It seems to be a collective response to a rather bloated and impenetrable whiskey market, this newly-found desire from hundreds of K&L shoppers to expand their horizons and look beyond the Scotch and Bourbon categories. Like a downpour that comes from out of nowhere, my email inbox has been absolutely overflowing with inquiries from longtime customers who are now asking about rum, mezcal, tequila, and anything else that might scratch that same spirited itch. Whiskey customers are getting bored, in my opinion. Anything they want, they can't find. Anything they can find, they don't want! They've had all the entry level stuff and they're looking to take their passion to the next level, but that next level is either ridiculously out of their price range or you have to bribe someone to get there. Thus: people are looking outside the whiskey category. Here's an example of a conversation I'm starting to have on an almost hourly basis:
David, the mature Bourbon and single malt market has become ridiculous. I want to branch out and save some cash. Should I get this fifteen year El Dorado old rum instead? It looks like a really good price!
Sure! There's just one thing you should probably know: El Dorado rum is pretty much the Hennessy Cognac of the rum world, meaning it has added caramel and sugar to make it dark and sweet. It's still delicious, but it's not an unadulterated product like a Bourbon or single malt.
Oh. I don't want that. How about a different rum?
Rum is a pretty diverse category and there are so many different styles, many of which were not necessarily made for sipping like your beloved Scotch and Bourbon. There are funky pot still rums, milder sipping rums, high proof mixing rums, and even grassy and intense agricole rhums made from sugar cane juice. It all depends on what you want.
I want something smooth and rich and round with that Bourbon sweetness or that Sherry cask suppleness.
Then see my first response about El Dorado. The same applies to just about any rum in that genre: Ron Zacapa, Diplomatico, Zaya, etc. Aged rums are usually quite dry and mellow unless they've been artificially sweetened. You could try a Panamanian rum like Zafra or Panama Pacific, or a Bajan rum like Mount Gay for something less sweet.
I've had those and I found them rather uncomplex. What about mezcal? I've heard that's the next adventure.
Mezcal is smoky and unaged. It's pretty much just tequila with more tanginess and smoke, but zero richness. It's vegetal, earthy, and the absolute opposite of smooth.
Oh. I don't really want that either.
So let's find you some interesting options that you'll probably enjoy! One new release that really surprised me was the new Macallan 12 year old "Double Cask." Not only is the price totally reasonable, the whisky itself is exactly what Macallan fans are looking for: dark, rich, decadent, and mouthfilling. It's got that exotic spice of supple sherry goodness and plenty of balance from the whisky's inherent maltiness. It's about fifty-five bucks and it's pretty much exactly what you said you wanted: round and smooth, but with character and complexity.
But what about something that's NOT whisky? Isn't there anything new out there worth checking out that will scratch that same itch?
Actually, there is. I just met these guys yesterday and for the moment we're the only people in California carrying their stuff. It's a new tequila called Código, made by Tequileria las Juntas, but for a private investment group that's been contracting their own formula and shipping it to Cabo for almost a decade. They finally got together a team to bring the tequila to market in the U.S. and, I have to say, I was very impressed by their juice. While the blanco is flavorful and delicious, it's the añejo and extra añejo editions that might be worth checking out in your case. Both were aged in French oak ex-wine casks instead of the standard ex-Bourbon barrel, and the difference is absolutely night and day. The añejo is full of that exotic oak spice that only French oak can exert and the wine influence acts like a milder Sherry note, adding that little hint of chewiness that I think you might enjoy. The extra anejo is absolutely insane. I've never tasted a tequila like it before. First off, it's the darkest tequila I've ever seen. Secondly, at six years of age, it's really sucked up that wine note and at this point tastes like something between a port-finished Bourbon and wine-finished Bruichladdich, but with spicy and sweet agave notes on the finish. It's expensive, but in comparison to the other top shelf tequila offerings we carry, it's undoubtedly the most satisfying and decadent. You might want to try those.