Monday
Jan112016

R.I.P. David Bowie

Two gut-punching rock and roll deaths in the span of a couple weeks. This one really took the wind out of me. I've been a huge David Bowie fan since I was a kid and have followed his work my entire life—the highlight being the chance to see him live in 1995 at Shoreline after having scored front row seats. I remember that night like it was yesterday. Not having had anything to drink all evening I'm gearing up to grieve tomorrow. I will pour out a little liquor in memory of a true idol.

And I will watch this video on repeat incessantly. I don't care how cool anyone thinks they are in shunning some of Bowie's more light-hearted stuff, choosing solely to embrace the 70s glam. If you don't think this video is the best video ever made (truly, honestly, and UN-ironically) then you and I will never be friends (or likely agree about much in life):

I hope you're dancing exactly like this down the streets of Heaven, David. 

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Jan102016

"Why Don't They Just Make More?"

There isn't a day that goes by where someone doesn't ask me: "Why don't they just make more?" in relation to the shortage of certain popular whiskey expressions. I know that just about every single person reading this blog knows the answer to that question, but I thought I'd share this article from today's New York Times about the current commodities economy. Almost everything being discussed relates to the whiskey industry as well. I thought the most telling quote, however, was this one in relation to new mines. Just replace the word "mine" with "distillery":

Although companies are retrenching, they cannot completely retreat. Many new mines, for example, are designed to function at full capacity to keep them operating efficiently. And the sales are necessary to pay the debts incurred to build them.

For some reason, I also seem to be a person that people contact to bounce ideas off of about potential spirits business involvement. I get probably two to three emails a week from guys who have got this idea about building a distillery or jumping into the whiskey game because they see the money being made right now. To those guys I say read this:

“Raw material producers invest according to current prices without realizing how those prices might affect future demand,” said Michael C. Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research, a consultancy. “Now that the demand is declining because of high prices, they have too much capacity, and once it’s built, you can’t unbuild it.”

If you're investing in whiskey because you think the prices look nice, I'd think twice about that investment. Because the above quote couldn't be more foreboding. And that's why they don't just "make more".

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Jan092016

Our New Diageo-Themed Container

Finally...it's show time! Our latest container of fresh Scotch whisky has landed and we've got a lot of new products to tell you about. I was noticing the line-up this week and I realized that every single one of these whiskies comes from a Diageo-owned distillery. That was not by plan. It just happened that way. It shows you the size and scope of the company though. It shows you exactly how many distilleries exist for the sole purpose of Johnnie Walker and other Diageo-owned blended whisky brands. It takes a lot of producers to pump out that much hooch. Let's get to know a few of them, shall we?

1997 Benrinnes 17 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $89.99 -This is our fourth cask of Benrinnes in the last two years and, believe us, it won't be the last. We've become rather infatuated with the Diageo-owned Highland distillery since our visit a few years back. Not only were the ladies running the operation incredibly friendly and gracious, they also helped us to better understand and appreciate the delicate, malty flavors of this classic Scotch whisky operation. Benrinnes isn't a smoky whisky, it's not a rich and textural whisky, nor is it oily or overtly powerful. It's simply an old school, no frills, vanilla and fruit flavored single malt that has incredible balance, grace, and pureness of flavor. Despite the rather unexciting description, there's a lot to be excited about when drinking this cask strength 17 year old edition of Benrinnes. Much like buying a new black suit if you're a guy, or a new black dress if you're a gal, there's something timeless and essential about this whisky. It shows the 17 years spent in barrel with the richness of the vanilla and the roundness of the malty profile, but there is nothing outside the box about this whisky. It's just a perfect and shining example of Highland perfection. We love it because it is exactly as it's supposed to be, not because it's an anomaly. If you love tradition and excellence in your Scotch whisky, then Benrinnes is for you.

1997 Glenlossie 17 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $89.99 - Few people have heard of Diageo-owned Glenlossie distillery, the Speyside facility known mostly by insiders for its role in Haig Blended Whisky. But that's part of what makes single barrels like this one so much fun! It's a chance to taste whisky from producers that normally do not bottle their Scotch as pure single malts. For fans of Glenlivet's Nadurra series, this 17 year old Glenlossie single barrel might be right up your alley. The intensity of the oak in this concentrated cask is apparent right from the initial sip as the woodiness quickly overwhelms the palate. At 55.4%, it's quite a powerful blast, but it soon gives way to grassy, malty, and cereal-like flavors that constitute the classic Highland Scotch style. That extra oak on the entry, however, completely distinguishes this cask from its other Highland counterparts. It's the boldest and baddest of the Hepburn's Choice editions we've brought in on this shipment. 

1997 Clynelish 18 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $129.99 - We're as obsessed with Clynelish here in the K&L spirits department as we are with Benrinnes, which is why we've locked down yet another cask of the beloved distillery's whisky in this latest shipment. While Clynelish is widely considered a connoisseur's choice for top-notch single malt whisky, its appreciated attributes aren't always apparent to the unseasoned drinker. What makes Clynelish so special (and a favorite among famous blending houses like Johnnie Walker and Compass Box) is the rather diminutive profile of light vanilla, lemon zest, heather, and a bit of bees wax. It's not a powerful or potent combination of flavors, but rather a flutter of brilliant beauty wrapped up in a biscuity core of elegance. At 55.4%, this cask strength 18 year old edition of Clynelish could use a little to help unlock all that complexity, but it's not a necessity. It showcases its quintessential character in fine form straight from the bottle. While Clynelish will never be as popular as the more powerful and showy single malt whiskies, it will always remain the favorite of those who appreciate substance and style. 

1995 Inchgower 20 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - Almost 100% of Inchgower's single malt whisky production goes into Johnnie Walker and Bell's blended whiskies, so the chance to taste a single, unblended cask of the Speyside facility's whisky was something we were definitely interested in. This sherry-aged beast of a malt should attract the attention of Mortlach and Blair Athol fans who have feasted on the dark, dense, meaty flavors of heavily-sherried casks we've purchased in the past. The richness of the Oloroso density is buffered by a strong note of earthy, savory, almost sulfury intensity; a brooding character that becomes more and more powerful as the 57.5% ABV begins to cut through all that sweetness. It eventually reaches a crescendo and the nuttiness of the sherry appears to take you through the finish. It's not Glendronach, it's not quite Glenfarclas, and it's definitely not Macallan; it's just Inchgower. Welcome to the new king of sherry-aged monsters. 

2009 Talisker 5 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $49.99 - Ahh....Talisker. That beloved Isle of Skye whisky that tempts so many of us with its heavenly combination of round, textural richness and smoky peat flavors. Now imagine that bright star of a whisky in its incubation period, still forming its integral character, not yet developed or ready to shine in its polished presence. This five year old, unbridled look at Talisker is for true whisky geeks only. Matured in a refill hogshead for only five years, the color is still almost clear and the flavors still maintain much of their new-make youth. The beery and almost-fermented flavors of white whisky are still strong in this interrupted interlude, but it's the finish that will captivate you and send you over the moon. All of that smoke, peat, saline, salty, and phenolic intensity absolutely explodes on the back end of the palate, erupting in a combination of sweet fruit and bright baking spices. You'll take one sip, then another, and then yet another as you try to wrap your head around this rare single malt opportunity. Independent editions of Talisker are incredible few in number. For the price, we think your leap of faith will be well rewarded. 

2009 Caol Ila 5 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel  Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $49.99 -This is our second cask of young Caol Ila under the Hepburn's Choice label and our decision to re-order was based on the tremendous success of the previous edition. We weren't sure how our customers would react to such a youthful and unabashed expression of Islay intensity, but what we discovered was that young Islay whisky tastes rather wonderful. In this five year old cask of Caol Ila there's a roasted barley note immediately that wraps around the fruit and continues to squeeze on the palate until shaken off by the salty, sea water note that washes into the finish. A second sip shows more pure peat flavor and bright phenolic notes that again get lost in the fruitiness of the Caol Ila spirit. This is another fun one for true fans of Islay and for whisky geeks looking to understand the various stages of single malt maturation. 

1988 Cambus 26 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whiskey $119.99 -Whereas comparable single cask of editions of the now-closed Cambus distillery have sold for $200 or more, our direct import program continues to provide incredible value to customers interested in cutting out the middleman. This 26 year old beauty of a grain whisky is tailor-made for fans of the Nikka Coffey Still expression, albeit this one is much, much older and at full proof. The fruit and vanilla have never been richer, the palate has never been smoother, and the whisky never more drinkable than it is in this 26 year old Sovereign edition of Cambus. The whisky is practically begging to be consumed over ice and tossed back with reckless abandon. But that would probably do a disservice to the complexity that looms underneath all that obvious deliciousness. This is liquid butterscotch. It's a cookie biscuit distilled into whisky form and put into a beautiful bottle, exclusively for K&L customers. 

