The Eagle Has Landed (Take a Deep Breath)
Are you ready for all this? Are you sure? Because the handful of whisky customers who have come into the store in the last few days have had mild panic attacks. "There's so much new stuff!" they said in shock. "How do I decide what to get?!!"
Well, let us help you with some tasting notes and background information. That will at least help you narrow it down to just a few selections. It's totally overwhelming (for us, too), but I went around the store this morning and took a few hazy photos that will help you visualize these new Scottish single cask expressions. Our gigantic container of new hooch from the 2014 buy trip has landed and it's about to get real.
First off, let's tackle the new Hepburn's Choice selections, a label from Hunter Laing that we'll be exclusively curating in the U.S.
Caol Ila 5 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $49.99 - Don't let the young age fool you: this five year old, single barrel, cask strength version of the legendary Islay distillery is bringing more than its share of bang for the buck. Getting a single barrel, full strength version of any single malt whisky is tough for $50, but a full-throttle Caol Ila? Forget about it. The youthful vigor of a young mezcal meets the fat-fruited, supple texture of the malt master; that's the best way to describe this whisky. Lots of smoke and immature phenolic action quickly turns rich and round and finishes with a mouthful of stone fruit and citrus. Absolutely one of the most exciting whiskies we have on the shelf at any price and a true stunner for those who appreciate gusto. A whopping 61.1% brings the intensity! 61.1%
Bowmore 12 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $79.99 - As many of you might have realized, we're obsessed with young Bowmore. It's not only because we've had some of our most poignant and even spiritual moments in Scotland at this special distillery, but in fact because they keep cranking out the most incredible product. Bowmore is different from many of the other distilleries on Islay for a number of reasons. Firstly, they do not purchase barley from Port Ellen Maltings--where all on the island save Bruichladdich acquire their main input. In fact, Bowmore is hand malting as much as 25% of their own barley using time honored techniques that most distilleries have given up due to the incredible efficiencies gained through industrial malting. Anyway, the point is that all these things come together to create one of the highest quality and most exciting malts in Scotland. The new 12 year from Hepburn is Bowmore for all. From a second fill hogshead, we really see the underlying beauty of the spirit here. The nose shows only subtle ashy smoky, revolving around gorgeous and exotic ripe fruit. Mango skin, apricot pit, creamy fondant and the swelling ocean behind it all. That perceived sweetness on the nose, becomes a reality on the palate. Sweet candied citrus envelope the palate and only hint and the peaty finish. This is ABSOLUTELY the perfect whisky to give someone who says they don't like peat. It's got all the great things about smoky whisky with none of the hard ones. No question this will get sucked down quick.
Smoky & Peaty Tobermory (Ledaig) 8 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - Nearly half of Tobermory's production is dedicated to peated malt whisky. This is known typically as Ledaig, but for some reason that word never actually makes it onto our independently bottled offerings of this special whisky. Labeled hear as "Smoky & Peaty," for those of you who've been following us for a while you'll know that we love these young Ledaigs. This is the third young smokey Tobermory we've offered and shockingly the price is the same as last year’s even though this is a year old (and arguably a better whisky). The rugged peaty malt that comes out of this distillery is unlike anything from Islay. The smoke is more earthy than oceany (for some reason it's really reminding me of Port Charlotte today). Herbaceous and intense, the dark earthy peat is balanced by a wonderful sweet malt. This is way more in balance than even our last Ledaig and feels more put together than the even the distillery bottling. Amazing what only 8 years in a refill hogshead can do when the spirit is on point. 60.7%
