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Tuesday
Dec062016

Pass the Dunder (to the left hand side)

What makes Jamaican rum so special in the rum geek circle, you ask? Why it's that funky, overripe banana, fruity, petrol-laden nose and flavor profile that can range from bitter mango to fruit tea with menthol and gasoline in character. Jamaican rum, when presented to you in an unblended, pure pot distilled, unmanipulated form is one of the wackiest, craziest, most unique spirits that exists. I've never been to Jamaica and pretty much everything I know about rum distillation I learned from two people, but from what I've soaked up over the years much of Jamaican rum's character has to do with high ester counts and a mysterious substance called dunder. Matt Pietrik's Cocktail Wonk blog has some of the best, most detailed first-hand accounts about Jamaican rum production I've ever read, so you can get the long version there. The short version, however, is this: a large smelly pit of decaying matter is propagated in order to create acids that will react with the molasses wash in the copper pot still and turn into fragrant esters, which are then condensed into the rum (I think that's right). Think of esters in rum like you would peat in whisky and you'll get an idea of how fanatical people can be about their rums. If Octomore is the peatiest of all single malts, then pure pot still Jamaican rum is the equivalent in terms of esters. This is some funky shit.  

When I was visiting with the Laing brothers in Scotland this past September, they mentioned to me the idea of helping them launch a new rum label called "Golden Devil," a series of single cask rums bottled at 100 proof that would help introduce some new barrels into the U.S. market. I was all for it, especially since I could have first pick of the litter. I decided that the American market is already full of both value-priced and high-end rums. We have plenty of white mixing rums. There's more than enough sweet sippers. We have a fair share of agricole rhums as well. What we don't have enough of, however, are funky, high-ester, pure pot still Jamaican rums that are priced according to what they're worth. You have to understand: single casks of rum are expensive. Who wants to mix Tiki drinks with a $90 bottle of 10 year old rum? Better yet: how many people are interested in a wacky $200 bottle of 24 year old Hampden? I'm adventurous, but I'm not stupid. I was going to have to get clever with the math if I was going to make this work.

And so I did. 

For my enjoyment, your enjoyment, and the enjoyment of our super nerdy Tiki fans who can legally purchase spirits from us, I bring you three new Jamaican rum selections that are interesting, distinct, and more than fairly priced. Dis generation rules the nation! Now pass me that Monymusk; to the left hand side, please.

2007 Monymusk 9 Year Old "Golden Devil" Single Barrel Jamaican Rum $49.99 - Monymusk is the name of the Jamaican sugar factory near Clarendon distillery where a rum of the same name is produced. While there is such a brand as Monymusk Plantation rum, we don't ever see that label in the U.S. Almost all of Clarendon distillery's rum is sold off to one main contract: Diageo, which uses the Jamaican rum for its European release of Captain Morgan and for part of its Myer's rum formula. That means we almost never get to taste pure, unadulterated, pot-distilled Monymusk in America, despite the growing desire for more aromatic, flavorful and interesting Jamaican rums in our expansive Tiki cocktail culture. Every now and again you'll find an independently bottled cask, but they're often quite pricy and the quality can be unpredictable. This pale straw colored rum is the lightest and most mixable of the three Jamaican casks, but it has a lovely sweetness on the finish that might taste good over rocks with a splash of soda or Coke. The dunder aromas and flavors are dialed up here with earthy notes, bitter fruit, menthol, and savory herbs dominating the profile. It's a homerun for just about any classic Tiki drink, but the potency of the pot still flavor can likely cut through whatever you throw its way.

2006 Worthy Park 10 Year Old "Golden Devil" Single Barrel Jamaican Rum $49.99 - Worthy Park is a centuries-old Jamaican rum distillery that ceased operations in 1960 before a new generation rebuilt the facility in 2005 and resumed distillation. Almost all of the rum made at Worthy Park is sold and consumed on the island, but a small amount trickles out from independent bottlers in the UK and Europe, which is where we tracked down our 10-year-old cask. This Worthy Park 10 year old rum is a beautifully balanced, fully sippable expression of classic Jamaican rum flavor, steeped with tropical fruit and richness from the oak cask, but balanced by classic pot still flavors of over-ripe banana and wood polish. This is the most mellow of the three Golden Devil Jamaican casks we purchased, but it's still not El Dorado or Diplomatico. This is for high-end Daiquiris and Mai Tais, or whatever else your Tiki desires call for.

1992 Hampden 24 Year Old  "Golden Devil" Single Barrel Jamaican Rum $99.99 - Hampden is one of Jamaica's oldest sugar estates, dating back to the 1750s, and its rum is one of our favorites here at K&L. We purchased a 14 year old cask of Hampden a few years back that has since become a cult classic, and we're also huge fans of the Smith & Cross pot still rum, which is contracted from the facility. Hampden isn't just known for being one of Jamaica's best rums, it's also known for being one of the funkiest and most flavorful; the result of a long, rustic fermentation process that is renowned for being as old school as it gets. This ancient 24 year old single cask is going to test the ester limits of even the most faithful Jamaican rum drinkers. Imagine a pineapple and mango Hi-Chew candy dipped in petrol followed by an intense and lasting note of vanilla, fruit tea, menthol, and gasoline. If that sounds too weird, this isn't the rum for you. This isn't Ron Zacapa. This is serious, glorious, and spell-binding Jamaican rum, only for the most dedicated of Tiki fans.

If you want a full scale tour of these distilleries, I'll link Matt's blog posts to Monymusk, Worthy Park, and Hampden here. As I'm often tasting in warehouses or conference rooms, I'm thankful someone was there to provide me with some of the first-hand details. These posts are a great read and I highly recommend checking them out whether you end up buying a bottle of these rums or not! If you do buy a bottle, however; you've been warned. These are not smooth and mellow rums full of sugar and spice. They are FUNKY! But they're also incredible. I hope you take the plunge.

-David Driscoll

Monday
Dec052016

Know Who You Are

Last night I was sipping on one of the best bottles I've brought back from Scotland in years: the Naked Grouse, a sherry-aged version of the Famous Grouse bottled at 40% ABV that would absolutely be considered nothing special by most American whisky nerds were it available here. I bought it after talking to one of the girls at the Whisky Experience in Edinburgh who said it was her favorite whisky at the moment. "I like Scotch that tastes like Scotch," she told me. "Call me crazy," she added with a smirk. That girl knew who she was, what she liked, and what constituted a real glass of Scotch whisky. She didn't need validation from the internet, bloggers, or a professional critic to understand her palate. I loved talking to her and I thought about our conversation last night as I sipped that Naked Grouse in front of the TV. What a great memory.

I sense that same confidence and self-awareness when I talk to the Bai sisters, the twins behind Vale Jewelry in New York who have designed pieces for the who's-who list of Manhattan. Kelly Ripa, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lena Dunham, you name her! That Live necklace that Kelly wears each morning on "Live With Kelly" came from Vale, as did a number of pieces in my wife's personal collection. These girls know exactly who they are and what they're about and it's inspiring to people like me who search for that very quality in people today. They also know what they like to drink and why. That's what made talking to them recently so interesting. The D2D series is evolving. Check out my latest On the Trail interview with Eva and Ava Bai here.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Dec032016

Winter is Coming

It's December. We're starting to feel the chill of winter in the dark morning air and the early evening sunset. We need strong drink to fortify our souls for the cold months ahead. Luckily, we've got you covered. We've got so much new booze here in the K&L spirits department that if we did an email and blog post every single day from now until Christmas, that still wouldn't cover it. Hence, I'm going to have to double-up; maybe even triple-up some of these new release announcements. Just in from Kentucky and the Four Roses warehouse are two of the best single casks we've received in years. I mean that wholeheartedly. I can't remember a time when I had two casks of Four Roses that were this distinct, rich, and completely different from one another. There have been times when we've had four casks or more simultaneously and there wasn't much of a difference between any of them, but that's not the case here. These two whiskies are night and day. I also can't remember two barrels that tasted this much like what their formulaic descriptors have spelled out on the Four Roses recipe chart. The OESK is dead-on: creamy, rich, full-boded, and full of caramel. The OBSQ is brimming with rye spice, dark cocoa, and a flutter of floral notes on the finish. They are both beasts at 59 and 60% ABV, but both mask that power with balanced richness. 