1989 North British 25 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky $109.99 -Just outside of Glasgow sits the North British grain distillery, a facility that uses unmalted grains like corn and wheat and distills them on a column still to produce grain whisky--one of the more misunderstood personalities of the whisky universe. Most of you have had grain whisky before, you've just had it in conjunction with single malt whisky in expressions like Johnnie Walker or Chivas. Grain whisky is what's ultimately combined with single malt whisky to create "blended" whisky (hence the name). What hasn't been clear to most drinkers until rather recently, however, is how wonderful grain whisky can be on its own, especially when aged twenty years or more. This 25 year old North British cask of goodness brings a mouthful of cereal sweetness, rounded fruit flavors, and a biscuity butteriness that pleases the senses in a way that only something that straightforward can do. At 57.5%, there's plenty of heat behind all that dessert-like flavor, allowing you to toss in a few ice cubes without really diluting the flavor whatsoever. If you're new to the grain whisky game, this is a great place to start.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jan082016

New Year's Blitz

While we've been getting all the new Hepburn's Choice and Sovereign casks retail ready this week, two little additions to our 2015 Signatory haul just crept in the backdoor and—let me tell you—I'm not sure you'll find two better deals in 2016 (despite the fact we're only eight days in). Not only do we have a stunning twenty year old Caol Ila at a time when the Islay stalwart appears to be in short supply, we've got a second cask of nineteen year old, sherry-aged Glenlivet, except that this one came in at full proof. Signatory called me a few months back to let me know they had mistakenly put the juice in at 50.9%, which would normally have added an additional twenty bucks or so to the sticker price. Because we had asked for the cask at 46%, however, they agreed to honor the original price. In standard K&L fashion, we'll pass that savings along to you. We'll keep the price exactly the same as the last cask: $89.99! 

We've already sold about a quarter of the Caol Ila cask without any advertising or fanfare, so I wouldn't sleep on that baby. I don't expect it to stick around for long.

1995 Caol Ila 20 Year Old Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt whisky $139.99 - We've got three words for you in relation to our new 20 year old Caol Ila cask: BUY, BUY, BUY!!! Diageo has been sold out of the standard Caol Ila 12 year expression for the last year due to shortages of the peated Islay malt. Somehow, someway, however, we locked down an absolutely stunning 20 year hogshead at full proof for a price far less than what it should be. This isn't some rag tag cask either, but rather an absolutely glorious expression of everything that makes Caol Ila wonderful: a round, fruity, almost creamy mouthfeel of soft vanilla and oily richness, contrasted by an intense peatiness that injects a healthy dose of smoke into all that weight. At cask strength, there's extra pop to all that dynamism, but it never overpowers the flavor. This whisky needs no water, no dilution whatsoever in order to be enjoyed. Just pop and pour, and take in everything that makes Caol Ila one of Scotland's legendary whiskies—during a time when supplies happen to be scarcer than ever!

While we didn't think four percentage points justified the extra cost initially, we'll take it for the same price! It does add an extra punch to this sensual sherry-saturated malt.

1996 Glenlivet 19 Year Old Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $89.99We've got another round of 19-year-old sherry-matured Glenlivet magic for you, but this time at cask strength! And the best news is: the price is still $89.99! Signatory actually made a mistake not proofing down the whisky to 46% ABV, but they were gracious enough to honor the same price given the mishap. That makes what was already a great deal an even better one! Dark sherry notes of fig, cake bread, baking spices, toffee, and cocoa swirl in a symphony of rich Oloroso flavor. That extra proof on the finish, however, makes all the difference and adds lift to an experience that would normally end with a soft whisper. Instead there's a quick zip of peppery goodness, sealing the deal on one of the best single-malt deals we've ever offered. A mistake, of course, but we're passing the savings on to you nonetheless! Cask-strength whiskies normally sell for an extra premium, but not in this case. 

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Jan072016

The Interminable Isle of Skye

I've been so excited as of late about the arrival of our oddball Talisker 5 year cask that it got me thinking: "When's the last time I tried the standard Talisker 10 year?" I wasn't sure exactly, but it had been at least a year or two. With the precocious character of the young Hepburn's Choice selection exploding all over my tongue at yesterday's staff tasting, I wanted to see how that flavor ultimately integrated itself into the basic Isle of Skye expression. Could I follow the evolution of that whisky? I wanted to know.

I popped a bottle of the ten year old earlier today to conduct my experiment and I got completely distracted by the quality of the whisky. Jesus! It was so much smokier than I remember it being and the aromas were just heavenly, meandering between salted caramel and sticky butterscotch. I took a sip. Wow. Maybe it's simply because so many other big brands are losing their age statements and often times bottling inferior whiskies in place of previous standards, but to me the Talisker 10 year tastes better than ever! It really is a perfect whisky—a beautiful balance of sweet malty oiliness with just the right amount of peat. It's so much better than a number of other $60 and $70 whiskies we carry, but the price hasn't budged above $49.99 in years. You can set your watch to this single malt.

I wonder how many other fantastic single malt whiskies I'm forgetting about? I need to go back and retaste a whole bunch things. Do a little review to get my perspective straight.

-David Driscoll