, this is EASILY the one worthy of doing so.  Only 258 bottles made.

On top of that amazing experience, Nicolas also brought his 25 year old Pineau des Charentes that simply explodes on the palate.  I've never even heard of anyone aging their PdC before, so the idea in itself is novel because most people feel like they're wasting their Cognac by adding fermented wine must to it.  I've only ever had the Peyrot that we carry to compare it to and that is not much of a comparision.  This is a megablast of orange peel, sweet caramel, nutty almonds, hints of cheese, and more swirling on the palate.  It was made from Cognac distilled in 1984 and then white wine from 1985 and put into a barrel for 25 years!  Who has the patience to do that for Pineau des Charentes?!  With only 679 bottles released - all unfined, and unfiltered at cask strength - I can't imagine a better gift for any spirits or wine lover.  It is simply DELISH!  At $85 I think it is more than fair for something so special, unique, and wonderful.

I cannot wait to get these bottles.  Simply CANNOT WAIT!

-David Driscoll


Email List Benefits

Just a reminder, the K&L Spirits Journal is really just an extension of the email list newsletter that we try to send out once a week.  While the list tends to be very whiskey-centric, we try to cover spirits in general on the blog.  However, we want there to be a benefit for the loyal people who subscribe to our newsletter via email, so if you are reading the blog only you might want to sign up for the email blasts.  All insider info goes out in this form and all allocated items such as Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bourbons and Pappy Van Winkle products will be for whiskey list customers first.  If you are interested in having your email added to the list, please send me an email requesting that I do so at:

-David Driscoll



New Product Round Up!

Here is this week’s round up of new product all of which I am very excited about.  The first is from one of my favorite agricole rhum producers, the little Rhum JM on Martinique.  Produced exclusively from fresh cane juice grown right on the grounds of this incredibly picturesque estate, Rhum JM has operated continuously since 1845. Their exacting standards put them in the top tier of spirits producers worldwide.  The only distillery in Martinique to produce rhum exclusively from cane grown right at the domain also has a fresh spring right on the property, so everything but the barrels comes right from the estate.  Rhum JM is unique in that they char their barrels with oak chips and rhum before adding the fresh spirits for aging.  Aged rhum sits for a minimum of 10 years.  In those 10 years 50% of the liquid by volume and at least 10 degrees of alcohol evaporate due to the tropical climate. 

This bottle is the finest I've had from JM.  Ethereal and boisterous, the JM shows more depth than many cognac and/or whisky out there.  Stylistically it falls somewhere in between those two categories.  The fresh cane creates a much less sweet style than many rhum drinkers are used to.  Herbaceous, citrus, floral, but not overpowering, it is an exquisite experience.  Although it's expensive, 1994 JM easily beats many competitors at similar price range in all other categories.  If you're ever gonna jump on the Rhum wagon, this is a great place to start. 

Another exceptional product that we just received is Ransom Distillery's WhipperSnapper Oregon Spirit Whiskey 750ml ($35.99).  From the distillery that brought us the exquisite Ransom Old Tom Gin, this is another grand slam.  Ransom has brought two distinct styles of whiskey together in this wonderful little package.  Corn based white dog is blended with a barley spirit containing both malted and unmalted barley.  This is then aged in a variety of oak barrels including French oak ex pinot noir barrels, fresh American oak, used whiskey barrels.  This product is aged less than two years, but shows great depth.  The sweetness is very low.  Aromatically it reminds me of some of the double distilled Irish whiskies from the Cooley Distillery.  On the palate the corn base gives off a hint of bourboniness, but the finish is all herbal and mineral.  Truly a unique spirit, which I think will be most useful behind the bar, definitely one of the better young craft whiskey available today.

Finally, something I've been pining over for years.  Nouvelle Orleans Absinthe Supérieure 68 by Jade Liqueurs 750ml ($124.99) sets the new standard for the absinthe category in the US.  T.A. Breaux essentially created the modern absinthe category thanks to his exacting science and determination for historical accuracy.  In an effort to exploit this newly created market, Mr. Breaux brought the Lucid Absinthe to the American market, while keeping his higher quality stuff for the European market.  While I think the Lucid marketing was cringe worth at best, the actual juice was fine for the price.  Nouvelle Orleans is a departure on both counts.  Named in honor of America's absinthe epicentre, this is a perfectly designed product in everyway.  Nouvelle Orleans has been on its way literally since Lucid was released.  I can only speculate about why it was delayed for almost 3 years.  Anyway, it’s here.  It’s incredible.  It’s expensive.  Get some...

Rhum JM Vieux Agricole Martinique 750ml - $249.99

WhipperSnapper Oregon Spirit Whiskey 750ml - $35.99

Nouvelle Orleans Absinthe Supérieure 68 by Jade Liqueurs 750ml – $124.99


K&L Purchases An Entire Barrel Of The Best Gin Ever

You might remember my post from a few weeks back about hanging out with Davorin Kuchan at the Old World Spirits distillery.  You can see in the picture to the left that he is filling a beaker with something magical and brown.  A whiskey, you ask?  Yes, and no.  It is distilled from grain and aged in wood, so techincally it is a whiskey, but because it was macerated with herbs and then distilled again before it entered the cask, it is in actuality a barrel-aged gin and a damned good one at that.   It only took one small sample during my recent trip to realize that Davorin Kuchan may have produced the greatest gin we've ever tasted.  Already well known throughout the Bay Area for his fantastic Blade gin, Davorin decided to experiment with adding some richness to his spirit, much like many of the Old Tom Gins do.  After 13 months in the barrel (more than most craft whiskies spend in wood these days) the juniper and citrus notes already present in the gin became aromas of baking spice and cloves, with hints of vanilla and a rounded mouthfeel - flavors of the holiday season, and just in time!  The result is so good we're not sure if we want to sip it or mix it, or both simultaneously.  The whiskylover in us decided to bottle it at cask strength as not to adulterate any of the concentrated goodness, so in the end it's more like a bottle and a half of gin, as you should add some water to proof it down.  I am convinced that this is the best barrel-aged gin available and am going to go on record here that it might be the best gin ever made.  For sipping, for martinis, for negronis, or for mixology experimentation, the Rusty Blade is as delicious and unique as it gets.  Only 250 bottles made with a retail price of $59.99.  Release date very soon, so stay tuned.

-David Driscoll