Four Roses 9 Year, 10 Month Old "K&L Exclusive" OESK Single Barrel Cask Strength Kentucky Bourbon $64.99 - This barrel of Four Roses formula OESK is one of the sweetest and roundest selections we've snagged from the distillery in years. With the swirl of sweet wood and vanilla that overtakes your palate right from the first sip, never in a million years would you dream this Bourbon was 118.6 proof. The E means we're dealing with a 75% corn mashbill, with only 20% rye and 5% malted barley. The K refers to one of ten yeast strains used at Four Roses, this one happens to produce light caramel notes and a full-bodied spirit. Both are true in this case. This single cask produced a rich and round whiskey, one that glides over the tongue with gentle baking spices and accents of vanilla, caramel, and oak. Again, whereas other barrels we've selected have woodier or peppery elements and distinct notes of pencil lead, herbaceousness, or dried oak, there is absolutely zero of that savory element at play in the OESK Bourbon at hand. This Bourbon is as smooth as silk from front the back and it's a style that should appeal to any drinker of any style, especially those who normally prefer wheated Bourbons for their lack of peppery rye notes. If you're planning to mix up holiday cocktails, this particular Four Roses packs all that winter spice and warming richness inherently.

Four Roses 9 Year, 6 Month Old "K&L Exclusive" OBSQ Single Barrel Cask Strength Kentucky Bourbon $64.99 - Our latest edition of OBSQ encapsulates everything Bourbon drinkers love about higher rye recipes; namely, the combination of richness and peppery spice that act as the yin and yang of a balanced American whiskey. The B in OBSK means we're dealing with a 60% corn, 35% rye Four Roses mashbill (the other 5% the standard malted barley addition), and you can taste every bit of that formula at play. The first sip brings a wave of dark cocoa and polished wood without any of the floral aromas that the Q yeast strain is known to propagate. The nose is more of the same: big toasted oak aromas, straight down the middle. The rye spice really pops on the palate and at 61% the whiskey almost tastes like a cask strength version of Blanton's or Elmer T. Lee with the character of the rye in clear focus. The finish is where you start to taste the floral elements of the yeast and they combine with the wood to create a spicy and lingering memory. Fans of rye spice and rye whiskey will want to take note of this selection. It's one of the most classically-flavored Four Roses casks we've purchased in recent memory.

We've also got a single cask of High West Double Rye aged an extra year and a half in a Manhattan cocktail barrel and bottled at 101 proof. 

High West "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel 101 Proof Double Rye Whiskey $49.99 - Our newest private selection from High West is 101 proof version of their standard Double Rye that was matured for an additional year and a half in cask previously used to marry their Barrel-Aged Manhattan formula. What you get are the remnants of the vermouth and the sweet spices of that cocktail, ever so slightly highlighting the edges of the pumped-up rye character. The nose is full of sweet baking spices like cloves and cinnamon, while the palate showcases more of the traditional rye flavors like dill and pepper. The texture is what separates this High West rye selection from other rye whiskies we carry. It's mild and mellow from front to finish with light woody notes that act as a conduit for the whiskey's shape. Those who want something easy-drinkin', creamy, and soft, this is still the whiskey for you even with the 101 proof. Those looking to make a Manhattan will find the basic core elements of that cocktail already in place and cemented into the whiskey's core.

If that's not classically rye enough for you, I just backed up the truck on what is perhaps my favorite American rye whiskey: the Russell's Reserve Single Barrel 104 proof. We've been out of stock for more than six months, but finally reserves have landed to help save the day.

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Kentucky Rye Whiskey $69.99 - Finally, after almost eight years of a serious Kentucky rye shortage, Wild Turkey has finally given us whiskey fans something to get excited about that we can actually get! Introducing the new Russell's Reserve single barrel rye whiskey: a 104 proof blast of old-school Kentucky rye flavor, meandering from dill and fresh-baked German rye bread, into a sweeter kiss of toasted oak and soft vanilla. It's never boring, however. The palate is rooted in spice and a never-ending tingly sensation on your tongue that completely differentiates it from the Wild Turkey Bourbons. Real, compelling Kentucky rye whiskey is back on the shelf at K&L, available full time. No bottle limits, no raffles, no scouring the internet to track down your allocation.

We're just getting started. There's much, much more to come.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Dec022016

Happy Birthday

Today is my birthday, believe it or not, but I'm actually here today to celebrate another birthday occasion; one that began back in December of 1964 when these mystery casks of Scotch whisky were blended and filled. Fifty year old Scotch whisky is an incredibly special thing. It’s the culmination of a complex flavor evolution that has proceeded slowly over five decades in wood, so finding an ample supply isn’t easy. As one might expect, fifty year old Scotch is whisky also an incredibly expensive luxury. Most of what’s available today on the general market sells for thousands of dollars. The Last Drop 50 year blend is about $4000 a bottle, and the Glen Grant 50 year old clocks in somewhere between $10,000 and $12,000 a bottle. A bottle of Glenlivet 50 year old will probably cost you $25,000 and the more prestigious names like Balvenie and Macallan only get more expensive from there, which is partially why we’ve been so successful with our grain whisky barrel program over the last few years. We’ve been able to track down 40-50 year old Scotch whisky expressions for around $200-$300 per bottle that we feel scratch a similar itch for a much more reasonable price.

Our customers have been so excited by our recent direct import Scotch pricing that we've been selling out of our supply within hours, if not minutes in certain cases. This past September, on a rainy Glasgow morning, we visited one of our favorite warehouses and tracked down three more rarities that seemed to have fallen through the cracks: three unique barrels of Scotch whisky that had been distilled and blended as new-make whiskies when they were first filled into barrels. Originally intended for a blended Scotch recipe, the identity of the whiskies had become lost over the years and so the barrels simply sat around getting older. It was anyone’s guess as to which distilleries we were dealing with, but as long as they tasted good we were still interested. What was perhaps more compelling was the fact that each whisky had been married according to type: two of the barrels were blended grain whiskies and the third was a blend of pure single malts. Two of them had the fruit and oak spice we’ve tasted in previous ultra-mature grain editions, and the third had the creaminess and the texture of a classic malt. 

While age and richness often go hand-in-hand, as more exposure to oak generally implies a darker and fuller whisky, these three whiskies are neither overtly rich nor dark. As all three were aged in refill hogshead casks (meaning the barrels had been used previously to age other whiskies), the influence of the wood has been slow and gradual. Rather than an intense and concentrated maturation, it’s as if all three whiskies have been simmering over a low flame for more than five decades. Much like a slow-cooked stew, they have also reduced their power naturally. Almost like a fine Bordeaux having aged fifty years in a cellar, each has naturally dropped to 45% or lower and shed much of their original baby fat. The result is a finesse, elegance, and a haunting mellowness that can only be achieved over time. In the case of the pure malt whisky, the proof had dropped so low we weren’t sure if we could even legally bottle it, but luckily for us it clocked in at 40.1%, just a hair over the minimum. The resulting 51 year old Scotch whiskies are as soft and smooth as can be. What they are not, however, is significantly dark, rich, or incredibly complex like you might expect for something so old. They are what I consider to be fifty year old session whiskies: incredibly delightful, dangerously drinkable Scotch whiskies that go down easy and with a long, smooth finish. As a result of their unidentified origins and simple charm, we’ve been able to price them accordingly. For the first time ever, we’re offering a 50+ year old Scotch malt whisky for under $1000, along with two 51 year grains at our standard bargain price point. With the holiday season in full swing, I'm expecting expect rare editions of 51 year old Scotch whisky to be an incredibly popular gift option, so it’s likely these ancient selections won’t last the weekend once we send out the email today. We’ll be heading back to Scotland in 2017 in search of more ultra-mature whiskies, but unfortunately 51 year old selections like this don’t grow on trees. They do, however, fit nicely in a gift box under them.

I'm buying myself a bottle today for my 37th birthday. I don't need to be 51 to enjoy drinking these beauties. Exactly 52 years after they were distilled, I'm hoping these whiskies will finally be given the birthday party they deserve. They'll go into the bellies of numerous K&L customers who will hopefully share them with friends and loved ones this holiday season.

Sovereign 51 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel (44.6%) Cask Strength Blended Grain Scotch Whisky $299.99 - This 51 year old blend is comprised of various grain whiskies, but drinks like one singular entity working in complete harmony. As grain whisky ages it becomes soft, mellow, mild, and creamy in nature, so after five decades in wood this mystery blend is as smooth as they come. There's not much of a noticeable difference between the two casks we're currently offering, but tasting them side by side this particular blend has a bit more wood and more of a pure grain flavor, almost like you can taste the husks in between the sweetness of the oak. There's a flurry of spice on the finish that tingles your taste buds just before the soft wave of texture washes away. What this whisky lacks in complexity, it makes up for in pure grace.

Sovereign 51 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel (45.8%) Cask Strength Blended Grain Scotch Whisky $299.99 - This 51 year old blend of grain whiskies comes in at a slightly higher proof than its sister cask and it's the richer and rounder of the two. Whereas the other whisky is creamier, this whisky has a bit more fruit and a certain pop on the mid-palate that you wouldn't expect after fifty-plus years in wood. There's a hint of toasted oak on the finish and a bit of oily resin as well, which is standard for hogshead-aged whiskies of this age. After five decades, this whisky is still full of life and character. In no way is it tired, over-aged, or past its prime. It's primary in its profile, but dangerously drinkable and most importantly showcases all of the fruit, texture, and simple pleasure that grain whisky has to offer.

Sovereign 51 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel Cask Strength Blended Malt Scotch Whisky $399.99 - This 51 year malt is comprised of an unknown number of pure single malt whiskies and is so refined and reduced after five decades in wood that it's naturally down to 40.1%. This is by no means a rich and over-oaked malt. It's quite the opposite: light as a feather, soft as silk, and elegant as a whisper. Notes of oxidized fruit, fino sherry, burnt sugar, and oolong tea swirl faintly over a creamy layer of soft vanilla. Those expecting fifty-plus years of richness will be caught off guard by the standard amber color and classic Scotch whisky hue. This is old school Scotch from a lost era. It is not a bold and complex beast of exotic flavor, but rather a graceful echo of what was and what will no longer be; it's a ghost.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Dec012016

The Order of Things

I was all set to write a blog post about Westland this morning; about how good their special distillery edition of "Peat Week" is, and about how we're going to have a big party two weeks from now to celebrate K&L getting an exclusive allocation of that whiskey. I'm still planning to address that exciting news, but something even crazier went down last night at Westland distillery that trumps this development. I got the phone call early this morning from the Matts: Westland was sold yesterday to Remy Cointreau in a move that adds another innovative malt distillery for the company's main star Bruichladdich. I was absolutely shocked; not necessarily in a bad way, just in a from-out-of-nowhere sort of surprise. As someone who has spent a good amount of time over the years with Emerson Lamb and Matt Hofmann and knows the full story of Westland, the move makes complete sense, however. Making good whiskey costs a lot of money, and that particular point is exacerbated when you're not getting paid for that whiskey until years down the line. Westland's potential for greatness has fortunately never been limited by money. The boys spared no expense right from the get-go because the Lamb family, who make up the majority of the Westland board, has always been financially able to cover those expenses. However, when Emerson left the company a year ago to pursue other ventures, it left Matt in charge of an operation still funded by his high school friend's parents. While everything continued to run smoothly in Emerson's absence, it probably wasn't the most ideal of situations for either party moving forward. Westland needed to find a new financial backer at some point if Matt was going to continue his incredible upward trajectory. Now that suitor has arrived, and it's one with a pretty good track record for helping creative malt distillers realize their lofty visions. I'm excited to see where they go from here.

In the meantime, let's talk about Peat Week: a special edition release that was only available at the distillery in Seattle this past October. It's smoky, fruity, round, and absolutely delicious. We're getting some (just us). We're inviting Westland's director Matt Freerks down to celebrate. We're taking over the new party room at Hard Water on the San Francisco Embarcadero on December 14th and we're going to pour a number of Westland whiskies to give you a full rundown on what the distillery has been up to (possibly their fantastic new "Winter" release as well, if I can pull some strings). Hard Water will be whipping up some seafood towers, crabby patty bites, fried chicken and waffles, and more for your snacking needs. I'm sure there will be cocktails involved as well. We'd love to see you there! Reserve your spot by clicking on the link below:

Westland Peat Week Party @ Hard Water, Weds, Dec 14th @ 7 PM - $50

By the time this party goes down I'm sure we'll know more about the transition. Of course, if you come on down to Hard Water, you can get the story straight from the horse's mouth! We'll see you there.

-David Driscoll