Mortlach 7 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $49.99 - We absolutely the loved our sample of Young Mortlach when we tasted in Scotland last year. But getting back to the states with only the memory of this lovely young whisky meant that when we actually ordered this whisky, we simply weren't certain what to expect. On paper it looks great, inexpensive, unadulterated young malt from one of Scotland's greatest distilleries at a great price. But, every time you put a young age statement on a whisky you're bound to have some push back. To our great delight, we now that our educated customer based will appreciate that Single Malt need not be old to be great. This little Mortlach is proof. So much complexity at such a young age, this whisky shows tons of pear and that subtle savory side. Without any sherry, the spirit is free to speak and it does so loudly! This guy definitely needs some air, but only a drop of water to open up nicely. Refreshing and clean, yet masculine and powerful. All that beefiness and sweet candied fruit all in one taught little package. Some of you will fall head over heels for this guy, guaranteed. 58%
Craigellachie 18 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - It wouldn't be a whisky season without some big rich sherried malt to round out the selection. Craigellachie is becoming a serious force now that the owners have finally decided it should be marketed as a single malt. This exceptional distillery was almost exclusively reserved for the blends until very recently, but the heightened profile means that procuring more in the future might become more difficult. That's why we knew we had to jump on this spectacular sherried 'llachie. This has everything you want in a sherried malt and nothing that you don't. It starts with a slight flintiness (don't worry it's not sulfur, just a spark on the front), this quickly blows off to reveal a magnificent bouquet of dried cherries, fudgy cacao nibs, roasted coffee beans, and freshly polished sandalwood. The dark aromas translate well to the palate, but never go bitter and the malty spirit adds lift and sweetness. Here is a truly balanced sherried malt like none other on the shelf right now. Sure we all sometimes love a big hammer of sherry right in your sensory organs, but sometimes you want the sweet velvety caress of that special wine from Jerez. Balanced, yet not lacking depth or power in anyway. 54.3%
Miltonduff 19 Year Old Hepburn's Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - Miltonduff is an old Hiram Walker distillery that was purchased by Pernod Ricard in 2005. It's known mostly for its role in the Chivas Blended whiskies, but we've had tremendous success with the single malt version through our independent cask business. The Highland flavor is pure, simple, and to the point, often matching other more-renowned distilleries in terms of quality, but for a fraction of the price. This lovely 19 year old cask is classic malt for classic malt drinkers: sweet barley, soft vanilla, a burst of oak spice on the back end, and lovely balance of those three flavors on the finish. At 50%, the flavors are highlighted and more pronounced, offering a bit more panache than what one normally finds in the 43% market. In hoping to find mature whiskies of 17-21 years of age for $100 or less, we've been turning to some of the lesser-known names of Scotland. In turn, however, we've been establishing those same unknowns in the minds of our customers. It won't be long before most of our clients begin recognizing the Miltonduff name and associating it with one thing: insider value. 50.4%
Now that the Laing brothers have split into two companies, we'll also be bringing in another new label called Old Particular, but we'll still use Sovereign for the grain whisky expressions. Check out these bad boys.
Laphroaig 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky $139.99 - Laphroaig is one of those special things that you either love or hate. You may be aware already, but we LOVE Laphroaig. This particular cask of Laphroaig came as a wonderful contrast to our other spectacular teenage Laphroaig from Signatory. That whisky, in a refill hogs head, was Laphroaig in name and spirit, but world's away from the distillery bottlings. This one coming at the Old Particular bottlings strength of 97 proof falls much more in line with the expectations from the distillery. Heady aromas of peat, salt, and subtle smoked fish (the perfect least fishy smoked herring perhaps). Flecks of citrus peel come around every once in a while, but this is real powerful oceany Laphroaig. On the palate, a sweet tangy peat envelopes the taste buds, very open at the slightly lower proof, but never loosing intensity. The sweet rich barley comes out at the end with a sooty burning ashy that builds as you make your way through the dram. When they say Laphroaig is the world's most flavorful malt, they are just not kidding at all. 48.4%
Tamdhu 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - Tamdhu is this great little distillery that no one seems to have tasted. That's probably because prior to its sale in 2011 to Ian Macleod (proud owners of Glengoyne and the Chieftain's IB), the distillery had been moth-balled and was about set to be demolished. What was once a solid work horse of a whisky, would have been lost to obscurity were it not for the thoughtful people at Ian Macleod. Now we have the wonderful people at Douglas Laing to thank for pulling this exceptional cask from their stocks. Bottled again just under 97 proof, this is about as classic a speyside nose as one could wish for. Sweet herbal honey, fresh malty grain, pungent yellow flowers, and earthy blooming heather that's just the nose! The palate is perfectly balanced, bringing a tangy citrus side (something exotic, satsuma perhaps), and then the fresh herbs -anise, dill, bay. It all finishes with a minty dark chocolate note that just brings it all together. I have a feeling that this will be a sleeper thanks to the slightly less ordinary origins, but once people get a hold this Tamdhu, there's no way they'll be able to put it down. 48.4%
Tobermory 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky $109.99 - Tobermory is kind of hot right now. While this distillery is often listed as a highlander, it is actually from the majestic and mystical Isle of Mull. There the picturesque hamlet of Tobermory, contains one of the Scotland's most underappreciated malt producers. Their current flagship 15 year old is now on the market for a staggering $150 a bottle and while it's a fine malt, we've always found it to be slightly over priced. Now this wonderful 18 year old expression from a refill sherry butt, makes a mature version of this fun distillery available to all. Tobermory has a unique character and this expression is no different. The nose is creamy oak and rich vanilla - the sherry notes are very faint - it's a contemplative malt for sure. When it hits the palate a wonderful herbal rush powers out the sweet oak aromas, this is followed by a strong pepper and then the tiny hint of nutty sherry. On the end a briny note builds, giving depth, but also keeping it lively. The aromas in the glass after that last sip are almost as impressive as the whisky itself. A fun, if not quite different malt, that should definitely be a benchmark for the unusual and interesting distillery. 48.4%
Check out the prices for these grains! Thank God no one collects grain whisky because it really keeps the costs down.
Girvan 24 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky $99.99 - Our grain whiskies from the Sovereign label have been some of the most beloved in our store's history, which is why we're back with another fabulous Girvan; the William Grant Lowland distillery located in the South Ayrshire (where Ladyburn distillery was once located). Remember that grain whiskies are not single malts, but rather column-distilled whiskies usually made from corn (like Bourbon). The Girvan 24 year is full of soft vanilla right off the bat, almost like an older version of the Nikka Coffey expression, but with more pop due to the higher proof. The vanilla turns into caramel on the mid-palate and it finishes with more soft sweetness before the alcohol comes roaring in. With grain prices as low as they are, expect more outstanding values like this in the near future. 50.3%
Port Dundas 36 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky $149.99 - Closed by Diageo in 2009, Port Dundas was formerly a grain distillery that operated in North Glasgow, providing the base whiskies for White Horse and Johnnie Walker. Grain whisky, made on a Coffey still from corn rather than barley, is rarely sold on its own, but this ancient cask from a silent distillery was too good to pass up. And the price! 36 years of rich, creamy, vanilla-laden whisky at cask strength for $150! Grain whisky is back in a big way, but while the rest of the market catches up we've been grabbing casks at bargain basement prices. This Port Dundas is a viscous beast of caramel that begins with toffee and finishes with butterscotch like a Werther's Original. A hot deal while it lasts. 60.1%
And, of course, we've got to have a few high-end selections. But "high-end" for us means something completely different. Old Macallan? 50 year old whisky for less than $300? Yes, please!
Macallan 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky $249.99 - We were downright shocked when Douglas Laing offered us this exceptional 21 year old Macallan as the "Speyside" representation for their new Old Particular brand being released exclusively stateside by K&L. Not only has Macallan basically become unobtainable on the secondary market, when it is available the prices you see are astronomical. So, when they suggested we try an older Mac for this year we were certain it wouldn't fly for those very reasons. Well, for once it feels great to be wrong. This is by no means inexpensive, but Mac from a single barrel over 20 years old this is an absolute steal. Now of course, this is not the ultra sherried Macallan, but more in line with the flavor profile you might get from the "Fine Oak" series. Here we have the Rolls Royce of single malts in it's true form. Malty richness like no other whisky, sweet oak and subtle vanilla. Slightly bruised apple skin and dark cocoa aromas, obfuscate soft floral and sweet honey notes, which come out with a drop of water. The palate is supple and round, more cocoa and a sweet maple wood tone. Great balance between sweet and spice. Warming, inviting and open out of the bottle, yet this whisky swims like a fish. Because this came from a refill bourbon cask, there were only 102 bottles produced and considering the OB 21 year sells for more than $100 more, you can expect this to disappear shortly. Don't say we didn't warn you. 51.5%
North British 50 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky $249.99 - Just outside of Edinburgh, in a south western district called Gorgie, sits the North British distillery; a joint venture owned by both Diageo and The Edrington Group. There since the 1880s, this site has long produced whisky for the Johnnie Walker, Cutty Sark, and Famous Grouse blends, but rarely is it bottled on its own. When we saw the chance to bottle a 50 year old grain whisky for a fraction of what malt prices run, we didn't hesitate. Distilled in 1964, this ethereal North British expression still has the remarkable sweetness of a youthful spirit, but with the texture, complexity, and deep, rich character of an aged expression. Unlike malt, the older grain whiskies don't necessarily get richer or denser, but rather quite savory with a subtle smoky character. The flavors meander from vanilla and caramel to dry herbs. It's a wild ride from beginning to end, but well worth the price of admission. With more 50 year old single malts well into the four-figure mark these days, $250 is a downright steal. We expect this cask to be the first to go. 44.7%
And that brings us to our pride and joy; the new shining jewel of the Faultline brand we're developing here at K&L. As my colleague Gary Westby said to me last week, "I've got bottles of expensive whisky I can't drink, and you drop this in my lap? This is the last thing I need right now!" We've been working on this for three years. It's finally here.
Faultline Blended Scotch Whisky $24.99 - For three long years, David Othenin-Girard and I have been trying to create an inexpensive, delicious, value-driven, yet simultaneously interesting expression of blended Scotch whisky that we could feature under our Faultline label. There were many times when we thought we were close, but either the quality of the whisky or the cost of the barrels proved prohibitive. We didn't want to make a $25 bottle of whisky just for the sake of it. If we were going to do it, then we were going to it right. Finally, after working on and off with the Laings for a year-long blending process, we hammered out a profile we were happy with. Big smoke, Ardbeg-like peat flavors, and a kiss of sweet grain was our goal and we definitely acheived it in this bottle. Unlike most big brand blends, there are no coloring agents or sweeteners in the Faultline Scotch, just a pale straw colored liquid that bursts with character and, due to the heavy malt content, finishes with richness and weight. We wanted to make sure that, upon launch, there would be absolutely nothing on the market that could match the quality of flavor, price, beauty of design, and bang for the buck. After three long years, we think we've done it. For $25 you get one helluva bottle of Scotch. Smokier than Johnnie Black, more complex than Chivas, and less expensive than both of them. Plus, it's an assertive 100 proof. Try it in a cocktail, pour it over ice, add in soda water. It's the real deal.
This little guy wasn't part of our own container, but it did happen to arrive at the exact same time. This came from Springbank when we dropped by to visit Mark Watt last year.
Clynelish K&L Exclusive 21 Year Old Cadenhead Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $139.99- We found this amazing cask after one of the most legendary power tasting sessions I've ever attended. Having shown up to Mark Watts home office after a long day of tasting at Signatory, we sat down in his living room and ask where the samples were. Mark sort of smirked and pointed to the table across from us. He was staring at the massive pile of bottles that lay strewn around the space. Maybe 200 plus samples from various distilleries. Clearly Cadenhead has a lot of stock. Anyway, we weeded through the offerings and fell in love with this Clynelish and an older Tormor, which turned out to be WAY too expensive. When we got stateside we were sure that the blue chip Clynelish would be over-the-top expensive. We were wrong. We were very wrong. This is classic naked Clynelish at its finest. It's not a big whisky, but it's a long one. It's one of these that tastes like it is from a different era. A total throwback malt. Grab one or not, whatever, I'll drink it if you don't want it.
OK, take a breath. Collect yourself. Take some notes. Have a look at what's available. If you have any questions, you know where to find us. We'll be here trying to get all this stuff organized and on to the shelves. I've got a fresh blade on my box cutter and an empty box to hold all the cardboard pieces and bits for recycling.