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Thursday
Jan112018

The Russell Legacy in a Barrel

Back in late August, with the heat of the Kentucky summer in full swing, Eddy Russell, his dad Jimmy, and I dug through about ten barrels to reach this cask, #998, located in the heart of the H warehouse at Wild Turkey Distillery. When it comes to the Kickin' Chicken, I'm not looking to reinvent the wheel with our barrel selections. I'm not searching for the anomaly or the unique gem that stands in contrast to what made Russell's Reserve famous. I wanted classic, true to form Bourbon that tastes like vintage Wild Turkey and that's exactly what I got from this 9 year old single cask. Everything in harmony, just dialed up in proof. Vanilla, oak, creamy corn, and that youthful vigor that pops on your palate like a bag full of cinnamon candy. Jimmy Russell doesn't like any Bourbon older than 10 years old, which I think is awesome. I'm trying to be more like him (living large after six decades in the booze biz), so with this cask I relied completely on his guidance.

Eddy did most of the heavy lifting. I snapped photos and drank. While I've got a few barrels coming down the pipe, I wanted to start with #998 because it was one of my absolute favorites. If you've ever dipped your nose into a box of cinnamon red hots and inhaled all that sweetly-spiced goodness, then consider yourself well prepared for this one. Originally filled in October of 2008, we bottled this baby right after its 9th birthday, right about the time Jimmy Russell believes these Wild Turkey whiskies show their best. Emptied at 118.4 proof, everything about this whiskey showcases the textbook and trademark characteristics of the distillery style: loads of baking spices, vibrant oak tannins, creamy corn, and a finish of both savory pepper and sweet vanilla. Getting to select a barrel like this with the father and son duo is about as fun as our job gets-if you don't count the part where we actually get to drink it. Only 120 bottles from this tiny, concentrated cask.

Russell's Reserve K&L Single Barrel #998 Kentucky Bourbon $59.99

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Jan112018

Double Your Pleasure

I know a number of folks who missed out the last time we snagged some of Martin Cate's special Smuggler's Cove blend and are going to be stoked we just got another allocation in from the man himself. We blew through 200 bottles in a matter of hours a few weeks back and I'm happy to announce that we've got another 120 or so to offer out if you didn't get your fill from before. In addition, I'm going to highly recommend that you buy the new Real McCoy Limited edition virgin oak 10 year rum we just received into the warehouse as well. It's by far the best rum from Real McCoy I've had thus far and for me it's a much more drinkable specimen than the coveted 10 year old Criterion edition Foursquare released last year. Here's the thing: I get why people freaked out over that Madeira-aged Criterion. It was a very nice bottle of rum, but my personal bottle of Criterion is still about 70% full because I'm at the point in my drinking career where a monster ABV% doesn't necessarily appeal to my late night desires. Contrast that with the 10 year virgin oak edition, a blend of 12 year old ex-Bourbon casks and 10 year old full term new oak matured rum that melts across my palate with the greatest of ease at a perfect 92 proof. I'll let the cask strength kids have their fun with the high-octane stuff, while my 38 year old palate enjoys this rich, round, and more mellow elixir. Yum...........

Foursquare Distillery "Real McCoy" 12 Year Old "Smuggler's Cove Limited Edition" Rum $49.99 - This special edition of Real McCoy rum from Foursquare distillery was put together by Martin Cate at Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco and is a tiny blend of just two ex-Bourbon barrels, bottled at 46% ABV rather than the standard 40%. Foursquare distillery on the island of Barbados is quickly becoming a sensation in the aficionado world of rum drinkers and tiki specialists for its pure, unadulterated flavor and transparency as it pertains to age statements and additives. 

Foursquare Distillery "Real McCoy" 10 Year Old Limited Edition Virgin Oak Rum $59.99 - Using rums aged in both ex-Bourbon casks and brand new oak barrels, then dialing the ABV from 40 to 46%, this is the richest and most vanilla-laden edition of the Real McCoy yet. There's more sweetness, more molasses, more spice, and more weight than the standard 12 year edition despite the younger age statement and the rum finishes with a Bourbon-like kick. The blend is comprised of the two wood types, aged separately and then blended together. The ex-Bourbon matured component is all 12 years of age, while the virgin oak-aged rum was matured for the entire decade in new oak, Even though it's labeled as a 10 year old rum, a large proportion of the rum is actually 12 years old. This limited edition produced only 3000 total bottles for the world and we were lucky enough to grab a large chunk of it. Grab a bottle while you can!

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jan092018

New Club Order

K&L’s wine club program dates back to the early nineties when we had one “Best Buy” service run by our owner’s wife as a fun little side hobby. There were a few perks to the membership, some discounts to be had here and there, but it was mostly about exploration and having fun. It was also apparently quite a successful enterprise because that one club eventually grew into two, then two clubs grew into three, and today we have five different wine club selections if you count the Italian and Champagne programs run by my colleagues Greg St. Clair and Gary Westby. There are thousands of K&L club members at this point, receiving their two bottles with each shipment along with a newsletter that tells the stories behind each bottle (a newsletter that I’m very much looking forward to revamping and improving).

In a wine world where the term “club” often refers to some sort of pricing advantage or member discount program, I’m careful with my terminology when I describe the K&L options to our customers. “It’s not so much a wine club as it is a wine-of-the-month club,” I often tell people, explaining that our membership is more geared around monthly curation rather than special deals and savings. We don’t track your purchases, or give you points for what you buy and there’s no plastic barcode to keep on your keychain that we scan for discounts when you check out. There is a bit of special pricing for club members, but historically it’s only been for the wines featured in the monthly selections. For example, if you like the wine you receive in your club shipment you can buy additional bottles for a special club member price. The discounts, however, rarely—if ever—have applied to regular, in-stock inventory selections.

That was always by design though. At K&L we’ve never offered case discounts or deep volume pricing to motivate our customers. Our focus has always been about guaranteeing a quality of wine, customer service, and product knowledge that stood out amongst the crowd, letting our private selections and exclusive deals do the talking. That being said, I’ve watched our model of retailing become the standard over the last decade with every bar, corner store, and supermarket chain from here to Bangor, Maine jumping into the small production, limited edition, private selection game. It’s no longer enough to simply curate and put your personal stamp of approval on a product. Our customers know we care about them, they know we’re working our butts off to find them the best bottles we can, but they still want to feel special at the end of the day. They want a retail program that combines quality, exclusivity, careful selection, a great story, and special pricing. If just anyone can get the same stuff at the same price, then what’s the point of being a club member, right?

We’ve talked about doing a whiskey club for years in the K&L spirits department, but the problem we could never get past was curation consumption. You see, the folks who buy and consume multiple bottles of whiskey per month generally don't want to be locked into a monthly club selection where someone else does the choosing. They know what they want. They search online, read about new releases, and do their own homework for the most part. The people who would be interested in a monthly subscription typically don’t blow through booze at the same rate, so ultimately it becomes too much volume, month after month. I’ve been letting this dilemma stew on the backburner for the last few years, trying to decide what the best recourse was, and today I think I’ve finally found the solution.

I decided when I woke up on January 1st 2018 that I was going to create the perfect wine clubs for people who drink both wine AND spirits. Drinking down two bottles of wine per month has never been a challenge for our customers, so why not just add in some incentive discounts as a cherry on top? For example, you could be a member of our original “Best Buy” club, pay your $20 per month for the standard two bottle selection, but still have access to additional discounts that you could choose to purchase or not. It's up to you. Personally, I like incentivizing exploration. I want customers to feel more comfortable taking a chance on something new or different, like the Bardstown Bourbon Company “Collabor&tion” Cask Strength Brandy Barrel Edition we brought in from the Kentucky upstart late last year. It’s still $125 a bottle for the general public, but if you’re a member of one of our wine clubs you can use your membership to take advantage of $99 special pricing. If you’re new to the “Best Buy” club, that $25 discount would more than pay for your first month right there (there is a three month minimum for new members).

That’s just for starters. Imagine when I start throwing other Bourbon casks in there, various Scotch deals, etc. You could probably grab enough discount incentives to pay for your entire year’s membership—and you still get the wine to enjoy, along with the newsletter and all the details.

There’s going to be a lot more than just additional spirits, however. I’ll be scouring for special Bordeaux prices, interesting imports from Italy and France, and God knows what else—gin, Tequila, sweet wines, beer, you name it. I’ll be throwing the entire kitchen sink at these clubs in 2018. My goal is to get 100% of you on board. I’m hoping the value of both our curated selections and the additional discounts will push you over the edge and make you want to take this journey with me. I want to create a service that lives up to the definition of that word: it serves the customer. If you don’t like wine, then this updated K&L club membership program probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re curious about wine, now’s the time. Those of you who want to learn about wine and spirits, while getting access to special deals and pricing, should contact me about signing up (or just click the link I embedded above). 

It all starts February 1st. Buckle up.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Jan082018

High Ester Liquid Crazy

The masses have demanded more Hampden from our spirits team at K&L and so we went out and found another cask of the rum world's most notoriously ester-laden pot still rum. Hampden is to esters, the chemical compounds that form when alcohol molecules merge with acids during distillation, what Ardbeg or Laphroaig are to peat: high octane and unbridled (by the way, if you're curious about how esters and acids impact flavor, I like Matt Pietrek's article about Hampden's dunder process here). This 9 year old edition of Hampden is full of candied pineapple mixed with petrol, along with crazy combinations of brine, bitter, and sweet. Olives and mango? Banana and scorched earth? Call them crazy, but these potent and in your face flavors are exactly what the rum world is geeking out about at the moment. Do not expect an easy ride from this 62% ABV beast of a rum. Expect to have your horizons expanded and your mind blown. 

2007 Hampden 9 Year Old "Golden Devil" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Jamaican Rum $69.99 - With Hampden distillery's reputation for complex and intensely-flavored pot still rum on the rise, we've been working hard to track down as many full proof, unadulterated single barrels as possible. Our last cask sold out in less than 48 hours and we're expecting a similar cult-like customer response to this potent 9 year old edition: a 62.7% rum that's brimming with all the characteristics we've come to love about this funky Jamaican spirit. The nose is a swirl of petrol, tropical fruit, and the trademark ester-driven, banana-esque bouquet we've come to love about Hampden. The palate has the perfect amount of sweetness from the oak maturation, softening the edges and letting the aforementioned aromas expand to electric levels of intensity. There are notes of olive, grass, sugar cane, and anise all merging together under the guise of a tropical fruit umbrella. It's one of the world's most bizarrely invigorating spirits coming to life in a cask strength, unbridled expression. Not for the faint of heart or the unadventurous!

-David Driscoll

Monday
Jan082018

A Throwback Sherry Butt

I remember sitting in the office in Scotland, tasting through these Sovereign samples, and looking up information on Aultmore distillery as I approached this nine year old cask. It was a bit of an odd duck, but I appreciated it because it was so different in its character: dry and herbal rather than sweet and supple, the opposite of what I expected from such a dark and saturated sherry-matured whisky. The Single Malt Whisky Yearbook I was thumbing through had tasting notes from other expressions of Aultmore that they described as having the flavor or coffee or even "milky coffee." I then went back and tasted the nine year old sample again...there it was: coffee. Not only in its color, but in its aromas and flavors! While the price is indeed incredible, don't expect the world's most complex or earth-shattering whisky here in this bottle. It's a one-trick pony that does exactly what you hope it will. However, what it lacks in dynamism it more than makes up for in drinkability and what is apparently classic Aultmore character. It's big and spicy right off the bat, but that initial sweetness quickly fades and turns into herbaceous notes of dried herbs, pepper, toasted nuts, with a very dry finish. It's a whisky meant purely as a bang-for-your-buck bargain and I couldn't pass it up. It's so different from anything else on the shelf and I get a kick out of that coffee note! Those of you who enjoyed some of our older Glenfarclas Family Casks of yesteryear may get a bit of nostalgic bliss from this earthier sherry expression. It's definitely of the same ilk as that robust 1970 vintage barrel we did a while back.

2008 Aultmore 9 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $49.99 - Aultmore isn't one of Scotland's most recognizable whisky names, but ever since Bacardi's move to establish the Dewar's distilleries as veritable single malt brands, names like Craigellachie, Royal Brackla, Aberfeldy and Aultmore are moving more to the forefront on the global stage. Originally founded in 1896, Aultmore was sold by Diageo to Bacardi over 100 years later as part of the big Bombay gin deal, resulting in a rarely seen 12 year old edition half a decade later. Located in the Speyside region, the distillery's sherried malts are often described as having flavors of "milky coffee" and that's most definitely the case with this heavily-sherried 9 year old expression. Coffee in both its color and its aromas, the nose is pungent with heavily-roasted aromas and savory Oloroso rancio. Don't be confused by the color, however, because despite its dark hue this is no supple, sweetly-flavored Sherry bomb. In fact, it's a robust malt, dry on the finish and almost savory in its profile. The mid-palate is loaded with toasted almonds, tobacco, and bitter orange, but the finish is short and simple. While many of our casks are meant to be pondered and savored, this 9 year old Aultmore is very much to the point. It's a cask strength, sherry-matured edition of everyday quality single malt, priced to drink and enjoy in volume. The high proof is almost unrecognizable with the saturation of the sherry and its very much drinkable at full strength.

-David Driscoll