K&L has always had an excellent Scotch selection, one that’s ebbed and flowed based on the buyers' and consumers' tastes. When I began buying spirits back in 2009, David D. and I were unequivocally focused on independent bottlers. That’s because nearly a decade ago the independents provided something that the distilleries wouldn’t or couldn’t provide at a better price than we really deserved to pay for those wonderful whiskies. Back then it was ALL about scoring a new release from Murray McDavid, The Bottlers, Ducan Taylor, Chieftain’s, or Signatory. You’d see Ardbeg, Port Ellen, Brora, Littlemill, Dallas Dhu, Banff, Caperdonich, Saint Magdelene, Springbank—we had it good. Alas, these legends of yester year are no more, nor are many of the wonderful bottlers who brought us these lovely whiskies.
A lot has changed in the whisky industry over the last decade. We've moved away from relying on importers to select our offerings and more towards acquiring entire casks based on our own desires. This new focus represented a major shift in terms of how we did business. Even before we could negotiate for our own casks, it was clear that our importers didn’t have the same goals as us when selecting a new cask for the American market. We simply felt there was more out there than they let on. So one day we hopped on a flight to Scotland and began meticulously going through the stocks ourselves. These were the glory days for us, before the whisky boom really took hold. Since then we’ve bottled legends and lepers alike. How about those Ladyburns? Remember the Bruichladdich Quart de Chaumes? That age has now passed, as have those whiskies just like a dream that you can’t quite remember. You keep searching through the memories, but they’re just out of your grasp. You know they existed, but you're not 100% you were actually there.
The suppliers we once counted on to supply us with delicious and affordable Scotch have almost unanimously raised their prices, attempting to stretch their limited supply across the market. Some have simply gone out of business. The really savvy ones either built or are building distilleries. The world is thirsty for single malt and many of these guys were poised to take advantage of that thirst. Because of that shift in power a new paradigm emerged for us; one where the independent casks are no longer the center of the Scotch universe. Today, it’s a distiller’s game again. Luckily, we've found incredible support from our partners in Scotland who realized that K&L could provide as much or more business than previous importers. Those suppliers still have good stocks, but everything is finite. Whisky is not a renewable resource. Indeed, searching for single malt is a bit like mining for gold, you search and search until you hit a vein and then its top hats and caviar until that one dries up.
But the point of all this background is that I’ve realized that there’s gold everywhere. The streets are literally paved with it, yet we’re leaving town trying to find more. Today distilleries are holding stocks back from the independents, but they might be bottling some of the most consistently delicious whisky in Scotland’s history. Yes, there are some sad and boring distillery bottlings out there. Yes, sometimes we can lament the choices to remove age statement or raises prices, but at no time in history have we had access to so much delicious whisky directly from the distillers themselves. Indeed, that’s why the independent bottlers were created, because distillers didn’t have the apparatus, know-how or desire to actually bottle the products that they made. Today, that's less and less the case. Laphroaig is the perfect example. This incredible distillery still utilizes their own floor malts in significant proportion and consistently produces one of the finest and most flavorful distillates in the world. They work tirelessly to make sure that distillate is absolutely transcendent. After that they just need to sit back and not ruin the show. Throw some into a bourbon barrel, some into quarter casks, others with a bit of sherry. Then wait ten years and the stuff is mythical.
Even on the best day, a ton of unmalted barley costs several hundred dollars on the futures market. Then you’re malting it by hand, fermenting and distilling it. From this you will make perhaps 400 liters of pure alcohol. Maybe enough to fill three to four bourbon barrels, which you need to ship from Kentucky. And after you ship them to the UK they need to be transported by truck from Glasgow around the mull of Kintyre to the ferry station at Kennacraig. Add all the materials to build warehouse, stills, fill casks, etc. Wait ten years. Bottle, label, and ship it here. Pay for sales people and marketing, advertising, etc; then turn around and allow retailers to sell the stuff for $40! OUTRAGEOUS! Laphroaig makes our craft distillers look ludicrously greedy by comparison. While production levels at Laphroaig aren't tiny, there’s no question that what they’re doing qualifies as craft. Anyone who disagrees should visit the distillery.
We may be lucky with our current relationships to find a single cask of Laphroaig 15 year and sell it for $90, but through normal channels the same cask is likely $200+. But we get access to those casks as a thank you for our regular business, not as some standard, everyday offering. Laphroaig on the open market has doubled or even tripled in price depending on the age. But what blows my mind almost as much as that silly price is that we sit here day in day out and offer you full strength Laphroaig 10 year for less than $70. In fact, we just LOWERED our price by $5. While everyone is out here raising the price on their no aged statement 3 year old whisky, Laphroaig is selling this bench mark whisky for LESS than they did last year. Not as a one off, "thank you for doing business" type offering to their best customers, but consistently selling INCREDIBLE whisky like this for so little for years on end! It’s insane. My mind is more blown with every sip.
I’m on a mission to put a bottle of the standard Laphroaig 10 year in every home in the country this year. I used to wait for winter to drink Laphroaig, but now it’s my summer sipper and I couldn’t be happier. Don’t be afraid to add plenty of water. When it’s hot out, add fresh cold spring water and let it take you from there. The perfect ocean aperitif! A $40 trip to Islay. Who can resist it?