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Wednesday
Jan202010

Tasting With Glenmorangie - 1/19/10

Again the priviledges of being the spirits buyer for a major retailer - the master distillers for the world's great whiskies come to see you! Hopefully I will be able to visit them someday, but for now I'm just happy that they take the time to visit K&L.  Dr. Bill Lumsden, the distiller and whisky creator for Glenmorangie, was in the Bay Area this week and brought his whole lineup of fantastic Highland malts with him to make sure that I was familiar with them.  I've been a fan of Glenmorangie since I first started seriously drinking, mostly because they're so accessible and tasty.  I feel like they do something many drams only wish they could do - appeal to both beginners, with its rich and coating mouthfeels, and experienced tasters, with a complexity of flavor that extends throughout the entire portfolio. 

I am usually inclined to sum up Glenmorangie with a story about my two good friends at last year's Whiskies of the World extravaganza in San Francisco.  I had two extra passes and two old buddies who were interested in drinking whisky, but knew very little about the producers.  They tasted at about three different tables until they got to Glenmorangie and then they simply posted up there for the rest of the evening.  They absolutely fell in love with the Nectar d' Or and marveled at the different expressions that were clearly influenced by the barrels they had been aged in.  They had the whole room at their disposal, but Glenmorangie whiskies are undeniably delicious, and after tasting some pretty peaty Islay malts, they simply wanted to stick with something that truly hit the spot, and that's exactly what these malts do.

The core of Glenmorangie's range is the 10 year, and then a series of 12 year old whiskies all aged 10 years in Bourbon casks before distinguishing themselves in how they spent the last two, and we began the tasting by sampling them.  With the exception of The Original, I believe they are all unchillfiltered.

Glenmorangie "The Original" Single Malt Whisky $35.99 - A classic 10 year old whisky aged solely in Bouron barrels that is a paragon of restraint and subtlety.  The citrus (which is clear and apparent in a few of their malts) really shines in the nose along with honey and vanilla.  The vanilla continues on in the supple and creamy palate, and the finish lingers with a touch of sweetness.  This is a great whisky for anyone's collection and it's very reasonably priced.  Who wouldn't like this?

Glenmorangie Lasanta Extra Matured Range Sherry Cask $47.99 - The Lasanta gets the extra two years in sherry casks and really captures the dried fruits and nutty flavors that I associate with traditional Speyside malts.  The aromas are toffee and raisins and the finish showcases them again.  This whisky is less expensive than many Speysiders and it tastes better, so I'm glad we revisited this.  I will make sure that I pass this on to people who think they want Macallan!

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban Extra Matured Range Port Cask $47.99 - This dram really stands apart from the others with its dry and spicy flavors - completely lacking the sweetness that the others all display.  You get the dark chocolate, the baking spices, the orange peel on the palate, and the aromas are pure incense and sandalwood.  I can't remember trying this in the past, so I'm definitely excited about having gotten the chance to taste it.  I've had some other port-matured whiskies and I haven't been nearly as impressed.  This is distinctive and very good.

Glenmorangie Nectar D' Or Extra Matured Range Sauternes Cask $65.99 - This had previously been my favorite of the Extra Matured Range, and it still tastes as lovely as it always has.  Since the Bruichladdich 15 year in Yquem cask ran out, this is where I've gotten my fix.  The lemon custard, honey, and sweet syrup flavors leap out on the palate, and the nose is pure vanilla and orange peel.  The finish is all lemon tart and cream, however, despite the dessert-like descriptors, the whisky isn't all that sweet.  I still would drink it after dinner however as a substitute for something sweet.

The rest of the tasting consisted entirely of whiskies I had never before tasted and bottles that we have not yet carried, therefore I do not have a link to our website for them.  They were very exciting and of amazing quality, so I hope to make them available very soon.

Glenmorangie Private Collection Sonnalta PX - This whisky follows the formula of 10 and 2, but the sherry barrels used for the final aging are very different than those used in the Lasanta.  First of all these are Pedro Ximenez barrels - the sweetest and richest of sherries. Second, they are custom made for Dr. Lumsden - they are not simply used PX barrels.  Dr. Lumsden has spanish oak barrels made and then toasted on the inside.  He then requests that they be filled with PX sherry for one year so that the charred wood soaks up all the flavor.  The result is an aging vehicle that inflects its flavor deeply into the malt whisky.  The aromas are gigantic, punch-you-in-the-face aromas of dried fruit, toasty oak, and roasted nuts.  The palate is suprisingly soft on the entry, but hugely concentrated with plenty of raisin fruit and sherry notes.  This was supposed to be for duty free stores only, but they decided to release it into a few international markets.  The finish goes on forever.

Glenmorangie Astar Single Malt Whisky - This is almost cask strength, pure and unadulterated Glenmorangie whisky that spends all its time in designer casks made from American white oak from the Ozarks.  It is bottled at 57.1% ABV and really sings of toffee, butterscotch, and honey all the while intermingling with peppery herbs and gobs of fruit on the finish.  It is delicious and big in everyway.  I think it retails for around $80, but probably a bit less from us. 

Glenmorangie 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky - This is a very rare expression of Glenmorangie that sees 70% of the whisky spend its entire 18 years in Bourbon cask, while the other 30% does 15 years in Bourbon before being transfered to sherry for the final 3.  The nose is extremely fruity and full of floral aromas.  The palate shows citrus fruit with honeysuckle notes and the finish is all hazelnuts with dried fruits.  It is absolutely top notch whisky that I think I would pay top dollar for.

Glenmorangie 25 Year Old Single Malt Whisky - This dram used to retail for $900!!!  I couldn't believe it, but yet I could because I can easily say it's one of the finest whiskies I have ever tasted - EASILY.  I think they are dropping the price to around the $500 mark, which helps, but I'm not sure that even this gushing review is going to help them sell it at that price either.  It sees Bourbon wood for the first 20 years and then 12.5% goes into used Burgundy barrels and another 12.5% sees sherry casks.  The nose is stupendous - tons of aromatics with marzipan, berries, mint, and an oily characteristic that I love in a Scotch Whisky.  Everything about this whisky is perfect especially the balance.  The weight, the mouthfeel, the hints of sweetness, and the level of richness are all majestically in tune with one another.  If you are going to Whiskies of the World in March, go to their table first and try to get a taste of this right away.

Glenmorangie Signet Single Malt Whisky - Even though the 25 year was my favorite, I am saving this review for last because it was the most intriguing and the one bottle I am most likely to bring into K&L in the near future.  The Signet is one of the most complicated whiskies I have ever had explained to me.  It begins with Dr. Lumsden's love of coffee bean and chocolate roasting.  He decided that instead of drying his barley in a heated kiln, he would roast the barley like coffee beans in a heated revolving barrel.  The result was that the little buds of barley actually looked brown roasted beans and they are then used to make the beer and then the whisky!!  He calls it "high roasted chocolate malt."  The whisky is then aged up to 34 years and is then blended with other ancient Glenmorangie malts including a rare 1974 and another 40 year old from their archives.  The flavors are like almond biscotti and dark chocolate.  The color is dark and the palate is brimming with super soft dried fruit and loads of richness.  But it's not overdone.  That's the amazing part.  The SWA obviously took some time off from bothering John Glaser to pay Dr. Lumsden a visit and make sure this "chocolate malt" thing was kosher, but in the end they though it was brilliant.  I concur.  Well played, doctor.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Jan132010

New Local Booze! - Old World Spirits in Belmont

I was excited today to meet and taste with Davorin Kuchan, the master distiller for the newly-opened Old World Spirits in Belmont - just down the street from the Redwood City store.  Kuchan is a Croatian-born, but locally-educated product of a family that has been making booze for generations.  His traditional methods have brought him to search out the finest local produce for sourcing his brandies.  He is also a former member of the group behind Sarticious Gin, a Santa Cruz spirit that had a legion of adoring fans before folding last year.  He's now on his own and he's got the updated version of Sarticious, which he now calls Blade Gin, as well as a whole other line-up of goodies.  Most of these will be in stock by the end of the week, while others will be special order only.  The Blade Gin is not quite ready yet, but it will be hopefully in stock within a month or so.  We are the first retailer to carry his products and I couldn't be more excited.  Here are my tasting notes and info:

Kuchan Indian Blood Peach Eau De Vie 375ml $35.99 - All the fruit in this brandy comes from Placerville's Apple Hill and are all Indian Blood peaches - a variety that is difficult to sell as produce because it splits easily. However, the Indian Blood peaches are incredibly flavorful and as the base for fermentation, they really come through in the spirit.  The aromas are delicate, but unmistakably peachy and the pure flavor carries over to the flavor on the palate as well.  This is very good eau de vie.

Kuchan Poire William Pear Eau De Vie 375ml $35.99 -  The pear brandy has a lovely nose that jumps right out of the glass, and the entry is softer than most other fruit eau de vies.  The difference according to Kuchan is the yeast he uses during fermentaion - a trade secret he keeps to himself.  He also ferments the fruit for over a month, letting the slow process really give the spirit character.  The result speaks for itself - these are amazing products that we are very excited to see in our store.

Kuchan Juglans Nigra Black Walnut Liqueur 375ml $28.99 -  This liqueur has no perceptable sweetness whatsoever, so it's more like a walnut-macerated brandy - it is unlike anything you've ever tasted.  The California black walnuts are crushed and then macerated in the Zinfandel-based brandy for over nine months! At the end a bit of cinnamon and vanilla is added, as well as organic tapioca.  This is a tradition that has been in Kuchan's family for generations, and is part of the Croation tradition of planting a walnut tree in front of the house where a baby has just been born.  Both the tradition and the spirit are beautiful.  The color is a brown-amber and the flavors are nutty, as the brandy intermingles with the natural oils in the walnuts.

La Sorcière Absinthe Supèrieure Verte 750ml $72.99 - The spirit is brandy-based and is distilled from wine made by local California growers.  The Verte is macerated with wormwood, fennel, anise, star anise and other herbs before distillation, then the spirit gets a second maceration and the chlorophyll from the leaves colors the absinthe green.  La Sorcière has gotten rave reviews from the Wormwood Society, and from us here as well.  The aromas are not as bold as some of its comtemporaries, partly because Davorin tones down the proof to 100, but the concentration is beautiful.  The anise really shines and the flavors are clean and focused.  This is an absinthe I would like to drink straight, with no water added.

La Sorcière Bleue Absinthe Supèrieure 750ml $72.99 -   The spirit is brandy-based and is distilled from wine made by local California growers. The Bleue is clear and without the standard greenish tint seen with most absinthes because all the maceration is done pre-distillation, meaning that the flavor needs to be strong enough to transfer over into the finished spirit.  That's a difficult tast, but Davroin pulls it off.  The flavors are more ginger and spice, rather than herbal, but the result is still beautiful.   La Sorcière has gotten rave reviews from the Wormwood Society, and from us here as well. We are very happy to have them on our shelves.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Jan132010

What's In David's Bar - 1/12/10

I was nursing this bottle of one my favorite local secrets because I was under the impression that it was going to be a permanent piece of history.  Little did I know that Osocalis (named after the local native American name for Soquel - the town outside of Santa Cruz where the brandy is distilled) was already at work on an XO release and an exquisite apple brandy, as well as a re-up on the already legendary Rare Alembic Brandy.  The straight Alembic lies on the verge of subtlety - that netherrealm where, after tasting, some people shrug their shoulders and say "eh," and others stop, focus, and sit in complete and utter awe.  If you haven't been exposed to much Cognac or brandy, then the Osocalis won't blow your mind.  If you've tasted the Germain Robin, Ferrand, or Pellehaut offerings, then you'll probably get why Osocalis is so cool:  because this miniscule operation in the Santa Cruz mountains holds its own next to its finely-crafted, world-renowned contemporaries.  I've always been told that the sign of great brandy is in the fruit - if you can still gently taste the grapes through the distillation and the barrel aging, then something is being done correctly.  The Rare Alembic is neither rich, nor delicate.  It's neither sweet, nor without sweetness.  It balances perfectly in the middle of everything, and it does so subtly.  Subtlety is the key with Osocalis and I couldn't be happier that I no longer has to wait a month between visits to my bottle.  There's more to be had.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jan122010

Smokehead Islay Single Malt - Who Done Made It?

So I got to taste some new whiskies today and this was by far the most intriguing bottle in the bunch -both in flavor and in history.  Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd. has a whole portfolio of interesting products, like the Isle of Skye 8 Year Old that we sell here at K&L, but this new Smokehead has really set off a buzz on the internet - mainly because they are being tight-lipped about who actually made it.  It's definitely Islay and from what I heard the average age of the whisky is around seven years, but it could easily be mistaken for Ardbeg, Caol Ila, or Lagavulin.  I think it could be Ardbeg because it tastes like Ardbeg and I know that they have a strict policy about involving their name with other products beside their own.  The nose is full of fresh seaweed, peat smoke, and salt water, while the palate replicates the aromas almost precisely.  It's a delcious Islay malt and a good deal at around the $50 mark.  The question again is: who made it?  It doesn't really matter to me because I like it, but if I could tell people it was Ardbeg we'd have a real mover.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jan122010

What's In David's Bar - 1/11/10

I have a ton of booze in my home liquor collection.  Too much, if that's a possible scenario.  I'm in the process of going through it to see how much I actually drink of any given bottle - to access whether I would buy them again whenever it is that I finally run out.  Tonight I'm starting with grappa.  The Marolo Moscato is my favorite grappa that we carry because it is the most flavorful, and, in my mind, very traditional.  The Muscat grape is more aromatic and floral than say nebbiolo or sangiovese - two other traditional Italian grapes that are often used for grappa making.  This pommace distillate is so clean and vibrant, and it doesn't have any of the burn or petrol that makes most people cringe when forced to sip this underappreciated elixer.  This is the perfect spirit to sip after a large meal because it aids digestion.  Seeing that my sweet fiancée brought me tacos de carnitas from Pancho Villa, the world's best taqueria, I am in desparate need of stomach space. 

-David Driscoll