Bourbon & Bourbonesque

We're down to the last two casks from last Fall's expedition to Four Roses distillery, which means we're going to have to hit the road again soon. David and I have a date plugged in for late August and will be combing the warehouses for more loot. In the meantime, have a look at the latest arrival from Kentucky. I'm not sure that 10+ year old barrels are going to be part of our future barrel program with supplies where they are, so these two might be the last we see of the more-than-a-decade ilk. Both are very nice selections:

Four Roses "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel OESF (10 years, 1 month) Cask Strength Bourbon Whiskey $64.99- The last two casks from our Fall 2015 trip to Four Roses have arrived and we've definitely saved a great pair for last. This 10+ year old single casks was bottled at 55.25% ABV and is classic Four Roses through and through with plenty of herbaceousness to balance out all the sweetness from the oak. Beyond the characteristic notes of charred oak and vanilla are graphite/pencil lead, pepppery rye, oak spice, and earth, all melding gorgeously with the vanilla and the fruit. There's plenty of weight from the decade spent in wood and the whiskey feels round and supple on the palate while maintaining a complex balance of flavors all the way to the finish. For those who want more than just sweetness and spice, this is the whiskey for you. This is a Bourbon for Bordeaux lovers, chalk full of the secondary flavors that make whiskey so fascinating.

Four Roses "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel OESO (11 years, 5 months) Cask Strength Bourbon Whiskey $64.99- This eleven and a half year old cask brings exactly what you would expect to the party: a richness, weight, and roundness on the palate that simply isn't apparent in some of our younger Four Roses bottlings. This is creamy and smooth on the entry, especially at the lower 51.75% ABV, but after the sweetness pops on the entry there's a distinct and pronounced earthiness towards the back, full of dried herbs and damp wood with a very gentle touch of old oak spice. Seeing that even 10+ year old American whiskies have become difficult to track down, expect anything over 11 to sell quickly. In this case, you can clearly taste and relish the extra couple years in oak.

While I was the David who got to visit Kavalan back in the Fall of 2014, David OG was one who got to pick the first casks on behalf of K&L. There were very few single barrels available to retailers in the U.S. and Southern California got first dibs. Since David OG is the hottest spirits buyer in LA and a close friend of Kavalan, he got to choose first. There were only about 170 bottles per barrel, so David decided to buy a few considering the growing demand for new and rare Kavalan releases. What's interesting is how much these three whiskies have soaked up the actual Bourbon flavor. As you probably know, Taiwan is an incredibly hot and humid subtropical climate, so the whisky tends to get into that wood. In the case of one our new K&L exclusive casks, I found that the whisky tasted more like Bourbon than single malt; not so much because of the richness, but because of the intense oak flavor. They're quite fascinating examples of how differently single malt ages in a completely different climate, particularly because ex-Bourbon casks tend to cast a more mild shadow when it comes to concentration.

Our three single barrel selections are here:

Kavalan "Ex-Bourbon Cask #52" K&L Exclusive Cask Strength Single Barrel Taiwanese Single Malt Whisky $149.99 - Taiwan's Kavalan distillery once faced an uphill battle, selling the quality of their precocious, young single malt whisky to a world of skeptics. It didn't take long, however, to sway the critics. When the Kavalan Vinho Barrique expression won "best in the world" at the 2015 World Whisky Awards the entire planet took notice and Kavalan's reputation received an instant shot in the arm. Here at K&L we are lucky to have a close relationship to both the company and to the master distiller Ian Chang, who hosted our group in Taiwan back in 2014. Due to the close bond that was formed between K&L and Kavalan, we were allowed to select three single barrel casks to be bottled exclusively for our store; all three of which were ex-Bourbon barrels. Because of Taiwan's subtropical climate and intense humidity, the whisky ages more rapidly and soaks up the flavor of each cask with intense concentration. In all three cases, the Bourbon flavor comes through on the whisky almost more than the single malt character. Barrel #52A has classic American whiskey aromatics with intense oak and a high dose of vanilla with more toasted oak character coming through strong on the palate. At 58.6% ABV, the alcohol is potent and intense, so water is definitely recommended. With a few drops, the whisky unloosens itself and opens up more fruit and spice with additional layers of toasted oak and vanilla, but the structure never fades. The oak has penetrated deeply into this whisky. The finish is strong.

Kavalan "Ex-Bourbon Cask #75" K&L Exclusive Cask Strength Single Barrel Taiwanese Single Malt Whisky $149.99 - Barrel #75A is another beast of a whisky at 58.6% ABV, but it's the richest of the three by a hair with subtle floral elements that dance atop the intense oak flavor. There's more maltiness apparent on the palate than the others and there's a tropical coconut note on the finish that comes from the sweetness of the oak. It still needs water, however, as the high proof masks much of the complexity when taken neat. It's a whisky to unlock slowly and methodically.

Kavalan "Ex-Bourbon Cask #76" K&L Exclusive Cask Strength Single Barrel Taiwanese Single Malt Whisky $149.99 -  Barrel #76A is the softest of the three at a mere 57.8%, and with water showcases a creamier and more nuanced palate of vanilla, fruit, and burnt sugar. This is the prettiest of the bunch with pronounced maltiness on the finish and plenty of spice. It's classic Bourbon barrel-aged single malt, but with more oak concentration from the warm maturation environment.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll