Happy Birthday

Today is my birthday, believe it or not, but I'm actually here today to celebrate another birthday occasion; one that began back in December of 1964 when these mystery casks of Scotch whisky were blended and filled. Fifty year old Scotch whisky is an incredibly special thing. It’s the culmination of a complex flavor evolution that has proceeded slowly over five decades in wood, so finding an ample supply isn’t easy. As one might expect, fifty year old Scotch is whisky also an incredibly expensive luxury. Most of what’s available today on the general market sells for thousands of dollars. The Last Drop 50 year blend is about $4000 a bottle, and the Glen Grant 50 year old clocks in somewhere between $10,000 and $12,000 a bottle. A bottle of Glenlivet 50 year old will probably cost you $25,000 and the more prestigious names like Balvenie and Macallan only get more expensive from there, which is partially why we’ve been so successful with our grain whisky barrel program over the last few years. We’ve been able to track down 40-50 year old Scotch whisky expressions for around $200-$300 per bottle that we feel scratch a similar itch for a much more reasonable price.

Our customers have been so excited by our recent direct import Scotch pricing that we've been selling out of our supply within hours, if not minutes in certain cases. This past September, on a rainy Glasgow morning, we visited one of our favorite warehouses and tracked down three more rarities that seemed to have fallen through the cracks: three unique barrels of Scotch whisky that had been distilled and blended as new-make whiskies when they were first filled into barrels. Originally intended for a blended Scotch recipe, the identity of the whiskies had become lost over the years and so the barrels simply sat around getting older. It was anyone’s guess as to which distilleries we were dealing with, but as long as they tasted good we were still interested. What was perhaps more compelling was the fact that each whisky had been married according to type: two of the barrels were blended grain whiskies and the third was a blend of pure single malts. Two of them had the fruit and oak spice we’ve tasted in previous ultra-mature grain editions, and the third had the creaminess and the texture of a classic malt. 

While age and richness often go hand-in-hand, as more exposure to oak generally implies a darker and fuller whisky, these three whiskies are neither overtly rich nor dark. As all three were aged in refill hogshead casks (meaning the barrels had been used previously to age other whiskies), the influence of the wood has been slow and gradual. Rather than an intense and concentrated maturation, it’s as if all three whiskies have been simmering over a low flame for more than five decades. Much like a slow-cooked stew, they have also reduced their power naturally. Almost like a fine Bordeaux having aged fifty years in a cellar, each has naturally dropped to 45% or lower and shed much of their original baby fat. The result is a finesse, elegance, and a haunting mellowness that can only be achieved over time. In the case of the pure malt whisky, the proof had dropped so low we weren’t sure if we could even legally bottle it, but luckily for us it clocked in at 40.1%, just a hair over the minimum. The resulting 51 year old Scotch whiskies are as soft and smooth as can be. What they are not, however, is significantly dark, rich, or incredibly complex like you might expect for something so old. They are what I consider to be fifty year old session whiskies: incredibly delightful, dangerously drinkable Scotch whiskies that go down easy and with a long, smooth finish. As a result of their unidentified origins and simple charm, we’ve been able to price them accordingly. For the first time ever, we’re offering a 50+ year old Scotch malt whisky for under $1000, along with two 51 year grains at our standard bargain price point. With the holiday season in full swing, I'm expecting expect rare editions of 51 year old Scotch whisky to be an incredibly popular gift option, so it’s likely these ancient selections won’t last the weekend once we send out the email today. We’ll be heading back to Scotland in 2017 in search of more ultra-mature whiskies, but unfortunately 51 year old selections like this don’t grow on trees. They do, however, fit nicely in a gift box under them.

I'm buying myself a bottle today for my 37th birthday. I don't need to be 51 to enjoy drinking these beauties. Exactly 52 years after they were distilled, I'm hoping these whiskies will finally be given the birthday party they deserve. They'll go into the bellies of numerous K&L customers who will hopefully share them with friends and loved ones this holiday season.

Sovereign 51 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel (44.6%) Cask Strength Blended Grain Scotch Whisky $299.99 - This 51 year old blend is comprised of various grain whiskies, but drinks like one singular entity working in complete harmony. As grain whisky ages it becomes soft, mellow, mild, and creamy in nature, so after five decades in wood this mystery blend is as smooth as they come. There's not much of a noticeable difference between the two casks we're currently offering, but tasting them side by side this particular blend has a bit more wood and more of a pure grain flavor, almost like you can taste the husks in between the sweetness of the oak. There's a flurry of spice on the finish that tingles your taste buds just before the soft wave of texture washes away. What this whisky lacks in complexity, it makes up for in pure grace.

Sovereign 51 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel (45.8%) Cask Strength Blended Grain Scotch Whisky $299.99 - This 51 year old blend of grain whiskies comes in at a slightly higher proof than its sister cask and it's the richer and rounder of the two. Whereas the other whisky is creamier, this whisky has a bit more fruit and a certain pop on the mid-palate that you wouldn't expect after fifty-plus years in wood. There's a hint of toasted oak on the finish and a bit of oily resin as well, which is standard for hogshead-aged whiskies of this age. After five decades, this whisky is still full of life and character. In no way is it tired, over-aged, or past its prime. It's primary in its profile, but dangerously drinkable and most importantly showcases all of the fruit, texture, and simple pleasure that grain whisky has to offer.

Sovereign 51 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel Cask Strength Blended Malt Scotch Whisky $399.99 - This 51 year malt is comprised of an unknown number of pure single malt whiskies and is so refined and reduced after five decades in wood that it's naturally down to 40.1%. This is by no means a rich and over-oaked malt. It's quite the opposite: light as a feather, soft as silk, and elegant as a whisper. Notes of oxidized fruit, fino sherry, burnt sugar, and oolong tea swirl faintly over a creamy layer of soft vanilla. Those expecting fifty-plus years of richness will be caught off guard by the standard amber color and classic Scotch whisky hue. This is old school Scotch from a lost era. It is not a bold and complex beast of exotic flavor, but rather a graceful echo of what was and what will no longer be; it's a ghost.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll