Scotland 2013 - Day 5 - Old Relationships

Getting coffee this morning in Glasgow, I realized how much I really love this city. Edinburgh has the charm, the castle, the beautiful streets, and the bustling markets, but Glasgow has the hipster character. If you're thinking European analogies, Edinburgh is the Munich to Glasgow's Berlin. If you're thinking Bay Area terms then Edinburgh is the Upper Fillmore to Glasgow's Valencia St. There's a vibrant art scene, rundown buildings have been taken over by musicians and young students, the bars are ubiquitous and overflowing, and the coolness vibe is resonating loud and clear. It was under these conditions that we sipped our coffee, made the day's arrangements, did a bit of people watching, and headed over for our first appointment.

One of the biggest shocks for us this year was the separation of the Laing company into two factions. Brothers Stewart and Fred have worked together for more than forty years, but have finally decided to take different paths towards the future and divide the assets in half. Our appointment was therefore split into two different meetings with Douglas Laing and Hunter Laing respectively. It's no secret that the Laing brothers have some of the healthiest stocks of whisky in Scotland. They echoed the same message we'd been hearing all week upon our arrival: there is no whisky for sale on the open market for wholesalers. You can only trade for it, much like Des has told us at Signatory. It's no longer about wanting the whisky. It's about being able to get it. Therefore, it's about who you know.

If you had two tickets to the Superbowl and found yourself unable to go, you could do one of two things. You could put them up on Ebay and watch them go to the highest bidder (we've obviously done that with a bottle of Jefferson's Ocean before), thereby assuring yourself the maximum amount of profit. You could do that. Or, you could call up a friend who you knew wanted to go and make a deal with him (normally what we do with our insider whisky list). You know you're going to have no problem selling them. That's not the issue. The question is to whom and for how much? Some bottlers we meet with are opting for strategy number one. Luckily, the Laing's value their relationship with us, as do we with them, so it's more about option number two when we come to Glasgow.

Stewart told us that a potential client from Taiwan had called him this morning. "He told me he was only interested in Ardbeg thirty year old whisky from a sherry butt. Nothing more. I told him I'd get back to him," he told us with a wry smirk. Some people aren't aware of what's going on with the whisky market, much like the guy who wanders in off the street asking for a case of Pappy Van Winkle. Good luck with that, buddy. In a similar vain, if we've got hundreds of customers with whom we've done business with for years then why would we waste those Van Winkle bottles on a guy we've never met before and who might never come back again?

After hours full of conversation, a look through their stocks, and a wonderful Italian lunch, we're very excited about what our relationship with the Laings has blossomed into. It's a genuine admiration for one another based on mutual respect and the fact that we honestly get along with one another quite well. We simply like doing business together. When the Laings have Superbowl tickets they're not the type to put them up on Ebay. They're coming to us with them along with other valued business relationships. You won't believe what's coming on the horizon for K&L under the Sovereign label. Honestly, you wouldn't believe me if I told you here on the blog, so I won't say anything for now. Old stocks of impossible to get whiskies? Yes, you'd be close. Relatively affordable pricing for what they represent? Definitely. Islay? Yes. Don't Beg me for any other hArd facts. It would take 21 years to get that info out of me.

Next on the list was a trip to the head office of Morrison-Bowmore. We're longtime friends with Jamie MacKenzie and Rachel Barrie, so we're lucky enough to be one of the few retailers allowed to select casks privately from the Suntory-owned whisky company's warehouse. Last year Rachel had gone through the Glen Garioch stocks to find some wonderful expressions for us. She was ready for us again this time around.

There were samples dating as far back as 1991 and as recent as 1999. They were all quite tasty and really offered room for various flavor preferences. In the end, David and I both agreed that a 1997 Glen Garioch 15 year old was the clear winner. With water this malt became simply voluptuous, round and fat with pineapple and big vanilla. We touched on this last year in our distillery visit post, but to reiterate: Glen Garioch's short stills create an incredibly oily spirit. Rachel told us that these whiskies had the highest concentration of fatty acid esthers she had ever witnessed as a blender. For that reason, Glen Garioch bottles at 48% abv to help cut through this texture. Adding water to the spirit creates a lava lamp of oily ripples and waves. It's quite amazing to watch.

Unfortunately, the Isle of Arran is still completely out of commission. The ferry is running, but there's no power on the island and the roads are still a mess due to the storm. We're not going to make it out to the distillery, but we hope we can still sequester a few samples to make purchasing decisions. We'll see what happens. Rather than continue southward tonight towards David Stirk and the Exclusive Malts, we decided to head back to the Citizen M hotel in downtown Glasgow and post up in the city. Tomorrow morning we'll meet with David and discuss the various options for K&L in 2013. After that we'll make our way down to Bladnoch where we have two appointments on Thursday.

That's it for now!

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll