A New Round of Scottish Casks Begins

What’s left in this post-Pappy world of whiskey that’s actually worth your hard earned money and not simply priced according to market scarcity, pop culture desire, and a point-driven collector hysteria? When it comes to purchasing casks of costly, three-figure bottles of booze for our K&L customers, we’ve very, very picky because there are few occasions anymore where we feel that an entire barrel of expensive malt whisky is worth shelling out for.

But this is one of those occasions.

The magic of Islay’s Caol Ila distillery has been shaped, forged, and concentrated for 33 long years inside this very special cask of Old Particular, bringing forth one of the most decadent whisky experiences we’ll have the pleasure of offering you this year. The nose carries with it the very essence of Islay: brine, bogs, wet earth, peat, salt, and the sea, all mingling slowly and methodically through the glass. The palate is instantly soft and supple, but at 51.9% it kicks into gear mid-way through and unleashes a wave of ocean spray, sweet barley, smoke, tar, soot, and freshly-cut peat that still shines through despite more than three decades in wood. While we might normally reserve this type of offering for the holidays, we had to grab this rare edition while we had the chance. Gone are the days when legendary casks like this were easily attainable, which is why prices for 30+ year old Caol Ila now hover in the $400-$700 range.

Because of that difficulty, every time I'm able to track down an old barrel of Islay single malt, I wonder to myself: "Is this the last one?" I remember in the case of Port Ellen, perhaps the most famous of Islay rarities, we were able to do one last cask a few years back at $500 a bottle. But when the prices jumped up over $1000, I said "forget it." For some reason, perhaps because of the availability or the lack of general awareness concerning the distillery's greatness, I've been able to dig out an ultra-mature barrel of Caol Ila about once every two years and negotiate a price that makes sense. This particular Caol Ila whisky, a 33 year old distilled in 1984, is one of the better expressions I've found in some time. It's still fresh, lively, and brimming with Islay character. Supple on the palate and lifted on the finish, it's everything an peated whisky lover could ever ask for. It's luxurious, complex, and utterly beautiful from start to finish. Given the current market forces at play, it's also quite reasonable in price. I wouldn't have bought it otherwise. The older I get, the pickier I get about my purchases (ironically in a market where one can't afford to be picky). This is as good of a single malt as we'll sell this year. Trust me—there's nothing on the Scotland schedule for the rest of 2017 as awesome or as ancient as this 33 year Caol Ila.

1984 Caol Ila 33 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $349.99 - 51.9% ABV

-David Driscoll


Brave New World

I did a crazy thing this past May. 

Unbeknownst to many of our friends and family, my wife I decided to purchase a house in Las Vegas—our home away from home (now literally the case). It didn't take us long to find exactly what we were looking for. We'd been keeping our eye on a few places, pondering endlessly the idea of purchasing real estate elsewhere, before finally pulling the trigger on a vacation home once the market began showing early signs of rebirth. From now on I will rent and work in the Bay Area, but vacation and own in the Nevada desert. We're a short drive from Red Rock Canyon, and I can see the peaks of the mountains from my front window. There's more space in our garage than in our San Mateo living room, dining room, and kitchen put together. Our Vegas mortgage is less than half of our Bay Area rent. But it wasn't the economy that ultimately led us here. It was a necessary lifestyle decision.

I won't get into the boring personal details as to why we chose Vegas. It's not for everyone. However, there's a lot more to do here than gamble and drink yourself silly. Over the past decade and a half, Sin City has quietly become—in our opinion—the food and shopping capital of the United States. As a couple that spends a decent amount of time in New York, we've noticed some of our favorite East Coast establishments opening sister locations on the strip—from Momofuku, to the Milk Bar, to Serendipity. But there's an entire world off the strip as well that remains off the radar of the bachelor party scene, or overnight business traveler. There's still a level of kitsch in Las Vegas. Nothing's too cool for school out here. People aren't afraid to be polite or outgoing and everything just moves at a much easier speed. While most of downtown has been reinvented, there's still room for the past if you move deeper into the outer canyons and crevasses—like talking cowboy automatons from the 1970s and thematic diners that don't know the meaning of gluten free. I love that.

There are many things about Las Vegas that have surprised us over the years, and as we've spent time furnishing our house and learning more about the area off the strip, we've fallen even deeper under its spell. For example: did you know that Vegas is a total pizza town? No joke. There are some seriously great spots just within a mile or two of our new house, one with duel ovens cooking at different temperatures in order to create both a Neopolitan and Roman style of pie. I can even get a Last Word cocktail with my Margarita and it's mixed perfectly with all the ingredients in balance. I think Bay Area residents often expect to find sub-par food and drinks when they leave the area, but to be honest many of the places we eat at in Vegas outshine most of the cuisine we eat back home. Yet, for some reason a beautiful house here costs less than a studio apartment in Livermore. I don't understand it, but I'm not complaining!

Worry not though, K&L spirits fans. I'm not going anywhere. But I do plan on giving you a sneak peak of life outside the bubble in an upcoming series of Vegas diaries as I move back and forth between two worlds. 

Now, back to my patio and cold beverage.

-David Driscoll


Summer Here Kids – It's Back!

After years and years of customer requests, it's finally back: the only legit peach "whiskey" on the market.

When I met Davorin Kuchan for the first time years ago, I tasted his wonderful line of fruit eau de vie and I told him, "if you make a real peach brandy, not a peach flavored brandy, but an authentic barrel-aged product, you're going to be a huge star in the cocktail world." If you check through classic cocktail manuals like the "Savoy" or "How To Mix Drinks", you'll find numerous recipes that call for apricot or peach whiskey, and they're not referring to the flavored liqueurs available these days. Truth be told, there just wasn't anyone willing to make the stuff anymore because it's a GIANT pain in the ass. Luckily for us, you can still get this locally made, authentic peach brandy at K&L starting today. It just sings of real stonefruit and the flavors marry beautifully with the oak barrel influence. Going into the 4th of July weekend, if you want a small piece of American history, this is a small pre-Prohibition renaissance in a half bottle. 

Why does no one make this anymore, you ask? Let me break it down for you: Davorin Kuchan has to drive up to the Sierra mountains and get truck loads of peaches and drive them to his distillery in Belmont. Then he has to de-pit the tons and tons peaches by hand (he's not a peach farmer or canner, so he doesn't have that equipment). Then he has to press them, ferment them, and distill them which is an incredibly sticky and messy process and takes days to clean up once it's done. Then he has to barrel-age the teeny, tiny little bit of actual brandy spirit that he gets from that distillation, which only evaporates further over time. The result is this incredibly affordable peach brandy that is the only LEGIT "peach whiskey" on the American market - as in NOT flavored with peaches, but actually distilled from nothing but peaches and put into a barrel. It's not very cost effective and it's not very profitable either. Hence, Davorin doesn't make much of it these days (which is why I grabbed five cases of it this morning on my way in to work!).

So happy 4th of July weekend! I'm on my way to Vegas with a bottle in tow. If you want to drink something uniquely American that smells and tastes of summer, this is the bottle for you.

-David Driscoll


Don't Ask How, Just Enjoy...

You can thank your uncle David OG for these beauties. The man is a wizard at finding hidden treasure troves! We've got TONS for the moment.

We'll have more in stock up north soon if you miss the first round. They won't last long once the word gets out:

Blanton's "Straight From the Barrel" Kentucky Bourbon $99.99

Blanton's "Gold" Single Barrel Kentucky Bourbon $99.99

-David Driscoll


Diffusing the Artisanal Fantasy

I read an article recently about "post-racial" America in which the author discussed how the election of Obama seemed to imply we had moved beyond bigotry as a country, making it difficult to acknowledge or come to terms with the racism that continued during and after his two terms. I won't go into the nitty gritty of it all, but it did make me think about the spirits industry (and really the food industry as a whole) and how its current obsession with artisanal products has blinded many folks from a glaring reality. I think living in a "post-branded" booze industry, in which consumers no longer form loyalties or personal associations with any one particular product, has somehow implied that the philosophy of spirits production itself has changed as well. Artisanal goods are instantly given the benefit of the doubt, from pretzels and popcorn to IPAs and spirits—the smaller it looks, the better it must be. Artisanal terms are plastered on everything from "small batch" whiskey to "handcrafted" meats and cheeses. Find me an oatmeal today that doesn't highlight its "steel cut oats." I challenge you!

