Whisky Season 2016 – Round Five

Now that we're into September and there's the slightest semblance of Fall in the air, I think we can start thinking about peat; specifically Islay whisky. After spending the last month and a half getting you acquainted with some of our lighter, easy-drinking, and substantially well-priced Highland offerings, our palates are now craving something different. As the leaves start to change color and the evenings begin just a bit earlier, that heartier, smokier, unique Islay character becomes all the more desirable. It entices our imaginations: a roaring fire, the cold night outside, a glass of Scotch in hand to sip as we spend more time in doors. Now that we're transitioning into that mindset, it's time to show you our first two peated Islay selections from Whisky Season 2016, still very much value-driven as has been the case with all our offerings thus far. A young Caol Ila, this time from a sherry hogshead, that offers punch as well as precision. A dark and heady Bowmore that reminds us of how rich and quintessential the iconic distillery's character truly is. 

Caol Ila 6 Year Old "Hepburn's Choice" Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $49.99 - On the strength of the previously popular young peated whiskies we've been importing, we went back to the well again this year. This time, however, we asked the folks from Hepburn if they had any of that same fiery Caol Ila aged in sherry cask. Luckily they did and it's that little highlight of sweetness that makes all the difference between this year's selection and older editions. The classic elements of Islay are at play, of course: smoke, peat, earth, and sea salt, but they're accented by a richness from the sherry. There's a nice little coating of cakebread and cocoa around that core of Caol Ila, rounding the edges and tempering the bold 58.9% cask strength character just the slightest bit. The best part, however, is the price. We managed to keep the cost right at $49.99, despite the extra year in barrel and the added bonus of the sherry. For the money, you'd be hard-pressed to a more potent Islay value anywhere.

2001 Bowmore 14 Year Old "Hepburn's Choice" Single Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $82.99 - While Bowmore seems to play second (or even fourth) fiddle to the Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig selections on our shelf, we've always been enamored with Islay's most historic distillery. We've never let popular whisky culture or changes in the portfolio diminish the fact that Bowmore tastes pretty damn good in a number of iterations. While tasting through single cask selections this year, we found a fourteen year old sherry butt that was so dark and so soft we couldn't pass it up. The best part about this particular expression was the texture; it mirrored the most popular Bowmore edition we sell: the 15 year old "Darkest," albeit at full proof and from one concentrated cask (and despite the fact this was supposedly a "refill" barrel). The flavors are dark and rich, brooding and slow-moving over the palate. Dark chocolate accented by a beach bonfire oozes over the tongue, buoyed by toasted almonds and earthy peat. The nice part about sherry butts is that they hold more whisky! In the case of this 14 year old Bowmore, we figured we were going to need every drop. We expect this to be one of the most popular K&L casks of the Fall season; while it lasts, of course.

Believe it or not, Whisky Season 2016 is already going so well that we're actually selling our whisky faster than we anticipated. By the time this weekend is over, most of rounds one to four should be completely sold out, leaving only these two new Islay casks in play. Contrast that with last year from which we still have a few casks left. I'm thrilled, of course, but what are we going to sell during October, November, and December? These are the prime whisky drinking months!

To resolve this little excessive sales snafu, I'm actually leaving for Scotland this afternoon to find more booze—ASAP! I'll be reporting from the road starting tomorrow. I'm back in the store Saturday if you need me.

-David Driscoll


A Few New Additions

Every now and again (maybe every six months), I taste an American craft whiskey that actually tastes like real whiskey and I get excited. Then I see the price and all that enthusiasm deflates like a popped balloon at a birthday party. This week, however, I received the rare pleasure of tasting a non-Kentucky Bourbon from a small distillery that tasted like real Bourbon and was priced fairly, to boot! The Union Horse Distilling Kansas Bourbon is labeled as a "two year minimum," but in the case of this particular batch has whiskey as old as five years in the mix. Having opened originally in 2010, the distillery is a "grain to glass' operation, meaning they source their own local Kansas grains, mill them, ferment them, and distill entirely in their 500 gallon pot still. More importantly, while I heard they originally started with small barriques, the whiskey doesn't have any of that quarter cask oak flavor. It's rich, and spicy, and tastes like standard 53 gallon, Bourbon barrel-aged Bourbon because it is! What a concept! Kudos to them. I hope to find more whiskies like this as the craft movement's origins continue their way to market. 

Union Horse Kansas City Bourbon Whiskey $44.99

While the Amalfi Coast has always been known as the home of limoncello, it's now home to a world-class gin operation that uses the region's famous Mediterranean citrus in its vibrant recipe. Located in Moncalieri, just outside Torino, the distillery actually dates back to 1906 and today is run by a husband and wife operation. In addition to the powerful lemon aromatics, the gin utilizes coriander, angelica, and cassia bark to accent its unique recipe. Try this in a gin and tonic and forget about adding a lime! Or mix a Negroni and forget the orange peel. There's enough citrus here inherently to do the job!

Malfy Italian Gin $25.99

And this is quite exciting as well! There wasn't much left, but we went back to the well and got the last of the 2001 vintage from Grangerie; now one year older, but the same great price! Chateau de la Grangerie is a property that was built in the 17th century right next to an old monastery. The church and the housing for its servants was actually built in the 11th and 12th centuries and since the Armagnac is aged inside that facility, it might be the only spirit at K&L matured on hallowed grounds. Like many Tenereze producers, Grangerie distills only ugni blanc for its brandies. However, the sandy and gravel-rich soils are much more like the terrain found in the Bas-Armagnac. They fill about ten barrels a year; two of which are used for Floc de Gascogne and one goes to Pruneau: a prune-flavored brandy made by macerating the Armagnac with the dried fruit also grown on the property. The 2001 is an absolute revelation of baking spices, soft vanilla and pureness of fruit, all perfectly balanced by a gentle layer of oak. At $50, it's instantly one of the best deals in the store with an easy drinkability that's simply off the charts. Sip it straight after a long meal, or mix it into an Old Fashioned in place of Bourbon.

2001 Chateau de la Grangerie 14 Year Old K&L Exclusive Armagnac $49.99

-David Driscoll


New Nikka Single Malt Editions

The great Japanese whisky awakening has left the country's most prominent distillers scrambling to find the supply to satisfy today's demand. Nikka's first two single malt offerings in the U.S., a 15 year old Yoichi and a 12 year Miyagikyo, were discontinued last year after the company realized its stocks were not sufficient enough to satiate the public's thirst. Rather than move away from single malts entirely, Nikka went back to the drawing board and crafted two generic single malt offerings, simply called Yoichi and Miyagikyo, allowing for more flexibility seeing there would be no minimum age requirement to struggle against. While skeptics may see the move as a step backward in terms of quality, I can promise you that true Japanese whisky fans will be thrilled by both of these whiskies. They're fantastic in that: 1) they're both delicious, and 2) textbook Japanese in every way. The grace and beauty of these new distillery editions showcases not only Nikka's tremendous blending skills, but also the inherent character of these whiskies. They have an elegance that we just don't see from Scotland. I bought one of each immediately after tasting. My notes are as follows:

Nikka "Yoichi" Japanese Single Malt Whisky $79.99- Nikka's latest release from Yoichi distillery no longer carries an age statement, but it does bring a classically Japanese whisky profile back to the market. All the delicacy, grace, and subtle complexity is alive and well in this release, buried deeply into a whisper of malt for those who take the time to let it be heard. The first sip is almost ghostly, but it's the second and third return that yield the slightest hint of peat smoke, the creamiest of malts, and the lovely roundness of sweet stonefruit. This is textbook Japanese whisky: a flavor reserved so as not to overwhelm potential food pairings like sushi or other delicate offerings, yet a wonderful depth of flavor done with the slightest of hands. Yoichi is located on Japan's Hokkaido island where such food pairings are prevalent. It's definitely a single malt with a sense of place.The gentle smell and flavor of the sea linger long on the finish.

Nikka "Miyagikyo" Japanese Single Malt Whisky $79.99- Nikka's Miyagikyo distillery is back on the market with a fantastic new offering that doesn't disclose the age, but has no problem disclosing serious flavor. The sherry integration of the whisky is utterly marvelous. It's clearly marked by classic notes of fudge, fruitcake, and toffee, but all three profiles are so harmonious and fluid that it's difficult to hold on to them for more than a second. Nikka's whiskies are always delicate and feminine in style, and this malt is no different. The beauty is what stuns you, rather than the power or the concentration. The finish is a wonderful symphony of toasted almonds, cherry, and Oloroso richness. The new Miyagikyo should captivate an entirely new following for Nikka's second distillery.

-David Driscoll


Benromach Tasting Dinner @ Donato

If you didn't catch the email we sent out last week, we'll be hosting Benromach distillery at Donato Enoteca in Redwood City on October 5th at 7 PM. In what has become a rather ridiculous value over the last few years, we'll be doing the standard entrance fee which means appetizers, three course meal, and a TON of high-end single malt whisky all for fifty bucks. As you can imagine, we sold a lot of tickets quite quickly. But we still have about twenty seats left if you'd like to join us. Benromach, to me, is one of the most underrated distilleries in Scotland. They make a full-bodied, rich, oily, and satisfying single malt that should be a staple on every serious bar in the business. Come find all that out for yourself, however. Eat and drink like a king for a mere $50.

Benromach Single Malt Tasting & Dinner @ Donato - Oct 5th, 7 PM $50

Tickets are $50 plus tax. There are no paper tickets for the event. Your name will go on to a guest list after purchase. Unfortunately, we will not be able to offer refunds for this event one tickets are purchased. Please check your schedule, and make sure you will be able to attend before paying.

-David Driscoll


A Rare Faultline Single Malt Edition

It's been a while since we bottled a cask of single malt whisky under our exclusive Faultline label, but in conjunction with our friends at Seven Grand in LA, we decided to co-purchase a barrel of Caol Ila and do a little co-branding. Keeping true with our tradition, we brought in another local artist to do the label. Linh Do, who posts her incredible whisky-related artwork on Instagram as "whiskyanorach," created this maritime-inspired image for our Islay delight. Rum barrel-aged Caol Ila definitely reminds one of the sea! The nose is an explosion of both freshly-cut and burnt peat, mixed with a little sea breeze. The rum influence comes later on the palate as a subtle sweet highlight to a classically Caol Ila profile of creamy fruit and bright smoke. The finish flutters with a flurry of fresh baking spices before morphing back into a phenolic frenzy. Nothing about this whisky feels overtly powerful or brash despite the 58% ABV. Everything about this Faultline Caol Ila moves as gently as the wind and waves upon a mellow, rum-soaked sea. Only 261 bottles were tapped from this barrel and a large portion of those went to Seven Grand's back bar. Available for a limited time only!

2009 Caol Ila 6 Year Old "Faultline/Seven Grand" Single Rum Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $69.99

-David Driscoll

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