Crazy Nights

I went to Amoeba Records in San Francisco today and have since had two major thoughts running through my head.

While shopping through the K section I ran across a copy of Kiss’s late eighties album Crazy Nights, which I never owned, but my cousin Jack did. I remember talking to an adult about that record when I was a child (I don’t recall exactly who), but when I told him I liked Kiss he was shocked and asked me what my favorite song was. When I said “Crazy Nights” he scoffed, then laughed. He told me: “That’s not real Kiss. You gotta go back to the seventies to hear real Kiss.” I had no idea what he was talking about because, as far as I knew in 1987, this was Kiss in their prime. I’d been watching MTV for years at that point and this was the first time I had ever seen much about Kiss (they had been between albums). Dwelling on that memory while in the record store, I thought about a conversation I had overheard in the spirits aisle the other day between two guys who apparently didn’t know each other. They were talking rye whiskey and the older gentleman asked: “What’s your favorite rye?” 

The younger guy answered: “I really like High West.” 

The older one responded: “Have you ever had Sazerac?”

“No, I’ve never heard of it,” the other answered. The older guy had a similar reaction to the adult I mentioned in the above story. He found it unfathomable that this kid really liked rye whiskey and didn’t know about Sazerac. However, it reminded me of something very important (besides my Kiss memory): we all get into things at different times and not everyone looks backward from where they begin. Sazerac was unavailable for a number of years on the general market during the great rye shortage, so for a number of people who got into rye during that period, Sazerac is something new, not necessarily an established classic. To me, Sazerac is the great example of Kentucky rye whiskey (like an original Kiss fan might also think about Hotter Than Hell), but to others Templeton, Bulleit, and High West are the whiskies they cut their teeth on (like me with Crazy Nights). 

When I got home this afternoon, I got a tad inebriated and sat down to listen to one of my new purchases: a like-new used copy of Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I have a long and tortured personal history with this album and listening to it today made me realize how unprepared I was as a teenager to recognize its genius. I think it must have been like drinking old Bowmore during my first year as the spirits buyer for K&L. I didn’t really get it. I mean…it was good…but today it’s another level of appreciation. Try as you might to force the issue, we’re not always ready as humans to understand life’s truly complex beauties. It might not only require experience with the subject at hand, but also in life itself.

I’ll share a very personal story with you that also changes the way I feel completely when I listen to this album now today. As a kid, one of my very best friends was a musician like myself and during our sophomore year in high school we both found ourselves completely fascinated by the psychedelic bands of the late sixties. We bonded heavily over our love of Pink Floyd, to the extent that numerous drugs started getting involved while we listened. Like a creepy urban legend, we repeated and believed the rumors about the psychological demise of the group’s original lead singer Syd Barrett. Legend had it that he had taken too much acid and gone completely mad. After taking LSD one night and pretty much freaking out alone in my room (a night that would scar me with anxiety for the following eight years), I thought I had pretty much pulled a Syd Barrett. I thought I had overdone it and destroyed my brain. My friend thought I was being silly and continued to delve deeper and deeper into LSD and ecstasy, but I never touched the stuff again. We grew apart as the years went by, but reconnected again later in life during our mid-twenties, only for me to watch him fade away once again. 

Having read numerous interviews about the Syd-LSD connection later, his bandmates David Gilmour and Roger Waters said that while the acid probably didn’t help, Syd’s eventual breakdown would have happened with or without the drugs. The hole was always there and the acid had ripped that hole open faster. The sad connection here is that my friend, not me, was the one who would eventually suffer the same fate as Syd: a complete schizophrenic breakdown; one that would have happened regardless I think, but one that—like Syd—was not aided by heavy drug use. Today he lives in a mental hospital and, while mostly stable when supervised, is a shell of his old self. Listening to Piper on vinyl as I type this is like a trip back to a psychedelic fantasy world, one that still overwhelms me a bit, but ultimately one I’m now wise enough to navigate without fear and with more experience. 

-David Driscoll


Shakedown 1979

As a 1979er (and a friend to many who were also born in that glorious year), I'm always on the hunt for birth vintages that actually deliver, rather than simply satisfy anniversary or birthday prerequisites. It's nice to get someone a bottle from an important year, but it's even better when that bottle is actually something worth drinking! I'm recycling the barn photo from earlier this week because I just realized this is actually Christelle Lasseignou's barn, the proprietor from Domaine de Maouhum from where I snagged this most recent single barrel of Armagnac.

Christelle Lasseignou began to take over for her parents more than a decade ago at the domaine. Don't let her stylish clothes and her polished poise fool you, she's a serious farmer through and through. She does everything at the chateau herself—from the vineyards to the distillation, to the management of the barrels. She also does the labeling, which I have to tell you doesn't quite reflect the proper math on this latest go around. She goofed a bit on her calculations when putting this bottling together for us. I know this because as much as I wish I was going to turn 28 next month, I'm actually turning 38. Hence, when you look at the small print on the label for this new vintage of 1979 Domaine de Maouhum, you're going to see a 2 where the 3 should be.

We didn't bottle this ten years ago, however. The booze is a legit 38 years old and it tastes like it. There is a huge gob of sweet new oak right off the bat, but it dries out quickly into baking spices and turns into dried fruits with a figgy note before more new oak and vanilla light up the finish. Find me a 38 year old Bourbon or Scotch that tastes this good for this price, and has this level of quality on such a small scale (mislabelings and all).

1979 Domaine de Maouhum "28 (really 38) Year Old" Bas-Armagnac $129.99 

-David Driscoll


Advice Follow Up

I put one bottle limit in the description for the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, but I forgot to actually click the button that prevents customers from filling their cart with more bottles!! Whoops!