Many consumers today, believing that these new artisanal or "craft" labels are providing a higher quality spirit, are more than willing to pay more for better product. However, when you explain to them that the $40 bottle of "craft" rye they just purchased is the exact same whiskey that's in the $20 branded bottle they turned up their nose at, things can get uncomfortable (like explaining to some Amercians that racism is very much alive and well in the "post-racial" era). There's a reason Amazon just paid more than thirteen billion dollars to acquire Whole Foods and it goes well beyond simple brick and mortar strategy. The plain truth is: if you can make a product with big brand efficiency, but sell it for a craft brand price, you can make a lot of money. Just don't tell that to those people living in post-branded America.

While it's easy to point at "craft" producers in Iowa, Vermont, and elsewhere selling their "hand-crafted" whiskies that were actually contracted from a large distillery in Indiana, they're probably the least egregious examples I can think of in terms of today's misleading marketing. In the case of MGP, the distillery that actually makes the whiskies you find in High West, Whistle Pig, Templeton, Bulleit, and numerous other rye products on the market, at least the consumer is getting a high quality product. The distillery formerly known as LDI makes delicious juice. It's when you start to look at "craft" vodkas or gins, however, that it becomes hard to know what you're paying for. The same goes for the large majority of Cognacs out there that are often more caramel and sugar than actual brandy. But the worst offender, by far, is the tequila industry whose ever-growing reliance on the diffuser is perhaps the dirtiest secret in the entire drinks business. There are plenty of other articles that go into detail about how this process works, but I'll give you the simple breakdown of why distillers in Mexico use diffusers here:

1) With the agave shortage in full swing, producers want to get the most potential alcohol from every single piña harvested.

2) Tradtionally in tequila production, the piñas are cooked, crushed, and pressed to extract the sugary agave juice eventually fermented, much like with winemaking (although without the subsequent distillation). In both cases, the process requires healthy produce with ripeness and flavor because one needs sugar to start a healthy fermentation. I've always said that tequila and mezcal are much more like wine than whiskey for that reason.

3) With the invention of the agave diffuser, the need to cook and crush the agave has been completely eliminated from the process. Instead, the uncooked agave is fed into a shredder and the resulting chunks are moved onto a conveyor belt into the diffuser. 

4) The diffuser sprays the agave pieces with hot water that extracts the starch from the pulpy plant and collects it in a tank. Now rather than having to cook the actual agave to create the sugars, the distilleries can instead boil the starch water and add an enzyme to convert that starch into sugar much like whiskey is made (and not at all like wine).

5) While the diffuser results in a more efficient use of manpower and potential alcohol, it results in an inferior product. But, much like with processed food, all that "agave" flavor can be re-added later on the back end (kind of like boise in Cognac). 

6) Because the resulting diffuser tequila is still entirely a product of agave, the labels continue to tout their "100% agave" classification and market the liquid as a top quality tequila, rather than a mixto or blended agave product.

As many people before me have asked: what's the point of even using agave as a base material for distillation if you're not going to cook and extract the actual flavor of the plant itself? Why not just make tequila from raw grains and do the same flavor enhancements with a cheaper and more plentiful foundation? 


Because then it wouldn't be "artisanal." You can't market corn-based, artificially-flavored tequila to true tequila aficionados! They won't hear of such an abomination. Instead, you have to sell them industrially-produced, artificially-flavored tequila made from 100% agave and call it "craft". That way they feel better about their purchase. Better yet, put it in a traditional bottle, talk about heritage, and charge them double. In the end, how many tequila customers really care about or understand what a diffuser is anyway? 

I can tell you: not many. We sell boatloads of diffuser brands at K&L. They fly off the shelf faster than I can often reorder them. If I even try to explain to a customer why they might prefer a non-diffuser brand, or why they might want to pay more for a truly artisanal tequila, they generally look at me with distrust and disdain. Over my decade in the retail spirits industry, I've found that the perception of quality is often more important than the reality of it—even (and especially) in post-branded America. 

-David Driscoll

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