I'm very, very impressed. Only two out of fifty-something people got greedy (and I manually adjusted their orders back to one bottle). Everyone else played by the rules and I'm delighted. 

Let's try it again. I'm not done yet. Watch the queue!

-David Driscoll


A Bit of Advice

I've got a bit of advice for both retailers and customers today:

Customers: don't pay the crazy mark ups (I've seen $199.99 already) for the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon now that it's been named the #1 whiskey of the year by the Whisky Advocate. It's a $60 Bourbon and there's plenty of it (plus all the subsequent batches are NOT the exact one that won the award). 

Retailers: you need to advocate and push for a whiskey BEFORE it wins the #1 whiskey of the year, not after. The former is called a partnership, the latter is called opportunism.

Wanna see what I mean? Watch the new product feed today and you'll find out EXACTLY what I mean.

-David Driscoll


The End of an Era

If you didn't catch any of my posts over the past year about Scotland's new distilleries and what they mean for the independent cask trade, I'll give you the one sentence version: the recent era of independent single casks as a reasonably-priced alternative to the main market is coming to an end. Why, you ask? Because the major players are having no problem selling their own casks of whisky right now, meaning they're cutting off the pressure relief valve they've been using as a safety mechanism for decades. No more filling contracts. No more access. What you have is what you can work with. That's why the prices for single barrels have begun to creep back up, access to interesting stuff is tighter than ever, and independent bottlers have begun looking for a new source of income: PRODUCTION. Any independent bottler that wants to stay in the Scotch business has either begun to build a new distillery, or purchased an already operational one. That's the new reality for the time being.

Is there a whisky glut coming down the road? Personally, I think so. There's a lot of whisky being made right now, and a lot of it is just sitting in bottles on the shelf, but even a future surplus of Scotch whisky doesn't mean we'll ever go back to the independent bottler model we've been primarily working with over the last decade or so. With most of the bottlers now focusing on their own distillation, the amount of working capital they have to devote to cask purchasing is far less and their attention is now elsewhere. I've seen the writing on the wall for years, which is why I bulked up and bought everything we could afford this past summer before prices really hit the ceiling. Come 2018, I'm not sure what will be left for us in Scotland's independent game. I've got plenty of casks tied up for the time being, but I'm weary of pricing as it currently stands.

That pricing, however, reflects the availability. There ain't nothin' to be had. Anything interesting has a premium. Anything luxurious is crazy expensive. That being said, I made one final play this past July for what I have to assume will be the last truly collectable, lavishly-priced single barrel of Scotch we buy for some time. As the spirits buyer, I stopped looking for luxury casks years ago. The Port Ellens and Broras of the world are far too expensive at this point to justify the thousand dollar prices and the amount of customers still looking for rare editions of lost distilleries has dwindled, especially for an entire cask's worth of whisky. That being said, every now and again I can pull a little magic out of my dusty old Scotch hat and find a barrel of something truly stupendous. While $600 for a bottle of Macallan may not seem like a deal to everyone, I would do a price search for the 25 year Macallan as a comparison and see what pops up. You're looking at a minimum of $1500-$1700 for a single bottle in today's market and that's for a blend of numerous barrels proofed down to 43% ABV. Can you imagine what the Mac 25 would cost as a single barrel at full proof? It would be at least $3000 if not more.

Even older independent editions like the one we're offering here are selling for $750-$1000 overseas. But in the spirit of the holidays, we're offering a pure, unadulterated cask of 24 year old Macallan from a single barrel at full proof for $599 (because I got creative with the math and found a way to subsidize the price). There's not much of it. Only enough for 190 lucky people (if everyone only buys one bottle), but like I've said before: Macallan is the only true first growth in today's single malt market and it's not often you get a deal on luxury. Aged in a refill hogshead barrel, there's no sherry influence here, just golden grains, soft vanilla, rounded fruits, and classic Macallan elegance. Getting the price down to $599 in today's competitive market was something of a miracle, but that's what the holidays are for, right? Those looking for something truly special this holiday season need look no further. We won't actually receive the bottles until January, so you might have to print out a gift receipt and place it in a card for your loved ones in the meantime, but it doesn't get more refined than this. This is the Chateau Margaux of single malt whisky casks. It's finesse in a bottle, from front to back.

It's also the end of an era for K&L. Unless we see an accelerated market move on a glut that I think is still four to five years away, you won't see anything like this at this price again anytime soon. The age of independent bottlers as a value alternative is coming to and end and a new era of booming production has begun. 

1993 Macallan 24 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky $599.99 (Pre-Arrival) - Macallan is the only Scottish single malt distillery that has truly achieved first growth status within the industry, despite the fact that many others have tried. The distillery's multi-thousand dollar price points are reminiscent of Chateau Lafite (even DRC at times) and rare collections continue to drive the value of the heralded Highland distillery further into the stratosphere. The 18 year old has gone from $80 to $250 in the span of a decade and the 25 year old now sells for a minimum of $1500 a bottle when you can find it. It's for that reason that, despite the lavish expense, our buyers could not pass up the rarest of all opportunities when it happened upon them: a rare single cask of Macallan 24 year old, bottled at cask strength (no water added), unchillfiltered straight from the barrel for a price that defies the market forces. While normally full proof, single barrel editions sell for a premium compared to the standard editions, our team managed to pull off the deal for a fraction of comparative market prices. Full of vanilla, stone fruit, and classic malt character, this single hogshead edition captures the elegance of the perfectly mature Macallan distillate at an unbridled 51.3% natural cask strength. Bottled exclusively for K&L by our friends at Old Particular, there are only 190 bottles available. (Due to arrive 1/15/2018)

-David Driscoll